Jim Leftwich

Some Notes, Expositions, & Other Things on Works by John M. Bennett (3)

V. 10 No. 26, 2002
edited / compiled by John M. Bennett
Luna Bisonte Prods

Bennett had this to say in 2017, for the Luna Bisonte Prods listing at the "from a secret location" website: "The name Luna Bisonte Prods came about in 1974 and became the portal through which I continued making small books, chapbooks, cards, labels, and other products, using rubber stamps, collage, photocopiers, and found materials. In 1975 the journal Lost & Found Times was born, which continued through 2005. Since that time in the mid-1970s, LBP has published or released thousands of broadsides, TLPs (“Tacky Little Pamphlets”), objects, one-of-a-kind books, chapbooks, artist’s books, Lost & Found Times and some other shorter-lived serials, audio and video works, print edition books, print-on-demand books, tons of mail art, and numerous stunts, gags, and performances."

Contributors to SM EAR:
Thomas L. Taylor
John M. Bennett
Scott Helmes
Reed Altemus
Al Ackerman
Diane Bertrand

That is a hefty lineup for such an apparently ephemeral publication. SM EAR is a tlp zine consisting of one sheet of copy paper (the one I have is blue) folded in half vertically, producing a 5.5" x 8.5" 4-page pamphlet.

The front cover / page 1 consists of the title -- SM EAR -- at the top, written in Bennett's distinctive calligraphic hand and smeared with a finger while still wet, followed by a collaborative visual poem entitled SMEAR by Taylor, Bennett and Helmes. The title, in all caps, is centered, as is the textual component of the poem -- written by Taylor -- beneath it.


Lorts, dulcimer, mento (ascribe
I'd asided
Nix no meer pinto

nor hummus
afforded lynx

Between the date -- 2002 -- and the title of the poem, approximately at the right margin, is a toilet-paper-roll-on-a-wall-hanger stamp, also slightly smeared. This is almost certainly one of Bennett's contributions.

Following the line "Nix no meer pinto" are two splotches of tiny, unreadable type, one of them right-aligned. I think these were contributed by Helmes, but I can't be entirely certain. Beneath the second type-splotch and above the line "nor hummus" are the words "smell ear", written in Bennett's calligraphy. A thin rectangular frame encloses everything described in this paragraph.

Just below the frame is what appears to be a small rectangular stamp. A final line of text appears, backward, at the bottom of the rectangle. This looks like it might have been a found object used as a stamp (possibly one of those faux credit cards that come as advertisements in the mail). A large black blot of ink covers most of what was stamped. I think this stamp and the ink blot were contributed by Helmes, but I can't be entirely certain. Calligraphic tendrils branch out from the ink blot (most likely contributed by Bennett).

The piece is signed by Tom 3/12/02 + jmb 3/6/02 + scott -- maybe 12 vi 02.

Upon opening the zine we find, spread across the tops of pages two and three, a poem by Bennett entitled "Lacks sure" followed by three variations (hacks) by Reed Altemus ("Ladder pus"; "Numb dripping"; and "Port a").

The title "Ladder pus" is taken from the end of Bennett's poem, the last three lines of which are as follows:

licks the singer's tall pus
ladder combine draws the foam
teaser, yr blinked convection snack

Line one of "Ladder pus" begins with the first two words of line eleven of "Lacks sure" ("wring that") followed by the first two words of line twenty-two (:flapping in").

Both poems have thirty lines.

Line two of "Ladder pus" begins with the last two words of line fifteen in "Lacks sure" ("sandwich heaving") followed by the first three words from line twenty-six of "Lacks sure" ("a port while"), written in reverse order ("while, port a").

The variations continue in this fashion. The title for "Numb dripping" comes from the first word of line seventeen and the last word of line sixteen:

heaving, sandwich blood's wreath, dripping
numb the kings' leakage onna

The first line "that bowl spiral ah plato" comes from three words in the middle of line twenty, in reverse order

salt spiral bowl that rings

plus the first two words of line four, in their original order

ah plato humo stony nostril.

The title for "Port a" returns to line twenty-six of "Lacks sure"

a port while, keep a

and extracts the first two words, keeping their original order.

I am not sure exactly what Altemus is doing here as far as his arithmetic or pattern-imposition (and recognition) is concerned, but whatever it is it results in very successful new poems, with very strong echoes of Bennett, of course (since it it Bennett's vocabulary that is being used for all of these poems), but also something else, a distinctive residue, let's say, of the decisions being made by Altemus. These poems work as collaborations. They are not poems written by Bennett, and neither are they poems written entirely by Altemus. A "third mind" is in play here, and the results are radically open, expansively resonant, and intimately mutagenic poems.

William Burroughs, from First Recordings, in The Third Mind (1978): Any so-called officer who tells you that dreams are illusions that you should put aside is asking you to abandon cover and invite disastrous defeat. It is precisely in the dream area that we can not-know the enemy. Always remember you are dealing with a parasitic organism that exists only in the damage it can cause you. When you are able to not-know the enemy, the enemy is not there. The act of not-knowing requires, like all disappearing acts, a stage; a theater of operations. Since our theater is under constant attack it must be constantly shifted and re-created.

JMB, from John M. Bennett’s Response to Jake Berry’s Poetry Wide Open: The Otherstream (Fragments In Motion) (2011): Poetry that persists, that is read, and read very differently through succeeding generations, always has its origins on the outsides of contemporary cultural institutions. For the poet to perceive and experience the world, and to re-experience it in her/his art, she/he has to work outside those institutions.

Along the bottom of pages two and three of SM EAR are an Ackerman hack of some Bennett poems, and a related set of instructions from The Blaster for "a big performance week".

The hack (of poems from 5.1 & 5.2 -- presumably of 2002) is entitled "Bike's Shabby Without". It consists of seven lines, lettered A through G. Each line begins with the phrase "Bike's shabby without":

A. -- Bike's shabby without the next son of a bitch they send out here.
G. -- Bike's shabby without that old moocher glow or creeping shrill or both.

The instructions are as follows:

At the start of each day [of your big performance week], pick -- using chance or obsessive deliberation -- one of the seven "Bike's Shabby Without" versions (A, B, C, etc) listed above and write it on your arm to be flaunted and vocalized in conjunction with each day's "Theme" as indicated below:

Thurs. -- Interfering With Co-Workers
Mon. -- Muttering On The Way to Work

JMB, from his Cervena Barva Press Interview, 2006 -- I should say that when I perform my poetry, I am a somewhat different person than the person who wrote it. I was an actor in my youth, and the poems become roles that I inhabit.

Reading the last lines of the four poems in the upper section of pages two and three, I arrive at the following Bennett -- Altemus -- Leftwich collaboration:

teaser, yr blinked convection snack
a port while, yr blinked convection
licks tall pus wreath, blood blood's
tall the plato, draws ah foam

Reading the first lines of these four poems backwards, I arrive at the following Bennett -- Altemus -- Leftwich collaboration:

salt spiral tall the pus
plato ah spiral bowl that
in flapping that, wring
teaser, blinks convection
snack yr sure lacks

One more:

nor gun pants flapping in
dripping convection blinks
ream floating was spreading fish
leashed spreading fish

The upper section of the back cover / page four is occupied by a John M. Bennett & Diane Bertrand collaboration. In my experience collaborations with Diane resulted when I would send her an envelope of mail art -- usually visual poems, but sometimes print-outs of textual poems -- and she would add to some items and send them back. With the collab printed in SM EAR it looks like Bennet probably sent her a poem (this poem:


or t
arp o
l bo

--dated 7.1.98)

and she added to it and returned it in 2000. She has added some grasses in front of a darkened area to create an illusion of depth, which makes John's poem appear to be floating (perhaps alongside a blackbird or two) in the deep blue sky.

Below the Bennett / Bertrand collab is another Ackerman hack of some Bennett poems.

MASTER ROCK DRINK (from 5.1, 5.8)

a protrusion: crawled to be
in sect that cut words in half

from Interview With William Burroughs (1966)
Conrad Knickerbocker: What do cut-ups offer the reader that conventional narrative doesn't? BURROUGHS: Any narrative passage or any passage, say, of poetic images is subject to any number of variations, all of which may be interesting and valid in their own right. A page of Rimbaud cut up and rearranged will give you quite new images. Rimbaud images—real Rimbaud images—but new ones.

I think the words "crav" "vied"
meaning to unfound cherry wood
are "crawled" cut in half
                                              (that's enough of that)

Our notion of what is ephemeral and what is not has changed in recent decades. When, in the mid-nineties, I was publishing Juxta/Electronic as an email zine in conjunction with the print edition of Juxta (though not, in any instances, publishing any of the same items in both publications), almost everyone I corresponded with assumed that the email zine was ephemeral, that it would land in the inboxes of contributors and their associates, and then disappear, quickly and completely, forever. But the email zine was archived as it was produced by the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY-Buffalo, and it has just recently been given a new home (a new url) at the U-Penn site.

In 1995 I published a Bennett book entitled FALLS STILL. The poems in it have the "split title" format that he used in many publications from that time period (including Blind On The Temple -- LBP 1993, Clown Door -- Marshall Creek Press 1997, Infused -- LBP 1995, and Book Classification -- LBP tlp 1993). I think for most folks it has been easier to access FALLS STILL for the past 23 years than it has been to find copies of these other "split title" publications. The problem has been, and remains, that very few people know that FALLS STILL even exists. I sent John the link to it yesterday and he had all but forgotten about it, and had no idea that it was still accessible.

So: what kind of publication is dangerously ephemeral these days? What kind of publication is in danger of disappearing completely? The last envelope I got from John had this copy of SM EAR in it. It is a pleasure to consider, a treasure to have and hold. A quick search indicates that Google has no knowledge of its existence. Or, perhaps Google has decided that I don't need to know of its existence, and so has eliminated it from my search results. Twenty-five years ago, and earlier, the way we came upon this kind of publication was most often by finding it in our mailbox, mailed to us by its author or its publisher (who were frequently the same person). Well, it's 2018, and that's the way I got my copy of SM EAR. And that's a good part of why I am writing about it at all.

I will close this meditation with a "conversation" I found online. It is not a publication, or even in a publication. But it is writing, written by people whose writings are more often than not either published or archived or both. In the case of this, however, its very existence is in the hands of enormous corporations who will decide, based solely on considerations of profitability, whether or not anyone should ever have access to it at all.

I think this text, and many many more very much like it, are in danger of disappearing completely, forever. Relatively speaking, publications like SM EAR would seem to be in very little danger of disappearing. Get in touch with John and ask him. Maybe he'll send you a copy.

Meanwhile, I will save for you some thoughts on what to do with a wadded-up sheet of paper.

From ThE/ CuT-UP/ TecHNiQUE/, a Mail Art group found on the International Union of Mail-Artists website

Comment by Richard Canard on March 20, 2016 at 8:00pm

20.03.16 Dare Miss Noma, ...Like millions & millions of other folk, I have waded up a sheet of paper a thousand times & given it a non-thoughtful toss into the trash. Is John M. Bennett the first artist to actually find poetry in "a ball of printed paper" & proclaim its potential??? ...well, he does seem to have been doing that sort of thing all along.

Comment by Richard Canard on March 20, 2016 at 9:27pm

20.03.16 Dare Miss Noma & Mister Carl Baker, ...apparently I still yet have difficulty in expressing myself clearly. What I was attempting to say was the fact that I never saw the same aesthetic possibilities that JMB seemed to recognize. John M. Bennett has indeed been around a long time & his efforts have (in my opinion) enriched the arena of visual poetry. Richard

Comment by John M. Bennett on March 21, 2016 at 12:44am
Not the first; Jim Leftwich has been taping down crunched-up wads of paper for some years now


Comment by John M. Bennett on March 30, 2016 at 2:17am
the avant-garde is really another tradition, the term isn't accurate. it's an alter-garde or other-garde!



email from Bennett to Leftwich, 03.04.2018

excellent and fascinating, your detailed account of what's in SM EAR makes me want to do more SM EARS or some such thing - glad you brought up Burroughs' ideas - WSB was someone i read in the early 1960's - Naked Lunch and the cut-up trilogy - the latter books i didn't fully understand, but was fascinated and felt there was something very important going on in them/with them. Now of course he makes a LOT of sense, and, i've said this before, the cut-up texts have a very particular sound/rhythm/diction/sense to them, and much of my writing is with that sound/etc., i don't have to physically "cut-up" anything. Just write that way. WSB affected me more than I knew...

Also glad to see those comments from Richard C, which I don't recall seeing before. Have known him in the mail for years...

Instruction Book
by John. M. Bennett
Luna Bisonte Prods, 2006

epigraph from the copyright page
"Instructions burning in the corner."
John M. Bennett, Image Standards, 1975

The first two poems in the book are straight, as in they are written to be read left to right, top to bottom. Each poem has seven numbered lines, and neither poem has any punctuation. The syntax is distorted at times, as in line 6 from How To Singe ("Climb your meat and wallet"), in which "wallet" is offered as a verb, or in line 5 of How To Drip ("Shore your grasp and buttock"), where we are given "buttock" as a verb. At least our experience during a first reading would indicate these readings (having been set-up by the structure of lines one and two).

Here is How To Singe, the first poem in the book, in its entirety (page 5):

1) Taste your shadow in the soup
2) Cage your neck and run
3) Fry your tube and listen
4) Drop your bee and towel
5) Say your foot and chisel
6) Climb your meat and wallet
7) Age your pocket in the ladder

Structurally, lines 1 and 7 are identical: verb -- second person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase.
Structurally, lines 2 and 3 are identical: verb -- second person possessive determiner -- noun -- conjunction -- verb.
Structurally, lines 4, 5 and 6 are identical: verb -- second person possessive determiner -- noun -- conjunction -- noun and/or verb rabbit/duck word. "Towel" and "chisel" are used in standard grammatical configurations as both nouns and verbs. Drop your bee and towel your feet. Say your foot and chisel a stone. But "wallet" is different. Wallet is not normally used as a verb. So, is line 6 a one-off, structurally, in the poem, i.e.: climb your meat and climb your wallet? Or, is line 6 structurally identical to line 2, where "wallet" is a verb meaning "poison the flowerbed" (as intimated in Ackerman's introduction). Enallage is more important than analogy when reading this kind of poem.

Grammar is a set of rules that explain and guide how words are used in a language. A grammar book, like Basic English Grammar, is essentially a book of instructions. From the outset, Bennett's Instruction Book looks very much like a Not-So-Basic English (Spanish, French, Portuguese and Nahuatl?) Grammar, or Anti-Grammar.

John Cage: Syntax, according to Norman [Norman O. Brown], is the arrangement of the army. As we move away from it, we demilitarize language. The demilitarization of language is conducted in many ways: a single language is pulverized; the boundaries between two or more languages are crossed; elements not strictly linguistic (graphic, musical) are introduced; etc.

Bennett and Cage are at times moving along on parallel paths, seemingly headed in the same direction.

The third poem in the book, How To Coffee, introduces words-spelled-backwards as a radical artifice for readers to negotiate. Line 1: Jerk your lens in the rorrim (= mirror). The last word in each line of How To Coffee is written backwards (licnep = pencil; ymotcenmos = somnectomy = "the act of cutting out" + "sleep"; anut = tuna; rettij = jitter; redloc = colder; sehsa = ashes). In order to fully appreciate just how destabilized this language is, a reader must become an active listener, and in the process of learning how to listen to these mirrorwords, a reader would benefit greatly from listening to Bennett read them.

In the fourth poem, How To Spansion, the third word is written backwards: e.g., 5) Rinse your egaggul and mister; or line 3) Fry your epahs and tubal. The third word in all of the lines so far has always been a noun. Here, once the mirrorwords are deciphered, the words are, as expected, shown to be nouns again (luggage; shape), but as written, as mirrorwords, we can have no clear idea concerning what part of speech they might be. With no semantic clues whatsoever, these letterstrings or vocables would float in a "no grammar zone", adrift in a linguistic space bereft of denotation and connotation, were it not for the expectations established by the structure of the preceding poems.

The lack of semantic and grammatical stability liberates the reader from traditional constraints of meaning-building. Personally, I am inclined to playfully improvise across the letter-space of these mirrorwords:

Rinse your ego egg gag gulp and mister
Drape your eel lute supper and spin (your elutsup = pustule)

Spansion, via expansion, etymologically from ex- ‘out’ + pandere ‘to spread.’ Spreading (the strawberry jelly of) meaning across the (slightly burnt wheat toast of) text.

Consider also, line 4) Clomp your ria and sumpage.
If the word "sump", which many of us know from the term "sump pump", means "a depression in the floor of a mine or basement in which water collects," then "sumpage" would refer to that which is collected in the depression.
Walk with a heavy tread, in your own air, in your own space, gathering, pooling, in the basement of your brain, all that enters through your whole sensorium, into you consciousness, and below. "Your ria" plus your "sumpage" (your sumpage, and that which you have sumpaged), is what Olson wrote of as proprioception:

PROPRIOCEPTION the cavity of the body,
in which the organs are slung: the viscera, or
interoceptive, the old ‘psychology’ of feeling,
the heart; of desire, the liver; of sympathy, the
‘bowels’; of courage—the kidney etc—gall,

and, later,

PROPRIOCEPTION: the data of depth sensibility/the ‘body’ of us as
object which spontaneously or of its own order
produces experience of, ‘depth’ Viz

Bennett and Olson are at times moving along on parallel paths, seemingly headed in the same direction.

On the next page (page 7), in How To Funnel, the first word of each line is backwards.

7) Knird your hack and aguacate
---Drink your hack and (translated from the Spanish) avocado
(also advocate, watercate)
Drink your hack and advocate
Drink your hack and watercate

I notice, on page 9, in How To Dump, that the adverb phrases ending lines 1 and 7 have been slightly altered, from phrases beginning with "in" to phrases beginning with "through". The most obvious thing this alters is the sound of the lines, but it also subtlety changes the "energy" of the poem, removing the stasis of "in" and replacing it with the ongoingness of "through". I am reminded again of Olson, how to get the energy of the poem from the author to the poem, and then from the poem to the reader (the poet will have many ways of doing this). I am also reminded of Burroughs invoking our need to abolish the verb "to be".

Also in How To Dump, the distribution of mirrorwords is irregular (last word in the first line; middle -- 3rd -- word in lines 2 through 6; no mirrorwords in line 7). Among our instructions as readers are reminders not to trust our expectations. Expectations are not established in these poems in order to be satisfied, they are set-up in order to be undermined.

Here is How To Thought, from page 9, in its entirety:

1) Dung his lirtson in the speeding
2) Slag his fork and elbuod
3) Gauge his esoon and salad
4) Find his knilb and cubit
5) Fore his kcar and nibble
6) Pine his whoosh and ihsus
7) Dang his noitacirbul in the clusters

Line 1: word 3 is backwards
Line 2: the last word is backwards
Line 3: word 3 is backwards
Line 4: word 3 is backwards
Line 5: word 3 is backwards
Line 1: the last word is backwards
Line 7: word 3 is backwards

How To Thought (in itself a textbook example of enallage) might be interpreted as a way of telling us, as readers, not to expect our past patterns of thinking to be reliable ways of engaging what is presently before us.

Every time we read a poem by John M. Bennett we find ourselves encouraged, if not compelled, to think in unfamiliar patterns. Something might remind us in some way of Olson, but the poems themselves certainly do not remind us of Olson at all. Something might make us think of John Cage, but the poems themselves do not look or sound like Cage. Something might make us remember Marjorie Perloff's term "radical artifice", but the more we think about it the less applicable it seems to Bennett. Even the writing of William Burroughs, with which Bennett has some close connections, neither looks nor sounds like any of Bennett's poems.

One thing to consider when reading Bennett is his lifelong interest in the Spanish and Portuguese avant-gardes. Not only does this interest shift his focus away from the American and English traditions is poetry, it also gives a secondary position to the most influential members of the twentieth century European avant gardes. While Bennett is certainly familiar with all of the historical avant gardes, his primary influences have not been -- to line-up only the most familiar of the usual suspects -- Marinetti, Tzara and/or Breton. In the brief text entitled "A Kind of Aesthetic" which he appended to Mailer Leaves Ham, Bennett says that writing poetry has always been for him a means to an end, that end being changing the language of poetry and thereby changing consciousness itself. "In order to leave 'poetry' behind," he writes, "in order to stop thinking about it, I've had to learn it and write it so much that I've found that the basic nature of language has changed."

Change language, and you change not only the content of thought, but the patterns of thinking within and about that content. You change not only the dots available to be connected, but the pathways, the routes, through which those connections might be made. Bennett continues: "Simply put, I wanted to change language from an instrument of socialization (or, at worst, of institutional control), into a vehicle for liberation, for growth of consciousness and responsibility."

Structure of How To Towel, on page 10

Line 1: noun/verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- conjunction -- verb
Line 2: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase
Line 3: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase
Line 4: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase
Line 5: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase
Line 6: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- adverb phrase
Line 7: verb -- third person possessive determiner -- noun -- conjunction -- gerund

Structure of How To Not, on page 10

Lines 1 through 7: noun -- preposition -- noun -- adjective phrase

Ok, enough of that. Only people who are professional instructors of grammar should require themselves to do that kind of analysis.

On pages twelve and thirteen we find variations on the structure of the title:

How Was Ham
which might be a question asked after someone has either followed or failed to follow a set of instructions

How You Glans
which may be a description of how you ekohc and knob

How He Itch
which is an invitation to misreading (How he dump your Jack and Ginsberg = Kcaj & Grebsnig), and an evocation of empathy for uneasiness (How he jowls your pen and temple)

How We Spatter
a confession to scattershooting obedience (lodge your numen in the cornflake -- that is, the ekalfnroc)

On page 23, in the poem entitled How To Meatball, the final adverb phrase of lines 1 and 7 has been truncated, and the central noun in the grammatical structure has been forced into the role of adjective:

1) Ekal your corner shadow
7) Tae your slugfest drainhole

All of these grammatical tricks, mirrored spellings, and generally slippery, banana-peel semantics are not simply games the poet plays to entertain a literate and/or literary potential readership. I think Bennett has long since abandoned any hope of gaining the attention of English majors. Bennett wants his readers to train themselves to think differently, using his poems as part of their training manual. He is finally not all that interested in the potentially infinite twists-and-turns of grammatical structures. After all, everyone already knows that colorless green ideas sleep furiously. But not everyone knows

coil or less lest green e'en ideas as deaths sleep leap furiously fur us sly.

OK. That's one way to meatball. There are many others.

In How To How To, on page 25, we find yet another formal shift:

Line 1: Glop hat and ekalf your puddle
Line 7: Shot spat and ekac your middle
Lines 2 through 6 are of the "verb your noun and verb" model.

So, given this very resonant title, what are we to make of the rhyming first and last lines?

Glop hat and flake your puddle
Shot spat and cake your middle

glop -- shot
hat -- spat
and flake -- and cake
your puddle -- your middle

The two lines collapse onto one another. They insist on their presence to your attention. They empty themselves into the swarming void of your mind as utterly emptied signifiers. Denotations serve no purpose here -- other than as echoes, shadows, distant memories of a set of discarded expectations. The process of meaning-building, collaborative or otherwise, is thwarted at its outset. There is a music here, naked, fiercely insistent, hammered into our skulls: we are not permitted to mistake it for anything else. Look at the title again: How To How To. It is, in itself, an even more exact rhyme than that of lines 1 and 7. It is so exact, in fact, that we might be forgiven if we choose to think of it as something other than a rhyme. But in it, Bennett is explaining, quite succinctly, one of the central tenets of his poetics.

I take a short break, make a few bag texts. Bag texts are a kind of visual poem that I started making on the trip home from the 2002 avant writing symposium at OSU. Tonight I did some late-night grocery shopping at Kroger, so I had some Kroger bags to work with. I should say play with: after all, what I'm doing is tearing up plastic bags and taping the scraps to index cards and sheets of copy paper. When the bags are ripped apart the writing on them stretches and breaks. I'm looking at one right now and it looks like it might possibly read:

"yr fooTs

I can't find anything very close to that on an intact Kroger bag. Another one reads:

ow p

And another:


I am beginning to find messages in these scraps, something nuanced, nearly invisible, having to do with the loa (sometimes referred to as "invisibles), and perhaps with love.

How To Think, on page 26, seems on its surface to say, I am not going to tell you how to think.
However, the poems say wildly, flapping us with a sideways glance, I am going to tell you not to think of an elephant: do not think of how to think.
Now that you are unable to think of anything else, what exactly are you thinking? And more importantly, how exactly are you thinking whatever it is that you are thinking? Are you drying your eyebrow in the sink? Are you flapping your favors in the sink? Have you already decided that this is the kitchen sink. This is the poem of everything but the kitchen sink, plus the kitchen sink.
Line 7: Fly your minding in the sink.
You will be expected to teach yourself how to think. This poem is part of the training manual. This Instruction Book is part of the training manual. By now you will have gotten the idea, but you still have to choose to accept its basic premise. And then you have to follow its meandering instructions.

The next poem after How To Think is How To Use. It says, perhaps too clearly and too close:

1) Use dunk and pile
2) Use plenty and norm
3) Use roof and steam
4) Use ruckus and door
5) Use hole and troop
6) Use map and tremble
7) Use throat and double
8) Use bind and sender
9) Use pits and mountain

One thing to notice here: there are no backwards words.
Another thing: there are two more lines than in the standard form (there are a couple of other, earlier, poems in the book with more than 7 lines).

I suggest too clearly and too close because we have been trained so far in this book to give a place of diminished importance to the meanings of single words, and to the meanings of words in sequence.

How To Use, however, is concerned with being clear, and with telling us what to do, an attitude if you will which some of us might be inclined to take personally.

Use plenty and norm, it tells us. Does that hit close to home? Do what you will with every word there, but norm will still mean norm.

Use ruckus and door, it tells me. I don't want to hear it. I have specific memories, and I am beyond that kind of thing. I am reminded of Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil, a book I read in high school: The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we have 'improved.'

Use map and tremble, it says. Yes, I know. On a good day, yes.

These are highly subjective instructions, and will be interpreted associationally, but it is hard to imagine them being read closely without being taken personally. This poem is about you, no matter who you are, and it has not entered any kind of popularity contest. It cares too much to care about whether or not it is liked.

If How To Use is intentionally too clear for comfort, then What To Od (page 63) is too bend and crow your bullets barn from bowling. We protest -- but I already know what to do! The poem is not persuaded by our protestations. We do not threaten anything that it cares about. It stands before us, like a tank, and stares us down.

Bend and tuop your cowing wind--
I will neither bend nor pout, cows notwithstanding in the wind--

and emarf your pooling whine and--
first pout, pout backwards, and now frame my pooling whine?
I have no pooling wine, nor puling whine--

worc your finding lung and emoc--
crow is only here because cow was here earlier--
emoc, a slant-mirror of worc--

your pancake shat and emit your--
tahs and time your--
emit omits admit--

bullets know and krof your dollop--
fork your pollod--
we know tahw to do--

bam and ekorts your flinger dump--
stroke your flinger--
(that sounds like sound advice)--

and emaf your custard ring and--
fame your dratsuc gnir--

from your dust send and tnuom
your bowing--
that, all ludic beyondsense aside, sounds like very sage advice

from your dust send and mount your bowing

It makes me think of Philip Whalen, but I can't remember why. It's not the Sourdough Mountain poem, or Further Notice. Not his handwritten visual poems. I open the Collected Poems online and look around a little. After a while I come to Minor Moralia.

This is on page 261:

1 Law: Raise your hand
2 Law: Move your feet
3 Law: Listen
4 Law: Don't commit suicide


Everybody's telling you

1. "Nothing you (one person) can do will make the slightest
difference." Follow Law 1: use hand to write me.
2. "You cannot escape." Follow Law 2: use feet, to convey
you out of town.
3. "The mass communications media are in the hands of
liars." Follow Law 3: Listen to me or any other poet.
4. "The world as we know it is about to be destroyed." Follow
Law 4: suicide means you have been played for a sap by a
two-year-old idiot child and also means that you believe in
and approve everything the newspapers say -- I believe you
know better.

Further instructions will be forthcoming.
Use these now, under pain of being something else,

As with Olson, and Cage, and Burroughs, and everyone else who comes to mind when I am reading Bennett, this snippet from Whalen actually has very little to do with Bennett, and has everything to do with the idea of a poem as a mirror.

Instruction Book is 117 pages long, with the first poems appearing on page five. On page 70, the poems change drastically, in appearance and in sound, becoming sparse, haiku-like, quasi-lyric poems, for the most part centered on the page. This form predominates throughout most of the rest of the book. Here is How Ot Fold, complete, from page 79:

pmuj ti out
thguob your ekaf
shack hcnerd

rebmalc it

And here is How To Reppoh, in its entirety, from page 81:

dnilb your wodniw

The haiku form lends itself readily to koan-like utterances. Poems like these lyrical instructions have more than a little in common with the notion of the zen slap, that moment when we are suddenly jarred into an unexpected awareness. When we "translate" the backwards words into normative English we sometimes experience a sense of increased electricity leaping among the synapses:

jump it out
bought your fake
shack drench

clamber it


blind your window

This is one of my favorites (you can translate it for yourself):

What To Bard

trihs bals "against the light"
mool wham

and rinse

The word "hint" has a somewhat surprising etymology -- early 17th century (in the sense ‘occasion, opportunity’): apparently from obsolete hent ‘grasp, get hold of,’ from Old English hentan, of Germanic origin; related to hunt. The basic notion is ‘something that may be taken advantage of.’ But once we consider it for a moment we can detect a lingering trace of "something that may be taken advantage of" in the current definition. On page 105 of the Instruction Book we find a poem entitled How To Hint. The first thing we notice is that none of the words in the title are spelled backwards. That in itself is a hint concerning how we are to approach this poem. However, it is only a hint, as we quickly discover upon entering into our reading:

1) Shape the wodahs in your egaggul
2) Stop the ocof at your suna
3) Stun the aicsaf next your ekortsyek
4) Spill the elpmet for your xobllip
5) Sop the tunhguod through your noihsuc
6) Spork the ecikcap out your yhpargoib
7) Split the efinkkaets off your kcottub

Stop the ocof at your suna. Even though I understand Bernadette Dorn's dictum, that the violence of the oppressed is qualitatively different from the violence of the oppressor, I am still unwilling to advocate violence as a solution, if only because violence is a very significant part of the problem, and if successful it will only train another generation to believe in the efficacy of violence as a means of getting what it wants, thus perpetuating the problem in the hands of a new leadership. We continue with the project, the dream, the aspiration towards a new kind of education, as old as thinking itself, yet a new kind of thinking, consciousness perhaps enlightened in the poetry of the zen slap, moving from one section of the training manual to another, life itself a kind of ongoing research, in and around the poem, poetry and related matters, life itself, once we have opened the book of life and are open to it, a training manual in all of its aspects, where consciousness changes language and a changed language changes consciousness, while everyone is called as always, to change life and transform the world.

Page 113:

Rock Bug

blind my arm
hot medals

dice 'n dust



email exchange between Bennett and Leftwich, 03.05.2018

JMB: well let's see if i can get down my notes on this between dashes to the toilet:

first, a couple typos i happened to notice:

p. 4, 2nd parag. starting Every time we read a poem by...: you have "Some might makes us think..." should be "make"

4th page from end, top of page, first line has "What to Od" - is that a typo? maybe not

First page, the epigraph should have no comma, and should read: "Instructions burning in the corner".

ok, enough of that,

Very intriguing the idea of demilitarizing language. hard to do in our world today, but it's what must be worked toward. Language as control: i think i have a chapbook or TLP with that title: Control. Control by releasing control within a form or process. which is decontrol.

Enallage - hah! never heard that term before. it's very much something i do a lot, as do you.

I'm glad you pointed out my focus/background in Iberian literatures, as opposed to Anglo-American. I would also add that French lit has been a big part of my literary world. Not that I'm completely ignorant of my "own" language and lit, which i studied in school, and even wrote an honors thesis on Wallace Stevens. But i have to say that though in college i was hanging around other poets, going to readings, taking classes, i found most of what i was reading kinda boring, and was slowly moving out of that world, moving much faster as soon as i started discovering french and spanish-language poets

"the attention of English majors" - yes, rather a waste of time trying to get that. even more so the attention of english professors! However, in the past few years, a few english majors have come forward with interest in what i do, and in what others of us in this sub-culture do. about time!

These poems from yr ripped and stretched plastic bags are great! "yr fooTs/drip" - really beautiful. I've liked what you do with those bags for some time, actually - stretch-outs as a form of cut-up!

this Instruction Book started when I wrote up a few performance scores for FluxFest, and they kept on going. they of course are impossible to perform (perhaps) except in the mind or voice. Yr essay on the book is really amazing, it highlights things in the book I haven't paid much attention to, things that now seem important. it's given the book a whole new life for me - thank you! It's a book to be read, more than a book to be performed or read out loud.

It's also a book, like almost all of mine, in which i've worked out a way of using language that then gets incorporated and transformed in the next book, or next style of writing i do. these Instructions get churned into the next phase; much like the Dream Inexplanations (also a Fluxus project) are now growling around in the poems i'm writing today. i suppose this means greater and greater complexity. which is fine with me; after all, what i'm trying to do, one of the things i'm trying to do, is say everything all at once, contain the world in a few lines of written/read/spoken language

on that note of supreme arrogance,
i'll go on void onvoid o void


JL: thanks for all of this. obviously it needs to be added as a postscript.

"What to Od” is on page 63 of the book.

i don't have anything at all against arrogance when it's accurate, and i'm guessing that you don't either.
i'm glad you're willing to say that kind of thing.

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