Jim Leftwich

Some Notes, Expositions, & Other Things on Works by John M. Bennett (1)

by John M. Bennett
Laughing Bear Press, 1985

The first time I visited John's house, during the 2002 Avant Writing Symposium, he took me upstairs to his office and the first thing I remember seeing was a small banner or a bumper sticker on the wall that said I'M AN ANARCHIST AND I VOTE. A few months earlier George W. Bush had given the commencement address at The Ohio State University, where the Avant Writing Symposium was being held, and where John was employed as founding curator of the avant writing archival collection. Some of the graduating students were less than thrilled by the presence of Mr. Bush. They threatened to turn their backs on him while he spoke. The university in turn threatened to deny them their diplomas. On the day of Bush's address there were snipers positioned on the roofs of buildings near the stadium where he was speaking. It was less than a year after 9/11. The days were strange and getting stranger.

Today it is 16 years later, and I am reading a chapbook that was published 17 years earlier, in 1985. The book is entitled NO BOY and it was published in Denver by Laughing Bear Press, 33 years ago. 33 years before that Jack Kerouac was in Denver, hanging out at El Chapultepec bar (named after a large park in Mexico City, the ancient seat of Aztec emperors), listening to jazz. He and his friends would get high in the parking lot, then go in and listen. There was never a cover, and you didn't have to buy anything. It was perfect for Kerouac and his friends: just the kind of entertainment they liked, and also the kind they could afford.

When I think of folks announcing that they vote I usually think of slogans like I'M THE NRA AND I VOTE or I'M THE MORAL MAJORITY AND I VOTE or I'M PRO-LIFE AND I VOTE, right-wing threats to any reasonable notion of why democracy in general and electoral politics in particular might be important. The slogan I'M AN ANARCHIST AND I VOTE is a mockery of the usual jingoist assertions. One way of thinking about anarchism is to imagine it as a logical extension of the idea of participatory democracy.

I think of No Boy as an anarchic spirit, quite likely one with a strong streak of Beat rebelliousness in his background. The first poem in the NO BOY chapbook reads, in its entirety, as follows:


Hat on skull
hand on belt
shoe rising over the sill

Hooray! No Boy escapes, out the window and into the world. The second poem in this adventure introduces us to Yes-Boy ("Yes-Boy Looks For No"). Yes-Boy is sitting in a parked car, watching No Boy on a fire escape. Yes-Boy gets off from work and watches No Boy "chainsaw a mattress" on TV. In the last stanza Yes-Boy is opening his car door, "standing in the clear cold wind". That clear cold wind might be anywhere: Columbus, Ohio; Lowell, Massachusetts; New York City; Denver; Chicago; St. Louis; Roanoke, Virginia. Wherever it is, it isn't far from The Road.

No Boy digs a hole in the yard and finds a stone.
He goes into a grocery store in a trance, looks out a window at a cloudless sky.

In poem five (of seventeen total in this chapbook), he murders the boss.

I / was standing on the highway with bits of / siding between my teeth

he was / standing in the driveway with the / carburning thoughts behind him

shrinking up his nose he / hears the phone ringing at the office the
terminals droning in the sudden silence

In poem six he is dressed as "The Preest". He saw pulsing foreheads strewn on a / parkinglot. "My hands are mirrors" he said to the dawn / and wriggled his fingers in front of his eyes.

In the poem entitled No Boy, the character No Boy is wandering through the nightmarish hallucination of Columbus:

I walked behind the empty discount store saw
a rusty trashburner, a bin of
flaking tires, a giant compactor with
GOD and REFUSE COLUMBUS on the side I
stared out at the ragged woods behind the place,
heaps of rubble, splintered trees and
thought of shopping carts stuffed with
lawnmower wheels buried beneath the mud where I stood

I tried to leave, my feet were stuck...

That is exactly how I remember 1985. I was in San Francisco. Reagan was in The White House. Our government was in Central America, trading guns for cocaine, fighting against freedom, justice and human dignity. I don't know how any of us survived the 1980s.

"Ripening of Meat" is the next poem:

He opens the door a
car screeches away in the street he
picks up some wrappings and
walks to a bare spot behind the garage
"What's it say?" he thinks,
staring at the reeking signs and blotches

He is reading the trash as if doing so is a method of divination. There have been times in my life when I have been certain that reading the trash is a method of divination. I knew how to do it, and I did it on a daily basis. What's it say, we say, asking the trash itself, asking the world, the cosmos, asking ourselves. At first we are surprised when we get an answer. Later, we don't even need to ask. Eventually, the trash is asking us. We write poems to help the world understand itself.

So many of these lines end where you would least expect them to. They often end with prepositions, articles, and pronouns. I imagine Robert Creeley reading them, with a full stop at the end of each line. There is a nice, noisy, disjunctive music in what I hear. Drive, he said. No-Boy wakes up with chicken intestines in his mouth. I see a thick black word pushing out its mouth, shiny from the light behind me. His feet are wet his hands are burnt.

Poem #13 is entitled "No Sax":

No Sax

He was jerking the giblet bag out of the
chicken he was blowing into the
neckhole he was thinking it was a
saxophone, sqwakings blast past flapping shreds of skin;
cloud of scissors floats around his feet a
sound no sound is hissing through his ears
"It's the note, the note" he says
pulsing his fingers on the glistening back

I think of late Coltrane, Interstellar Space, of Albert Ayler playing marches and spirituals, of Frank Wright in Europe, of Brotzmann's "Machine Gun". It's the note, the note. Pharoah Sanders, The Healing Song. Coltrane, A Love Supreme. Ayler, Music Is The Healing Force of The Universe. It's the middle of the 1980s. The Cold War is at its worst. We march from one end of the city to the other to protest mutually assured destruction. As if anyone is listening... The whole world is not watching. Margaret Thatcher is telling us, there is no alternative. The unions have been busted and the bullshit that is Reaganomics is just beginning to trickle down onto our heads. Why shouldn't we be thinking of Captain Beefheart, Big Eyed Beans From Venus?... Mister Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long (lunar, looming, leaning) note, and let it float. (Note at Home Page Replica -- many people argue for looming or leaning or something else here, but since Bill Harkleroad's book about the Magic Band is called "Lunar Notes", it's a safe guess to assume the correct phrase is "lunar".)

from "Dying No-Boy"

He's yawning, wishing for sleep, to
drift above the parkinglot, his
skin surrounded by another's skin
undulating slowly in the thick tongues of air

from "Night Shopping"

The parkinglot the
wall of light a
few dark heads drift above the
glinting carroofs

Of the seventeen poems here at least eleven mention either parkinglots, cars, highways, or streets, and several mention more than one of those things. So, what is this book about? A guy who hates the 80s, the American death-machine of the 1980s, who feels trapped in the American death-trap of the midwest, of Columbus, Ohio, a microcosm of Death Incorporated, middle-American style, who wants desperately to escape, who dreams of being on the road to anywhere but where he is, but whose cars are stuck in parking lots. His brain is filled with big, surrealist ideas. He wants to Be... An-Ar-Key, but instead he's doing some late-night shopping, searching through the discount store, passing walls of clocks guns wigs antiperspirants.

On the lake, No Boy stands with his hammer in his pants [...] he cocks back his hammer and whips it over the waves [...] he closes his eyes and he's in the

basement in front of a puddle, sees in it
nails clotted with linty cobwebs and the
toe of his greasy shoe, he lies down next to it
puts his cheek on the cool still edge
"hundreds of hats" he sees "They're
floating on the peak of the lake"

And No Boy is floating with them. And we, for an hour or two, have been floating with him. The ghost of Margaret Thatcher can go fuck itself. There has always been an alternative.



email between Bennett and Leftwich, 03.03.2018

JMB: jim, this is very moving, reading this; you make the book seem vivid and real, a book i haven't looked at in years, it's like opening a door

No Boy is what I was trying to write when i wrote Found Objects, that early book from 1973 (do you have a copy?)

Thanks for bringing no boy back to me

o void o void o void,

JL: the 80s were difficult for me, were difficult for a lot of us i think. by 1986 i had pretty much had enough. then i met Sue and she kind of kept me going for a few years when i'm really not sure what might have happened without her. No Boy is a great 1980s American book of poems. No Boy the character is too fiercely imaginative to be entirely despondent.

there was a song in the early 80s, you might remember it, by a group called PIL (Public Image Ltd), which was led by the former front man for the Sex Pistols, John Lydon/Johnny Rotten. part of the chorus was "anger is an energy". it was a notion worth knowing back then, for better and for worse.

reading No Boy allowed me to write about some things that i probably wouldn't have gotten around to writing about while reading, for example, rOlling COMBers. or any of your most recent books.
i like the book, enjoyed reading it last night, and appreciate the things it gave me to think about.

i haven't seen Found Objects, and of course i would love to see it.

JMB: will have to get you a copy, i think i still have a few

no: wait, Found Objects was the book of cutup/collage poems in a box - of that i have no copies. (my memory is overwhelmed) I was thinking of WHITE SCREEN, 1976 - has series of poems about highways and shopping centers, and such. Do you have that one? It's sort of squarish, softbound, b/w illus. on cover. i may have copies of it

yeah, the 1980's: i still had a lot of anger then - from a divorce, from loosing professor job (which turned out to be a good thing in the long run, long story), etc. but it was also the time i got together with cathy, which was wonderful, and still is

I don't remember that song, tho i did listen to the Sex Pistols quite a bit. oh yes.

Pee Text
by John M. Bennett
small chapbook project, 2007

Pee Text

shade sol der ,me           the lightbulb fire
yr s hunt loose           b yr throat outside
t the sing le sha           e the shotgun mist
intent ion floating toward the b ridge lost in s
un dulation ,cag            pe nd ant gr ease
,time to coughing ,lo           ,page of s cowling a
the floor raging in           at comb bus ted

.the camper like a           r inkwell fulla urine
per drooling soldier           allowed  .dip the nest
,dropped an blanch            to yr "woods" the l
,sp read across ,the sough creep ,the buzzing
lantern d rifts in           ed ,knocking talking
azy sword sw           stepped an f layed
inside yr face y           bloat business ,sot ham

Let's say our first attempt to read the poem entitled "Pee Text" is an attempt to read it left to right, top to bottom. As we read the first stanza we become increasingly frustrated with what happens semantically across the central gap. "Me" to "the", "loose" to "b", "sha" to "e", "cag" to "pe", "lo" to ",page", "in" to "at". What are we, as readers, supposed to do with any of that? Personally, I decide fairly quickly that the left to right, top to bottom reading route is a failure for this poem. I take a quick look at reading in columns, down the left column, back to top-right, then down the right side.

shade sol der ,me
yr s hunt loose
t the sing le sha
intent ion floating
un dulation ,cag
,time to coughing ,lo
the floor raging in

the lightbulb fire
b yr throat outside
e the shotgun mist
toward the b ridge lost in s
pe nd ant gr ease
,page of s cowling a
at comb bus ted

I can enjoy this kind of noisic chaos, but I suspect this poem of having more than just that to offer.

I remember some Bennett poems from the nineties, inside-out poems I think he called them, my memory is a little fuzzy on this (my memory is a little fuzzy on a lot of things from approximately 25 years ago), but I do recall specifically that the first word of the poem "rhymed" with the last word, and that pattern held through the poem (the first word in the second line "rhymed" with the last word in the penultimate line, etc.), so I decide to look at the first half of the first line here and see how it matches up with the last half of the last line:

shade sol der ,me           bloat business ,sot ham

That is not helpful.

"Shade" to "ham", first word to last word, is also not helpful. 

What about first word of first stanza to last word of first stanza?

"Shade" to "ted". 

Also not helpful.

However, I do glimpse something promising when looking at first line, first column, 
first stanza in relation to last line, second column, first stanza:

shade sol der ,me           at comb bus ted

Close the gap and we have the word "meat". What happens if we continue looking at this pattern?

Line two:
yr s hunt loose          ,page of s cowling a

Hmm. Maybe we are not onto anything at all.
Line three:
t the sing le sha          pe nd ant gr ease


Is this mere coincidence? How likely is that?

Line five:
un dulation ,cag           e the shotgun mist


Line six:
,time to coughing ,lo           b yr throat outside


And line seven:
the floor raging in           the lightbulb fire

All of which results in the following as stanza one:

shade sol der ,me           at comb bus ted
yr s hunt loose          ,page of s cowling a
t the sing le sha          pe nd ant gr ease
intent ion floating toward the b ridge lost in s
un dulation ,cag           e the shotgun mist
,time to coughing ,lo           b yr throat outside
the floor raging in           the lightbulb fire

There is a recognizable, functional syntax here, albeit destabilized -- gapped in multiple ways. Discontinuity has a complex relationship to dis-contiguity. We read forward, left to right, intention floating toward the bridge, and then we start over, intent, intent ion -- floating toward the -- bridge, bridge and ridge, ridge after bridge, ridge just beyond the bridge -- lost in -- sun, lost in the sun, the sun undulation, undulation as a kind of duration...

Stanza two works exactly the same way.

The best way to contextualize the existence of a book like Pee Text is to think of the history of the mimeograph revolution, which begins in the conscientious objectors' camps in Oregon during World War II, evolves through the secret location (383 E. 10th St, Lower East Side, NYC) of Ed Sanders' Peace Eye bookstore (where Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts was published in the early sixties), morphs into the punk and zine subcultures of the late-seventies and eighties, begins to take advantage of email in the mid-nineties (with emailed "magazines" of experimental poetry like Jake Berry's Electronic Experioddica, my Juxta/Electronic, and Tom Taylor's Vision Project), moves on to blogzines beginning in the early 00s (Peter Ganick's experiential-experimental literature, my Textimagepoem, Berry's 9th Street Laboratories, Bennett's The John M. Bennett Poetry Blog, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen's nonlinear poetry, textual conjectures, and self-similar writing -- and many many others not quite so close to my own poetical neighborhood), and around that same time begins to take advantage of print-on-demand services with the appearance of POD presses devoted to experimental poetry like Ganick's Blue Lion Books and Kervinen's eIghT-pAGE pREss.

The publication of Pee Text and the other chapbooks in the small chapbook project was part of a parallel development in the mid-00s, a resistance against the idea, and the actuality, of digitizing all micro-press publishing endeavors as a way of cutting costs, which had become a necessity for many micro-press publishers, myself included. Ganick's solution to this complex problem was to publish in extremely small editions, with numbers normally associated with tlps, broadsides, and subcultural ephemera. However, because of the quality of Ganick's publications, of which Pee Text is one of the highest examples, these micro-press chapbooks have not disappeared entirely into inaccessible archival collections. They sit on our shelves mixed in with the entire range of experimental poetry publications.

The small chapbook project (scp) was an imprint used by Peter Ganick for a few years in the mid-to-late 00s, roughly from 2005 to 2008. The first four titles published by scp were by Ganick himself:
we walk sleepily forward (2005);
mainstay (2005);
sailing in six/four (2005);
eminence: treble clef (2005).

Requests for submissions required manuscripts to be between 20 and 44 pages in 5.5" x 8.5" format.

Peter published several of my chapbooks during those years:
art bang (2006);
gathering the clock --parts 1 and 2, in two volumes (2007);
shrimp teeth (2007);
short sorties (2008).

SCP also published two chapbooks by John M. Bennett:
Shoulder Cream (2006);
Pee Text (2007).

SCP publications were very streamlined, minimalist productions. Title and author's name at the top of the "cover" page (and in the case of Pee Text, date of publication as well), with the contents of the book beginning about four spaces down. With some scp publications, Pee Text being one of them, the contents would end on the "back cover", followed by copyright information and the address for the press. On some scp publications the number of copies printed was included on the back cover (eg.; 22 for Shoulder Cream; 21 for Art Bang). This information was not included for Pee Text, but my recollection is that all scp editions were expected to be in the 20 - 25 copies range.

In the world of poetry in general and experimental poetry in particular terms like small press and micro-press are defined very loosely, so we might think of Ganick's earlier press, Potes & Poets as a small press operation and small chapbook project as a micro-press publisher. In this context Bennett's Lost and Found Times magazine and Luna Bisonte Prods might be thought of as small press (though some of their activities, like the publication of tlps and broadsides, suggest a very strong affiliation with the world of micro-press publication), and Olchar Lindsann's mOnocle-Lash Anti-Press and In-Appropriate-d Press zine might be seen as micro-press. In my own publishing experience, Juxta magazine could be seen as a small press operation for its first three issues (issues 1 - 3, 500 copies, perfect bound), changing to micro-press for the rest of its 10-issue run (issues 4 -- comb-bound -- and 5/6 -- spiral-bound, 100 copies; issues 7 - 10 -- side stapled, copies to contributors only). Xtant was a micro-press operation from its inception. TLPress was started so I would have an imprint for the tlps I was making circa. 2010. It is as micro- as it gets. It has expanded a little, but not very much in the ensuing eight years. Now there are some pdf publications under the tlpress imprint, there are some broadsides and bookmarks, and there are even some one-off chapbooks. In any case, what prompts all of these considerations tonight is my appreciation of Peter Ganick's micro-press imprint, small chapbook project, which was active 10 years or so ago, and which has left a disproportionately large footprint in my world, and in the worlds of some of my closest associates.

Pee Text
Stanza two:

.the camper like a          bloat business ,sot ham
per drooling soldier           stepped an f layed
,dropped an blanch            ed ,knocking talking
,sp read across ,the sough creep ,the buzzing
lantern d rifts in           to yr "woods" the l
azy sword sw           allowed  .dip the nest
inside yr face y            r inkwell fulla urine

the buzzing lantern drifts into yr woods the lazy sword swallowed...
the buzzing lantern drifts rifts into yr woods the lazy sword allowed…

I see also "the lazys words wallowed". Even though it isn't written, the eye in collusion with the mind will read it.

sot ham hamper ... per drooling soldier ... stepped and flayed layed

Faced with this variety of a writing-against-itself, we read against our readings, 
start and stop, piece the same portions together in multiple combinations, add a letter 
here, drop a letter there, read back and forth as if a single sequence of letters, 
or of words, was layered, as if we were reading a kind of overprinting, as if an 
imbricate text -- which already presents us with the extreme difficulty of not 
actually existing -- were something we could recombine in an improvised reading process.

The poem on the back cover / last page, "The flood", uses the same form, with a 
couple of added twists.

The flood

puzz led all the l           ed yr por c h um
roat the screwdex lat           g starts ,massed of
x crashing d own t           r doll blisters she
fester hat kissed with bomb . yr boat holes y
r ought laughs y           he stairway like a
dding ,clusters ,do           her in yr steam bo
mot or mountings ag           anguid hum ping th

ped guesstrion ,tan           ns its eye n on you
spoon whirls doub           an mild ew a ris
er knickknacks cr           tumble an the breath
con tent tab le ading toward the bled room w
here there's the s           acking "dream" my
"of nations"  .gas           ting w hat yr f lust
ing fauce t b rai           k dribbling ,porque

I can't resist this configuration, which otherwise in all probability will not exist 
anywhere, ever:

puzz , porque

puzz led all the l           
roat the screwdex lat           
x crashing d own t           
fester hat kissed with 
r ought laughs y           
dding ,clusters ,do           
mot or mountings ag           

ed yr por c h um
g starts ,massed of
r doll blisters she
bomb . yr boat holes y
he stairway like a
her in yr steam bo
anguid hum ping th

ped guesstrion ,tan           
spoon whirls doub           
er knickknacks cr           
con tent tab le ading 
here there's the s           
"of nations"  .gas          
ing fauce t b rai           

ns its eye n on you
an mild ew a ris
tumble an the breath
toward the bled room w
acking "dream" my
ting w hat yr f lust
k dribbling ,porque

The flood

puzz led all the l           anguid hum ping th
roat the screwdex lat           her in yr steam bo
x crashing d own t          he stairway like a
fester hat kissed with bomb . yr boat holes y
r ought laughs y           r doll blisters she
dding ,clusters ,do           g starts ,massed of
mot or mountings ag           ed yr por c h um

ped guesstrion ,tan           k dribbling ,porque
spoon whirls doub           ting w hat yr f lust
er knickknacks cr           acking "dream" my
con tent tab le ading toward the bled room w
here there's the s           tumble an the breath
"of nations"  .gas           an mild ew a ris
ing fauce t b rai          ns its eye n on you

For starters here, reading across the gap between stanzas, I find myself piecing together portions of words distributed over three very different intrusions of emptiness, of space: 1) the central gap in the line, which allows the word "aged" to occur more slowly than might normally be the case; 2) the extra spaces distributed within this letterstring, which permits us to read with clarity and certainty "porch" and "chum", along with "poor", so arriving at "poor porch chum" with hardly a stretch at all; and 3) the line separating the stanzas which gives us, slowly, not as one thought flowing into another, but as two distinct thoughts, "poor porch chum" followed by "poor porch chum chumped".

Then, for closers, parse the final line: "rising faucet trains brains rains its eye in on you".

Now, decide for yourself, exactly what kind of flood have you been treated and/or subjected to? Crashing down the stairway like a fester hat kissed with bomb.


email exchange between Bennett & Leftwich 03.02.2018

JMB: this is delightful, i think you're maybe the only person i know of who actually figured out the structure of those poems - and i love the opening passage in which you try different de-puzzling ideas, until you hit the right one. Ha! wonderful - and as i said, this kind of thing is a development out of that inside-out stuff in Mailer Leaves Ham, sort of the same idea but twisted further or again inside out - inside out of the inside out, or something.

good summary of micro/small press activity as well. my own micro-press stuff started - at least after my childhood stuff - with access to a ditto machine when i was in grad school at UCLA in the mid-1960's - those spirit-master copies in pale blue, that faded to nothing if left in the sun. i still have copies of that stuff in a dusty cubbyhole pile under my desk... or perhaps in the back of a closet downstairs...

JL: when i showed olchar and the guys how it worked the first question i got was how long did it take you to figure that out. well, it didn't really take all that long for this particular book, because i had learned some of your methods and forms from earlier books. i had an idea of what to look for.

i think maybe i should add this as a postscript too. there are little bits and pieces of info in our email exchanges that might not be readily available anywhere else.

JMB: yeah, good idea to add these bits

March 01/02. 2018

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