Jim Leftwich

Expositions on Two Books by John. M. Bennett

Spitting DDreams by John M. Bennett
Blue Lion Books, 2009
Spitting was written 1983 - 1986 DDreams was written in 1981

On page 198 there is a poem numbered 133. It follows poem 66, and is followed by poem 66, but the second 66 is not the same as the first 66.

66 (page 197)

Saw a coffin
nails piled inside it


Saw a skeleton
the bones were yellow worms

Here is poem 133, which separates the two 66s:

I was in the basement
saw hammers near the furnace

I notice that the number 133 is 66 plus 66 plus 1, which describes its position in these two number sequences.
DDreams begins on page 130, and begins again on page 264.
Poems 1 through 66 move in both directions towards page 198, where they add up to poem
133. Which is proof — more proof, if any more proof is needed — that poems do not add up.

That's not how they work, and that's not what they're for. I remember reading Gregory Bateson on numbers twenty-five years ago and thinking immediately that number as pattern is enormously important to poetry, and not only when writing it. Recognizing number as pattern is essential to reading poetry. Here are a couple of paragraphs from Bateson:

"Numbers are the product of counting. Quantities are the product of measurement. This means that numbers can conceivably be accurate because there is a discontinuity between each integer and the next. Between two and three, there is a jump. In the case of quantity, there is no such jump; and because jump is missing in the world of quantity, it is impossible for any quantity to be exact. You can have exactly three tomatoes. You can never have exactly three gallons of water. Always quantity is approximate."

"Even when number and quantity are clearly discriminated, there is another concept that must be recognized and distinguished from both number and quantity. For this other concept, there is, I think, no English word, so we have to be content with remembering that there is subset of patterns whose members are commonly called "numbers". Not all numbers are the products of counting. Indeed, it is the smaller, and therefore commoner, numbers that are often not counted but recognized as patterns at a single glance."

Pattern-recognition in the arts is a form of play. It is a form of magic, perhaps the quintessential form of magic. We learn that as children, and then we are taught to forget it. But the forgetting does not take in some of us. We know intuitively that five is equal to six. Five is equal to six because the world is a poem. And as such, it can neither be monetized nor weaponized. Poem as magical play within a world of shape-shifting patterns — is protection against the degradation of human relationships to economics. A poem is a banishing ritual, a hex against war for money (all war is always war for money, behind whatever noble bullshit is being fed us as the flavor of the week).

Three is a triangle. Four is a square, the four dots at the corners. Five is a quincunx, the square with a dot in the center. Six is two triangles, one upside-down atop the other, meeting apex to apex. The six fits perfectly inside the four, its threes meeting at the five.

Poetry does not train us to control our memories, just the opposite in fact. It teaches us to embrace an excess of memories, some tangential, others contradictory, none even possibly irrelevant.

Since half of 66 is 33, and since 33 shows up as two-thirds of the central poem, 133, I will turn to the two poems entitled 33, and we will see what there is to see: here is poem 33 on page 232, followed by poem 33 from page 164:


Saw a trashcan full of heads


Saw bloodstains on the garbage can

I have tried reading DDreams in pairs, 1 - 1, 2 - 2, 3 - 3, etc, and have found some the pairs to be very resonant, others to have a more oblique relationships with one another. Here are the two 15s:


Saw a chair numbers written on it


Saw a blender full of blood

I have also read in sequence, as if climbing 66 stair-poems to the peak at 133, then descending 66 stair-poems to the series of visual stare-poems at the end of the book. On page 266 is a handwritten block of visual writing. The first word is "the", written large and surrounded by a thick square frame, similar to the first word or letter in an illuminated manuscript. The poem is in the shape of a large undulating brain, with its tendrils reaching into the noisic shifts of the vast red cosmos:

page 266

The brain is manifest in the body to talk about the body and you show your brain. Talk about the news and you show your brain. Talk about the price of shirts and you show your brain. Talk about your bathtub full of cracks and you show your brain. Talk about your clock radio and you show your meat.

Poem 1, page 264 reads as follows:


I saw a wall it was blank


Saw a man asleep face against the wall


Saw a motel burning in the rain


Saw a window I was looking in

It is tempting to say there is a narrative here, but it is only a narrative in the sense that a dream might be a narrative — or more precisely, in the sense that a series of dreams might be a narrative. Even more precisely, perhaps, what we have in Bennett's DDreams are fragments of dreams, single images, details of images, spliced together, sequenced and juxtaposed, possibly with some conscious inventions scattered here and there. Poem 53 (reading from back to center) might give us a clue as to exactly what we are looking at when reading these DDreams:


Saw a mirror instructions taped to it

Spitting DDreams begins with Spitting, which begins with the poem entitled "Slow Speech", in which we find the line "I was talking slow as I was talking slow to you in a mirror."

"I was talking slow" as
"I was talking slow" to
"you in a mirror".

Where are we?
1)     I, the reader, am in the mirror. When the poet writes, he sees the reader looking back at him.
2)     The poet is looking at himself in the mirror, talking to himself, as he writes to you (us), the reader.

3)     The poet is in the mirror, that is, in the poem, and when we look at the poem/mirror, w see and hear the poet talking to us.
4)     The poet is in the mirror. The mirror reflects the poet, and the world around him. When we look in the mirror we see ourselves. But our reflection does not exist in a void. We see ourselves reflected in and on the poet and the world surrounding him.

Why is he talking slowly?
To give us the time we need to think about what he's saying.
That's why it's often best if poets "talk" to us in print. If I want to spend 20 minutes on one line, I can do that with a book. No matter how slowly a poet "talks to us" during a reading, I will never be given as much time as I have just taken to think about a single line. Poetry has gained so much in its progress from the oral tradition to the printed word. At this stage in its development, the poem-as-it-is-read may be complemented by the poem-as-it-is-heard, but for most poetry the fullest experience will come through the eye, not through the ear. Ideally, of course, I will be able to spend 20 minutes with a single line, and also hear that line read by the poet who wrote it.


is cracked, but hasn't yet shattered. "I don't have to hurry I'm dressing he was". He is. I and he is, singular (the singular multitude, briefly contained), in the mirror. That a poem — this poem — entitled The Mirror appears on page 23 cannot be taken as a meaningless coincidence. If you are interested in meaningless coincidences, you are not interested in reading poems. William Burroughs once said the number 23 is the death number. Two is the number of the straight line, which is death. Three is the number of the triangle, which is the shape of the aspiration to transcendence, which is a primary pattern of death. The three lines of the triangle, combined with the single line of the two, connect the four points of the square, at the center of which resides the five, = 2 + 3. Twenty-three is the quincunx in disguise, life wearing the mask of death, the mirror in the mask. You can believe anything you want (read, read into — anything you want) until you see the five become the six, and the six become the five, after which anti-transcendent transformation of consciousness you will have no choice but to believe many contradictory things at once. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, perhaps too famously, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." He also wrote, in the same essay on self-reliance (1841): "For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure." And again: "I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency." As ever, it depends on where you look. And even then, it depends, as always, on how you look. Reading poems can teach you how to look in ways inconsistent with the norms of this or any other day. The practice of reading poetry does not conform to the normative practice of "reading" the world around you. Reading poetry slows the world down. A poem will reward inconsistent, non-conformist readings. You contradict yourself as a reader?
Good for you! The poem contradicts itself as a poem. There is no necessary end to the reading of any particular poem.

On page 57 is a visual poem in the shape of a handheld mirror. The stem at the bottom is a single hand upon which are inscribed anatomical and chiromantic terms once used in divination and related occult practices. The frame is also composed of the images of a hand. The handwritten visual poem inside the frame — and therefore on the surface of the mirror — reads as follows:

a bed full
of hammers a lake
of stinking fish

When you look in a mirror and see a bed full of hammers, you know you are awake and fully dreaming. Reality is not what you think it is, because some of reality is nothing other than what you think it is. The eternal Cycle of Illusion is not interested in what any of us believe about it. It will be what it is with or without us. However, our beliefs feed into it and inflect the details of its unfolding, even if utterly unable to effect the recurring pattern. When you look in your mirror and see a lake of stinking fish, some of them are your fish. Some of their stinking can be traced unequivocally back to you. But the lake belongs to the world, which belongs to the whirling cosmos, which will expand and vanish with or without you, as you blow upon its surface, clean it with the corner of your shirt, until everything is as clear as a hammer.


email exchange between Bennett & Leftwich, 03.20.2018

JMB: "Poems do not add up." Ha, they certainly don't!
Everything you say in this engagement is right on the money, as my father used to say.

1 typo noticed: p. 2, 2nd parag., the "r"from "numbe" falls down to a new parag. which seems unintentional. though it's something i do all the time and quite intentionally (though i may be ignorant of what the intention means)

I love that you saw the numerical tricks in DDreams - and that the matching page number pieces are closely related pairs. Going up and then down sets of stairs, as you put it. exactly

Also that the reading of a poem for oneself is a totally different experience from hearing it read.
I have spent several y

ears reading José Lezama Lima's Paradiso because i have to stop on one of his baroque sentences and spend half an hour with it, so flexible and multifarious they are, and so beautiful. and slows one down into a kind of complete world. full of contradictions, or, better said, completions. and that book's prose, a novel.

I didn't know about Burroughs' explanation of "23" - makes perfect sense.

Everything is clear as a hammer - and the hammer isn't what you think it is at all. you have no idea what it is but it speaks to you.

Thank you

JL: thanks, John. comments much appreciated, as usual. being able to go back and forth with you as i write these is immensely valuable and enjoyable. thank you for doing it.

i found a couple of other typos and fixed them. will add this as postscript.

Burroughs said 23 is the death number. the rest of that noise is me riffing on his suggestion.

a couple of false starts today. i started working on Montparnasse but didn't like the tone of what i was coming up with. did about a dozen poems, deleted them. not a good idea.

also started working on our latest tlp collaborations, couldn't figure out where to go with them. seems like a good idea, but evidently not today.

JMB: heh - time to take a nap or a walk, then

L Entes by John M. Bennett
Blue Lion Books 2008
written January 2004 - February 2006

blurb at Blue Lion's lulu site:
Experimental poetry by John M. Bennett. L ENTES (the title means "eyeglasses" in Mexican Spanish, as well as "L Beings") is a major compilation of Bennett's recent poetry in several forms and modes, including the "L" poems, inside-out sonnets, "haiku", visual poetry (in color in the deluxe edition; black and white in the regular edition), and much more. All written in a wide variety of experimental and innovative styles and language forms, full of the author's signature intensity, double or triple entendres, playfulness, and linguistic inventiveness.

Looking at H a LL:

'ru' line break 'n' space 't' line break 'gr' space 'e' line break 'ase' line break 'L' space 'am' line break 'p' space 'r' line break 'ice' space 'y' line break 'r' 'mot' line break 'h' space 'br' line break 'eat' space 'h' line break 'p' space 'lun' line break 'g' space 'in' line break 'g' space 'ho' line break 'LL' space 'ow' line break 'a' space 'gas' line break 't' space 'ro' space 'o' line break 'to' space 'my' line break 'yr' line break luggage ladder packed with ice

runt grease Lamp rice yr moth breath pLunging hoLLow a gastro otomy yr Luggage Ladder packed with ice

run runt grease Lamp rice ice yr mot moth eat breath pLunging hoLLow a gas gastro otomy my yr Luggage Ladder packed with ice

Breaking it down and reassembling it destroys the poem, of course, but it does aLLow us to co onsider certain small decisions evidenced throughout the composition. I am not attempting to discover the intentions behind these decisions, I am only intent on pausing, however briefly, slowing down in my reading process, enough to recognize and acknowledge some of the specifically poetic decisions that are being made as the poem is being written.
One of these "L Poems" or "L Beings" is entitled "Po Litico". "Spit my couch" it says s pi
t my
co u ch
"batch o' knacks 'n bouts" bat ch
o' kna

cks 'n b out s

"coughing bomber beached beneath the window".

An "L Poem" builds up, through split fits and st arts, down through the thin jagged lyric line, and pools near the bottom of the page, congeals perhaps, into a coherent syntax — which would not matter as such if not for that which has directly preceded it. As soon as this relationship has been established — temporally, in the actual time spent reading — it is reversed, and the leg of the L appears as a foundation, upon which the asyntactical and anti-grammatical fragments of the stem have been constructed.

But the fragments are in fact neither asyntactical nor anti-grammatical, as demonstrated above. "Spit my couch" may be semantically ambiguous or surrealistic, but it really isn't all that unusual as a "verb my noun" construction. Eat my shorts, for example.

What is political about this particular poem, or about this specific form? Perhaps nothing, explicitly or necessarily. And that may be a good part of the point. What is political about, say, driving to the grocery store, buying food for the week, and driving back home? Under normal circumstances most people would not think about it as political at all. But, once the question is asked, once the frame is established, every aspect of this seemingly simple event will be seen as richly and deeply political. Choosing to drive a car is a political decision. Choosing to listen to the BBC on the car radio is a political decision. Choosing to use a debit card is a political decision. The personal is political because the political is personal. Our daily lives are political because our experiences are personal.
After "Spit my couch" comes und
u lens
slee ver

A constellation can be constructed from these star ting points:

febris undulens — brucellosis — an infectious disease of cattle, goats, dogs, and pigs, caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella and transmittable to humans (e.g. by drinking contaminated milk): symptoms include fever, chills, and severe headache. Also called: undulant fever
undulant, moving like a wave sleeve
lever fever

These poems were written in the first few years following the American invasion of Iraq. Maybe Washington's response to the events of 9/11 can be described as a kind of "undulating fever" — or maybe the term can be used to describe the reaction of some Americans to Washington's

response. In any case, we are compelled to remember some of the events of 2004 - 2006, and to remember how we and others responded to those events.

The "L Poems" section opens the book and runs to page 130 (with a few more L-shaped poems scattered over the next 15 pages). The poem entitled "L entes" is on page 116. The poem begins

len tic ular "sa

One of the definitions of "lentes" is "eyeglasses". Lenticular means shaped like a lentil, especially by being biconvex. Biconvex, convex on both sides. Relating to the lens of the eye. The dog barking incessantly a block away on Campbell should have nothing to do with this poem, but at the moment it is dominating my reading experience. Maybe this is a good time to take a break and make some visual poems.

I was working earlier with some pages from The American Puritans — Their Prose and Poetry, edited by Perry Miller. One combination of prose and poetry resulted in the following:

An Puritans An Puritans

Cgs; and by degrees lade lady-bees.
intoraises due can fan and y fly:
was an vard.
Sewp, we pray of Vetter pay. cemb
of Kirip Rightly Attended marrie
vived n ear often telody!
both assaints who were heard hg for joy.
of quiceetly sing, so neat
ovation h holy flame! pende praise?
fined by contain

he che blaze? tions i sweetly sing, ultima in.

"An Puritans An Puritans" is an aleatory poem. I ripped a couple of pages from the American Puritans book, one with prose and one with verse, tore in half the one with verse and taped it onto the one with prose. Then I read it.

Set this kind or poem next to a poem by John M. Bennett and you will recognize immediately how different the two poems are. With every line of a Bennett poem you will see the careful decisions he has made in the construction of that line. With a poem like "An Puritans An Puritans" you will notice, though perhaps not immediately, that the lines have actually not been "written" at all. I made a decision about how to join two objects together, the page with prose and the half-page with verse. Since the two objects I chose to combine had words written on them, the resulting combined object could be treated as readable, and since some of the words on the pages I used were arranged as verse, what was being read could be considered as a form of poetry. For some of us, that in itself is interesting in several ways, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the requirements made of a reader who is attempting to navigate a John M. Bennett poem.

"L entes" continues, after "sa w" th
e mer e knee t he
s nap
p lop ping lig

which requires a reader to progress very slowly, stopping at each double-space between letters, returning to previous lines, combining and recombining letters -- across gaps and line-breaks -- associating within words, letterstrings, shards, fragments, between words, among words, with and against vocables, testing reading routes for escapes and dead-end alleys:

the sea mere emer eknee any kneet neat the he snap nap plop ping napping [pong] light

The sense is in the shaping, and the sounding. Denotations play with and against one another. Associations ripple out in all directions. We are invited to read every snippet and sequence in as many languages as we know. If a sequence of sounds reminds us of a word, then experientially they are that word.

One page 131 is a variation of the "L Poem" form (shape) entitled "Pol e". The lines preceding the last line are centered, so the visual configuration looks like a pole rising from its base. "Run" becomes "runt" becomes "trance". "Doom" is split between "do" and "om". "Stone" is "s" / "tone". This kind of decision is one that Bennett makes repeatedly while making Bennett poems. When, later in this poem, he writes

ru g rots

we find ourselves continuing the process: these rug rats don't have to be written in order to be read. "Grits" is only one letter, one step, away. And if grits, then teeth, reading two steps away from the written.

Page 151 - 152, backwards American haiku.
1)     Backwards, but not simply backwards. The positioning of the capital letters is not backwards.

Dnik netlom tNUrb
and the "translation" from backwards to standard/normal/forward is not always successful. teelps

(spleet beaner caGinG)

2)     Not really American haiku, in Kerouac's sense of the term, or any other: Kerouac: "I propose that the 'Western Haiku' simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture . . ." The first sentence, vague as it is, might apply. The second sentence is the opposite of what Bennett has chosen to do with the three line poem.
Kerouac again: "POP—American (non-Japanese) Haikus, short 3-line poems or “pomes” rhyming or non-rhyming delineating “little Samadhis” if possible, usually of a Buddhist connotation, aiming towards enlightenment. BOOK OF POPS." This actually might not be far from what Bennett is working with.

knad eMarf D U M

The central section of the book (pages 294 to 365) is occupied by a series of black and white visual poems, some of which appeared, in color, in the Red Fox Press Book entitled NOS (2007). The Red Fox book is in color, and a deluxe edition of L ENTES is also available with the visual poems in color.

Visual poetry gamuts the kinetic poem-pair pairing in the kitchen whereas washing machines from concrete to concrescence (a growing together of parts originally separate) mirror emphatic devices merging the same root from the one-toothed bird, twinning the foot and head, joule lac — the work done by varnish or sealing wax secreted by a scale insect (Laccifer lacca) and used chiefly in the form of shellac, ceiling woks. Crone kep, keepe, chronic. Eobebe. Rans guts, gust. Rearranged lemur typography (spatial, spatio-keen), while incomprehensibly possible, meaning already toe-lather wheat to the visible door, materialist art sagging off the precipice of its precedents, a personal utility of the plausible (we once even tried transcendence — to taste), a transient attentiveness among the founding feathers, the common onion, usefully different among figurative readers. Rieu. Grieu. OOOOR. Rock, rope, rope or rock, rock or rope. Ryooe.
Croyln. To no or breem. Rid rip rio rig rug pig dig. Visual poetry does not claim to be the
thought-community of commas among the eyes. To play a mountain as if an open piano, rats on the moon are no more moral than in any other anthology, the ladder of poetry operates as a scaffold to light the highlands. The surfaces are experiential and melting. The imaginary present stimulates a variegated choice, collective protagonist ennui and athanor poisonously revised, chandeliers armed with stoic cessation, drop-cloth turtle and quail annually on the beach. Noon. Noooon. No noon, non. Non noon. Log glow. Leap and peel, leeeeep & peeeeel. Tao throb slab. Rod room roooom doom. Off Oft Foot. Of Off Of Foo Foo Foot Foot Foot. Oblong in poesia visiva, a new strata of eggs in the sentence, the manual capacity for openness partitioned and partial only in principle, at the Tavern of Bats the piano is mental, and poetry is a political catastrophe of the real. Experientially numerous of narrative, an illuminated dungeon is sonorous and a clinic, each future emits its own primal corn of adventure. Write as if you assume yourself a guest in the same stream twice.

No such thing as the sonnet. The reasons for writing the sonnet today have to do with using the set of expectations established over the last eight centuries or so against itself.

How many syllables/stresses per line? 10, 5?

was sport gnicnalg at the lungs ——how about 7, and 3; you and flopping ——or 4, and 2
Rhyme scheme?
Spenserian: abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee Shakespearean: abab, cdcd, efef, gg Petrarchan: abbaabba, cdecde (or cdcdcd) Keatsian: abca, bbca, bcbd, bd


What are the traditional themes/subjects/obsessions/mirrors of the sonnet? love, lust, death, the sonnet, divinity, history, time
For the past 60 years or so the contemporary sonnet, sometimes called the American sonnet, has been in varying degrees mostly about the sonnet. In the twenty-first century the theme of the sonnet has become "why write a sonnet?" (or, "why write a poem?") and the answer, emphatically provisional, is the sonnet written in response to that question. It is of course the perfect answer, with one glaring flaw: it can only be used once. If the question is posed again, it will require the same answer, which will be another sonnet (emphatically not the previous sonnet). This could teach us a lot about how writing poetry works, but professional teachers of poetry will get no benefit from it, so they will teach against it, and every generation will have to learn all of this all over again -- and they will have to learn it on the outside, so to speak, independent of institutes of higher and lower and middle and even non-hierarchical learning.
How does it work? Do it. Over and over. For decades. Read everything. Write as much as humanly possible. That's how it works. The answer to "why write poetry?" is you, my fellow reader, writing a poem. That is the only adequate answer.


email exchange between Bennett & Leftwich, 03.20.3018
JMB: just one typo i saw: p. 2, parag. 2, "...but it really isn't' ..." has an extra apostrophe Good discussion of what's "political" - basically everything human is political in that we are a
social species, and politics is the negotiation/interaction that goes on between the social group and the individual. so yr last sentence, "Our daily lives are political because our experiences are personal." is exactly right

yr discussion of the difference between the "L" and "pole" etc poems, and the aleatory one you made, is excellent. it really makes what's going on there very clear, at least as far as how the poems are structured, and how one might read them. the broader way of reading them is something you point out, often by example of a "reading/rewriting", and that is also excellent, and one of the great things about these engagements.

I'd forgotten about that big slab of "sonnets" that starts on p. 420; it is good to look at those again. whether or not they are "sonnets" is not very important; what is important is that the size of poem has always been very attractive to me (and to many others, of course) - it seems to be a perfect length/shape for certain kinds of voice/writing processes. Other shapes work for other kinds of movement or flow - various shorter forms, and the occasional long poems, some of

which are "narrative" in a way. Speaking of long poems, did i send you my book Cantar del Huff? has long poems, in english mostly, which i then translated into spanish, mostly, for a bilingual edition. it's the only extensive translating of my own work i've done. I dislike translating, tho when it's my own work, translating is sort of like rewriting the poems from a different angle.

thank you!! john

JL: i do have a copy of Cantar del Huff, you gave it to me one of the times we visited you in Columbus. i will have to take another look. i think i also have a little booklet of Ackerman's hacks of it.

i think your sonnets are absolutely sonnets. the form has been somewhat malleable for a very long time. you are continuing the tradition.
and i agree, the size of the sonnet is very attractive.

again — i will add this as a postscript. thank you, John.

previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home