Mail-art book chapter by IUOMA member John M. Bennett (Columbus, Ohio, USA)
January 30, 2011 - John Bennett's chapter for the 26 mail-art book project is "Kako Nebuloso," a series of poems. John is part of a core group of visual poets in the United States, many of whom have a presence in the mail-art world: Mehrl Bennett, Jake Berry, David-Baptiste Chirot, Geof Huth, Sheila Murphy, Matthew Stolte, and Ficus Strangeulensis, among others. What might not be as well known is that many of these individuals also write innovative prose and poetry. I believe their work represents a strain in the U.S. literary avant garde that has not yet been fully understood or recognized. As a Project 26 participant, I am thrilled to have a chapter of John Bennett's work in the book.
In trying to give a brief explanation of what I think informs John's poetry - and it takes a different approach to reading if you haven't seen it before - I'll try a comparison I used when posting mail-art from Ficus Strangeulensis:
William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique set a standard for creating texts using randomness principles; much work influenced by Burroughs turns up in the mail-art network. But a great deal has also happened since Burroughs. I think later generations - John M. Bennett being an ideal example - have perfected methods that synthesize chance operation concepts with more traditional kinds of composition.
The results include startling juxtapositions and fractured linearity that not only challenge but have the ability to change perceptions. In the only shorthand I can think to use at the moment, it's New York School (via O'Hara, Clark, Berrigan) meets Burroughs and Gysin in a Detroit auto factory.
Anyway, here are two more pages from Chapter K:
Cheryl Penn is coordinating the 26 Project and her concept is to produce a mail-art book with chapters by individual artists that report on fictional archaeological discoveries. The end result will be similar to an encyclopedia because each chapter represents a letter of the alphabet. For me, John Bennett's Chapter K is an archaeological exploration into the written text, more specifically, the lyric poem.
"Ultra," for example, looks like a deconstructed stanza, complete with rhymes set off to the side. John uses his distinctive style - surreal imagery, syntactic dislocation, irony and wit - to excavate through layers of language to reveal the artifice of poetry and then deeper to its archaic and primal roots. In this age of post-literature, Bennett's poems seem as if we were looking into the remains of a ruined city that has been raised from the dust with trowels and brushes.
"Saw Dink" is a piece that has a great deal of structure. First, some Bennett wordplay might be evident. Is Saw Dink a play on Soft Drink? The poem is built around the idea of mine and yours: "my cup.." "your ash..." "your towel.." "my solid..." and shows how by repetition and association, the poem can become a word generator. To me, "Saw Dink" has a skeletal quality that lays bare the mechanics of the poem. At the same time one moves through it enjoying the humor. The poem seems to be woven together using four-word units (there are variations on these numerical units throughout "Kako Nebuloso").
"Ant" has some classic John Bennett wordplay: "mind gone a whey" = mind gone away. "juice bent" is an example of the word combinations that are found in this kind of verse and that create such unusual imagery. In comparison, "the thirst of air" is far more evocative. He even manages to suggest an uncertain simile: "gauze seal/like rust." "Ant" is yet another archaeological exploration of language that reveals beneath the surface of seeming unity and coherence, the poem is a sequence of images and rhetoric that are often contradictory and ambiguous.
For me, "Kako Nebuloso" is archaeological fieldwork into what is increasingly becoming a lost culture of the printed word. What better place to have it than in an innovative book that also tests the boundaries of an inherited form? We see the exhaustion of forms, the past errors that are instrumental in moving toward extinction, AND possibilities for rebirth, renewal and new discoveries. Poetry, fiction, and prose have always been a part of the eternal network, as much as the visual arts. I am very pleased that Cheryl Penn's collaborative book projects allow the freedom for inclusion of all types of expressions. I have John M. Bennett's Chapter K. and will circulate it with my Chapter A. Thanks, John.
To see more of John's work, check out his blog:
Mail-art words for the day: Cannon formation