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The Compleat Michael Benedikt,
Poet Laureate of the Net

Dateline: 4/6/99

I first came across the name Michael Benedikt as one of the translator/ editors of the seminal anthology Modern French Theater: The Avant-Garde, Dada, and Surrealism* (Dutton, 1968, out of print but available via used book searches). From Ubu to Ionesco, this book unrolls the hidden tradition of poetry-driven theater. Here is Alfred Jarry, of whom Yeats wrote, “After us, the savage God.” Here’s Apollinaire’s Breasts of Tiresias, the bizarre sex-change classic. Tzara’s Gas Heart, the play that splintered the Dada and Surrealists. And Artaud’s “unproduceable” Jet of Blood (all of three pages long), written in answer to his own slogan, “No More Masterpieces!” Whether you’re looking for the Birth of Modernism or definition to the term Poets Theater, Modern French Theater is the ur text.

Soon I was jollying over Benedikt’s own poems in The Body (1968) and Sky* (1970) with its extraordinary cover: the breast profile Tom Wesselman calls “Seascape #19,” both from Wesleyan University Press. These poems owe a lot to the French traditions that the New York School use (see another of Benedikt's anthologies, The Poetry of Surrealism*) -- but they zip along at warp speed, only to change up just as the cliff drops. Benedikt’s a joker intellectual, not above a pratfall if it's handled with intelligence.

The Prose Poem,* his amazing collection of the genre's most difficult, is the absolute source, the equivalent of Modern French Theatre for this almost indefinable form. Sadly, it too is out of print, though you may be able to locate a used copy.

The amazing range of Michael Benedikt comes roaring back now because, after publishing 13 books in 14 years (all major publishers), he’s discovered the limitless possibilities of the Web, where he is one of the best represented poets.

In a recent correspondence, questioning his amazing work, disappearance, and reappearance, Benedikt replied, “The reason why I haven't published any new books lately (though my stuff has appeared just in recent years lots of lit-mags such as Lips, Agni, Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The New Republic, Paris Review and Partisan Review, etc., is that I've gotten into the rather unusual literary (or perhaps rather unliterary) habit of starting new manuscripts without finishing the existing ones.”

A perfect rationale for Michael Benedikt, Poet Laureate of the Net! where the work is always in process! where the Net itself is the world’s greatest poem! (or, at least, longest!).

--Bob Holman


Here's Ye Compleat Benedikt URL-List To Date:
  • Early Poetry Books -- The Body and Sky
    (includes poetry selected from both books & a thematic index)
  • Poems from Boston & Cambridge
    (includes poems from a mss.-in-progress entitled Transitions)
  • Theatre, Film & TV Poems
    (includes poems & brief descriptions of Benedikt's 4 anthologies of Poetic Theatre)
  • The Prose Poem -- Prose Poems from Night Cries
    (includes poems & book review from The London Times)
  • The Prose Poem -- Brief Prose Poems from Night Cries
    (includes poems & a Poetry Society of America interview on prose poetry)
  • Robert Desnos: A Unique French Surrealist Poet
    (brief introduction to the life & work of Desnos (l900-1945), updates the Desnos intro in Benedikt's anthology, The Poetry of Surrealism)
  • The Thesaurus and Other New Verse
    (poems from a manuscript-in-progress entitled Of:)

*As a result of a commercial relationship between About.com, its Guides and Amazon.com online booksellers, these titles can be purchased directly from Amazon.com by following the links above. (Note: Amazon.com is solely responsible for fulfillment of book, videotape or CD orders placed through these links.)

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