THE M.A.G. SPECIAL EDITION :: JIM LEFTWICH ::


from a letter (re: John Bennett's EDDY and SPINAL SPEECH)


One of the things that gets my attention with EDDY is all the amazing little
phrases scattered throughout: "thorn piano," "funneled sock glue,"
"protrusion room adder," "where a sparrow fidgit's aura's rain," - they're
all over the place - "stasis dirt," "flat womb gristle". This is the
surrealism, or ur-realism, in your your work, but foregrounded in these
poems, pervasive. This is not always the case. In SPINAL SPEECH, for
example, the title poem, the closest thing you have is "spurtings into
fluorescent air", which really isn't the same at all, it's almost a sort of
conventionally surrealist (odd thought) image. But the poem works because of
the layers created by mangled syntax, fragmented rhythms, radical
disjunction -- not because of the images ("river of stones" is another -
though river of stones might almost be a comment on just how this particular
text flows, these rhythms that we recognize in breaths are made of nouns,
nothing airy about them.) There is, in the new poems, as you say, "a
constant cycling (or spiraling) back to a somewhat different combination of
'random words' (in appearance) & discursive phrases", in "brush", for
example, where "painted", "protrusion," "leak" and "already"/"ready" end and
begin stanzas, end and begin phrases, and also nestle in the midst of odd
repetitive phrases enjambed across stanzaic breaks - as in "your leak
protrusion leak intendant" etc or "stone painted painted scrim". The effect
of of a spiraling, strands of thought in a spiral weave. You have to stop,
reading these lines, and negotiate a number of possible readings that are
occurring simultaneously - "all is gum stone painted,", "stone painted
painted scrim," "painted scrim insertion," etc, the lines torque into
recombinant statements, but the statements themselves are virtually
indecipherable, it is their coiling about themselves, the dynamic woven
density of possible interpretations, that is the real statement. Beyond
that, the message is one of physically struggling to decode all the
simultaneously received encryptions, fragments of slippery utterance, as if
reading might be flexing the muscles of one's brain, an isometric agon of
the axons, wrestling with these signals coming through the synapses. Lots of
static, lots of noise, but present in such a way as to be enjoyable to
engage. This is exactly the situation one encounters trying to decipher the
calligraphic poems as well - "from's late dreamed thunder," "reamed
thunder," "formulate creamed thunder." This stuff is fun! I saw somewhere
recently a note that called you a language poet, no qualifiers, no
disclaimers, just "John Bennett, the language poet". There are lots of
reasons why this isn't particularly accurate, but some of what you
accomplish, by different means, is exactly what some of the language writers
have proposed in their poetics. The main difference, and it's an important
one, is that you manage to keep the human being fully present and felt in
the process of the poem and in its "content". Jake is right on target in his
"approach" to your JUST FEET: "Bennett is altering what poetry is, enhancing
our awareness of the 'cosmological body,' singing a song that sweeps through
the mind like plasma in the veins." It's the somatic presence in these
poems, both as references to parts of the human body and as words on the
page - the strings of mutating nouns in EDDY, for example - that really
makes them work, that connects with the rhythms of the body, the polyrhythms
of the body, breath and blood and neural wiring.

m.a.g.