On February 8, 2003, performing at the Bowery Poetry Club without prepared text or notes, Steve Bensonimprovised a long poem composed entirely of questions. His transcript of this performance later appeared in the book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as “Did the lights just go out” [text]. Later, Steve McLaughlin created two excerpts from the full audio recording:
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Jake Marmer, who has consented to the publication of this essay here. — A.F.
I remember listening to Marc Ribot’s band Ceramic Dog, thinking: My entire brain — the main line and the back corners — is burning to grasp this music. That night, the avant-garde guitarist played what was likely an entirely improvised set with three fellow musicians. I tried to follow each new direction the music took, each new interaction that erupted; I was fully consumed in some new state of attention, witnessing all the multiple levels of the work coming together in front of me.
I wanted to improvise poetry as Ribot had improvised his music. It’s not a new idea. Jack Kerouac, like a number of other poets of the Beat era, wrote ecstatic, unedited compositions that felt raw and spontaneous. Kerouac famously explained that he wanted to be known as the “jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session…” But his improvisation was limited to the writing process. Once finished, these poems remained more or less static throughout the publications and poetry readings that followed.
In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.
Alan Thomas, our University of Chicago editor took this picture at the book launch, in Los Angeles, for Antin's essay collection, Marjoire Perloff's Unoriginal Genius and my Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions.
I met Jerome in the Spring of 1950 at a small party given by a Francophil professor, where seven or eight of us sat around with wine glasses under a modest collection of School of Paris paintings, making awkward conversation about modern art and poetry, when I noticed a short noble -browed guy in a green suit sitting across from me, his green eyes blazing with the kind of disapproval I was feeling myself. This was not what we were looking for in modern art and poetry. Some time in the fall we met again, realizing we were both trying to become poets, and we started to hang out together, searching for signs of a living experimental scene, listening to folk music and jazz, and checking out modern dance and music in a culture that believed artistic experiment and exploration were over. And it wasn’t till the late 50s that we caught up with cool jazz, Abstract Expressionism, John Cage, Wittgenstein, Fluxus and Pop.
David and I met for lunch in SoH0, near Ellie's gallery. Much of our conversation focussed on David's essay collection; there were enough works for two books, so which to leave out? David was never much interested in talking about collecting his essays; his focus was always on what he doing now, what he was doing next. That's partly why it took him so long to gather together the pieces in that book. But I was persistent and brought up the essay collection just about every time we met. After a while, we walked outside and wound our way, slowly, toward Houston, talking all the while. I asked David about his sky-writing poems.