Monday, April 9, 2018



Mirrors Mascaras by John M. Bennett
(Luna Bisonte Productions, 2014)

​JMB: Reviews and studies of my work are interesting because they tend to confirm my belief that poetry – and art in general – is a kind of mirror in which one sees oneself.  That is, another person’s take on my work is always very different from my own, and I enjoy that. --​from an interview with Volodymir Bilyk, in Zouch, November 2016

JMB: The collection originated due to a mental peculiarity on the part of its compiler, John M. Bennett [JMB]. I/he has had a feeling for as long as he/I can remember that I/he didnt really exist, that he/I was invisible. As a result, I/he felt compelled to retain at least one copy of everything that documented the contrary, that a person named John M. Bennett did exist, at least on paper. This feeling probably accounts, at least in part, for why he/I began writing in the first place.

One of the forms that invisible feeling took was that I/he felt like a mirror: no person, just a mirror in which others saw themselves. So his/my poems became those mirrors, and gave them a more solid, concrete existence.
--​from the Introduction to​ ​JOHN M. BENNETT PUBLICATIONS COLLECTION, 1940-1995:​ ​GUIDE AND INVENTORY​, ​SPEC.CMS.107​, ​The Rare Books & MSS Library​, ​The Ohio State University Libraries, 2005

JMB: I think my art - maybe all art - is a mirror, in which the viewer/reader seems herhimself. I always hesitate to say what I see in one of my pieces, because then people assume that's "definitive," which it isn't at all. I'm really no different from anyone else, or at least in any meaningful way. My reading of a piece is just another reading, and it will be different each time I read it. --​from an interview with Gary Barwin​, published in Jacket 2, May 2013​

Espejo de la Mascara del Espejo
[Mirror of the Mirror Mask, Mirror of the Mask of Mirrors]

p  p  orched face in
cara ,tumba viva y
lo moho in the throat
¡es puma que cae
en la playa es tu
lengua es the stri dent
si lens de tu foc o
flamífero es!  lumbre  )na
med the beady eyes the
Al y Mojada wh(  ere
yr ref lexive sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
p   p   )))heaves an ch
                         hks l’eau ni l’air...
- José María de Heredia

- Isidore Ducasse

This poem is on page 263, the last poem in the book. It was posted to the John M. Bennett Poetry blog on Friday, April 12, 2013.

Google translate gives us this:

p orched face in
face, live tomb and
the mold in the throat
It's falling puma
on the beach is you
language is the stri dent
yes, lens of your foc
flammable it is! fire) in the
med the beady eyes the
Al and Mojada wh (ere
yr ref lexive sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
p p))) heaves an ch

... neither water nor air ...
- José María de Heredia

- Isidore Ducasse

When I am offered a mirror, I accept it as an invitation to write a poem. I make 300 or 3 thousand replicas of the mirror (in my imagination, where the history of poetry is an enormous house in which all the poets have their rooms -- some larger and fancier than others, of course -- and we all spend our hours wandering from room to room, taking as much time as we like, anywhere we are), one for each of my accountable subjectivities, and I scatter them around my environment, so I can encounter them in different moods, at different times of day, before and after sex, while hungry, if thirsty and sweating or quietly daydreaming, when remembering fondly certain psychoactive substances I had the good fortune to ingest twenty, thirty, forty years ago, when infuriated and frustrated by current events, if sad ecstatic mournful recalcitrant embodied mute or humble, no matter how much I have been or have not been enjoying the weather of the past few days. First of all, irrefutably, a mirror is a mask. Secondly, we are at an angle to ourselves, always, and often a step or two too far away, with our motors idling, the timing off, bellies growling, memories defiantly denying their duty to stand up and settle down.

Distance is key. In the battlespace of the self every mirror is an ally. Every poem is a mask. The dead are present and on our side. The future's uncertain and the end is always near... which reminds me: I was about to embark on a close, associational reading of "Espejo de la Mascara del Espejo" (I was momentarily distracted when, out of the corner of my right eye I glimpsed, just slightly behind my head, an unfamiliar face -- in an oval mirror, with an ornate wooden frame; please forgive me).

A close, associational reading of " Espejo de la Mascara del Espejo"

See, with 26 'e's -- is excessively insistent. About halfway through the line of 'e's the insistence begins to nullify itself, and by the end it has become a song. The sound is pleasant, but we have forgotten what the word might once have meant.

p orched -- the space between the 'p' and the 'o' gives us an extra moment (along with, naturally, the anarchic permission inherent in free time) in which to think of "scorched". There are gaps between the slats. The paint, a blueish-gray, is worn and peeling. But the condition of the slats and their paint is inconsequential when we consider the flames licking up between our boots.

the mold in the throat, lo moho in the throat, the mojo in the throat...

the conjunction of "puma" and "on the beach" calls to mind, irrelevantly we might suspect (but how can that be, given these improvised subjectivities surrounded by mirrorpoems? how can anything at all be irrelevant?), two Neil Young albums from the mid 1970s (Zuma, and On The Beach)

             You can really
             learn a lot that way
             It will change you
             in the middle of the day.
             Though your confidence
             may be shattered,
             It doesn't matter.
             --For The Turnstiles, from On The Beach (1974)

i'm not sure how faithful to Bennett's original this translation is, but it is very good, no matter how far it may have strayed from its source:

             language is the stri dent
             yes, lens of your foc
             flammable it is! fire)

in the / med the beady eyes the / Al and Mojada

we are adrift on a sea of mirrorpoems, an oceanic experience, conducting experiments in the laboratory of the self. using language as our lens to focus on the fire. the oceanic fire. which inhabits every mirror, everywhere.

wh (ere / yr ref lexive sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee / p p))) -- a few less 'e's here (i think, i didn't count them) than in the earlier "see", but the effect is much the same. this insistence on sleep, elongated, lingering, awakens us to what is in front of us, on the page, on the screen

i didn't put those Neil Young albums in this poem, and neither did John. i suppose i did put them in my mirror, put them in my head, but who could have known? neither the writer nor the reader. what, exactly is in the poem. what, exactly, the poem, in its practice as a mirror, will pick out from the brain of the reader/viewer. i find myself remembering the middle years of the 1970s. where is any of that in this poem? there is not a single word of it, anywhere in this poem.

... neither water nor air ... says José María de Heredia. easy for him to say, from the outpost of his death in 1905. the water is on fire. i am drowning in this miraculous excess of air.

...verse... says Isidore Ducasse. i won't deny it.

JMB: ​As to a way of starting, I just start; whatever comes out, whatever is in my head. No planning ahead, except occasionally with regard to forms, but not content. -- from an interview with Volodymir Bilyk, in Zouch, November 2016

JMB: Everything I write is a kind of training.  --​​from an interview with Volodymir Bilyk, in Zouch, November 2016

Our mirrors know us, we know that. There is no escape. When you look at a mirror, when I look at a mirror (I am not presuming to tell you how you look at a mirror), when we look at a mirror we see the word "caution" written across it, we see the word "danger" written in dripping blood. (In a caricature of a B-movie.) Our mirrors are afraid of us. They can never forget the graveyard of broken mirrors. What is expected of me? I want an explicit list, so I will know what not to do.

Having looked at page 263, we now turn to page 26: "Mascara de la Hoja" -- Leaf Mask, Mask of the Leaf. The first line reads

......the dusty the,......

with the 's' and the 't' of "dusty" in an ornate font, very large. It does not make me think of dust. Nor of dust bunnies. Perhaps of dust-storms on distant, gargantuan planets, in some impossible future. It makes me think of William Blake's grain of sand, and of his ladder to the moon, the dusty the, with its double ellipses front and back... I want I want... how much and why? Enough of now. Sometimes there is that much, that much room for us, inside a seemingly simple poem. Inside a single line. In what Tom Taylor once called "the lesser marks".

Line 4 into 5 is as follows:

the co,,,
mb sandwich

The commas are the teeth of a comb. I bought a bunch of combs six years ago to use in making skatchboxes. I haven't had a haircut in over 25 years. Nothing is more subjective than a mirror. Subjectivity is, among other things, trivial, meticulous, petty, microcosmic, frivolous, heliocentric, anecdotal, erotic, nostalgic, decentralized, myopic, cavernous, arrogant, shamanic, miscellaneous and porous. Is a comb sandwich a comb, with or without hair, between two slices of light rye toast? Or, is it ham and cheese with French's mustard between two flat black combs? Obviously it is the former. Everyone knows the latter is only a simple variation of the common ham & cheese sandwich.

Page 263 also leads us to page 63, where we find the "Mascara of the Diagnosed Abstraction", "found in Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence Book 32, 2012".

This is the first poem in Six Months Aint No Sentence Book 32:


poked a time: shrunken
religions seem human
in slight feelings
canned fish if god
is language itself
therefore believers in
churches tithe
crumpled lizards in
soluble quarrels
parallel varieties
of fatal signs depicted
inclined to circumstantial
certainty and words


If I use this poem to explicate "Mascara of the Diagnosed Abstraction" I arrive at the following hybrid (a monster, as must be all mergings of subjectivities) (cf., Julia Kristeva, "The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity”).

theme and diagnosed variation

poked a fish: shrunken
religions seem canned
in cows and feelings
canned fish if gut
is language semi-peelers
therefore believers knife
churches wreck
crumpled Hurricanes in
soluble fonts
parallel futures
of fatal turds depicted
inclined to rut
certainty and months

10.28.2012 / 02.24.2018

When we add 26 to 63 we find ourselves instructed to turn to page 89, where we find the last few lines of "Mirror of the Chair and Glass", "explaining Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 34, 2012":

pies the outophic

What is the relationship of music to a mirror? My subjectivity is subjective in the same way that your subjectivity is subjective, but beyond that we cannot know what similarities they share. Intertextuality, it seems Kristeva is suggesting, is an antidote to solipsism. Across an unavoidable abyss we string a bridge of words.

...the outophic music, an outophic poetry...

The poem is a mirror, yes, but the reader already has a mirror. Music sets the mirrors in motion. No ideas but in things. Mirrors in music move faster than we think. The objects, things, flee from us. Poem 5 in Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 34, reads as follows:

not this

at the work wounders
painted gnomes of Alaska
completely 1903 the
transfigured parachute
triple dishes ballet
schoo esch convex scents
of cowboy propaganda
their doom his sea
in Wuppertal
during an elephant on the
couch in a pink Stravinsky




Turing our attention to page 88 (the number of keys on a piano -- coincidence? bare-bones subjective associational misreading? arbitrary synchronicity? intentional muddying of the waters? the shape-shifting poem itself, in thin disguise, in search of a form to inhabit? a desperate attempt to avoid the mirror, to distort what is seen in it, to add ‘pataphysical complexities to the eye-smears of death?*), we begin at the beginning of "Mirror of the Chair and Glass", and interpolate lines until we reach the end of this particular "not this":

intertextual mirror of not this and glass

at the work wounders
asic hart my
painted gnomes of Alaska
dramp suits tra
completely 1903 the
ditore at the cow
transfigured parachute
boy ,convex radio
triple dishes ballet
in your scissors spoke
schoo esch convex scents
my feather's fact
of cowboy propaganda
astonished bunnies
their doom his sea
,forking ,smoke ,head
in Wuppertal
spheres blend the
during an elephant on the
little happening
couch in a pink Stravinsky
:view of sauces ,t
rigger eye ,wh words
origin in the soap

12.01.2012 / 02.24.2018

from an interview with Volodymir Bilyk, in Zouch, November 2016

J​M​B: Humor is a way of creating a new perspective on something, a multiplying of one’s point of view.  As if another voice were speaking, in addition to “your own”. The more voices in a poem, the better!

​JMB: ​There are some pieces I do that involve rapid selection and re-writing of texts of others, as I have done recently quite often with work by Jim Leftwich and Ivan Argüelles.

​JMB: ​In general, a poem is a trace of a specific psychic moment and shouldn’t be changed a lot.  I just write a new poem to find new possibilities. 

From page 89, having multiplied 8 x 9 to get 72, and then added that to 89, I have arrived at 161, and will be turning to that page as soon as I finish typing this. Upon arriving at "speak mirror cheese" I

take the s the
ea the l the

the seal. I take the seal, and you will too, when you arrive at page 161. You will do the same thing I am doing: you will read the first two lines, top to bottom, left to right, but what you will see, and what you will think, will be the large bold, italicized letters s -- ea -- l. Abandon all hope. You will do what the poem tells you to do, and you will have no choice in the matter. The materiality of the text is more powerful than subjectivity. The materiality of the text is more powerful than any openness any of us might think we can impose upon any configuration of words and letters.

Generally speaking, we don't believe that. We think we don't believe that. As usual, the world does not care what we believe.







published by Richard Kostelanetz in Visual Literature Criticism: A New Collection (1980)​
And also published online at Coldfront, Singular Vispo :: First Encounters Part 8 MONDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH, 2016, in "Getting Vispo to the Point . Articulating Schematics on the Vaward Sound-Imaging Tip" by Michael Peters (Peters: The notion of poetry being “the coffin of language” is, well, a dramatic statement. But let us think about grabbing onto it. Let us be Ishmael-like, so as to float off from the wreck of socio-cultural dictates and the rigid structure of grammar, et cetera, on the coffin of a cosmology that is not your own. Poetry gets at what socio-cultural dictates can’t. It’s a flotation device, for sure. So if you can grab on to that premise, Bennett’s visual poem gets even deeper in a very schematic way. In some sort of dissection of that coffin, he describes the presence of a mirror within the coffin of language. Images of mirrors surface in my oceanic head like some sort of black- cloaked figure in Maya Deren’s film “Meshes of the Afternoon” or the beginning of the Sun Ra movie “Space is the Place.” But keep in mind, the coffin is only an empty container for that which is dead.)

Consider Maya Deren, from her poem entitled "It Must Be Done with Mirrors":

O bring back my body to me, to me,
O miracle bring it back
before the mirrors break

Then consider Sun Ra, from his poem "The Government of Death":

the government of death is a
pure government
it treats all in an equal manner

As Peters says: "Poetry gets at what socio-cultural dictates can’t." We cannot forget that we are reading "the eye smears on the mirror / of death". The smears are made by our eyes. We are reading our own looking. If this mirror is a mirror then these smears are a mask. This is not a mask that is a mirror, it is a mirror that is a mask. It stares and states, with a fierce insistence: I is another. Look long into the mirror, and know: you have no way of knowing who might be looking back.



Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Recent publications include  Volumes 1 , 2  &  3  of  Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016, 2017, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett), Tres tresss trisss trieesss tril trilssss: Transmutations of César Vallejo (Luna Bisonte, 2018) and Sound Rituals, collaborative poems by jim leftwich & billy bob beamer (mOnocle-Lash, 2018, edited by Olchar Lindsann).