Robert Archambeau has posted an interesting piece that will serve as an introduction to the forthcoming collection Time is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt (edited by John Gallaher and Laura Boss). Although he has not always been closely associated with the New York School of poets, Benedikt, who passed away in 2007, started out very much in their orbit. He even briefly served as managing editor for Locus Solus (the New York poets’ magazine of the early 1960s), for its final issue (issue V). (His poems also appear in issue II).
Benedikt is an interesting figure, especially as an example of the ups and downs of literary reputation. Once a prominent poet, editor of the important anthologies The Poetry of Surrealism (1974) and The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (1976), and poetry editor of the Paris Review (following Tom Clark’s stint), Benedikt has somewhat fallen out of view and his books out of print. The reasons for this — as in many tales about canonization and its fickle ways — are complicated, and intriguing. You can find out more about Benedikt, his reputation, and this project in John Gallaher’s remarks here, as well as in this interview with Gallaher, on the process of editing this book.
As Archambeau notes, the volume will “bring together poems from throughout the career of this often wonderful, often under-rated poet, whose work combined New York School wit and panache with neo-Surrealist uncanniness.” He discusses the influence of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and other New York poets on Benedikt’s work, especially in its early phase:
The comic quality of Benedikt’s work comes with an impressive pedigree. An exclamation-mark laden, buoyant, faux-naïve quality is especially evident in the earlier work, which was very much written in the shadow of Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, whose works the young Benedikt would often read for an hour or so before setting down to write his own poems. A decade or so younger than the leading poets of the New York School, Benedikt was, like most of the more established poets, a Francophile, an ivy leaguer, and a professional art critic. Like them, too, he tended to write with an awareness of the hip, knowing intimacy of the New York poetry scene.
It’s good news that Gallaher is spearheading the effort to bring Benedikt’s work back into print. Keep your eyes out for this collection once it appears (from University of Akron Press later this year).