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Michael Benedikt

Michael Benedikt was born in 1935 in New York City. He received his BA from New York University and earned a master's degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. He was an editorial assistant for Horizon Press from 1959 to 1962, and in 1963-64 served as managing editor for the literary magazine Locus Solus.

Prior to publishing his first collection of poetry, Benedikt co-edited three anthologies of 20th-Century Poetic Theatre from abroad: Modern French Theatre: The Avant-Garde, Dada, & Surrealism (Dutton, 1964); Post-War German Theatre (Dutton, 1966); and Modern Spanish Theatre (Dutton, 1967). His anthology of twentieth-century American plays, Theatre Experiment (Doubleday), was issued in 1968. He is also the editor of two landmark anthologies of twentieth-century poetry: The Poetry of Surrealism (Little Brown & Co., 1974); and The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (Dell, 1976). A critical Festschrift, Benedikt: A Profile was issued by Grilled Flowers Press in 1978. Benedikt was poetry editor for The Paris Review from 1975 to 1978. His editorial selections are represented in The Paris Review Anthology (1990). Occasionally active as a literary critic and journalist, he was also an associate editor of Art News and Art International. His literary criticism has appeared in Poetry and The American Book Review.

Benedikt's books of poetry include The Badminton at Great Barrington; or, Gustave Mahler & The Chattanooga Choo-Choo (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), Night Cries (Wesleyan University Press, 1976), Mole Notes (Wesleyan University Press, 1971), Sky (Wesleyan University Press, 1970), and The Body (Wesleyan University Press 1968). His poems have also appeared in Agni, Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and Partisan Review. His honors include a New York State Council for the Arts Grant, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship. He has taught at Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence College, Vassar College, Hampshire Colleges, and Boston University. Michael Benedikt died on February 9, 2007.

Michael Benedikt
Photo credit: Laura Boss

By This Poet

5

To Persuade a LadyCarpe Diem

True, I have always been happy that all the things that are inside 
    the body are inside the body, and that all things outside 
    the body, are out

I'm glad to find my lungs on the inside of my chest, for example; 
    if they were outside, they'd keep getting in the way, 
    those two great incipient angel wings; besides, 
    it would be messy

I mean, how would it be if your reached out to shake someone's hand
    and there, in the palm, were a kidney and a liver complete with 
    spleen?

Can you imagine standing at 5 PM in a crowded subway car full of 
    empty stomachs?

What if a nice, nearsighted old lady were knitting socks and suddenly 
    her veins fell out? How would she avoid creating a substance 
    full of strangeness and pain? To the barefoot country boy 
    sitting on the edge of the bed in the morning and opening 
    Aunt Minnie's gift box, the sight of those socks would be 
    what he'd call "a real eye-opener!"

And what if our voices touched? If our mouths went out, instead of in?

If you were inside of me; or, at least, if I were inside of you?

The European Shoe

The European Shoe is covered with grass and reed, bound up and wound
    around so that it may slip easily over the wearer's head.

In case you are an aircraft pilot, you must take care that the 
    European Shoe does not creep off your foot, and begin to 
    make its way carefully across the fusilage.

The European Shoe pressed against the fugitive's nose, preventing it
    from imminent departure.

The European Shoe spends summers in delightful ways. A lady feels its 
    subtle and unexpected pressure the length of her decolletage. 
    (It winters in pain).

That time I lent you my European Shoe you departed with a look of 
    grandeur, and in total disrepair. 

The European Shoe knocks on the door of the carefree farmerette. "The 
    harvest has been gathered in, ha, ha," it says, moving shyly forth 
    along the edge of the couch.

I pointed to the European Shoe. I ate the European Shoe. I married 
    the European Shoe.

Tears fall from the eye of the European Shoe as it waves goodbye to us 
    from the back balcony of the speeding train...

It helps an old lady, extremely crippled and arthritic, move an 
    enormous cornerstone. It invents a watch which, when wound up 
    tightly, flies completely to pieces. 

It was a simple and dignified ceremony, distinguished for its gales of
    uncontrollable laughter, in which I married the European Shoe.

If it rains, the European Shoe becomes very heavy. I failed to cross 
    the river, where thousands of European Shoes lay capsized.

And so we lived alone, we two, the envy of our neighborhood, the 
    delight of our lively hordes of children.

I saw a flightful of graceful sparrows heading to distant, 
    half-forgotten islands, over the distant seas; and in the midst of 
    that annually questing company, I saw the European Shoe. 

It never harmed anyone, and yet it never really helped anyone.

Gaily it sets out into the depths of my profoundest closet, to do 
    battle with the dusts of summer....

The Beef Epitaph

This is what it was: Sometime in the recent but until now unrecorded past, it was decided by certain ingenious and commercially forward-looking cattle-ranchers in a certain large, modern Western nation which prides itself on being nutritionally forward-looking, that since people are increasingly nutrition-conscious, and increasingly insistent that "you are what you eat," all cattle on the way to market were to be marked with brief descriptive tags noting the favorite food of each animal; and also stating approximately how much each ate of it. This, it was felt, would both delight the diner and comfort the nutrition-conscious consumer: people would be able to tell exactly what kind of flavor and texture of beef they were purchasing beforehand, and always be able to secure exactly the kind of product most likely to delight their taste, since they would know a whole lot more than ever before about the quality and kind of nourishment which the animal had received (it was a little like our own, well-established, present-day modern American system of catering to preferences for light and dark meat in chicken--by supplying each part shrink-wrapped in a separate bag in the supermarkets). The system set up by those ingenious and commercially forward-looking cattle-ranchers was remarkably efficient; and seemed--at least at first--to be destined for success. This is how it worked: First, on each animal's last day on the ranch, they attached the main, or so-called "parent" tag--made out according to information provided by each rancher, or their hired hands, or even (in some cases) their immediate family--to each head of livestock. The information contained on each tag would be of course be definitive, since it was compiled just before the two or three days required for shipment of the animal to the slaughterhouse--during which travel time, of course, the animal customarily doesn't eat anything, anyway.... Once at the slaughterhouse, they carefully removed the "parent tags"; and during the slaughtering, mechanically duplicated them numerous times, preparing perhaps hundreds of tiny labels for each animal. Immediately afterwards, at the packing plant, these miniature, or "baby" tags were affixed, respectively to the proper bodily parts--each section of each animal being separately and appropriately tagged, each as if with an epitaph. But then something went wrong with this means of delighting the diner, and of comforting the nutrition-conscious consumer. At first, quite predictably, the tags came out reading things like "Much grass, a little moss, medium grain" and "Much grass, much grain, generally ate a lot." And this, as one might expect, proved (at least at first), a great pleasure to purchasers! But then tags began coming through reading things like "A little grass, a little grain, many diverse scraps from our table"; and "She was our favorite pet--gave her all we had to give"; and there was even one (featured at dinnertime one evening on network television news) which was tear-stained and which said, in a child's handwriting, "Good-bye, Little Blackie Lamb, sorry you had to grow up--I'll sure miss you!" And so, gradually, despite its efficiency, this system somehow ceased to delight the diner, and comfort the nutrition-conscious consumer. And this is how the practise of The Beef Epitaph became generally neglected over the course of time; and how the members of a large, nutrition-conscious, and otherwise generally quite sophisticated modern nation very much like our own, came to eat their beef--as indeed they still do today--partially or even totally blindfolded.

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