Michael Benedikt (1935–2007), who has been occasionally grouped with the New York School poets, as well as James Tate and Russell Edson, published five books of poetry in his lifetime, and edited several anthologies, including the influential The Prose Poem (1976) and The Poetry of Surrealism (1974). This collection brings together for the first time work from all five of those long out-of-print volumes—along with work from his five unpublished manuscripts, which were nearly destroyed after his death. Finally, this once widely published and influential voice is back in print, and a fuller understanding of the development of American surrealism and the prose poem in the 1960s and 1970s is possible. Also, the more expansive work that he began in 1980, which investigated the line between the lyric and prose narrative, is finally getting the book presentation it deserves. A lifelong New Yorker, Benedikt was at various times an associate editor with Art News and Art International, managing editor of Locus Solus, and poetry editor of the Paris Review. Benedikt also taught at institutions such as Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, Vassar, and Boston University.
Lauded in the 1970s as a master of the prose poem, Benedikt (1935-2007) now seems inseparable from that decade: the whimsical, yet deeply pessimistic writer rose to prominence with the bizarre long lines of Sky (1970) and the fathomlessly sad prose blocks of Mole Notes (1971). In the former, "the sky goes around dropping airliners all the time," while the Kafkaesque latter contains "a poetry almost empty of encouraging imagery." What Benedikt's sentences lack in verbal sparkle they make up for in gallows humor, in their truth to a frustration that others may share. An influential editor (The Prose Poem: An International Anthology), Benedikt fell into debilitating agoraphobia during the 1980s. Gallaher (Map of the Folded World) and Boss (Stripping) make a thorough case for the many pages of late poems this edition rescues, poems almost ended up in the trash: salvaged work from the 1970s contains many scary, on-target prose blocks, but his later or lineated works include diffuse memoirs, near-memos to better-known friends (Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, James Tate), where "some of the things which can happen to talented people in this world// Are unfair & sometimes seem intolerable."