Friday, November 9, 2012

Asa Benveniste

These two contiguous paragraphs posted below from the only published prose essay of poet and publisher/printer/book designer (Trigram Press) Asa Benvensite, are excerpted from Language: Enemy, Pursuit which was initially published by Poltroon Press (1980) and reprinted in mimeomimeo, issue number 4 (Winter 2010), edited by Kyle Schlesinger and Jed Birmingham.

There is unpublished correspondence between Asa and Cid Corman (between the UK and Kyoto) praising Louis Zukofsky's 80 Flowers, and there were notes toward an essay on Zukofsky, which he was writing toward the end of his life, but they seem to be lost.  There are also his "last letters" to me in the 1980's which I published in Branch Redd Review (issue #6, 2002).   Tom Raworth's obituary for Asa was published by Critical Quarterly, vol. 32, no.3.

Gematria.  A fierce confrontation with word, one of the best ways to barricade oneself against the confused inlay.  Linguistics is not language.  No one "understands" language.  Communication is the last word to use to describe its purpose. Though to every poet, as to every Kabbalist, there must be more to those words than their beauty.  That their meaninglessness itself is part of the divine (linguistic) fabric.  In the end, at the start, early Kabbalists believed that the whole of the Torah consisted of one word only, though each of the lettters had seventy aspects, and the Torah as a whole had 600,000 meanings, on four levels of interpretation, all leading to the profoundest meaning which was "meaninglesss," which was not open to understanding but was only itself.

And is that true of poetry? One thing it cannot be: story.  It must not be based on experience  " of the forms of paralysis" (Satie).  It cannot be descriptive.  It cannot be about love.  It cannot be about hate.  It cannot contain specific meaning. It must avoid sensuality.  It must not be capable of restatment in another language.  It must not be allegorical.  It cannot be translatable into a foreign language.  It must have no beginning or conclusion.  If it's "about" anything it must be about language.  It must be language.  That's the only kind of poem which will keep its divinity.  It must have 600,000 meanings and in the end be "meangingless."