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Orange Flower
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C. Mehrl Bennett

The John M. Bennett Interview

by Rick Brown

Naked Sunfish - Can you give us a little background Dr. Bennett (unless you'd prefer it more casual)? Where are you from? What was your childhood like?

John Bennett - Oh please call me John! I'm from Chicago, Columbus, Tokyo, St. Louis, Mexico, Los Angeles, etc., roughly in that order as far as I can recall. I had an interesting childhood observing the life-long debate between my anthropologist father and psychiatric social worker mother. It was an intellectually stimulating atmosphere, to say the least. There are many more details in my autobiography, in Gale's Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series.

Naked Sunfish - When and how did you get interested in poetry? I assume, early on, you began with traditional verse?

John Bennett - Somehow I've always had a capacity to perceive the resonant and "magical" quality of language and words. This was the case even before I could write. I used to chant words and phrases over and over. I still do that; it's one of my performance schticks. When I was a small child on the ship going to and from Japan, I wrote special words on pieces of paper, carefully wrapped them up in boxes or bottles or whatever was available, and threw them overboard into the Pacific. I created special incantations or "prayers" for things that were important to me and recited them to myself. Somewhere in late grade school or thereabouts, I learned that what I was doing was called "poetry".

N.S. – Wow. That’s a calling I believe. Most of us are forced to memorize a poem or two along the way in school. Your experience is more personal. I won’t make a case for public education many times turning kids off to poetry. That’s too easy. But all I have to show for 12 years of public school is Ogden Nash’s “The Duck”. And while that’s more than some, how did your education as a boy interplay with this inspirational self motivated creativity? Did the two mesh? Or was it a conflict?

J.B. - When I was in public grade school it neither meshed nor conflicted, because those interests/proclivities had no place there. When I went to OSU's lab school starting in 7th grade, the environment and teachers greatly encouraged my activities in poetry. It was a good place. Then when I finished high school in a large public school in St. Louis, I almost got thrown out of the place because neither my writing nor anything else about me fit in. I was pleased to learn that Tennessee Williams DID get thrown out of that same school - actually, I've always felt somewhat disappointed that I didn't do as well as he did there.

N.S. - Well enough to get thrown out? Who influenced you back then? Did you read avant-garde poetry? Mainstream stuff? The Beat Poets maybe?

J.B. - Back then in High School (or rather, OUTSIDE of High School!) I was reading cummings, James Joyce, Robert Bly's The Fifties magazine, the Beats of course, Burroughs (or at least the fragments that were available then), Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Lorca, Machado, Neruda, Heine, Japanese haiku, Eliot, Pound; these are who come to mind today. The mainstream stuff I read out of curiosity, and sometimes so I could mock it, but it didn't leave much of an impression.

The question of "influence" has always puzzled me a bit: was I influenced by the writers I read, or did something in my psyche influence what writers I read? A bit of both, no doubt.

N.S. - What about college? What was your approach there? What did you study? Did you fit in better in that environment?

J.B. - In college I had a number of things I was interested in, ended up with undergrad double majors in English and Spanish. Stayed away from the "creative writing" industry which was starting up at that time, because I could see very clearly I didn't want my livelihood dependent on what I wrote as a poet. That was part of the reason I went into Latin American literature for graduate work and for academic career - it was also a field which had lots of VERY interesting writing going on; much more congenial to me than what was happening in Anglo-American poetry.

I also studied Latin American history, social science, etc. quite extensively, and found that very satisfying.

N.S. – Where did you attend university?

J.B. - Washington University (St. Louis) - BA Cum Laude, MA, CCLAS

N.S. – Some artists maintain that one must learn the rules in order to effectively break them. As an avant-garde poet what is your take on this? Does one need to live in the box before getting outside it? And would you view this as a sort of anti-authoritarianism?

J.B. - Of course there's a lot of truth to that. The question is, how does one learn the rules? The people who tout this idea usually mean that the rules must be learned in a specific way, but in fact people learn the rules (that is, the tradition they want to transform) in all kinds of idiosyncratic processes. To follow up on your metaphor, one can learn what's inside the box by looking at it from the outside, in some ways better than by looking at it from within.

N.S. - When did your work begin to get published? Do you still have pieces from way back when? An anthology of your poetry?

J.B. - Some of my poems were published when I was in high school in the late 1950's, in student magazines. Also in the 1960's, some of my poems were published here and there. You can see a lot of it right here at OSU: http://library.osu.edu/sites/rarebooks/finding/JMBcomplete107.php

Things really got going publishing-wise in the 1970's. I saved everything, as the guide above will indicate.


by Dan Eley

A few months ago I suggested to Rick a "Best Of" section for Naked SunFish. Rick thought it was a great idea, and suggested that I do it. While I prefer to be behind the scenes, putting each issue together, I guess I am qualified since most likely I'm one of the two people who have read every single piece ever written for Naked SunFish (the other being Rick).

So without further ado, enjoy the first installment of The Best of the Fish.

The Nick in My Guitar

Issue 2 - February 2002


Easton Town Center
Columbus, Ohio
* * * * *
by Rick Brown

About a third of the way through Shadowbox’s first act of Hair, I wondered whether…when the show opened on Broadway in 1968…it was actually written backstage during opening night.

This thing is all over the place.

But soon it all came back to me.

1968…the year Hair opened on Broadway…WAS all over the place. LBJ quits…Martin Luther King shot…RFK shot…riots…the Chicago Seven…Yippies…hippies…Viet Nam…yes. I remember.

And I realized just as Steve Guyer and friends had done earlier this year with their excellent presentation of Cabaret…this is not about performing a period piece. It is about showing the audience its relevance now…the sameness. Yes…times are different. But the questions remain the same. Sameness/difference. Truth can be contradictory.


"The House With Broken Windows"

Dennis Toth

Dream Body Portrait

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Donna Maria Distel

Journey to Wales: Part One 'Bad Rice, Bad Rice'
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Laura Joseph

Haunted House Party
Easton Town Center
Columbus, Ohio
* * * *
by Rick Brown

This year’s annual Halloween themed show Haunted House Party hits the ground running with a rousing take on the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. With the energy level balls to the wall (as it should be) this dedicated fan of the pop/punk faux brothers band found the rendition a little cluttered. Joey’s tune…and punk philosophy…is best when stripped down to the essentials. And while it is understandable house band BillWho? would lengthen the song for theatrical reason; the inclusion of dancing nurses and patients does more to detract than embellish. It was a terribly un-Ramones like experience.

But the rest of the music is unquestionably top notch. From Amy Lay’s sexy preening on No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”, to Carrie Lynn McDonald’s ascension to the monarchy with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” (and the crowd did), BillWho? and company ran the gambit of quality, classic rock and roll. Jennifer Hahn rocked Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” with a a vengeance. And no one can claim ownership of a classic rocker like Ms. Stephanie Shull can. Her vocal acrobatics on Aerosmith’s “Dream On” astounds. And her nuanced yet powerful take on the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, along with choreography by Katy Psenicka (this time it worked perfectly) is delicious aural dessert for the ears. Steve Guyer brings the show to climax with a joyously heavy handed version of the Beatles’ (as filtered through Eric Gales) “She’s So Heavy”.

Standing above all this great music however is Julie Klein’s standing ovation inducing break to intermission on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Flanked by “choir” Tom Cardinal, Mary Randle, Stephanie Shull, Laura Douce, Amy Lay, and Carrie Lynn McDonald, Ms. Klein creates a hot tension so thick it’s impossible to tell whether the smoke is from a machine or the stage is smoldering. Haunted House Party indeed. I was surprised Klein didn’t bring Freddie Mercury back from the dead.

With such dynamic music one might think the sketches inconsequential…and a couple are. As much as I enjoy Amy Lay’s portrayal of Shannon in “Shannon’s Movie Reviews”, its inclusion here seems threadbare. Shannon needs to see some new flicks…the sooner the better. But Ms. Lay made me forget all about it with her campy, riotous impersonation of Michael Jackson in the new skit “Sneak a Peek – Fall Preview”.

Good is “Mr. Tazer” where Brian Hurst does a deft take on Ted Nugent educating some younger folks on their need to carry a tazor gun. Never has the distortion of the Second Amendment been so uproarious. Clever is the metaphorically philosophical “Skeletons in the Closet” where Amy Lay plays a woman finally finding the courage to invite new boyfriend (Jimmy Mak) into her apartment. Soon the skeletons of her past skulk out of her closet and begin popping up inconveniently around her. The puppetry is visually delightful and the humor immediately relevant to everyone.

Also very entertaining is “Debbie Does Halloween”. Lydia Tew is marvelous portraying a seasoned “adult starlet” who unwittingly goes from understudy to star in what she believes is a XXX film. In fact, and much to the chagrin of the shocked and nonplussed director (David Whitehouse) she is gleefully trollop-ing around on yet another “Halloween” sequel. This is a wonderfully funny skit.

But the sketch that stuck in my mind long after my drive home is the opener “Divas Do Classic Rock”. Julie Klein and Stephanie Shull put the peddle to the metal interpreting classic rock anthems using their operatic voices while dressed in outrageous opera garb. These two divas can’t drive 55…for sure. Their feigned sincerity and stern, serious demeanors make this performance hilariously memorable. And…it is also a great opener to compliment Ms Klein’s first act closing number “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Haunted House Party is at Shadowbox in Easton Center and runs through November 10th. For more information go to www.shadowboxcabaret.com .

"an interior culture"

track rats with bats below
white flux clouds of morphing tranks.
a river of sparkling tires
and tar-gutters lined with half-eaten sambusas.

she peels ants from rooftop trees,
calls her friends the "bees knees".
she forgets the whimsical names in a day-
24 hours later she's back to bad moods
and trashed rooms too hot to sleep in anyway.

she's found so many cool topics through living:
brand new off-track bets,
flea-bitten horses and the quick shuffling
of stunted daily walk movements.

her eyes clatter off pebbled asphalt driveways,
cats crossing streets, trash bags, nothing,
corrugated iron stairways to sub-cities
of spanging and shifty teen laughter.

she thinks she's too fat to learn dance moves
(especially in this heat so white it's sickening).
she only pees in public if she really has to
and then it's in front of rows of television sets.

jessy kendall
lewiston, maine

Our Top 5 Picksby Ted Kaneby John Bennettby Cory Tressler by Patrick O'MalleyTravel SectionRecipes and MoreBack Issues

© 2001-2007 NakedSunfish, All Rights Reserved

Issue 1 - January 2002