The Badminton at Great Barrington
Gustave Mahler & The Chattanooga Choo-Choo
[Last Modified 7/04]
Poems here so far are mostly from opening
& middle sections of the book--
a verse sequence by Michael Benedikt published by University of Pittsburgh Press in l980
Poems appear in '99-'04 updates
New in '04:
Many poems revised in recent editions of
site. With previews of book's closing poems:
Also New in '04: Navigational aids enhanced.
Briefly, About The Book
"A wonderfully vulnerable book and one of the first books by a man which expresses some of the passionate openness seen in recent women's poetry."--Erica Jong "This book by Michael Benedikt is a hilarious romp through the subject of love presented as innately comic, intriguing, absurd, essential, baffling. This reader was carried along, merrily and concernedly, through the poet's adroit treatment of an ancient subject."--Richard Eberhart Click for Poems
From Orig. Jacket Copy
"This wildly original and constantly surprising sequence of poems tells the story of two lovers crossed not so much by their stars as by their individual psychologies: Mahler, who speaks in the narrator's voice, and petite Choo-Choo, who by turns enchants, frustrates, and irritates her more peace-oriented--but hardly more conventional--lover. The dominant mood is comic, the game's pace frenetic, the characters highly idiosyncratic, but as in all successful romantic comedy, beneath the surface of the story is an anguish and a truth about love perhaps too deep for anything but the laughter that can come with understanding." Click for Poems
Like to know more about the game/people/place
referred to in this book's succinct title?
And about features such as book's focus on the psychology of love & romance--& scenario replete with
romantic conficts & frustration, unrequited love, Intimacy Problems, & Extrovert vs. Introvert? If so--More Info, here
Literary Periodicals Where Poems lst Appeared Brief Author Bio. Also Online About Benedikt & Websites
I love & hate. You ask how that can
I know not, but I feel the agony." --Roman poet Catullus, poem 85 tr. Gilbert Highet
C o n t e n t s--P o e m s a t T h i s S i t e
(1) Prelude: To Choo-Choo, Petite Mouse-Muse
(2) Saturday Night and Sunday Night Blues (3) I Saw (4) Is She? Or, Crazy About Her
(5) Teenybopper Soliloquy: Fantasy-Serenade At Spring-Break Time To A Very Petite Lady
(6) Arena (7) Folie À Deux (8) Attemptedly Logical Considerations (9) Elf
(10) Before You Do: 2nd Fantasy-Serenade To A Very Petite Lady (11) St. Gustave's Lament
(12) Interlude: From His Feminine Self
(13) Interlude II: Either Men Will Understand Or Women Will
Previews of Poems of Reconciliation at close of Book: Reunion: 4th of Ju l y & Not Bad
P r e l u d e
TO CHOO-CHOO, PETITE
If they attached a power-plant to only just your pinkie,
Petite & pretty Choo-Choo, you could light up all the hype-signs
On Broadway, believe me. Choo-Choo I've even felt you
Pound a stone heart almost to pieces with just your Alpha-waves!
No kidding--the Constant Tinkling Of Your Infectious Laughter
Could collapse even the walls of Jericho like a wrecker's ball
I bet, though you constantly underestimate your impact
On the world at large; and on my starved heart in particular.
Sure, there's something of a dearth of delicacy
And peacefulness, in the tumultuous future you propose
--On the other hand it's first aid for this dying of boredom.
I'm tired of not jumping up and down in my sleep!
Break out my valium supply, all covered with purple mold
For these few precious moments of Ecstasy,
Hysteria, grandeur and danger. This whole love's hopeless,
I can see it all coming oh my swift, elusive little Mouse
Muse--which may be why, most piously, I invoke you:
Come, let's love. Let's get it on & over with already!
I've known you almost one full week, without a regret yet!
SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY NIGHT
That first kiss was a mess. A miss! Not swan-like! It kept
As if it had just remembered a worm underwater
She had overlooked, or that slipped from her beak...
But she's invited me to Zora Crawshaw's party on Sunday!
Nor was the initial hug much. It was more like an off-side tackle
Who's intercepted a forward pass & then been flattened
Anyway, by an adrenalin-hyped fullback near the end-zone.
We rushed at each other madly but then overshot the mark entirely;
She almost fell out of the bedroom window & I ended up
Clutching an article of furniture, pretending it was necessary to lean.
Still she says, we're going to Zora Crawshaw's party on Sunday!
As for Getting To Bed late Saturday night, she gestured in my direction & then pointed
To a springless mattress on the floor down the hall two rooms away
With obvious enthusiasm. I was thinking: on the big brass one! To clarify
Her position, she threw a pillow
Into her bathtub, several sheets, herself and her nightgown.
Still she insists, we're going to Zora Crawshaw's party on Sunday!
Are we really as close as all these intimacies apparently suggest
To her? Are we really ready for that lifetime of laughter
She doubtless promised to others too, in times past? Is "King Lear" a comedy,
And "Medea" mere comic relief? I shall dwell on this
For a while; and dwell alone, without her and her two darling daughters and their laughter.
But when we went arrived at Zora Crawshaw's party on
She introduced me as her lover.
I saw my true love foaming at the mouth, after days
Of chomping at the bit. I knew it was coming,
Even a rosy-cheeked, romantically-inclined & vaguely visionary
albeit bored-stiff quasi-blindman like me
Can recognize sheer pent-up resentment set to detonate. But over what?
An ingenuous girl--perhaps you too know the type?--who once in bed
Solicits the truth about one's former lovers
And then pops the cork! Blooey! : "How dare you
Taunt me so, and in the midst of the very first blush
Of our new romance?" "Who indeed wants
To taunt?" I replied, "I'd just as soon have lain there
In a grandeur of post-amorous stupor--
But I also thought that Honest & Earnest was sexy."
"Honesty?" she cried out, brandishing her fist, "I'll give you honesty! Since you insist
On flaunting anecdote after anecdote about conquests
allegedly light-hearted, meaningless, & innocent
How'd you like it if I claimed that you were impotent
At my very next press-conference among my assembled female intimates?"
And though tenderly I took her flailing hand then,
And we made a most powerfully oblivious love,
Still somehow--even at this early point--
I detected that this relationship just might prove difficult.
OR, CRAZY ABOUT HER
Is she crazy? All I can say is that
After he heard rumors that I was her lover, her favorite shrink
Began calling me up and asking me for advice
And even urged me to take up a practice!
Plus that, she insists, together her two children are like a mother
To her, when they grow up sometime and have to leave home
She thinks she might just have to get married.
Dining habits: Limoges and bare hands.
Strangest of all is the way she starts off our lovemaking each time:
By threatening to get out of bed
If touched with any part of our overwhelmingly
Gigantic physiological and psychological male
Presence, those were her virtual words even re shy
Unassuming little me--and yet laps
At her dinner-parties she sits on randomly
Until guests ranging from Professors still sporting mortarboards
to workmen as yet clad in dusty overalls
Need codpieces, plus corduroy patches for their knees.
Not very reassuring--yet somehow, she still fascinates me!
Which is why now I wonder: is she crazy?
Note: Here's a description of the poem which follows (Teenybopper Soliloquy) which once temporarily took its place while poem was undergoing a revision: "Forthcoming: Teenybopper Soliloquy--a somewhat goofy if not plain silly poem in which Gustave celebrates two aspects of Choo-Choo which particularly attract & charm: her petiteness and her cuteness. And in which--because of Choo-Choo's diminutive stature--he fantasizes that she's a cheerleader and he, an admiring, boyish bookworm in her thrall. It's interesting we think, that there are probably millions of mature lovers world-wide who in their intimate moments act similarly out-of-sync with their actual ages, referring to one another--throughout even the longest & most enduring relationships--as (of all things) 'Baby.' That kind of romantic time-warp has of course been re-enforced for decades by the frequent use of 'Baby' as a pop-song term-of-endearment. Similarly paradoxical & mysterious we think, is that very young lovers will sometimes teasingly refer to each other as 'My Old Man' and 'My Old Lady.'
FANTASY-SERENADE AT SPRING-BREAK-TIME TO A VERY PETITE LADY
popular term for a female teenager, or (less common) a male teenager,
initiated in the mid-l960's. Its popularity continued into the l970's, but dwindled
during the later l980's; it's heard only rarely today.--Dictionary of Modern U.S. Slang.
I felt weak all week. For seven whole nights since our date last
I haven't been able to eat anything
Stronger than pabulum and I've been far too upset to touch
My CD's by our favorite suicided rock-stars since last Sunday.
And here it's Saturday night again, My Love,
And yet memories of your diaphanous gown still flatten me.
Oh, the wonderful way you tangoed in the roller-rink
Then skated in your tiny blue chiffon tutu, on one leg, ass-backwards out the door!
I'm so upset tonight I can't think a straight thought--
I can't do my homework, I can't crack a book:
Even the letters of the alphabet remind me of your cute form!
Yes! --"T" is your T-shirt with the great big varsity letter on it for example,
"S" relentlessly reminds me of your ass and frankly "V"
Is you standing on your head with such sex-appeal
with legs spread wide and turning cartwheels!
Yes!--all I can see even here on this page before me now
Are characters passionately evoking your bone-joints,
Little diagrams of the various varicose veins
On those fatty thighs I wish you'd hurry up come home & stomp me with.
Ah, these should be our happiest times, should they not,
Days of joys and mutual discoveries, plus the bliss of proposterous togetherness
--Your teenybopper power and my tendency to moulder and mull things over
like some old philosopher
Dancing together until my head, too, is spinning in a pirouette
Like you, twirling figure-eights on areas the size of an omelette.
Oh how I miss our profound conversations at the soda-shoppe
Re such all-important matters as the possibly counter-productive consequences
of a weight-loss program consisting solely of snarfing down chocolate
diet drinks, versus the exemplary restraint
Shown in all nutritional matters by for example the Tibetan Yak! Ah, if only
We hadn't plunged so deep, I might never have learned
our intellectual equilibrium
Was so out-of-sync--that is, I couldn't keep up with you
And so I shouldn't have teased you about either you,
or your obsession with that Yak--perhaps the latter brought bad luck?
Who can I turn to, for a positive prognosis at a time such as this?
Am I doomed to a lonely Spring-break, filled only by dismal domestic muzak,
My father snoring after supper during TV-time, despite my mother crashing crockery
to awaken him
Now that I've set aside the Gustave Mahler records I once loved, long since?
Oh, the pain of being a bespectacled, tragic young academician
Bent over a desk I can't quite sit still at tonight
When all the world is bright and gay on a Saturday
And giving each other hickeys in the dark in parked cars!
Darling, I can just see our friends already
Out there in the schoolyard, choosing up
Sides, one for Gustave Mahler (that's guess who), and one for
The Chattanooga Choo-Choo (that's you)
But none for the little couple who almost
Lived in the lane. And so our lane became
Two bowling alleys, as lacking any even potential allies
Our love toppled over thunderously, repeatedly, on both sides of us;
& thus our arguments too, got worse.
Now your friends are taking seats on one side of the arena
While on the other my friends are unfolding their program notes;
Now Caesar is awaiting his two strange gladiators
And whole choruses of our meddlesome brothers & sisters
Are preparing to issue further thumbs-down opinions.
--Too bad, we can't throw them to the lions.
FOLIE À DEUX
A somewhat rare aberration in which two people
who are so closely associated
as to be somewhat out of touch with reality, share identical delusions;
and thus reinforce each others' misreading of reality.-- Dictionary of Psychology
True, we sometimes do it. On our good days, she gives me the
That reality isn't necessarily boring and crappy, with her sexy laughter;
And apparently, somehow I do the same for her. Of course it's doubtless all delusion
But then again, we do snap out of it all too often
To acknowledge the reality of pain--and how it too, beyond question,
Persists. Thus, whenever she and I start arguing and acting boring and crappy
some might say,
We're not only keeping in touch with reality, but achieving the heights of sanity!
I knew a lover who paraphrased this little paradox with an action:
He'd offer his beloved a straitjacket
To share, whenever they approached an orgasm.
My love for her so far is:
(1) The direct result
Of my refusal or inability to firmly grasp even the first principles
Of Japanese Zen Buddhism regarding the necessity for and dignity of Calm.
(2) The most recent phase
In my lifelong predilection for exceptionally vivacious, highly attractive women under 5'2"
And refusal to seriously consider the possibilities of midgets.
(3) An investigation--from the point of view of one enthralled by ideals of classical beauty--
Into whatever esthetic resemblances there might be
Between The Venus de Milo and a walking electric Mixmaster.
(4) The clinical correlative
Of having a threshold of boredom
So low it makes the Mindanao Deep look like a wading-pond.
(5) A test of just how out-of-sync two partners in a loony love-affair can be;
And of whether--should one ever find oneself in such a melancholy predicament--
It might be possible to make love in a straitjacket.
(6) The rather bizarre yet ongoingly romantic result
of my simply being far too mentally and physically exhausted lately
To get my ass down to the local martial arts center over on State Street
for a refresher-course in hand-to-hand combat; and then maybe a nice, peaceful, relaxing visit
Over tea, with former sweetie, who just happens to live nearby.
(7) A last-ditch attempt to somehow get just a little more out of life,
And to convert what used to be a perfectly solvent, flourishing psychic China-Shop
Into a passionate mystical gymnasium.
(9) An apparent proof--
Even while she whispered in bed something about her former lover's
sexual incapacities (with me trying not to listen)
And was saying something nice about my lovemaking "Skills" in contradistinction--
That some misguided lovers feel that passion thrives on competition
Struggle, work, sweat and effort; and acting not cool & sexily--but as if guilty of Original Sin.
(10) The least fortunate result of my long-time determination
Not to view the rightful prerogatives of Feminism with pessimism.
(11) One more pious attempt at penance
Through the penis.
Can you ever be gentle enough, with an elf?
They're fragile and damage easily, she explains
And if grasped too tightly, might just evanesce and turn into mist, or steam.
--And of course, you are full of Sympathy.
Yet when you reach forth, to reassure her
That you understand and to give her hand just a friendly, innocent pat
Zoom!--she twitches and draws back and practically twinkles out the window
--So, for a while, trying to be considerate after that, you practice caressing empty space,
tracing the contours of her longed-for form
There in mid-air in a darkened, empty room--shortly after which she begins commenting
in a pained way on (of all damn fool things)
How overwhelmed she is by your withdrawal and some indifference
she detects; and suddenly she pleads to be squeezed, yes!--her mother and father
& sisters and brothers and childhood toadstool collection
Never caressed her enough, she's lost, she cries out
If such a thing even happened again! So (tentatively this time), you hold out only just one pinkie
--And still, Elf flinches! You're wondering if you should ever decide to wave good-bye
from of course a suitable distance
Whether that might further disturb her lack of aplomb or God knows what
perhaps risk fracturing her psychic collarbone
When along comes some absolute oaf of a gawky new admirer
who without the least discussion, apology, or even prior enquiry as to her delicate condition
Hits on Elf from aloft--and hits her hard as if with some immense safe
dropped from the top of the Empire State Building;
And as that safe descends, whistling down from the troposphere
Elf just stands there on the sidewalk, immobile, like some monolithic stone statue
And without even bracing herself for the impact,
she just waits...
SECOND SERENADE TO A VERY PETITE LADY--THIS ONE, FROM AN IMAGINARY WHEELCHAIR
"Love Hurts"--Pop Song by The Everly
Before you do another number on this old gray head
Think twice, please. This old gray head is peeved
Enough to jump up and stomp down on your belly-button, figuratively speaking
Anytime now; all it is looking for is a chance to unleash its potentially
vast psychoanalytical capacities in the realm
Of mental dismemberment as well, by telling you still more
"Terriby shocking things" you'd rather not hear about your behavior. So please do not
Toy lightly with this old gray head, as if you were fingering a BB
Absent-mindedly, while watching the latest re-runs
Of "I Love Lucy"; or as if you were considering
Adapting the transcript of the Nuremberg trials
As musical comedy. This old gray head is sensitive, yes,
To its very bones, even, about the way the winds are blowing
And so cannot help but notice it, when tornado warnings are being posted,
replete with threats about getting even by flying the coop for parts unknown one more time
And (worse yet!) by throwing fits when you're still here & refusing to paint your toenails!
So please be considerate as you have always been, merely attempting two or three
Thousand upsetting end-runs in the realm of romantic feeling,
while wearing your shoulder-guards,
Barrel-turning and swivel-hipping. Ah, it would be so nice to return
To the restfulness of my former, rocking-chair relationships
Based so solidly on Boredom, Reticence, and Endurance.
It would be nice to fall silent as King Tut's tomb, too.
It would be even nicer to goose you and run around the room, you cutie
With both of us laughing; and with you looking so pretty in your teeny-tiny nightie
--But we'll skip that for the moment, won't we?
This is St. Gustave trying to resign from the service
Of the mad little white Queen. True, St. Gustave is no "Angel"
But Queen makes such comparison possible
With a flick of her wrist, the way almost everything supposedly is
Possible, for a person of sufficient wit & quickness & cleverness.
Queen commands that truth be bent: instant Ronzoni #9,
Overcooked, no less. Queen commands that Fact Hold Back: in her mind
her sceptre, like a magic wand, erases every dictionary
So that now she can invent meanings, as if on a tabula rasa.
She improvises still further: "Our love is rare, you've never known a love like mine,
or anything like mine, before
Much less actually seen what you think are consistently erratic,
highly unreliable behavior-patterns
--Every destructiveness you've observed (to myself or to others in the past) is an Illusion!
Nor have I ever made love to you even once, except as your loyal royal virgin.
I command you now to put away this impious, disloyal doubtfulness
And, lest you think you see light, wear dark sun-glasses;
For, besides underestimating my love, Gustave from fact but sore disgresses,
when he asserts that I undresses
For X." And--yipes!--all the time here is St. Gustave with enough
Solid Informational Goods on her to the contrary, to sink a wartime Merchant Marine!
She says she thinks she might be pregnant--unlike her, he's childless and thus for all he knows
might even be sterile, I mean;
This is St. Gustave quibbling with The Queen.
I n t e r l u d e
FROM HIS FEMININE
Since, as you say, no other woman is quite like you
I wish you'd stop pretending to be representative!
What a number, for shame, tsk tsk
Taking your healthier sisters to witness
In your case--in your case we know little darling that the difficulties
Transcend sex. Style, to be sure, is neuter. Grace
Does not have a space for writing in "M" or "F"
On its forms. Sure, I'll even go so far as to blame
My own sex for you, there must surely have been some men before me
Who sculpted you so screwily. I'm sorry
About that, but I won't let you deconstruct a genus
To prove our particular differences--though I admit little boys
Can be bad. Take back your stale sugar and spice
Theories to the corner grocer, and get back some nice recyled, brand new green stamps.
Begin again!--but unhand me first you fiend, you terrible wicked man.
I n t e r l u d e II
EITHER MEN WILL UNDERSTAND OR WOMEN
The greatest alchemy: The attempt to convert
A bump to a stroke. Yes perhaps that's why
We f**k, we think we're sorcerers, maybe what we really ought to wear for bed
Are pointed hats with the moon and stars on them
And long black cloaks like magicians wear
Instead of all these prevaricating garments which just confuse the issue,
look, my foot-
Ball jersey as your night-shirt, just for kicks tonight;
Tomorrow your long flowing diaphanous shift
With rusty crow-bar tucked in garter-belt beneath it
And what about those boxer-shorts I don, with pix of Minnie Mouse
in blue dancing tutu and in tights on them? oh we've tried so hard to disguise the issue
Haven't we--and others too; but it doesn't really matter what we wear, my love,
whatever, I tell you
Because after all aren't we trying to get close to someone else
by getting inside of them, or else the reverse
With each movement trying still harder than before and with our cockeyed partner
Cooperating--both striving for that perfect moment of confusion
When we lose all sense of reality and then go completely
and "Oh yes, they do go
Too far, all those stubborn, determined lovers" Choo-Choo and I say
ever-so circumspectly, to soothe our mutual pain;
And triumphantly, headed fast as we can go in opposite directions again,
She gets back aboard her train and I climb into my airplane
And we find ourselves today a thousand miles away....
FORTHCOMING : OTHER POEMS FROM THE
MIDDLE & LATER SECTIONS OF BADMINTON
POEMS TO COME TO INCLUDE
'SERENADE TO YOUR PEP-PILLS,' 'STYLES OF ORGASM' & 'A DOUBLE DOSE OF BLUE VOLKSWAGENS'
TWO POEMS PREVIEWING THE CLOSING, RECONCILING POEMS OF THE SEQUENCE FOLLOW
THE FOURTH OF JULY
Fourth of July! Surprise!--Tonight, the fireworks in these
Nearly match those in the sky--she's back, and it's almost sexy
The way we fuse on this night of reunion, with my arm around her tiny waist
and the light from "The Shelling of Fort Sumpter," "The Bombardment of The Castle,"
"The Guns of Yesteryear" and those other displays we know
Drifting across her adorable, upturned face and tiny, tear-stained cheek
And then flaring up and fading out tonight, as we two gaze through an opened window.
How could we have thought it would work out, what with two psychological firecrackers like us,
except for rare moments like these that come and go,
With strange lights & big explosions briefly amazing us
Before vanishing again and returning the two of us and the world around us too, to darkness
and to memories of battles even deadlier than those we once engaged in
--"Little Darling," I want to cry out, "remember how even our friends stood back
and waited for the fall-out to fall? And those were our friends!
Our enemies of course were practically beside themselves
When I took your little hand in mine--and then surprised you, by biting your ragged little
fingernails anew, already bitten-to-the bone enough for two. Or, when you kicked a hole in my TV set
When I wasn't looking, late one night, directly at adorable you. Dire
Were delivered via dump-truck-loads from Delphi--it was inevitable
That Something Happen. And it has, hasn't it? After all, hardly anybody's exactly dead yet,
that's an achievment
Isn't it? Things have just gone on being volatile, colorful, and shattering
Like these booming, bursting fireworks as they detonate & celebrate
Sweetie! Turn your world-weary peepers back to "The Guns of
still firing volleys of big cannonballs that at last land
At our feet. Tonight, even our own embattled nation
Has a Constitutional right to cheer and celebrate!"
Trepidation. Trepidation. "Not bad
Considering our earlier moments of sporadic, yet obviously overly-inflated enthusiasm,
Mixed in with constant, whole-hearted
Half-heartedness & a certain underlying lack of conviction--this
way at least
We're both admitting we've been scared!" "Oh Yes, remember
The Hindenburg," you urged in that intimate moment, "Everyone had confidence in that
And just look what happened!" "& That brings me around
To the subject of apple-carts," I replied,
"Ours looks like it's been terribly overturned doesn't it
But now at last thanks to our new-found frankness perhaps we may
yet gain some control
Over our irate interior old-time Italian push-cart vendors
Running down the road shaking fists at fate
In the form of the nut in the Rolls Royce who just sped by &
ruined our fruit."
"Very true," you confided, shaking your finger in the air at nobody in particular,
"my sentiments exactly! And it's interesting too, isn't it
How your apple-cart resembles my dirigible,
& How confessing one's terror sometimes makes things seem
The way they perhaps were for guy who sold apples by the score
To the crowds at Lakehurst both before & after the blimp disaster."
And I longed to take your flailing hand then
Charming Choo-Choo, & pat it soothingly or more--except that we'd traveled that road before
& Besides that night we were joined then much more by metaphor;
And as for making love during our last day together
Wouldn't it have been too much like literature?
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The Badminton at Great Barrington; Or,
Gustave Mahler & the Chattanooga Choo-Choo,
published by University of Pittsburgh Press, © l980 by Michael Benedikt.
Webversions, © 2000 & 2002 & 2003 & 2004 by Michael Benedikt.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved by Author, currently sole owner of copyright.
After a decade or so of being in print,
the original U. Pittsburgh Press poetry book published in the Pitt series
went OP--but it's
sometimes available via rare/used web booksellers, such as amazon.com and bn.com & powells.com & pombooks.com
--& here & there in brick n'mortar stores, too. Poems in this selection are drawn from approximately the first 1/2 of the book.
All poems have been revised since their original appearance in book form--many, considerably.
The order in which the poems originally appeared in print-medium has also been adjusted somewhat here, to clarify story-line.
The Badminton at Great Barrington; Or, Gustave Mahler & The Chattanooga Choo-Choo poems first appeared in: Agni Review, Ambit (London), Beyond Baroque, Blue Buildings, Gravida, Green House (edited by Jane Kenyon), Harvard Magazine, Ironwood, Kayak, New York Arts Journal, The Paris Review (title poem of book), Pearl, Ploughshares (special issue on 'Feminist Perspectives In Poetry By Men,' edited by Rosellen Brown), Poetry Now, Seneca Review, Skywriting, and Telephone. Several poems also first appeared in limited-edition chapbook publ. by Grilled Flowers Press: Benedikt: A Profile (l978). The latter publication is a limited edition 'festschrift' with a critical appraisal by Louis Gallo & an essay by Alan Ziegler; and an extensive interview on Badminton--as well as Benedikt's earlier poetry conducted by Naomi Shihab Nye. Interview was reprinted in American Poetry Observed: Poets On Their Work (U. Illinois Press, l984). The Badminton at Great Barrington was first published in l980 by U. Pittsburgh Press in The Pitt Poetry Series in hardcover (ISBN 0-8229-3423-X) & paperback (ISBN 0-8229-5322-6). Author thanks National Endowment For The Arts for Fellowship assisting completion of book.
Top of Poems At This Page
Detailed Book Description
The Badminton at Great Barrington; Or, Gustave Mahler & The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is a book of poetry which also tells a story: it's a structured sequence of poems. Unlike most poetry "collections," it has a literal story-line--and lots in common with works of fiction--the short story, the novel, and even to some extent, Hollywood film scenario. The Badminton at Great Barrington tells the tale of a "game of love" played by two members of the "opposite" sexes. Like most lovers in reasonably serious relationships (which we'll define here as those relationships which in one way or another participants find deeply moving & which last for a while), its central characters keep on trying to "Connect"--but like some lovers, seem mostly to frustrate each other at every turn. The work proposes that if love has certain aspects of competitive sport, the game should at least be a gentleone, causing minimal damage to participants--like the game of badminton, a court sport played with a "shuttle-cock" or "birdie" that can hang in the air after sailing aloft. (Badminton, as you probably already know, is a game that's somewhat less ferocious than for example, the relatively high-velocity, whiz-bang game of tennis).
Narrator is the earnest, thoughtful and--certainly compared to extroverted Choo-Choo--relatively introverted Mahler. He refers to himself by that name ironically. And because--although he understands from the first that the romance which has been missing from his life might prove tempestuous--he also perceives that the longing for blissful, sensuous peacefulness which motivates his temperament suggests the music of late l9th-century German Romantic composer Gustave Mahler. Mahler, who evokes peaceful moods of transcendendly ecstatic, meditative serenity in some of his most memorable symphonies and song-cycles. In the opposite court there's Choo-Choo --nicknamed by Mahler after the hard-driving locomotive which is the subject of the manic, blockbuster classic hit song of the l940's, sung by The Andrews Sisters among others. Choo-Choo is an petite, adorably elfin and also exceptionally extroverted person who bubbles over with a kind of free-swinging, staccato, erratic and ultimately anti-erotic energy which sets Mahler's teeth on edge--disconcerting him, interrupting his trains of would-be romantic thought, and throwing off his amorous game in general. (It's an oddity of Mahler's stubbornly logical, consecutiveness-oriented personality that compared to that crime, even Choo-Choo's infidelities--revealed as "the plot thickens" and painful as they are to him--seem like mere peccadilloes. So, despite his pain over what he come is realize is Choo-Choo's congenital romantic waywardness, and despite repeated romantic pratfalls, he continues to adore the adorable Choo-Choo--and even to retain faint albeit fading hope for the relationship--even after he finds out about Choo-Choo's philandering. Poems in which Mahler regains his wits, and summons up his surviving sense of reason to try to detach himself from Choo-Choo, increasingly appear as the story moves towards its conclusion.
A psychologist might say that there's an additional, still more glaring problem keeping the book's two central characters apart. Perhaps the main reason why the encounters between its two main characters are often so pratfall-filled and incongruous, is that Mahler's essentially a Romantic; while the object of his affections has what psychologists term an "Intimacy Problem." It's a hard-to-cure quirk, involvng romantic "distancing tactics" which can doom nearly any attemptedly close relationship to misunderstandings and volatility. The "Intimacy Problem" theme--reflected in comic vignettes of frustrated desire--is introduced at the very start of the story, with its initial portrayals of Choo-Choo; & it wends its way therough many of the poems. The "Intimacy Problem" theme is also referred to in those poems in which Mahler attempts to regain balance and at long last tries to distance himself from the relationship. (In addition to loving the adorably elfin Choo-Choo, he also likes his frenetic, petite lover a lot--& doesn't find withdrawal easy).
Jacket copy termed Badminton a book about "lovers crossed not so much by their stars as by their psychologies." And there are indeed many overt references to psychology in the book--increasingly so as the tale unfolds and especially in the story's middle poems, as peace-loving Mahler tries to take stock of the relationship and to make sense of Choo-Choo's extroverted, somewhat "Other-Directed" personality-type. And also, as he tries to express the affection he still feels for her, despite the proposterous pain he's been going through. Which Pain (it suddenly dawns on him), it's possible that Choo-Choo may be experiencing somewhat by then, too! Mahler's latter-day efforts at self-enlightenment pre-figure the work's concluding poems (forthcoming at this website) in which a wiser Mahler sees fit to try to re-establish the relationship on the basis of friendship.
Despite Badminton's attempt to tell a story in poetry and to shed light on the psychology of Love and Intimacy, most reviewers who commented on the version published in book form, found it an amusing collection of individual poems about romantic conflicts, unrequited love, and romance gone wrong--and left it at that. (Which is probably o.k., too).
Great Barrington : As described in the book's title poem (a key stock-taking poem later to appear at this website), it's "a summer resort region in S.W. Massachusetts and the location of Choo-Choo's summer cottage." It's there, mid-book, that this highly charged (not to mention highly challenged) tragi-comical love-affair falls apart completely--although the love-match played there and in the many mini-contests conducted both before and after, eventually lead (to the surprise of both central characters), to something of a romantic reconcilation--and a relatively peaceful Happy Ending as far as tales about turbulent love-affairs go.
In other words: The Badminton at Great Barrington is a book of poetry which also tells a story...
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Brief Benedikt Biography
Note: Many of Benedikt's books are now briefly represented at various websites.
Contemporary US poet Michael Benedikt is the author of 5 books of poetry published in print media. The fifth is The Badminton at Great Barrington; Or, Gustave Mahler & The Chattanooga Choo-Choo (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, l980). Four books of earlier poetry issued by Wesleyan University Press are: Night Cries (prose poems, l976); Mole Notes (prose poems, 1971); Sky (l970), and The Body (l968). Benedikt's post-Badminton poetry was published in the 1980's & 1990's in many lit. magazines & journals: in the l990's, for example, in N.Y. Quarterly, Agni, Iowa Review, Jerusalem Review, Lips, Michigan Quarterly Review, New Republic, Partisan Review; and The Paris Review. His poetry's represented in 70 + anthologies of US poetry. A former Poetry Editor of Paris Review (l974-'78), his editorial selections are represented in The Paris Review Anthology (Norton, l990). Books he's edited, with Critical Introductions & Commentary, include the first anthology of global prose poetry: The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (Dell/Laurel, l976); and the landmark Poetry of Surrealism (Little, Brown & Co., l974). His literary criticism has appeared in Poetry, The American Book Review, & elsewhere. Benedikt taught as Visiting Prof. at Bennington, Sarah Lawrence, Hampshire, and Vassar College/s; and at Boston University. A graduate of Columbia University and NYU's Washington Square College, he lives in Manhattan. E-mail at email@example.com Top of Site Top of Poems
ABOUT BENEDIKT & WEBSITES
'The Compleat Michael Benedikt--Poet
Laureate of The Net'
Article at About.com by Bob Holman re Benedikt & Sites
OTHER BENEDIKT LINKS
WEBSITES WITH SELECTIONS FROM
OTHER BENEDIKT BOOKS & WORKS-IN-PROGRESS
Nearly all poems & translations at all sites appear in recent revisions
BADMINTON & BEYOND
Pages at Academy of American Poets
Pages include a poem climaxing the opening sections of Badminton, 'Portland Taxis.'
Also, links to several of the sites cited below.
Thesaurus And Other New Verse, with verse from
Linked to page of 3 Poems Praising Peace, other verse written shortly after completion of Badminton.
Above site contains a 'Brief Guide to Benedikt Mini-Web'
Less brief: Complete Guide To Sites In Benedikt Mini-Web
Boston & Cambridge, with verse from
Mainly Narrative poems. With Archive photos from around time of Badminton's publication.
'American Vibrations'--Mini-Site with Transitions poem re Romantic problems in 19th-cent. pioneer USA.
The Body and Sky, multi-paged site with
Poems from author's 1st two books of poetry.
Includes a Page of Dark Love Poems. Site also has a Thematic Index of topics in both books.
With notes for college-level teachers & students & others. Archive Photos, too.
New in '04: Page with poems from Sky
& Microfictions, from Author's 4th book of
poetry, Night Cries.
With book review from The London Times Literary Supplement re book's roots in Romanticism.
Prose Poems, with shorter Night Cries
poems. Also, in-depth interview on prose
poetry from Poetry Society of America Newsletter--& essay on "Future of American Prose Poem."
EARLIER BOOKS--ANTHOLOGIES & TRANSLATIONS
& TV Poems, with poems about Entertainment World
Also, brief descriptions of 3 Benedikt-edited anthologies of Modern European Drama.
Surrealist or Surrealist-influenced plays. With Agent Contact Info for obtaining performing rights.
Unique French Surrealist Poet, with Intro to/Translations
of poet who wrote
re his own elusive love. Texts update those in Benedikt's anthology, The Poetry of Surrealism.
New in '04: A Woman Is A Woman--Tr. of Jean-Luc Godard's witty scenario for his 1961 film re romantic tensions.
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