Touching Down in a Textual Moment: A Conversation with Cara Benson

Cara Benson
BY Dylan Carey

CARA BENSON is a poet, educator, sound artist, and activist. An active committee member of the PEN Prison Writing Program, she teaches poetry in a New York State Prison. Her first full-length book of phoems, (made), was published in 2010 by BookThug, a leading Canadian experimental press. Protean Parade, her second book, is forthcoming in 2011 from Black Radish Books. Her chapbook Quantum Chaos and Poems: A Manifest(o)ation won the bpNichol Award. Benson edited the interdisciplinary book Predictions for ChainLinks and is featured in the Belladonna Elders Series with Jayne Cortez and Anne Waldman. She is also an editor of the online Sous Rature and a proud member of the Dusie Kollektiv and the Belladonna* Collaborative. Her online home is

Let’s begin with full disclosure. Had I read your poetry without meeting you or hearing you perform, I probably wouldn’t have sought you out for this interview. Reading your words on the page didn’t land me in a comfortable cognitive zone, so to speak. However, your performance chased away this need to “understand.” Breath, breathing, the word: it is enough.

An uncomfortable cognitive zone, eh? So we’ve lured another one over. Isn’t letting go of the “irritable reaching after fact” the very sign (via Keats) of a person of literary achievement? I think that is when, for me, the words become, as you say, enough (I love that).

How do you prepare for your readings?

I prepare with, well, breathing. Healthy inhalations to clear the mind and connect to the body. To approach meditation in vocalization, if I can. It’s either that or I’m anxiously awaiting an audience to materialize.

Does your reading of individual poems vary from time to time? Or do you try for a consistent delivery?

Both. There are some poems that have found the way they like best to be read, or the way that feels most pleasurable to me to read them, perhaps the way that chanting achieves something specific in its repetition. Somehow that operates like a tuning fork. A way to align myself at the mic which permits me to also meander from that point.

On your website, you mention Performativity and Polyvocality as areas of interest for you. How do these terms function in the larger role of poet?

Whoa, the larger role of the poet. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with the notion that there is such a role for the poet. There certainly isn’t a large social or cultural function performed, or should I say received, as I see it currently. Having said that, I think the very difficulty of finding a definition of poem that sufficiently gets at what a poem is/does in a comprehensive manner is part of the appeal and the efficacy of it, such as there is, and therefore emblematic of its work in the world. That one can’t summarily say the poem does or is ___ without there often being a really solid case for the opposite of ___ is probably one of the reasons why the role of the poet isn’t easily demonstrable.

Performativity and Polyvocality just mean that I can tolerate a lot of people talking at the same time. Not (solely) true, of course.

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