Lynn Alexander for Full Of Crow on “Watching The Windows Sleep”, a chapbook produced by Naissance, written by Tantra Bensko. A review by Spencer Dew appeared in decomp in January as well and you can check that out here. Find out more on Tantra Bensko at her website and at Naissance Press: Official Tantra Bensko Web Site and the Official Naissance Chapbooks Web Site.
“Whimsical ridiculous meets explorations of consciousness.” Bensko is known for her experimental poetry and fiction, work that is strange and surrealist. It seems fitting that she begins this chapbook with the poem “Non Containers”, as this is not a collection that can be easily defined, a mix of poetry and fiction that tantalizes the imagination:
At being fruit and being mouth
Desperate for approval
Until we go through the crack
To the rest of ourselves,
Between the cracks
In Spencer Dew’s review, he mentions Bensko’s tendency to ask rather than answer, to leave the reader “outside”. After I read Watching The Windows Sleep, I went back to this review and I think I returned with a different sense of what he was getting at, and wanted to explore this observation. I agree, but it didn’t bother me. How important is it for the reader to be led to a destination, as opposed to a more simple submergence in the text, in the now, in the immediate experiences of language and untethered ideas? How much of a burden should be placed on the storyteller? Should we demand a destination, answers?
Is Bensko what we might call “indulgent”? Is she indifferent about the reader’s investment, a tease that provokes, then closes the door? The simple answer is yes, but I don’t think this is a negative tendency. It is a wonderful tendency. It might make the reader uncomfortable, with that sense she mentions in “The Accidental Voyeur” of “the longing to eat something more substantial”. But is Bensko really concerned about the hardiness of the dish, is she concerned with “meaning beyond meaning’? Yes, we are left wanting, but wanting of what? She won’t answer that for you.
I am not sure that she should, and I will get into why shortly. One could take that as neglect, but I wouldn’t. Hers is certainly a defiant, confident voice that does not seem interested in meeting our expectations. Spencer Dew suggests that she wants us to be impressed by her credentials, and this might be true. But this sounds like an assertion about personality, and one that has perhaps tainted his perception of Bensko from the onset.
Keep in mind what absurdist and surrealist literature aims to do: Absurdism, in particular, is rooted in the sense of futility about humanity’s purpose, it takes aim at contrived notions of significance and renders our attempts at resolution as nonsense. Now, can you really argue that Bensko isn’t doing that when she rejects the compulsion to provide answers, and instead chooses to focus on questions?
See, I don’t think she is asking them because the answers matter, to Bensko there is art to the asking. There are places in her work where she pushes us to consider the nature of wondering itself, why do we wonder? Why do we try to resolve things that are beyond the scope of what we can reasonably expect to untangle?
“You start to wonder if you are possible.” – “The Quantum Fool”
Right in the beginning, in the very first story, we see a man who is trying to eat a melon with a spoon, and a waiter reminding him that “melons are eaten with a knife and fork!”
Bensko’s man has been transformed by his experience with the windows, he has been in the presence of something magical, and he is no longer the same man. How does a man unpack this? He begins to question his tools. How do we unpack this? What happens when we meet another of our selves, one who has experienced a fuller communion with the sensorium, how can one rest? Again, he walks. There is no enchantment. Nothing that satisfies.
The next story, The Terrace Steps:
“When we fly together at night sometimes, we almost exchange names like the birds, but I have not yet learned their secrets for how they do that. When I do, then, I would have to teach my friends, and they are perhaps too traditional to learn new things of that nature.”
Again, the theme of challenge, the comments on tradition. Examples such as these come up often enough in Bensko’s work for us to know that they are intentional, and Bensko’s consistency convinces me that she is not in fact being “indulgent” but has a method to her madness. In this story we come across satiety again in the grandmother’s muffins. What kind of fulfillment is she getting at?
In “The Quantum Fool”, tradition again: “Hard to make out such an arbitrary thing. The old ways of looking at things are seeming so outdated. You feel sorry for those who are still trapped with them. Whatever those ways were.”
This passage really hints at what, in my view, the author is trying to accomplish here, she is deconstructing our perceptions, the reader like the changing figure in front of the rocks. And in “this particular reality, the one you are most familiar with, they lean to one side.”
Something else that can’t be ignored in “Watching The Windows Sleep” is Bensko’s way of connecting to the primitive vibe, whether it is the dream self in the wild, the touch of symbols, lush, the mouth that opens wide and consumes us. She connects to primal things, the mouth on the petals, conduit saliva.
You have to know what story you’re in before you can get out. The storyteller sometimes likes to just be. Outside of pretending there’s time. Outside of struggles and their interpretation. (And them anything can happen!) You’re outside of doing something to try to make something happen. Outside of questions and answers. Just plain outside. – “The Boy Who’s Floating A Flower”
Lynn Alexander is the producer of Full Of Crow Press And Distro, purveyors of web and print content as well as zine and chapbook distribution. To find out more about our perspective on reviews, please see the “About” section above.