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Steve Benson

PoemTalk #73, discussing Steve Benson's "Did the Lights Just Go Out?" from Open Clothes, October 24, 2013

Listen to the complete recording and read program notes for the episode at Jacket2.

Reading at Rhizome, Washington DC, October 12, 2022

Reading from unpublished manuscripts, incl. "Daylights" and "House Lights" (22:56): MP3

Grand Piano Reading: Episode 1, July 28, 2022

Watch on media.SAS

Steve Benson: For my live reading for GP TV, I chose to select a passage or two from each of the ten essays I wrote into the Grand Piano books and read them straight, which is to say, with due emphasis and embodiment, articulating myself and my laptop camera in physical relationship, as well as its mic. One continuous shot as if ten.

"A moment on life/or not," Segue Series Reading at the Zinc Bar, February 16, 2013

Ariel Goldberg introduces Steve Benson, who reads individual pages from a long unfinished poem and improvises passages in between pages. Film made by Robert Withers.

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  • Complete Recording (31:53): MP3

"unfinished and perfectly still," The Poetry Project, NY, NY, March 20, 2010

A fully improvised collaborative work by Steve Benson (spoken voice), Konrad Steiner (montage and projections), and the Jon Raskin Quartet (music), including Jon Raskin (saxophones, jaw harp, electronics), Liz Allbee (trumpets, conch), Ches Smith (drums) and John Shiurba (guitar, effects). Film made by Konrad Steiner.

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"All Words Spoken Represent Words Being Read," Eastern Michigan University, February 16, 2010

Begins with Carla Harryman's introduction (in mediasres), after which Benson reads verbatim, choosing improvisationally what to read when, from a variety of texts on a long table before him.

Complete Reading (36:30): MP3

Improvisational performance, March 14, 2009, Berkeley [video]

This video was filmed and produced by Konrad Steiner. Benson's performance that Saturday night was the closing event for "Medium and Margin: Multiplying Methodologies and Proliferating Poetics," a two-day conference at the University of California at Berkeley (in the Maud Fife Room, Wheeler Hall). The introduction was given by Lyn Hejinian. [ link to video ]

Steve Benson at Berkeley, March 2009

Segue Series Reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, February 14, 2009

Complete Reading (30:11): MP3 | video

Steve Benson improvised both typing on his laptop and orally into a microphone, partially on the basis of notes he'd written in the past day or two, so that amplifiers and projection made his speech and writing present to the audience. Filmed by Brandon Downing and produced by Konrad Steiner.

Reading at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo, NY, February 5, 2008, in the Poetics Plus series, out of the State University of New York at Buffalo

Jon Cotner introduces Steve Benson's reading of a unpublished manuscript that he had previously read on 10/28/1995 at the Ear Inn in New York City, entitled "Essay(s) ['What I want why not (a dream)']", while listening to the earlier reading on earphones, at first.

Recording courtesy of Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center.

Reading at the Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, February 11, 2003

Without prepared text or notes, Steve Benson orally improvises a long poem composed entirely of questions, and then he responds to questions and comments from the audience. His transcript of this performance appears in his book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as "If you stop to listen to yourself think" and "Is your thinking about the words."

Complete reading (1:27:42): MP3, RealAudio

Excerpt 1 (2:25): MP3
Excerpt 2 (1:42): MP3
Excerpt 3 (2:27): MP3

Segue Series Reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, February 8, 2003

Without prepared text or notes, Steve Benson improvises a long poem composed entirely of questions. His transcript of this performance appears in his book Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005) as "Did the Lights Just Go Out?" [text].

Complete Reading (29:25): MP3

Excerpt 1 (2:55): MP3
Excerpt 2 (2:37): MP3

"Did the Lights Just Go Out?" is also featured on PoemTalk Episode 73.

Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, May 24, 1997

Segue Series Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, February 16, 1993

Reading of what appears to be one untitled and unpublished work, with spoken elaboration.

Complete Reading (19:07): MP3

Recordings with the Splatter Trio (Dave Barrett (saxophones), Gino Robair (percussion), Myles Boisen (guitars), 1991

  • Part One (32:36): MP3
  • These recordings were all improvised in studio. "I Was an Absent Alien" (solo on three tracks, 12/91), followed by six tracks improvised as a quartet in studio (2/91) and an excerpt from an improvised performance at New Langton Arts in San Francisco (2/91).

  • Part Two (33:22): MP3
  • "Put Your Hand In Here" (8/91) excerpted by Benson from live KPFA show Mob Ecstasy (producer Ben Lindgren).

Segue Series Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, May 20, 1990

Benson improvises reading while writing longhand in three-line stanzas, recites from memory a paragraph from Huizinga's book on Erasmus, makes speeches on the basis of notes, and reads five stanzas from his poem "Reverse Order" while making and wearing paper masks.

Complete Reading (48:17): MP3

Laura Chester and Steve Benson for the Poetry Project, St. Mark's Church, New York, October 26, 1988

Recorded on audiocassette. Recording hosted by the Library of Congress.

  1. Side A (44:34): link
  2. Side B (47:09): same link

Reading with Jean Day at UCSD, February 25, 1987

  1. Introduction by Stephen Rodefer, and "One of You" improv collaboration (24:27): MP3
  2. Jean Day reading (17:47): MP3
  3. Steve Benson reading (37:26): MP3
  4. Q&A session (21:59): MP3

Reading at EyeMediae in Ann Arbor, MI, October 27, 1986

The first set includes a number of pieces, some with prepared audio back-up on cassette tape, half on them including improvised material. The second presents one continuous work. For this set, Steve Benson sat at a table facing the back wall, where Super8 rolls and 35mm slides he had shot over the previous 20 years were projected very large, while he used notes he had brought on scraps of paper, the images in the video, and associations that occured to him at the time to improvise orally. This piece is documented in Blue Book under the title of "Voice-overs."

First set

  1. Introduction (0:30): MP3
  2. Letter to Victor (4:58): MP3
  3. Vanity mirrors (14:37): MP3
  4. Echo (4:40): MP3
  5. The Busses (excerpt) (6:30): MP3
  6. On Time (7:09): MP3
  7. That Was Yesterday (5:54): MP3

Second set

Voice-overs (31:06): MP3

Complete Reading (1:15:51): MP3

Segue Series Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, May 25, 1985

Improvisation based on transposing fragments from memorized prose taken from two-page spreads in published work of Henry Thoreau, James Barrie, Cabeza de Vaca, Samuel Johnson and Johan Huizinga (described and transcribed into Blue Book [The Figures/Roof, 1988] as "The Town of He").

Complete Reading (38:17): MP3

Segue Series Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, April 28, 1984

Reading includes "Aposiopesis," followed by excerpts from "Quartets," "About the Subject," and "Briarcombe Paragraphs" interspersed with remarks and re-phrasings of "Speech is...," bracketed by two paragraphs written in the Southwest.

Reading (Ends Prematurely) (49:54): MP3

"Talking Leaves Reading," Talking Leaves Books, San Francisco, CA, March 27, 1981

Begins with Benson making community announcements of other poets' up-coming readings and then proceeds to a dialogue between text he had written in recent weeks into a notebook and, after reading each page, spoken improvisations. Later transcribed and collected in Blue Book as "Talking Leaves Reading."

Complete reading (31:27): MP3

"Close Reading," New Langton Arts, San Francisco, August, 14, 1980

From the Talks Series curated by Bob Perelman

  • Tape 1 (1:34:16): MP3
  • Tape 2 (40:42): MP3

"Steve Benson on His Own" (b/w "The Other Side of Steve Benson" by chris cheek), 1979-1980

published by Widemouth Tapes (#8606)

  • "Steve Benson on His Own," improvised in June 1979 on producer Chris Mason's tape recorder on his kitchen table for cassette publication (39:18): MP3

Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, April 4, 1979

  • Oral commentary on translation (2:37): MP3

Reading at the Ear Inn, New York, April 4, 1979

  1. Oral commentary on translation (2:37): MP3
  2. Translations (0:58): MP3
  3. Translations 2 (0:53): MP3
  4. Translations 1A (1:16): MP3
  5. The Ex-Communist Manifesto (3:04): MP3
  6. Me the blue purple black a shot in the dark . . . (2:15): MP3
  7. An oral story about taking a walk the evening before (2:02): MP3
  8. Oral commentary on telling and commenting (1:21): MP3
  9. Non-Events (9:49): MP3
  10. A multidimensional reading of Vanity Mirrors (incomplete) (4:52): MP3

Steve Benson and Carla Harryman: Terms of Address, July 22, 1978

From the Talks Series curated by Bob Perelman tapes.
  • Complete Recording (21:54): MP3

Talk: Careers in the Arts, 80 Langton Street Gallery, San Francisco, February 16, 1978

From the Talks Series curated by Bob Perelman

  • Complete Recording (1:32:45): MP3 (The tape flips over around 45:00, and the end is cut short.)
  • Benson's full transcript and notes, along with examples of survey responses by solicited writers and artists, can be accessed here.

Talk: "Views of Communist China" at 1220 Folsom Street, San Francisco, May 19, 1977.

From the
Talk Series curated by Bob Perelman. Benson's transcript is available in The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater 1945-1985, edited by Kevin Killian and David Brazil (Chicago: Kenning Editions, 2010).

  • Complete Recording (1:17:37): MP3 (Break around 45:00 when the tape flips over.)

Also on PennSound

Steve Benson on PennSound Daily

These sound recordings are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights to this recorded material belong to the author. © 2017 Steve Benson. Used with permission of Steve Benson. Distributed by PennSound.