THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN M. BENNETT
Started on: 4-7-1995
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on 27-7-1995
JMB: I got involved in mail art about the age of 8, in 1951, crossing the pacific on a ship from Japan to Oregon. I wrapped up little messages and drawings in many layers of tape and paper and tossed ’em overboard. After that my career went into a kind of lull, except for a brief period of sending poems I’d written to girls when I was in high school, until about 1974 when I started doing mail art at the instigation of a friend, the now-deceased painter Mr. Sensitive. It was great fun and still is. One of the earliest issues of LOST AND FOUND TIMES was a mail art project (copy is enclosed). Mail art delights continue to make their way into its pages.
RJ : Is it possible to describe what is so delightful about mail-art?
Reply on 9-8-1995
JMB: What’s delightful about receiving mail art is that it’s so full of people’s uninhibited expressions, off-the-cuff blurtings, or careful, lunatic constructions. It’s about as close as one can get these days to a “pure” art, one with no agenda, no career-building motives, etc. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have political or social messages – it often, even usually, does – but the functionality of that is impersonal).
Anyway, receiving mail art stimulates my own creative processes – it’s a source of contact with other artists which is most welcome to someone who lives a fairly routine life in a relative cultural desert.
What I like about making mail art is that it’s a medium in which I can either distribute my main work, poetry, and/or do completely spontaneous things that often surprise me and serve as a source of ideas for other projects. Do it, and put a stamp on it! What joy!
RJ : What joy! Is mail art only something positive to you? are there any negative sides to it too maybe?
Reply on 19-8-1995
JMB: Well, yes; I can’t bear throwing the stuff out, so I keep filling up these boxes I then have to move around and deal with. (Pile up around the bed, block the narrow aisles in my office, stumble over….) Fortunately, however, there are a couple of libraries who collect the stuff, so every so often I seal ’em up and ship ’em off, so long as they pay for the shipping, which they usually do.
Basically, if I didn’t enjoy doing it, I wouldn’t do it. I do find the rising postage rates distressing, though.
RJ : Like me, you probably get lots of mail art with invitations to projects, chain-letters, add-to projects, etc. Do you reply to all of those or do you select what you answer?
Reply on 2-9-1995
JMB: The add-to projects are among my favorites – little “brain cells” scurrying around the world acquiring more and more memory as they go. Those always get my full attention. I do reply to most of the project invitations. Some are more interesting than others, of course; though sometimes the truly dumb ones are an irresistible invitation to do something really nasty, eh?
Chain letters, however, are a different matter: I rarely respond to them at all, though I suppose my act of breaking the chain is a response of a kind. I don’t like doing mass mailings (I get enough of that sending out LOST AND FOUND TIMES when it’s published) and chain letters seem like I’m doing someone else’s mass mailing. Many years ago I responded to a few of them, but rarely got anything back – so I think there must be a lot of other chain breakers out there, bless their hearts.
RJ: Thank you, I am one of those collector of chain letters and today my collection is over 700….. You mention ‘LOST AND FOUND TIMES’. What is this publication about?
Reply on 18-9-1995
JMB: LOST AND FOUND TIMES is an avant-garde literary magazine (I’m sending you a copy via surface), that includes the occasional bit of mail art. It began in 1975 as a single-sheet publication of fake lost-and-found notices that was stuck under car windshields in parking lots. The first issues included notices by people we knew in the mail art network. When the other editor died suddenly in 1978 (Doug Landies or Mr. Sensitive) I continued to publish it, gradually expanding its literary aspect. It’s rather fat now, gets around a lot, and is collected in numerous major institutions, etc.
RJ : Are you a collector too? Do you keep all the things you don’t recycle?
Reply on 30-9-1995
JMB: I collect: skull rings, skulls in general, little cars, feathers, rocks, hot peppers, olive oil cans, old bottles, books, postcards, records, masks, rubber stamps, mail art (what I don’t keep is given to various libraries that collect such material), nude decks, photographs, flutes, other instruments, baskets, old tickets, socks, hats, bandannas, my own poetry, and shoes. Whew!
RJ : Why do you collect shoes?
Reply on 14-10-1995
JMB: They substitute for my hands, I don’t like to wear the same shoes 2 days in a row, I like to look at something different when I’m walking, they remind me of vaginas and dicks at the same time, I have wide feet and have trouble finding shoes that are truly comfortable, I have bursitis of the heel, they are like tongues.
RJ : And why do you collect skull rings or skulls in general?
Reply on 28-10-1995
JMB: So cute no hair no death I live inside the boney ring my skinmask itches likes to shine like plastic rubber potmetal aluminium silver wood I have a tiny plastic one with spring jaw holds the words “Time Release” a beetle glistens under maybe this provides the frame:
Spoke returned and animation stands of lettuce
driven over (somewhere else) I cancelled drains you
turned savored itching in the furnace ducts stinks
moon sizes closet lamp the corn regrooms shucks
shirt’s milk plate of horns and dribble gleaming
frown house, smiles, plate of skull collection
spotless wilk the shirt shucks moon field of ears
and hair silk waves long thought duct tape spilling-
ledges drains you moved or cancelled else, salad,
copulation in the passage air you spinning tire
without a spoke
RJ : Thanks for sharing this poem with me. When the interview is published at least this one will be shared with more readers. I have noticed that you mostly publish your visual poetry on small papers and postcards in collaboration with others, like Cornpuff, Hartmut Andryczuk, Al Ackerman, to name a few of the ones you enclosed with your latest answer. How do these collaborations come about?
(On 2-11-1995 the LOST AND FOUND TIMES booklet that John M. Bennett publishes arrived at my P.O.Box)
Reply on 10-11-95
JMB: Actually, a lot of my visual poetry is published in literary and/or art journals, and some of it usually is included in my books of poetry. I also exhibit a lot of it in art spaces; recently I had a number of pieces in what must have been an excellent show at the Mus