Alan Feldman is the author of two prize-winning books: The Happy Genius (SUN, 1978), which won the 1979 Elliston Book Award for the best collection of poems published by a small, independent press in the United States; and A Sail to Great Island (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004) which won the Pollak Prize for Poetry. His work is represented in a number of anthologies, including Best American Poetry (2001; 2011), Best American Erotic Poems 1800-Present, and To Woo and To Wed: Poets on Love and Marriage. He was a professor of English and department chair at Framingham State University, and for 22 years taught the advanced creative writing class at the Radcliffe Seminars. Feldman lives in Framingham and, in the summer, in Wellfleet, and currently offers free, drop-in poetry workshops at the public libraries in those towns. “Benched” grew out of an in-class assignment he gave to his workshop: Write about a word, or words, that you personally wouldn’t use. “Of course,” Feldman says, “the delight of this assignment is that you do get to use those words.”
Like every writer I have my own
list––words I’ve had to bench.
I imagine them sitting out the game,
watching other words stand up
to add their little bit to poems,
then sit down again. But these always sit.
For example, other writers can use
“fucking,” but I never can. Too
prim? some suggest. Sure.
I can speak it. But I can’t write it
without risking affectation. As for
“existence,” it’s obvious. Every poem
is about fucking existence.
So I’ve banned it in my work
after cringing at the portentous ways
it can seep into sentences,
harming them like a toxic effluent.
And then “stars.” Too many poems
end with them. Stars scatter themselves
across the black ceiling of my brain
when I’m trying to express
the vastness of fucking existence.
And then there’s “poignant”––
everything is poignant, and getting
more so, as if I’m seeing everything
I cherish––should I bench “cherish”?––
for the last time, which would be
poignant, if I were dying,
but I’m not aware that I am.
And I think it’s hard to get “money”
into a poem if you seem to have
enough money, allying yourself
with the forces of oppression, not
the oppressed, whose existence
is made fucking miserable
by the lack of it. Though the fact
that it’s often the reverse
can sometimes be poignant,
like the happy poor in Dickens . . .
And now I feel a great urge
to end this meditation
by gazing at the stars––
but I will never reach them,
my pockets weighed down with words
that sit there, heavy and imploring,
until the language is obliterated,
and someone, utterly free of literature,
sees them glimmering.
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