profiles in poetics and linguistics: Tantra Bensko


Tantra Bensko


In our ever increasingly technological trance how do we conflate or extrapolate public and private spheres of intimacy? Tantra Bensko is a writer and artist who strains the persona, our perspective, the presentation of our lives to each other, and the miscommunication of our communication. Questioning, “Multiple perspectives might involve openness to miracles yet also being aware of trickery, to see how proceeding in life through intuition can be freeing, and also create vulnerability to being used for someone’s agenda.” Where does information and disinformation allude and persuade our cognition? How do “we form interpretations based on varying patterns, anomalous experiences, scientific theory about the nature of reality, hidden potentials of our military, proof of psychotronics successes?” And how does this inform our own perceptions of self and identity? There is “fruition,” to as Bensko references Rimbaud, “systematically disorder our senses.” At times we must step into the role of the fool as she admits “the zero-play, improvisation, miracles, laughter pouring out of the simple beingness, like dreams arising from deep sleep. The Fool is BEINGNESS playing. He’s dreaming himself into the other characters, and he uses humor to dream himself back out into the ZERO. He doesn’t get glued into the personae of the roles he plays in this production of life.” How much of the fool participates in our being?

In this interview we “unglue,” these bound definitions and “[shuffle] the Cubist tectonic plates and living in the eternity in the gaps in between”. The fragments presented in Bensko’s work are most predominately identified in the conversation we have with her father as he experiences dementia. We question love, temporal time, and how identity fluctuates in this “abyss”. More so, how this affects the receiver, the communication shift depending on the environment of the intimacy, and the ways in which experimentation is perhaps always at hand. She shares, “He isn’t stuck on one meaning, but can pick up any of them, learn from them, not take them too seriously as the only reality.” How does technology function similarly or dissimilarly? We are forced as readers to ask what is the difference as body fits into the dialogue, how does the body of traditional domesticity function.

Tantra Bensko teaches Fiction Writing and Experimental Fiction Writing through UCLA Extension, and other venues. She provided many websites to bring understanding to Innovative Literature: Exclusive Magazine, Experimental Writing, FlameFlower Contest, and LucidPlay Publishing. She has had 180 stories and poems in magazines and has written at length about a genre she created, Lucid Fiction, as well as other literary criticism, reviewing many Alt Lit fiction books. The poem “Embed,” quoted in this interview was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by A Minor Magazine in 2012. Her chapbooks were published by ISMs, Naissance, 10 Pages Press, and Night Publishing has put out her full length fiction collection, Lucid Membrane, her companion book due out very soon. Make-Do Press plans to release her collection Yard Man in 2013. As well as her writing, her photography and art have also won many awards. She  lives in Berkeley.

1.)  What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

I wanted to add to the dialogue of innovative literature since I was young. I was tuned into authors and movements suggesting concepts indirectly through the ways their narratives held together; I wanted to provide a voice in the conversation of concepts that had social and philosophical implications.

Growing up, I resonated with William Faulkner’s unusual use of structure, and experimentation with form, as well as his depiction of a world similar to my rural Alabama heritage. I had a “shrine” to him in my room, next to Tchaichowsky’s. His profundity spoke to me. If anything in my heritage though speaks through my writing, it’s the the Melungeon, the mixed race from escaped slaves and Native Americans in Tennessee, feeling the need to live free from restraints by the system. I can feel a little caged by straightforward linear narrative that doesn’t change focus or stand back and take a look at itself. I feel we exist in a reality combined of more than one perspective and I like exploring that juncture. There are so many mysteries. I wanted to write not for the masses, but for a more obscure readership looking for what I offer.

Multiple perspectives might involve openeness to miracles yet also being aware of trickery, to see how proceding in life through intuition can be freeing, and also create vulnerability to being used for someone’s agenda. I look at social engineering and disinformation programs, how we form interpretations based on varying patterns, anomalous experiences, scientific theory about the nature of reality, hidden potentials of our military, proof of psychotronics successes. I don’t dismiss perspectives from times of dominance of different hormones and neurotransmitters and try to make them meld into one. Authors who play in those spaces excite me.

Fiction that moves the way mine does allows for the changing points of view to exchange with each other. I have never wanted to perpetuate the official illusions leaders create to maintain power. Most fiction for the masses generally does so, even by how it’s structured, with the obligatory rise and fall of dualistic problems creating tension, the flooding of adrenalin to create addiction, everything answered neatly in the end. I don’t care for the mainstream stereotypes of women or politics or priorities. I also explore the counterculture’s false stories which were created by Intelligence assest to throw people off who have seen through the mainstream illusions and False Flags. I live out, question, or play with some theories out there, and I also present fiction that goes in its own way to form an alternative to the “Matrix.”

In high school, seeing the film of Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe moving out of sync around Duchamp’s The Big Glass, to the music of John Cage was a defining moment. I liked how going out of sync challenged the mind to get off the default linearity of this worldview based on never looking away from the propaganda and the steps laid out for us.

Maya Deren and Isadora Duncan were also heroes for the way my mind wanted to escape from out of the conventional walls and play in the mysterious forest. I got to do that literally for much of my life, spending time unsupervised in the wilderness where it’s dark when it’s dark, and light when it’s light. Feeling the natural rhythms, as an animal should, takes me easily into the life force that moves through the sap of plants, that enlivens the cells.

But bringing that vision to fruition requires bringing that out into a more technological world, creating the kind of sophistication of nuances and subtleties that I enjoy. My writing probably changes depending on my level of interaction with extreme nature, or if I’m landlocked in urbania where I tend to find more kindred spirits of the avant-garde literature.

I pulsate like a strobe light between the blank space of beingness, and the collaged dramas manifesting into that field, and try to capture that in my writing. I feel it’s impossible to balance out the effect of being a human on the earth, but I still try to come up with something beautiful enough to make up for my interuption of the earth’s native way of life. A group of internalized perspectives about a piece of land in Alabama with different interpretations, levels of the self, assumptions, dreamlike subconscious interweavings tells me more truthfully about it than one long pan of the landcape, one mainstream narrative with a predictable plot arc holding together the complete story. I like parts of the story to have cracks to escape from, to float out and remain in question, waiting to be nabbed to intersect with a different version of reality.

I read Rimbaud saying we should systematically disorder our senses. I did as he suggested by using a literary meditative will power, when I was a lone teenager living in the country in Indiana, in order to access the what happened when my sensing of the world became unglued from the usual order, for writing fiction and poetry. I remember reading Rimbaud’s work and feeling temporary, living on a cot in the storage room, while my Grandmother was finishing out the end of her life, in my bed-room. I reached into the tangential planes along with her with my active meditations, and my writing.

I was drawn to the sense of the white space between stories, and poems, which allowed them to be shuffled but which remain related to varying degrees: the nothingness electric with the silent interactions – the levels of interaction, as the self becomes less and less coherently focused on the 9 – 5 job persona. I like stories to escape from masters saying they must march along in single file. Collage and avant garde film liberated the material from being stuck. Tristram Shandy, Dada, Cubism, Phenomenology, my own painting and photographic art – moved me towards New Age Fabulusim, and Lucid Fiction.

That phrase means a lot of things to me, but part of it is that the fantastical can be used to great effect, particularly if there is some real meaning it serves, though not a paraphrasable “message,” necessarily: reaching to capture something true about the nature of reality through fiction. I don’t just write silly things for silly sake; when they come together with the whole, the interactions between the silly stories, and the ambitiously conceptual ones, might suggest notions of physics or metaphysics. The urge to understand and work with the nature of reality drives me.

I flash my consciousness into the spaces between drama. If you imagine a brainwave charted horizontally: I follow the downward curve of the sine wave of consciousness below the center line as well as the curve that exists above the ine. I learned to be conscious when asleep all the way through each night. I cultivated creating Delta brain wave patterns using bio-feedback equipment starting at the age of 12. It’s rare to do this, and I bring back news of where the stories arise out of the anti-story.

Critical works about French New Novelists, Robbe Grillet and Claude Simon, really got me going. Salvador Jimenez-Fajardo’s critical book on Simon is lovely.

A simple linear narrative about characters who end at the edges of their skin doesn’t reflect my life. Books that look at a subject from many sides compel me, being relatively a relativist. I guess you’d say I like anti-collage fiction, because instead of gluing pieces down, I like to unglue. I like shuffling the Cubist tectonic plates and living in the eternity in the gaps in between.

When young, I had fewer women literary fiction writers I bonded with, but I adored Virginia Woolf, the style of The Waves coinciding with mine. Now, it’s impossible to keep up with them all that I’d like to. I find Patricia Catto’s Aunt Pig of Puglia adorable, for example, and Daughter, by Janice Lee is cerebrally shining. Allissa Nutting’s Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, Joanna Ruocco’s Man’s Companions, Kate Bernheimer’s Horse, Flower, Bird delight me.

Calvino became a favorite when I read If on a winter’s night a traveler. I love House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe, In Watermelon Suger, John Crowley, Matt Bell, Dreams of Molley by Jonathan Baumbach, Tim Horvath, Reader’s Block by David Markson, Paul Auster. Ultimately, Kyle Muntz, Edward Caldwell, and Stephen-Paul Martin became my most inspiring writers that keep me going. What they do at the sentence level thrills me continually.

2.)  Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

My teachers all throughout school were inspiring, including the universities I went to, such as University of Alabama and Old Dominion, where I studied with Bruce Weigl, before finishing out at FSU, getting a BA, and an MA. There, Hunt Hawkins was very helpful, who took me through a manuscript of poetry, Scissors of Arrested Motion, which was imbued with artists such as George Braque, and referenced the boys cutting up the film strip in the Claude Simon’s Tripych. I was honored to obtain my MFA at Iowa, with James Galvin. It allowed my heart to write big when big hearted people believed in me, like Van Brock, and Shiela Ortitz Taylor.

My ex-husband was influential on my life. We used to revise each other’s work all the time, read poetry to each other, by people like Norman Dubie, James Tate, and Richard Hugo. I wrote my M.A. Thesis about his use of sound. We’d get to know the visiting writers. I’m grateful for that experience. While I’ve published a lot of poetry, my main focus in on fiction, but some have called what I write poetry instead.

I taught in 3 Universities, and teach fiction through UCLA Extension Writing Program now, as well as independent students, but most of my adult life since obtaining my MFA from Iowa hasn’t been within the walls of academia, but adventurous living. I write from a feral, mystical, activist life that includes handicaps such as varying degrees of physical paralysis.

3.)  How has your own work changed over time and why?

Yes, it changes every time I write a piece, as the process takes me to a different perspective than I was when I started it. I’ve always felt that was important in order to help the reader transform in some way too. I approached every poem and visual artist bio that way. Sentences would move me along to the next. Being completely alive within that sentence, giving so much tension to the sound, the movement, the buzz between the words, each line break would open up ambiguities, multiple meanings, suggestions. It would carry me as if on an ocean, to the ending. If I could have embodied the ending from the moment when I started it, I didn’t make the journey correctly. Life has to create each moment of the piece from within, the language holding the charge, a conduit for some sort of progression. I like to also include levels floating above it from a higher perspective outside chronology.

For me, that life force blasts out strongly in the comedic, and absurd, tribally intense surprising work that involves improvisation. That comes out in movies and music with Paul C Wilm, for example. I danced and drummed and lived a vigorous life outside, and that created the circulation of blood running through my poetry. You could say I’ve lived a life full of miracles, as a force of nature, living in canyons and mountain wilderness.

I like my fiction best when the poetry of the sentences moves it along moment to moment, shattering possibilities off. The context of “fiction” gives it something to contend against, some limitations to trick their way out of, to help the reader peak out of and look around. I enjoy breaking the readers out, springing them. I have always gotten a kind of thrill out of “going meta.”

4.)  Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I’m influenced by artistic films by Paradjanov, Jodorowsky, The Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmeyer, Guy Madden, Maya Deren. I’m visually oriented. I’m not very interested in –what comes next. I like to be kept in ecstasy instead by continually being on the edge of being able to bear the beauty. People see their influences often in my visual art, and point to writers such as Borges and Cortezar as well in my fiction.

As far as genres of fiction, no, I only like literary. I read more non-fiction than anything else as I try to understand the world and say suggest those conclusions responsibly in my fiction. I’m read about the history of social engineering through counterespionage, creating movements, illusions, disinformation, hoaxes, false flags, deceptive heroes.

4.) What are your plans for the future?

Harvey Thomlinson has my book Yard Man listed on his publishing schedule at Make-Do Publishing. He’s branching from his focus on Asian literature in translation. I have two novel manuscripts. One is called Unside, and speculates on a certain method of time travel, and a way of using a person as a portal for ghosts to move through. It’s a book of closed time-like curves, appropriately looping perspective on reality around and disrupting its own integrity in shocking ways again and again as it coils up. The other is called Equinox Mirror,  which is also based on physics, and like Unside, the conclusions the readers come to about what is going on are continually thrown into question. Figuring out the nature of the characters drives the plot; it considers what happens to potential events when their potentiality falls through.

5.)  What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I think literary fiction now is in a promising place for women because of the style being published in some great small presses, which lends itself well to sensibilities apparently found often in the female gender. And literary fiction has lately become less heavy with realism, less abstractly cerebral, more whimsical, spontaneous, visceral, playful and I find a lot of women writers do fabulously with this.

However, though it’s moving toward equalization, far, far fewer women than men are published in magazines, and anthologies, and publishing houses. Fewer get listed, or awarded. Part of that inequality is a matter of taste. The majority of readers like certain qualities in writing that men write more often, it seems, and this applies in other areas rather than just fiction. People respond to a kind of confident authoritarianism. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not going to get offended by people enjoying whatever kind of literature that calls to them.

However, it’s also very telling that when people deluded by a false name on a piece of writing, they make a lot of assumptions about it based on that. For example, doctors shown applications picked those they thought to be by men. People see what they expect to see.

Many of my favorite presses nothing, or almost nothing, by women. You sure don’t see women Bizarro writers. Publishers just put out what they honestly want to, and I’m glad they don’t feel the need to pretend by putting out token women. It feels relaxed between the sexes, in the milieu of literary writers, and that can only build up the realization of how much we do have in common, and like to interact and read each others books. I watch women getting involved in the literary world more all the time, creating strong voices.

6.)  Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Kate Zambrino, Alissa Nutting, Meg Pokrass, Laura Benedict, V. Ulea, Debra DiBlasi, Deb Hoag, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Ruocco. Frances Madeson is hilarious. Fantastic Women is an anthology I enjoy put out by Tin House, which is a reputation-maker. Dog Horn puts out Women Writing the Weird anthologies, another place to discover some talent. Frank Hinton’s Metazen has been noted as a magazine to watch, and I like that they include meta-fiction. Lily Hoang, and Kelly Link of course, are going places.

I also love writing by my students, though I don’t want to single out any names. When when they become known, I’ll be the Cheshire grin you see floating behind them in the iron colored sky.

7.)  If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I’m a writer of Lucid Fiction. I go where angelhair fears to thread.

Lucid Fiction, the genre I created, meant to remain obscure, has been embraced as a term to label many people’s style and preferences, and that always makes me happy. They they feel liberated by it. There are many aspects to it that I have covered elsewhere often such as in articles.

One of these aspects includes what I mentioned about debunking the official stories in our society, and also the disinformation within the more alternative stories as well. I like to look into who is telling these stories, and why. When appropriate, that informs my fiction, such as the novel Unside.

Most fiction perpetuates those illusions instead without calling them into question. Most fiction also relies on problems creating a tense plot arc and Lucid Fiction is open to other ways of entertaining.

8.)    In your poem “4 chapters,” a part of a book Collapsible Horizon, first published by Camroc Press Review we enter a scene with the speaker and the last moments with their father. The poem reads, “My love went away long ago, left me sitting here. I don’t see the chapters. But I can make them up.” Proceeding, “we drift  2 like snow  1 and die  4 and you forget    1 you ever loved us  3 you thought we were beautiful   4 we want to die   2 we dressed like snowflakes for christmas in the white coveralls we for months because of.” Do you believe that we can forget how to love? Or make up love similar to how we create stories? I am particularly interested in the intentional disruption of linear time and how this conversation works with death and memory, particularly loss of memory.

I’ve seen forgetting how to love, at least temporarily. By the time I wrote that story, Papa had gone into dementia, and was violently angry at us for not believing what his subconscious was making up. He also didn’t want us to pretend to believe in his visions just to humor him. He was making up our relationship to fit the blank spaces that were disrupting his flow of linearity, for the last year of his life. He said it was his best year, though, because he did feel so loved.

He was putting invisible notes in the drawers he saw above him, cursing at his caregiver/girlfriend, and me, as we couldn’t read them. I followed him down into his sensation of an abyss, into his blindness, and back out. I couldn’t sleep for several months going through all I did at the time. I accessed the closest I could come to sleep through writing these stories. I approached the situation from many little demented stories that aren’t expected to hold together or reference my life at all. But collaged, they form a made-up version of living with Papa’s very creative dementia – he saw flaming goat hooves dropping ashes on his head as he lay in bed. I echoed the conceptual dissolution of linearity and the ability to make stories hold together we all were experiencing by going in and out of Papa’s world.

The book arises out of losing the love of a fiance, and that’s the reference in the story when it says “My love went away long ago:” he literally did forget and did go away. I’ve seen people make up what they thought had happened, when it hadn’t. Making up up lack of love, as well as making up love. Going through my own abyss of nothingness on the impossible other side of our being together, while losing everything the family had after major theft, preparing to leave all my relatives, facing the falling apart of the world — it was all like going through a black hole. The family belongings were high quality, but like the land, worth no money in that part of the rural south in a recession. The old way of life is dissolving for so many people now, losing their houses, their land. For us, it was because of a con-artist who had made up love for us. She’d also left Papa and his house with a case of scabies, which my partner and I devoted 4 months to ferociously destroying, wearing white coveralls, as in the story, while being good sports.

My father was sure about how he had met his caregiver that he called his girlfriend, and would berate anyone who suggested it had happened otherwise. He was blind at the time that he said he’d seen her striking beauty across a counter. In making up how he fell in love, and what she looked like, he brought something like what he imagined to pass. The complexity of his blind love as our her bedridden patient coming into and out of lucidity informed the book. The stories are fantastical, as was his world that I was sharing with him, by his side, helping him try to understand in some impossible way.

The structure of this story is — cabinets, which Papa is arranging by holding his arms in the air as he lies in bed, and the story begins in order, organized. The core bits of our lives repeat in many permutations in our minds, like a collage.  Everything was drifting away from us, becoming silent chapters that we arranged and rearranged as they dissolved. We were losing the homestead out from under us.  I read aloud from Papa’s brilliant book of short stories and my own, as he lay there, our tenuous truth.

I talked about physics with him, parallel worlds, as he struggled to understand what was happening to his continuity. The discontinuity he was experiencing took him into the realm of my literary sensibility: the freedom that allows the cabinets to be shuffled around. The breaks in Experimental, and between stories, or chapters, are as meaningful to me as the words. Papa was floating in and out of the silent expansiveness until he became unglued to his body altogether and went into that field of being, the space between the stories.

9.)  “Quantum Fool” is a story from Lucid Membrane that touches on our perceptive movements of meaning. In the final paragraph the message leaves us with the jester:

Your character is one of the cards. Or many of them, in your case at the moment. He is the jester, laughing at it all: don’t take any of it too seriously. Enjoy the colors and the drama. Especially the deep red velvet. Enjoy the way the characters pretend to be who they are, pretend life is just a normal, simple thing. Pretend it can be all separated out nicely. All the aspects of one thing. All sleeping in one deck together. Lying in wait for meaning. Meaning that comes and goes.

The folds and multi-dimension of our light and the ways in which we experience the world fluctuate. Meaning requires a balance between the carnal and the spiritual. Where do you believe humor is situated within this scheme? And can you please elaborate on the last sentence.

This continues the previous idea, humor coming often from the shuffling of the different collage pieces against the background field of being. I visually see the manifest world pulsing out of the non manifest field behind it. Playing with the juxtapositions provides great fun. When I meditate less, the world looks more solid. When it’s solid you can feel a little more trapped into the linearity of it, stuck in the glue, and it’s not so easily shuffled, like cabinets, or a deck of cards, or a bunch of stories. Things seem more serious.

I prefer picking up our characters’ props and costumes as if improvising for a surreal comedy movie and playing them without identifying with them fully. Being able to go back to the beingness without the costumes, rather than holding onto a label. The meaning we give our lives is so subjective and changing and based on illusions and limited perspectives, delusions, brainwashing.

When you see the pulses off, as well as on, in the vibration of our world, you have the freedom that comes from the infinite expansion within each of those off-pulses. That part is the Fool, the zero – play, improvisation, miracles, laughter pouring out of the simple beingness, like dreams arising from deep sleep. The Fool is BEINGNESS playing. He’s dreaming himself into the other characters, and he uses humor to dream himself back out into the ZERO. He doesn’t get glued into the personae of the roles he plays in this production of life. He isn’t stuck on one meaning, but can pick up any of them, learn from them, not take them too seriously as the only reality.