Appreciation #8

“Frank Kuenstler” by Richard Kostelanetz

(From the forthcoming third edition of the Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes.)



In 1964, from the imprint of Film Culture, a New York publisher noted for its film magazine of the same title, appeared Lens, a book so extraordinary that it was completely unnoticed at the time. It opens with a single-page “Emblem,” a sort of preface that establishes in six sections that anything might happen in the following pages, including the destruction of both sense and syntax. The last section of “Emblem” reads: “aura.Dictionary, aura.Crossword Puzzle, aura.Skeleton. aura.Poem./Once upon a time.” What follows are eighty long paragraphs so devoid of connection, from line to line, from word to word, that you realize only a human being could have made them; even the most aleatory computer program would have put together, even inadvertently, two words that made sense. The book concludes with the tag “New York, N. Y., 1952–64,” suggesting that Lens took a full dozen years to write; I can believe it, because anyone who thinks such writing easy to do should try it sometime (and send me the results). Kuenstler’s later publications include 13 1/2 Poems (1984), which is a progression of increasingly experimental poems (though none as radical as Lens). Toward the end of his life he sold antiquarian books on the street in New York, usually on Broadway north of 86th Street. To no surprise perhaps, his name rarely, if ever, appears in histories of American literature.

copyright 2018 Richard Kostelanetz

(Photo from a collage by Ira Cohen.)