Frank Kuenstler 1928-1996

by Charles Bernstein

Poet and film maker Frank Kuenstler died on August 11, 1996. A short obituary appeared in The New York Times on August 31. 

 His books are:

LENS (New York: Fim Cultures, 1964) [now available at Eclipse]
Selected Poems (New York: Eventorium Press, 1964)
Paradise News (New York: Eventorium Press, 1966)
Fugitives. Rounds (1966)
13 1/2 Poems (New York: SZ/Press, 1984)
Continued (New York: Night Three Press. 1987)
Miscellany (New York: Night Three Press. 1987)
In Which (New York: Cairn Editions, 1994)
The Seafarer, B.Q.E., and Other Poems (New York: Cairn Editions, 1996)
[see also Kuensler's PennSound page]

Kuensler was also the publisher of Bread & (New York, 1962) — A collecton of wriitng and art that included Adolfus Mekas, Norman Mailer, Harold Rosenberg, & others.

Here's what I wrote for 13 1/2 Poems:

The publication of 13 1/2 Poems marks the twentieth anniversary of Film Culture's edition of Frank Kuenster's first book Lens. Lens's brilliantly iconoclastic and cosmic compression of syntax and lexicon ranks Kuenstler with such pioneers of Zaum (Khlebnikov's word for pervasively neologistic poetry) as Gillespie, Melnick, and Inman. In 13 1/2 Poems, we get another side of Kuenstler -- less intractably opaque, more lightheartedly amusing. Each of the poems in the new collection suggests a different style: Kuenstler has provided a group show all on his own. More remarkably, in the long, final poem, "Text", Kuenstler achieves a maniacally nonstop synthesis of "blunt" cut-up and everyday "pandemonium" --"Foolish spirit foolish theory zeal almost macabre A craze ... alert aggressive, military Maudlin, extreme."
LENS remains, for me, Kuenstler's great work. It is composed, basically, of two-word pairs joined by a period (though a period follows every word pair as well); though sometimes phrases stand in for single words. It is flush right, with hyphens noting split words. It runs 92 pages and is dated at the end: 1952-1964. Here is the opening of LENS (though note the original is justified):

mm.Pris. metiér.AAA. prime.Airies. numbers.Racquet. comma.Dei. rr.1919.
peru.Ruse. glen.A. ggg.Ire. leapfrog.Mick. créme.Nail. game.Ble. flame-
Bouyant. f.Rose. not.Ice. door.I. nigh.Eve. feather.Rail. mm.Error. mm.-
Pris. Oscar.Later. f.Oil. I'm.Moon. bb.Abe count.Tokay. newman.Asiatics.
mezzo.Potomac. sinned.Drone. signed.Hormone. rr.Asp. clues.Ott. oft.Shoes.
Deaf.Acid. ggg.Own. rape.Cyclical. Faith.Per Se. soul.Elicit. F.Unction. tie-
Grass. sign.Am carp.Pathagorean gas.Tone mm.Acquire f.Rail salon.-
Leica. Canine.Father tv.Jeeps it must be spring-A. picture of a flower
just flashed upon the screen. rr.Lourdes. rr.Lao-tse. rr-Enter. Rr.Entire.

Frank lived in my neighborhood not only metaphorically but literally: I occasionally ran into him in the xerox store and on the streets. For a number of years he send out xeroxed pages of found art, with just an almost anonymous ARCHIVE stamped where a return address would usually be. Bruce Andrews did a cut-up of LENS for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E #13 (1981).

Finally a haiku from Paradise News:

Fish swim. They die. They rise to the
It is their way of falling.

May, 1998