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It is a commonplace among scholars of the poets theater that, in the late 1970s, West Coast language poets entered poets theater first by getting their feet wet with Grand Piano productions of Louis Zukofsky’s A-24, in 1978 and O’Hara’s Try! Try!, in 1979. By that time Nick Robinson and Eileen Corder came to town and set them on fire. However in thinking about the theatricalization of the scene we kept circling back to Steve Benson’s famous talk piece, Views of Communist China, which preceded all the rest. How wasn’t it poets theater? And yet it appeared in the “Talks” issue of Bob Perelman’s journal, Hills, and not the “Plays” issue like other work reprinted in the present anthology. When we told Benson of our desire to reccontextualize VOCC in a book of poets theater, he was startled, but then succumbed to our request.

Did a printed version precede the one in Hills? “Within a week after it was performed, I believe, I had made a photocopy eight and a half by eleven inch book with cover photos by John Harryman that I gave to a number of friends. I typed it up to see what it was, and then I was so impressed that I made the book. I don’t know how many may still be in existence—I think I only have one.”

The front cover of the first printed edition of Views of Communist China.

The front cover of the first printed edition of Views of Communist China.

The back cover of the first printed edition of Views of Communist China.

The back cover of the first printed edition of Views of Communist China.

The original authors note, from the first printed edition, which differs from that which appeared in HILLS.

The original author's note, from the first printed edition, which differs from that which appeared in Hills.

A page of Bensons spring 1977 reading journal marking a primary source for Views of Communist China, in highly suggestive company.

A page of Benson's spring 1977 reading journal marking a primary source for Views of Communist China, in highly suggestive company.

Benson’s author page at PennSound features the audio of the talk, as preserved and donated by Bob Perelman.

[Adapted from Kevin Killian & David Brazil’s notes for The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945-1985, forthcoming early 2010. Scans and original texts/artwork provided by Steve Benson, used by permission, all rights reserved, (c) Steve Benson and Patrick Durgin for Kenning Editions. Pre-orders by subscription only: using a credit card, or via direct mailorder.]

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