Eric Tyler Benick

Softly, as if I Played Piano in the Dark
(A Personal Inquiry into Hip-Hop and the Avant-Garde)


[Eric Tyler Benick is the author of the chapbooks I Don't Know What an Oboe Can Do (No Rest Press, 2020) and The George Oppen Memorial BBQ (The Operating System, 2019) as well as a founding editor at Ursus Americanus Press, a chapbook publisher. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Southeast Review, Bat City Review, Armstrong Literary, Washington Square Review, Bodega Magazine, Birdcoat Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.]

︎ Benick’s Softly, as if I played Piano in the Dark [working title] being released in 2022 is a meditation on a certain kind of relationship between Hip Hop and the literary avant garde in a way that belies hip-hop as an extension of what could be said to be the literary avant-garde's constituting possibility. What he calls an “extension [of it] ... a coincidental event AND ... a kind of ceremonious praxis.” As I consider the project that will be undertaken in the new year to make this book a reality I think of the work of Fred Moten, and the way he ends his essay “The Phonographic Mise-En-Scène”, 

Blackness, which is to say black femininity, which is to say black performance, will have turned out to be the name of the invaginative, the theatrical, the dissonant, the atonal, the atotal, the sentimental, the experimental, the criminal, the melodramatic, the ordinary. It is and bears an aesthetic of the trebled (troubled, doubled) seer’s voice disturbed by being seen and seeing up ahead where escape, crossing over, translation will have meant the continual reanimative giving—unto the very idea of freedom—of the material.1

In the ways that Moten’s work is a belief in that radically reimaginative power of black performance, Benick follows in this trajectory towards what it is that hip hop brings to us in a world structured by anti-blackness, not just in daily life but in the intellectual and creative institutions which purport to find ways to combat it. If you’d like to read some of the work he’s done already towards this end you can find his essay which came in the wake of MF Doom’s death titled metal face dada as well as his essay on Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” titled, I Got Through This Essay Like a Subject and a Predicate

All quoted material, unless otherwise stated, is from correspondence with the artist.
1 Fred Moten, “The Phonographic Mise-En-Scène,” Black and Blur: Consent not to be a Single Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). 133



Artist Statement:
[As a writer, I am endlessly curious about aspects of rupture, origin, causality, and liminality in/of language. I often wonder how far a text can go beyond its own interpretation, how attempts to delineate meaning through our limited symbolic structures can be simultaneously failure and transcendence. In my own work, I feel I am always working against previous didactic models of language in attempt to locate “subjective authenticity” in what the language is communicating, which is a mere extension of the radical work of decolonization done by many great minds long before me such as Paolo Freire, Judith Butler, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Jack Spicer, et al. In my critical engagement with poetics, my fascination lies in cross-cultural dissection, in tracing the plausibility of influence/interpretation of poetics to a locus of surprise. My inquiry is not concerned with academic or factual diagnostics, but with fascination in the mutual, historical shared creative experience that is both consciously and unconsciously woven through the tapestry of our expression.]