John Bensko
October 2005


John BenskoJohn Bensko was born in Birmingham, Alabama and received an MFA from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa after also studying at St. Louis University and Auburn University. He later went to the Florida State University and received a Ph.D. there. He and his wife, Cary Holladay, who is a novelist and story writer, are part of the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis. He previously taught creative writing at Old Dominion University, Rhodes College, and the University of Alicante, Spain, where he was a Fulbright Professor of American Literature. His first book of poetry, Green Soldiers, was selected by Richard Hugo as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. His books include:

Sea Dogs
(short stories), Graywolf Press, 2004. ISBN # 1-55597-399-X (pbk)(in print)

The Iron City
(poems), University of Illinois Press, 2000. 
ISBN # 0-252-02554-7 (hrdbk), 0-252-06871-8 (pbk) (in print)

The Waterman’s Children
(poems), University of Massachusetts Press, 1994
ISBN # 0-87023-901-5 (hrdbk), 0-87023-902-3 (pbk.) (in print)

Green Soldiers
(poems), Yale University Press, 1981
ISBN # 0-300-02637-4, 0-300-02644-7 (pbk.) (available through reprint)

Selected Anthology Appearances:
The Yale Younger Poets Anthology; A New Geography of Poets; Alabama Poets: A Contemporary Anthology; The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry; The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets; The Best of INTRO.

Poems in
Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Poetry Northwest,Carolina Quarterly, Greensboro Review, New Letters, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, Epoch, Partisan Review, Sewanee Review, North Americna Review, The Yale Review, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, AGNI.

Short Stories in The New England Review, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, Chelsea, The
Greensboro Review, The Kansas Quarterly/Arkansas Review, The Sonora Review, The Madison
Review, The Southwest Review, New Letters, The Georgia Review, The Chariton Review.

Statement of Poetics

My ideal poetic production would be to write the Bible (new and old testaments), if it had not already been written, in 14 beautifully lyrical lines. If I couldn't manage that, then maybe in 18, or even 20 lines. Obviously, I'm in big trouble with this kind of poetics. Everything is an attempt to come as close as possible to something so far beyond possible that I might as well not even try. Many years ago while reading the Psalms attributed to David, I realized that some passages carried a special power—my best way of describing it is a stirring of the spirit, usually either a leaping up or a sinking. Considering the fact that I was reading a translation, perhaps corrupted over the time since it was written, I wondered what I was feeling and how it came about. Being of a mystical cast, I thought there was a spirit living in the words and the way they were presented that was something I wanted to reach toward in my poetry. It was a life in the writing that would transcend distortion, corruption, and long years of change in culture, language, and exterior human perception. Not that I thought I could ever achieve it, but only that I would aspire toward it. Clearly, it wasn't going to be something that I could produce mechanically, by manipulating words, sounds, images, ideas. It was embodied in the writing, but the ultimate source of its strength came from elsewhere. It would have to arise from aspects of our experience, and aspects of experience beyond us, that were so basic and true and powerful that they could be reached only temporarily and brokenly by words. And maybe that's one of the reasons poetry can be so powerful, because it is very temporary and fragmentary, and the fragility of it draws the reader into the poet's weakness and inability to capture what can only be hinted at. Back to David's Psalms, I realized that so many of them were written in circumstances where the writer was deeply aware of failure, of sin, of personal danger.  He felt life's fragility intensely. David did many things that were very right, but also many that were very wrong. He could be enormously powerful and deadly, and yet he would in total humility sit down and compose little songs confessing his weaknesses. These extreme contradictions, these tensions in a person, are the potential source of great poetry, but only when directed outward through an act of communication and love that expresses itself in words and music. I could go on about ramifications of this, but to condense it, I'd say that what I want to attempt in poetry requires the engagement of as many aspects of the reader as possible: from the practical and material to the spiritual; from the musical to the silent or cacophonous; from the distanced and intellectual to the close and blindly emotional; from the love of stories and narrative to the breaking down of those structures into chaos or geometrical regularity; from the sinful to the saintly. I do not succeed, but like so many poets I wait in my cave, in exile, wondering what that old guy was up to when he called me in from the field, poured the oil on my head, and caused me all this trouble.

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