What I admire most about Jen Benka is her consistancy. She seems to be able to intertwine her work, political, and poetry lives into one seamless existance. Benka definitely has strong ideas about people who have been historically oppressed - women, poor people, and victims of senseless war. Not only does Benka include these issues her poetry, but like the her great political/poetry predecessors, Rukeyser (of whom Benka adores) and Levertov, human and feminist rights do not only live in the empherphemal idea of her poetry, but seep out into the concrete daily life. As such, Benka has worked for non-profits that help homeless people and women. She has tirelessly taken on projects of grand proportions to such as the recent "Finally with Women" series to make sure that some of our finest writers (Rukeyser, Guest, Stein, Loy, and so on) continue to be recognized. In short, she seems to be in the great tradition of poets that not only challenge injustice through writing, but also through concrete activism.
Of the poems.
Political poetry has always been problematic. The ulitimate goal of poetry is to develop and experiment with language and beauty. In political poetry (such as that of Baraka and some slam poetry)the tendency is to fall too much into a rah! rah! rah! mentality. The sentiment is there: The poetry is not. The two aformentioned great political poets (Rukeyser and Levertov) were able to guard against this simplification in their poetry as they faced issues of war, racism, and hatred. Benka accomplishes simuliar goal with beauty and humor to spare.
Benka the 52 words that comprise the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Yet, this is not quite what our forepeople had in mind. It's a land united in "the inevitability of betrayal."
It's Liberty arrives
when they struck the bell it cracked in half
and fell from its high tower.
the crowd below once full of hope
never knew what hit them.
Without ignoring the beauty of our home:
a warm peach
And my favor poem in the book. Welfare - a word that obviously takes on multiple meanings. Here a girl on the stoop (on disability payments) mocks the "puerto rican girls" on welfare.
I urge soft skull to print more of Benka's book and drop it from an airplane over the red states. And poets, continue our work.