Winner of the Anita Claire Scharf Award

Visitations by John Bensko


Richard Mathews, series editor, writes: "In Visitations, Bensko pushes readers to enlarge their vision through imaginative leaps; his poems are visitations to multiple times and places, indwelling bodies and circumstances. He allows us to inhabit both sides of a war, to move from the Hudson River Valley to Mississippi, or to draw our souls through sheep, oxen, and shark; we are unmoored from time and place to explore what it means to be fully human."

Robert Morgan describes John Bensko's collection, Visitations, as "a book of portraits and voices, many voices, all of them vivid and memorable. Rivers speak, weeds speak, and figures from American history tell us their stories . These finely crafted monologues are intimate windows into the past, and the way the past touches the present. Both the atrocities and glories of our world come to life in these poems of witness, lament, celebration, and the often painful mystery of love."

"The only way John Bensko knows how to write is to tell the truth. This he accomplishes with such a deft and unerring hand that one is startled by it. I sit back after reading one of these and have to catch my breath, a little shaken by encountering a poet whose instinct guides him straight to the heart of the matter . . . I rejoice that poetry this good is still being written," writes Richard Tillinghast.

Bobbie Anne Mason writes: "These poems are thrilling, mysterious--eye popping. John Bensko boldly ventures into the nineteenth century of the American frontier and of the psyche. The landscapes are wondrous, frightening, and sublime. The poems about snow and frozen Niagara Falls, not to mention the one about ectoplasm, will chill your bones. The book is beautiful."

Subjects: Edgar Allen Poe, Ectoplasm, Seance, Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecœur, John Hector St. John, Hornets, Sand Mountain Alabama, Bayberry, Candle making, Walt Whitman, Rapidan River Virginia, The Civil War, Yellow Fever, Holly Springs Mississippi, American Primitive Painting, Concord Massachusetts, Sophie Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wirz, Andersonville Prison, Tobacco farming, Robins, Mary Jemison, The Great Slide, Genesee River, Persimmons, Linen making, Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, Chufa, A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama during the Civil War, Parthenia Antoinette Hague, Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis, Beauvoir, Biloxi Mississippi, Memphis, Brook Watson, John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, Niagara Falls, the Erie Canal, Hudson River School, Mississippi River, Water Shrew, Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marsh Near Evening, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880.

Snow Day
A winter day cannot avoid its snow.
Can I accept that I do not belong to myself?

On the street at night a flurry of shadows falls
across the light. Can I think that I will not be?

My feet leave impressions
that the snow itself cannot remove.

Things melt. Hair grows gray, then white.
Disappearing, can I think those I love will be gone too?

I love snow, when it falls fast and thick,
when the wind takes it and throws it up against itself.

To explain me to me. To know
exactly what I am, and am not.

Snow does not worry, does not toil.
Its only order is to fall and deepen.

When we unbecome ourselves, when we melt
in moments we cannot bear, who do we become?

I like to watch the snow melting leave the footprints. The icy
remainders where I've gone down the walk are the last to go.

People like to speak of the soul, and the soul's awakening.
It drifts, it rises and falls, it deepens.

Watching it at night, I wonder how thick it will be by morning.
In the day, I hope it will not stop before night.

Copyright (c) 2014 by John Bensko. All rights reserved.