Hot Off the Press!

“Lil’ Jenny, surround yourself with people who inspire you creatively, and you’ll live a happy life,” my grandfather once said to me, as he watched me methodically trace copies of Donald Duck and Goofy from the pages of my well-read comic books.
Okay, so perhaps my grandfather never actually told me that – he mostly just asked, again and again, if I combed my hair with an eggbeater in the morning, to which I would reply, “Yeah, good one, Grandpa. What smells like limburger?” – but I’ll bet someone’s grandfather told them something along those lines. And that grandfather would have been right.
Somehow, though, I instinctively heeded the sage advice of this phantom grandfather, and through the years have been fortunate to befriend a multitude of creative and intelligent and inspirational people who constantly remind me how essential art is.
And now I’m so thrilled to be able to brag about one of these people – my dear friend Jen Benka – as her long-awaited book of poetry has finally been published. (I say ‘long-awaited’ because I pre-ordered my copies on Amazon like, four months ago! Damn, girl – you know I don’t like to wait!)
Aside from being blessed with my favorite name, Jen is a woman of many talents: poet, musician, activist, actor, humanitarian, philosopher, ornithologist, cartographer, and given the right combination of microbrews and music, she can invent all sorts of new dance moves. But mostly, she’s an amazing friend, and someone who continually inspires me to be better. And if that doesn’t make you want to own a copy of her book, then perhaps this synopsis and excerpt will:

A Box of Longing with Fifty Drawers: A Revisioning of the Preamble to the Constitution
A poetic exploration of the Preamble to the Constitution that consists of one poem (in sequence) for each of the 52 words that comprise it. Benka takes us on a re-imagining that cuts through the psychic landscape of America and explores the United States as “a box of longing with fifty drawers.” She delves not so much into the growing cynicism of Americans as to the deep bewilderment and sadness of us. She asks the deepening question of what is happening to core values such as economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for everyone — and below that, what is happening to the individual psyches within a nation that has lost faith in itself.
an unsolved mathematical equation:
land plus people divided by people minus land
times ocean times forest times river.
escape and the delusion of discovery:
across the mad ocean to the rocky shore
step foot onto land call it yours.
promised land lemonade stand.
auction block stew pot.
the dreams:
of corn field wheat field tobacco field oil
of iron cage slave trade cotton plantation
of hog farm dairy farm cattle ranch range
of Mississippi Mason-Dixon mountains
of territories salt lake lottery gold
of saw mill steel mill coal mine diamond.
topographic economic
industry and war.
a box of longing
with fifty drawers.

When I inventoried my bookshelves and discovered that my literary collection was sorely lacking in US Constitution-inspired poetry, I immediately ordered seven copies of this book. So this means that six of my friends can expect autographed copies for Christmas, but I’m not saying which six of you, so you should all still buy your own copy. Then if I give you one of mine, you can give that other one to someone else, and it will kind of be like Amway. Ultimately, as with any good pyramid scheme, I’m the only one who will get rich.
Oh yeah – Jen is returning to the welcoming embrace of the Midwest in a couple weeks to do a few readings in Wisconsin, so maybe I’ll see you here:
Broad Vocabulary (Milwaukee, Oct 12, 6:30pm)
or here:
Wisconsin Book Festival (Madison, Oct 13-14)
Congratulations, Jen – first round in Madison is on me!

10 Responses to “Hot Off the Press!”

  1. teahouseblossom Says:

    That’s fabulous that your friend is published! And what a lovely photo of her. I’ll definitely check out her book.

  2. kris dresen Says:

    As someone who is completely unbiased in regards to the talents of Ms. Benka, I gotta agree with Jenny 100%. Jen’s work is truly amazing, but I only ordered two copies. (Sorry, Jen!)

  3. brando Says:

    ooh, looks very intriguing.
    how do you get to have such cool friends? and, yes, i’m biased.

  4. jaymarie Says:

    interesting… i will certianly check it out.
    but, really, – you had me at ‘she’s an amazing friend’
    i just can’t resist those damn connections ;)

  5. Jenny Says:

    THB: That’s so nice of you – I know she’ll be doing readings in NYC, so maybe your paths will cross!

    K: Dang! Now I totally have to come up with a different xmas present for you…

    B: Now, you of all people should know how I get to have such cool friends: a delicate balance of tenacity and emotional manipulation. It’s not unlike the Stockholm Syndrome – eventually, they begin to sympathize with me out of sheer fatigue. Works every time!

    J: Yes, I totally agree – the rest is really just icing, isn’t it?

  6. asia Says:

    Its about time we got some constitutions inspired poetry around here. damn.

  7. nicole Says:

    How exciting for her! I’m sure there’s nothing quite like the fulfillment of seeing your work in print.

  8. TCho Says:

    Wow! that’s great!

  9. Cheryl Says:

    I love the line “auction block stew pot.” And what could be more American than a poetry pyramid scheme? A great idea. Go Jen!

  10. Kathy [Benka] Meyers Says:

    I am biased – Jen is my cousin. We are the same age – share the same birthday. I only wish my talents were half of hers. I am so proud and cannot wait to see her in Milwaukee! Kathy