Orenoque, Wetumka & other poems
The poems in Orenoque, Wetumka, occupy the borderlands between Euro-America and Native America, between now and then, between the seen and unseen. "The space between millennia was thin as water" in the reflection of the mangrove swamp in the opening poem, "Isis at Caroni." The poem invites the reader to get lost in the swamp: "the Indian guide Nanan lost us/with every turn of his wrist down every channel" that leads to the breath-taking, timeless world of the scarlet ibis. The poems negotiate the mazes of natural and human history to reveal the hidden and unknown, as in "What Lightning Spoke:" "The lightning branched and hooked in myriad brilliances streaming, / its rivers and rivulets flooding me with one idea: / in plain air, power makes infinite ways." "Orenoque" is set in the labyrinthine Orinoco River of Venezuela during the rapacious 16th-Century explorations for El Dorado, and the late 1990s exploring for remnants of that ancient world. "Wetumka" weaves an ancient Zuni migration story with that of a Cherokee artist recovering his family scattered along and long after the Trail of Tears.
According to American Book Award winner Eric Gansworth, "Robert Bensen's poems commune with the nature of voice, identity, and memory, in a complex and ambitious array of expression.[...] This collection demands that the reader carefully consider both the ways we construct our understanding of the world and people around us, and the responsibility of choosing to speak. It rewards those up to the task, and asks others to consider why they are not prepared for that engagement."
Helen Regueiro Elam (The Limits of Imagination) wrote: "Robert Bensen's poems bear an ambivalent and difficult relation to place: they extol it at the same time that they witness its vanishing. [...] Bensen's poetry overhears for us what the place holds 'in every fecund inch' and makes us wakeful, even in our disappearance, to 'each beat of the rsonant earth."