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‘Orenoque, Wetumka, and Other Poems’ By Robert Bensen, cover art by Phil Young

Hartwick’s Bensen, Young Release ‘Orenoque, Wetumka, and Other Poems’

October 24, 2012

Hartwick College Professor of English Robert Bensen has released a new collection of poems titled Orenoque, Wetumka, and Other Poems, in collaboration with Professor of Art Phil Young, whose artwork is featured on the cover. A reading to launch the book will be held at the publisher on Thursday, November 1, at 7 p.m., Bright Hill Literary Center, Treadwell, New York.

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 resonant earth.'"

Bensen's poems have been collected in five books and published in journals from the U.S., U.K., West Indies, and Asia, as well as in African-American and Native American journals.  His work has earned a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the 1996 Robert Penn Warren Award.  He has written numerous essays on Caribbean and Native American literature, and edited several anthologies of those literatures, most recently Children of the Dragonfly (U. of Arizona Press). His poetry has been shown in eight exhibitions with photographs by Charles Bremer, in galleries that include the Bright Hill Literary Center and the National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Springs, NY.  He is a member of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.  He teaches writing and literature and directs the writing programs at Hartwick College.

Cover artist and collaborator ("Wetumka") Phil Young, of Cherokee and Scots-Irish descent, was born in Oklahoma, 1947. His geo-autobio-cultural mixedbloodbodyscapes appear in his writing, performances, paintings, works on paper, photographs, and installations. He is blessed with resistant/resilient/remembered family stories, which have enabled humor, reclaimed integrity and healing.  His writing has been published in anthologies and journals, including Sovereign Bones, Ahani: Indigenous Indian Poetry, Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, Children of the Dragonfly, and others.  He is a recipient of a Millay Colony Residency, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in Painting and Sculpture, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture. Currently he is Professor of Art at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.  Despite his upstate residence, he states that "the red clay of Oklahoma still runs in my veins."

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,500 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable

Contact: Christopher Lott
E-mail: lottc@hartwick.edu
Phone: 607-431-4030