Orenoque, Wetumka, and Other Poems

Hartwick’s Bensen, Young to Present Poetry from New Book

February 11, 2013

Hartwick College Professor of English Dr. Robert Bensen will read from a new collection of poems titled Orenoque, Wetumka, and Other Poems in collaboration with Hartwick College Professor of Art Phil Young, whose artwork is featured on the cover. The reading will take place on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the Stevens-German Library in Yager Hall on the Hartwick College campus.  Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

The poems in Orenoque, Wetumka, occupy the borderlands between Euro-America and Native America. The poems negotiate 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." The long poem "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. Written in collaboration with Young, "Wetumka" weaves an ancient Zuni migration story with that of a Cherokee artist recovering and 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."

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 (University of Arizona Press). He is a member of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

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. Despite his upstate residence, he states that "the red clay of Oklahoma still runs in my veins." 

For additional information, contact Bensen at 607-431-4902 or

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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 an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a distinctive January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for not just their first jobs, but for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Valerie Capullo
Phone: 607-431-4031