John Bensko

The Waterman’s Children

University of Massachusetts Press 1994

This book, which was a runner-up for the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts, contains poems set around the southeast coastal areas of Florida and Virginia, where the poet lived, as well as nearby coastal areas of surrounding states where he visited. Parenthood, marriage, and the difficulties of both are explored in poems that test the boundaries between memoir and fiction in order to reach the emotional truth of the experiences, which focus on the poet's first marriage and raising of a young child. As in the earlier book, Green Soldiers, love and loss often come together in the poems, as well as a child's or a childlike vulnerability.

Of the book, Leon Stokesbury writes: "John Bensko is a traveler and, like Elizabeth Bishop, his travels bring him more questions than answers. It is the states of the American South that these finely crafted poems seem to wander through mostly, but the real journey is, of course, much more interior and universal. What lovely subtleties there are in these pages, what wry and melancholy voices!"

Louis Simpson writes: "Bensko re-creates an incident, a moment of feeling, with absolute fidelity. As I read The Waterman's Children, I seem to be remembering the things the poems spoke of--they seemed to have happened in my own life. The music of the writing continued after I had closed the book, and continues still."

Dave Smith writes: "The Waterman's Children is full of both permanence and change and is a kind of dowry given m=by a man who clearly loves the world at the edge of the water. Bensko's stories are authentic, weighted, and worthy of all we can give them of ourselves. Reading these poems is like taking a walk on the beach. Who can resist that pleasure?"

Maura Stanton says: The Waterman's Children is a marvelous interior voyage through real landscapes. [The] poems are clean, exact glimpses ino the secrecy and mysteriousness of the natural world around us, so complex and impenetrable beneath its bright surface--the green waves of kudzu, the bending necks of sea oats. There is piercing vision here, and deep feeling for the past which expresses itself through the particulars of a lost Eden."

Subjects: Parenting, Marriage, Divorce, Yauco Puerto Rico, Eastpoint Florida, Navarre Beach Florida, Eden, Sopchoppy Florida, Painting, Goodwill Industries, Crabbing, The Wild Horses of Assateague Island, Coastal Military Bunkers, Cave Diving, African Masks, Pregnancy, St. Marks Florida, Posey's Bar, Jean Renoir, A Day in the Country, Virginia Beach, Wedding Photography, Bull minnows, Fishing, Pets, The Everglades, Phosphorescence Bay, Psychoanalysis, Terrorism, Mail Bombs, Hurricanes, Watermen,

The Children of Goodwill

Their mothers work here
sorting clothes, taking turns at the register.
The children play with the phonographs.
They spin marbles on them
until each flies off. They gather
everything that turns and they turn them
all at once: a rusted fan, a globe
with a hole near Los Angeles
where a finger pushed through,
the wheels of three warped bicycles
balanced on their sides.

The feeling of surprise: like an old
love letter which changes each time
we read it, making us feel closer
or more distant, it depends on the movement
of all we’ve abandoned. The children
delight in keeping their worlds
in motion. We step through,
balancing on our way to the bookshelves
and they spin at our feet, laughing.

Happy in the junk
you and I and others have left out,

in the pieced-together rooms,
couches, chairs, and beds
on which we’ve given up,
they visit the world. Surprise!
They come at us shouting
and we’re in the center
of a game we played when young:
spinning on our feet, until dizzy,
we don’t know where we are.

Selected Works

Winner of the Anita Claire Scharf Award University of Tampa Press
Winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award Described by Richard Hugo in the forward as a book about ancestors, the book explores the emotions of loss, separation, and isolation.
Poems give voice to the yearnings of a young husband, his wife, and the beachcombers and travelers along the Virginia and Florida coasts.
Narrative and lyrical poems about Alabama’s coal and steel-producing regions.
Short stories linked by themes of pirates, storms, and coastal living.

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