What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson (2018)—the first published translation in English by a woman. I am enjoying it very much. I have always been drawn to Odysseus’s story because it is a story what happens after: after war, after victory, after the soldiers bury their dead, mourn their losses, and say goodbye to their shield brothers, when they have to find their way back to their domestic lives and somehow re-integrate themselves into their old lives despite the traumas they have both caused and witnessed. I am particularly enjoying Wilson’s translation for its concise, direct language, as well as the challenge she set for herself of fitting her translation into blank iambic pentameter. The story feels more immediate, and less stodgy than other, more scholarly translations I’ve seen.
Have you read a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you, if so, please share it with us?
Being but Men by Dylan Thomas
The Secret by Denise Levertov
love poem by Linda Pastan
Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborski
What You Have to Get Over by Dick Allen
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
by Naomi Shihab Nye:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
Sometimes I trawl the internet for prompts.
Sometimes I ask mutuals on social media for prompts. I have two particularly good ones. In the first, I asked a group of writer friends to pick one of their own short stories and choose ten words from it, and I would try to write a poem based on the story and those words. In the second, I asked followers to send me a list of three things: one hope for their future, one fear, and a description of one item from their past that was important for some reason.
I subscribe to wordsmith.org. They send me a new word every day, and I save the words I like the sound of. I try to write poems using them as starting points.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
I am in love with catalog poems and lists that are fun to say. I spent an afternoon with a friend once coming up with a list of all the candies we used to love when we were children.
Who/what are some of your writing obsessions, and why?
For the past few years many of my poems seem to touch on the idea of grace and second chances, probably because I have felt the need to start over, but also because religions of all sorts have been a research interest of mine for many years. Belief for some seems as easy as breathing, for others a life-long struggle, for some it becomes a weapon, and for the lucky ones it becomes a light that they constantly give away while it remains within them as bright as ever it was.
What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer?
The best way for me to remain productive is to find a partner and set aside a time for us to meet and work in parallel. Sometimes we both bring prompts and a timer. Sometimes we just work on our own pre-existing projects. The point is that we set aside that time for writing, and we hold one another accountable just by showing up.
Tell us what your writing space look like.
My best writing space has been my friend’s dining room table!
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
Revising old work. Using prompts. Writing a lot of crap just to keep writing—eventually I’ll get past the crap and the good words will start to come out.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
Just keep submitting. Lately it’s helped me to read through some of the magazines that have rejected my work. Often I find that the stuff they’ve accepted is not any better than mine (though some is, obviously). This is a good reminder that I haven’t been rejected because my poems are bad. A lot of it comes down to luck—who was reading the first round of submissions, what kind of mood they were in, what other poems have already been selected and whether mine “fits” with those. Rejection and acceptance isn’t about me (though it often is about my pocketbook, and I have had to limit how much work I submit because it can get expensive).
Regarding your piece in Issue 03, what does it mean for/to you?
Once I finish a poem, I kind of feel like it’s not mine anymore. I’ll leave its interpretation up to the readers.
Do you have a recent publication/project you would like us to highlight?
My first chapbook, #girl stuff (2018) was published by Dancing Girl Press. I have a few copies left myself that I could send out and am working on getting reprints from the press. People interested could contact me through my school address: email@example.com.
I have another chapbook—Please thank you but why—forthcoming in February of 2024 from Finishing Line Press, which will be available for pre-orders beginning on Oct. 10, 2023.
What is something you would like to share with other writers out there?
Poetry is just as important as it ever was. Share it often and freely.
Lysbeth Em Benkert lives, writes, and teaches in the upper midwest with her dog, who is a perfect gentleman, and her cat, who is a jerk. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, The Briar Cliff Review, and One-Sentence Poems, among other places. Her forthcoming chapbook (February, 2024) is titled Please thank you but why.