Synopses & Reviews
Joe Benevento’s Expecting Songbirds, Selected Poems, 1983-2015, provides readers with the opportunity to sample the very best of the writer’s work from his four previous books in poetry: Holding On, Willing To Believe, My Puerto Rican Past and Tough Guys Don’t Write, along with some of his most recent journal-published poems collected under the heading “Ode to Pears.” Oftentimes narrative, and predominantly free verse, Benevento’s poems mirror his Italian-American, working class roots in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood in Queens, but they also look back on his past three decades as professor, editor and writer in the small-town, overwhelmingly white Midwest and the tensions and ironies of having lived the life of an outsider in both settings. Poems delivered with the “plain spoken ease and realism of Frost” (Walter Bargen) and which, “at their best bring to mind the exceptional work of Philip Levine and B.H. Fairchild,” (Larry D. Thomas), Expecting Songbirds is an affirmation of Whitman’s goal to seek the miraculous in the commonplace. Whether dealing with never quite lost loves, multi-layered lessons gleaned from nature, or a bittersweet but genuine belief in family, Expecting Songbirds stands as testament to over three decades of serious commitment to accessible poetry by a writer who has not underestimated the redeeming value in never taking oneself too seriously.
The poems of this new poetry collection span over three decades of Benevento's career as a poet of distinction and haunting insight. His subject matter is intriguingly diverse, ranging from his blue-collar upbringing in Queens, New York, to his family and academic life in Missouri; from poignant moments with his wife and children to vivid scenes from his Puerto Rican past; and from an "ode to pears" to "some silver haired vestige of golden intent." Benevento is the rare poet whose work is simultaneously accessible and erudite, always sparkling with consummate poetic skill. The poems dedicated to his blue-collar experiences bring to mind the stellar work of Philip Levine and B. H. Fairchild.
Larry D. Thomas
Member, Texas Institute of Letters
2008 Texas Poet Laureate