Friday night was my first trip out to YorkArts for a local poetry event. Their CityArts location (right around the corner on Philadelphia, a few doors down from the White Rose Bar and Grill) is an intimate venue for poetry readings, and a small but rapt group of us convened on one of the first chilly fall nights to hear Alyse Bensel read from her recently published chapbook, Shift.
I heard other attendees describe Bensel afterward as “fresh” and “energetic.”
Absolutely. Having recently obtained her Master of Fine Arts from Penn State, and with her first bound publication in tow, this poet beamed from the podium.
Bensel spoke eloquently about her time in graduate writing workshops and even about criticism she received from her esteemed instructors — criticism that ultimately shaped her poems and gave her the direction she needed to assemble her chapbook.
Not that she took their advice every time. Bensel more than once noted that she met some opposition because of her subject matter, in the form of questions like, “What are you going to do with these?” Clearly, she chose to push forward with her ideas, believing in her vision, or at least that a clearer vision would present itself with more work on the poems.
I for one am glad she believed in them. Poems highlighting working class issues in previously-rural areas experiencing rapid expansion, like York, fill a void in the pantheon of poetic subject matter. That a woman is writing such poems is especially refreshing.
And when Bensel expressed affection for the sonnet and chapbook forms, well, she pretty much won me over.
For more background on Alyse Bensel, check out our interview.
Here is Bensel reading two poems based on places in York County: the York Fish and Oyster Company and the Starlite Diner.