Pinko by Jennifer Benka is a collection of poems with an antiwar and progressive social message. Benka is the executive director of the Academy of American Poets. She holds a BA in Journalism from Marquette University, an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from The New School and has been active in social change programs.
This is one of those books that if one does not the poet the cover will surely draw you in. It seems to make a statement along with her poems. Gracing the cover is her old driver’s license from Wisconsin complete with her date of birth, height, weight, hair and eyes. Laying over the top is a government document with blacked out information. Seems to speak of today’s society where everything about the individual is known and what the government is doing is not.
“Flower, Flower” examines the war mentality over fifty years and offers those “truths” that we accept to make us feel better. Failures lack religion or were raised by single parents or one of many other reasons. Poverty exists because Jesus said we will always have the poor — So why do anything poverty will always exist. To quote Roger Water’s “God wants poverty.” Benka follows:
It is possible we will not allow lies to accumulate truth. It is possible that we will
vote for the candidate who will kill the fewest people.
In the second section, Benka uses the international phonetic alphabet to create twenty-six themed poems. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and then Dixie instead of Delta. That was the only mistake in the phonetic alphabet. Why? Checking the notes, Dixie is a poem constructed using pieces of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. It’s not a stretch to link the support to the South (Dixie) and the biblical definition of marriage. What I thought was a mistake turns out to be supported. The poems in this section are well done and several drift out of free verse and into meter and rhyme. Gulf is perfectly written. Foxtrot plays on World War I. Papa borrows from Marx. A very well-done selection.
Section three is only five poems that the titles reflect on the between of things — mainland and island or the land between two rivers (Bagdad and Iraq’s constitution). The collection closes with two poems one on AIDS and the other the title poem “Pinko”. A great collection of poems with a social message that is not forced into poetry, but rather fits in nicely with it.