Item description for A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers: A Revisioning of the Preamble to the Constitution by Jen Benka...
A poetic deconstruction of America through one of its key documents --- in the tradition of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsburg --- this collection by noted poet-performer Jen Benka consists of one poem (in sequence) for each of the 52 words that comprise the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Her revision of America's secular prayer finds the unspoken hopes and frustrations of people marginalized from the political process. She expresses a profound regard for the possibility of America, while delineating the many ways in which America fails to deliver on its promise --- and below that, what is happening to the individual psyches within a nation that has lost faith in itself.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.25" Width: 5.75" Height: 8" Weight: 0.2 lbs.
Release Date Jun 10, 2005
Publisher Soft Skull Press
ISBN 1932360840 ISBN13 9781932360844
Reviews - What do customers think about A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers: A Revisioning of the Preamble to the Constitution?
distilling the essence Sep 14, 2008
This book has one of the greatest titles ever. I considered giving it 4 or 5 stars for the meaning behind the title alone.
As has been mentioned, this book is the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution with a poem for each individual word. Five minutes after I post this review I'll regret whichever number of stars I choose. Some of the poems I don't get, and they don't add anything to the overall scope of the book. One of the "the" poems, for instance. Others work amazingly well. All are brief. You could read this book five times a day without wasting your life away.
Capturing not so much the heart(s) of a nation, but the reality of a nation as diverse as the USA in so few words is impressive. Blind flagwavers will have problems with this book because it effectively gets to what has become the American Truth behind some of these words but the Truth is not what gets taught in American History classes.
Benka asks more than condemns. We are a box of longing with 50 drawers but the drawers aren't closed yet.
Soft Skull Press has so many great, interesting or powerful books. When visiting their website you'll always stumble across something that sounds like it has potential. I bought this at the same time as Surviving the Moment of Impact, which is more direct than this. That book is total heart. This one is more conceptual.
a box worth opening Nov 15, 2005
I am always interested in the third thing-the option that goes beyond saying, in the case of the Constitution and its 200-year aftermath, "Yay, America, you can do no wrong!" or "Boo, America, you're a big slave-holding, imperialist jerk!" This poem captures all the complexities of living in a young, idealistic country that has often failed to live up to its ideals. Importantly, it captures the emotional complexities as well as the intellectual. While the form of the book follows an experimental tradition (is that an oxymoron?), it has a heart that Robert Frost fans (or people like myself, who read mostly narrative fiction) will appreciate too.
What Benka is able to convey in very small-aptly boxy-spaces, using simple words to riff on other simple words, is impressive. The labor and cleverness it clearly took to craft such poems is subtle. This is not lush, descriptive poetry, but it describes America perfectly.
Jen Benka, Of Thee I Sing Oct 26, 2005
I don't remember ever seeing a book exactly like this one, and I give Jen Benka points for originality. She has a lot of imagination, it pops out of her like toast, and here she puts it to good stead by exploring the semantic implications of the US constitution. The famous "Preamble" that begins We the People is broken down and each word begins a new poem. In the process we find out that it is the USA, with its fifty states, that is the eponymous "box of longing with 50 drawers." Like Muriel Rukeyser, Benka directs her poetic in the service of the community, spreading her nets wide, yet narrowing them down enough to catch whatever fish she's after. Like Rukeyser's verse, the American sweep and ambition of Benka's project obliviates the need for any individually perfect poem, for as the old saying goes about men and streetcars, if you don't like the one, just wait and another will be along in a minute.
The best are Niedecker-like indications of specific moments in US history, purified and calcified to the merest, feathery suggestion of what power, what blood, turned our nation from a dream into a crushing weight of iron.
Sometimes the poetry can seem a little naive, with preachy utterance and a Youngbloods/Hayley Mills reiteration to "let's get together," downplaying its difficulty. But most of the time Benka succeeds admirably in a project which, while continually flirting with agitprop, never succumbs to mere rhetoric. The poems have a strength and their unity provokes reaction.
Spicer said that theoretically the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary, and I wonder if Benka kept this suggestion in mind while composing the quiet, small poems of this book. I must have the second edition because the book I have looks completely different than the one pictured above. My copy is basically red with fifty lavender-colored rectangles pictured on it. Hmm, glad to see it's doing well!