Bensie, Dennis Milam. “Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature”, Coffeetown Press, 2015.
For those of you who do not know what a “mashup” is it is “a poetry technique taking words and phrases from a book (or play) and cutting and pasting them into a new poem”. If you did not know feel bad about it, neither did I until I looked it up. It makes little difference really because I knew I would love this book before I even opened it and there are three reasons why. First I love the way Dennis Bensie writes and he is truly a mensch. (Especially since I have had this book since March or April and I am just getting around to reviewing it now). The other two reasons are that “Flit” has been highly recommended by two of my favorite poets, Jeff Mann and Yermiyahu Taub. It is nice knowing before you even open the covers that you are going to enjoy something.
Now let’s have a look at the title, “Flit” and I must be frank, I always thought that butterflies and dragonflies and gossipers flit. I did not remember that the word came into common usage with the 1951 and perennial bestseller “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. He used the word “flit” to talk about a gay male and this seems to make it a derogatory if not a homophobic term.
In this collection of new poems by Bensie we see that he uses the works of many good and established authors aside from Salinger—Melville, Dickens, Tolstoy, Twain, and Forrester and he mashes them up into his own poetry. At that point any resemblance between him and the other artists only come in the poems that he has mashes up and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Each of the poems in this collection is written with the words of a classic book or drama. The topics we read about include gay life, cruising bears, Log Cabin Republicans, sexual conversion therapy and many others. There are forty poems here and each is a delight.
I find it amazing that Bensie was able to do what he did—using the literary canon to write about gay life today. Let’s try one on—see if you recognize the source:
Spots, more spots
Shape on my chest and legs.
So hoarse with remorse
I’m mad at the favor.
The suck of life
Being drugged forever
Without a cure”.
If you said Shakespeare you are correct and if you said “Macbeth”, you get a big gold star. But then that this comes from “Macbeth” is pretty obvious and not just from the subject but even more so from the cadence of the words.
The poems here are smart, cute and playful and they suit me fine. One of my college professors once told me that if at any time literature stops being fun to read, then it is time to stop reading. But then you get a book like “Flit” and it becomes fun again. What a brilliant idea it is to use the words of classical literature to write about how we live as well as say something about gay identity. Whether Bensie writes about drug use, reparative therapy or drag he does so with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.
Let’s move ahead in time to something more contemporary.
“Soft gay kisses
Tonight a gentleman respects me.
The dark discovery of love in just an hour.
My heart grinding in knots.
Old relic that I am, I lost my head
–I pretend we are married to him.”
If you find this difficult to recognize, reread it aloud with your best Southern accent…. and you will be channeling Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
What Bensie and these poems do is to make us have another look at what have been literary classics and reconsider them as they pertain to our lives. Here Bensie is the master as he takes to places we never thought we would visit—he has the magic carpet and we get on and enjoy our journey through the very best that has been retailored for us. Having read all that he has published, I never really thought of Dennis Bensie as a poet but I see how wrong I was. He is a poet par excellence and we are so lucky to have him share it with us.
Using the words from stories we know and love, Bensie us able to create something new and meaningful. We really see here just how powerful words can be. Yes, he is in our faces and we cannot help but love it. I want all of you to love this book as much as I do.