Class Notes Profiles
Jennifer Benka, CJPA ’90, indulges a passion for poetry.
She can still recite the prologue to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a challenge assigned to her in high school by one of many educators to whom she credits her love of language.
She now enjoys that passion as executive director and president of the Academy of American Poets, an eight-decades-old nonprofit created to sustain American poets and the art itself. The academy offers awards, forums and readings, a website and biannual journal — all efforts to help poets earn money, publication opportunities and exposure because, Benka admits, “there are no six-figure book deals for poets.”
A published poet, Benka seeks balance between her responsibilities and her personal craft. Enveloped by the creativity of the fellow poets she is in charge of supporting, she has never felt so inspired.
“My head is full, and I can’t wait to get back to the page,” she says. “But I feel really honored to be a practitioner and to work in service to other practitioners and to the art form in general. I’m truly blessed.”
And fear not, Benka says, that today’s youth dismiss poetry’s relevance because of technology’s takeover. Her academy work has introduced her to thousands of enthusiastic teens hoping to be the next Dickinson, Whitman or Angelou, and they have taken to the Internet to share their work and to dialogue with other fledgling poets.
“We will always want to struggle with language in a creative way to make meaning of ourselves,” she says. “I don’t think that urge will ever diminish.” — Sarah Painter Koziol, Arts ’92
Sign up for “A Poem a Day” at poets.org.