Rick Benjamin, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies and public humanities, was recently appointed state poet of Rhode Island by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee. A five-year position, the state poet serves as principal advocate for poetry in Rhode Island. Benjamin has dedicated much of his career to the intersection of poetry and community service, a relationship he incorporates into “Poetry and Community Service,” a course he teaches at Brown and other schools. Courtney Coelho spoke with Benjamin about his poetry, his mission of service, and how he intends to incorporate the two in his new position.
Describe your poetry. What is your style? What are your influences?
I have a wide range of influences. I tend to learn everything through the ear. My early influences were always oral and musical, starting with poetry I probably didn’t really understand by Eliot that my mom was reading me. So she would say things like, “So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul should be resurrected only among friends some two or three, who will not touch the bloom that is rubbed and questioned in the concert room.” There’s not a lot of that that I would have understood when she said it, but I did hear it and I really loved the sound of it. And Langston Hughes is a poet I became acquainted with really early on and again it was the sound and the rhythm and the music in the poetry that I responded to first. In terms of poets that I read now: Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, Robert Hass, Kevin Young. (more…)