Poet Wayne Benson bought a microphone to make sure his capstone reading for the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing could be heard loud and clear by classmates and faculty when the program’s residency switched to a virtual format. Instead of packing the mic away, he started a podcast, sharing his voice with poetry lovers as far away as the Philippines and France.
During the pandemic, when he was stuck at home in Easton, Pennsylvania, Benson shared a poem every other day. Now he shares a new episode of the Basement Poetry Podcast every other week, digging into poetry for an audience of 200 fans near and far. “It’s probably one of the most uplifting things I’ve accomplished,” says Benson.
Benson’s path to poetry podcasting did not follow a straight line. He majored in criminology as an undergraduate student, but a lifelong love of writing led him to research master’s degree programs in creative writing. “Wilkes was always the first to come up.”
Following his online search, he visited Wilkes to learn more before enrolling in January 2019. The creative writing program’s flexible, low-residency format helps to make a graduate degree possible for working students of all ages and experience levels.
With a full-time job, Benson produced a poetry chapbook titled Archives for an Unnamed Woman, which focuses on a boy’s journey to manhood through the significant relationships in his life. He’s in the process of expanding that piece into a full-length collection. He also volunteered as poetry editor for River and South, the program’s student-run literary magazine.
As a graduate assistant, Benson spent five semesters working with Etruscan Press, a nonprofit literary publisher based at Wilkes. He also completed a practicum with Tupelo Press. Benson gained hands-on publishing experience with study guides, grant applications and outreach.
“He’s been thrust right into all aspects of publishing. That’s a feature of the small press world,” says Phil Brady, Benson’s mentor and program faculty member. “It’s going to benefit him as a professional and a writer, making him a much better advocate for his own work.”
With greater remote opportunities and his collection of experiences during the program, Benson is optimistic about finding employment after graduation. While he’ll be glad to finish school, thoughts of leaving this community of writers are bittersweet. “I wouldn’t be the poet that I am today without the way the program is set up,” says Benson. “Everyone wants to be good, but we’re all lifting each other up.”
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