From wanderer comes poetry in motion

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In the beginning was the word, and the word was good. Words of life -- alive, living in the air that you breathe. In print, the language is silent, not stilled. ... That is, until you start thinking aloud. -- Bennett

Mark Bennett is a wandering poet and satirist compelled by acute observations. "101 details" is what the Orlando-based troubadour calls the daily writing exercise in perception that crowds his ragged spiral-bound notebooks. Bennett uses his invented mental workout to twist and shape the modern ironies of life, politics and love into rhyme and rhythm by playing prankster with convention.

That twist in convention has translated into two self-published works of his poetic repartee. Bennett, however, maintains that it's not about the written word, but how it's spoken. His word is action, and with that sentiment he has choreographed dozens of spoken-word productions, like Starvation Army and the upcoming Psychopomp at Stardust Video. Psychopomp -- the shamanic term for the facilitation of the dead from one plane to the next -- will include traveling companion/poet Lisa Samoy, known for her performance-art approach to spoken word, and Gus Ryder, an acoustic blues/rocker. In such settings, Bennett has proved he's not only a master of language but of drama. His highly entertaining shows transform lifeless words on paper into buffoonery, whimsy, woe and innocence.

Not only are his two books a testament to his wit but also his wily ingenuity. Bennett drained his resources to see his first work, "Wonder Through Wanderland" (1998), into print. It was a 500-copy, professionally bound and printed paperback. "I laid it out in Microsoft Publisher on a borrowed computer," says Bennett with a grin.

"Then I discovered that the permanent print plate cost $12,000 to $13,000. I got a disposable print plate." Later he realized that photocopy quality was as good as a print plate quality.

In a backlash response, he assembled his follow-up, "The Global Village Idiot," released earlier this year, with the help of friends, at home, out of cardboard, covered with funky fabrics like old T-shirts and bound with twine.

While "Wanderland" titillated the local spoken-word set with its drollery, "Global" countered it with a razor-sharp focus -- a sort of "Farmer's Almanac" pragmatism laced with Dr. Seussian sarcasm and silliness. Take Bennett's title poem, a play on the axiom "It takes a village to raise a child" that's full of homonymic puns twisted from phrases, like, idle hands are the devil's workshop": The bones on the cross are in my skull -- idol thinking, idle hands -- keeping busy with the dirty work. I'm looking for the blessing in the curse.

A combination of free verse and rhyming meter, his poetry offers other invented devices such as colliding clichés and imagery -- "not even a penny in my loafers," "a brother without a keeper." It's a style that has enamored fans like local musicians Ryder and Amy Steinberg, who have set some of his verse to music.

Somewhat settled here for seven years now, the former Northern Illinois native is no stranger to the open road. Bennett often travels by thumb or any means necessary to distant points, in order to soliloquize for spare change to strangers passing by as well as peddle his books on the streets.

Though it seems like a tough way to make a living, Bennett finds that his travels to places like a recent 12-hour hitch to Mardi Gras only serve to hone his skills, challenging him to perfect his delivery.

Says the unpredictable local spoken-word legend, "If I didn't get money, then [the poem] stunk."

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