Bensko has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The University of Alabama (1979) and a Ph.D. in 20th century poetry and narrative technique from Florida State University (1985). He was a student of James Dickey, and classmate of Clark Powell:
Our weekly workshops were simple - take the latest purple mimeographed worksheet of student's poems, and have everyone critique the poems. I once wrote a four-line poem that had an epigraph from Moby Dick that was almost an entire paragraph. I read the poem. Silence. Then everybody started laughing. It was that bad. Another student named John Bensko made a comment that broke everybody up: "This poem is a bit top-heavy."
Before coming to the University of Memphis, he taught at The University of Alabama, Old Dominion University, Rhodes College, and, as a Fulbright Professor in American Literature, at the University of Alicante, Spain. He is Director of the River City Writers Series for the 2005-2006 season.
His work has appeared in Georgia Review, Iowa Review, New England Review, New Letters, Poetry, and Poetry Northwest.
He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis, along with his wife, the fiction writer Cary Holladay. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sea Dogs is casual and deft, as if the stories were handed over by a brilliant friend who has nothing to prove but has seen it all.
From Publishers Weekly:
A veteran poet, Bensko has received the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and produced three books of verse (The Iron City; The Waterman's Children; Green Soldiers). He turns his attention to fiction in a debut story collection that is limpid and dreamlike at its best, but too often gloomy and detached. As the title suggests, nearly all 13 stories feature characters drawn to the ocean, whether by profession, disposition or circumstances.
Characters exhibit, and communicate, confusion. Hanging over them is an aura (as one title phrases it) of Missed Connections. The method generally works. The reader wanders in and out of lives, confessions, aberrations; flips through time; straddles periods. The point of view shifts. Though in places language remains resistant, the story beyond reach, these poems carry conviction.
Poetic Proles:Rob Morris reviews Sea Dogs, American Book Review, Volume 25, Number 6, September/October 2004
Sea Dogs (review), Steve Yarbrough, The Missouri Review - Volume 27, Number 2, Summer 2004, pp. 191—191