Thursday, October 19, 2006

Featured Poet: Jim Benz

It is an honor to present the poetry of Jim Benz, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of my favorite poets. The first poem below was the first poem I ever read of his, and at first reading he gained my immediate respect. It was unforgettable. I find this memorable quality a characteristic of his work. His poetic imagery is rooted deeply in nature and in the intellect. It has a lyrical, emotional strength and a self-conscious poetically self-referential humor. Below you will find a few of my favorites, followed by a short analysis I wrote about his work earlier this year, which mentions some of the poems included here. The final entry is a renga chain that I had the pleasure of writing with him.

Readers note: this is an interactive page, you can leave comments at the end of each feature.

Suppose Two Clocks
by Jim Benz

To remain here, I assume a curve
along which my body moves, reaching
for sunlight. The day is liquid
hurrying across my path. In the shadows,
beneath my eyes, fixed stars move in a circle.
It isn’t clear what can be understood.

There is no dilemma today, nothing
disappears. The minutes are insensible
of life spans, the hours unconcerned
with decay. Suppose two clocks
of identical construction are placed
on the wind: a moment might be compared

to a juncture that no longer exists,
there is nothing more. I assume this
and imagine two mirrors, so arranged
upon vanished eyes as to reflect
a dilemma: these are the clocks, perfectly situated
at their origins, in view of a structure

of passed days, the relative motion
of fixed stars, absorbed energy, ourselves
wrapped in a delicacy of detail, an unspoken word
filtered from the things that happen
each day. This must be so, this is reasonable:
time clutches nothing. Only now.


Copyright 2006, Jim Benz

There is a chair
by Jim Benz

There is a luxury chair in this poem,
an Eaves lounge chair with matching ottoman,
upholstered in soft black leather
over a seven-ply cherry shell
and die-cast aluminum supports. No trees
were felled and no ore mined
to construct this chair and no hide
was ever stripped from a dead cow
to be fitted and sewn around
the individually upholstered cushions.
It will never be sat in.

The chair is located in a sun-lit
oak-paneled room, on a Persian rug
of modern design by Qolam Hossein
Jabini Khiabani of Tabriz. An aging feline,
who now steps gingerly across the deep red weaves
of the natural pattern, will never pee on this rug
even though she has just now entered the poem.
In this illusory context, she will live forever
and never become incontinent or arthritic
nor will the heart-broken author have to bury her
by a large aspen tree growing on a hill
thick with birch, beside a rustic log cabin
built from unfelled trees. When she eats a young rabbit,
the rabbit will not cry and there will be no blood
staining the intricate silk inlay of the rug.

About to sit in the leather chair,
and rest a back that never aches,
is the author of this poem
who contemplates a meaningless violation
of previously stated poetic assertions
alluding to the imaginary properties
of said chair. The poem, however, does not
end when he sinks into the plush leather
of its cushions, because the particulars of this existence
reside within the poem itself and have nothing
to do with the imagined properties
of a luxury chair or an indulgent man.
Even so, the poem ends quite suddenly.

copyright, 2006 by Jim Benz

Family Photo, 1964
by Jim Benz

My father,
sunk into a deep
black chair,
has his legs crossed
exposing a white
hairless calf above his sock.

A magazine
lies open in his lap
and his eyes
have the blank stare
of a man displeased
with cameras.

On the arm of his chair
my mother sits
with down-cast eyes
and one hand
clenched into a fist.
These are my parents.

Taking the picture
is my Grandmother.
She can be seen
only in body language
and the hard stare
of my father’s eyes.

Thirty six years later
I’m sunk into a chair
pulling this photo
from an envelope.
I’ve never seen
these people before.


Copyright © 2006 Jim Benz

through the green of quaking aspen, wind
by Jim Benz

wind, birds, green leaves quaking
in the afternoon sun, a mosquito
buzzes in my ear, wood ticks
tickle my legs, naked

life breeds
in this forest clearing

I lay in a fold out chaise and rest
my back, relax a spasm
in the muscles above my hips, then sip
on a cool beer, watch my wife
working in the sun

with a chicken wire fence

I'm lying in a sparse shade, born
of willow bush and speckled alder
lying among white dandelion globes
that spread seed, gently
on the breeze

between my wife
and me, in the air

there's a soft dusting
of liveliness, busy and random
butterflies, dragonflies
all manner of spore, drifting
to the future

an unknown awakening
a lazy berth

I can't say what's coming
or will arise, what will transpire
whether birth or death, a moment
captured by this life, swirling
through currents, bobbing

I see a white tail
deer, crossing the trail

unexpectedly, crashing through brush, I hear
a hidden bird, in the woods singing, I smell
sweat beneath my arms, taste
the pleasure of beer
on my lips, feel

a breeze cooling my brow, then
the moment passes, a summer wind


Copyright 2006, Jim Benz

Mouth of the Well
by Jim Benz

I stand on the peak
of Kukúlcan’s pyramid,
looking east
to the Mayan ball court, gazing
on its half crumbled temples.
I feel nothing
of the past, only distance
and a sobering wind.
Behind me, a woman is sobbing.

The acoustics
of the pyramid amplify
her vertigo. With each stammer
of terror that escapes from her mouth,
a remembrance is stirred
in the diffident sky.

I don't know how
she climbed this monument
of Mayan culture, this calendar
of the seasonal march, but soon
she must descend.

Below, on the ground, tourists
crane their necks
under the sun’s blistering glare
to see a woman collapsed
beneath the hysterical weight of her fear.

Someone takes a picture of her
sitting on the humid stone platform, quaking,
with knees
pulled tight to her chest.

Her husband tries to comfort her
and kneels
at her side, pleading
gently in German
but I understand none of it
so I clap my hands

and hear the Quetzal bird
an echo of stone. It rings

through the engraved rock temple
at the apex, a spirit
of Maya, sacrificed
by decimation, torn
from the misery of victims, shattered
in a heap below.

Deep within the structure,
a green jaguar waits, with Chaac-Mool,
for a camera click.

copyright 2006, by Jim Benz

Spirit is relation to the relation
by Jim Benz

is serious
but my will (and this is
comical) in the clouds soaked by


Author's Note: cinquain
copyright 2006, Jim Benz

by Jim Benz

I seem to be lost in words,

your words, my words.
I’m almost reading,
but between the cadence
of your clock-setting, on the minute sighs
and observations, a time passes
needles, razors are forged and honed
across our peace

of mind, there is no cadence.

Broken needles,
not even intentional needles,
no rhythm or internal dialogues
coexist in the space
between our ears,

a fracture, a near frantic

looking, of both ways, of waiting
for a train of thought, our necks
on the rail,
or the tv channel

to change again, into chaos.

To change, again pausing
long enough for hope and absent
minded desire, long enough
for the turning of pages, in reverse
between syllables, paragraphs, strophe,

spilt words and laughter strains.

Too loud
a prattle, lost in empty words.
Your words, my words, spoken, written,
read, ambivalent, lost repeatedly,
everlasting, long overdrawn

so far as the meaning of our intent

Copyright © 2006 Jim Benz

**********************on Jim Benz, by Kath****************************

"I have spent some time your poems this morning as I would with any great poet, which I think you are. Noticing themes, stance, voice. Your poem "Three Indians" brought this on, as in it, you act in the moment, with attention and awareness. I admired this quality in your work from my first readings-- the wonderful "Suppose Two Clocks" and later "There is a Chair". Now recently your poems are poised even more languidly and familiarly holding that moment as "on eating an apple" where you "sit right now on the wet concrete of my door step". Over and over again in the rushing world, wherever you are, you are stopping, absorbing, expressing. Yes, the poet's life, exceptionally so. In recent poems, you take a position, as in "self portrait in spring", you are who "sits on the concrete step" and from that position your gaze stops and peels open the moment, simply revealing ...mystery, as in "Mouth of the Well" where rather than on your doorstep you are "Standing on the peak of Kukúlcan’s pyramid, I look east"; "excitement" (as you say in "to have and have not"); and potential, as when in "through the green of quaking aspen, wind" you lay in a fold out chaise...relax a spasm" and "can't say what's coming or will arise, what will transpire...". Now here again you are in "Three Indians" sitting on the sidewalk"... "in the light of this changing moment, about the beauty of them all ... but the moment vanishes" but not for us... as you have saved it for us here, exquisitely as is your want, and talent. What a delight to tell a poet this in the here and now... when you can hear me... that these are the themes and threads I find, this is what you inspire me to see!"--kw, 2006

morning sun (renga )
by Kathy Wilson and Jim Benz

morning sun
cutting through the spring mist
a woodpecker taps

a blush on her cheek
as she opens the door

at the corner
watching a bus pull away
stray dog

lost in a foreign city
lane overgrown with vegetables

under the blue sky
a cat stretching
birds flying

her long hair out straight
twirling parallel to the ground

stopped in mid-braid
looking up
from her pile of colored ribbons

reflective eyes
pensive in the mirror

someone enters the picture
peeks over her shoulder
who giggles first

warm breath on her neck
a smiling kiss

a soft pop, cold bubbly foam
sparkling bottle
two full glasses

on her lips
the day unfolds into stories

gentle wind
mingling with the sunset
a wooden flute

he bikes through town whistling a tune
remembering renga

a bent wheel
idled by a pot hole
a poet cursing

she's home singing into soup bowls
enjoying the sound

lentils and carrots
tomatoes and cumin
no onion?

stopping in a crosswalk
laughs out loud at a private joke

breeze rises floats settles
silk veil covers
five bright flowers in her hair

could this be summer
dancing through my curtains?

how do you find me
in foreign lands?
I wake reciting your poem

Flung from night before the dawn
song of starlings

building nests
amidst ancient ruins
flutter of new wings

floating on the breeze
a feathery sunrise

clouds parted
within the wet grass
my bare feet

fingers spread, palms cupped, eyes meet
gently your face in my hands

my fingers
twisted with scars
find comfort in yours

we're in the same smooth bed
whispering dreams

egyptian cotton
on a hot hot night
so soft and cool

face down on her pillow
a book left open

steam rises
(two heads together)
full morning cups

flirting through nightfall clouds
sun and moon

two lovers
one lingers, one arrives
a pelican dives for fish

thunder shakes my house
but where's the rain?

an hour later
my eyes still in yours
we're drenched

water drips from an eave
hitting the rain barrel

copyright Jim Benz and Kathy Wilson


Anonymous said...

some of my favourite work from one of my favourite poets.

thanks for posting kathy

starla xx

Anonymous said...

Who is the subject

I love these poets (Kath) said...

Yay starla!!! so sweet to hear your voice echoing in these quiet chambers-- exactly! And so that's why--this feature is here--favotite works by one of my favorite authors too!

Jill said...

Family Photo, 1964 will forever be my favorite poem ever. Whenever I read it, I am there.

How cool to find this today...