The Cozy-Keeper; After Nemerov; 3:00 AM
By: Julie Benesh
stains the burnished twilight fuschia,
settling catlike on the warming lap
pressing fascia to bone, and bone to fascia,
brings gravitas to rest and rest to gravitas.
The cozy-keeper brews the warm elixir;
tea lights twinkle; unassuming
jewel tones spark festive feel, sans
frenetic force. Flows fragrant frankincense
as pulse and thoughts slow and strengthen,
brighten shadows, deepen depth.
The cozy-keeper rules the shifting shoulder
seasons: sweater weather, Halloween, Thanksgiving,
pumpkin spice! Presides on every rainy Sunday; that empty
space between the Solstice and New Year.
When moods are liminal, she is here.
The cozy-keeper spurs melodic memoirs: reveries,
dreams, reflections merge, diffuse—erasing
all temptation toward regret:
all now is to absorb, absolve, digest.
Her props: 1) tapestry 2) mirror, 3) mantle, 4) hearth,
5) lamplight, and 6) the cartoon clock whose whipping
hands now slow to stopping, until
O, miracle of cozy-keeping!
we, now timeless,
cease our fear
of dark and death.
After `Thomas Lux’s “The Joy-Bringer”
St. Howard would float down Lindell,
sink on Skinker, inches above the ground;
beaming dreamy, feeling groovy, like a mirror
blessing our youthful union. We called
him Uncle: it was all about us.
Write what you know. That should leave
you with a lot of free time.
We didn't know anything but the warm give
of our bodies; their sweet, swelling
scent. I tried to write poems
A lot happens by accident in poetry
that journal they made fun
of, the one that took everyone
would not take me, so cursed
was I by joy.
I have a plot, but not much happens.
We didn't know
those years were but
a short break
Not the end.
I sometimes talk about the making
of a poem within the poem:
A bird's nest of dreams, detritus fused
with snot, tears; all that assorted effluvia.
It's not much, is it? But
I love all my children even the squat,
sacred enough for me now, the knowing, broken
Auntie beaming blessings of her own.
Woke mid-poem: cool, clammy; dry mouth,
full bladder; burritoed in bedding,
thinking: constraint in art is called
form; holds substance together,
a working within. Whereas
growing up with an alcoholic
is a workaround: a dream
shanty incubating a future
that jumps genre. And
work is a body: ingesting, pulsing, pumping.
An open system evolving new-ish output every day:
marathon, menu, spreadsheet, symphony,
widget, gadget, jet… Yet, yes:
The universe is a vast bureaucracy
with hierarchies, networks, rules transparent
(as contronym). Whirring: it is what it is,
it is what it is, and muttering me back to sleep;
what happens is all that can.
Julie Benesh has published stories, poems, and essays in Tin House, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Hobart, Cleaver and many other places. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Writing and the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Read more at juliebenesh.com.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
My mother read me Longfellow to put me to sleep as a toddler. My favorite book as a young adolescent was The Portable Dorothy Parker. Later, I logically progressed to making "Mad Girl's Love Song," Sylvia Plath's villanelle, my anthem/theme song.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Way too many to mention. Definitely Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, and Frank O'Hara.
I majored in English at Wash U., and took modern and 19th century poetry, (with literary lion Jarvis Thurston). I remember reading "Dust of Snow" as an undergraduate and being stunned by how such a brief poem could impart so much feeling, wisdom, and truth. Then I got an MFA, in fiction, but we went to all the poetry lectures, too, at Warren Wilson, and now I read literary journals and continue to discover new poems and poets every day! There is truly a poem for every mood and occasion. All to say that at this point I am both happy and sad to realize that there are more great poems in the world than I will ever be able to read.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Reading gets me in the mood and also exposes me to different forms and techniques. Like an alchemical dream, those get mixed together with images and memories and obsessions, some recorded in my journals and others that seem stamped on my soul. Then it's a design process that shapes and refines until I feel like it is cooked, meaning I have a new understanding, or at least a new question.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
For me, (and Sullivan) "form follows function." So how a poem looks is literally the last thing I think about, (not that it is unimportant), unless I am using form as a prompt, in which case I may or may not retain those "tracks." When I used "Joybringer" as a map for "The Cozy-Keeper," for example, I changed the overall layout to better fit my own poem, versus a more literal modeling. Most often I start with images, like Nemerov's dreamy face, or the sensation of waking up tangled in bedclothes, next, the ideas I associate with them, then the sounds of the words, and finally the look and shape of the poem on the page. Frost said "no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader," and, after those first images, I am generally surprised the rest of the way through!
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Read more. That's pretty much my advice for everything! Poetry is in dialogue with history and current culture and so there is no "scratch" to start from, yet all of us poets and every moment we sit down to write is unique. So read and write and observe and absorb, and consider those practices as the foundation that your evolving and eventual "product" or "performance" will rest on.
What is your editing process like?
I usually have some loose ends after the first draft--things that need settling before other decisions get made. Sometimes it is looking up some information outside my own experience or perspective that could bring some external validation and integrity. For example after drafting "After Nemerov" and "The Cozy-Keeper" I looked at videos of Nemerov and Lux reading and talking about poetry that helped me with making final decisions and refinements to those respective poems. Then, as word choices and sounds and overall shape become settled, the vast majority of my revisions are line and stanza breaks. I go into a hyper-focused OCD/ ADHD state of enervated flow when I do those because they affect everything else and breaks are the most uniquely poem-like tool. It's exhausting and exhilarating, and my favorite part of the process.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I know a poem is good enough to make public when I catch myself reciting it to myself like a prayer or a mantra!