Visitations, Difficulties, and Discovering the Light Within

John Bensko

My poem "Difficulties," published in the March 2002 issue of the North American Review, is about pine knots and recently appeared in my book Visitations, winner of the Scharf Award from The University of Tampa Press. The poem captures a bygone process as part of the theme of visitations, in which people, landscapes, art, animals, and such processes resonate with each other across time and space to reflect how small physical aspects of our lives may take on a larger emotional and spiritual importance. The pine knots, with their dense resin, were once burned for reading at night because of the bright, intense flame they produced. I started writing the poem by focusing on that historical reality, and the poem evolved into more as the knots asserted themselves as a difficult physical presence, a body like my own, coming into consciousness.


When I'm writing poems, I look for that place where the thing I'm writing about reveals itself to me in ways that I didn't expect and exposes new perspectives on and within itself. In that way, the act of writing a poem becomes a kind of visitation. Hard, indecipherable aspects of image, or language, or character, when put into the compression of a poetic focus, reveal an unexpected light. The purity of this emotional, spiritual emanation and how it grows from the rough, unpleasant, and even violent aspects of the subject fascinate me.


Small, hard, knots, no good
for the saw, the plank, the smooth
run of wood.

Rich in resin, aromatic
as the candle spiced with herbs,
we burn them for leisure,

in the evening when a book
is read. Small necessities
we glean from larger trunks

when the needle must be worked
at night. From there, the limbs
have grown. Should we

call them the bones
of joints? They give us
fragrance and sight.

Or awkward curves?
Punched from a board
each forms an eye.

We hack them out and save them
in a bucket made of tin.
Pine knots, source

of the brightest flame.

John Bensko won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for his first book, Green Soldiers (Yale University Press, 1981). He has published three other volumes of poetry—The Waterman's Children (University of Massachusetts Press, 1994); The Iron City (University of Illinois Press, 2000); and the newly released Visitations (University of Tampa Press, 2014), winner of the Anita Claire Scharf Award—as well as a collection of short stories, "Sea Dogs" (Graywolf, 2004). His work has been anthologized in The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, and The Yale Younger Poets Anthology, among others. A professor of English at the University of Memphis, he has been a Fulbright Professor at the University of Alicante, Spain, and he currently teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Memphis and in a summer program in Alicante.

Raquel Aparicio

Illustration by: Raquel Aparicio, I feel grateful this is going to be my 9th year dedicated to what I love, drawing. I live in Valencia, a sunny city in the coast of Spain. I taught a collage illustration workshop at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, I also taught in diverse countries like Serbia or Paraguay. I work in a variety of media exploring different styles, producing illustrations, animations and comics. Mostly I work for the magazines and illustrate children’s books, but I’d been also designing graphics for garments, advertising and newspapers.

My illustrations were published in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe, New York Observer, The Scientist, Nylon, Dazed and Confused (Corea), Runner’s World, Prevention, Rolling Stone (Spain), Mia, Elle, Quo, Angel’s on Earth, Ragazza, Stella (UK), Psychologies, LDS Living, Ling, Yo Dona, Calle 20, H, Chow, Lados, Viajar, Looc, Europa, Forma (Paraguay), Simon & Schuster (US). Raquel is represented by Purple Rain Illustrations, Ella Lupo, T: 609-497-7330 C: 732-690-2515