• Kate Behrens

An artist friend recently asked, ʽIʼm interested in why you risk being obscure in your poems.ʼ My first thought was thanks for your interest! Then: I am not either deliberately obscure or taking unusual risk. Itʼs a daring question — one I wouldnʼt mind asking certain lyric poets myself, if only because it might reveal some intimate details about their practice.

 

Attempting an answer to someone who wasn't a poet was useful. I have edited that written response, but it went something like this: I can only really answer the question by describing how the poem guides me, rather than vice versa. Words and/or images have usually arisen from a kind of small electrical charge, produced by a collision between inner and outer worlds, and meaning, ʽpay attention here, there is something happening that requires the maximum sensual receptivityʼ (poets become alert to false stimuli which can be quite barren and lead them astray).

 

That ʽchargeʼ reveals the raw material, then elicits specific poetic devices that accumulate until first words and images have a sound-environment they can breathe in and a readable context from which to communicate. The first mysterious alert (rarer than I would like) often triggers a precise metaphor for some barely conscious but potent preoccupation or idea that needs expression, not unlike dream communications which can happen in simultaneous sensory ways. But at first the practice can feel like fitting bits into a complex design without being 100% sure of the purpose until the end-goal is suddenly illuminated: when in this mode, it is as if the poem knows the poet better than vice versa. Usually a last refining expands the final meaning(s) (ʽmeaningʼ in its broadest sense).

 

My poems feel best to me when some elements can flicker between interpretations, which seems most true to life, although writing them is not an arbitrary search (when they work, everything is contained in that first stimulus). Finally I ask myself, is this poem one that others could relate to, even if they don't altogether ʽunderstandʼ it? As well as experience, that can involve a degree of trust, both in the poem and in it finding the right reader. It must be just intelligible enough: to rob it of a certain kind of complexity can rob it of potential reach, but it must not be impenetrable to every kind of intelligence either. The degree of obscurity or transparency is intrinsic to each poem, not an objective. Much of the time I am honing it down.

 

Despite the subjectivity described here, the poem must not be solipsistic; that judgement can be a subtle one and is, itself, unavoidably subjective. Semantic ambiguity helps for this reason, but it needs to be an accurate ambiguity. And the poem must create an unequivocal realm: the reader can enter it or stay outside it, but I must be sure of it. That is an almost physical sensation, a feeling of rightness.

 

 

 

Weightlessness

i.m Tim Behrens

 

In the Bar Calypso your face reappears,

though that was razed

so soon after they seemed

to say, ʽan era is overʼ

and coloured high-rises, a gentler emptiness

tower where your bundle of bones

no longer floats down the mattress,

walls out pictures of ours

as those you admired

and dowager seagulls belt out that cadence they always

descended, but the balcony's rusted,

leafier now there is time

 

to spend. I am a tourist

in bright bits that can now hold us

(untrammelled by adjectives, see, we are

weightless), remember

the load of these feet in your murkiest corners

as a slightness still leaps

from your wheelchair on cobbles

or you catch me out with the one

short-sighted eye

on the edges of Calle de las Huertas…

 

and yes, when we stir you

into the earth at Celas, Dad,

(over your dog, as you desired),

the ashes slink off like wildness returning.

Your praying mantis prays.

 

 

 

Hints of Colour

 

1 Off-White

 

There was no way, we knew,

in the lead-up

(fields hispid with lit shoots,

may blossom

unwieldy as sodden

bridal veils).

 

There was no danger, we knew,

carefully picking words

that said this is not to do with all that.

 

 

2 French Blues

 

Through my ceiling

your navy throat rumbles

with ronronnements,

stops. (Are you dreaming?)

 

Between ceruleans and human

unease — immediate sleep.

You roost there, fearless

as stars.

 

Snore me another pigeon-berceuse

(for le cafard).

 

 

3 Electric Green

 

Like a long ago Christmas

Pifco lit...These are insular girls.

Not shakers or movers.

They starved for this, the night of a lifetime.

 

Blue moonlit clouds, blue whitebeam trees

clash with their suicidal precision.

ʽFuck me to death,ʼ green

murmurs.

 

So each luciferous abdomen snuffs it.

A thousand petites morts turned grand.

The hillsideʼs strewn

with darknesses.

 

 

 

August 2019, Sun-Lit Evening

 

Lose yourself in vistas hazed

by vehicles or where windowsʼ

blurred brittle glass

reveals nothing but chromed leaves,

a seen col legno repeated.

Repeating.

 

Behind grazing green sheep

and an orange semblance

where bleached fields turn

reminders,

a blackbirdʼs song cuts in

millions of tiny plunges: umbra.