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.
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
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
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
There was no way, we knew,
in the lead-up
(fields hispid with lit shoots,
unwieldy as sodden
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
stops. (Are you dreaming?)
Between ceruleans and human
unease — immediate sleep.
You roost there, fearless
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
So each luciferous abdomen snuffs it.
A thousand petites morts turned grand.
The hillsideʼs strewn
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.
Behind grazing green sheep
and an orange semblance
where bleached fields turn
a blackbirdʼs song cuts in
millions of tiny plunges: umbra.