In the Rain
She closes her eyes,
allowing her candlelit thoughts of him to transmute
stone to silver and
rain to gently glowing pearls.
Orbs, softly shining,
swirl into the
constellation of his smile,
lining his twinkling eyes
and cradling his dimples.
She smiles as well,
hugged by kind
moonlight folded into
a heart, thumping
underneath a warm chest.
A breeze kisses her cheek.
She's happy and warm,
but not for long:
A gust chases
the mist away,
and cruel lightning
turns silver back
to stone, diamonds
back into wet
into a fog fading
away. Her gown is
a sopping wet sack again,
and all she sees in
the puddle is herself.
A MAN WALKS INTO a store and requests for the most beautiful suit in the world to be tailored to his exact specifications. Even though he’s a little surprised when he sees himself naked in the mirror when told it’s finished, the praise heaped upon his appearance lays his concerns to rest. Bursting with confidence, he struts out of the store and into the crowded street outside. Heads turn to gawk at his appearance; he simply interprets their shock as wonderment at how completely gorgeous he must look.
This of course, is the story of the emperor’s new clothes, a metaphor we are already familiar with. When stretched and re-interpreted, the metaphor basically relates to how Benson feels about poetry.
He is terrified of turning into a poet who is considered a genius simply because no one gets what he’s trying to say. He believes in being straightforward and concise, and that even though poetry should have different layers of meaning, none of them should be out of the reader’s reach. Take the example of say, the conventional structure of a song. With a song, you have a chorus and a few verses with which you must craft an emotional experience for your audience. Your priorities are maximum effectiveness and economy of delivery. In other words, these are the limits one should work with without compromise, and do so successfully. Like the performance a song then, he tries to execute his poetry and his metaphors with a degree of efficiency.
There is one hot wire
running through your nerves,
its currents pulsating
your muscles into insanity.
Clarity is a rare gem in your quarry,
or perhaps too abundant;
dazzling jewels strewn across your neck
fizzle in your eye-sockets.
Their lights reveal one direction,
and you, a slave to your vision,
charge towards the X
wearing an industrial floodlight.
After all, he is a musician first and a poet second. Going by the moniker Gordon and the Birds, he started writing songs a long time before poetry began to mean anything to him. It was only when he hit a dry spell with song writing that he decided to break his routine by experimenting with poetry. As such, his poetry is heavily influenced by the style he imposes on himself with regards to song writing.
English majors will recognise the experience of being met with a certain amount of wonder and astonishment after answering the often-unavoidable question: “What are you studying in university?” The ‘whoa’ we consequently evoke is, however, more closely related to incomprehension than it is to admiration. People are impressed simply because they cannot understand why anyone would do something they themselves would never touch with a 10-foot pole. And it’s the same with reactions to pieces of poetry that we don’t understand or relate to. In such situations, readers inevitably react in one of two ways, by either frankly declaring that they don’t understand it or by assuming that it must be brilliant precisely because they are incapable of understanding it. Often, the fact that everyone else other than you seems to “get it” makes it even harder to be honest about your real opinions.
This is something that Benson tries his best to avoid. He knows he cannot include everyone in his audience, but he aspires to do so anyway. What he doesn’t want for sure is to exclude anyone, whether deliberately or accidentally. A situation wherein a poem elicits interpretations spanning two separate extremes is in fact far from what he’s going for.
One day, I will print couplets that don't rhyme
on creamy, thick A3 sheets of paper in a dignified
preppy-looking font like Georgia; black ink letters
sitting respectably in two well-centred rows
like an austere family of chess pieces purposefully
arranged on a polished ivory board. They will say
something evocative, powerful but ultimately
rather headless and inconsequential, like
"Deep calls onto deep
Songs crash onto your soul like waves"
Or, maybe, simply a strongly imprinted size-16
capital "A", or "X" or "O", or, if I'm feeling
especially Avant-Garde, Provocative or Playful,
a "&"or ";". Best of all, an underscored title of
a single foreign, preferably French-sounding word:
and underneath the important headline, a blank.
Perhaps, I could get Raw, Real and Refreshingly Honest
and publish something dripping with Feelings:
"Red and bruised you left me
Bleeding on the chaise lounge"
When I have accumulated a good stack of work,
I will organize a reading in a quaint cafe
hidden away in a Bohemian-type street, sitting upon
a dark wood barstool and speaking my poetry
into the microphone with a breathy sexless voice.
Perhaps an exhibition in a museum gallery would be
better, given the visual nature of my work, but that
wouldn't capture the important aural aspect.
I can see it already; my exhibition space,
be it indie-hipster cafe or cucumber-sandwich-serving
and Fairtrade-coffee-pouring gallery, populated with
curators, reporters and artists dressed in Batik print,
burgundy-colored Aladdin pants and Harry Potter glasses,
nodding thoughtfully at my works of art that smile with
nothing to hide like naked ladies in a burlesque show.
"What do you intend to achieve with your work?
What is the message hidden behind your poetry?"
I will smile and reply with my carefully practiced
breathy shallow interview voice:
"It's really up to you to decide. My art means something
different to every person who views it. I think poetry
is an intensely personal experience, and it's really not
up to me to dictate what my audience sees."
After the reporters filter away into the crowd to
inspect my poems, I will saunter over to the refreshment corner
to help myself to cucumber sandwiches and a fresh cup of
artisan organic orange peel and jasmine infusion. Poetry
may fill its reader's soul, but I, the poet, must fill my stomach,
and I intend to feast like an emperor.
The individual then, succeeds in transforming himself into an artist when he doesn’t simply exist to put words on display, like the emperor strutting in his unconventional apparel. Instead, he does so when he manages to translate his own very intimate internal monologue into something that speaks to a wider audience. The struggle is always with the temptation to be overly self-indulgent by simply saying what you want, how you want, and expecting that readers will empathise with your work. As Benson says, a singer who steps up to a microphone and proceeds to bawl his lungs out is no doubt being emotional, but is it something you would go on to label an “emotional performance”? There has to be craftsmanship, restraint and wild abandon exercised in equal measure, in order for one’s personal and isolated experiences to have any sort of larger significance.