Mine is a poem about the idea that we are all balancing on the ledge of eternity extracting our moments of life from the universe. Just one step forward and we are plunged into infinity without any chance of again touching the firm ground of being. We are all part of the fabric of space/time, that is the science.
transfixed by a setting sun
eyes feasting beauty,
beyond a gaze, you seeing me.
A deep breath inflates a sigh
stand at precipice,
toes curling crumbly edge
White noise cliff rushes
snow falling to a non-existent point.
Powdered waterfall of chalky time
floating away from itself,
loose nanoseconds deconstructing moment.
Ledge conscious in the now,
from the spectacle of other,
you the single point.
An experience of being,
extracting the awe of life.
Mine plays on the idea of extraction and that with each breath we extract life from the universe. The life being described is ‘my life’, mine but not in the personal in the sense of Jack’s life but in the collective; being about what our lives are.
In a perspective which is rooted in the view of a quantum universe, individuality is our own personal illusion. In this explicit experience of ourselves we very easily lose sight of one very important fact; we are a part of the fabric of this universe. In this lifetime, as we extract our being from the mine which is this universe, our sense of separation and isolation, our very individual identity, masks the fact that we are as much a feature of this universe in the same way a mountain, a sea, a star, carbon dioxide, interstellar space and everything else we see is.
The great illusion, time, refuses us the chance to take stock of as much as a nanosecond before everything changes. We live in a space which is constantly changing and as we are part of that space then we are also constantly changing.
I first began writing poetry in 1991 when I saw a competition in The Independent newspaper. I actually believe that many people will understand me when I say that on seeing the competition I absolutely knew that I would win it. I am not trying to claim some sort of future seeing nor am I trying to claim that I felt I was the best poet of the time, no, I am just trying to convey a deep emotional feeling that this was my moment.
As you can see, my words fail badly when I try to describe this feeling. It was just that as I read the title of the poem required for the competition and the remit, I knew absolutely that I would write the poem that would win.
Write a poem in the style of children’s literature
explaining the beginning of the universe.
The poem had to be submitted within a week and without a second thought, I continued my life as usual until six days later. I say continued my life, well perhaps a word here about what exactly that life was at that time. I was homeless and sleeping through a cold winter on the floor in a friend’s front room. He felt sorry for me and offered the shelter without a requirement for rent or any other monetary consideration.
He did have one condition though. He knew that I was spending a lot of time in libraries and writing so he insisted that if ever I had anything published I would have to name him as the author. I agreed.
To the remote reader who does not know Alan Hammans there could be the suspicion that I was being exploited with such a request, nothing could be further from the truth. Alan was and is a marvellous human being who combines a heart the size of an elephant’s with a sense of humour that is dark and unforgiving.
If you don’t like him then you can go forth and multiply as far as he is concerned but what is there not to like about a man who would take in a homeless man and provide him with shelter. Besides, there were other reasons of principle why I could simply assign my work to Al without a care or a worry.
All we need to know now is that at a certain time in 1990 I was on the streets with two bags of clothes and an almost complete disconnection from all the standards and norms of society. In this escape from all responsibility, I found justification in my actions by wearing the philosophy of anti-materialism as a moral raincoat in the emotional storm. So when Al said, with a laugh, that I would have to write under his name, I agreed because it was the right thing to do for a friend who gave me shelter and such a release from ownership fitted perfectly with my proud moral stance.
For a week I wandered around just knowing that this competition was mine. I didn’t write a poem or attempt to write a poem or even think about poetry, I just knew that I would do it when the moment was right. The day it happened was a Monday afternoon. I went into Al’s front room, sat at the table, pulled out a pen and wrote the poem.
No word was changed, no lines worked, it was as though the whole story simply flowed through me. I didn’t have to think, I didn’t have to create, I just wrote and out it came.
One week later a letter came back saying that the poem had won the competition. We received a jeroboam of champagne and read the poem in the Saturday edition of the Independent newspaper.
This moment was a turning point, a time when I found myself on a path. In these events, I had connected with something that had meaning for me and allowed that to flow through and out onto a page.
I had written a poem and life had changed. At the time, there in that old flat in Loughton, I didn’t realise how profound that change was, I was just drinking champagne with my friend and feeling happy that something I had done had worked out well.
On reflection, it is strange to think how one moment, one decision and one action can then lead a life down a different road. But that is the lesson of this story.
No matter where you are, no matter what the crossroads look like, no matter how dark the sky, there is another day just over the horizon and until you get there you just cannot say what wonderful possibilities await you.