I’m not sure when I wrote this poem, but I feel that the moment captured above is when it found its true form.
It came about when the poetry module I was taking at Falmouth University challenged us to publish our work in the street. I was given a bed sheet and a marker pen to work with and so sketched this poem onto the sheet and later, not knowing what to do with it, gave it a friend as a birthday card hoping that he would appreciate its size and not be too disturbed by its inappropriate (for a birthday) text.
Well, he loved it and it was promptly whisked off and hung out of the living room window so that it dangled over the main thoroughfare in the town centre on a Friday night where it caused no end of confusion to the late night revelers.
In January 2011, I took part in the crazy adventure that is the 24hr Comic Etc.
Tom Sharpe, one of the project organisers and the man who digitally glued this insanely fiddly paper collage comic poem back together, writes:
“This was a fantastic example of how to adapt, adopt and improve, with some stand-out lines, pseudo-paneling, Hornby layout nod and hints of sadness, happiness, loneliness, compulsion, boredom and sea shells.”
For Tom’s complete review and interpretive speculations click here.
For my own ramblings about the concepts and sculptural process behind this poem, and a word or two about the mental implications of writing poetry for 24 hours without a break, click here.
To read the poem, click the image below:
After four years of working in a bar called The Jacob’s Ladder Inn, with many a late night locking the last door and casting a final watchful glance down the flight of 111 steps that it sits at the top of, I began to wonder if the customers would be better described as angels or devils.
I was curious to know whether anybody ever considered the religious aspects of a flight of stairs that connects a church to a pub, both in physicality and in name, and so this project was devised to explore that question.
The first stage involved writing the Bible story of Jacob’s Ladder in chalk on the steps. It took 3 hours (2 hours longer than anticipated) and it started raining. I got cramp in my hand before I was even half way through and had to complete the task gripping the chalk in my claw-like fist. I incited a middle-aged, middle class, local man who believed I was in some way disrespecting the historical merit of the 220 year old stone steps. He was not impressed when I pointed out that the story I was transcribing was far older, but he did refocus his complaint onto the effect of the damp chalk on peoples’ hallway carpets when they walked it in on their shoes.
I delighted a few children who ran up the stairs shouting out each word as they trod on it, and I received many an encouraging comment from general passersby who enjoyed the way the combining of steps and words brought both to life in a new way. For me personally, the long process of writing out the words of the ancient text gave them a depth of meaning that was quite unexpectedly profound.
The second stage was a translation of the Jacob’s Ladder Bible story into the words of the Jacob’s Ladder Inn. I spent 3 days in the pub, talking to customers, explaining the idea behind the project and then asking them to contribute a word to the new story. This pub has an interesting clientele – a mixture of students, artists, and intelligent alcoholics – and so amongst the predictable swear words and drug references there was some degree of competition as to who could suggest the most unusual, unpronounceable word, and I still panic slightly every time I have to pronounce “obstreperous omnipotence” during a performance!
The finished poem was constructed by using the Bible extract as a template, stitching the new words together so that they correlated first letter to first letter with the progression of the story in the Bible. I then wrote the piece in liquid chalk on mirrors and windows inside the pub and performed it during the open mic night where it received a delightfully rowdy reaction and much whooping when people heard their words in their new surreal homes. (See the book of the installation here, or listen to the poem here)
The third and final stage of the project explored the pub’s long musical history (its open mic night has been running for 25 years) and the popularity of Jacob’s Ladder as a song title (see Wikipedia). Using the lyrics from 8 different songs entitled ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (including one written about the pub itself) I created a new poem, first randomising the words with the Bonsai Tree Story Generator, and then cutting words out of the resulting chaos until it made some sort of sense.
The poem was then written onto 40 meters of white ribbon and hung up over the stage during an open mic night.