Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’


existence is an
act of cruelty performed
by life — tenderness
captures possibilities
life itself never dreamed of

My dreams last night centred upon a friend from my university days, and the quality of caring between us. In the dream, I was somehow surprised by the complete lack of competitiveness amongst the group of Cambridge friends of whom I was part. In real life when I was at Cambridge, there were faint hints of something like this, at the edges of my awareness, but I was much too shy and unhappy ever to feel properly included in the community of male students at my all-male college. I just got a taste of it sometimes, sitting in a pub, always at the edges of the conversation.



a shower of pink
roses — and that moment of
exquisite horror
as I watch myself slowly
start to stuff them in my mouth

The roses were so beautiful, and so unexpected. In the dream, I had only the very faintest sense (but just enough) that I was committing some kind of sacrilege by eating them. What can this mean? In another part of the dream, my stepmother who in reality is 69 years old, was a young woman in her early twenties. We were discussing the nuances of feeling, around the issue of whether to split the bill for a meal out, or allow my stepmother herself to pay for everyone. I feel probably the shower of pink roses implies some kind of bridal procession — presumably my stepmother’s. The innocence with which I set about eating the roses is worth noting. Come to think — it reminds me of the innocence with which, in reality, I snubbed my stepmother’s wedding to my father in 1976. The wedding took place in February. It would have been inconvenient to attend, because it was the middle of my term at Cambridge. But more than that — when I received the invitation I literally experienced no interest in it. In later years I marvelled at how completely I had failed to realise the implications of not turning up. It simply never occurred to me that, symbolically, I was withholding my approval from the marriage. Maybe one can opt to view the eating of the roses positively. Nature taking its course. Healthy appetite. A wedding invitation accepted.


pelvis to pelvis
we understand each other
— while yet the entire
mystery, both of ourselves
and the universe, remains

Sexual coupling is such a deeply entrenched instinct, you don’t need to have done it in order to understand it. Anyone can understand John Donne’s poem The Extasie — as I did at the age of seventeen when I studied it at school, even though I was a virgin. Similarly, love that is unconsummated and/or unrequited still has so much of a sexual element, one is bound to wonder whether the presence or absence of physical sex actually means anything at all. In my life I have very often fallen in love with women and the love has been unconsummated or unrequited. Last night I dreamed of one of them, a girl named Judith Everard, who was my partner once a week at English Country Dancing when I was in my last year at Cambridge. Probably suggested by the plotline of Danny and the Human Zoo (autobiographical drama by Lenny Henry which I watched last night on BBC iPlayer).


Cambridge — where I learned
complete dissociation
from my emotions

I dreamed Prince Charles was in disguise, which he had to be, in order to take part in the life of the commoners. Awake, I remembered that he attended Cambridge University, and that yesterday I encountered some surprise when I inadvertently disclosed that I was Cambridge-educated. Not that that is any secret. I suppose Prince Charles in disguise suggested ‘somebody who can’t be themselves’. I like the simplicity of this poem, even if it’s a bit sweeping, it’s also true.


where do I get my
categories and concepts
concerning evil
versus good? — why do I live
gripped by their fascination?

I dreamed of Tim Watts, my Cambridge roommate, for the 2nd night running. He was a strong character and I realised after I’d left Cambridge how much I’d benefited from sharing college rooms with him over the previous two years. In retrospect, his Roman Catholicism took on an importance it never had while I was at Cambridge, although I did accompany him once to Mass during that time. Within a year of graduation, I’d decided to convert (from Anglicanism, in which I was brought up). While it’s true these memories kickstarted this poem, the poem isn’t really about Catholicism or even Christianity. Which is older? The idea of a good supernatural force and an evil one? Or the universal human tendency to find meaning in the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to start with? Either way, these are mental processes which are surely much, much older than Christianity or any present day religion. I believe Nietzsche discussed these issues at length. I have never had the patience to read one of his books all the way through, and I am more interested in the utter mystery of where the power of these ideas (‘good’ and ‘evil’) comes from, and in refusing to take them for granted, than in having them necessarily debunked in the way Nietzsche seems to set out to do.


to understand sex
would be to understand life
— but please — with heart and
soul — an understanding which
binds rather than separates

So the high value (ultimate, even) placed by Buddha upon non-attachment is counterintuitive, and questionable after all? Is the rational intellect a help or a hindrance – both in general and in the particular realm of sex? This issue arose in the course of my blog post two days ago (last sentence of the commentary) and I seem to be revisiting it again here. Cambridge is my symbol of the intellect. I spent 3 years at the university, but my intellectual growth was severely stunted by my emotional problems, and I never really engaged with any of the people or communities around me. Soon after leaving, I started puzzling about the words intellect and intellectual. I noticed that whereas intellect (particularly in a Buddhist context) suggests something pristine, positive and full of clarity, intellectual suggests an outlook somehow muddied (in what to my mind is a shameful way) by too many thoughts.

Yesterday I contributed a post elsewhere, on an online forum, on the subject of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen (which I blogged about here last week some time). I remember vividly a conversation in Peterhouse College Bar with a fellow student who explained to me the basics of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Cambridge did have an impact; the intellectual ferment didn’t pass me by quite utterly. Another similar moment was when I got into conversation late one evening in the street on the way home back to my college, with a young intellectual (I never saw him again) who enthused as only young people can, about a new talent who was going to be the biggest thing in music very soon — by the name of Bruce Springsteen. Ten years later in 1985 I finally forced myself to find out what all the fuss was about, and to my surprise (which has never quite left me) found myself utterly bowled over. So Cambridge gave me Springsteen and Heisenberg. Heart and soul in the poem above is a quote from a Springsteen song called Drive All Night. In my dream last night, I was observing the genitalia of a girl from behind as she bends down.


this dream has me stumped —
too much obvious gay sex
with someone I love

Simple and complicated are a weird pair of opposites. The poem fell into place when I realised it was the simplicity of my dream which I felt the most challenged by. In the dream, there were straightforward romantic, sexual feelings emerging between myself and my Cambridge room-mate. In real life, me and this guy were pretty close for a few years but never with the slightest suspicion of anything romantic at all. In the dream, it felt like a match made in heaven. Simple. Quite incredibly challenging to try to write a poem about it though. In the dream, everyone around us was tending to encourage us, celebrating our getting together in advance of its actually happening. I knew I was about to embark on a life of multiple sexual partners, a life of complete sexual freedom: there was a dropping away of all the complexities of why this is not a viable option for me in real life. Again, this simplicity is the most challenging thing imaginable for me to confront now, awake.