I was sitting in staff dining hell during a lunch break at work when I saw the Poet enter the indisposed room.
Normally I’d not be so distracted from my food or indeed concern myself unduly with anyone or anything other than 30 indulgent minutes away from the desk-monkey grind, but the Poet is such an enigmatic man that one cannot help but pursue the phantom glimpsed from a corner of one’s eye and give solidity to his form.
Standing tall within the darkly weave of a pressed suit and elegant in poise and motion, the Poet glided in to the busy room through the wide open doorway before pausing momentarily amidst the quiet cacophony of chattering voices to survey the room with a slow almost nonchalant turn of his head. From within a visage of chiselled Welsh granite I watched as penetrating eyes looked out from beneath a rakish mop of dark hair and ploughed two furrows across the ensemble of people and furniture that littered the room about him: until finally his harrowing gaze fell upon me. Seconds later the Poet was sitting in the chair opposite me with his palms calmly resting upon the table surface and an enquiring urgency emanating from somewhere deep within the blue of his piercing gaze.
I’ll put it down to a moment of surprised distraction on my part, but I have no recollection of the Poet making any direct request to join me for lunch. From the moment he entered the room to when he was sat down opposite me everything was such a blur…just how did he move through the bustling dining room space so quickly anyway…that I fail to recall the voice that undoubtedly preceded his arrival at my table. The Poet is a decent, noble and courageous man.
In contrast to his sandwiched lunch that was packed tightly within the confines of a small plastic box, the Poet seemed to somehow occupy a space disproportionately larger than himself. It was almost as if he either absorbed the immediate area around him or simply just expanded into it. I didn’t know which it was, only that I found the comparison between the size of his meal and the enormity of him both uncanny and, if truth be told, a little disconcerting as well.
Before setting out the details of his arrival in the Welsh capital and settling down with the contents of his lunchbox, the Poet introduced himself in the manner of polite discourse as the ‘new boy’ on the block. Immediately there was the crease of a smile upon his face behind which he toyed playfully with a private joke within himself in the same way as would a cat devilishly tease a ball of string. But it was a smile that extended into his eyes and never faded regardless of the many twists and turns that our forthcoming conversation was to take. And a richly accented and rhythmic voice as velvet smooth as melting chocolate that carried his words to fall upon the ear in softly undulating waves of cacao seeded rapture. Had he not already made known to me his many years spent living within sight of Cardigan Bay, such a voice would have eventually transported my imagination to the West Wales shore-line anyway where I’d walk atop the rugged wind-swept cliffs capped with salt-sprayed fern and stand awhile to linger amidst the peaceful serenity of a coastline so beautiful one can hear the angels sing.
However, as I was soon to discover, the Poet’s opening gambit in our lunchtime discourse was of course an understated declaration that belied the fact that he is most assuredly a man possessed with high powers of imagination and expression and whose modesty is as prodigious as his ever-giving gift of words. What I learnt during those opening moments of meeting him was a powerful lesson in humility and inclusion, or to put it more precisely, it was an immediate encounter with the essential signatures of the melancholy minstrel whose unpretentious manner is at once charming and persuasive and whose perpetual poetic narrative is effortlessly penetrating and deeply resonating within us all.
As I recall we discussed many things during the 30 minutes shared on that eventful first meeting. Quite naturally given our individual proclivities and interests this included a broadly sweeping summation of our respective philosophies and reflections on life and of our perspectives on the Arts and literature. However, I like to think that the Poet became a little curious at the emergence in our conversation of the subject of Alchemy, a topic we briefly discussed as both an academic science and as a spiritual silk road – a path towards an unknown destination upon which I had already embarked several years prior to meeting him. Yet, it was not so much the Alchemical discourse itself that tweaked his curiosity and made his eyes shine with mischief, he is after all a Welsh poet with an immersive understanding of his true bardic heritage and a deeply aligned affinity with Nature and Natural Law, but rather it was the near instantaneous hyper-awareness he perceived from the briefest of conversations in the importance of our chance meeting. And it became an awareness that was for want of more demonstrative words, catalytic and infectious. I began to experience it as well! A kind of narrowing in of the margins of perception as if activating a focused beam of light onto a single point of thought.
Perhaps it was the compression imposed on our minds by the rapid exchange and distillation of a highly summative yet detailed conversation held within the compressive time-frame of 30 short minutes that ultimately gave way to non-verbal communication but I began to feel quite distinctly that somehow and in someway we had found through the combined mediums of Alchemy, acausal uncertainty and precipitous words an determinable denominator that lay poised and silently waiting in space with held breath in anticipation of becoming fully realised.
It was a feeling so overwhelmingly positive and spontaneously inspiring that I compare it with the rejuvenating feeling of freshness and clarity one experiences at the ingress of a breath of very cool mountain air.
~ Exhale ~ By ~ Paul Steffan Jones ~
A baby’s burp
and the last act
of a hunted desperado,
to be recycled in a trade wind,
a hurricane with no name
or a nameless breeze
gradually moving a leaf
around a backyard,
whispering along telegraph wires,
animating curtains as you sleep.
The poet Paul Steffan Jones was born in Cardigan in West Wales in 1961. From 1977 to 1989 he was involved in writing and performing Welsh songs and poems which featured in albums, radio broadcasts, fanzines and an anthology, Y Tren Olaf Adre (Y Lolfa, 1984). From 2003 his poems have been regularly included in Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, Iota, Weyfarers, The Rialto, Roundyhouse and The Seventh Quarry. Additionally, his work has appeared in the Seren Selections anthology and all three volumes of The Slab. One poem, ‘Bombstar’, is the basis of a song which can be heard at: www.myspace.com/bombstardom. His poem “When You Smile You’ll Be a Dog No More” won the first prize in the West Coast Eisteddfod 2012 Online Poetry Competition. Samples of his work can be found at: http://p47sj.wordpress.com/