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I’ve always felt the best ideas come to me when I’m not formally paying attention to the problem: they sneak in when my guard’s down and declare themselves, usually at night, when I am in a certain mood.  I’ve often wondered whether there could be a way of noticing the pattern, the signs of such a mood approaching.

I’ve been reading the neuroscientist, Oliver Sacks voraciously: Migraine, Seeing Voices and Hallucinations are some of his books.  It’s to get some deeper  understanding of the way the brain processes information.  In parallel, I’ve been reading a stack of poetry books and novels. Recently I  read an Alice Walker short story then the poet Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters and I thought, phew. Both write startlingly well and very differently about deep pain.

This criss-crossing between books meant in the night the image came to me of a candle and a storm and going out into that storm with different writers – what their perceptions would be. And I got into this  dreaming that occurs just before sleep, this wandering in the dark with ideas, feelings that snag their own way. And I guess somewhere in my mind I was thinking about what makes the following writers unique; but the thought came out as a kind of dreamed film.

Anyway, it was in this mood that I saw the poet, Ted Hughes with the candle going out into the storm, me at his shoulder. The candle blows out immediately and Hughes pauses a moment, then says, feel this storm, it’s going to overwhelm you, it has a terrifying beauty, taste its rage, let it eviscerate you, understand the nature of it, then submit, you will not survive but, even dead, you are bettered by the experience.

Still in the dark,  Alice Walker now has the candle; the candle flickers, she is telling me though, insisting quietly that the candle is inside you, I know the storm is mighty, overwhelming, but think, you can survive this, just keep believing in that candle, hopeless as it all looks, find the tenacity, your sheer cussed will can keep that candle alive, as it did your mother, her mother…

It became a parade of writers passing the baton of the candle to each other:

Edgar Allen Poe: There was no candle. There is no candle. There will be no candle, only the storm’s certain march.

Samuel Beckett: There is an infinity of darkness either side of that candle, why bother, why not blow the thing out yourself and harmonise with the dark. Does anyone know a song to sing at this point? No? OK, back to the candle.

Agatha Christie: When they broke into the room, they found only a pool of water and a candle, burning at both ends.

Ntozake Shange: u knw this candle shit wuz his idea/ still it started so u must finish. / u cn hear the storms wail but u are with miles with coltrane with whitney with Bessie n you know as they knew the ways of these storms, u can see the way thru / candle or nada, you will make it thru.

What the candle means, where they were/are all heading and all the other logical stuff, I have no idea about!

Pete Kalu