Through the Cloud Chamber

Through the Cloud Chamber: One poet's trajectory

an essay on one aspect of his poetics by Dr. Tim Metcalf 


The inter-related concepts of relativity, chaos, post-modernism, Zen, and the bizarre possibilities of the quantum universe have penetrated the popular imagination via successful translations into everyday English. We are told the many dimensions of space exist only at the subatomic scale; that time is a one-way street; parallel universes are there to be slipped into; naked singularities could swallow us at any moment. The question that I pose in the medium of poetry is where human beings fit into this mentalistic landscape; indeed, can they? How can we live with a probabilistic life, bounded by chaos? Is all this not contrary to our very conception of ourselves? 

Life may be envisaged as that place in the mind from which chaos is excluded; where continuity and sense are commonplace and obvious, and where the unexpected happens to others. Life is a field of possibilities, created by cross-communication: the individual is more or less shaped by this field. Death is that point at which communication ceases: that hazy horizon that surrounds and limits us in all directions. 

For me, the concept of a field of possibilities has been transformative. If probability replaces destiny, life is psychologically difficult for us; we are very resistant to letting ourselves go into the infinity of possibility, for we fear the loss of selfhood. Coming to terms with this view of the universe can be disorienting: 

an alternative lifemy little howlis poetry. Like us poetry yearns to transcend, but knows its limits. It has been given permission to conceive of, and discuss the human implications of the quantum world, and that which can survive, contain or surpass it. Here I ask the old question of love in fourteen lines that contain irregularity by invoking a traditional sonnet: 

love is a quantum affairMiddlemarchDiscourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among MenA Brief History of Love


The solution to us

Cranston M (trans.)(1984) Jean Jacques Rousseau: A Discourse on Inequality  Penguin Classics p69, p134

Eliot G (1871-2) Middlemarch  Penguin p136

Voltaire (1859) Candide  Wordsworth Classics 1993 pp114; 102



Thanks to those who first published the following poems of mine:


An Alternative Life: Five BellsRedoubt 16, 1993, p64

A Brief History of Love: from Corvus Ginninderra Press 2001 p61

The Solution to Us: Poetry Monash 73: 2006

Love is a quantum affair: Retort Magazine  2006 (on-line)

updated: 22/03/2010