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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Chaos Theory, Jelly-step

This evening, I went to the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster for a science-inspired writing open mic night. It was a follow-up from a workshop last week, exploring how we might use scientific sources as a ‘jump off point’ for fiction or poetry. Having been writing for a science publication for a while – but within a very specific editorial style – this is something I am increasingly interested in.

Writer in residence at the University of Bristol’s Science Dept, Tania Hershman, led the session, in which we re-defined scientific words (a version of the Surrealist game), wrote pieces based on randomly-chosen science magazine phrases and then a piece based on mystical-sounding science diction, which was not defined for us.

In fact, I didn’t read any of those tonight – I read my 6th Vermin poem, Cockroach/Envy or ‘Admiration’s Cloud’, a poem based around a ‘tweed epidemic’ (‘The Edge of Life’) and finally a piece I dusted off for the event, based around chaos theory and the early stages of relationships, with all the risk and tumult therein. I won a book for my contribution, which was very lovely.

Here is the piece based on chaos theory:

Failed Fractal Poem: Part Two

or, Turbulence

What shall we order? What order shall we? The air curled around us like noodles over tongues; like tongues over wings; like wings over air. I hurricaned on on bifurcation points in poetry; you on Lacanian desire and jigsaw puzzles of your own face.

Now here we are, there. Our glasses at the edges of the table; winking, glinting. The feathered wood stretching out of our sides. Our torsos leather and dripping, hover in the corner.

The words we place inside one another take flight, patterned with giant eyes: our edge-pieces only just slotting together.


And, from the workshop last week, here’s a piece I wrote using various science words we were given. We were also shown a video piece Tania had commissioned, featuring a jellyfish and some bass-heavy music…Perhaps hence what follows:


‘Mate, it’s gonna be schematic – you’ve got to come.’

I hadn’t been clubbing in months and music genres seemed to be becoming more and more alien, like deep sea murmurs their names sounded to me. So now we’re on our way to a disused electrical substation, apparently to dance.

‘So what exactly are we going to see?’

‘Jelly-step mate, seriously it’s gonna be fibrotic in there. Properly.’

His tone suggested this was a good thing. As we entered the venue, if you can call it that, past the retained ‘Danger of Death’ sign (not heartening), my body vibrated – my epithelium like a drum skin.

‘How much?’ I ask the terrifying door girl.


‘Wow. Inflation…’ She doesn’t smile.

‘Come on, get your actin purse strings open, dude – he’s gonna start in a minute…Actually, I’m not sure if they can be a he or a she.’

‘If what can?’

‘The DJ – the jellyfish.’

‘The DJ…is a jellyfish?’

‘Yeah, of course – that’s why it’s called jelly-step? Honestly mate, you are not the model organism sometimes. Don’t you read MixMag anymore? ’ He looked at my incredulously, then went on, ‘I can hear it – it’s ’Fibroblast’, that one is seriously fax.’

We rushed through to the main room, where a sweaty mass writhed beneath the turntables. In fact, it looked like a lectern, for a preacher – but instead of some manic zealot, there was a large tank of water, sat monolithically. Suspended within, glowing green was a huge jellyfish, its bubble-head thwubbing softly, while its tendrils sinewed down to the bottom corners of the tank.

‘Watch this, it’s full-tilt benthos mate – amazing.’

As the sounds in the room escalated, the jellyfish’s flashes became brighter and brighter, in time with the bass. The creature’s tendrils appeared to be controlling some sort of console under the water.

At that moment, a small clear bag of mysteriously-coloured crystals appeared under my nose, glowing just slightly. Why not?

I don’t remember the rest of the night, just the morning.

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