The Big One That Got Away

Simon Armitage

Every now and again, I’ve thought of this project. The big, beautiful catch we couldn’t quite land. The idea was to get 100 poets to write 10 lines each and therefore have 1000 lines to mark the start of the new millennium, with each poet passing the task on to another of their choosing – a kind of chain poem.

Unfortunately, like most chain letters, as it went on the breaks seemed to get more and it was abandoned. Memory no longer serves quite when or how – I suspect it was to do with my leaving Cleveland Arts, but I’m not sure. Let’s pretend a man from Porlock called at the office and told us we had better things to do.

Reading the 28 sections surviving, I am reminded of how exciting it was for these sections to arrive in my in-box, and to see the links between the poets. We started with Simon Armitage, who was later the official poet for New Millennium Experience Company, the people behind ‘the dome’. Simon later wrote a 1000 line poem of his own to mark the millennium, Killing Time. But then the chain took on an energy of its own.

There are poets here from England, Ireland, Scotland, the US and Australia. You can join the dots and see connections between writers across continents, friendships, collaborations, joint endeavours. Some of the writers were not well known in the UK at the time. Claudia Rankine, who won last year’s Forward Prize for her remarkable book, Citizen: An American Lyric, for instance, was new to us at that point.

The poetry itself shows a mixture of cautious or ironic celebration (‘Ladies and gents, a toast. Now watch this space.’ says Sean O’Brien, for instance), a gladness to be leaving the 20th century (‘this scarred century’, as Brendan Kennelly calls it) and a good deal of anxiety.

Perhaps many of the poets here refuse, with Linda France, to believe ‘the lie that time is a line’. Maybe that’s why we ran out time and lines, so have only this fascinating fragment of the big one that got away.

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Sweet Water: Treasure

Sweet Water Book Cover




Water is a universal treasure for life

We drink, wash,

We exploit its abundance

Relax and feel its flow

For our daily chores

Sweat cascading in droplets as we work

It comes from far away

From high above

Travelling distances – miles upon miles

Soul searching for sustenance

Bringing with it the gift of life

Spreading smiles on weary faces

Gently runs through gullies

Into tributaries, into steams and rivers

Water is the soul, pure and crystal clear

Gem of the world




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Sweet Water: Fetching the Water

Sweet Water Book Cover

Fetching the Water


Some get their water from turning the tap to the right

Others get water by walking in the blazing heat


Some must get their water by hard work and effort

Others get their water without a thought


Some get their water when it falls from the sky

Others bring water from a stream on a donkey


Some get their water from the river or the lake

Others buy their water bottled in plastic


Some get their water by just pressing a shower button

Others buy their water by a barrelful from a wagon


Some get their water from buckets filled by the rain

Others get their water from the pipes in their home


Some get their water by chance from a rain dance

Others sip at water droplets left upon the leaves


Some draw their water from the village pump

Others get their water from a nearby shop


Some get their water by digging a deep well

Others get their water by distilling the ocean


Some get their water from a mountain spring

Others get their water by walking and walking and walking



Group Poem

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Sweet Water: Fluid Connections

Sweet Water Book Cover

Fluid Connections


Water connects me to all my neighbours across the world

Water links the cells in my body so I can breath

Water connects one shore to the other


Water joins the forces in nature to bring about life

Water connects me and my friends

Water marries my life with those who came before me


Water links high mountains to low deltas

Water connects life to death

Water joins tree roots to canopy leaves


Water connects Africa to Europe

Water marries laughter and sorrow

Water connects the plains and the mountains


Water marries men and women

Water links minerals and soil

Water transforms strangers into friends


Water links health to happiness

Water joins mountain and river

Water links one city to another city


Water marries souls to spirits

Water joins beginnings to endings

Water marries all humans to the planet



Group Poem


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