'I Just Stepped Out', Felix Dennis
Felix Dennis was a poet, a performer, a philanthropist, a tree planter and an impresario. He founded Dennis Publishing, one of the UK’s most successful media companies, which together with his other business ventures made him one of the richest men in Britain.
Tales of Dennis’s riotous lifestyle are as legion as they are legendary. In the foreword to 'I Just Stepped Out' , he writes that he spent over $100million on "booze, drugs, ladies of easy virtue" and more (including the booking of entire Caribbean resorts). His colourful life included being jailed for obscenity after the infamous Oz magazine trial of 1971 – a conviction that was quashed on appeal; recording a single with John Lennon; and being the first person to say the ‘c’ word on British television. In the late 1990s he began planting trees, subsequently setting up The Heart of England Forest charity with the aim of reforesting huge swathes of Warwickshire with native British trees.
Dennis did not start writing poetry until late in life but, as with everything else he did, he didn’t do it by halves, producing thousands of poems collected in nine volumes which sold by the truck-load. It was while he was in the middle of a 30-day poetry reading tour in 2013 that he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Not only did he chose to continue the tour, he also began compiling 'I Just Stepped Out', his tenth book of verse. He aimed to write one poem at least every three days, charting his “physical, emotional and psychological journey” towards death. Two years after his diagnosis, Dennis, 67, died at home “surrounded by loved ones”.
Published to mark the first anniversary of his death, 'I Just Stepped Out' is, Dennis writes, a kind of “last will and testament in verse”. He is as candid sharing his emotions about his imminent end as he was about his narcotics use or the "ladies of easy virtue" he spent time with. 'I Just stepped Out' provides a compelling and moving insight into the mindset of a man facing what he calls "Oblivion's breath".
The book is divided into two sections. The first, Premonitions, contains prophetic poems written over the years when, in Dennis's words, 'the heart knew what the mind dared not perceive'. The second part, A Verse Diary, consists of 60 poems Dennis wrote between the date of his terminal diagnosis and his death. Dennis felt that these poems were possibly the best he had ever written.
From Premonitions: 'I plucked all the cherries' (excerpt)
I plucked all the cherries
Chance would allow
Take them, and welcome
I’m done with them now.
From a Verse Diary: 'Fool’s Gold'
The fear I can deal with – just.
Truth is that I must.
But the loss of all control,
Playing a puppet’ role,
Sickened me from the start.
Close friends speak from the heart
And beg me to desist:
‘What use to clench your first?
We’re all in the same boat here,
Accept your fate, my dear…’
I want to feel I tried
To shoulder heaven’s weight
Before I pass its gate.
Our competition to win one of ten copies of 'I Just Stepped Out' has now closed. Many thanks to all who participated. To celebrate Felix Dennis's refreshingly open approach to death, we asked you to complete the following sentence in 110 characters or less (including spaces): We need to talk about dying because... Read the winning entries.
Buy 'I Just Stepped Out'.
For more information on Felix Dennis's life and poetry, visit www.felixdennis.com
Broadcaster Jon Snow celebrates his friend Felix: Beating the Taboo of Writing About Dying