I live in a house on the banks of the M32 where the River Frome is still visible above ground. The river has at this point made it almost 20 miles from its spring in South Gloucestershire but just where the city of Bristol starts in earnest, the Frome gets packed away into a steel canal under the the motorway flyover and it sloughs off a thick skin of crisp packets and mattresses at the sluice gates in the IKEA carpark. Somewhere under the city, the river loses its mouth.

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You can see in John Rocque’s map, above, published in 1750 the way the city was bound between the Frome (I’ve coloured it in blue) and the Avon (green). What was the Frome’s mouth is now cut off from both rivers as the Floating Harbour. Today, a little pipe intercepts the Frome further up at Rupert Street, a busy dual-carriage way but if you stand over the manhole cover here you can here the Frome rushing under your feet. From here, the Frome is carried off and, unseen, dribbles into the New Cut, just under God’s Garden which tells us as much as we need to know about Bristol.

I have just completed two new site-specific poems for these two rivers in – and under – Bristol. The poems were commissioned separately – one by the Festival of Nature for their Poetry Trail, one by Bristol Museums for their permanent collections and to celebrate Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. The poems are for two different rivers – the Avon and the Frome. Considering the strange and slippery relationship these two rivers have with the city and with each other, it is unsurprising that (as chance would have it) both works were launched on the same evening at M Shed on the harbourside last week.


 

A LONGER WATER

‘A Longer Water’ is a poem for the River Frome which has been installed across twelve windows in the People’s Gallery at M Shed. Taking its cue from the diverted, culverted, inverted routes of the River Frome, the poem can be read according to the reader’s movement, either following two long lines across all twelve windows or weaving through all twenty four lines as if they are couplets. It is also possible to change course halfway through, slipping between the lines across the windows.

This commission was written as a partner poem to ‘Aft’ which was installed in 2015 on a passenger ferry on the Floating Harbour (seen here zooming by) and the two talk to each other across the water.

‘A Longer Water’ will be on display as part of the ‘It Doesn’t Stop Here’ exhibition until September 2016.


 

FOUR WORDS FOR HERE

Four Words for Here

‘Four Words for Here’ is the first signpost on the Festival of Nature’s Poetry Trail, installed on a stretch of the Avon passing through St. Philip’s Marsh. It’s a messy and rich site, split between light industry and wild flowers. When I arrived I was pleased to find such a crowd of signpost poems keeping mine company.

From here, signpost poems by Tania Hershman, Carrie Etter, Andrew F. Giles and Jack Thacker take you all the way upstream and back to Bath. You can also listen to recordings here.

‘Feverfew’ is one of my ‘Four Words for Here’ so I was pretty excited to find a little fever bed of feverfew daisies growing in sight of the sign and on the site of the two too small isolation hospitals that were built here in the 1870s:

My signpost poem should be in place over the summer while the river and land around it is being busily rearranged to be ~ARENA ISLAND~, home to Bristol’s twelve-thousand-seater venue for sportsing etc. and a sparkling new bridge.

It’s been a year since my year with the Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme came to an end and here’s another year, hi there! hup! you go onto the pile. It feels like a good moment to look back on a meeting I had at the end of last year when I was asked by a publisher where they might find more of my work and I pointed to a bulge in the carpet and received a look so withering that I sat down on the bulge in the carpet as if to insist it was comfortable and so practical. I decided to stop hoarding and send some work out.

So now let me point to the windows and the places you can now find more of my work.

In August, my slide / poem, ‘JETS OF FIRE’, was included in the first issue of para·text, an unbound, hand-embossed publication produced by Laura Elliott and Angus Sinclair. It’s a beautiful thing. Poems are delivered in an envelope closed with string while all paratextual matter – poets’ names, bios, notes – stays online in an index. My lantern slide, a long exposure of fires burning in northern Iraq’s oil fields, taken at dawn in 1932, is positioned over the page from its poem, written to the same dimensions of the slide. It’s indexed as oo1.1 and you can see it laid out here by Sal Randolph reading in Brooklyn.

para·text has just closed its submissions window for a second issue so look out for that when it lands.

After this, a little rush of poems appeared in the autumn, starting with ‘Brake Lights‘ in The Clearinga gorgeous online journal published by Little Toller Books. A numb box of prose about cloves and teeth, ‘Avulsion’, turned up in Ambit 222 and a longer sequence ‘Caddisfly’ crept into The Rialto 84. A prose poem full of noise and phosphenes, ‘Total Destructive Interference’ appeared in Poetry Wales 51.2 and just this week ‘Charm Against Wednesdays’, ‘Deep Field’ and ‘From What I Remember‘ were included in The Junket Issue XVI. And February, unbelievably, saw my poem ‘Deepwater‘ find a home in Poetry magazine.

I was also invited to contribute to the Poetry Foundation’s Reading List and, while I am burrowed two years deep into my PhD in site-specific poetry, View-Masters and caves (jks! but actually no really some of this is true), everything I am reading is a kind of cave, another cave and then criticism. So I also send thanks in my Reading List to Jen Hadfield for providing opportunities to read about daylight and puffballs.

Squinting ahead, then, I’m currently writing a poem for 1814 for the For Every Year project and, excitingly, I’ve just started reviewing for frieze, with my first couple of pieces in the upcoming April issue. My poem ‘Loxodrome’ will also be in Eyewear’s anthology The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 alongside poems from those beautiful people Ian Dudley and Debris Stevenson, scoring a hat-trick of the Jerwood / Arvon 2014/15 poets (ah! what’s that? a little weather rains on my cheek) and ending things as they began.

 

Behind the back of the poet, the Bristol Channel performs an old magic trick.

At north fifty one thirty one thirty three by west two forty six fifty one, Denny Island marks the boundary between England and Wales.  Below the high tide mark – anything wet, anything submerged – Denny Island is in England. Above – where the Great Black-Backed Gull comes to nest – it is in Wales.

On an unusually warm September morning, an even more unusual spectacle of a fata morgana (a mirage formed by the close layering of hot and cold air) transforms the predicament of Denny Island through various stages of ‘sea hill’ to space ship to levitating egg. By mid-morning, Denny Island is a floating ball of unbounded land, entirely Wales, entirely delivered from the sea.

I had to piece together this composite image from the backgrounds of my photographs of the morning, having not noticed the island lifting itself clear of the water until it had already confidently arrived at ‘lemon’.  I had been preoccupied with the chatter on the boat’s radios, the priest, the bickering and the brews, the t-bar hook disgorger lowering over the painfully familiar face of a thornback ray hauled up from behind the dark murk of the Bristol Channel.

Earlier this year, I was commissioned by the Perspectives from the Sea Research Cluster at the University of Bristol to write a poem at sea.  I set out from Portishead with a waterproof notebook and wrote anchored between Steep Holm, Flat Holm and Denny Island, letting the poem trail the 13-metre tidal lines of the channel (the second highest in the world, no less).

north fifty one thirty one thirty three by west two forty six fifty one is a sea prayer and prose poem written aboard a small fishing vessel in the middle of the Bristol Channel and first performed at Being at Sea on the 18th November 2015, as part of the Inside Arts Festival of the Arts and Humanities and Being Human.

The poem takes its form from ‘A Thankesgiuing for Mariner being safely landed’ in Thomas Dekker’s Foure Birds of Noahs Arke (London, 1609) which carries a refrain of impossible reversals, of bodies and boats being delivered safely from the sea – but also the threat of the promise to ‘sound foorth his Name even amongst Turks and Saracens: and send abroad the miracle of our deliverance to the furthest corners of the earth’.

The poem has been produced as a limited edition of 30 numbered and signed concertinaed pamphlets.  There are a handful left after the first reading and If you’d like to have a copy posted to you or the seaprayer performed for you, let me know.  Each poem comes with a foiled fata morgana on the cover, although I can’t promise it will lift lands or erase borders for you.  For that another prayer needs to be answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roachstone in Jordan's Quarry, Portland

Crystals in the Roachstone in Jordan’s Mine, Portland

I am thrilled to bits to announce that I have been selected as this year’s winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize for my review of Katrina Palmer’s ‘The Loss Adjusters’, part of the artist’s Artangel project ‘End Matter’ on the Isle of Portland, Dorset.

My thanks to the judges Chloe Aridjis, Hamza Walker and Paul Teasdale, editor of frieze.com where you can read my review which drags Thomas Hardy and a few dead molluscs down into the quarry with me.

Part of the prize is a commission to write a second review for frieze in a future issue and I am delighted to see that the October issue which announces this year’s result also features last year’s winner Linda Taylor – who is also Bristol-based – reviewing Reto Pulfer’s show at Spike Island. Also also all so brilliant.

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Here we are at the project in envelopes.

Over the past year, I’ve been working with artist Lawrence Epps on a book of chance, a collection of creative and critical writing called the very last time. It launches at Firstsite in Colchester on 12th September in conjunction with the preview of AGAIN, a new participatory installation from Epps exhibiting this autumn at the British Ceramics Biennial.  AGAIN centres on an arcade coin pusher, altered by the artist and stocked with thousands of porcelain and terracotta coins which the viewer can take away and pocket – or gamble and enter into a wager with the artwork.goldenno

The book is no less of a gamble and has arrived out of the nerve and nous of the contributors who each decided to toss the golden NO I posted to them, attached to a letter inviting them to write a section of the book. On the other side of the coin, a terracotta YES.  

Some of the writers even posted a picture of the coin on the back of their hand, dull red YES up, to prove the decision was, despite what it might look like, out of their hands. They would write; chance had it. I received YES after YES and while it quickly became tempting to run more of my life according the way the penny falls, the texts that started to arrive on my desk spun outwards to loss, desire, prayer, pricelessness, low ceilings, betting slips.  It seems we are already standing at the penny falls, waiting for the great cascade, watching for the trickle-down, hoping for a YES. 

© Lawrence Epps 2015

© Lawrence Epps 2015

Around the book’s green baize, then, are poets, artists, academics, an archaeologist, a psychoanalyst, a valuation expert, a bookmaker, a mudlarker.  I am enormously proud to announce the contributors:

Geoffrey Munn Managing Director of Wartski, jewellers by appointment to the Queen, and Antiques Roadshow expert examines a valuable ball of whale bile

Joey Connolly, poet, asks how the bookmaker feels about the dogs

Dr Richard Kelleher, Assistant Keeper Coins at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge talks coins that sweat and currency that forgets

Esther Leslie Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, finds Walter Benjamin in the video arcade

Viktor Mazinpsychoanalyst and curator of the Freud Dream Museum, tosses the non-Euclidean coin

Tamarin Norwood, artist and scholar, writes to the last word of casino design: PERCEPTION BEATS REALITY

Marie Toseland, artist and Open School East associate, measures the elastic horizon of desire

And two new translations from Anna Gunin and Anne Marie Jackson.

Thank you to all the writers for taking a punt on me.

Please do join us for the launch of both AGAIN + the very last time at Firstsite.  Coins will be falling from 2pm and there will be readings and performances from our contributors once you have lost all you have won on AGAIN.  For more information on the launch event and how to get to Firstsite, please see the gallery’s listing.

Following the launch, the very last time will be available to purchase online, in some gallery bookshops and at the British Ceramics Biennial shop.  Please get in touch via the contact page if you have any questions.

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AGAIN + the very last time has been made possible with the generous support of the Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the British Ceramics Biennial, Potclays, Wysing Arts Centre and the Firstsite Associate Artist Bursary Programme.

Following on from my five projects on water, under wing, on land and in envelopes, here’s the one in the box.

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This time last year I was just coming to the end of my beginner’s woodworking course at the Bristol Women’s Workshop and I had dovetailed and dogeared my way through a picture frame, a hinged box and a book limiter, the kind of sad, spindly invention that tells all too much about its maker.  As the course progressed, I was whittling away at a dream of my new life, working by day as a carpenter building tiny houses for cats.  That’s not entirely true but I was in the process of packing away the hope I might be able to take up the PhD offer I had received earlier in the year and as each application for funding was turned down, cracking the cat flat business seemed relatively realistic.  A writing practice is already a rigorous schedule of rejection and admin so I patted each new failed bid into the bottom drawer and went back to sketching out designs for scratch post balustrades.  Then, of course, at the end of the course, I found out my very final funding application had been successful.  I was starting the PhD in eight weeks.

Since then, I’ve completed the first year, passed my registration viva and I’m now busily writing up my notes from the summer’s research trips. More on this soon, as this is the project on land.

At the weekends, though, I’ve been woodworking.  One of the outcomes is this, Six-Sided Argument, a light box poem for a library.

reflection

Firstly, and this is tricky to communicate in pictures or even in the final installation, it’s heavy. It’s a great weight to work with. It was like carving a breeze block while the breeze is picking up a fair bit. A bright block of storm winds. A heavy-handed stumbling block.

The block is built with thick, warped, water-damaged oak that took weeks of blistered thumbs and splintered nerves to negotiate into its narrow corridor. The corners are improbably held in place with twelve dashes of veneer in a keyed mitre joint. The front wall is a frame for a mirror that, when placed between books on the shelf, interrupts the spines briefly with your reflection.  As you catch yourself looking, a pair of short poems come into view. These two texts can be read as a pair in dialogue, but can, with a little awkward movement, interleave. In the distance between the two, a haze of foliage.

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Yates Thompson Library, Newnham College

Yates Thompson Library, Newnham College

I’ve shown this in two very distinct libraries: in the Associates Library as part of the Spike Island Open weekend 2015 and as part of Newnham College’s Literary Archive Event in the Yates Thompson Library where I am now working on my PhD. Between these spaces, I am negotiating a new and sometimes narrow corridor in which my research and my writing can align and be in dialogue and I am pleased to have had both libraries bookending this work as I develop it.  I am hoping to test out new pairs of poems.

Spike Island Associates Library

Spike Island Associates Library

Watching audiences engaged with Six-Sided Argument in both locations has got me thinking more about the nervous movements and the small, private parallax of reading – especially reading poetry – in public. I am hoping Six-Sided Argument might push open a little reflective space in more libraries later this year so keep an eye out for it.

In the meantime, I’m working on two new projects which I can reveal very shortly while my cat, happily still houseless, sleeps on my desk, warming the rejection slips.

newnham

In my last post, I started unfolding my five projects in five places – one on the water, one on land, one in a box, one in envelopes and one under the eye and wing of my mentor Clare Pollard.  I started with Aft, my poem for Matilda the Bristol Ferry.  This week, I’m looking back at my year with the Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme which came to an end one month ago today with the launch of Wassailing!

wassailingFirst things first: Arvon is an incredible generous joy of an organisation.  It was on an Arvon course that I’d be called a poet. For the first time and like it was bloody obvious.  I’ll always be grateful for that.

If you can, apply for a residential course at one of their centres.  There are grants available and you’ll be eating breakfast with your heroes (who are at first the tutors and then, day by day, are all the other writers who arrive from their lives to write for a week, who share their new poem after the workshop, who keep in touch with news of their next poem, their next book).

The Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme is open to those who have attended a course.  So, if that’s you: apply.  Even just writing out the application letter, thinking about who you are as a writer and where you want your writing to take you will be a valuable thing you can do for yourself and your work at an early stage. Should you be invited to join the scheme, it will be invaluable.

Looking back on my year, I can’t believe how much I have done and how differently I am doing it. There has been the grotto, the teaching, the pamphlet, and, behind the scenes, the poems. Clare has been there throughout, coaxing, cursing and gracefully nutting some sense into me. It’s been brilliant and it’s been brutal.  An ideal balance and exactly what I needed.

And to think I’ve been able to star jump through all these training montages alongside the real life blazing superstar that is Deborah Stevenson and the brightest lodestar Ian Dudley, two of the most committed, most kind, most hilarious poets I’ve ever been lucky enough to know.  I am so grateful for their poetry and their friendship.  Keep an eye out for both of them.

And also for the novelists Sarah Franklin, Susie Hales, Grahame Williams and the playwrights Caroline Gray, Cathy Thomas and Andrew Thompson.  Zoom out!  This constellation is huge!  Much dazzle.

© Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson

© Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson

In all seriousness, working alongside writers from other disciplines has been one of the most rewarding parts of the mentoring year.  In our first week together, we had a poet and a novelist performing an improvised scene for David Eldridge, whose exercise restricted our vocabulary to months of the year, allowing us to think more carefully about the languages of intonation and silence.  All I can say is that by March my heart was broken and the word July has been forever exploded into so many new parts.  July, july, july.  Oh july.

We ended our mentoring year at Totleigh Barton, leading workshops for each other, eating together and, after some persuasion and strong local cider, wassailing in the Totleigh Barton orchard. We banged sticks and dustbin lids and chanted the wassailers’ song:

Here stands a fine old apple tree.
Stand fast root!
Every little twig bear an apple big.
Hats full, caps full, three score sacks full.
Hooray!

wassailing

And as it now reads on the back cover of our anthology which we named after this strange, grey day of loud and magic language:

wassail“Back in the house and listening to each other read, we realised we were all performing a kind of wassailing in our writing. We were deep in the woods of our work, banging and crashing about as we composed a kind of charm, a spell of strong verbs to make something live – and bear fruit. So, we raise a cup to the next year. Wassail!”

And while I can’t wait to see what sort of wild and glittering fruit the next year has in store for the 2014/15 mentees, in my heart I hope it will be always be July.  July Forever.

Thank you again to the Arvon Foundation and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation for making this sort of time travel a possibility for poets.  And to Clare for getting me ready for August.

julyforever