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

Since February, I’ve been busy with a 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, as my year with the Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme comes to a close this June.  It’s been difficult to document the projects from the middle of them so instead, here, from the vantage of June and a clear desk, here’s the view.  I’ll spend the next few days (re)visiting each one.  First up, aft.

one on the water

swan

I have to thank Spike Island and Bristol Ferry for commissioning this poem for Matilda, the Bristol Ferry boat that chugs brightly across the Floating Harbour from Temple Meads to Hotwells, via the city centre, Spike Island, Arnolfini and SS Great Britain.  It was a proper joy of a project and thanks to the patience of the crew and passengers, I took several trips to watch the city from the water, standing at the back window, feeling the engine’s rhythm in my feet.  I composed much of the poem on site, on the boat, measuring my line to the cm width of the window.

I started to listen to the sea shanties of the Bristol sailor Stanley Slade, which were recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1950 and are now held in the British Library’s sound archive, and let the length of the halyard’s lines also instruct the breath and breadth of the poem that was then transferred directly, in Bristol Ferry yellow, to the windows of Matilda.

install

aftwebAt first, I saw the couplets banding around the cabin as a two-level Plimsoll line, a measure of the rising waters (or a sinking boat), or as a twin rope, each a precaution against the severance of the other.  Certainly on the page, the poem presents its shortening of breath much more clearly and you can read the full text here.

But on the boat, it wasn’t all visible at once.  Walking the line to read the poem across the wide windows, rocking back a little to read the second line from where the first line landed you, and all the while reading as the boat pulls you across the water, makes something knotty of the reader.

As you read, the city interrupts, aligns your reader’s attention with the sudden sight of mooning stags, lads! lads! lads! on tour, traffic on the bridge, seagulls lifting in the wake of another ferry, the train, kayaks and paddles and sunburned backs, a tiny flotilla of crisp packets.

Somewhere else that is definitely also here is the harbour where Stanley Slade and sailors sang at the capstan and where teens twisted sisal on the ropewalk on what is now the car park behind MShed, and where the slave traders shook hands and purses on the harbour wall.

ferryman

double crossingspondAlmost immediately, these interruptions arrived right into the boat and started to actually intervene.  The vinyl lettering was being rearranged, ever so slightly, after each journey.  I was always looking for the arrival of a good rude word from out of the poem, but mostly single letters drifted to new locations.  I started to imagine bits of the poem making its way across the city, stuck to the back of a suit.  After a hen party, all the Ls disappeared.

My favourite, though:  one slant O floated away from its moorings, accidentally recalling Ian Hamilton Finlay’s ‘pond’, from 1965.

In May, I read Aft at Watershed as an invited speaker at the Topographies conference at the University of Bristol in May.  I was absolutely thrilled to read alongside Niall Campbell and particularly thankful to watch Tony Williams’ filmpoems with Alan Fentiman, especially Fentiman’s Pairs, which for me, without text or voice, queried the potential for filmpoetry in a moving double portrait of companionship.  I thought a bit about the silence between lines, and about the pairing structures we feel necessary, and usefully that day, it helped me think about the silent public reading I had invited on board Matilda.

bark safely

So, I read aft to timed bursts in front of the video of the poem in situ.  I was a little worried about how it might work.  While aft existed briefly out on the water, read privately by each passenger in public, here the dismantled poem was being read publicly on one dry spot of the steady ground.  But the Topographies crowd and visitors to Spike Island OPEN were generous and adventurous and their feedback has encouraged me to try it out again, and I might yet sail aft across to other imagined harbours.

MINE: cover

Featured in the Guardian and described as ’fascinating and moving…a haunting experience’ by Don’t Panic, MINE was also Pick of the Week in Bristol Magazine.  And now the pamphlet – part-transcript, part-publication, part-glittery, gluey residue of a performance – is available direct from Spike Island or from the Spike Island online shop.  Good grief!  Gold!

MINE: stones

MINE was a site-specific performance for seven voices commissioned by Bristol Biennial and developed with support the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Arvon.  It was performed in partnership with its audience underneath the city in the 18th-century crystal grotto of Goldney Hall on the 16th, 17th and 18th September 2014.

For images of the performances and a video of the fast-forwarded stalagmite grown at the close of the poem, head here.

15pour

10goramThe twelve performances began amongst the parking meters on Constitution Hill and moved underground, spiralling into an eighteenth-century crystal grotto in the grounds of Goldney Hall. Here, the audience of six exchanged gifts (pebbles, time, nervous glances) to trade lines of the story of the murder of brothers that Bristol is built on and still builds itself on: the giants, Goram and Ghyston, lazily in love with a woman who turned out to be a river, and who killed each other by 1) catching his brother’s axe with his own sleeping skull and 2) dying of grief.  Or are we talking about merchant venturers, the slavers trading on that same river which turned out to be a woman after all?

11stonehandAvon?  Liberty?  Hannah More? The grotto’s lagoon and waterfall (pumped with the first domestic steam engine, of course) is freshly gargled with (of course, of course) spring water diverted from Hot Wells, far above the muddy Avon and her necklace of trollies.  But then returning from the first performance, I found the parking meters had left us a message from another woman, and a ghostly eighth voice sounded in the chorus:

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The grotto, again locked and again leaking winter rain, is a gorgeous and dangerous pocket of hot air under the city.  Owned by the University of Bristol, the grotto is, at least logistically, a useless gap in the foundations: it can’t host conferences or house undergraduates because it can’t power AV equipment or be made watertight because it doesn’t have mains because it is a listed structure with a lagoon in it because it was an extravagant folly built by three men who were sons of each other who claim their rollover wealth wasn’t made in the slave trade because they didn’t trade slaves but whose folly was to bankroll voyages whose cargo included humans.

The numb displacement of responsibility and the purity of ~*profit*~ are all still bubbling under Bristol, under everything and although this encrusted grotto has been left to cool and is now treated as a kind of curiosity, a glittering ‘hidden gem’ for summer visitors to the South West, it was always so and tourists have been stopping by since 1756, when Mrs Delany, friend of the royals and designer of grottoes wrote in a letter that Goldney’s was

the finest thing of the kind I ever saw; though I could not but grudge at the shells sacrificed there, and exposed to the ruin of damp and time, that would have preserved their beauty for ages in a cabinet! The master is reckoned a great humourist and a niggard, but I was so fortunate as to take his fancy, and he gave me two or three pretty specimens of coral, and said I should have what I pleased.

And there it is.  The beauty of the place.  And the sacrifice of another place.  The uneasy distance (or complete lack of distance!) between the two places.  The polite little exclamation mark.  Then the gifts offered and we should all have what we please and all is forgotten.

And then we often resolve it: the beauty of the sacrifice!  Ah, that is it!

So, you can imagine, I was very nervous and so very pleased to be able to take MINE right behind the door of this ‘hidden gem’, this privately-owned site of ‘sacrifice’, blood and capitalism at its most savage to talk about what it means to call a place ‘mine’.  I am absolutely thrilled that this series of secretive underground meetings amongst Bristolians has started conversations above ground and I hope the availability of the pamphlet will help keep us talking:

Arnolfini’s Phil Owen reviewed the performance of MINE in CCQ Magazine: ‘a narrative as intricate as the arrangement of minerals on the grotto walls, explored the interface of geology and human time’

Harry Giles’ incredibly generous review for Sabotage provides a thoughtful discussion of how we talk about poetry and documentation and raises the question of how funding structures and restraints can act as a discouragement from producing work that risks silence and smallness: ‘Work like MINE deserves a larger audience and dedicated attention, so that more of us can follow the traces of tiny performances and great flows of stone.’

Finally, MINE has been recommended for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.  For such a small and buried thing, I am happy if this is as far as it gets but do have a look at the list of New Work compiled by the Poetry Society as it is a useful and broad map of new territories to make your way into 2015 by.

MINE: hands

solartree1A solar tree, produced by sculptor John Packer for Demand Energy Equality in Brislington, Bristol, makes for a beautiful and useful tautology of itself.  All trees are solar, surely?  But not all energy is tree-shaped, with branches split and rooted in a commitment to grow vegetables and cups of tea and communities. But mostly, Bristol’s first solar tree serves to remind us lunar humans how much power we already have.  And apparently, Bristol is getting a second solar tree this year!  On our way to a solar forest.

Next Tuesday, I begin teaching Arboretum: Creative Writing at Royal West of England Academy, a gallery-based course suitable for new and experienced poets and short fiction writers, as well as artists with text-based practices.  I’m being joined by three incredible guest tutors, poet Rachael Boast, short fiction writer Tania Hershman and art writer Rowan Lear who will each be hosting one seminar each.  There are still a few spaces left, so book! book! book!  Contact info@rwa.org.uk or call 0117 973 5129 between Tuesday- Friday 10am-6pm, Sunday 11am-5pm.


Creative Writing at RWA
Tuesdays
6.30 – 8.30pm

13th, 20th, 27th January;
3rd, 10th, 24th February;
and 3 March

£70 full price
£50 concessions


As I prepare to set off into the woods, I will be sharing some of the works from both Arboretum and Edge of a Wood that will be featured in the course, starting with this scene from the forest floor: the main exhibition room, sprouting a line of new, moon-white trees:

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Both Arboretum and Edge of a Wood are open until the 8th March and tickets are charged at £5/£3.50 concessions.  Free for University of Bristol and University of West England students, as well as under-16s.

So far, zero drowned dogs.

Instead, November is the start of lots of new projects for me.  Not least because November brings with it my birthday and my own private calendar flips back over to the first page.  And this year November is flush with new and exciting dates.

word-cloudPOET-IN-RESIDENCE AT THE BRISTOL POETRY INSTITUTE
Room G11, 3-5 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TB. 12th November – 12th December 2014.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my residency at the Bristol Poetry Institute at the University of Bristol.*  I am excited to be starting a five-week workshop series with the students, where we will be reading and talking about the materials of poetry, the specifics of site and the role of memory and method in writing practices.  Alongside the workshops, I am also hosting one-to-one consultation hours to work closely on the students’ own writing and I’m really looking forward to what Bristol can bring to me.  Let’s go!

*I’m afraid I must also add that this workshop series is restricted to students of Bristol University.

(11stonehandTHE POND, TOO—THAT IS ANOTHER POEM, FOR ME): A READING WORKSHOP
for Art Writing Writing Art
Room G5, 3-5 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TB. Monday 17 November 2014, 12.30pm – 2pm.

After my performances in Bristol University’s Goldney Grotto for the Bristol Biennial this September and to complement my workshops at the Bristol Poetry Institute later this term, I am so pleased to have been invited to host an open seminar for Art Writing Writing Art, a discussion and research group at the University of Bristol.  Both students and the public are very welcome and I think it would be excellent to get everyone in a room together.  I’m going to be asking us to think about how we use the term ‘site-specific’ within contemporary poetry, but more intriguingly, the event is being billed as ‘part reading group, part participatory writing event and part practice-makes-perfect’.  Phwoar.  Let’s do it.  Bring a pen.

* The title of this seminar is taken from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s letter to Ernst Jandl (1965)

clovehitchThe Clove Hitch and Camarade at Interrobang Festival
The Betsey Trotwood, Clerkenwell, London
Saturday 22nd November

I am reading twice! twice! nice! at Interrobang this Saturday 22nd at The Betsy Trotwood Pub. First with the excellent Eley Williams‘s round up of prose poets THE CLOVE HITCH at 5pm and then at 8pm to talk woodwork and driftwood and workdrift with Zelda Chappel for Camarade.

ecopoetryEco and Nature Shuffle at the Poetry Cafe
22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX
Saturday 29th November
7pm-10pm

This is pretty exciting.  I’m joining the awesome Harry Man, Tom Chivers, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Inua Ellams & Gale Burns to read at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden.  Starts at 7pm.

Three Pollards, oil on panel, 2004, Julian Perry

Three Pollards, oil on panel, 2004, Julian Perry

ARBORETUM: Creative Writing
at the Royal West of England Academy
RWA, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1PX. Tuesdays, 13th January – 3rd March, 6.30pm-8.30pm

This one doesn’t start until January, but booking starts today!  I am absolutely thrilled to have been asked by the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol to create a creative writing course to tie in with their spring exhibition, Arboretum.  Taking place in the main gallery itself, the course will be rooted in the show’s collection of paintings and sculptures of trees.  Each of the seven workshops will take writers through from first bud to final whittling, through all the cutting and swailing of making a good piece of writing. I am so excited (and not just by the opportunity for arboreal puns).

And! Finding new ways to get lost in the woods with me are three incredible guest tutors: poet Rachael Boast, short fiction writer Tania Hershman and art writer Rowan Lear who will each be hosting one seminar each.  With three such prize-spangled specialists holding seminars in between my workshops, writers can branch out, taking new directions in their writing.  There’s always use in finding the wrong end of the stick.  OKAY, OKAY.  No more tree jokes.

For now.  More information, including schedule and booking is available via RWA.

cleggcarr

As a method of meeting someone, writing a poem towards them seems like as good a start as any.  We pointed at where we were (Stapleton Road in Bristol, I pointed, and Coton Orchard in Cambridge, John Clegg pointed) and set about working out where we had any common ground.  Somewhere in Oxfordshire?  Surely.  Is it an interest in site?  Is it something to do with assonance?  Oh is it Swindon?  Is it big hair?  No, we didn’t know about that yet, having not yet met face-to-face.

So John measured the screen with a ruler, which showed where we might meet in the middle.  I liked the idea of tracing out an as-the-crow-flies line over the landscape over the internet – but I wanted to know the exact spot, door-to-door, because I am a lazy stickler and I didn’t want to range around Google maps without knowing which hedge or glitchy speeding car was the marker that would let me know where balanced and proper collaboration should start.  The answer came from the extraordinary Geographic Midpoint Calculator, which can, if you wish, put you in your place according to your own personal centre of gravity.  We asked for the exact dividing line between Clegg and Carr was and it showed us this:

doubleloop

Where were we?  Crossing over in the corner of an Oxfordshire infinity loop.  A hellish bypass.  An egg timer.  A double cone.  A double-headed axe.  And what’s that?  To the left?  A little pinched lake silting over and echoing the same shape.  I was nervous to scroll out the scale in case there was a third hour glass just to the right, just a bit bigger, and then another and another and John and I became too terrified to start writing.

So we got cracking and turned the egg timer over.

We moved through John’s storm-damaged orchard, the B4207’s rainblatted branches and towards the shifting territories of Fox Park in Bristol.  We wrote through the roots of our poems, sharing what we had in common, pinching things in towards the middle and moving outwards into those cones to sound out the differences.  Which were also sort of the similarities.  Echoes rang out: storms, trees, territories, damage, claims on language, claims on loss, turning up after the show is all over to pick through the leaves and soil(ed remains).

And took this to London for SJ Fowler‘s incredible Camaradefest ii at Rich Mix, where 100 poets in 50 pairs read whatever their interests and intersects had taken them towards.  There was this exercise in intimacy from Ross Sutherland and Thomas Bunstead and this incised extimacy with Eley Willams and Prudence Chamberlain and more things than I can try to cleverly word from more poets than I can fit in my car and drive around the Carr-Clegg coniunctio.  There was everything I could want: flip-charts, trip ups, rip-roaring laughter and pillows in swimsuits and sexy poems and power steeples and that was only the first hour.  It was wonderful and a bit messy and a lot good.

As John and I started the day, rolling up onto a cold stage, it was difficult to feel all that energy that would later roll from pairing to pairing.  But it was an honour to kick off such a day with this quiet tripped-up triptych:

I met John for the first time a few minutes before this was recorded and we had quickly arranged ourselves according to the compass: me on the west, John on the east.  It was a strange idea to be hurrying into London (another intersection, another neutral ground, another (0,0) on the axis I guess) to read this ‘from’ Bristol.  In truth, I had just arrived from, if not John’s orchard then from John’s city.  Two weeks ago I crossed back over with myself and went back to Cambridge to start a PhD in poetry and sculpture at Newnham College. There I am, overwriting, overdoing it:

grass

I am still committed to my projects in Bristol (my residency at the Bristol Poetry Institute, my teaching at RWA in the new year, a seminar for AWWA, amongst them) and I am excited to see how research and practice might also intersect and be another kind of axis.  The egg timer turns over again and as I am driving endlessly back between Bristol and Cambridge (surely driving through this midpoint we have visited online?) I feel like I’m stuck on that infinity loop, meeting myself in the middle.  And it was great to have so much (and such great!) company at the midpoint this time.

Thanks to John and Steven and to all the poets on Saturday, and if you missed out, all the videos are here.

11stonehand

The incredible Stephanie Elizabeth Third dug down with me in the Bristol Biennial week of to document the performances of MINE in Goldney Grotto.  For all those of you who missed out on tickets, here are the playing cards, the Bristol Diamonds, the poison ring, the poem learnt by (Ox)heart, the time trapped in pebbles, the squat, clammy stalagmite I poured from a bottle.

12returnstone

10goram 10place 15pour

I am so grateful to see the other side of my face during the reading, because if anything, MINE taught me that people’s listening-to-poetry faces are identical to their cross faces.  There were gorgeous moments when the furrowed brows gave way to laughter and a few sudden tears, but mostly, my brave audience seemed to be squinting at the cave walls, endlessly searching for the Oxheart clam or perhaps waiting for a rare rhyme.  Thanks to Steph for gathering all these different faces, all six faces of the crystal.

1lantern 9read 13point 16skylight

I am also so pleased and so intrigued by the realisation that Steph took these photographs on an old film camera.  The unforgiving gloom of the grotto is translated into a speckled kind of haze in the pictures and knowing that, at a chemical level at least, what is left of the performance was caught in a bit of light and silver-halide crystals is just right.

17mite

And what is left of the poem exists in this glittering pamphlet, published by Spike Island and beautifully produced by City Edition Studio.  There are only around 60 copies left at this point so email me at hccwriting@gmail.com if you would like to know more, if you would like to buy one – or if you would like to be a reviewer.

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MINE was commissioned by Bristol Biennial and researched and developed at Spike Island, during a residency in 2013, supported by Arts Council England.  The site-specific performance at the University of Bristol was written with the support of mentor Clare Pollard through the Jerwood / Arvon Mentoring Scheme 2014/5.