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It’s night on White Moss. It is a deep dark, new to me. And these new days of 2017 are darker still.

I’m here working as the Clarissa Luard Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust, feeling my way into archives at the Jerwood Centre, looking at Wordsworth’s pencil notes for The Prelude which might have been written while he was out walking.

I’m also pencilling my own poems, writing on site in caves, quarries and twilights across the Lake District and I’m documenting all this – plus the young writers’ poems from my road trip of workshops throughout Cumbria – online at lines-left.co.uk.

Lines Left (in the dark) takes its name from the peculiarly unspecific gesture towards a specific site in the title of Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree which Stands Near the Lake of Esthwaite, On a Desolate Part of the Shore, Yet Commanding a Beautiful Prospect’.

The residency is also an extension of my doctoral research into site-specific writing practices via geology, sculpture and vision from Wordsworth to the present day and I’m looking forward to drawing all of this work together at the end of this year when I will be writing up my thesis.

At the start of my residency, I busied myself making small Claude glasses. These small curved dark mirrors were used by 18th-century poets and they have been BIG with my school groups where everyone 6 to 16 knows how to smash any selfie.

My residency runs from the 13th January to the 10th February. I am halfway in, halfway out, looking in at the dark mirror, looking out at the protests and marches and petitions that grow worldwide in its bright reflection.

poetrypleaseYesterday’s Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4 opened with Bertolt Brecht’s poem ‘In the dark times / Will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing. / About the dark times’ and rang out with a chorus of singing from ee cummings, Raymond Carver, Sister Mary Agnes, Emily Dickinson, Kathleen Jamie and quite a few more.

The whole half hour was a good glowy balm, if you’re in need of it. The programme also includes a recording of me reading my own favourite small song for dark days, the Anglo-Saxon metrical charm ‘Against a Wen’, starting at 12 minutes in.

Turn on the lights and listen here.

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.

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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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 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, the 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 film.  The unforgiving gloom of the grotto is translated into a speckly 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

bristol biennialThe Bristol Biennial launches this Friday at the Folk House and with just a week to go before the first performance of MINE at Goldney Grotto, I am busily polishing all the Bristol Diamonds and light bulbs I can get my hands on.

In the meantime, there will be an interview with me bright and early on Saturday morning for the The Martin Evans Show on BBC Radio Bristol and Somerset and you can catch sight of me reading part of MINE in the grotto as part of a new series on BBC Inside Out West next week.  Plus a miniature mention in this week’s Guardian Guide (and online here).  Oh me oh mine.

guardianguide

So I thought it might be a good time to sneak a quick peek at the poem.  And as time is tight and time is up and there is still so much to do, I’ve piled it all up into a rushed sort of stalagmite. There’s about two million years here.  I hope that makes us even.

Looking forward to meeting so many of you in the grotto next week to talk amongst the cockles and cowries and Oxheart clams.  If you haven’t already bought tickets, there’s a few left but be quick! And while you’re there, have a wander around the rest of the programme and perhaps I’ll see you again and again at Hug? Or Chimera or Grass Men? Was that a yes?