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Installation

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.

froom1750

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.

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

ssa

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