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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.

 

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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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.