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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.

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If you’ve had your radios tuned to BBC Radio 3 recently you might have heard me reading my poems at the Royal Albert Hall for Proms Extra Lates. I shared a stage with the band Snowpoet and the oh good grief the most 🌟 dazzling 🌟 voice of Lauren Kinsella. If you didn’t hear the event live, the recording is available online for the rest of the month.

I read a new poem ‘Anniversary’, plus two poems which were originally published by The Junket as ‘Charm Against Wednesdays’ and ‘From What I Remember’, here titled ‘Field Dress’. And I started off with Aft, a poem for a passenger ferry called Matilda, commissioned by Spike Island in 2015 – and that reading is also online as a clip.

A million thanks to the Poetry Society for making it happen and to Georgia Mann at BBC Radio 3. I also got to sneak into the Proms proper and open my ears to bits of Reinbert de Leeuw’s The Night Wanderer which features barking dogs, big hammers and a recitation of Goethe’s poem The Wanderer’s Nightsong in German. I was clapping with my upped thumbs and I’m so grateful for the chance (the luck of it, the opportunity to be there, both). I had never been to the Royal Albert Hall before and here is my view of the audience gathering…

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And if you were listening to BBC Radio 4, you might have caught me squeaking ‘hi there!’ to John Keats (at a fictional poetry festival (in a pub run by Sally Phillips (in a collective/fever/day dream of a village (in the mind of Glyn Maxwell)))).

I was one of three ‘new poets’ in the two-part programme ‘How to Write a Poem’ alongside Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Dominic Fisher. Thanks to the incredible Mair Bosworth for inviting me to get aboard Glyn Maxwell’s minibus to share a pint with John Clare and attend a Q&A with Emily Dickinson. Keats, Clare, Dickinson and Byron reply to us with lines taken verbatim from their poems, letters and diaries. It’s strange but all the better for it.

In Episode 1, I discuss my poem ‘Female Vapourer Moth’ with Glyn and in Episode 2, I talk briefly about writing on the move and in particular on the M4 as I chase a poem all the way from Bristol to Cambridge.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.