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site-specific

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.

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.