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.
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.
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.
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.