So how does a ‘virtual’ writer in residence work?

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of the writers in residence at the Alde Valley Spring Festival in Suffolk. It was an amazing time. I wrote amongst bluebells, was inspired by the land, and also the art, and started a project of writing a haiku a day which carried on for nearly a year – a project I’m delighted to say will result in a pamphlet to be published next year by the wonderful Maria at Coast to Coast to Coast.

This year, things are different. Although the White Farm (where the festival takes place) does have a picnic table long enough for social distancing!

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Different, but I’m happy to say, still inspiring. I was lucky enough to be paired with the artist, Perienne Christian who is exhibiting her beautiful work at the festival. Do look at her catalogue here, below is one example.

Back garden with crow HR

We began with an exchange – but not of words and art. Instead, maybe because we were at the height of lockdown, we sent each other kefir grains and sourdough starter. The collaboration, you could say, was fermenting even from the beginning!

I spent some time with Perienne’s work, and also reading through her own writing. Then I let it sit. It felt important that my poems weren’t a direct and maybe forced response to an image or a narrative I saw in her work. Instead I wanted to see what bubbled up (back to fermenting!) At first, I just had fragments, words, and it was frustrating not to be there, walking through the forests, down the lanes to the river, listening to Suffolk birdsong and …. that was my clue. To listen.

And so with this collaboration – maybe because we weren’t meeting to talk and I wasn’t directly in the space – I spent more time on my own trying not to think about what I should write!

Eventually, and in its own time, a poem did come up. And then another. I nervously sent a package to Perienne, and was delighted when she came back to say that they felt ‘somehow how my brain thinks, come to life in poems.’

perienne

Over this strange time, this very socially distanced collaboration and the chance to be a virtual writer in residence has been a truly nourishing creative act. You can see all the artists’ work at the festival online, and do visit if and when you can. It’s a magic place. I can’t wait to go back in person and to work more with Perienne, but in the meantime, here’s one of the poems I wrote when I was there ‘in spirit’.

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