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!

IMG_8180

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’.

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 21.46.41

 

 

 

Creative Writing Wednesday – week 5. The smellograph…

this is a smellograph,
the delicacy of rose
surrendering to rain

rose

I went out into my garden this morning just after it had finished raining and the smells were delicious. It made me wish I could capture them in the same way I could snap, for example, the photograph this rose above with the raindrops on the leaves.

So I decided to create some ‘smellographs’, and to just write short poems about the smells I could find. I carried it through the passageway I walk to yoga, stopping and sniffing like a dog! It made me aware of how difficult it was to describe smells – I can capture sound, touch, sights so much more easily, but it’s often a scent that takes me straight to an emotion.

In her wonderful book, Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman writes about members of a tribe in New Guinea who say good-bye by putting a hand in each other’s armpit, withdrawing it and stroking it over themselves, thus becoming coated with the friend’s scent. Now, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not asking you to do that today, but I invite you to write your own ‘smellographs’ for your garden. You may want to do it at different times of the day, and in particular as we move into autumn, it’s clear that the air is smelling different. There’s a hint of apple, of log fires and wet dog… I love it!

7L7P9Hs1T02kXa8i1lW3NA.jpg

If you enjoy writing these short poems, you may want to join me on instagram here – I’m 110 days through a 365haikuchallenge. They are not all garden related, but I’m already seeing I’ve created a record of my year so far. So many moments I would otherwise have missed.

 

A Trip to Tropical Tresco

See whatttttt I did there?

IMG_9110

We’ve just come back from the Isles of Scilly, it was the perfect holiday but interesting how loads of people have heard of them but aren’t quite sure what – and where – they are. And those who have, say ‘ah Tresco,’ as if that’s the key one. Although yes, let’s be honest, there is a particularly splendid garden there.

We stayed on two islands, Bryher, and St Mary’s. To get between all the islands you have to – obviously – rely on boats. We soon found out that the boat to Tresco got very crowded, very early. Competitive island hopping? Luckily we had an excellent captain.

IMG_9062

Also, let’s be honest, we legged it inelegantly from the harbour up to the garden so we could be there before the crowds. Absolutely worth it. As well as the amazing diversity of plants from all over the world, this seems to be a garden about views, and catching surprising glimpses. Perhaps appropriate given I read this in Augustus Smith’s wikipedia entry:

In 1866 Lord Brownlow tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5′ steel fences built by Woods of Berkhamsted and therefore, claim it as part of his estate. Augustus Smith MP brought out a gang of navvies on a specially chartered train to roll up the fence and leave it within sight of Brownlow’s house, demonstrating his will to protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted. 

IMG_9129IMG_9224IMG_91006658e669-728c-4b83-9d91-fbc2c64c7607IMG_9135IMG_9095IMG_9112

You can find out about the history of the garden on the website here, but there’s something about certain gardens staying in one family, having that one thread running through them that gives a certain quality to the place. There were spots were you certainly could feel the spirit of Augustus Smith. And not just in his collection of figureheads, many from local shipwrecks.

 

And talking of glimpses, we JUST caught a red squirrel… look again, look a bit harder…

 

But luckily the benches were sleepier. I’ve being doing a #365haikuchallenge over on Instagram – here’s my one of the day from Tresco…

lie down for a while
my cobwebs on your eyes, 
what will you dream about? 

IMG_9120