This evening I will be on BBC One’s The Wales Report talking to Bethan Rhys Roberts about what it means to be Welsh. Is there a Welsh National Identity? What does identity mean in a world where, increasingly, we become more connected to other cultures and countries.
I keep journals for my children; when they were born, I wrote religiously as if the laying down of their little (and big) experiences somehow validated those events (or me as a mother). Keeping a record became key. Sometimes I spent such a great deal of time recording (in pictures, journal entries, poems) that I ceased to be in the experience, with the kids. I was at the edge monitoring, evaluating, proving.
My aim at Llwyn Celyn is to use the residency to thwart that need to shape experience with words. What I have promised myself is to go to the house and (woolly as it sounds) just ‘be’. To become receptive rather than detective. To be so open that a more profound awareness might emerge. And then (the bit that I find hard) trust that something will become known, some story about the house, its grounds, its renovation, the people who lived there, and that I will know how to present that.
When I approached the valley-bowl that the house sits in, mist had settled. For the first time, the top of the Skirrid was invisible:
Nothing to see at a distance. I had to look more closely at my surroundings. I had to look at an angle.
Each time the drills, hammers, dumping of waste went on inside the house, the water in the wheelbarrow shuddered, distorting the reflection of the house, the scaffolding, the sky. All was movement. I decided to sit in the hall for a couple of hours. It was not easy to sit still with craftsmen walking by, medieval dust and debris falling from the roof onto my lap, Kylie on the radio/s. I wanted to reach after something, be in charge. Pin my ears or eyes onto something tangible.
After some time, James, one of the craftsmen showed me an old hob nailed boot that he’d found in the rafters, a common practice to ward off evil spirits. The sight of the boot set me to walking. And listening . . .intently to the robin who joined me on my walk (or had I joined him?). Two sheepdogs barked on Strawberry Hill, the farmer’s bike droned; a landscape making a soundscape. I visited the plum tree I’d helped to plant, and then, behind the house I was able, for the first time, to identify a raven from a crow.
The raven guarking across the valley
–did it know its own voice?
I heard someone shout ‘More sheep’s wool!’ They are using it to insulate the roof, packing it into the roof voids. It allows moisture to find its way out, enables the house to breathe. I need to be more permeable, to be more woollen, to know what to hold onto and when and what to release.
The last image I was given as I wondered on the roof, this:
The stonemason picking his stones carefully by weight and width, shape, intuition. The satisfying shlunk of mortar on trowel; it moved like a living breathing entity, the lime mortar is as liquid, it wants to find the cracks, wants to settle in between spaces. I must remember this for the laying down of words: which word holds its weight and space, how to massage it in place, and what will hold each to the other.
But there I go again with words. Habits are hard to break . . .
Catch Jamie Adams film Black Mountain Poets on Film 4 tonight. It’s a quirky and beautifully shot film which stars Alice Lowe, Rob Cullen and Richard Elis amongst others. I get a cameo too. Really enjoyed being a part of this improv. comedy. Weird how things are connected, I am now a poet in the Black Mountains and did go looking for Allen Ginsberg. It’s that Buddha-eye and moutain brow stuff at work!
I feel very privileged to be doing some poetry workshops as part of the Forget Me Not Chorus which supports people with dementia. They meet weekly to sing and build up their repertoire which culminates in a concert. You can listen to their cd here
Hard to believe it is December. When I left Pontypridd in the morning, it was raining and cold. But as soon as I arrived at Llwyn Celyn, I had to remove a coat and two thermal tops. Despite a hood of mist on the Skirrid mountain, the sun shone allowing me the luxury of sitting outside and looking over the valley while I collected my thoughts.
It’s only a few weeks since I visited last so I was stunned by the amount of progress that the whole team has made. The cider house walls are being finished with lime plaster, the bat lodgings are complete, the old stable has been beautifully restored externally so that it has a glow about it, and in the main house, the roof is off which has let in a great deal of light.
Walking around the house full of light, evoked a palpable shift in its personality; it was like a yawn and a stretch and a smile, like weight had been lifted and the house is waking up. Funny, being roofless not only affects the light, but also the sounds that can permeate the house, the birds above can be heard singing in all the rooms.
It’s obvious there is a great deal of pride and professionalism from the craftsmen at I. J. Preece (the restoration company undertaking the restoration work). Even unwanted debris is sorted carefully. I love talking to these knowledgeable people, they are really getting to know every inner and outer inch of Llwyn Celyn.
Before lunch I recorded sounds of the giant tarp at the door of the threshing barn. It was making a dramatic drag on the slab floor, like an artificial lung; reminded me of the rubber lung we had in the bell jar for GCSE biology. It sounded like the barn was breathing.
After lunch I helped Kasia Howard, Engagement and Education Officer to plant two plum trees. I like doing hands-on things at the house, things that will outlast my creative residency. Nice to think there will be plums on those trees in years to come. It also gave me a chance to talk to Kasia who knows so much about many aspects of the house as building, as part of history.
On my last visit, I picked sloes and made gin so that I can take some other kind of sustenance from this magical place.
Just before I left, Llwyn Celyn artist-in-residence Toril Brancher arrived and we sat in the shed and talked about our residencies: output and process, and the tension between the two.
Like Toril I am gathering. For me it is sounds, snaps on my phone, metaphors, pieces of crockery from the mud. What Toril does well though, that I have to internalise, is to come to the house without imposing, just being, seeing what unfolds, trusting the process. ‘It’s quite profound’ she said, ‘what we are trying to capture here and we have to find the language to convey it.’
Yes, I think this will be more than crafting words, a direct narrative, I think I have to forget finished pieces of poetry (audio or page) and allow myself to feel what the house is feeling now it is more opened and open; perhaps what will permeate me if I am able to be this receptive will be far more meaningful.
I leave with these images lingering: remnants of the rook’s nest and a wide open door.
I’m playing a Pit Woman in Cary Clarke’s Coal. This is a dance production but is more than an hour and a half of contemporary dance, it is ‘physical language’ which is allows the audience (and cast) to re immerse in the mining strike of 1984/1985.
The Tredegar Brass band will join us on stage. They played in the film Pride about the gay activists who fought side-by-side with the mining communities during the strike. Dai Donovan, the miner from Dulais who embraced this help from the LGBT community will talk after tonight’s performance at Blackwood Miner’s Institute. This post-show talk will include Ron Stoat, Welsh miner and union official, who can be heard talking about his involvement with the strike in the film Still the Enemy Within.
In the UK Coal tour, the team invites 4 local women to become pit wives. I’m shocked to find myself in a dance production. While I like dancing (we have kitchen disco with the kids!), I’m not a proper dancer and although I like a challenge, it’s been hard work both physically and emotionally. I’m not only connected to the mining industry for generations, but also the Miners Institute itself; my uncles and grandfathers paid into it, and used it, my parents met there, it was where I first read my poems on a stage in the bar and had my play Sound Zero performed (Eiry Thomas read my protagonist). There have been lots of tears in rehearsals; it’s a hugely emotional piece. Looking forward to sharing this journey with the audience tonight.