events and news

Shedding and Self-Healing

A month since I’ve been to Llwyn Celyn. Much of the scaffolding is off, coming off, the roof is beautiful. First time I’ve seen the chimney. It looks ready for a fire. Stories get told around a fire, heart of the home.

20170522_123753
Scaffolding Being Taken Down

To the left, the corrugated sheets are being removed from the beast house now that the walls have been reinforced. There’s a symmetry here: roof on, roof off but the thread uniting that doing and undoing is the necessary exposure of the inner.

Today carpenter, Gareth Irwin was on site with a Welsh stick chair he was commissioned to make:

20170522_103706
Elm Slab and Ash Spindles

This beautiful piece of furniture demanded to be touched. But it was more than furniture, it was the passing down of history both in its ‘genre’ (the kind of chair tenth century king Hywel Dda had once owned) but also in the traditional way Gareth had made it, with some ancient tools and also tools he’d created. It caused me pause: making the tools in which to make your art. To be that connected. Gareth is a greenwood carpenter, goes into the forest, finds the tree, sees it in its tree-essence and after cutting it down, gives it another shape, form, longevity. ‘It’s not just timber’ he said, ‘it’s tree wood.’

I asked if it’s true trees heal themselves:

 

20170522_105614
The ‘T’ Reveals an Injury the Ash has Healed

When there is an abrasion, fire damage, an animal gash to the bark of a tree, all its senses set to closing that part of the tree off, sealing it over to stop bacteria seeping in through the open wound. Much like us, I suppose, except these scars are only seen when the tree is cut. No necessary exposure of the inner, here then.  Gareth told me, the self-healing of a tree is so intelligent that the scars from young shoots-that the tree kills off as they become unnecessary-actually lie dormant. If the tree’s crown is cut, these scars, these once-twigs, will be resurrected. Imagine what might grow from our scars if they were called back into opening.

At lunch, one of the volunteer’s Jack Russel, Todd, darts past and emerges from under the digger with a baby rabbit in its mouth. We try to get him to drop his squealing catch but there’s no way he’ll comply. With a few swift shakes of his head, the kit’s neck is broken and it lies jaw-clamped, limp. Todd pads off and deposits the lifeless creature right inside the beast house.

I took myself to the waste tump for quiet, away from the murder of rabbits and the bang of hammer, slide of corrugated sheets and blare of radio. I sat amongst muck and robin song and the sight of a red kite hungry for something.

 

Amongst all the debris from the house,  I find three random objects, try to force myself to write a poem connecting them (I often ask students to do this, why not try it myself?)

20170522_111531

 

I get as far as the thick willow crockery, a bowl perhaps that once offered apples from the orchard behind me. The breaking of the pattern renders the story indecipherable (didn’t I used to know it off by heart? My grandmother-who told it to me over and over-did). But I get stuck on the chunk of rusted metal in all its autumn bleed. What was it a part of? The blade from a plough? An old oil drum or a coal bucket. A coal bucket filled with coal and carried in all weathers and all conditions (pregnant, unwell, young or old) the never-ending heaving of coal. But in reality, coal was probably not used here, it was wood that lit the heart of this house, surely? No matter, my mind is thinking of the grandmother I never met who on carrying a bucket of coal lost the boy she was almost-ready to birth. Grandmothers and stories, labouring, crockery-and-hearts broken. Hard hats, protection. Irony.

As I set off down the hill, I see the field is wool-scattered.

20170522_140239

The sheep are shedding unnecessary coating, lightening themselves of that which got them through winter but no longer serves a purpose. Apparently, the tree sheds its bark too, Gareth told me. We shed skin. Medieval dust fell onto my book when I sat in the hall of the house, remnants of centuries of wood, grain, jackdaw nests, skin flakes of generations who lived and worked here. It’s instinctive this moulting. It’s both the letting go and evidence of renewal.

When I get home I find a poem in my inbox ‘Rimwalkers’ by Lesley Wheeler, the first line about the finding of a dying baby rabbit.

And I’m surprised/not surprised when I open Facebook to receive a notification of one of Mandy Lane’s latest sculptures:

MandyNash_babiesstillborn_coal
‘Elizabeth Andrew’s To-Do List’ at Duffryn Gardens Evokes the Problems of Still-births for Miner’s Wives in the Early Twentieth Century

I don’t know what to say about that: these connections, inner thoughts which manifest synchronistically or the fact that I could not make a poem, could not make the tools in which to capture those connections. The roof on, roof off =the coming and going of ideas which allows ideas, thoughts, to intersect. Sometimes, they reveal themselves to us with such precision there is no poem that will serve the encounter (at least none I could write).

No poem today to revive the beating heart of that rabbit; just an indication that things are being made, that there is an intelligence at work and that we/I do not always have to try to pin that down in a poem. To acknowledge and let go.

hlf-and-lmt-2

Mist Descending

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.

mist

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:

20170119_123145

Nothing to see at a distance. I had to look more closely at my surroundings. I had to look at an angle.

20170119_111027

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

answered itself

–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:

20170119_120959

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 . . .

hlf-and-lmt-2

Tonight on Film 4

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!

bmp

 

Peeling off the Layers and Letting in the Light: Llwyn Celyn

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.

20161103_155043
The old stable has been dramatically improved

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.