I’ll be at Ye Olde Murenger House on October 12th reading poetry with these fine poets. All proceeds go to keeping the Stow Hill library open. Come along and support this worthy cause.
I was so pleased to find out that I will be one of the Wales Arts Review’s artists-in-residence. For each month of the year an artist from various disciplines will work on a creative project with support from the magazine. I see it as a collaboration that will challenge me and give my work a well-respected platform.
Check out the other artists; they are very impressive. I’m looking forward to seeing what they create.
Thanks for visiting my website; I’m currently building it up.
Today as the Velvet Coalmine Literature Festival kicks off, I’ll be meeting the Bardd Cenedlaethol Cymru, the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn to discuss translation and the regeneration of Welsh in Blackwood (my home town). I’ve translated three of Ifor’s poems which has been such a pleasure and a challenge to my Welsh–fordd dda i tyfu iaith ydy cyfeithieu wrth gwrs.
Looking forward to hearing him later this evening in the festival, speaking with Lady Lucy French about the launch of Never Such Innocence whose aim is to engage young people the centenary of World War One.
This time last year I was in New Orleans where I had lived for 7 years (I’d previously lived in Mississippi for 3 years). I wanted to be present for the tenth anniversary of the Levee Disaster which happened after Hurricane Katrina; it was this man-made failing that caused the devastation not the hurricane itself.
Yesterday was the 11th anniversary and I wondered how much longer I will continue to mark this date and still feel the sharpness of grief at the immensity of loss which was mine and not mine, which is still a powerful presence for many of my friends in the Big Easy. I’m sad this year to see the catastrophic floods in South Louisiana where 150,000 homes have been damaged and how quiet the news has been on this subject. Don’t get me started on that!
I find it painful to re-read the piece I wrote for the Wales Arts Review where I tried to make sense of the images that wouldn’t leave my head after I’d returned shortly after the hurricane. I wasn’t able to write coherently on the experience; the piece was about that inability:
In a collaboration with the Gareth Roberts Jazz Quintet, I sharpened the words, made a series of vignettes called Sucking on Sugarcane inspired by his carefully-crafted music; this helped me to release some of the complicated feelings I had held onto. These were top-class musicians and Gareth Roberts’ insight into place through music was a gift.
When I go back, I’ll be sure to walk this street:
The second talk I was invited to respond to at the Cabin of Curiosities was Jon Gower who spoke, as always, with eloquence and insight. I never fail to be inspired by this man who truly has a love of words and good writing. He read an excerpt by Raymond Williams where an old man on the stage at the local Eisteddfod introduces ‘Mary with her red hair, red to her shoulders’ and begins to recount her family line, ancestors who also found themselves on the stage. It made me think how different my own family experiences were in the small village of Cefn Fforest, my fore mothers all wives and daughters of miners.
By Measuring the Distance
‘The only landscape I see in dreams is the Black Mountain village in which I was born.’ ~Raymond Williams
If anything has the spiritual uplift of Sufi singing, it is Jon Gower’s offering; his words swell and swarm and settle in the cabin where curious minds have come to learn of path-treading, love of land, and how extraordinary things happen when idea-sharing. I think of my inner landscape, the women who gather behind me, an endless thread—and my father who walks and understands what is meant by measuring distance and coming home.
You are Sarah of Annie with the 18 inch waist
who once threw a stale bread at the vicar,
raven-haired Sarah with the malachite eyes
who does not yet know how histories of hangings
and beatings line up with their collective nudge
to be heard in the DNA of you;
not Sarah of Welsh spoken
and Eisteddfod winning uncles, or political picnic speakers,
or of dry stone wallers, or the county’s best sheepdog breeder,
but Sarah of, Sarah of, Sarah of
with no idea why your neck hurts
and your temper burns and why you always break into song at night.
The only landscape you’ll see in dreams is the undulating black heaps
which seep their way in and cover you, smother you.
In the dayroom by the window, a town away, a time away,
The prettiest meadow I ever saw was on an old coal tip,
she keeps repeating
the meadow I saw, the pretty of it, the old coal I saw,
how pretty I was, the old cold sore tip, the coal
all over the meadow spoiling pretty. In her dreams
there are no oxeyes, yarrow, campion, no grasses
sending patterns of shivers at her feet. In her dreams
she hears her father speak over the spitting liver, she
fears the belt coming off and her back braces for its slap.
A dyna chi, fy nhad i, yn hapus gyda’ch milltir sgwâr,
yn fodlon teithio’n ddwfn yn lle yn llydan.
Dim angen i chi freuddwydio am eich tirwedd,
chi sy’n symud ar hyd ei chromliniau,
yn grwydro’r hen lwybrau claddu,
bob cam yn dod â chi’n agos at eich mam chi.
A’r bwys y giât mochyn, er ebychynod,
tra mae’r barcud coch yn gleidio dros eich tafod.
Yn eich cerdded ac ystyried, mae’r gorffenol
yn cwrdd â’r presennol, ac yr ydych chi
wedi mesur pob cam dwyfol
gyda chyffwrdd uniongyrchol.
Here you are, my dear father, content
with your square mile, content
to travel deep, not wide.
No need to dream your landscape:
in daylight you move along its curves
wandering the old burial path, each step
brings you closer to your mother.
By the kissing gate, the gasp
as the red kite revisits the sky.
Through your walking and pausing, the past
meets the present, and you have measured
each divine step, with a true touch.
clare e. potter
(Travel deeper rather than wider in reference to artist Frank Auerbach)
 Jon Gower
During the week of the Eisteddfod, I was one of the writers invited by Peak Art to the Cabin of Curiosities to listen to writers discuss their work and in turn, create a response to their presentation. I heard Tom Bullough and Christopher Meredith (it was inspirational).
The First Duty of the Artist is to be Free
This has been a difficult task, responding creatively to a reading of works that were poignant enough. Chris Meredith and Tom Bullough shared their process of writing poems, and a novel, addressing, thematically, how each was inspired by, influenced by, conscious of knowing the land, heartland, headland, addland, Y Gororau, yr ymylon, y ffiniau, it’s people, it’s language; the process by which over time those slip away, unless . . .
I’ve not been able to articulate anything. I suspected this would happen the moment the audience in the Cabin of Trugareddau, clapped, bought books, hesitated to leave.
Trugareddau: ‘mercies,’ ‘odds and ends’, not quite curiosities: ‘chwilfrydeddau’, the things we are looking for. When seeking an exact word, sometimes an unexpected, unknown word arrives as a gift . . . .
In the garden, afterwards, a juvenile song thrush with scrawny feathers beat its wings less than a foot away from my table ( ). I watched it hover. Felt the rhythmical wafts of air, heard the inexpressible sound of its pause-in-flight. That took energy, bravery. This little one wanted crumbs, briwsion (fragments) from my plate. Or did it? I have never before encountered a non-captive bird so . . . intimately. Was I breathing? Our eyes conversed and immediately, there was no bird-self, or me(?)-self, no teagarden, teacup, no pressure to respond; it was the infinite moment between moments.
At home, tongue-tied, bound to distraction, I read The Hill of Dreams:
I had a horrible todo with my sentences . . . [They were] a mass of erasures, corrections, interlineations . . . I was to start afresh, then, to get a style of my own . . .[i]
I saw my task clearly; not to capture what was said by two fine writers firmly established in the literary canon. My words, their words, no match. I knew I must be true, in my plain clothes, to my own tongue, to where my mind went as they spoke. It’s no insult to them, there is time enough to re-read their pages and re-immerse in their meanings yn y gogoniant o’u eiriau:
We’ve slow-trekked the edge, seeking
the rocking stone where you played. He’s warned us
of fissures, heather-hidden, some 30 foot deep,
which run through this hill’s heart.
He says it’s the natural movement and splitting
of rock, the land still going through its process,
that maybe it has enough of what it is and breaks
away from itself
(and all its definitions).
Did you fear them?
At the spot where we overlook your valley, I open the box
hurl you at last to the vast grey. But you swirl
with the wind’s gust which sends each grain of you
into my eyes and mouth so I’m blind
and crunching bone-grit between teeth;
all your joy coming back to me.
[i] Arthur Machen, The Hill of Dreams
Grateful to my son Eurion (aged 9) who gave me the last line of the poem.
You can see the rest of the artists’ responses here: Peak Art: On the Edge Blogs and Film
Rydw i wedi mwynhau cael sgwrs bach ar y soffa melyn heddiw er bod on i yn nerfys cyn y countdown. Roedd Yvonne a Owain yn garedig iawn i helpu fi teimlo’n cyfforddus.
Enjoyed having a conversation on Prynhawn Da today. There was so much more I would like to have talked about, but it was good to mention my poetry residency at Llwyn Celyn, my time living in New Orleans and Mississippi, and helping the inspirational Janet Vokes to write her memoir about breeding and raising the race horse Dream Alliance on her and her husband’s allotment.
Good too to discuss my intention to use Welsh more (forgive my mistakes) tra dwi yn creu gwaith creadigol. Edrych ymlaen at y sialens yna yn arbennig achos dw i ddim wedi cael gwers Cymraeg ers chwarter canrif! Rydw i wedi cael athrawon arbennig o dda (Cerith Lewis, Ann Bevan, Allan James).
Live telly good for keeping you on your toes.
St. George’s Tredegar, July 4th
My grandmother was born and raised in Tredegar, not far from these flats. I was happy to return to the town of her (and my) birth for a poetry workshop.
Artists Heather Parnell and David Mackie asked me to come and work with some of the residents to talk about washing lines as part of a larger project they are doing to solve issues of refuse collection and the drying of clothes.
A lively group of women came. I could have listened to their stories about washing, drying, connecting and loss all day.
We read Seamus Heaney’s poem from ‘Clearances:’
The cool that came off sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them.
We also enjoyed using the following poems for inspiration: ‘Love Calls us to the Things of this World’ by Richard Wilbur, ‘Arrival 1946’ by Moniza Alvi, ‘The Line’ by Maura Dooley, and of course Gillian Clarke’s ‘Six Bells – 20th June, 1960.
This is a tight community and it was a pleasure to hear them talk with excitement, wisdom, hilarity and deep emotion on the never ending task of keeping clothes clean. I created a series of poems (without having to do much crafting, since the women spoke so rhythmically and vividly) and these will be printed onto tea towels; an apt metaphor for community, woman’s work, pleasure, toil, domesticity. Here’s one:
for thirty five years—my husband.
When the nappies were no longer needed
I sewed them together, made one big towel,
all squares and the best money could buy;
he’d bring it home pit-brown and his clothes
shaken and soaked overnight and shaken
and soaked and wrung out and empty
and washed and dried and ironed
and dirtied. My father trapped underground
in the fifties and Six Bells sadness. The past
and present; the clothes look alive.
My father’s jacket on the back
of the door, has kept his shape.
I felt close to my grandmother today, remembered how she’d wash sheets in the bath, have me stomp on them as if I was trampling wine from grapes. How she’d wrap the sheets around the taps and squeeze, hoist them into the sky with the pole. I still hear that flap, and the feel of those sheets as we slipped under layers of blankets.
Looking forward to seeing the ladies’ words on tea towels and having a cup of tea with them again. I’m very grateful to be able to meet such people.
Some links on Washing Lines:
Today I climb over the stile and head up the hill towards the house, the sheep bleating as they lift themselves from their warm patches. I say ‘Good morning’ and, ‘sorry to disturb you’; I want to be on friendly terms with these denizens. I have apples for the horses.
I open the gate which creaks on its rusty hinges. A buzzard high above is being tackled by a crow, or is it a raven (I’ll have to find out). The sun is edging from the clouds, last night’s rain drips from the scaffolding that encases the building, and today, for the first time, I will not have the house to myself.
The workmen, the craftsmen, and the archaeologist are on site with their diggers and trowels and wheelbarrows. They are busy outside, unearthing, disrupting the ground in order to establish good drainage, in order to see what lies under all those decades of hill slip gathering at the skirt of this medieval house.
I sit, as always, on the wall, not quite outside the house (or inside either). From here I can see the hills, and sense the great big Oh of the door pulling me in; an invitation. How deep am I willing to go here in these two years of residency? What can I discover about myself being present, watching the walls and floors stripped back, reinforced? Listening. And in which language will poems come, if indeed they come at all?
There is already a blurring of inside/outside, the hidden and revealed: doors no longer fastened to their frames, windows unable to open, new born spiders gone from their carefully woven sacs. All these openings, gateways to stories of this place and its people wanting out.
While I explore downstairs, treading cautiously to avoid the gaping holes in the floorboards, I hear the bats upstairs. One flies through the rafters and after my initial shock, there’s delight in the way its wings fan the air around me; even in motion, these creatures are a gentle presence. In the hall is a fly unable to find its way out, the sound of its zuzzing amplified against the cold slab stones, counterpointed by my footsteps. At one point we are in unison, the fly and I. Outside, the song of the digger, lifting and dumping, tamping down, the spilling of shale into a hole, the scrape and pull of the trowel pointing between stones on the barn, raking out dead mortar, the easing in of fresh lime-paste.
The shadow of a swallow glides over wet mud, stroking, it seems, the newly exposed ground. I look up; I had not known they had red at their throats. It seems there are many empathic winged creatures at Llwyn Celyn. I learn I will learn by coming here open, ready to receive the gifts and the wounds this house and the hills have to offer. I will put my pen down (as often as I can) and be present with the house, the sheep, the machinery, and maybe more dauntingly, with myself.