A Painter & A Poet: Research Trip to Cumbria (2019)
Miranda and I have just returned from an incredible research trip to Cumbria. We drove up on Friday and our first port of call was to have coffee with one of Winifred Nicholson’s granddaughters, an artist herself who learned to paint at Winifred’s elbow. She has been incredibly helpful and supportive of our project. As we left her she offered us these precious words:
“Winifred would love you two and your book, she had a lot of time for the younger creatives.”
Once we’d settled in to the cottage we were borrowing from my friend, the poet Clare Crossman, we went for an evening walk and really began to get to know and appreciate the shapes, textures, animals and palette of the landscape Winifred loved to paint.
The following day, after deep long sleeps and a slow breakfast, we drove through many wild places, in awe of the beauty of the Cumbrian countryside.
We were able to visit some of the places that had either inspired or had mattered most to Winifred and Kathleen:
We also spent some time at Long Meg and Her Daughters, the Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith. It was a powerful experience for both of us to be there (well, only for me until an over-friendly cow started to lick my shoulder, which rather broke the spell!).
We ended the day by driving up to the eerie edge of the Solway Firth to have dinner with Miranda’s friend, artist Alison Critchlow and her friend, poet Polly Atkin. We had a beautiful walk on the beach as we arrived, then ate and chatted over several hours – perhaps predictably, the two artists wondering off to look at sketchbooks together, the two poets staying at the table to discuss drafting techniques and residencies – all of us stopping intermittently to adore Alison’s beauty of a cat, Alex.
We drove back to Clare’s cottage sleepy and sated, only to be awoken at horrific-o’clock by alarms reminding us that some madness had made us sign up for a 9-mile hike along Hadrian’s Wall for British Heart Foundation, a charity that is close to home for both of us.
After the agony of the hike, we were warmly welcomed at Winifred’s granddaughter’s farm to see both her own studio, and that of her husband. We spent several more hours discussing our plans for the book, and hearing more stories about Winifred and Kathleen, who continue to inspire us with their commitment to an enduring friendship, as well as to a reciprocal support and protection of each other’s creative spirits.
Double Time (2019)
Since the beginning of this year, I have been writing poems in response to two artists Jane Pryor & Miranda Boulton who share a studio in Cambridge. My poems will be exhibited as part of their Double Time exhibition at ArthouseSE1 between 7-29 June, which is being curated by Jane Boyer.
One rainy Wednesday in March, I spent some hours alone in their shared studio on an industrial estate near Tesco in north Cambridge. I took an old yoga mat and a breast-feeding cushion (along with a picnic lunch) and curled up on the studio floor listening to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time as I let my mind slowly drift into responding to Jane and Miranda’s work. I had my notebook nearby and during the course of the day, scribbled down words, fragments, lines, impressions and ideas for further research.
These gradually turned into three poems over the following weeks: ‘Self-Portrait on the Studio Floor’ – written in response to my own experience of being in the studio, ‘Livewire Blue’ – written in response to Jane’s work, & ‘Another Dust’ – written in response to Miranda’s paintings for the project. [NB – I will post the poems here after the exhibition].
A Painter & A Poet: Research Trip to Northumberland (2018)
Now that we have a publisher for the book, I am moving away from writing poems about artist Winifred Nicholson and toward those about her great friend, poet Kathleen Raine.
This April, during a family holiday to Northumberland, I visited the village of Great Bavington to research the place that Kathleen refers to as her ‘Eden’ in her biographies. It was deserted and rainy, so I took shelter in the tiny church and sat where she would have sat every Sunday over a hundred years ago.
Poetry in Moments (2017)
During the Autumn of 2017 I have been invited by Addenbrooke’s Hospital & Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination to create new poems in response to those fleeting moments of meaning experienced by patients, staff and visitors to the hospital.
I shall be working alongside Rebecca Watts, Eve Lacey & Jo Shapcott. Our project kicked off on National Poetry Day (Thursday September 28th) with a day of events which included the distribution of over 6,000 poems on postcards, a visit from Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma.
A Painter & A Poet: How it All Began (2017)
As luck would have it, literary critic and blogger extraordinaire, Victoria Best, put me in touch with the artist Miranda Boulton at the beginning of this year. We embarked upon a collaborative project where I gave her 10 of my poems and she created a new painting in response – at the same time I chose one of her paintings to have in my study and wrote 7 new poems in response.
Also inspired by the friendship between Winifred Nicholson and Kathleen Raine, Miranda will be travelling to Sweeney’s Bothy for her own residency in the spring, with the aim of responding to some of the poems I wrote whilst I was there.
The Bothy Project, Eigg (2016)
In late 2015 I was awarded a week-long residency with The Bothy Project. I travelled to the remote island of Eigg (to the west of Scotland) in January 2016 to live alone in a bothy with little electricity, a compost loo and an outdoor shower!
(after ‘Gate to the Isles’ & ‘Candle, Eigg’, 1980 by Winifred Nicholson)
Each time I think of her (and I think of her
often) she is sitting in her mackintosh on a stool
before the open door of a tumbledown croft
hunkered beside the Atlantic. She is painting
a forget-me-not gate, swung half open
on a wee Hebridean garden: flowers, clouds, sea –
all movement – yet contained, somehow,
by her ushered in lilac mountains. She squints
at both the far things and near, a brush-end
in her teeth, whiskery splinters on her lips
as she mixes her own colours with tips
of weather-bit fingers; traces of soot, chalk
and pigment in her nails, the creases of her palms,
those trails I’d like to follow. She frowns, furrows,
sploshes away from her paint-wet landscape
not stopping at the island’s boggy pastures
or fertile hollows, but hiking toward the sgùrr,
leaning wild-haired into the whip of the wind,
plucking currents by the wayside, twisting
brittle thistle-heads from their stalks.
Above the pitchstone cliffs, she pulls a prism
from her pocket to consult it for what it knows,
what she knows already, what Goethe knew
too about the life between colours unseen,
unknown. She nods and smiles that kindling smile
from the other side of words which insists:
let the light find you; let the light lose you again,
there is colour in all dark. Later, warmed,
away from caves and the abandoned canvas,
she kneels like a supplicant before a candle
on a whitewashed upon whitewashed sill.
I can almost smell the just-lit match, hear it suck
at the wick and hiss, I can sense the draught,
the flicker. The paint sparks on her smock
recall your midnight Fair Isle jumper; the glossy
pebbles beside your books; the print of a candle
at a window above your desk – how its flame
stays in the mind’s eye a lifetime after guttering;
how each time I think of her, I think of you.
Blue Smile (2015)
In 2015, 10 poets were invited to write new poems in support of a local charity, Blue Smile, that provides support to children with difficulties in their schools. Our poems were printed on the torsos of mannequins and displayed around Cambridge.
The Thing Is… (2014)
Also at the Polar Museum, I contributed a poem, ‘White on White’, as part of a multidisciplinary exhibition that aimed to put objects selected from Cambridge University’s museums into conversation with one another.
Jo Shapcott and myself whilst she was Poet in Residence at the Polar Museum during Thresholds in 2013.
The Snow Queen Retold (2012)
During my residency at The Polar Museum, I was fortunate to get he opportunity to collaborate with textile designer, Lindsey Holmes who made costumes in response to some of my poems for the text and textile exhibition The Snow Queen Retold.
The Polar Museum, Cambridge (2012-2015)
In 2012 I became invited poet at the Polar Museum in Cambridge where I was funded by Arts Council England to research, write and edit some new poems in response to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen.
I made research a research trip to his homeland, Denmark, where I spent time in both Copenhagen and Odense.
I also travelled to Rovaniemi, just inside the Arctic Circle in Finland where I tried my hand at reindeer herding.