Nordic Poetry Festival (2019)
Whilst I was on my research trip to Lapland this summer, I heard from Steven Fowler, director of the Nordic Poetry Festival that I had been paired with Sámi poet Inger-Mari Aikio to write a collaborative piece to be performed at the National Centre for Writing‘s Dragon Hall, Norwich in October. I was thrilled to receive this news, having discovered Ima’s poetry when I was poet in residence at The Polar Museum in Cambridge.
Although, at the time of our pairing, we were both in Lapland – Ima was about to set off on a tour of poetry festivals throughout South America for several months, so we were unable to meet. Instead, we worked regularly together via Skype, WhatsApp and email, quickly establishing ‘Home’ as our theme – what and where and who is home?
We still hadn’t met until the evening of our performance, but my, what a night it was. I read Ima’s poems in English, and I *attempted* to read mine (that Ima had translated for me) in Sámi, before she very kindly took over and did the job properly!
Below is one of the poems I wrote for the festival.
High on the fells, and hidden,
I sit amongst saxifrage,
lichen and dwarf-birches just on the turn;
sit squinting over the tops
of tiny pointed trees
five times as high as any library stacks;
sit in awe of these rusted slopes
and unmoving blue-black
lakes as I lean back against a god-like stone.
I close my eyes, pluck fat bilberries
from a bush beside me, burst
them in my mouth with a purpling tongue
and in that idle moment, I slowly come to know
(although it can’t be true):
that to me, this place, tastes like home.
Taking Note: Poetry in Moments II (2019)
This year, I celebrated National Poetry Day by seeing two of my poems permanently installed in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, here in Cambridge. It has taken a little while to take in what an honour this is and, of course, an absolute career highlight.
Both poems were written in 2017 as part of the Taking Note: Poetry in Moments project devised by Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination and funded by Addenbrooke’s Arts. I was invited alongside poets Jo Shapcott, Eve Lacey & Rebecca Watts to spend time with the hospital’s patients, staff and visitors and then write poems about our experiences.
‘Little One’, was written in response to Anita Klein’s wonderful ‘The Earring’.
I was already a huge fan of her work – which I admire for its intimacy, eroticism and humour – so when I spotted one of her pieces in a corridor, I knew I wanted to write about it. The picture quite literally stopped me in my tracks with such a powerful image of vulnerability being contained, and doubly so, by two loving adults. Many people who enter a hospital do so with trepidation and this is where the staff come in to their own, not so much for their medical expertise (although this is vital also), but for the compassion they show towards all of use who are feeling small, scared or overwhelmed.
‘Welcome’, is both a found poem and a collage poem. Its shape is inspired by a multicoloured sculpture by Ivan Black in the reception of the hospital’s treatment centre.
The text consists of 46 voices (plus my own) from an archive of interviews conducted by the Taking Note team in 2017 with almost 100 patients, staff and visitors to the hospital. It was a privilege for me to be given access to people’s shared experiences of Addenbrooke’s, and as I worked my way through them with my highlighter, certain themes began to emerge: the views; water; hobbies; people’s journeys to and from the hospital; memories of life before; and hopes for moments still to come. These categories coalesced into the beginnings of the six main stanzas of the poem. It would be another 18 drafts before I found a form that would be able to hold so many voices and colours, but much like the hospital community itself, it was there all along and I’m so glad I found it!
Lapland Summer: Research Trip to Finland (2019)
This summer, I was commissioned by the Finnish Cultural Foundation to translate one of the nation’s favourite poems ‘Lapin Kesä’ by Eino Leino from Finnish into English. This was no small task, seeing as my limited Finnish consists of ‘reindeer’, ‘I love you’, ‘Where is the toilet?’ and ‘Thank you’. Luckily I had the brilliant Dr. Saara Koikkalainen of the University of Lapland with me every step of the way for advice, support and beer!
We met up in Helsinki where we visited the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum (swinging past the Sibelius monument on the way).
On the way back into the city, we stopped off at Eino Leino’s grave which I found incredibly moving. We also visited his monument on the Esplanadi as well as calling in to Kappeli, his favourite restaurant where he used to meet his friends.
We also visited (and were lucky enough to have a private tour in English) Ateneum (the Finnish National Gallery), which was just amazing (highly recommended), as well as Kansallismuseo (the National Museum of Finland), which hosted the most innovative and creative museum curation I’ve ever seen. There was just about time before hopping on the night train to Lapland to explore the brand new Oodi Library (which I’d been gagging to see for ages); catch the Tove Jansson exhibition at HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) and have a very quick swim in the Allas Sea Pool.
We spent three days in a lovely cabin in Rovaniemi for more conversation and research. Although it wasn’t my first time, it was exciting to see my children cross the Arctic Circle.
For the second week, we hired a cabin by a lake near Kittilä. We had an great time hiking in the stunning Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park and seeing lots of reindeer.
We also drove deep into the Sámi homelands in Inari to visit Siida (the national museum of the Finnish Sámi); had many saunas and took endless pictures of the views.
It was the perfect place to kick back and relax, read my dear friend Nancy’s beautiful The Library of Ice – as well as making tentative notes toward my first translation.
N.B. I will post my version of ‘Lapin Kesä’ once it’s at a final draft (currently #10!).
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.
Taking Note: 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.