Two steps back

Reasons M.E. sucks number 76

It stops me doing stuff. Sometimes, it’s because I’m too ill to get up. Sometimes it’s because my brain won’t work. Sometimes it’s because I’m in too much pain. Sometimes it’s because the sheer effort of planning enough rest before I take part in anything, and the fear of consequence, is overwhelming. I deal with these things every day, and have kind of come to accept them.

This month, a new obstacle has raised its head. I’m going to have to step down from my role as poet in residence. Not through lack of skill, or lack of interest from the talented people in Secret Severn, but because I can’t manage public transport on my own, which means I can’t get out to see the artists at work in their studios.

An invisible aspect of M.E. is brain fog. Brain fog feels as though someone has reached in to your mind and twisted up all the normal paths of thought. This happens when I overload and it’s pretty unnerving. I get confused and can lose track of where I am. This means using public transport alone isn’t safe for me and I have to rely on taxis for getting around. Taxis cost money, and purse strings have been pulled, so there are no longer funds to support my role. I’m incredibly sad, frustrated and unsure what to do next.

Undoubtably, the work has taken it’s toll. Producing good posts, editing photos and seeing folk takes time and energy and I’ve been ill since my last visit. The thing is, I’ve loved stepping up to the challenge of meeting so many new people, and even enjoyed my spell as an emergency steward in the gallery. The positive feedback from everyone was a tremendous boost, both as a writer, and personally.

Sadly, any future visits to artists studios have had to be cancelled, as well as my fledgling plans for plunging in to giving a reading or two and running a workshop as part of next year’s trail. Having to lose all this for the sake of a few pounds dispiriting.

There are still poems to be written, based on the work I’ve done so far, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to continue working with the lovely people I met. Right now, this change of plan, as well as the general low that comes from being ill is tricky to deal with. My confidence is pretty dented, and I’m finding it hard to find resources for rebuilding.

Sometimes it feels like it’s time to stop trying.*

* I pride myself on positivity, and am an expert blessing counter. I am having a day off today. Normal service will resume shortly. I hope.

Pots and porcelain paper clay – Mike and Suki White

My last visit before the trail was to Mike and Suki White. They’re multi-talented, working with print, clay, and porcelain as well as being part of Wrekin Writers group. Their studio is tucked behind the Belfrey Theatre in Wellington, and it’s shared with several other ceramicists on the art trail.

On the day I visited, Mike was throwing pots, and Suki was working with porcelain paper clay. Mike explained the type of clay he was using, and about “grog”, ground up fired clay that’s used to give extra strength to pots.

As all good artists do, he made throwing the pots look effortless. Having taken up the invitation to have a go, I can confirm it’s not effortless. My attempts were hilarious, but I can see there’s something addictive about the feeling of creating something that manages to be useful and beautiful from a simple piece of clay.

There’s no fancy equipment, the finished shape and look of each piece depends entirely on the skill of the potter, and I think there’s something pleasing about this. Rather than something uniform and a little soulless, each piece that comes off the wheel has the imprint of the maker and is inherently unique.

One of Mike’s finished pieces

Suki’s work porcelain paper clay enchanted me. Porcelain is white, delicate and fragile – Suki takes all of these qualities and creates pieces that have movement, and a sense of rebellion. They’re alive with texture, and the oxides she uses mean they have depth and tone. She prefers to leave her pieces unglazed, and the matt finish increases the sense of fragility.

I loved this piece
One of Suki’s finished pieces

We chatted about the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, the art of seeing beauty in imperfection. Suki showed me some pieces she’s applied this to, where cracks from the kiln have been repaired with gold, creating a piece with a unique beauty.

Suki’s Kintsugi

I’ve a good collection of material from this visit. I made good notes about the sounds and physical sensations of throwing a pot, as well as spending time looking at the contrasting beauty of the porcelain paper clay.

Over the next week I’ll be going to several workshops as well as spending time in the galleries. This is the next phase of my inspiration gathering and research, where I’m going to capture the responses of viewers to the art they’re seeing. I’m looking forward to this phase, and to seeing the exhibition as a whole.

You can see Suki and Mike’s work at Footprint gallery as part of the Secret Severn art trail, and find out more about their work on their Facebook pages https://p.facebook.com/sukitelford/ and https://www.facebook.com/MikeWhitePots

For details about the Footprint gallery, and the rest of the trail which includes workshops and open studios visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/

Thank you for your kind support and encouragement during this project. It’s great to get such positive feedback. I’m looking forward to the next week, but I’m especially looking forward to being able to hide away with my notes and write.

Please share, comment on the Facebook post, and give me all the likes you can. Thank you x

Kathryn xEDIT

Shropshire hills, and swans in Prague – a visit with Maggie Humphry

I’ve admired Maggie’s paintings for several years, so I was really excited about the chance to spend some tine with her. Maggie’s studio is unassuming and bursting with beautiful work. She showed me her huge range of styles, moving from vivid, almost abstract pieces to delicately detailed country scenes and charming festive illustrations.

Two of my favourite pieces are in this downstairs gallery; a piece based on her experience of a choral rendition of A.E. Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills, and Shadows of Moon a swirling image of the hills. Both of these pictures make me feel as though I’m travelling through the landscape, and give a sense of there being a world waiting to be discovered beyond the frame.

Shadows of the Moon

Maggie explained that her career began as a ceramicist and she has produced many ceramic murals all over the country, including the fabulous blue dragon that welcomes visitors to the Dragon Theatre in Barmouth. Working with clay takes it’s toll however, and Maggie now works with oils, as well as creating detailed line drawings and illustrations.

One of Maggie’s many ceramic murals

I also spent a little time in Maggie’s beautiful garden, which is a paradise for bees and nature as well as humans. She explained that she loves to be here in the early hours – that secret time of day before people are up and about.

Next, it’s up the stairs to Maggie’s work room, past a mural of geraniums that covers a patch of less than perfect plaster. There’s a sense of energetic chaos in the room, enhanced by a soundtrack of Mahler, which Maggie described as mirroring her work with its combination of movement and precision. Maggie showed me some of her most recent pieces, based on a friend’s memory of seeing swans in Prague. I really fell for these, and Maggie was kind enough to let me spend some time just sitting with the paintings.

Newly completed Swans in Prague.

There’s a mystical, magical quality to Maggie’s work and it’s this that I find captivating. As we talked about various pieces, she explained how they evolve and develop, and create their own dialogue. This chimed with me as a writer – creating a poem or story is very much about allowing the words to emerge, and allowing the poem to breathe itself into life. There is an idea and an inspiration, but there also has to be a sense of trusting the work itself.

You’ll be able to see Maggie’s work as part of Secret Severn Art Trail in the Footprint gallery at Fusion, where she will also be Artist in Residence, no doubt wearing a marvellous hat. To find out more about her work, visit http://www.maggie-humphry.co.uk/

Kathryn Anna Marshall is poet in residence for Secret Severn art trail. Find out more at https://kathrynannasite.wordpress.com/secret-severn-art-trail-poet-in-residence/ or on https://www.facebook.com/KathrynAnnaWrites/

Visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/ for a map of the trail, as well as details of open studios and workshops.

Swans, antimacassars and journals from Sinai.

I’m fizzing with ideas after spending the morning with Jayne Humphreys a.k.a. The Strolling Stitcher. I spent my time surrounded by fragments of memories, which Jayne transforms into beautiful story boxes, wearable art and intriguing pictures, and left with a host of thought and images to put into words.

Jayne’s workroom

Jayne is influenced by her Grandmother, and by her environment, especially the River Severn. She explains more below.

Bio

Jayne is passionate about breathing new life into precious things, and many of her pieces feature things like safety pins and curtain hooks from her late grandmother’s sewing boxes. I asked her how she felt about giving away these things, and she responded gently that she like the idea of passing them on. There’s an thread of continuity though Jayne’s work, of harnessing and sharing the life of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

One of the most common images in Jayne’s work are swans,which have been a major inspiration to her since she moved to Ironbridge three years ago. There’s an anthropomorphic quality that is enhanced by the story boxes she creates for each piece. Continuing the practical element, Jayne’s swans double as brooches and the story boxes are designed to display jewellery.

A story box in progress

If you look closely at Jayne’s work you’ll see fragments of journals or scraps of receipts. One of the most fascinating things she’s found is a notebook acting as a photo journal from the WWII campaign in Egypt. Looking up at her window I see a flock of house martins made from the deeds of her old house, and inspired by visits to the Squatter’s Cottage at Blists’ Hill. Reinventing finds that would otherwise be lost in a drawer or attic brings a new aspect to make do and mend, and brings a real depth to Jayne’s work.

A quote from the film Cold Mountain is an integral part of this piece.

As befits a collector, Jayne is constantly gathering inspiration for her work. She loves exploring flea markets, which are brimming with fabrics and oddities that are crying out to be part of her creations, and she’s also inspired by the Back to Back houses in Birmingham. Jayne showed me books, chatted about films that have had an impact, and we talked about her travels, most recently to Romania. One of the most fascinating influences comes from the work of Maud Lewis, a folk artist from Canada, famous for her painted house which has been reconstructed in Nova Scotia art gallery.

On a deeper level, Jayne is inspired by visits to the Foundling Museum in London, which tells the story of the first hospital for foundling children. Jayne talked about the tokens mothers left so their babies could be identified, if circumstances changed and they were able to reclaim them. This fits well with Jayne’s eye for rescuing scraps of life that would otherwise be lost in a drawer.

Visiting Jayne has given me yet another aspect to my writing as poet in residence for the Secret Severn art trail. I’ve connected with Jayne’s work on a more personal level, and it’s tapped into my tendency to be fascinated by the things that get thrown away (I sound like a womble don’t I?). The swans in particular have sparked my imagination, and the poems that are bubbling up have a feel of a dark fairy tale journey. I was particularly inspired by the piece above, a swan with a pocket for a poem. I’ve named her, and I’m enjoying exploring her journeys. It makes for exciting writing, and has given me a new swathe of inspiration.

You’ll be able to see Jayne demonstrating her skills alongside Caris Jackson in the Art Zone in Dale End park during the Festival of Imagination on 21st September, and her work will be on display as part of the Secret Severn Art Trail from 20th-29th September.

Thank you as ever for reading. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, please share on social media, like any posts you see, and give me quick comment on Facebook – it all helps beat those pesky algorithms.

You can find out more about Jayne’s work on https://www.facebook.com/strollingstitcher/

For maps of the trail, and details of workshops go to https://secretsevern.co.uk/

Visit www.ironbridge.org.uk/news/ironbridge-news/exciting-events-at-the-festival-of-imagination/ to find out more about the Ironbridge open day on 21st September

Baobab to Beech trees – Sandy Densem

Baobab to Beech trees  – Sandy Densem

I’m enjoying my work for Secret Severn so much! Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with Sandy Densem, who’s work I’ve admired for many years. She explores texture and tone and creates pieces that are intrinsically multi-layered. Sandy describes how growing up in Zimbabwe has given her the lens through which she sees the world and it’s fascinating to see this in action.

Summer Trees

Much of Sandy’s work is inspired by trees, expecially the mighty Baobab. This is a tree that lives for thousands of years, but if it’s knocked down can fade away in a fraction of the time. The pull between permanence and fragility is interesting thread to me and it’s reflected in the range of materials Sandy uses.

Twin Baobabs

For yesterday’s visit we focused on creations built from collage and print. Sandy begins with lino and tissue to conjure her starting shapes, then uses oils, water and oil pastels to layer, define and refine the images. The layers reflect what Sandy describes as an internal landscape, and seeing her work build and grow was a captivating experience. I was amazed at how quickly she works, and how much work is that combination of instinct and deliberate action that gives an artist their own style.

Tissue and printing
Drawing out the shapes
Highlighing the spaces
Textures
Baobab and beech trees

We talked about Sandy’s recent work in Uganda as part of the Xavier Project, which provides sponsorship to refugee children in East Africa. She showed me her concertina sketch books, produced by the light of a mobile phone, as well as artwork produced by her students which she hopes to auction as part of a fundraising exhibition.

Concertina sketch book

Sandy explains, “I’m originally from Zimbabwe, where I lived most of my life. I’m fortunate to have been born with the right to a British passport, unlike so many millions of others who now spend their lives in the ‘no-man’s land’ of refugee camps around the world.”

Sandy’s produced a series of works called Migration, that are rooted in the refugee crises around the world. There’s an intensity and pull to these pieces that I want to spend more time with, and I’m already putting together plans for another visit.

Migration

From background, to process, to product, for me this was a writer’s dream. Ekphrastic poetry is a joy to create, and I’ve come away with layer upon layer of notes to fashion into finished poems. A good day.

As ever, please share this if you’ve enjoyed reading it, whether you’re on twitter, Facebook or you just want to reblog. It’s a great way to support me and build interest for this project and for the art trail.

To discover more about Sandy’s work go to http://sandydensem.com/work/

To discover more about Secret Severn go to https://www.facebook.com/Secretsevern/

On committees and editors

I’ve had my first meeting in my role as Poet in Residence for the Secret Severn Art Trail. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous – those who’ve worked with me will remember my absolute hatred of meetings, and my tendency to turn into a disruptive child when forced to take part.

It turns out I feel quite different when I’m talking about writing. It’s not confidence as such, I still feel flits of nerves and waves of impostor syndrome. What it is an absolute love of what I’m doing. I know how much language, song lyrics and poetry mean to me, and I know how much it can move people. If anything I write moves anyone even the smallest amount, I am delighted. To be able to combine this with visual art, and to have the chance to explore the impact on visitors to the trail excites me. And I think it’s that that excitement means I don’t hate meetings. I’ve sent my first set of emails to artists to see who wants to be involved, and I’ve had a lovely response. Many people are almost as enthusiastic about it as me (if a little baffled), and even the ones who can’t get involved for one reason or another are interested and supportive.

The other part of my writing week has been less cheerful. I’ve had to make the difficult decision to withdraw my work from a publication. It was a difficult decision for many reasons. This particular poem is one that means a lot to me and the project it was going to be part of has great personal significance. As a writer, I was going to be published alongside people I greatly respect, plus this and was the first the first time I’d been invited to read at an anthology launch. Sound good? I was over the moon.

Since my work was accepted in December, there’s been various confusion about whens and wheres, and slightly odd communication. I finally I reached a point where I felt my work deserved more care than was being given to it. I believe I’ve made the right choice, although a tiny part of me is worried I’ll end up on some kind of editor’s blacklist, and another part of me that simply wants to see my work published. This is the first time I’ve encountered anything but kindness from an editor-usually even having work rejected is done with utmost care. It’s been a valuable lesson.

Cheese pac-man. Just to make you read the next paragraph.

Finally, a word about liking and sharing. I did an experiment last week, and messaged people, asking them to react/comment on my post. It made a huge difference to how many people saw it overall. If you can, could you comment on this and share on Facebook, retweet on twitter and like/comment/do a little dance on anything else you see. I hate social media, but it appears to be essential. Thank you, folks.