round? Well yes it does I suppose. Food, heat, light,time to write. All the essentials. I send out a lot of invoices for writing work, and it still gives me a bit of a thrill (people pay me to write ). Today I sent out a slightly different one – to my local bookseller, The Ironbridge Bookshop. They stocked my poetry zine last year and have just sold the last one. Now I’m not going to be retiring to the Bahamas (after commission and the graphic designer’s fee I could just about get a day out in Brum) but this does feel special. There’s something about the fact that someone has walked into a shop, seen my work and liked it enough exchange some of their hard earned cash in order to take it home. It feels like validation I suppose – as though there is a market for my words, and that it genuinely connects with people.
I’ve spent my earnings on two more courses. One is with Spelt magazine all about how to submit to magazines, which I’m obviously doing but I feel I could perhaps do better, with a bit of practical help. The other is a workshop which sounds right up my street both in terms of method and subject. I’m not great in a classroom situation (thank you repressive girls’ school) and struggle to contribute but this workshop seems like it might be just the right balance of contribution and contemplation. My experience on my York CLL course has really shown me how much I learn from a workshop style, and how it builds on everything I’ve read about poetry in the last couple of years.
Things feel good at the moment. I mean obviously everything is terrible, but this tiny poetry aspect of my life feels like a refuge, rather than yet another point of worry. And refuge is, after all, one of the reasons I write.
You can buy Yes to Tigers from Ironbridge Bookshop, or direct from me – just email email@example.com x
It’s finally happening, my poetry zine is on it’s way to the printers! Very excited, and very grateful to Amanda Hillier printing for her patience with my endless edits – finalising poetry punctuation is hard – finalising poetry punctuation when you’ve a head full of brain fog is almost impossible. We got there though, and the finished zine will be with me soon.
A poetry zine sounds like a wonderful thing, how can I buy one?
If you live in Telford, you’ll be able to pop into the Ironbridge Bookshop to pick up a copy. If you’re further afield just drop me an email or a message and I’ll post one out to you. I’m planning to set up an Etsy/Folksy shop to sell the zines, as well as some bespoke poems which will make great Christmas gifts too, and I’ll post the links here and on my social media pages.
A short post today – brain fog is beating me, but I’ll write a longer one soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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 is influenced by her Grandmother, and by her environment, especially the River Severn. She explains more below.
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.
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.
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.
As well as my Secret Severn research, I’ve been polishing my competition submissions. I’ve had to pare back my entries this year, partly because of cost, and partly because I’ve tried to adopt a more intelligent approach.
When I first started entering and submitting, I was so nervous I just pinged poems to every publication that came up. I had some success, but this year I’ve tried a more measured approach. I suppose I’m seeking quality over quantity. I’ve also got over that first rush of excitement about having work published, and moved back to being focused on creating work that I feel proud of, and that I need to write.
I’ve been struggling to write anything new, partly because I’ve been busy, and partly because my brain is having one of its tired phases. I recognise the signs now and know that it’s just the M.E. rather than anything else. Now I’ve got my submissions off, I’m taking a week or so away from it all, before refocusing on Secret Severn for the rest of September and into October. It’s time to read my favourite chilled out writers, maybe dip in and out of some new poetry I’ve got on my bedside table, and spend a bit of time in fields listening to new music.
As ever, getting people to engage with what I write means a lot – if you’ve read this far thank you!
My second visit for Secret Severn Art Trail was to Amanda Hillier in Coalbrookdale. If you’ve been to previous trails you’ll recognise Amanda’s distinctive lino prints and some of the landscapes she’s inspired by. Much of her work mirrors the unique landscape of Coalbrookdale where industrial architecture and natural features sit side by side.
As well as gaining inspiration from Coalbrookdale, Amanda escapes to the seaside. She challenges herself to create quick sketches of structures and rock formations, perhaps imposing a time limit, or working in shades of just one colour. She uses her sketchbooks in the same way as I use my notebooks (and scraps of envelopes when I’m not organised). Thoughts, ideas and impulses are captured, before being distilled into the final piece.
My morning with Amanda was spent seeing the re-imagining of a fragment of seaweed collected from Aberdaron. Amanda explained how the pieces are created in reverse, and showed me the carving of the lino, as well as the process of printing. It’s a process that owes a lot to Japanese woodblock printing and uses many similar tools and techniques.
I felt quite different today, compared with my visit to Both in Stitches and I think it reflects difference in process. I’ve come away from this visit with a strong sense of how I want my finished poem to be. The rhythm of the poem is there – I want to mirror the feeling of the print roller and ink on paper, and I’ve got a strong theme. I’ve already written a very rough draft, and the essence of the poem is there. This is a contrast to my work earlier in the week, where I was seeing the preparation and groundwork for a long term creation. My notes for that visit are more measured, with threads of ideas gradually coming together.
Things I’ve learned, like being sure that the form I choose mirrors the meaning, are bearing true, and helping to guide what I write. I think writing about something that isn’t entirely driven by personal emotions or strong beliefs is tapping into a different set of skills, which is another level of development as a writer. I can’t wait to see how the language and rhythms of the pieces will develop. I know I’ve already got two very different poems brewing
I’ve had the best morning. My first visit as poet for Secret Severn art trail was to Both in Stitches, a collaboration between local artists Jo Clarke and Angie Silkstone. Their work is a blend of embroidery and painting and they create pieces that reflect the unique landscape of Ironbridge Gorge. This was an industrial area that is fast returning to a place of natural beauty and work like this that marries the two is something that interests me a great deal. A thread that seems to be running through my research is developing from my reading of Colebrookdale by Anna Seward. This is a poem that rails against the damage of the landscape at the hands of the ironmasters. Three hundred years on, the industrial landscape is being replaced with housing and curiously the same sense of mourning, especially in the case of our beloved red brick cooling towers, is emerging.
Back to today. I was nervous – my plan for this role is what
could be called loose, and those who know me well know I am a planner and list
maker, rather than someone who’s happy to just see what happens. I’ve no choice
in this though, and I kind of like it.
I’ve had the normal fears of anyone starting a new project,
can I do it? Am I good enough? It turns
out I can do it and I might well be good enough. For Jo and Angie, today was
all about preparation, measurement, planning and cutting. They’re creating a piece
inspired by the Coalbrookdale Viaduct and seeing the level of precision
involved in translating this structure to calico was a joy. I’ve three pages of
notes, focused on the sounds, the small actions of expert hands that are going
to make this piece happen. I feel privileged to have been able to see the start
of this creation, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to go back a couple more times
to see the progress. I’m pinching myself a bit that I’m part of this, and able
to combine my love of visual arts with my love of language.
I’ve several more visits, to lino printers, potters and painters as well as graphic artists and collage makers. If each one is as good as today, I shall be delighted.