The last month has seen more exciting challenges on the Winchester Poet in Residence front.
I had a message from the organisers asking if they could set up a trail of my poems round the cathedral, with a map showing where each one is situated. It was suggested that as it’s a 10 Day Festival, it would be appropriate to have a trail of ten poems. At that stage I had written only four, so I took a deep breath and started to write more and also to look through my files to see what existing poems I had that might be suitable. Last week I met Trish Bould, the Creative Director of the festival, in the cathedral to discuss where they should all go, and to plan the route for the trail. I have at least three more poems to produce, in response to some more of the artists, and will do my best to come up with something suitable. There are a couple of points in the Trail that will have more than one of my poems as part of the same installation.
My poems for the Fishermen’s Chapel are now finished and incorporated into the artwork by Lisa Earley (pictured left). This chapel contains the attractive altar shown below, and also a memorial to Izaak Walton, who wrote ‘The Complete Angler’. Both Lisa and I are concentrating on the working people who go to sea to catch fish for us to eat, rather than leisure anglers who sit beside rivers with fishing rods.
Lisa had already started working on my poem Those who go down to the sea when I last visited the cathedral. This poem was recently published in the anthology about the sea published by Grey Hen Press, ‘Running before the wind’, and it seemed a suitable choice for a chapel dedicated to those who work in the challenging conditions of sea fishing.
Those who go down to the sea
They hardly ever cross my mind,
certainly never keep me awake
and tossing through the dark hours of the night
wondering if they’ll make it
or whether this time the fury of the open seas
will overwhelm the frailty of their vessel.
Even when I eat fresh fish,
the costly silver harvest
torn from the thundering waves,
I can continue a conversation
as if the delicacy placed before me
had been casually plucked from a bush
by a land-lubber
pausing in a cottage garden
on the way home for tea, unaware
of the raw flesh and watering eyes,
the constant taste of salt,
Lisa asked if I would write another poem for her, bringing in the ripples that figure in her installation, and also alluding to the fact that fisherfolk have for centuries made pilgrimages to this chapel in Winchester Cathedral. I therefore wrote a new poem entitled Ripples that will also be incorporated into Lisa’s work and displayed in the Fishermen’s Chapel. Lisa’s plans for the chapel sound really exciting, using textiles to suggest nets with fish that gradually morph into footsteps; and she’ll be using bits of my poems in the installation. I look forward to seeing the finished pieces.
The next artist with whom I was invited to collaborate is Lucy Cass, a recent graduate from Winchester University College of Art. Lucy works with acrylic and resin to produce amazing pieces of sculpture such as this one. This piece will (all being well) be the inspiration for my next poem for the Poetry Trail. The Muse, however, can be remarkably fickle, especially when deadlines are approaching, with the result that all sorts of poems are now competing for my attention. One of the most recent, written at 4.00am on the morning after my visit, was a rather feminist poem inspired by Jane Austen’s tombstone in the cathedral; but as I’m limiting myself to 10, I don’t think that will make it into the final selection.
Lucy is also designing and producing four postcards that incorporate some of her images and some of my poems from the project, and these will be available at various venues in Winchester during the festival.
One of my commitments during the actual week of the festival is a poetry reading in the cathedral on the evening of Friday 1st November. As this event will start with a short performance by the musician June Boyce-Tillman, I had a meeting with her to discuss our plans for the event. After June’s piece, I’ll give my reading, and the evening will conclude with discussion with the poets with whom I’ve been collaborating about our experiences of the process. The Arts Adviser for the festival, Stephen Boyce, will chair this event.
I concluded my visit to Winchester last week by attending a poetry reading by four poets in the Winchester Discovery Centre. Three of the poets had been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize recently: Annie Freud, David Harsent and Daljit Nagra; and they were joined by the aforementioned Stephen Boyce, as a representative of local Hampshire poets. All the poets gave good readings.
I’ve got more artists to meet and more poems to write, so there’s no time to waste. The dates of the 10 Day Festival are approaching fast: 25th October to 3rd November.