End of a residency

and we wonder cover image revisedIt’s been such an honour to be part of the experience that is the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. And that’s what it is. An experience. Every time you walk in the door, you enter a mesmerising world of the imagination, with new residencies, exhibitions and installations occurring all the time.

My residency wrapped up with an exhibition of poems, some of which I wrote in response to the work of the other artists in residence: Toma McCullim, whose current work engages with people coping with dementia, the magnificent dancer, Tara Brandel, and Emma Jervis, the photographer.

With so many events taking place during the Skibbereen Arts Festival, there wasn’t time or space for a reading, but Justine Foster suggested (over lunch) that putting together a booklet of the poems would complement the exhibition. I did read some of the poems at the Poetry Marathon which took place at Paul and Marie O’Colmain’s Working Artists Studios (and also interviewed Liz Nugent, author of the psychological thriller, Unravelling Oliver at Holger and Nichola Smyth’s Time Travellers’ Gallery.) The booklet is available for purchase at the Centre. Here’s one of the poems, which I wrote in response to Toma’s exhibition, These Tangled Threads:

tangled threads

Keep net

after Toma McCullim

losing the word for ‘glass’,                                                             you say carrier of wine,                                                                                                         find new vessels

too close, not close enough:                                                                                        sweet, useless balls                                                                                                              of sugar icing,

amuse-bouches that turn                                                                                                    to tears                                                                                                                                    at a crossing

junk, cat-cradled                                                                                                                  by wool                                                                                                                              cross-stitching over

a cracked egg                                                                                                                      still holding                                                                                                                            yolk
more raw,                                                                                                                            less – or more – elaborately                                                                                            attached

to the green-grape                                                                                                                 of rust                                                                                                                             spilling

its metallic waves,                                                                                                           collapsing,                                                                                                                           one riff at a time

My connection with Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre isn’t over though. In the autumn, I’ll be offering further poetry courses, so that’s another legacy. My heartfelt thanks to all the staff and other artists at Uillinn. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m glad to have found new friends.

(PS Love how the WordPress formatting has disjointed the poem across the page! It wasn’t written like that, but as it’s evocative of the gaps in synapses that can occur with dementia, I’ll leave it like this…)

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Next up, Teen Camp!

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So, we’ve had the president’s visit, (here’s one of my young writers reading to President Michael D. Higgins from the magazine of poems we produced) and the Uillinn Arts’ Centre is now officially up and running. Very exciting to see the regular transformations, as things change all around me. The fabulous organza gown, the hundreds of names embroidered in squares on a pair of tapestries, have been and gone, along with Tess Leak’s magical ‘I shall build for myself a castle’ series of giant drawings and artifacts.

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Lucija and I are sitting in front of the fantastic permanent sculpture by Michael Ray who is one of Ireland’s most rated glass artists. My new neighbour and fellow artist in residence is Toma McCullim, from Scotland, who is replacing American artist Al Zaraba, who SHOULD have been here, but unfortunately was taken ill on arrival in Ireland and is currently recuperating in Galway hospital. But he’ll be with us shortly. Meanwhile, we have the glorious Toma, who invited me to visit an archaeological dig going on at the site near where the old workhouse used to be. We met the professor from Maryland University with his students (coincidentally, Al Zaraba is also from Maryland). We also came across a memorial plaque to 22 year old Patrick McCarthy at the site where he was shot by guards in 1922 for being a dissident. That’s bound to work its way into a poem!

As well as a staircase poem, Toma’s own project also includes artifacts that have naturally rusted – and what do you know? On our wanderings, we came upon a whole collection – like a found exhibit – nestled in a field! Toma had her conceptual way with these objects and they are now on display in a stairwell. Also poem material for me!

The wonderful thing about being ‘in residence’ is the serendipity of what occurs. Socialising with Toma and Justine Foster, who makes things happen here, and also Rita and Jackie. As I’m in Skibbereen at the moment, a friend from UCC gave me a ticket to see the Galway Druid Theatre Company’s magnificent production of FOUR Shakespeare plays, back-to-back. Six hours of Shakespeare – and it flew. (We did have breaks for drinks and even dinner, provided by Riverside Café). Their next performance is in New York. Also, thanks to meeting Toma, I ended up in Levis’s pub in Ballydehob to hear the haunting Aboriginal music of Frank Yamma, with David Bridie, from Australia. Fantastic.

The opening of the Members’ Exhibition was a massive affair – as well as sculptures, there were over 300 paintings wonderfully hung  – and it was followed by a spell-binding poetry performance by Canadian/ Indian poet – Renée Sarojini Saklikar, whose ongoing project involves the Air India crash in West Cork in 1985. The audience participation was very moving.

Throughout my stay here, I’ve been so impressed by Emma Jervis’s extraordinary photographs of events, candid moments, beautifully captured. Wow. The Centre is so lucky to have her. She’s archiving an impressive visual diary of Uillin’s events and exhibitions.

As for me? Well, it’s been a frenzy of editing and writing – and next up is Teen Camp! I’ll be offering an intensive three-day workshop from the 8th to the 10th July. As I’ve discovered that teenagers are writing novels these days (why not?) the focus will mainly be on structuring, pacing, adding layers to character and using metaphor to bring language to life. The short story and poetry won’t be neglected either. The best novelists, in my view, are natural poets.

And that, sadly, will bring to a end my residency here. But I will be doing a reading of poems created during my time as Poet in Residence at the end of the month. And there will be Autumn courses on offer

Leaning into your world

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The Dancer in Residence, Tara Brandel, and a visiting dancer from San Francisco, Kathleen Hermesdorf, performed in Gallery One, incorporating into their movements connections with the exhibited delicate unfired ceramics, and in particular, the upper torsos and heads of two young boys. A random box provided another prop.

Aside from a couple of synchronized phrases, they danced separately or in response to each other. In particular, their breathing, and level of energy seemed particularly symbiotic, synergistic. Sometimes dynamic, spaciously taking up the whole room with frenzied gestures, sometimes foetal, supine, still, they were a mesmerizing act.

They invited me to read a couple of poems for them to respond to. I read ‘Leaning into your world’ and ‘No need’, with long pauses between lines, so they could pick up on the mood of the poem, and respond kinetically to the images. (The poems can be read at the end of this blog.)

Emma Jervis came down and took some photographs. Tara’s agreed to doing a collaboration for my showcase at the end of my residency, so I’m excited about that. Tomorrow, I’m going to their studio to write a poem in response to their movements.

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My Tuesday lunchtime Poem to Go group responded to work by Bernadette Cotter, which features 600 names embroidered into organza squares, sewn together and hung as two enormous wall hangings. In front of the two wall hangings is a tumble of red organza strips which suggest the skirt of a ball-gown. Some fantastic poems emerged – in just one hour!

I popped in to meet Alison Glennie’s drama students. She’s brainstorming words with them, in anticipation of next week’s workshop, when I’ll join them for a word-fest.

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My Scribblers are getting into the swing of things now. We have a core group of four boys and four girls. This week they wrote a story. We had Chinese horses, magic masks and jars of pickles.

I’m hoping Emma’s video will be available soon. meanwhile, here are the poems Tara and Kathleen responded to:

Leaning into your world

Yours was an impenetrable loneliness;
a skeletal tree leaning away
from nomadic winds.

I passed
and found arms braced,
like rocks for waves.

Your mouth, skin, hands –
these are my borders now,
my land.

With a knife,
you measure rock pools,
clouds, my hips.

We bump against each other
while walking, laugh at rain,
slide to grass.

Our bodies trapeze
like laundry
cavorting on lines.

A hand held brings tears.
Such a winding memory,
delicate thread.

We read poems
lifted to light,
sleep when birds sing.

I divert misgivings;
a crack in the sky
is just a small thing.

No need

No need to tell me
that endings are a moment
of transcendence, and all that is solid
melts into air;
no need to remind me of the eyeblink
tales of life:
like furniture, stacked on the lawn,
that vanishes in a lizard-flick.
No need to challenge me to walk
the high wire, or drag me to a party
with all the wrong people,
where short men take up space
with knuckles on hips,
and there’s barely elbow room.
No need to show me I’m in safe hands –
I’ve seen your scar
and know what you’re made of.
No need for you to hold up
a cardboard cut-out sun:
I remember how it looks, how it feels.
Or to suggest that I’m more stone
than heart:
what do you expect?
I’m still half a couple from ark days
pickling memories in a jar.
No need to say that love will return
some day,
like ‘speech after long silence’;
that’s dirty talk.

The poems were first published in my début collection, The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, published by Salmon: http://www.salmonpoetry.com/details.php?ID=260&a=221                                                             

Meanwhile, I’m writing away, and editing poems for my forthcoming collection. What will next week bring?! (Thanks to Emma Jervis for use of the photographs. http://www.emmajervis.com)

Poet in Residence – Week 1

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First week of my residency over already! It’s been such fun, decorating my studio, with the help of Stephen, who had to use a ladder to hang my African wall-hanging. One of my paintings is by a friend, the self-taught artist and musician, Les Clague. The other is my own. I’ve put up poems from my own collection for visitors to read. They can choose one to take away with them as a memento.

So far, I’ve had interesting visitors, among them Sheena Jolley, the wildlife photographer, who’s invited me to visit her in her Mill House Gallery in Schull. (Here’s her website: http://www.sheenajolleyphotography.com/). She took away two poems: ‘Bodhrán makers suspected, after goats go missing’ and ‘Do not lie to a lover.’ She is thinking of responding to the poems with photographs. Also, Bantry-based Warren Hartley, a South African videographer, from Cape Town, where I did my post-graduate degree, so we had plenty to talk about. He took my poem ‘Yes’ (after James Joyce’s Molly Bloom). Among others, there was a jewellery designer, Nuala Jamison (www.nualajamison.com) and also a student, Ian Curly, who’s currently taking the art degree on Sherkin island.

It’s been great to see former participants from workshops I’ve offered in Bandon, Skibbereen and Cork. I’ve had several editing surgeries, and also facilitated my first Tuesday Poem to Go workshop, with everyone producing an experimental poem.  Ann Davoren, the director of the art centre, swung by to say hi, and I’ve been seeing a bit of Justine Foster, the Programme Manager Education & Community Co-ordinator, and Rita O’Driscoll, the Development Manager, to exchange ideas about the residency. Photographer Emma Jervis, also currently doing a residency, has called in to take a couple of photographs, which she’s kindly given me permission to use here:

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I visited St Patrick’s National School and met Alan Foley, the principal, and the fifth class teacher, who let me spend a bit of time with the fifth and sixth class. They sat on the floor of the carpeted hall and, in groups, enthusiastically responded to a writing activity, an indication of what they can expect if they participate in ‘Scribblings’,  the Young Writers’ Programme I’m offering as part of the residency. The boys were fantastic, producing great poems in a very short space of time. One group rapped their poem! All looks promising…

I was sorry I didn’t get the opportunity to visit the other schools before they broke up for Easter, but I’m hoping parents will see the fliers around town, at the Centre and in the library, and bring their children to the taster workshops on the 10th and 11th April, which will be followed by weekly workshops.  The plan is to produce a magazine of the poems written during the six-week course.

Looking forward to the Eye to Eye talk this evening with Tess Leak, another artist in residence, whose studio is next to mine. She’s working on some large scale ‘emergency’ drawings towards an exhibition to be held at the end of her residency. Great way to celebrate my birthday!

Slow dancing in a flaming building

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Photograph taken by Emma Jervis. http://www.emmajervis.com/#!/index The ‘beasties’ on the wall are part of an exhibition called ‘Flying Colours’. Pupils from twenty primary schools contributed their work.

I’ve been invited to be Poet in Residence at the exciting new Uillinn Arts Centre in Skibbereen, West Cork, from the 24th March to the 18th May.

Part of the remit is to write a blog, and as I already have this one, I thought I’d hijack it for the eight weeks, to write about my discoveries and writing process during the residency, which will be my first. This is also the centre’s first time having a poet in residence, so we’ll all be learning from the experience. Justine Foster, one of the organisers at the centre, is fantastically open to any ideas I may have, so I’m exploring ways my poetry might respond to the opening season’s exhibition, called Fourth Space. This comprises sculptures and installations by a range of artists: David Beattie, Karl Burke, Rhona Byrne, Maud Cotter, Angela Fulcher, Mark Garry, Caoimhe Kilfeather, Dennis McNulty, and Liam O’Callaghan. As I’ll also be interacting with the wider community, out of my familiar territory  and in a wonderful space, who knows what will happen!

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The new Uillinn Arts Centre in Skibbereen. Photograph by Celia Bartlett.http://ailecphotography.blogspot.ie/

During the residency, I’ll be offering Poem-to-Go lunchtime workshops on Tuesdays, and one-to to-one editing sessions, as well as collaborating with other artists in residence, such as the fantastic photographer Emma Jervis. I’m also looking forward to   observing aerial dancer and teacher Tara Brandel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpyplVqURqM.

Of course I’ll be reading as well as writing, and will continue to post any wonderful poems I come across.

Anyone interested in doing the workshops or having one-to-one editing sessions should contact the Uillinn Arts Centre: 028 22090 or 0863633567.