Your Candle Accompanies the Sun

So thrilling when personal obsessions are given the chance to expand into real projects, real objects.

This has happened twice in recent months with two of my sequences making their way into books and exhibitions.

Here’s an account of the the first to appear: Your Candle Accompanies the Sun.

In the spring I had a bout of terrible Mondays, when my teenage son, who has learning difficulties and autism, decided he was never going to school again.
He’d take off around the neighbourhood, and nothing (believe me) would get him on the road to his school, (a lovely place btw, he was fine once he was there.)*

While he was out wandering, I was obliged to stay at home and wait, as when he would eventually find his way back, he needed me to be there.

During these times, I really was stuck indoors, quite anxious, unable to do much. In an attempt to ‘do something useful’ I began clearing out some of our excess junk. I came upon a small 1930s book of duotone tourist photos of Switzerland that I’d forgotten I’d picked up at a flea market years before. ‘Why! This is collage gold.’ I gasped. ‘In fact, it’s the inner landscape of Emily Dickinson!’

I’d seen a Poetry School competition callout on instagram re Emily D – provoked in turn by the new Terence Davies’ biopic: A Quiet Passion.

I began, at the kitchen table, to make one collage after another, glueing and stitching flat turquoise Alps to scraps of photographed kitchenware… and finding my own words to add, after rereading the energetic, mysterious and spiky poems Emily Dickinson wrote so urgently in her many years stuck indoors.

She made some sacrifices in order to develop her revolutionary work. Being a female artist was never a picnic.

This summer I showed a selection of the collages in an exhibition at The Art Stable, Dorset. The work remains up and viewable by appointment, until September 15th. Curator Kelly Ross had had the idea to set me up with brilliant painter Gigi Sudbury, so we could potentially collaborate, and show our work together. This was an added delight, as we share a passion for colour and narrative, the domestic and surreal combined.

We met and looked at exhibitions and forged a valuable exchange. I’d like to write about this more, but for now, here is one of her paintings from the show. We encouraged each other’s image text tendencies.

To co ordinate with the exhibition I again called upon the book producing genius of the Henningham Family Press. They devised a beautiful new binding for a book of the Emily Dickinson collages.

I tried to write an introduction to the work, but ended up writing a little poem instead, which felt less cumbersome.

To accompany the collages I picked out a handful of Dickinson’s poems, a few old favourites and some more obscure ones.
It was fun to choose poems that showed her wit and her visual acuity, her skill in collaging language, her games of scale.

E.g. one starting:
‘I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time – ‘
And another that begins:
‘The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants – ‘
which made Gigi and I laugh our heads off when we met to compare art notes in my kitchen.

The book is available at £20 from Henningham Family Press. Each copy contains 28 collages impeccably reproduced at actual size, my poem and ten by Emily Dickinson.

Each book is cleverly hand-bound to allow for two different sized pamphlets in one set of covers, reflecting our two voices.

Henningham Family Press will be showing the book, amongst many others of their inventive works, at FREE VERSE: The Poetry Book Fair on September 30th. I will be reading along with David Henningham – times to be confirmed.

It’s a great event in any case, for anyone interested in poetry, and the variety of publications being made by presses on every scale. Take cash and be prepared to wave goodbye to it.

And if you too get stuck indoors – solidarity. All I can say is – poetry can sometimes unstick a person with its odd letter shaped keys!

And happy National Poetry Day on September 28th, for which the theme, as I’ve said before, and cut out of black paper and white… is Freedom.

*My son now has the offer of a college place where his independence can be fostered and encouraged, so less stuckness for all of us hopefully.

Cake in the Forest

The project that catapulted me into Nature and away from my habitual London scenery: The Listening Forest, is now up in another form, as an exhibition at the HQ of the Poetry Society at 22 Betterton Street Covent Garden: The Poetry Cafe.

chichis forest cover pic

About thirty of the original drawings are on the walls, chosen from the hundred or so that make up the book, which in turn, were chosen from perhaps twice that that I made whilst in residence for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire.

P1000990.jpgMany of the drawings on show are those I drew live from local people recounting to me what they get up to in the woods; others are ones that I made away from company, on my own in the cottage I was put up in.

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There are also the six paper cuts I made as a structural device to tailor the book into its shape as a mirror to the forest, filing stories as appropriate under section headings: noticings and changes of direction in path, strange sightings and confessions in  undergrowth, the ordinary and everyday in shrub layer, revelations and insights in clearing, lofty thoughts in canopy, base material in floor

undergrowth RRH

 

New for the space in Covent Garden, I replaced Ralph Steadman’s Byron scribed lampshades with new ones of my own, some written on in loose ink with excerpts from my forest poem sequence, some coloured with streaks of Nepalese paper cut into leaf-spiders, moth-women, crow-huts.

lamps

flophouse pic (chichi)

The show opened on my Dad’s 90th birthday, so he came along, and after I’d read some poems, the audience sang to him and we all shared cake!

me and dad po caf

The same week it was the  The Poetry Library open day at the Festival Hall, which took as its theme: The End of the Poem. It was exciting to see the library’s copy of the limited edtion huge version of The Listening Forest in its thirty metre incarnation, laid out on one of the tables, near another recent collaborative work: Collective City, the book we assembled from visual poem collages made by visitors to the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival and made into an inventive street shaped book by the same team who bound the forest book: the inimitable Henningham Family Press

library open day

The Listening Forest exhibition runs until February 4th and is open most days and evenings, but please do check the Poetry Cafe website.

Another evening viewing is scheduled for Thursday December 17th, with mulled wine, a chance to buy screen prints, books and original drawings, and a short reading of some forest and city poems by me and some surprise guest poets!

I will also be running a day workshop in conjunction with The Poetry School, called Hide and Seek in the Ideas Forest, on Saturday January 30th. We’ll be working on how to set traps for the unconscious, and turn what we find into art and poetry.

So many people have been involved with this project, big thanks to all who joined me on the path: including Yasmin Canvin and the team at Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts, Kate Dyer and Lorraine Dziarkowska of Corby Community Arts – and everyone who told me a story or listened to a poem or idea. Particular London thanks to Tanya Peixoto of The Bookartbookshop and Mike Simms of the Poetry Society.

Here’s a poem.

Forest Of Experience

It’s a flophouse for moths

they flail in beige stupor

all eyes and faintings

Victorian ladies with the vapours

 

I tune my ear

to their sighs

floating up in snatches

from hazy gilded blades.

 

Car salesman newt zips

in and out of his slovenly

basketwork: rotted black twigs

laced with bark ribbons.

 

A glowing toadstool

in coral polyester

sponges me

her beauty tips.

 

My forest of experience cracks

under the books I’ve read

the words I’ve spilt

and pictures that I’ve made

 

so badly, so laboriously.

My painting arm remembers

Prussian Blue, Chrome yellow –

squeezed from tubes

 

crude globs, unlike this life

where ferny fountainheads

prise lids off every shade

from eau-de-nil to sludge

 

and nodding fronds of fronds

swish me like a sap

into their losing green.

Nouveau pines

 

rise smooth as vaulting

in my restless cinema

and up in the spaghetti

canopy, sinuous capillaries

 

make grids for clouds

and trap me in a silence test.

Strain, for what?

Your ghost? A hare?

 

But only midges jitter

provincial, repetitious

have they not seen lipstick before?

Their dots itch every inch

 

of me, tiny tireless clubbers

mobbing the street.

Through tough foliage

glimpse bolts of deer

 

shaded in private fur

impervious to sting

or stinging remark –

every day there’s carnage.

 

Bird spangled branches

trumpet fat green notes

filling all imagined spaces

in between parked stars.

 

A tiny dandelion bud

sucks in its yellow cheeks –

I’m the jam and you’re

the butter dripping sun

 

it’s easy to lie down

in blackthorn studded mud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Listening Forest

LF2 cover a:w
Book cover

Early plans for a publication at the end of my residency with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art included the idea of a series of woodcuts, but I shelved these as story collecting and poem writing took over. It seemed like that was plenty enough to do…

country park cafe victorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It surprised me then, to find myself cutting out leaves and letters from black paper in my studio the week I was due to hand in the pages to David and Ping at The Henningham Family Press.

I took my scalpel, cutting mat and big piles of A3 paper, and cut out a page for each of my six sections: path, undergrowth, shrub layer, canopy, clearing, floor. It was very freeing, snipping my way into a happy trance where black and white dance their dialogue  – a more familiar terrain to me than anything outdoors, or that other forest I’ve been hacking about in: Poetry.

Here are the images for Clearing and Undergrowth.

clearingundergrowth RRH

Amazingly, these are now in place in the book proofs, heralding the start of each clump of collected stories and other drawings. The book is going to print this Monday, all 112 pages of it.

Anyone who feels like a trip to Corby on the 2nd May will be welcome to join the launch party.

wood demontoadstools in logistics

We’ll be in a woodland clearing in the middle of town, just up from the boating lake, Cottingham Road, NN17 2UN, 4- 6PM – with drawings in the trees, music and forest refreshments.

I’ll be reading poems from the book, and other poets from the area will also be performing work on the theme. If you know a great woodland poem, or have written one, bring it along to share.

London showings/readings are scheduled for June at TheBookartbookshop, Hoxton, and The Poetry Society in Covent Garden in November/December.

alone in the forest

Finishing projects is nearly as hard as starting them. This current one is one I’ll be sad to see the back of. I’m in the grip of editing the book I’ve been gathering firewood and acorns for since last July, sifting through about a hundred stories collected from members of the public around Corby in the East Midlands.
2014-08-03 16.50.48
Stories about nature and what happens in the local woodlands, what thoughts and feelings lurk amongst the oaks and hawthorns.
As a born and bred inner city Londoner, I’ve found the residency with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art a thrill and a revelation. I’ve spent many, many days alone in the forest, where the arts organisation have a little house that visiting artists can stay in for the duration of their research. In order to write the poems that are going to be at the core of the book, nestling in their own section between the inky stories, I gave myself an agenda: to get properly lost. Witness my unsuitable shoes and handbag.
2014-09-20 16.29.12
This was easy really, as I have a very poor sense of direction and there is no signal there for map apps to work! I am not a camper or scout and can barely tell the time, let alone use a compass. The woods in the area are vast.
Arriving lateish one evening, I’d stopped at the coop in Brigstock, the nearest village, before driving the slow two and a half miles up the rough track to the cottage, and bought supplies, including a piece of ‘stickered’ meat that needed urgent cooking. Next morning I put it in a very low oven with apples from the trees and a load of onions, spuds, garlic and woody herbs. I’ll go out and get lost, I said to myself. When I find this place again, that will be delicious!
I walked all over England: to Lyveden New Bield and Fermynwoods Country Park (again and again) and looped through a million trees, trying to learn their names and admiring their astonishing variety, was startled by sudden birds and laughed at my default veering towards the sound of traffic. Occasionally I’d stop and write in my notebook, or record sounds and observations on my phone. Lost though? Certainly! For hours, for all time…
Eventually I saw a young man in a Forestry Commission shirt, Hurray! A fellow human! I greeted him to his alarm. We had a chat, reluctantly he let me see the beautiful buck he’d just despatched as part of his daily rounds, 2014-10-08 14.33.19 (you wont like it…) then he picked up a twig and traced me a top quality short cut through the forest on the ordnance survey map I’d been carrying, hitherto pointlessly.
I’ve learnt to really love the trees, but people, well – they’re the cats pyjamas!

I will post more details nearer the time – but there will be a launch party in the woods in Corby on May 2nd, with mushroom soup and nettle pie, drawings hanging in the trees, a chance to hear the poems, and, touchwood-tree of knowledge, a finished book.