Residency at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Laugharne

19 10 2016

Day One, Two and Three

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Arriving at the house each morning has been scintillating.

Because of the Boathouse’s autumnal, late-breakfast starts, I have been allowed and extra hour to walk Sir John’s Hill before doors officially open, and have been refreshed and challenged by the unique way of starting a day.  So, on the broad hill opposite Dylan Thomas’ riverside home, instead of the morning commute and the breakfast routine, I have been counting wrens, identifying distant mountains, trying not to appear alarmed at advancing dairy cows.  In place of registering a class of effervescing pupils, I have had an entire bay of calm space to indulge in.

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Every day has had involved meeting with visitors to the Boathouse and encouraging them to share in Dylan Thomas’ imagery, particularly in regard to ‘Poem in October’ and ‘Vision and Prayer’.  And each day will remain memorable for intriguing exchanges or unique encounters: the passing visit to the house by Wales’ Young Person’s Laureate, Sophie Mckeand, and by the Irish author, Andrew Phillip Smith; a visit from Noel James, the ubiquitous driver of the touring ‘writing shed’ around Britain during the Dylan Thomas 100 celebrations; having Scottish poetry recited effortlessly by a lady from Shetland while her son and I watched in amazement, meeting the kindest of folk and shared in their kindest of tales, their poetry recommendations, their thoughts on Dylan.

The most common sensation I’ve experienced though is a blend of euphoria and sadness, for most people who have shared their ideas with me have continued to comment, ‘I haven’t spoken about books in a long time,’ while others have modestly footnoted that their artistic achievements took place, ‘a long, long time ago’.  That a simple sketch, such as this one,  can be the first drawing a qualified illustrator has completed in over a decade, is giving the collective poem a value I had not anticipated.

The rediscovered experiences are paired with utterly fresh ones: yesterday, I read aloud some poetry in Dutch, was asked to ‘be quiet’ while the documentary on Dylan played, was beaten at ‘paper, scissors, stone’ by a four year old (who may have actually been three), stroked a dozen dogs and, finally, did not see the estuary mist up on sudden and heavy rain.

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I even managed to scribble to quick poem, based on a wonderful line Joyce fed to me earlier in the week, and that I had almost forgotten:

‘The weather arrives on the tide, leaves on the tide’

The weather arrives with the tide,

Leaving a grey-windowed sky,

Stilling the house in Sunday parlour silence.

So families wring their wet afternoon

Strung out like a dripping queue

Of clothes, heavy on a washing line,

Blown about the autumnal house:

The apple-red mantelpiece,

red-currant skirting, alder-red cushion,

and Dylan’s windy voice gusts upstairs,

ruddy-cheeked visions and prayers.

The weather leaves with the tide,

And leaves the bay shining,

Glowing, as thick and full,

As a charged glass of red wine.

Each Boathouse day, I have been made to feel entirely welcome by the staff: Toby answers my questions without showing frustration, and gives me enough of his knowledge so that I may, in turn, appear knowledgeable while misinforming visitors; Joyce and Lindsay introduced me to the local gull population, Paul showed me pictures of his stunning portraits, Carol her poetry, Judith her sculpture.  They are blessed with enough craft to inhabit a gallery, but instead have been modestly introducing me as the ‘resident artist’ – mostly before I’m asked for coffee and cake from an arriving tour party.

(Thanks warmly to Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn in Colwyn Bay for allowing me the time to be away, and to Nic and Arthur who are doing the same.)





Llanddwyn

3 05 2015

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When I’d weighed the prospect of a son,
I felt sure we would share our springtimes
combing these beaches, hinged around the tides,
harvesting what they’d left behind.

On the shattered shells and pebbles that mark the waves,
your mother weaves, body bent,
arm an egret’s neck, fingers a lean beak,
her eyes are greedy gems to feed you with.

And glistening in the mosaic, we find fish eggs,
all bubbled and burst, beetlebodied pouches
where sharks had shadowed, and burnt oak leaves,
tiny pine cones, clinging to the seaweed like castaways.

It is the brisker winds that make you shelter in my shoulders
and here you warm me with the discovery
of that man and boy I prayed would be
burying memories in these shifting sands.





Tumour

25 08 2014

I’d crossed the road trivially and barefoot,
Seeking some nothing of importance:
Borrowing sugar or an egg, thanking him
For the car he’d bartered for like a baited bear
At the showroom.

He closed the door behind him, so I stepped
Back from the welcome mat, out of the limp light
And heard him in cloistered quiet
Reveal his doctor’s deadline
From the doortstep.

The silence shivered and stilted my speech
So he gathered his heavy hand upon my shoulder,
Held it there while he bullied me to believe
He’d beat it again. That he’d buy me that pint
Before Autumn arrived.

We talked idly of the bats rolling in the oaks
Until his red-eyed wife called out his name,
urging him back into her warmth,
Her voice all goose-pimpled and jaundiced
Behind the door.

I offered to bring him to the football
When the season started up again,
Though his smile shamed my simplicity
And I stared down at my cold feet,
conspicuous as cancer.





Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

18 08 2014

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Dylan Thomas’ writing shed snuggled into place on Conwy’s quayside, it looked like it had grown on the wharf naturally. The Liverpool Arms, pouring into the view from his open curtained windows, seemed as though it was musty with tales of Thomas’ games of cats and dogs, of Caitlin, of Vernon Watkins, bruised bottles, and of words worming.

I settled into the wicker chair and tried to write nine poems. In twelve minutes. The queue for the ‘Sunday takeaway’ hadn’t abated and the clothes line, full of thematic requests varying from Whales to Wales, had begun to sag slightly. I wrote, trying not to move anything on the desk, trying to move myself from any tourists’ photograph, trying to look a little at Thomas’ gallery of faces, his lists of assonance, trying, trying.

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And when I had conquered the orders and the glutinous diners were licking the bones of my briefest verse, I hastened off to read a selection of nature poems in the Guild Hall. Between Wales’ Children’s Laureate, Martin Daws, and its Poet Laureate, Gillian Clarke, my poems felt rushed and riddled and the hour was longer than it seemed. But the room was full and the audience was kind enough to smile when they were supposed to, frown when I prompted to. And all the books I took were gone when I left.

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The day before, a string of wonderful writers collected words from Conwy’s web of walls and we amassed poems from the produce. Hinton’s bookshop provided their cloister for the task, their kettle for the process.

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In the evening David Crystal enchanted an audience on the ‘100 words that made English’ and spoke of the reasons why ‘roe deer’ was a crucial to the language as ‘thingy’ and ‘dooberry’ and ‘Twittersphere’.

The highlight? A Spanish couple who arrived to Dylan’s shed and, instead of taking a poem, took away a request for one. I gave them the catalyst ‘charity’ and they gave me back ‘A Toast for Glyn’. Inside the poem were the lines, ‘now, he’s the host of Thomas’ ghost’ and, for that sentiment alone, thank you.





Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, North Tawton

21 07 2014

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We scoured the map for North Tawton and saw it pulse almost in the centre of the county; it was, fortuitously, only miles away from the cottage we were renting.  It took minutes to find the village, moments to find the blue plaque commemorating Ted Hughes’ life there.  The landlord of a pub, rolling barrels into a thirsty cellar, reluctantly pointed the way, behind the churchyard’s arrowhead spire, to the house.  We brushed our hands against the fingernail-thin gravestones on the channelled track and found a view over a lush land lake of a garden.  

Hughes’ wife Carol, the daughter of Jack Orchard, who later ran Moortown Farm (subject of the poet’s collection ‘Moortown Diary’) near Winkleigh, still lives in the home but the site is better known as the home he shared with both Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill.  From a horse chestnut tree that leaned from the garden to the graveyard, I unhinged a conker; it looked too juvenile to contain anything inside the fruit. 

I saw
The dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her, and I knew it.

Ted Hughes, Dreamers, Birthday Letters

 

Fumy, spirituous mists inhabit this place

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply cannot see where there is to get to. Sylvia Plath, The Moon and the Yew Tree

 





How we draw horses

9 06 2014

I structure his head with a right-angle jawbone

and a maw the size of a finger print.  I forget

the direction of the ear and only smudge in the eye.

 

Your mother’s mare has both ears, equilateral triangles,

acute hearing.  She gives her a tame nose and dresses

an eye brightly in a kind red iris.  The saddle

on her horse is like a rainbow reflected

in a cross hatched lake.  She brushes a filly’s skirt

with the paintbrush tail then hames her

in a limp mane.  The stirrups are polished

but she is motionless, her torso stands

only on the lines of your notebook.

 

My horse’s back bucks wildly,

his neck muscles are as pronounced as accent

yet the groin of this gelding is mute.  Knees bulge

like parentheses and push my pen to stroke at legs

that are too long and too slender.  There is never

the need for hooves, he will stand harnessed

to the scribbled grass like a cake decoration.

 

His mate has grown legs now: they are pairs

of ladder rung limbs capped by coffee cups

or hockey pucks.  She has reins that rise

towards an invisible rider.   Both of our horses face

the same way.  They are as tall as your growing hand.

We pace them so often on the paddocks of your books,

they could be tracings.  Thundering echoes

of one another, drawn always to carry you.





2/3 Weeks (A View of Puffin Island)

20 04 2014

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The decision to discuss you is the decision

to keep you. The pronoun grows between them

as they sit on the bed, legs dangling, toes

not touching the floor.

 

He nods, she smiles. A bubble forms on her lip.

She squeezes his hand, he thinks.

While he heaps sugar into the mugs,

she calls out facts as she reads them:

a sesame seed, the tip of ballpoint pen.

The weight of a goosebump.

The width of a tremble.

 

You are the calm channel

between the lighthouse and the island.

where electric shoals, and pods of energy,

are serene and frenzied.