In March this year it was my great fortune to stay in Grasmere with the Wordsworth Trust as their poet in residence. The reach of the Trust is huge and I would urge anyone who doesn’t know about them to find out: https://wordsworth.org.uk/
The brief for the residency was simple and light touch. Aside from some time in primary schools and an afternoon workshop with the Dove Cottage Poets, the time was entirely my own. Working with both was a pleasure and there’s definitely something in all that water that runs off the fells up there as there was great writing generated. I have no doubt that some of the poems from our Dove Cottage Poets’ session will find their way into magazines and collections. The schools were great fun too and exhausting in the best way. We were working to get the children writing about animals and this yielded some real writing. Two flashes of brilliance have stayed with me: a girl in one school described a hedgehog as being ‘seeded with spikes’, whilst a boy in another imagined a wolf ‘as grey as the struggle of life’.
In ten years of trying to write, this was the first time I’ve had a month to just focus on my own writing, away from work and all other commitments. The timing was perfect for me. My first collection, Gall, came out just last year. Since then I’ve been struggling to get going with new poems and, whilst I’m told this is common after a first book, it is nevertheless unsettling. The month in residence enabled me to revisit simple questions about writing such as, what direction now? What poems do I want to try to write? What does it even mean to be someone who is trying to write poems? Three months on from my time in Grasmere I can’t say I have full answers to any of these questions, nor that I’m comfortable that the point probably is that I never will, but the residency absolutely created the space for me to make first starts towards answers. And it wasn’t just the time and space of the residency that enabled this: the staff and volunteers of The Wordsworth Trust are so passionate and committed to poetry that they welcomed me simply as someone who is trying to write – which was both hugely validating and inspiring. And that’s before you even think about the Wordsworths and Romanticism or how beautiful the Lake District is and how wonderfully different it is to my native Norfolk landscape….
Whilst I’m no expert on Romanticism or the Wordsworths, their engagement with the more-than-human world, with nature and place, really resonates with me. Looking with the Trust’s Curators at a small part of the vast manuscript holdings in Grasmere was astonishing. I always feel such a charge from seeing original autograph manuscripts, it’s where the writing is somehow still molten, laden with its moment and potential. I find this even if the writing is seemingly mundane, such as a recipe for gall ink in Dorothy Wordsworth’s own hand. In fact, the more I spoke with the staff and volunteers, the more fascinated I became with Dorothy and her journaling, her noting ‘wonders of the everyday’. All of this really helped me to think further in that direction, to get into new reading and to do some gentle walking (though the weather was largely too awful for anything suitably Wordsworthian!). From all this the starts of some new writing came. I also got further into thinking about a poetry translation project that will look at the poetry of nature and place in other cultures, across other species’ migratory flyways. I’ve since been successful with an Arts Council application and will be announcing details of that soon. My working title for it is Lines of Migration.
My time in Grasmere was also great from my perspective as an RSPB Officer. It was hugely enlightening and inspiring to see how the Trust works with poetry (and all the arts), through the heritage of the Wordsworths and Romanticism, engaging with people of all ages to get them thinking about what nature and place means to us individually and collectively. That some part of our collective consciousness of the lakes considers it ‘Wordsworth country’ attests to this. It just all works on so many levels – from simply getting people outside to relax, to getting them to seriously observe or think about how we are shaped by the more-than-human world and how we have come to shape it. From their locale in Town End Grasmere, huddled around Dove Cottage, they really are doing great things; and I can’t wait to go back in April 2020 when the fruits of their brilliantly ambitious Reimaging Wordsworth project will see a relaunching of the cottage and the museum in time for Wordsworth’s 250th birthday.
My deepest thanks to all at the Trust for welcoming me so warmly and providing such a fantastic opportunity.