The Fuse blog has languished. Fiona and I have both been caught up with different projects and had little to do together, although we still plot sometimes. I reluctantly said goodbye to Over the Wall, one of my favourite groups ever – and started other work. I’m currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Southampton, which is a wonderful job and allows me to see how other people write and fashion writing, and I’m working on a mixed arts project in Southampton’s old town – in God’s House Tower, a fantastic medieval building which has allowed us in to play before it is remodelled and renovated and finds a new life as an arts and heritage centre.
The focus on the work in God’s House Tower is not strictly about co-working, but spending time together and sharing approaches in workshops has allowed us all an insight into different practices and some shared work will come out of it, I am sure. Stimulus often comes from work with the community. At the moment we’re all creating on our own, side by side. I’m making it my goal to do something with everyone, either during this project or afterwards.
It’s been interesting for me to see how visual artists run group working environments. They are all used to having ‘group crit sessions’, where artists gather to show work and get feedback on what they are doing. We have been using a methodology from dance, which has a fixed framework and stipulates the kind of questions which can be asked. I think this is really helpful – sometimes writing groups can be very bruising, very competitive, or go the other way and turn into mutual congratulation sessions and not examine the work properly.
I also think it’s difficult ‘sharing’ writing . Writers don’t have an object to present, our contributions are vulnerable to absorption by others. How should we protect our copyright without being forced into publishing? I think firstly it is essential that any copies given out are handed back at the end. And there has to be understanding that a poem or piece of prose is just like a piece of art – you wouldn’t take someone else’s drawing and put lots of feathers on it and then present it as your own, so you shouldn’t take someone else’s writing, the form of it, the breath of it, the run of ideas in it, and change the words to then present it as your work.
Last October was British Art Show 8 in Southampton and the Tower ran a fringe venue with our work in progress on show. The Tower was full of people come to share its loveliness, to participate in arts events and get a taste of what the building might be when it is finished. The busiest day was taken over by women; produced by Sarah Filmer, 700 women celebrated 700 years of the Tower and put a female mark in a building full of gendered history – a theme which occupies many of the group, of whom 7 out of 8 are women.
At our first group crit back in January – a nerve wracking experience, not just for me – I presented this poem, which explains my work process in the building. It is also the foundation for my other work, a cycle of poems, an exploration of my search for women’s voices in the records and history of the building and old town. Everyone was very interested in the idea of the stone tapes – a theory beloved of ghost hunters it posits that the sounds of lives past are imprinted in the walls.
LA FEMME QUI PORTE LES LETTRES
( ‘La femme qui porte les lettres de la poste’, the woman who carries the post, is mentioned in the records of the French Church, 1704)
They do not know/I do not tell them
That I have pressed myself into
The walls of the Tower,
Skin on stone.
That I have eaten the dust
That I have lain on the floor
And offered myself,
Skin on wood.
That I have washed my eyes on the river
That I have flung my voice
Up the stairs and onto the Tower roof
And back down the stairs to the iron-studded door
And like a Tibetan monk
Chanted and sung to the stones,
Which did not hurl themselves in to the sky.
All this I have taken away
To sit in contemplation of white paper
To empty my breath
And squeeze out of my pores
The walls, the light of the sky on water,
The darkness, the smell of ancient sea creatures
Calcified; and the imagined
of a voice
From the past caught in my clothes.
I ask my son
Who studies sound
How to read an imprint
Left by a voice
On a stone
‘It doesn’t work like that –
The vibration travels on
Or is bounced back’
‘What if a sound is long
Or strong enough?’
Those aren’t quite my terms, but
It might force a rock apart
It wouldn’t be something you can hear.’
He knows I want to believe
In the hurling stones, propelled to the top of cliffs,
Powered by monks chanting and trumpets,
‘It’s not what you’re thinking.
There are no stone tapes.
There is no evidence.’
How shall I find her now?
She doesn’t even have a name.
They took her letters, they gave her letters –
Les Sieurs Jean Thomas, LeBlanc, Cabot.
She was entrusted with secrets
Not to be taken from the church
But she is not named.
For hours I beat out her path from the chapel of St Julien
to the arch of God’s House Tower.
Again and again. And again.
I walk fast
Sometimes I stand in the shade of leaves
Waiting for the trance
Observing any small change
Out of the corner of my eye.
(There is a trapdoor in the archway above the gate
To the chapel,
A bee nuzzles for a cranny in the mortar.)
I turn back to the Tower,
And my footsteps ring on the road.
The air is empty.
How shall I find her, how shall I write her.
Her thin bones are powder,
Even the sea creatures are crumbling.
I can place my whole hand in the eroding stone
Of the tower,
There are roots, insects, ants.
Nature grows over unwanted homes,
Displaces the lifeless.
Nothing is the same.
Has it all travelled on, all of it?
A branch full of birds bursts into an old quarrel.
Through the Tower archway there is traffic.
The faint spatter of drops on paper gives way
To the thud, the beat of eternal rain.
Tattoo of stumbling footsteps as I gather my papers
Drum of my heels as I run to take shelter.
La femme qui porte les lettres:
copyright April2017: Deborah Gearing
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