Poet in Residence Rachel Piercey gives us an insight into her first week in Launceston
I have no precedent for the feeling of walking through the door of Cyprus Well. To feel that you (partly) know someone through their words, then to walk into their house – not as a static museum, but as an inviting home, though they are not physically present – is a unique experience. And of course, Charles is here. I am surrounded by his belongings: his wonderful poetry collection, his furniture, his eclectic works of art. And Laura, his mother, is here too – I can feel her strength and pride. I am surrounded by ghosts, in the nicest possible way.
I spent the first day following the Causley trail around town, reading the poems out loud and discovering some new favourites. I greeted Mary Magdalene on the intricately carved wall of the church.
The statue was covered in stones, as local custom says that a stone lodged on her back will bring good luck. She is considerably more eroded than in John Lawrence’s delightful illustration in my Macmillan Collected Poems for Children, but the vivid character which Charles conjures in ‘Mary, Mary Magdalene’ is still evident.
I found a new poem to love in ‘Eagle One, Eagle Two’, which tells another local legend about the statues on the Eagle House Hotel flying out at midnight to drink from the river, guided by the figure of Britannia. This poem – especially the last verse – encapsulates so much of what I love about Charles’s deeply nuanced approach to magic and belief. And of course, I went down Zig Zag, the steep path which he immortalised in a poem about the potential of the imagination.
The tourist information in Launceston has a good collection of Causley books, and I came away with three new volumes exploring his life and work. I have started with A Portrait of the Poet, published in 2019, a treasure trove of reflections on, memories of and responses to Charles and his work, interspersed with Charles’s own words. Rowan Williams has written an exquisite introduction, full of insights – I would encourage all fans to seek out this beautiful little book.
The book mentions Charles’s appearance on Desert Island Discs in 1979, and thanks to the wonders of BBC Sounds, I could instantly summon up his conversation with Roy Plomley and his chosen tracks. Cooking dinner in Charles’s kitchen, listening to his favourite music and hearing him talk about his life and his work made for a golden, glowing evening.
I have been working with local schools and in the local library and it’s a joy, as always, talking to children about poetry and reading and writing together, as Charles did. How lovely to ask a room full of schoolchildren if they have heard of Charles Causley and have every child raise their hand. I know the Causley Trust has a big part to play in this – the children told me with great enthusiasm of their encounters with Charles via the musicians of last year’s residency.
I am hugely looking forward to what the rest of my residency will bring. There is much more Charles Causley history for me to explore, many more events and workshops, and much more reading and writing to do in his lovely study, crammed with things made precious by being his. I look forward to sharing more with you soon.