Reflections on a Residency, by International Poetry Competition winner Vera Yuen
Back in early July, I traveled to Launceston for my very first time to undertake a short residency and take part in the Charles Causley Commemorative Weekend, whilst living in Charles’ house, Cyprus Well. Cornwall was such a great respite from the summer heat in London. The air felt particularly crisp, with an undertone of petrichor and a thrill of floral scents. I found Charles’ house tucked away on a slight incline on Ridgegrove Hill. What struck me was that Charles’ house could be anyone’s home given how it fit right in with its surroundings without need for exorbitant decorations or remodeling. The building looked sturdy despite its history, exuding a rustic charm.
The interior of Charles’ home felt something out of a time capsule, with every artefact and decoration preserved in its original state. I was surprised to see his typewriter out on his desk which added such a personal touch so visitors could imagine how Charles used this space to brainstorm and work on his poems. I was shown his mother’s room which faced the countryside, admiring tchotchkes that were displayed on the mantel and his framed drafts of poems annotated in red. When I arrived in his room, I took my time to appreciate the little details of of how he would start and end his days: retrieving clothes or storing items in the painted chest featuring a ship, fixing his attire at the wooden dressing table and the oil painting of his mother he commissioned during the world war, which he would admire at before going next door to chat with his mother in person. It was in his house that I could truly feel how he was as a person, what he valued most and where he sought his inspiration. I was also fortunate to share my time in Charles’ house with another poet I looked up to, Anthony Capildeo, where we spent our evenings just chatting about the creative process and discussing poets or works that influenced our own writing journey.
The highlight of the weekend was definitely when I got to meet the people from the Trust in person and reading my work at the Open Mics happening in the Launceston Library and the many shops in town. The locals were very kind and encouraging towards me and I am grateful for the hospitality I received throughout the festival. It was also in the festival that I was pleasantly surprised by Charles’ contribution to children’s poetry and how he approached heavy themes like war, guilt and trauma in a sensitive and whimsical manner reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. As I am writing this, I could not help but to feel a sense of nostalgia for the time I spent walking around such a historical town, throwing stones on Mary Magdalene’s back at the church (for the chance of new clothes!), watching at the ducks near the Zig Zag and at the end of day, in the hushed silence of the house, hoping that somewhere Charles Causley would be pleased to see a visitor from afar (Hong Kong) sitting where he sat to write and sleeping on his bed, to see his house inhabited once again, doing what he cherished most: putting words on the page and sending it out for the world to see.
Words by Vera Yuen