Two thirds in at Charles Causley’s house in Launceston, Cornwall on my residency. I’ve been here since the end of September, and I go just before Christmas Eve. This has been a turning point. Every day I have to make the choice to make something, be it stabs at poems or stabs at drawings. Or full-on drawing or writing sessions way into the morning. But I can do that. I’m only on the the clock of the Charles Causley Trust. Incredible freedom.
Like the bears I keep drawing to illustrate one of Causley’s poems, I suppose in January I will feel as if I’ve been dragged out of a very pleasant hibernation in a lovely warm cave into a terribly cold place.
Everything seems underway but nothing finished, nothing polished. I guess I always feel like that, but I have also entered the final phase of growing new stuff all in one new place, and have to go small before I go back to big… I found some Japanese paper a friend brought back from Tokyo a few years ago and started turning random shapes into bears (above, still slightly wet).
It takes the anguish out of drawing if you just throw yourself into it. I was having a bad day with watercolours and it helped bring back a fluidity of line and a feeling of the awesomeness of getting to draw such creatures from life, and sometimes (and in this case) memory.
I recently went to Dartmoor Zoo, and though the European Brown Bear, Hayley, was a bit reticent as it [sensibly] was going into semi-hibernation, the Syrian bear, Fudge, helped enormously – with bear facial expressions.
Many bears are older in UK zoos and this gives them precisely the sort of world-weary look I needed for the poem ‘My mother saw a dancing bear’. I don’t like looking at dancing bear videos online for too long as it gets depressing, so this got round the problem, knowing that thought the bears were old they were still well cared for.
Reading up on dancing bears gets to be also a bit horrifying, but there are several organisations trying to stamp it out:
Wildlife SOS India: http://wildlifesos.org/dancing-bears-in-india-final-curtain/
Whilst searching online I was also struck by the number of businesses who think ‘Dancing Bear’ is a really cute, olde world name to call themselves. Perhaps they are even referencing Native American Indian chiefs too….
Aside from bears, I’ve also been writing about grief and loss. I’m writing a long elegy/poetry collection to my late brother, which takes the form of a story about him, or someone like him, in a house which seems to be being flooded…
Swifts feature. They:
• are the fastest-flying bird on the planet
• sleep on the wing
• are related to the humming bird
Their appearance also, often, signifies a storm about to break. There is a feeling with death that though that person was very significant to you and everyone in your family and beyond, their lives slip away without anyone noticing. People leave us all the time without anyone noticing, but this isn’t enough. I’ve put my brother in a story as I hope gives it some power to all this powerlessness, something of that quality poems have to be both story and voices and films.
Ann Stevenson’s poem ‘Swifts’ helped trigger it:
We have swifts, though in reality, not parables but
Bolts in the world’s need:
Swifts, not in punishment, not in ecstasy, simply
Sleepers over oceans in the mill of the world’s breathing.
The grace to say they live in another firmament.
A way to say the miracle will not occur,
And watch the miracle.
We kept hoping for a miracle to happen which never came. But really, the miracle was my brother’s bravery. His intractable sense of himself and his humour in the face of horrific pain, and ultimately, his loss of life. Swifts became our sense of him – cutting the air with a soul, and to we godless creatures, a sense of him alive – somewhere in the World.
Charlotte Walker will be artist-in-residence until Christmas 2016.