“August rain: the best of summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd, uneven time.”
It’s not just August which has been wet. Apart from a few sporadic days of tropical heat that coincided with the first week of Wimbledon, this summer has delivered more and heavier rain than was needed by my garden. Luckily I’ve had lots of things to keep me busy. College finished in the last week of June but college projects have been ongoing ever since and if you take a closer look at my website you may notice the results of one of them – including some better photography.
Given the choice I’ll do pretty much anything rather than sit in front of a computer screen (which accounts for the random blog postings) so I wasn’t best pleased when Delyth (course leader on my MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts) suggested that I should rebuild my online presence for the Professional Practice module. She was right that the website was looking a bit ‘tired’ and that was because ever since it had been created (thanks to a grant from the Arts Council of Wales in 2014) I had done very little with it and certainly didn’t mess about with the tricky bits behind the front page. She was also right that the content didn’t reflect my current practice, though to be honest this is her fault because – thanks to the MA course – I have gone from using felt to creating mixed media work, lino cutting, hand-made paper and making maps with techniques as diverse as photography, poetry, video, bone carving, weaving and drawn illustration.
Trying to find a way to get all of those activities to sit on a website without the result looking like the aftermath of a jumble sale was going to be a challenge but then, just before the end of term, our MA cohort was treated to workshops with Pete Mosley (coach, mentor and author of The Art of Shouting Quietly . At the end of the four days Pete told me that I was a ‘multi-potentialite’ and a ‘multi-faceted person of intent’. He might have just wanted to get rid of me because my allotted tutorial time was up by using words I didn’t understand but I prefer to think that he was helping me to join up some dots. It turns out that there are lots of us ‘multi-potentialites’ in the world and this is just Emilie Wapnik’s term. Barbara Sher uses ‘scanners’, Roman Krznaric says we are ‘wide achievers’ and my late Aunty Phyl would have called us ‘Jack of all trades’. In Welsh the term is Wil naw swydd which translates to ‘Will of the nine jobs’. How lucky is Will to be able to restrict himself to just the nine!
I’ve always been able to turn my hand to lots of different things, not brilliantly but with competence. The only skill which escapes me is music – including dance, singing and even the enjoyment of listening to anything other than Gregorian chants. I find music at best irritating and at worst, discomforting. Apart from that there is virtually nothing that I’m not interested in or nosy about. I followed Pete’s advice and made a list of all my activities and interests: it took up two sheets of paper and I only stopped writing because it was getting silly. It got me thinking about whether I could combine all of my various activities into my new-ish website and use it to keep an eye on all my spinning plates. Whilst I was thinking I popped up to Craven Arms for the launch of the new Wales Rail Trail which is going to create a long distance footpath that links to the stations along the Heart of Wales line.
For once the weather was good and the scenery was stunning. What made the day truly memorable for me though was that as I walked to the station to get the train home, I noticed a road sign that was almost covered by hedgerow growth. Pulling the leaves away I found this and ticked something off my list off my bucket list – and you will only understand why if you are a history (in particular, Roman history) nerd like me.
Early July saw 13 children and four adults from Llangan Primary School coming to visit our garden. In order to maintain some semblance of control, I’d sorted out the activities which included a tour of the garden, produce tasting, a quiz, observational drawing and the very popular ‘Cake Idol’ competition between Truly Cake and Thunder & Lightning Cake. It was great to hear Harri (aged 10) telling Max to “be serious because every vote will count!” Democracy is safe in their hands. As usual Thunder and lightning cake won and if you follow the recipe I’ve attached you’ll realise the reason.
Meanwhile I was still wrestling with the website and wondering how many wrong buttons I’d press before the whole thing collapsed before my eyes. Distraction came by way of a few days in Aberystwyth during which time I managed five exhibitions in a single day. The first was ‘Lives of the Celtic Saints’ at Llanbadarn Fawr Church and very lovely it was too. I followed that with ‘Fallen Poets’ (poignant), ‘Arthur and Welsh Mythology’ (jaw droppingly good) and ‘Legends!’ (amazing) at the National Library of Wales before getting to ‘Radical Crafts’ at Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
One of the things I like about Aberystwyth is how esoteric some of the street entertainment is. This was the scene at a free concert of folk music on the promenade.
Lorraine (my website guru) lives in Aberystwyth and gave me some ‘calm-down-and-get-on-with-it’ advice about button pressing. On the way home I walked walk part of the Aberaeron to Lampeter trail to visit Llanerchaeron and apart from advising you to be very sceptical about the information which is given to you there about where the nearest bus stop is, I heartily recommend the place. It is beautiful.
Eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t put off interacting with the computer any longer. Even the weather conspired to get me into cyberspace as rain, more rain and then, yet more rain fell. Stuck indoors one damp afternoon I pressed my first button and found that nothing catastrophic happened either to the world in general or the website in particular. Buoyed by (probably misplaced) confidence, I pressed button after button removing redundant tabs and inserting new, relevant ones. Whereas activities used to be crammed into four sections, my website now has 18 different pages and all my interests are arranged in a logical and integrated whole with lots of bits and bobs embedded – just because I learnt how to do it and wanted to show off.
Hopefully you’ll have a tolerant attitude to any bumps and wobbles in my newly realigned website. It’s not only Sylvia Plath’s time which is odd and uneven.
“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.”
Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals.
If you read my last blog ( Give me a map…) you’ll know that I put the blame for my love of maps fairly and squarely on my father.
The responsibility for my love of poetry is less easy to assign to just one person. This never mattered very much because it never occurred to me that I would need to get the two things to work together. Doing the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts , however, has created some unusual alliances in the way I think about things. Around about the time I was walking the Wales Coast Path around the South Gower, two projects were occupying my mind.
The first was how I was going to find away to convert all of the experiences and ideas of that journey into a map that made sense and the second related to a piece of work that I have been asked to submit for the exhibition called ’50 Bees – The Interconnectedness of All Things’. You can find out more about the exhibition here . Luckily I was reading ‘Art Quilt Maps’ by Valerie S. Goodwin. One of the chapters is called ‘Map Haiku:Visual Poetry’ and set me on the way to making the sort of maps which reflect both the physical landscape and the way in which I experienced it when I was out there walking.
A word about Haikus and other forms of poetry
Lots of people don’t know what a haiku is. This is because they didn’t grow up with my sister Helen. By the time she was 10, Helen knew virtually everything in the world (or so I thought at the time). It is thanks to Helen that by the time I was 8, I had been instructed in a variety of theories including how to mummify a corpse ancient-Egypt style, how to skin a rabbit and -most importantly for my MA – how to write a haiku. A haiku is a form of minimalist Japanese poetry with a set number of syllables. Strictly speaking, the first phrase should evoke the season to set the time of the haiku, the second phrase the place and so on. Let me not, however, give Helen more responsibility for my love of poetry than she is due. My mother was a poet whose work was best described as Vogon-like (only readers of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will understand – and sympathise). I grew up with shopping lists written in rhyme, limericks on birthday cards and – worst of all – letters to teachers excusing me from games or for absence – composed as country & western style song lyrics.
In some ways I failed to escape the early influences and I still find it incredibly easy to write in verse although I usually get bored and move on to a different activity after about 4 stanzas. Luckily I live in Wales, a country with more than its fair share of poets. I love the brooding melancholy of R.S. Thomas (Reservoirs):
“There are places in Wales I don’t go:
Reservoirs that are the subconscious
Of people, troubled far down
With gravestones, chapels, villages even:”
and I adore the imagery of Dylan Thomas(Hold hard, these ancient minutes):
“Hold hard, these ancient minutes in the cuckoo’s month,
Under the lank, fourth folly on Glamorgan’s hill,
As the green blooms ride upward, to the drive of time;”
So as I thought about the South Gower and the 50 Bees, I wondered about using a haiku as a starting point. Especially as I had no other ideas floating about in my head. Rather than use a Japanese form of poetry, I did a bit of research and found that there is a Welsh version called an englyn. There are 24 different styles of englynion which range from incredibly complex to just downright incomprehensible. The englyn milwyr (soldier’s englyn) was the simplest: 3 lines, 7 syllables per line with the last syllable of each line rhyming. I thought that the soldiers wouldn’t mind me borrowing and tweaking their englyn so I decided my verses would be in English and would go with the 3 lines, 7 syllables but not bother with the rhyming. I started with the 50 Bees simply because time was pressing and I had been getting emails which urged me to send photographs of the completed work as soon as possible. The COMPLETED work? Small chance of that happening. I had been assigned a bee called the Colletes Cunicularis which is a fussy eater of goat willow and has very specific ideas on where home should be – sand dunes. Also, my bee was prone to dancing with all the other bees from her hive. I liked that image and thought about it a lot as I walked around the sand dunes of Kenfig Burrows in Glamorgan.
According to local legend Kenfig was once a rich town and its people were cursed after they failed to show shelter to an old man on a stormy night. Voices on the wind were heard to cry “Dial a ddaw” (Vengeance is Coming) and by morning the whole town had been buried in a sandstorm. It is said that the bell of the church can still be heard ringing from beneath the waters of Kenfig Pool. That story helped my englyn along.
“Paths swept by wind, strewn with gold
are lost to all save those who
watch her giddy dance unfold.”
There we are – 3 lines, 7 syllables per line. Easy – thanks to Helen and Mum.
It made my final piece of work for the 50 Bees exhibition almost logical. I just scaled everything up and got my poetry in for all the world to see.
I decided to apply the same methodology to the South Gower. I looked back over the photographs I had taken and the sketches that I had made. In my mind the images of stairs cut into the woodland floor and the smells of carpets of wildflowers were still strong; I remembered that I had been mulling over a problem and trying to find a solution that was proving to be irritatingly elusive. 3 lines, 7 syllables per line later, I came up with this:
“Heavy, heady, scented steps
Violets, Ramsons, Celandines
Perfume the path, the moment.”
I was more pleased with the englyn than it probably deserves and this may have been because it kick started a design idea for a map of the South Gower walk. I did a postcard size sample piece to just make sure I had the colours, lines and textures going the way I wanted them to.
I came to the conclusion there wasn’t enough map-like content in my postcard. It could as easily have been an atoll in the South Pacific as the coast of South Wales. I refined my design and my colour palette and started again, this time working on watercolour paper rather than fabric and layering up glazes before stamping the text on. I’m not that keen on stitching into paper and I’ll probably be altering my techniques before I do the next map but I’m not dissatisfied with the outcome of the South Gower map.
Felly, i ble nesaf? Wel, es i am dro dros y mynydd lleol sef Mynydd Llangeinwyr. Roedd y gwynt yn gryf iawn. Tynnais i luniau gyda chamèra ac yn fy llyfr sgets. Wedyn, daeth y geiriau’r englyn yn hawdd.
My next map is probably going to be based on a walk I did over Llangeinor Mountain. Llangeinor is a tiny hamlet on an ancient drovers’ route across the Glamorgan uplands. On the day we crossed these now barren moorlands, the wind was harsh and bitter so:
“That wind – cuts through cloud spun light
carving shapes, crafting shadows,
splintering the dry stone walls.”
I’m not sure what sort of map I’ll be making to go with this englyn but I’m pretty sure that it will be one to frown over, study and it will mean a bit more than if I’d just drawn the route.
Never written an englyn: try now! 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.