California, dreaming

Blog Post

December 14, 2019

I’m 10 days into a 6 month art residency in Berkeley, California. I feel so lucky to have been invited to come and make work in this beautiful part of the world.

The last few days have been extra tough aloneness wise – dealing with the UK election result, far from family and friends. But Berkeley is a liberal city and the fact that people here are saddled with a president who inspires universal loathing made them sympathetic to my despair. This blog post wasn’t going to be about that, but it turns out I couldn’t not mention it.

One of my index card collage poems made long before the election, but political anyway, like all art, all poetry!

Since my arrival here I’ve made friends with some exceptional trees, as well as tentatively, some people.

Maple on Claremont Avenue on day one
This maple wakes me up, it sparkles at me from outside my bedroom window as special emissary from the sun!

The trees aren’t too curious, but the people are. ‘What are you going to be doing?’ follows on from the usual cheerily delivered, ‘Welcome to Berkeley!’

‘What are you going to be doing?’ asks a Mexican angel in a store called Tail of the Yak, full of decorative wonders.

I went to a small publishers fair in San Francisco on Sunday. It was brimming with lively books, collaborations, people. I met some poets! One I warmed to immediately was called Eric Smeathen, (I know, great name, and he even had a pink jacket.) His book Snail Poems, is a hymn to love written by and featuring metaphorical and real snails and many other manifestations of strength and beauty. It even has Matisse’s snail on the front (from my London, lol,) so it was pointless to try and resist it.

A dose of Eric Sneathen’s snail poetry, published by Krupskaya, one of the small presses with a stand at the book fair I went to on Sunday.
Small publishers fair at SFMOMA in SAN Francisco. This table features publications made with 2727 California a public access print resource with art residencies & other excellent, accessible stuff.

I also caught a reading in the Doe Memorial Library on the university campus the other day. A poet called Margaret Ross read in the lunch poems series there, set up and also attended by, former US poet laureate Robert Hass. Margaret Ross had memorised her long and richly textured poems and delivered them slowly and with a kind of American flatness, to great effect. I loved them, there was playfulness behind her sober intonation and the poems looked up close at time, relationships, aspects of our ordinary dust – she lit up question marks in my head, make me laugh too. I was also glad to get a sighting of Robert Hass, as I heard him read in London at Poetry International a couple of years ago and I’m a fan.

You can read examples of her poems here,

On my way back I stopped at Moe’s Books. What a cavern of delights! I struck lucky as they had a box of broken publications destined for recycling, so I claimed them as step 1 towards my California Collage Stash. There was happiness all round at the timing. Apparently it’s rare they have such stuff as they only accept books in good condition.

Here’s a new index card collage poem, I made it yesterday – using pages from the broken books from Moe’s.

What will I be doing? Well, I have a few ideas… I sent all my old notebooks ahead of me – they’re in the studio here, so that I can begin to catch up with myself and work slowly at last, after an intensely busy few years.

Part of me was here when I arrived, several years worth of notebooks that I sent ahead, which I may lean on for their unmined material, particularly from times when I was too otherwise occupied to make anything much.

One project I hope to make headway with is a song cycle collaboration that I’ve begun research for, with my cousin James Rolfe, who is a composer in Toronto. We took trains across Europe in the footsteps of our shared ancestors and let their ghosts guide us around. They were surprisingly obliging.

Excerpt from copious notes made in mein- not-mine, possibly to be mined, Mainz

Meanwhile my family are coming here soon for the holidays, me and the trees are looking forward to being with them, as well as whatever version of the festivities we can assemble far from the blurry lights of shocked Brixton, which despite having loudly clamoured against leaving Europe, will now have to capitulate to the horrible word & notion that also has x four along, like praxis, Herxheimer and flux!

And I’ve starting painting, this is one of about 10 I began a couple of days ago.

Special thanks to Rebecca Guber of Asylum Arts, for putting me forward for this opportunity, to Dan Schifrin, who manages the residency ‘on the ground’, and who is also a writer and a great help and ally already, and to Working Assumptions, the inspiring nonprofit organisation who set up and support this residency.

Thanks to you too, for reading my blog, more soon, & Happy Holidays, to use the vernacular!

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