A.i.R | “Singing a Different Tune Nowadays”

Our Artist in Residence for October, poet clare e. potter, continues her exploration of the life of a river.

Last week, I walked with my father along the Sirhowy River. We used to walk our dogs here. In the ancient St. David’s wood meters from the river, I’d camp with my friend and her shotgun, Dad went bird nesting in this same wood. My old stomping ground. His old stomping ground.

Before we get started, Dad has a phone call from one of his butties telling him they’ve won a bet on a horse. Before we get to the steps to reach the river, he’s telling me about the one donkey circus that used to come and set up where Asda’s now sprawls, and about the ‘natural elements being leached out of the earth unnaturally’ (ferric oxide, the orange slip that enters the river from the disused mines making the water ‘jaundiced,’ he says). My father never tells a story straight; he knows it’s the tributaries that make a river.

But then we descend and all sounds of Blackwood town evaporate. We are where the air is thinner and cool. He tells me about the history of the mines in the area, how the river was abused, about driving the fire engine up the narrow lane to the centuries old river bank cottage, Glyndwr House, and the protests to protect the wood—unfortunately, portions were cut down for the bypass.

He talked for two gorgeous hours, but here, I’ve distilled it to its funniest, most informative, most meaningful 12 minutes. My father has begun to write poetry in his sixties; he wouldn’t easily call it that, he’d call it observations that ‘I gotta get on paper.’ He shares a poem about his realisation that the river sounds different now, sings different now; as he reads, his voice and the urgency of the river are in synergy.

So much needs saying about this place, its bell pits, tram roads, our dog that drowned, and our forefathers who walked the 100 steps to and from the mines, but hey, that’s enough from me. Have a listen (preferably with headphones), this man knows how to tell a story . . .

Dad: Frank David Potter, just before we see the heron, pausing and talking about the Chartist Bridge, progress and nostalgia, and the altered voice of the river.