clare e. potter

A.i.R. | Finding My Way Again

Poet clare e. potter brings us her final instalment of her October residency, a reflective essay, Finding My Way Again, along with a captivating new song, The River Flows By’.

There’s a bulldozer in the garden of my late auntie and uncle’s house in Fleur-de-Lys. It turned my gut when I drove past last week. I used to hear the rush of the Afon Rhymni as I slept there on Saturdays. My uncle had once said, I own the house from the wall on the top road right down to half way into the river. They had a goat once, Bili, but he never went as far as the riverbank. He stayed in their garden amongst the heaps of car and lawnmower engines that needed fixing.

There you are, it’s about being half way in. The river, the poetry, speaking Welsh, singing. Commitment. Fear. Fear of the cold water, of speaking the wrong word, of failure (of success); staying waist deep, even though the thighs know that once in, the river feels good. I have a poem in my collection ­spilling histories about this being half in, half out of the Dwyfor, ‘where Lloyd George met God.’

I was afraid to tackle the audio, but once I dipped in, I discovered it was do-able-ish. I know that the pieces I’ve shared are imperfect; the quality of sound and editing are not good, but what is being said by those I interviewed, what has been captured, is. I had envisioned manipulating these interviews and creating ‘sound poems’, a river of voices, but what I found was that there was an authenticity in the people who shared their story/ies with me, and I did not want to trespass on that.

The residency has given me the opportunity to learn the basics of the audio software which will be hugely beneficial for my Llwyn Celyn residency. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experiment, but more than that, this residency got me out and back into nature. I’ve been sedentary for about a year, and this month, I’ve walked miles along various stretches of the Rhymni and Sirhywi rivers (and even the River Taff as a surrogate when I needed to escape the house and write). I’ve lost a bit of confidence in my physical self and this residency has given me permission to be out walking, purposefully, dreamily and get back some of my wonder. I’ve amassed heaps of photos and notes, river quotes, connections people kindly offered that I didn’t have the time to see-through (yet) and I’m busting with ideas. It seems this project is the start of something much bigger…

I’ve made a vessel and plate with ceramicist Philip Hughes; initially we hoped to create a piece that we would take down to the river, then film it as the water took all clay back. Time hasn’t allowed for that, but now the kiln is ready for filling and firing, I’ll go back to the studio with my collected river water and I’ll glaze the pieces with it.

There are poems on both objects that have developed from this residency; at the lip of the vessel: ‘The river doesn’t resist’ (wish I’d said ‘The river never resists’) and at the heart of it, ‘Get right in if you can.’

This is what my father had said when I was clicking my lens to the heron fishing as we watched. Dad meant get right in if you can—with your camera, but as with everything else my father says, what he really meant . . .

Funny to reconnect solidly via something that moves fluidly. I’ve hooked into my past (coal industry, Welsh dialect) learned about the new health of the waterways, looked for otters, and spent more time with my father. Two days ago, we went to Trefil to find the source of the Sirhywi. We were neck-deep in reeds for two hours, exhausted—elated when we came across the babble of water which eventually showed itself to us. It was a beautiful experience, my dad striding ahead, speaking words that seemed stripped of the everyday and were pulsing with meaning; I was almost crying after an hour of struggling in the bog and reeds, ‘Come on, you’re committed now, and every time you take a step, you’re getting closer love,’ he shouted from the other side of the stream.

So this residency has been small steps, trying out new things, laying down some river stones to help me cross.

In closing, I’ve got the start of a song. I’m no singer. No musician. But I can hear what this might be. I’m a little nervous to include it. But I have the bones of a melody that in the right voice box might sing itself clear. And despite oohing and ahhing, I’ve decided to be as brazen as the shopping trolleys I saw wheels-up in the river and share it with you. Dad said, I shouldn’t have layered it, ‘Trust your voice love;’ well I’m not quite there yet with singing, but here it is, and thank you to anyone who has read or listened as I’ve walked along and into and under the river …