Poet clare e. potter brings us the final instalment of her October residency, a reflective essay, Finding My Way Again, along with a captivating new song, The River Flows By’. Throughout 2017 these artists, including clare e. potter will take a leading creative role in what Wales Arts Review publishes, centring their skills on a challenging project over the course of a month. We were inundated with applications, receiving hundreds of emails about the positions, and it was no easy task whittling down all that talent to this final eleven. Our team of six editors debated long into the night, and in the end, we decided on a collection of people who we most want to work with, and whose work excites us. We think you will be excited by them too.
Finding My Way Again by clare e. norris
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 halfway 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 halfway 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 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 wonders. 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 bursting 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 to 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 every day 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 …
This piece, Finding My Way Again by clare e. potter is part of the Artists in Residence series.