Welcome to the world an work of clare e. potter, Wales Arts Review‘s artist in residence for October.
The thought of writing an artist’s statement gives me hives. ‘Statement’ seems loaded with confidence, an assertion of who one is and what one does. A declaration. Something someone with sound knowledge of their process, motivation, long-term artistic vision has the right to declare. Me? I’m reaching for the Anthisan (other brands of topical hive-relief available). I don’t think I have a statement of who I am as an artist or what it is I do. I mean, I write poetry of course, but there are pies cooling on the wall and I’ve stuck my finger in a lot of them. I’m a little bit of a magpie, I suppose, attracted to shiny new ideas, possible collaborations, opportunities to express myself in genres other than poetry—I’ve been in two films, played a pit woman in Gary Clarke’s dance production Coal; I’ve collaborated with musicians, artists, Welsh-language poets, written scripts . . . but that’s just me slipping into the CV, the list of ‘achievements.’ There’s a safety in that. I must be able to call myself artist given the work I’ve made; but those gleaming strands of Kit-Kat wrapper that look appealing when applying for a job or a project, do they tell me anything about who I am creatively and what it is I’m looking to express?
If I had a statement it would probably be that my inspiration comes from others (listening to conversations on the Blackwood bus, the New Orleans streetcar, watching an artist make dye from damsons, talking to a ceramicist about the openings of a pot). If I had a statement it would be that though I wish I was one of the writers who single-mindedly wrote his/her novels, poems, or T.V. scripts, that what ignites me is community engagement, teaching, listening and learning and co-creating. It’s the closest thing to church/god/godess for me, those moments when connections with others happen.
I tend to make work, move on. I think, if I paused, I’d see common threads tying me to the past, pulling me to that one creative endeavour that will allow me to think, ah now, this is it, this is art worthy of a statement.
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
~ from ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers,’ Langston Hughes
For the month of October, I will reacquaint myself with two rivers: the Sirhowy and the Rhymney River. I grew up between these two rivers in Cefn Fforest and then Blackwood; I walked them, played in them, threw stones for my dog into the deep pockets of water; heard stories of drownings and Weil’s disease; I went with my gang of school friends to drink flagons of cider on the riverside; I camped there and kissed there and crossed the various bridges away from home, and back home. I was never far from one of these rivers. I intend revisiting some of my childhood haunts along them: Pontllanfraith, Bargoed, Woodfield-side, Tredegar, Fleur-de-Lys. I’ll walk various stretches of the rivers with my father who knows them well and can recount stories of our industrial history. He’s seen changes in the rivers, right down to the sound emanating from the now-clean throat-flow. I envision being a sort of Clare Balding doing a radio show, walking and interviewing people I meet along the way. I’ve already connected with conservationists, a man who has spent his adult years in search of otters, and a poet who walks and writes and knows well how the river can be medicine.
I want to be present with this moving force. I’ve become quite sedentary of late and I need this residency to get me out of this chair, eyes fixed on my screen, to get me remembering how the muscles work and the ears open and the skin prickles at the cool air from the river’s rush.
I’m the Landmark Trust’s poet-in-residence at Llwyn Celyn, a medieval hall house in the Black Mountains where I will create soundscapes of the house being renovated. I want to use the WAR residency to practise this skill by collecting sounds from the river and making poetry with them. I want to be guided by one thing leading to another. The title of this WAR residency is ‘Half Way into the River.’ I’ll tell you why later.
Some links to my work:
I collaborated with the Gareth Roberts Jazz Quintet (we received a Research and Development grant from the Arts Council of Wales) to create Sucking on Sugarcane, a response to the levee disaster in New Orleans where I’d lived for a decade:
Many years ago, I received funding from the Women’s Arts Association to explore software to make soundscape/sound-enhanced poems:
In 2014 WAR published my piece about the difficulty I experienced in articulating the trauma of Hurricane Katrina/The Levee Disaster. This was the seed for the jazz collaboration:
Find me on Twitter: @clare_potter