'Prepare to be immersed in the heat and vibrancy of Florida's natural world, full of such sensual detail that to read it is to breathe it in.' - Jo Shapcott
[review of Greyhound Night Service]

Residency Reflections


It has been a month since I wrapped up my second residency at Hambidge. Like last time, I now remember so well the odd and all-consuming disorientation of leaving a residency after so many weeks of quiet and reflective time with my writing and retreat-style living. What returned with me from the residency this time is a short list of goals and aims for my life back in the 'Real World', or back where work and house and family has the majority of my time. A residency or a retreat is just that: a being-somewhere-else-ness, away from the world and with oneself. I find this time essential to re-centering and to fuelling the words and ideas that go into new poetry and research.

I encountered many joyful recognitions in the revisiting of the site of my first residency, yet there were also many moments of bewildering confusion and a lack of familiarity. The quiet winter landscape that I found so stark and memorable from spring 2018 was, very clearly, a different beast in summer. The woods felt feral, felt like an enormity of unknown space, where around every turn there might be and often was a snake, poisonous plant life, or insects waiting to bite or sting. The first time I came home with winter-quiet in my head: little sound, visions of snow and bare trees. This time I bring a forest-wildness inside me, inside the blood and bone and synapses that have absorbed the dense undergrowth, the nets of spider webs, and all that chlorophyll, from spending weeks on a mountain surrounded by 600 acres of green. A mountain that took ten minutes of driving up gravel scree and grass to achieve the summit that was my cabin.

To retreat so far from the human noise of the world, the beeps and blings and constant notifications of life going on in the sphere of social media, was an abrupt shake back into reality for me. The reality of my writing life and writing self. Now home again, I find that the swish of my dishwasher soothes the need to hear the rushing of a mountain creek. The gutters dripping rain can just about fill the need for summer rain dripping from the porch roof of the cabin. I have returned to the cold autumnal weather of Britain, a certain shock from the moment my feet set down on Heathrow Terminal 3 concrete. But if I hold on to the feel of the mountain, to the sticky summer air, the buzz of insects in the trees, that other-worldly presence...if I stay with all of this, perhaps my Full Poet Self, the self I return with (who I have re-met after a long dormancy), can flourish on this suburban ground too.

To make the journey from idyll to home again, I have packed certain nuggets of the residency inside a bubble wrap in my mind, to carry gently through the first few weeks of going back to work, and the enthusiastic rush of the start of term. Once I resettle, I will take these pieces out of their wrappings and reinstate them, to ground myself back at home. For now it is enough to remember the silence and writing time that I had, as I find a way to forge new quietness and new writing in the coming months. An apt time to do so, as the days begin to grow shorter and we move toward the hibernation of winter.

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