Writing for Charles
This autumn, as part of the work towards the Charles Causley Symposium, students from Falmouth University English and Writing Department attended a series of workshops led by Alyson Hallett. Alyson is the Writer-in-Residence at the Charles Causley House, Cyprus Well. Two of the workshops were held at the house itself, and this experience was particularly memorable: writing in the extraordinarily peaceful setting surrounded by Causley’s effects, in a room that has seen the likes of Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin , was moving and inspiring. The house is aptly named, a well of calm and generosity of spirit. The poems below came out of exercises set by Alyson, partly in response to the house, to Causley’s poetry, and to the River Kensey, which flows across the bottom of the steep lane on which Cyprus Well sits.
Thanks to Alyson Hallett, the Charles Causley Trust, Literature Works, and AIR at Falmouth University, and the students, for making these workshops possible and memorable. And – thanks to Charles too.
Dr Kym Martindale and Professor Jason Whittaker
Battered and torn
You lie in the nudging cold
With your skeleton bare to the world –
The shrivelling withdrawal
Displays the intricacy of veins,
The secret infrastructure that
Networks across your brittle wing,
Once smooth and curved,
But now possessing the ragged grace
Of a carnival widow.
The wind tugs your edges –
You jerk, shift, tremble.
Tell me, heliopter,
Can you still fly?
We share the memories
Of dropping, spinningturningtwistingroundandroundallthewaydown
To the ground,
And then again,
Until the tree stands bare.
A Moth trapped in a cup,
By my own hand
I feel it tremble
As we walk around.
Your face is like the moon,
Hands deep in pockets
Rolling bus tickets
Lie in my barricade
Of coffee cup mould,
Concentrate on the cornflake,
Floating two days old.
Leave your print
Leave your mark
And drink, drink, drink
Drink ‘til your lips go black.
My house, a cob-walled treasure
marooned in the sea.
Overnight rain has overflowed ditches,
pointed dazzling bright ferns
down to earth.
Beech tree trunks stand guard
over water-joyed muscovies.
Chickens mither and brood
at no let up in the weather.
The fishpond hums and bubbles,
all fur has hid its head.
My house – a lighthouse, haven, home.
A beacon. Enter. Come.
This practical porch welcomes
every mud-slicked leaking welly.
The fresh damp smell of socks,
Here is a sound of music,
a cosy flow inside.
China tea set, observing etiquette
set enough places for everyone.
I am the song… (after Charles Causley’s ‘I am the song that sings the bird’)
I am the song that sings the bird
I am the beat that pounds the heart
I am the book that writes the word
I am the flint that marks the path
I am the sea that fills the sand
I am the rock that lifts the land
I am he who sees it all
He is me who sees nothing at all.
He took me down to the river.
I asked if the emus would look different
in the dark. He smiled
and took my hand away from scarf.
It flapped wildly in the wind;
red stitching, red wool pattern flailing
behind me. I couldn’t hear it over the noise
of the water below. I ask again
about the emus, I’ve never wanted to see something
as badly as this. Just over the fence-
He still has my hand, pushing them back
against the steel bridge wall; my knuckles knock once for yes
and his mouth is moving against mine.
Somewhere close by, four heads swivel;
we are being watched. I imagine they look almost blue
not black, but like buoys on the water,
Bobbing. Nodding safety. And I fancy they can hear me
scream. They clack their beaks, like Morse code,
but they can’t do anything.
They too have no way to carry a message.
From ‘Sibard’s Well’, this is how we live
I’ve spent too long
In country silences.
It is a thin
of isolated sounds, and people
cut off by water.
Intimidating pockets of water.
The weather is a terrorist in these places,
to these fallowed spaces it is shrugged off
by city speeches.
The water is swollen with leeches
and we cannot venture.
We’re used to thick muck.
Stuck in the quiet life. Listening out,
holding out, for the turn of the season,
for the precious sound of a breakthrough.
creeping through the clay is all we have left.
A careful skin
slipped the sharp
a scour at the altar
stripped with ribbon
back to sacrifice and soil.
after Charles Causley
Mawling space against the motorway
I am the breast that fever-stings the scale
the robin on spade handle.
Claverton – along the canal
The name echoed like an old keyboard
But it was the quietest place I ever lived.
The silence stunned clatter
Before it could do harm.
One night I wrote a lecture on Milton,
And heard myself falling for rhetoric. I would love
Such logic of message.
One night I set sail in my room
Puttering up to locks,
The canal glassy and indifferent,
To my hand on the arched
Bridges. I would love
One night I turned carefully
To the moon’s glancing blow
And heard myself
And the dark outside
Charles Causley symposium 2014: Influence and legacy