On Monday this week I caught up with Alyson Hallett who, although we don’t know each other well, I’ve now come to think of as a real friend. Alyson recently finished her term as the second Charles Causley poet-in-residence, and was also the first to actually live out her residency in Causley’s house – Cypress Well – on Ridgegrove Hill in Launceston. Appropriately, the hill then gave its name to the collection of poems she created during her residency. She was over in Bristol to visit Bristol university, where as Dr Hallett she works as a Royal Literary Fund Advisory Fellow, a post which places her in the university to help students develop their writing. We first met through her presenting her Stone Library work at a PLaCE event and had been in touch about her most recent book, On Ridgegrove Hill, which is now published by Atlantic Press. The book is the fruit of Alyson’s Charles Causley residency and has been beautifully designed and illustrated by Phyllida Bluemel, a current student on the MA Illustration course at Falmouth University.
I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of the Cornish poet Charles Causley, let alone read any of his work, until I read Alyson’s own poems. On the strength of her obvious empathy for Causley and his world (and perhaps because I spent three years working on a project in north Cornwall), I then bought a second-hand copy of his collected poems. I then read it more or less straight though, as I might a really good novel. I can highly recommend both poets’ work to anyone who is interested in place and its being interwoven with our attention to language, notably in Causley’s case with the particularities of vernacular speech.
My pleasure in talking with Alyson is in part in her own delight in, and genuine relishing of lively, freewheeling conversation, which she described in an email as “a banquet of ideas and thoughts and pathways”. It is also because of her wide-ranging knowledge and understanding. This is exemplified by what she says on the video Encountering Iceland – reading from 6 Days in Iceland by Alyson Hallett and Chris Caseldine. This gives an indicative sense of her work on, and of the poems resulting from, a field trip to Iceland with the physical geographer Chris Caseldine and his students, part of her residency in the Geography Department at Exeter University. They read from the book that came out of their trip with the students – 6 Days in Iceland – which combines poetry, geographical text and photographic images. It is typical that Alyson should have encountered Iceland as a poet but alongside a professional earth scientist and his students, and that she should have been fascinated by the ways in which these two rather different fields of study – at least when seen from a disciplinary perspective – can in actuality inform, enliven and enrich one another.
My conversation with Alyson reminds me what a privilege it is to have worked in a university – notwithstanding all the deepening problems of that archaic institution – because of the friendships and contacts that work creates. I have been having very interesting exchanges on line with two individuals with an interest in deep mapping. One is Siri Linn Brandsoy, who is working on a Masters project around deep mapping a small island in the north of Norway. She is a students on the M.A program in Visual Anthropology in Manchester and will be showing work in an exhibition with her fellow students on October 15-17. If anyone reading this gets the chance, you should go and see what, form my contact with Siri and others, I think will be an interesting exhibition of work combining ethnography with art practices and filmmaking.
The second person I’ve been enjoying an exchange with is Erin Kavanagh, who is working with Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology and Historical Anthropology and much more besides at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Lampeter. I think of Erin as a new (or maybe very old) kind of en-placed teller of multi-dimensional stories. She is currently working on a paper on deep mapping to be presented at the University of Vienna, along side much else, and writes: “Four papers in under four months, that’s do-able on top of a full time work load and organizing publications, right…?”, reminding me of aspects of academic life I am happy to do without.