Plethu/Weave Project

Friday, 19 March 2021

When I was asked to write a poem for a collaborative project with a dancer for Plethu/Weave, a cross-artform collab between Literature Wales and NDC Wales, I was super excited. I've always loved dance, even though I left those skills behind in my teen classes, and working with a dancer has been something I've been wanting to do for a while. I was paired with Iestyn James, a dancer and choreographer, and we had a 4-week creative timeline to write and produce our poem and film. 

In our initial conversations, we responded to each other's previous work, and this led to conversations about finding inner peace, feeling restricted in lockdown, the causes that drive us, and how we've connected with nature during the pandemic. I've been thinking a lot about joy; what that is to me, how I can create joy in my everyday life, finding it in small places. We discussed the power of just being present in our bodies, existing, of slowness, rejecting the pressure to always be productive and busy with something. We were both drawn to the water and the calmness it brought us, having lived by the sea, and that was a vision in our minds from the very beginning. 

Writing has been difficult for me over the last year, as I know it has been for many others. Some days over lockdown, just getting out of bed and showering has been enough. I've had to make peace with the fact that some days will be hard and that I'm not running at my usual capacity. Working on this project has been refreshing; having a deadline, people counting on me has given me the push to take a poem beyond a half-draft for the first time in a while.

It's a very rare occurrence that the seeds of a poem come to me in some sort of mysterious subconscious way; in dreams, on walks, through pictures, out of nowhere. The 'magic' of this is something that's romanticised, but when an idea does come in this way, I find that they usually end up being my best work. In this case, I woke just before sunrise, and just getting up and going unplanned, out into the cold to wherever my body took me, felt like an act of defiance against the slow repetition of my everyday routine (and about as wild as things get in lockdown!) I took this feeling and ran with it, imagining what it might be like to have the world to yourself, being let into the secret language of nature and asking it for the tools to spark a new beginning.

I kept Iestyn updated as I re-drafted and picked apart the poem, sending snippets of voice recordings, sounds I took of the sea and birds, and he responded with small sequences of movement to my voice. Watching my words evolve into movement has been a beautiful thing, and Iestyn really brought the piece to life, with his choreography and film adding layers to the piece. Our vision coming together, despite working remotely, has been a great experience. I can't wait to share the finished film!

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi Review

Thursday, 7 January 2021

 Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi 

“Sometimes I refer to Ma in the past tense even though she is still alive.”

I worked my way through this pretty quickly, here are some whistle-stop thoughts:

Burnt Sugar is Avni Doshi’s debut novel, and tells the story of Antara, an artist who’s stifled by her mother’s dementia, family life and childhood trauma. 

It begins with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure”, which shows how Antara’s dealing the complexity of her situation – she’s watching her mother suffer, who has inflicted suffering on her, whilst feeling both pleasure and guilt at this sort of ‘redemption.’ But it isn’t even that straightforward; how do you blame someone who can’t remember? How do you find pleasure in watching your mother deteriorate, as if you can be separate from each other’s pain? It’s clear Antara and her mother’s lives are inextricably linked, in a way that the complexities and suffering of their fragile relationship makes it feel like their bodies are too.

I can see why people won’t get on with this book. Antara is at times ungrateful, spiteful and we can’t trust the way she sees the people around her. Her descriptions are heavy. The mother-daughter relationship stained by the past, is also something that’s been done before. There are characters who are only explored fleetingly and never brought to life. 

But what I like most about Burnt Sugar is that it isn’t afraid to be ugly or provoke discomfort. Antara often has dark intrusive thoughts and is disgusted by the mechanics of her own body. Her environment and city are suffocating, and she fixates on ugliness. The things that she loathes about her mother’s behaviour; the way she was ‘wild’, resentful as a mother, her inability to conform to expectations, are soon behaviours Antara mirrors herself. 

Burnt Sugar is a heavy read, and I’m still not sure how I feel about Antara. It got me thinking about the complexity of trauma, what it might be like to care for someone who never properly cared for you, and what it takes to be a mother.

Have you read the book? Let me know your thoughts! 📚

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