Bernard Leach was an artist-potter who sought expression across several artistic forms, one of those being poetry. Drawings, Verse and Belief (1973), for example, is a volume combining Leach’s images and verse:
On peaks and ridges
Of our roofs
A solitary gull.
Who could sell
St Ives, 1965.
So, it is with great excitement that the Leach Pottery welcomes its first Poet-In-Residence. Dr Katrina Naomi arrived at the Leach Pottery on 19 January 2018 to live on-site for two weeks. Her poetry has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in The TLS, The Poetry Review and Modern Poetry in Translation. Her most recent collection is The Way the Crocodile Taught Me (Seren, 2016).
I caught up with Katrina halfway through her residency to learn more about her self-confessed love of pottery and her sense of the place:
I like the physicality [of pottery]; it’s human-made – not machine-made. There’s some similarity between writing and making pottery – the process of making and editing. There’s also the connection with Japan, where I’ve just returned from a 6 week residency. There’s also a big Japanese tradition here; for me it was a way of continuing contact with Japan in Cornwall.
Katrina has also undertaken residencies at the Arnolfini in Bristol, Gladstone’s Library in North Wales, and on the Isles of Scilly. With these experiences in mind, I wondered how Katrina prepared for her Leach residency:
I started to think about what the cross-overs might be: handmade; solitary. I put together an anthology of poems to kick against, to feed off, like Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn to more contemporary poets. I’ve been using those to see how other poets have responded to pottery.
Katrina seemed to settle in straight away, enjoying company of new
housemates and even a new medium:
It’s been brilliant. Living with the other potters has been an added bonus – they’ve been very welcoming. I really love that the Leach has taken me in: I’ve got my hands and jumper dirty. As a poet, I’m often shuttering-off my visual senses. I hadn’t thought about pottery being about touch; feeling all the time. I hope there will be a lot of that touch coming through the poems.
So, what are the similarities between poetry and clay? Through talking to Katrina, it sounds like the practice of poetry has similarities with that of pottery:
We both start with a lump of clay or a blank piece of paper – you have to make something from it. But it’s also the taking away: the editing of words and the re-shaping , the re-forming, of the clay.
I’m struck by the sense of reward and engagement that being a poet generates, being much reminded of the conversations I’ve enjoyed with potters over the years:
Being a poet is what I do. It’s my passion and it’s my job. I feel very lucky to do what I do. I’d like to come away with some good poems and eventually get a pamphlet out of it. The nicest thing is when you wake up with an idea, otherwise I go back and write every night.
Even though Katrina is only a week into the residency, ideas for poems and pottery are taking shape:
I’ve been thinking about making a bowl: I feel like I’ve got motion in my hands and I want to try to capture that – what it might mean. I will continue working on the drafts three times, it’s a bit like coning-up and pushing down. Then I’ll leave it for a month and return to edit.
Katrina hopes to undertake a reading of her new poems at the Leach Pottery later in the year. In the meantime, she will be running a Japanese poetry workshop at the Leach Pottery on 1 March 2018. Katrina has also written her own blog post about her experiences at the Leach Pottery: Leach Pottery Poet-in-Residence Blog
If you would like to know more about Katrina’s recent poetical meanderings in Japan, see her recent posts on the experience: From Basho to Bassey and From Kernow to Kofu via Kyoto.