Claire Jefferson (who writes under the pseudonym Stella Wulf) was born in Lancashire, but grew up in North Wales. She moved to France in 2000 where she and her husband bought a large derelict property at the foot of the Pyrenees. Living on site and tackling one room at a time, she is now, more than twenty years on, banging in the last nail and working on plans for a new-build project.
Despite a lifelong love of poetry, Claire came to writing late in life in an epiphanic moment whilst painting doors. It became an obsession fuelled by Jo Bell’s 52 group, culminating in a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University.
Claire is a qualified interior designer, but it is only with the luxury of time that she has been able to pursue her passion for painting, exhibiting in several galleries and selling her paintings worldwide. She also designs the cover art for 4Word Press which she co-edits with Lesley Quayle.
Stella’s poems have found homes in many journals and anthologies and she has a pamphlet, After Eden, which is available from http://www.4word.org and A Spell in the Woods, which has just been published by Fair Acre Press and is available here.
You can see more of her art work on her website http://www.stellawulf.com
‘I’m thrilled and honoured to have been invited to be resident artist for The High Window. Although I’ve dabbled in the abstract, I’m primarily a landscape painter and South West France where I live offers a spectacular and ever-changing vista, a constant impetus to my desire to express and share the feelings it evokes. Much of my poetry focuses on the natural world and I’m grateful that I have both these outlets to express my response to a landscape that brings me so much pleasure. Where painting is the poetry of sight, poetry is the painting of insight. An image is an evocation; whether elicited through words or colour it requires structure, composition, meaning and passion. This is what I aim for in my paintings and my poetry.
Both involve the process of discovery through learning and practical experience. Having a background in design, I had no formal training in ‘fine art’ and learned through the highs and lows of experimentation and other people’s judgment. I ‘learned’ for example, that a true watercolorist is a purist – that’s not me. As a novice writer, I was mortified to be told that I shouldn’t write about crows because they are a cliché. But I’m fond of crows and now give them permission to inhabit my poems. Oil paint is forgiving, is says, use me as you wish. I’ve learned that it’s never too late to learn new skills and that once one is sufficiently accomplished in those skills, rules are there to be bent or broken. I hope that my work reflects my ethos of not bending to another’s perception of what is right or wrong, but being true to oneself, and that it might inspire someone to pick up a brush or a pen for the pure joy of creating something unique.’
WEARING THE SEASONS
A huddle of cows huffs a scarf of mist against the cold.
You wrap the spread of your saggy body,
so long in the dog-tooth coat, it wears you.
The trees bare all, willowy wraiths,
stark in lizard skins, flaunting ribs, twiggy limbs,
posed against a paper sky.
A leggy heron struts the reeds, sees her image in a fish-eye,
a plumed fascinator for the gullible. She’s caught in a flash,
poised for another tasteful angle.
Not fashioned for straight lines, narrow hems,
the confines of trends, you haven’t led a model life,
though you’d sport the corduroy fields,
turned seams of earth, velveteen pastures,
and you’d slip into the river’s ruffled flow,
easy as sand through an hour glass.
You watch the cat walk. She wears her striped coat
with sangfroid, hunts out the pelts of shrew and mole,
the fur of mouse and vole.
Every season sheds its patterned coat. Summer is kicked
under the bed of autumn’s cast-offs. Winter in immaculate white,
will steal the limelight.
You’ll follow in the end, smitten by its craze,
another marble effigy in vacant stare,
your frame frozen in the still.
PAINTING WITH SWIFTS
It frames the pattern of my days,
this landscape beyond my window,
this flank of hillside, sweep of pasture,
the skyline of trees which I goad into life
with a cobalt stroke, or provoke
with a swipe of phthalo.
Or, when winter traces a cold finger
down the hill’s back, I react
with a frisson of flake white,
a bristle of violet, a slake of grey,
and in spring, a splash of rose madder lake,
a lick of buttercup yellow.
I try to awaken the bigger picture,
throw it a line, draw it out,
but my mind is sluggard – bovine.
Instead, I make a brown study of beasts
that mooch like idle thoughts, heads bowed,
reverent as popes on a pastoral mission.
Bone dry hay-days roll away,
time stretches like an arid sermon,
ponderous as a congregation of cows.
I pray for a thrill of swifts to dip their wings
into my lamp-black mood and streak
in stark relief across the hill’s bare breast.
But in the charcoal night,
when a feather-edge of owl smudges
the horizon, glides pastel-soft to the pasture
to capture the essence of mouse,
a titanium moon rises like a cosmic bulb,
illuminating the brow with its brilliance.
FINDING HOPE IN A BRIAR PATCH
She left me on the floor to moulder,
like an odd sock rolled in on itself.
A finger of sun pokes through the shutter,
stirs up a corkscrew of dust,
draws me out to the breathing day.
Strung out on the line crows hunch,
mute as tar babies,
unshakable in the ruffling air.
I catch a glimpse of her
there – in the rainbow
of their oil-slick plumes.
One by one they lift,
wing to a sky buffed clean
by a rag of cloud,
their cries snatched
by a whippersnapper breeze.
While I brooded the upstart
swept the dead skin of winter
under a gaze of ox-eye daisies.
Fresh blood springs from the mulch,
poppies, scarlet flax, red campion,
an insouciant host of dandelions.
I vagabond forgotten lanes,
like an abandoned mutt,
nose to the ground, following
her breadcrumb trail.
A hare breaks from its hollow,
flushes a partridge from the ditch, startling
a whiffle of horses cropping clover,
skims over knuckled down cows,
fluttering white flags of egrets.
I find hope in a patch of briar bristling
with sparrows, a passerine throng,
in rowdy song. My heart stops beating
itself into submission; I surrender
to the day.
A clear head of sky relieved of the throb
of planes, throws off its damp, grey cover,
yawns in this new liberation of airways.
Birds infectious with spring fever puff
their chests in full-throated song; the soggy lawn
wheezes under a cough of warm breeze.
A gang of daffodils, oblivious to the whirring scythe
heading their way, paints the roadsides yellow, brazenly
fraternising as if immune to the vagaries of nature,
as if resistant to the chill that kills the frail, the sickly,
the precocious. Tulips stay home, tightlipped in isolation,
strict in conformity, mustering reserves for hard times.
Squirrels, who stashed enough for Winter’s siege,
empty the bird feeders, their pouches stuffed
to bursting. It’s every beast for himself, survival
of the greediest. Bees are abuzz with this changed
world order, sedulously forming a new waggle dance
to instruct the hive. The queen readies herself –
Spring fever stalks, dandelions mark time, temperatures rise.
It takes the breath away, flutters the heart like birds
in the leafless trees, flocking to the seeded air.
LISTENING TO TREES
After ashen weeks, days flaked out,
horizon’s trees flatline, limbs arrested
against a sheet-white sky.
They bear their lethargy with brittle fortitude,
awaiting a charge of warm breeze
to unfreeze their hearts,
shock them out of torpor.
Claggy land, mired by deluge,
wheezes, crackles like crumpled cellophane,
coughs its liquor into ducts and ditches,
a shallow gush that stirs the lees of dead,
runs away chattering of rivers,
rambling away to distant seas.
The sun, rare as the appearance
of a venerable sage, taps you on the shoulder,
urges you to pause beneath the trees.
Listen! it says.
Ignore the babbling stream rushing pell-mell
toward tomorrow, there’s a gentler flux in the here and now,
a poetic grace in these monuments of groaning lumber.
You press your ear to the trunk.
From the buried nexus of roots to fretted canopy,
the trees are pulling through,
pulsing sap through veins,
out to the reaches of the frailest limbs,
injecting a rhythm of sway and poise,
an infusion of shadow and light,
fricatives of leaves, plosives of bees,
unbridled verses of birds.
Your heart slows to the perennial rhythm of nature,
in time with its epic narrative, recovering
your place in the poem.