The High Window’s Resident Artist: Winter 2022

It is always with sadness that with each winter issue I have to say farewell to The High Window‘s Resident artist. As with her predecessortsa it has been a pleasure to work with Rowena Sommerville, not only because of her talents as an artist and a poet, but for her comradely support of the journal and her unfailing reliability. I am sure thast she will wish to continue as one of the journal’s regular reviewers. However, her successor, Carla Scarano, is already waiting in the wings and it will be a pleasure to see the work that she comes up with.  [Editor]

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Rowena photo cropped

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Rowena Sommerville THW Artist in Residence Winter 2022

Of course, I can’t believe that this is my fourth, and final, outing as Artist in Residence at The High Window – where has that year gone etc etc. Huge thanks to David Cooke for offering me this opportunity, thank you for everything you do for poetry, and I hope that some The High Window readers have also enjoyed some of the poems and artwork that I have posted.

My final offerings are not ‘great art’, but I hope they might be of interest. For context, I live in Robin Hood’s Bay, a former fishing village, which is near Whitby in North Yorkshire, and over the thirty-odd years that I have lived here, Whitby has regenerated itself as a town which has a festival about every fortnight, from the Goth events (and the many Goth spin offs), to Musicport world music, to 60s/70s/80s events, to sword dancing, to street choirs, to scooter rallies, to WW2, to pirate festivals…. and on it goes. One of the more recent, but also more substantial, festivals is Whitby Fish and Ships (see what they did there) which celebrates the town and its cultural and culinary offer.

As part of Fish and Ships, I was commissioned by the Pannett Gallery – housed in the wonderful Whitby Museum – to offer a public drop-in creative activity, based on sustainable fishing. So – I began by researching sustainable fishing in the northern European seas, and what a very complicated and chastening bit of research that proved to be. It emerged that very few sea creatures are agreed to be ‘sustainably fished’, and that different trade bodies say different things about sustainability, while most environmental bodies find there to be almost no sustainable fishing or farming at all. Grim!

My final list was: brown crab, hake, lobster, mackerel, sardine and sole – not what you might expect, perhaps. I then drew outlines of all 6 creatures, the gallery copied them, and we invited people to colour them in as they chose (we were not aiming for verisimilitude) and to cut them out and peg them to a ‘fishing line’ on part of the gallery wall.

People of all ages joined in, from tots to adults, all taking great pride and care in their work. An unexpected contribution came from a charming group of teenagers from Brno, in England for a week and with a punishing itinerary which somehow included Whitby. I had so many pleasant interactions, although every single adult who engaged, whether colouring in fish themselves or supporting children or grandchildren, expressed great concern about the seas, and the state of the nation and the planet. These are certainly anxious times.

I hope readers of THW will enjoy some of the unlikely sea creatures and will picture all the conversations and care that contributed to this one facet of the Whitby Fish and Ships Festival.

I am going to close with a poem of my own, from my collection ‘Melusine’, published by Mudfog Poetry Press in September 2021. Every good wish to my successor as Artist In Residence at The High Window, and all gratitude to David Cooke.

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lobsters

lobsters

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crab and sole

crab and sole

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crab outline

crab outline

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lobsters

lobsters

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rainbow crab

rainbow crab

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sole and mackerel

sole and mackerel

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sparkly mackerel

sparkly mackerel

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I am going to close with a poem of my own, from my collection ‘Melusine’, published by Mudfog Poetry Press in September 2021. Every good wish to my successor as Artist In Residence at The High Window, and all gratitude to David Cooke.

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ROBIN HOOD’S Bay, JULY

Starting sombre,
unimpressive,
careless of its audience;
the horizon far as time travel,
a hinted line of light.

Noon is brighter, flat mercury
striped with rock;
the horizon smudged darker grey,
boats are tipping off the edge
and a foaming roar
in the stones.

Mid afternoon, tide in,
sea and sky blue opal
stitched along a dove grey spine;
small birds are skittering electrons
and one white seagull
patrols the thermals
in languid circles.

Then the breakthrough of late afternoon,
pale blue sky, denim sea,
the knuckle of rock floating golden fields
above purple shadows;
sea and sky shimmering, distinct,
a clear change of light.

Lastly, dark for the blessing;
the bowl of mirrored moonlight
cupped in black stone,
the silver sea,
the horizon, cut from stars.

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