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Constructing Spaces Residency: Roy McFarlane

We commissioned four poets to each spend a day inside our immersive exhibition Constructing Spaces, a reconstruction of Scottish poet WS Graham's Cornish cottage. Roy McFarlane blogs here about his experience - read 'Beyond the space', the poem he created in the space.

It’s half-term and the Southbank is filled with families, predominantly children with mothers pushing a pushchair, juggling bags, a baby and older sibling doing their own thing. I’m standing by the elevator, several women encamp the entrance and as the glass shaped cube arrives, kids and mothers disembark, and others charge into the empty space. I decide to wait for the next one and watch a mother lift a child out of the pushchair, setting him free. The child chooses to roam, bounding, falling, rolling, whatever means is required to embark on his world of adventure; a vast terrain of ground inhabited by strangers and giants.

I leave her running after the child, a moments distraction from the news of the day. A split in the Labour Party has opened up a new space for seven MPs to create a so-called Independent Party. Another news that leaves me shaken - a podcast regarding the 40 or so souls left in Guantanamo Bay, 10 years after Obama had created an opportunity for a country to be healed, has now been frustrated by the Trump administration who seemingly have no problem in leaving a stain on mankind in the spirit of safer borders rhetoric.  

I come out of the singing lift into the National Poetry Library and I’m guided into the WS Graham installation and I’m not sure how much of the words I hear from the librarian, I just find myself in this incredible, imagined, recreated space of WS Graham’s cottage. 

Image Credit: 
Harpreet Kalsi
Image taken by Harpreet Kalsi

I become intrigued with the whole notion of space, of walking through a door and walking into an imagined space that the great writer once inhabited. There was something about the creaking floorboard, the rough untidy dreadful table, manuscripts, the digital moving images of the shores of Cornwall, notes and a typewriter that anchored you in time and space; a writer’s time and space. Space was probably the most important thing about this installation and the encapsulation from the outside world.

Space invites you
Void declares voice
Emptiness needs to be filled
The notes I copy into my book sum up the whole experience. The sparseness of a room with a bed, a few books on shelves above the bed, enchants me with the idea of a poet and his pen, that’s all we need to venture into this void. Graham loved the narrative form, I delve into The Nightfishing (1955), not always fluid in places but the rhythm, rhymes and repetition carry me along.

The day is coming to an end and I soak in one last time, blank papers, a book about the adventures of Nansen - a Norwegian explorer who travelled to the North Pole; inspiration for Malcolm Mooney’s Land (1970). Whether sea or frozen tundra, there’s this need for the writer to bound, roll like a child into these spaces and explore, whatever you can find, don’t be afraid of 'The Beast in the Space' (another late poem of Graham’s) but be free to write in those spaces.


Residencies in partnership with graduates of the Poetry School’s MA in Writing Poetry. 

Constructing Spaces runs until Sunday 31 March.


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