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Constructing Spaces Residency: Sarah Wedderburn

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. Sarah Wedderburn blogs here about her experience - read In the room with WS Graham, the poem she created in the space.

I went to the National Poetry Library to sit at WS Graham's desk. There it was, in his tiny Cornish room, recreated in London to celebrate his centenary. Alongside it were his bed, his books, his world. The whole thing was so tenderly reassembled that just to be there was a miracle. And I was to be there, on my own, doing whatever I wanted, for as long as I wished.

It was a beautiful half-term day in February. Walking across Hungerford Bridge for my appointment with the poet, it seemed to me that all the little children in London were converging on the South Bank in their buggies. Even my daughter Hannah and my one-year-old grandchild Bonnie were on their way—which is strange, because they live in east London, I live in east Kent, and Hannah had no idea I was there: she just fancied a walk. In the old days, we would have been none the wiser, would have carried on our days unaware of how close we were. But as I sat down in the room, before I switched my phone to silent, a ping told me they were near the OXO Tower. We arranged to have lunch.

Luck. Life feeds on it, and so does writing. I don’t find it easy to get the poem worm drilling up through the soil to the surface. But at least once it’s out, squirming and visible, there’s something new to work with. I never trust it immediately, even if it feels good and juicy at the time. I go away and leave it. When I come back, the only line I like will probably be the weird one I threw in at the last moment before closing the laptop, the one I forgot was even there. After I’ve made many changes - impulsive or laboured over in sleep and wakefulness, sometimes over months - luck may just help me make a poem that’s a better failure than the one before. But I will revisit it many times before it’s granted indefinite leave to remain. Getting the poems out into the world is another story, and doubtless luck plays its part in that, too. Perhaps silence and rejection can be counted as luck - a chance to look again, to carry on editing. It’s bloody impossible, this process. And it’s easy to be discouraged.

Image Credit: 
Image by Harpreet Kalsi
Anyway, on the wall above WS Graham’s desk were drafts of his poems—multiple drafts, flaming, glittering, leaping. I did, more or less, work out which lines made it to the printed page, and which did not, but what stays with me is the joy, the exuberance in every draft, the way the poem could have leapt this way or another, that a ‘dredge of brittle stars’ (a phrase from an early draft of his poem ‘The Dredge’) could have been clung to in its entirety, or thrown back into the sea. Everything Graham wrote has its place in his ocean, his mind, his journey ‘toward the impossible’. Ah—that phrase—that really was something to discover. He typed it in capital letters above one of the drafts:

I went to meet my child and my grandchild, and came back for an afternoon that seemed to contain a whole life. And then went home, for more attempts at poems. 

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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