Alyson Hallett on poetry residencies and collections

AlysonHallett-021I met Alyson several years ago through the poet Caroline Carver, in someone’s amazing garden overlooking St Michael’s Mount. We were sitting in the sun discussing each other’s poems and then I remember we fought to have custody of the most beautiful summer house I have ever seen. Needless to say I lost!

Since then Alyson has been the Charles Causley Poet in Resident and I was interested to know how the whole thing came about….

Can you tell me about the process of applying for a residency and how you because the Charles Causley Poet in Residence?

Application for the residency was fairly standard. I had to send a c.v. and also a statement outlining why I wanted the residency and what work I was going to undertake during my time in Charles Causley’s house. One unusual feature of the application was the request to send an unlimited number of references. I think I sent five in the end – I was very keen to get the residency and so wanted to get quite a wave of support behind me. More than five might have felt a bit ridiculous though and so I limited myself to that in the end.


How long was your residency and at the start did you have any idea of what you might be able to achieve during that time?

The residency was for just under six months and unlike most of the other residencies I have done I had to move and be resident in a particular house in a particular town for it. I was already working on a new manuscript of poems and wanted to be able to dedicate time to finishing it and so that is the work I proposed in my application and interview. In addition to this I also said that I wanted to have space to see what else might arrive – I am a great believer in work rising organically from a residency and I enjoy writing new work in response to place. In this sense, I argued for time to create something that I didn’t know about at the time of application – a space that would allow me to be attentive, to remain open to new work.


How different is the material that came from this residency to your previous collections?

The work that forms the body of On Ridgegrove Hill is different to collections that have not been written during a residency because all of the poems are written in response to one particular place and the ongoing experience of being in Charles Causley’s house. In this sense, the writing is site-specific and the composition of the book follows this thread too. Also, the book contains excerpts from my journals as well as poems and this is a new direction for me, making a book that includes notes as well as finished pieces.


Can you tell me a little about On Ridgegrove Hill in terms of content and style?

I worked with a designer, Phyllida Bluemel, on the shape and style of the book and have her to thank for the amazing spaciousness of it and the way in which lines and contours of a map follow the text around. It’s more of an artist’s book than a conventional publication, and it was brought out by the fantastic Atlantic Press which is based at Falmouth Art School. I suppose we could say that the content and style of the book work hand in hand with each other – and many pleasurable hours were spent discussing how this could happen. The whole book has the feel of the residency for me – it was an incredible time, one where I could wholly immerse not only in my own writing but also in the writing of many other poets including Charles Causley. I felt a great support from him – living in his house wove me into the long river of poets as we struggle and help each other to get on with the daily work.

On Ridgegrove Hill is available here

Alyson Hallett was born in 1963 and grew up in Street, Somerset. After studying for her first degree at the University of East Anglia, Alyson went on to work as Abbey housekeeper on the Isle of Iona, and then as a deputy project manager for the Richmond Fellowship in Glasgow. For two years she attended a writer’s workshop run by Janet Paisley, in Pollokshields library, before deciding to return to England and do an M.A. in Creative Writing.

Alyson’s books of poems include The Stone Library (Peterloo Poets), 365 (Agre Press), and Towards Intimacy (Queriendo Press). She has published a book of short stories The Heart’s Elliptical Orbit (Solidus Press), written drama for Sky television, Agony, BBC Radio 4, Dear Gerald, and created an audio-diary that narrates her journey to Australia with a migrating stone, Nature: Migrating Stones (BBC Radio 4).

As a writer who is interested in the visual and spatial impact of words, Alyson also explores poetry in public art by collaborating with a wide variety of artists. She has had a poem carved into a pavement (Milsom Street, Bath), text etched into a stained glass window (Bradley Stoke Library, Bristol) a poem exhibited in a doctor’s surgery (Bedminster, Bristol), and she is the creator of ‘The Migration Habits of Stones’ international project.

Alyson has won first prize in the Scintilla Open Poetry competition and the Poetry Can Poetry Competition. She was a prizewinner in the Mslexia Poetry competition and has received awards from Arts Council England for her work.

In 2010, Alyson completed a practice-based PhD in poetry.  Her research focussed upon geographical intimacy and an exploration of interfusion in poetry.  She then went on to be poet-in-residence in the University of Exeter’s department of geography in Cornwall for a year.  This residency was funded by an award from the Leverhulme Trust.

Alyson was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Exeter (2011 – 13) and Plymouth University (2013 -14). She is currently an Advisory Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund.


Poet-in-residence – is this for you?

I’m currently Poet-in-Residence for the National Trust at Scotney Castle. I decided to do this after my last collection as a way of exploring something new and also to shift the direction of my writing. I’ve spent a lot of time there, either on my own or with friends – it’s a good way of getting extra ideas, especially from friends who ask a lot of (difficult) questions. I’ve chatted to volunteers, employees and pounced on visitors. My work focuses on the ruins, the moat in particular. I recently read about Jacques Benveniste and his theory about water (which later became known as the “memory of water”).

It’s known as the “memory of water”.
When you add a substance to water and then dilute
the water to the point where there are no more
molecules of the added substance left in the
water, you can still measure effects of the water
as if the originally diluted substance were still present.

Jacques Benveniste

As part of the residency I am collaborating with poet and artist, Karen Dennison who is working on photographs based on my poems. We’ll be exhibiting both in the ruins this summer. Oh yes and then there’s the pamphlet which I am currently working on and today I’m thinking about readings by the moat on hot summer evenings (yes, they will come), a glass of wine, the gentle breeze in the trees … A residency can be what you make it.


Alyson Hallett has just taken up the post at The Charles Causley Trust and Zaffar Kunial has been announced as The Wordsworth Trust’s new resident poet. Caroline Carver has been poet-in-residence with the Marine Institute, Plymouth University, since early 2013, and the University will shortly be publishing her fifth collection, Fish Eaters. Jo Bell has had commissions and residencies with the Canal and River Trust and the National Trust. Heidi Williamson did a residency at the London Science Museum’s Dana Centre for a couple of years and is currently poet-in-residence for John Jarrold Printing Museum. I asked her how she got these opportunities and she told me that she simply wrote and asked! That’s one way. Alternatively keep an eye out for opportunities like these (there are lots more around):

Wordsworth Trust
Gladstone’s Library
Jane Austen’s House Museum
The Charles Causley Trust
Ilkley Literature Festival
New Diorama Theatre
Black Country Living Museum


 poetryschool @poetryschool

Interesting thoughts from @AbegailMorley about poetry residencies, including the advice ’just write and ask’: http://abegailmorley.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/poet-in-residence-is-this-for-you/