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.


The Riverhill Effect


The Riverhill Effect

This morning I could count the flowers in my garden:
two yellow roses, three purple irises, seventeen weedy daisies;
tiny tokens from Mother Nature.
Cracker prizes for getting this far.

Riverhill has won more.
Thousands of wedding dresses
drift above the paths with joy and light;
hundreds of silky Gothic bodices
flirt in curtained corners;
and tens of tall, trousered pines
proclaim that they shall not be moved.
Life. Living. Lived.

Because at the end of the day
those tattered, tired flower-frocks are allowed to drop
to the creeping, spidery floor, where they are welcomed
by the stink of compassionate rotting and living decay.
Until, with deadly magic, rips are mended,
hems re-sewn, buttons replaced,
mud washed away, so that
the garden will wear new clothes next year,
harder-wearing, more beautiful, more abundant.

Lying on the grass, nose close to the earth,
eyes blind with pain and fear,
I can just smell the same rich rot in my own soil.
Here too is space for repair; for mending.
Simply let the flowers drop, let the compost work,
and we will both have new clothes next year.

Sara Carroll

Waterloo Cedar

In memory of Henry Buckley of the 15th Hussars

It’s a Sunday afternoon, 18th June 1815. Lunchtime.
The battle of Waterloo. Nobody is quite sure
when it started, watches then were set by the sun.
A shot, a charge. Wellington. Napoleon. Armies
of tens of thousands, delayed by weather, thick mud.

Henry. A brave young man at 18. Had some lover’s
hands once undone the toggles of his tunic, gold braid,
felt his chest before the sword? A hedge of bayonets.
Troop colours: blue, yellow, red and blue. Battle honours,
and yet he died, one of many. Others injured, or missing.

It was to be the end of Napoleon’s one hundred
days in exile – this tree now over one hundred feet high.
Afterwards they built the Lion’s Mound to mark the spot
where the English beat the French, with a little help.
Henry. Futile fields. Was it for this the clay grew tall?

Light cavalry, horses in battle, the conclusion: ‘a close thing…’
In bookshops now, row upon row of military history
every decision recorded, catalogued, codified. Today this
cedar, grown so tall, in spite of further war the world over.
Here now, give thanks for Henry and all who’ve gone before.

Steve Walter


after John O’Connor

Bolt your feet to the ground,
centre yourself in the cavity
of your chest.

Breathe out.
Extend your arms
so they’re rigid as planks.

Right-angle your hands, stretch

fingers like claws, so palms
push imaginary walls.

Turn your back on the vast valley

of sky, the earth below

too deep, too wide.

Look down, let shoulders
take the strain, neck buckle
with the weight of clouds.

Breathe in, limbs quartering

the light. Close your eyes,

let darkness swim.

Karen Dennison


Day Out

The garden of Kent rolls from my feet,
a shift of soil thin as a pauper’s shroud
across shoulders of chalk.

Traffic slurs the space between bird song
and in the distance green shifts to blue.
Azaleas punch fists of glamour at the June sky
and rhododendrons choir open throated song.

Two dreamers on the lawn
shut their lids to the view.
Shadows sculpt hidden eyes
that watch the spark and pulse
of tangerine clouds rimmed with lime.

Legs astride, arms wide as a tent
the statue on the hill
pushes open an invisible space,
commands me – Be here now!

Sheena Clover




Hungover with rhododendrons



A June Day at Riverhill

The wind shifts time across the walled garden,
whispers memories of a lime-free hillside

before the Waterloo Cedar, the Dawn Redwood
and the Turkey Oak dropped anchor;

before the Japanese maple and Himalayan azaleas
tiptoed in from the deep pockets of plant hunters.

On this June day the garden is dizzy – hungover
with rhododendrons. And along the edges

of steep woodland walks an intoxicating smell
of wild garlic pushes tired legs to the summit –

listen to yesterday’s music in the unfolding landscape,
like children catching a rainbow for the first time.


Valerie Morton



Who thought to call me that?
As though a vixen needs a home for hands ─
if she did, would they be lacy, white and tight?
Elegant evening gloves on speed reaching
from paw to elbow crook.

Or if they’re for her mate, Monsieur Reynard,
would they be thick and rough and hard?
Encrusted gardening gloves for pawing up
the mud and ringing Jack Rabbit’s neck,
when he is unearthed?

Or would they be striped and woolly mitts,
knitted for their kits? Tiny bright paw-shapes
strung on stretchy long elastic through
orange, mangy coats.

Digitalis Purpurea is my better, formal name.
My colour purple, I’m wild, multiplying free,
tall and spikey, inedible, toxic. Don’t you dare
mess with me – the gloves are off.

Jill Munro

poems in wind


The softest whisper
sighs this volcano of trees.
Peace of ancestry.

Luigi Marchini


There’s no river at Riverhill…


Riverhill, June 2015

Riverhill (I)

There is no river
at Riverhill, the name comes
from Saxon: ‘rither’.

Riverhill (II)

Listen to jackdaws
chip at the edge of the breeze
staccato laughter.

Riverhill (III)

I am no gardener
and yet I love a garden
which rises and loves.

Steve Walter

shut the gate

Please Shut the Gate

Open your mind and let the words flow, like water, like breeze, like bees from flower to flower.

Stop once in a while to taste nectar and drink in fragrant morning scent.

Break down walls of daily life to find those private thoughts of yours and mine to listen to the garden as you keep to the gravel paths. Longing to break free from rules, delight in rabbits who cannot read but leave their calling cards written in a code of Hansel and Gretel droppings across worn banks.

Ladies called Rose walk into a secret world of dens amidst Himalayan Rhododendrons back into a childhood before flowers became spelling tests.

Sit on twisted trunks gaze upwards whilst climbing trees with adult shoes to balance words.

Old tiles stacked near the Car Park are nature’s bookcase etched with lichen script.

Gardens filled with nodding Alliums, a remedy to soothe the soul with purple heads of full stops in proliferation. Listen to nature’s placebo for modern life with its soundtrack of summer mistletoe accompanied by kissing bees.

Caroline Auckland


All photos copyright of Caroline Auckland

Glasshouse Occupants
(Remembering the Victorian gardeners)

I arrive as sun stakes her claim
on the top panes − light hangs low −
a pearly thread woven through cloud.

Imagine the frame’s wooden bones creak
with old age, prop themselves up
like shoulder blades loosed from skin,

each beam rasps for the memory
of gardeners long gone.
I hear earth split, spread rumours

about pollen, spit seeds from clumps
of mud unlacing palm leaves
with a single flick of its tongue.

Abegail Morley


Who said more Rossetti than yeti?

Oliver Porritt used this as a headline in the Sevenoaks Chronicle…. do judge for yourselves…

If you were there on the day and have a poetry offering, send it along: thepoetryshed@hotmail.com


In hopes of unexpected monkeys
Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, June 2015

But we know there’s no monkey here,
no Himalayan wasps. For now, the Yeti’s burrow
is reticent with its namesake. A fleet of clouds
lays becalmed across the weald – only the black pine
intrudes onto its watercolour. This far from the trees,
here on the Viewpoint green, the birds are less
insistent. Their clear and perfectly-pitched notes,
their rondos and ariettas, have become lontano,
sordamente – but for a lone black-hooded crow
searching for company –
still, the constant traffic hum,
somewhere between a dejected roar and a vibrant purr
flattened by uncertainty to one long monotone,
pricks us out; our misalignment, our uneasy truce
with the mother who took such pains to raise us
amongst these gifts – beauty, quietude, the lay
of miracles in line and rank across a county –
its whole unravellable world of secrets – spread
in wide-angled radius from our toes to the farthest extents
of vision; to horizon, to South, to West and East.

But as the mind witters, so the white fleet
stirs in the quickening breeze, sails away
with its sorry grey-filled cargo –
and the long white gloves
declaiming in the wind, proclaiming their promise to the weald,
cease their bemoaning fitfulness, only to stretch to the sky,
to wave madly for the sheer joy of knowing beauty,
the privilege of good company, the peace
that comes with winding down.

The unexpected monkeys chatter happily.
Somewhere over there. Somewhere between
my toes and a far Eastern horizon.

Anne Stewart



A crow flies Weald-left to Weald-right,
high above cedar, pine and oak,
and all the green boroughs of the county;
the vastness of the view makes it seem
an epic journey from edge to edge of the world,
like those the flower-hunters made
who brought the seeds to Riverhill.


It’s aural smog
dirtying our senses;
it’s a harrying dog
nipping at our attention;
it’s an insistent tug
at the hem of our consciousness
until something more powerful
grabs us by our noses,
the intoxicating drug
of mock orange, rhododendron and full-scented roses.

Derek Sellen

Poem on poleAll photos copyright of Caroline Auckland


Poem hunters – planting seeds at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

chalk board

What a great day we had a Riverhill on Saturday. 40 writers attended the event and were so inspired by the gardens we ended the day with 22 poets reading their work. Over the next few days I’d like to post up a selection of the poems as well as these amazing photographs courtesy of Caroline Auckland. What a stroke of luck she came to words@riverhill!


Riverhill Himalayan Gardens at the End of the World (after Yeats)

I’m up and off and on my way to River-hill,
and I could stay there, when the world burns,
in a small bunker, like a badger’s set,
hidden by foxgloves, forget-me-nots and ferns.

It is dhyana, said the Himalayan trees,
the sanskrit word for peace echoes as the world ends,
while I hide in rhododendrons, covered by bees
and play with imaginary friends.

I’m going to go now at noon and dusk
to prepare my hut for the apocalypse,
and I will listen to the planes and cars
that will fall silent at my final trip.

Jess Mookerjee


Hunting for the Giants

These were gunless hunters
who sought not to kill
but to create

it was not a victimless crime
as they themselves
were often the victims

their quarry wasn’t dangerous
but the habitat was −
long hours trekking

high into the humid hills
everything an unknown enemy
thriving on adrenalin

and thoughts of bringing
home a giant hidden
in a tiny seed.

Mary Anne Smith


walled garden


Your Sun at Riverhill

Somehow you turn away from me
put yourself the other side
of this thought gate, fastened tight
with your wooden refusal.

I wander in the rhododendron waves
mood magnified by sun’s absence
as it breaks through I squint to see
someone come near when today is all
shadows, dark images you threw,
discards from your pure, white self
that show, somehow, I have come
between you and your sun.

I didn’t mean to.

Jacquie Wyatt

 tying poems


Words@Riverhill – June 6th

Riverhill is a garden fuelled by inspiration – and almost never more so than in 2015. As well as welcoming our Poet in Residence, Abegail Morley, we continue to exhibit world-class British sculpture around our Gardens, courtesy of the Marshall Murray gallery, and to encourage creativity in children and adults with our various workshops and events.

Words@Riverhill is an opportunity for both new and established poets and prose writers to takeinspiration from our wonderful gardens and each other in what we hope can become an annual event.

When is it?
Our Words@Riverhill day takes place on Saturday 6th June, from 11am-4pm.

What’s happening during the day?
From 11am, our writers are welcome to roam and explore Riverhill. You are free to wander throughout the gardens, from the tranquillity and formal aesthetic of The Walled Garden, to the heritage planting in The Wood Garden and the spectacular views from Little Everest.
Complimentary tea and coffee will be served in the Garden Room from 2.30pm, and at 3pm there will be readings of the work generated during the day, led by our Poet in Residence Abegail Morley.

How much are tickets?
Admission to the event is free – you will need to bring your booking confirmation with you to show at our ticket office when you arrive. Booking is essential, though, as there are only 40 places available.

How do I book?
Please email Jennifer@riverhillgardens.co.uk or call 01732 459777


What else might I need to know?
Our cafe is open for morning coffee and cakes, as well as lunches (which you may either eat in the cafe of take away to enjoy elsewhere in the garden). You are also very welcome to bring a picnic. Please do be aware that due to our location, some of our paths can be quite steep and uneven. Our cafe, shop and Walled Garden are accessible for wheelchairs, but we don’t currently have disabled toilet facilities.

If the weather is very inclement we will offer you our Garden Room to work in during the day. Please do be aware that some areas of the Gardens can be very exposed, so make sure you bring something warm to wrap up in, and some protection from the sun.


Residency – Riverhill Himalayan Gardens


I’ve just started my residency at the gorgeous Riverhill Himalayan Gardens which was bought by the Rogers family in 1840. John Rogers, a scientist and friend of Darwin’s was one of the first members of the Royal Horticultural Society and a patron of the plant collectors of the day, hence the astonishing array of trees and shrubs.


What I say about them

Thrilled to be invited to be their Poet in Residence. If you haven’t been to Riverhill, it’s a must. Check out their website and events programme to find out what you can be involved with this year – Easter egg hunts, craft workshops, dog walks, sculpture exhibitions. There are (obviously) a number poetry events, and ice creams and wonderful food in the café (a definite must). If you haven’t seen them on Country House Rescue, track down a copy, or better still find a date in your diary and come along.

What they say about me

Abegail will be a regular visitor to Riverhill, absorbing the atmosphere and watching how the gardens & its visitors change with the seasons. Her Poetry Residence will begin with a Haiku Challenge on 21st March, coinciding with World Poetry Day. We’ll invite you all to capture the spirit of Riverhill in 17 syllables, and we’ll share the results on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the year Abegail’s monthly poems will be published on the Riverhill website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, for everyone to enjoy.

So get writing a Haiku and send it along. Even better visit the gardens. All details of events are here.


Poet in residence at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm – Jean Atkin reports

A while ago I did a feature on poetry residencies after doing one with at Scotney Castle. I shall post up more about my project and details of the pamphlet later, but wanted to post this piece by fellow poet, Jean Atkin, who contacted me after seeing the article. This is her story…

IJean’ve been poet in residence at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm since Easter, supported by Arts Council England. Acton Scott is a model farm built in the late 18thcentury, presented now as a Victorian working farm museum. Shire horses work the land, mangolds are grown to feed the stock in winter, and stored in huge ‘clamps’, there is a midden the size of a cottage in the centre of the cobbled yard, with neatly tilting drainage to carry away effluent.

My residency aimed to engage with visitors, encouraging them to hear and write poetry about the Farm. It’s been huge fun, as poems sprouted in barns and shepherd’s huts, and fluttered all along the length of the cleft post and rail ‘Poetry Fence’. I ran workshops for regionally-based poets and would-be poets, plus special workshops designed for school visits. Horses

The residency ended on 19 July with an event we dubbed ‘Poems for the Farm’, when everyone who’d written for the project was invited back to share their work before an audience. There was a wonderful response and ‘Poems for the Farm’ packed out the New Barn to hear 20 poets (aged from 7 to at least 70) read out their words for this very special place. We also read some of the work from people who couldn’t be there – like Huxley’s poem about sitting on a Shire (Huxley is 3!) – and work sent to me by poets who just live too far away. I’m hugely grateful for the support I’ve had from poets and writers living in the region, and from the skilled and amazing people who work at the farm. I’ve just counted up, and 96 poems were written for the farm during the residency.

Mason BeesMason Bees

the mason bees prospect
this warm red wall
bee-buzz the same in all
the summers since
this clay was dug

into toasted crevices
and cracks of firing
they sing then vanish


The residency is there online too, and after I invited poems for the Poetry Fence I started to receive them from as far away as India, Canada and USA. You can read more at http://actonscottfarmpoet.wordpress.com/ and my website is www.jeanatkin.com


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/