How did you come together as a writing partnership?
Rene: We have been friends for twenty years, and have a shared love of poetry, writing, and drama. We have always enjoyed each other’s written work. Five years ago we were commissioned to write and perform a spoken word piece for Domestic Abuse Awareness Week. Following that we decided to create a formal writing partnership, called ‘Bluestocking’. We have run workshops and performed at several Festivals, local events and literary gatherings.
What solo writing projects do you do?
Ali: I enjoy writing about place and memory with particular emphasis on Cornwall and childhood; memories inspired by places I grew up in, liminal spaces and the sense of timelessness they evoke. I have had poetry published in 'Scryfa' Vol.12 anthology of best of Cornish Contemporary Writing, Penlee Gallery's Anthology in response to the paintings of John Armstrong and more recently in 'Old Cornwall' Volume 15, Number 12. I have also written a play for schools called ' The Stones Story.'
Rene: I create spoken word and performance poetry, write and perform songs, and have written for festivals, literary events and art spaces, including Penlee Gallery's collection of poetry in response to the exhibition Dream and Reality, featuring the surrealist paintings of John Armstrong, for National Poetry Day. Recent Lockdown Projects include being a guest speaker for the launch of ‘Theatre of the Self’, by the artist and curator Delpha Hudson, performing a new written piece and discussing my approach to journaling and writing creatively and being involved in a project for dance and movement inspired by stories of risk and uncertainty throughout Lockdown.
Are there some writing projects you prefer to do on your own rather than a duo?
Rene: Yes, I prefer writing songs solo; I have an instinctive sense of how they will work with my singing voice. I always write ‘confessional poetry‘ on my own, as these pieces emerge from a very personal inner world and therefore contain a private store of metaphors, archetypes and symbols.
Ali: My work in community settings with children and families has involved facilitating workshops using writing and poetry as a therapeutic tool to help individuals connect with their emotions and individual writing voice. I am also a Natural Mindfulness Guide and enjoy writing outside in nature either alone or with others.
How does writing together work practically? Does one of you get an idea and takes the lead?
Rene: We have a variety of ways to collaborate: we might start by discussing our theme, or the subject of a commissioned piece. We sometimes generate text and get language flowing with some writing exercises. We like to work in each other’s company, either in person around a kitchen table or – in particular, for the last 18 months – over Zoom. After discussion, some warm up exercises or some shared prompts we will write in silence until we reach a natural conclusion and then read our first attempts to each other, and go from there. Between meetings we spend time individually on editing and development and bring the edits to our next joint writing sessions. We are regularly surprised by the synchronicity, mirrored ideas and metaphors that we discover in each other’s work.
How did you approach writing about Siobhan’s work?
Rene: We have written in response to Siobhan’s work prior to this recent collaboration for the Byre, knowing her both personally and professionally. Our themes weave together soundly, incorporating themes of childhood, natural landscapes, friendships, imaginary worlds and overcoming obstacles. Our aim is not to describe each painting in content and form, but rather that the imagery is a starting point from which to discover the lost words and navigate the imaginary worlds therein. Throughout, there was an ongoing process of collaboration, reflecting on emerging themes, linking in with Siobhan to read the poems as they evolved and shifted over time.
Which was the most inspiring painting to write about?
Ali: The painting I found most inspiring to write about was 'Me, My Shadow and I' (below) as the figure in the painting seems to evoke such vulnerability and a sense of alienation with her round face tilted upwards, eyes closed, lips pursed, hands hidden in the pockets of her little red skirt as if begging to be found as she stands alone in a void. This painting made me think about a very young child lost within a cavern: in my poem the cavern is the throat of the adult . This child is voiceless and unheard but the straining neck and the upturned head made me think she was desperate to be found, to be heard, to express herself. The poem I wrote [read below] tries to capture this struggle for the child within to be felt and heard.
Siobhan Purdy: 'Me, My Shadow and I'
Rene: I found them all inspiring, in different ways. The painting I took the greatest liberty with is ‘Vintage Flower Girl’, a dreamy and androgenous beauty with closed eyes and a halo of blooms. Her face and the projection of the psyche I imagined for her informed the first verse. Then I spent quite some time finding flowers that matched those in the painting, working them into the verses as characters in their own right. The head dress has incredible energy and movement compared to the inscrutable calm of the subject’s face. The contrast between the dynamic flowers and the neat collar and vintage tank top led me to the gothic fantasy of the final edit [read below].
Siobhan Purdy: 'Vintage Flower Girl
Which is your favourite poem?
A: My favourite poem was our joint poem 'Heads in the Clouds' as it conjured up so many images connected to the memories of two friends or sisters who had grown up almost inseparable. I like the story that we created for these whimsical characters and the dreamy world with its Cornish setting that the painting inspired. Working as a duo, this painting seemed to speak most to me of how it feels to share memories and experiences with a friend who is like a sister: the wonderful metaphor of 'heads in the clouds' gave us lots of dreamy imagery to work with as well as the idea of white hair, experience and it made us think about reasons for having your head in the clouds; maybe feelings of escapism and insecurity. I think it is a brilliant painting, characteristic of Siobhan's flair for creating strong visual metaphors and whimsical characters who have a story to tell.
Siobhan Purdy: 'Sisters, Heads in the Clouds'
Rene: Personally I love the depth and nuances of ‘Heads in the Clouds’ [read below] The final edit has glimpses of childhood – both the adversity and the joys – and echoes of our joint reflections on friendship, companionship and the redeeming experience of being in nature. The piece touches on memory, vulnerability, and imaginary worlds, capturing the themes we were committed to from very early on in the collaborative process. The tenderness of friendship and imagination are caught so beautifully in Siobhan’s painting. I feel our poem honoured that.
I also love ‘Surprise Party’, [read below] as I think it fits the brief as neatly as if it were cut with one of the glittering edges in the poem itself. Of all the paintings’ characters, the birthday girl seems the most ‘Lost for Words’; I found it exhilarating to take part in teasing out her internal monologue, her panic, her brilliantly sharp observations and ultimately the plea in her unspoken wish.
What’s next for you both? Can we expect to see more poems inspired by Siobhan’s work?
Rene: We will be designing workshops and running a residential writing holiday based in Cornwall in 2022/2023. We plan to continue collaborating with Siobhan in future; her paintings contain such evocative narrative and imagery! Siobhan, Alison and I all feel that this publication has revealed how well the paintings and poetry sit together to tell a story. We would like to thank Elaine and her Byre Gallery for hosting this show and producing the beautiful book to accompany the ‘Lost For Words’ exhibition.
You can order a copy of the book, 'Lost for Words' with poetry by Alison and Rene and paintings by Siobhan Purdy here.
Alison Tangye, Siobhan Purdy and Rene Crouch
Me, My Shadow and I by Alison Tangye
I’m down here, can you hear me?
I fell into the rabbit hole,
Now I spend long days playing
Hide and Seek. Can you hear me?
I catch words as you breathe in,
You lost me the seventh time
You bit your tongue and froze.
Little eaten one, swallowed whole,
Full of dreams I could not tell,
Trapped by milk teeth, anchored here,
Drowned in the adit of your throat,
Singing little rhymes of whistling,
They echo from these chamber walls,
Doleful tunes of longing
For bells rung blue and woods rinsed green,
Lambs with black noses wandering,
I cannot catch the sun or moon
Or wish upon a guiding star,
Tears fall and circle round like sharks,
I scratch my skin and make red marks,
Shrug bony shoulders, and
Sometimes I can feel your voice,
Rolling sound waves cradling me,
Stroking soft rhymes to shut eyes,
Beauty’s sleeping curtains drawn,
I hear you breathe your lullabies,
I am snug here, safe from taunting.
Sometimes I find strange words, odd sounds,
Bubbling like balloons in your air,
Bursting with joy, I make a wish,
Hope each will make it to the blue
And you will hear and catch one.
Flower Girl by Rene Crouch
She wears her head-dress like a crown,
Wild woven woodland and meadow flowers,
She feels as though a queen bestowed
the blooms, unfurling while her eyes stay closed,
A pure-faced cub; most nights black moths
the size of birds have cluttered round,
eclipsing the bright light; now Cuckoo Flower
and Buttercups stand in their stead.
Bird’s Foot, White Purslane, Daffodil,
Sea-Holly, and Forget-Me-Not
Bloom out of season round her head,
Float, soft as feathered nests,
And Speedwell stamen peer from stunted buds.
Her halo has ruptured, petals abscond,
Dog Roses bounding from their thorns,
Cornflowers reaching from lichen walls,
Daisies, elated as runaway brides,
Snipped from their altars just in time.
She dreams only of scattering blossoms
That will guide the maid’s path to her groom
And help to hold the runaway train
Of the dress, to stop it sweeping through
The embroidered mulch of trampled blooms-
She wants sorely to be in her place,
Wood Anemone crushed underfoot,
Stitchwort and Campion bound to the lace.
When the honeymoon car has rattled away,
She returns to her room, her bed.
Motionless, in the embodied gloom,
Stays still as a portrait in the dark,
And keeps her collars stiff and starched-
And tells herself there will always be
flowers to give.
Heads in the Clouds by Rene Crouch and Alison Tangye
We used to spin worlds out of cloud
We were sentries, lost and found in
Daydream, spiders weaving our sad thread
of Homespun, soft as thistledown,
Silent under the threadbare quilt
Cocooned in our patchwork visions.
I always knew your thoughts –I’d hide
behind them, add my own and watch
strange night blooms blossom in the dark.
We shivered outside in February frost,
In summery frocks when the earth was bare
And puddles bore the dregs and leaves of winter,
We’d dare to soar beyond the frozen chill
Which numbed our noses, nudged our fingers raw.
I always looked to you for answers-
They raged there quietly in your heart,
Where dragons crept around disguised as clouds.
We’d weave dour tales of sour old dears
Like ewes, we cowered low and ducked
from mauling farmers’ drunken fists
wrestling for a round at midnight.
We guarded secrets in flower pots
And as we grew, one tall, one round,
We found some safety in the woods,
Picked dark fruit and got torn to shreds
by thorns, that streaked juice down our legs,
Or in the hedgerows of a late spring field
We hid in granite corners lit with gorse-
Or in the dunes, the sand bleached fine and dun
Forever shifting, clogged with grass and roots,
Our blue ears deafened by the curse of storms,
And we, helmeted and winged in cloud,
Unmappable, billowing beyond our smallness,
Could lift our lemony frocks
And thread the rungs of forest,
Or float like cotton blossoms
Down the dunes
Into the blue
Surprise Party by Rene Crouch and Alison Tangye
I walked the gangplank of the crowd,
My eyelids stapled in delight
My arms sewn in to jacket sleeves
A skittle, party hat pulled tight.
My feet wedged into birthday shoes.
The stillness gathers in tight gasps,
Ice-cubes dissolve in coloured glass
Missile balloons stretched taut, drift up
on tense and crackling air; I was
playing outside before they arrived,
Fighting shadows on the lawn,
Now songbirds in our garden spread
Their notes like dandelion seeds,
Scatter the aftermath of rain
As wings glare in the sun.
Guests wield their gifts like glittering knives.
My ‘Thank-Yous’ are goose honks and haws.
My mother glides, her teeth are bright,
A gilt-edge smile is pinned in place,
And at her sign for silence, laughter dies,
Her upheld hand and loud-mouthed gaze,
A burning temple of a cake
comes in and they are singing now,
Our friends and neighbours in their masks
And me, their perfect stooge, I stare
At all the candles, bait my breath-
All poetry © Rene Crouch and Alison Tangye 2021