Old friends make poetry out of swims around the Island

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A combination of poems and photographs is the result of a collaboration by two creative individuals working more than 200 miles apart.

Contemporaries together at Jersey College for Girls, the two intended to see each other for the 75th anniversary celebrations of Liberation Day last year, festivities that were largely cancelled because of the pandemic. But from her Epsom home, poet Alice Allen asked her friend to send her some extracts from the diaries Lucy Allchurch kept of swims around the Island, and to those short observations were added photographs taken by Ms Allchurch on a smartphone recording the character of different coves and bays.

‘At the time,’ Ms Allchurch said, ‘it was really just to remind Alice of home and of shared experiences but she responded, as a poet, by writing poems in response to my words and so we started communicating regularly over the summer with this interchange.

‘For me it was really fascinating because I was enjoying the swimming and the process of sending her some words and being a little bit creative in my own way but it was brilliant to see how she took those words and turned them into poetry. It really was the alchemy of poetry.’

The poems capture the experience of swimming around the Island, ‘the splash of the swimmer, a flicker in sunlight, making her way across the bay’, as one piece encapsulates it. But they also reflect the poet’s interest in her native Island, its history and its language, so that many of the poems explore the resonance of names and stories to capture what makes Jersey a special place.

To reinforce that message, a poem which presents the imagined recollections of an elderly fisherman has been translated by Geraint Jennings into Jèrriais.

But the process of swimming and recreating the experience in poetry is not as linear as might be thought. Fascinated by L’Ouzière in St Ouen with its associations with mud and slime, Ms Allen asked her friend to add it to her swimming itinerary and report back. Having swum in this unfamiliar location on 19 September, Ms Allchurch sent her observations back in the form of verse of her own.

They became the sound poem A Place of Mud or Slime which adapts some of the original words and finds a visual arrangement on the page to complement the aural and imaginative effects at work in the text. Elsewhere, the words of the diaries are themselves incorporated as the raw material of the poems.

A separate section of the exhibition uses historic images of Havre des Pas to explore the origins of the Jersey Swimming Club in response to the tragic loss of life of two swimmers in 1865, and chronicles in poetry the later history of the beach.

‘We thought it would be interesting to turn this into an exhibition because it’s really interesting that Alice will often look at things from a different angle, perhaps picking up a word or going off on a different journey from the one I had anticipated. I think it’s really fascinating,’ Ms Allchurch said.

To accompany the exhibition, a poetry pamphlet Yellow Lichen, Pink Sea Thrift has been produced to incorporate diary entries and poems. It is available for £10 with profits being donated to the 30 Bays in 30 Days campaign.

The exhibition is open daily from 10am to 5pm and runs until the end of September.

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