The Open Road

Sarah Acton is the Jurassic Coast Trust poet-in-residence. Sarah is a professional poet, performer and educator working in the classroom and outdoors to connect creativity to the land, nature and Earth History.

Sarah has worked with many Dorset and Devon organisations, schools and local museums offering walks, workshops and retreats as part of an ongoing site responsive project along the Jurassic coastline as our poet-in-residence.

Sarah is also currently writer-in-residence for Weymouth Library under the Dorset Libraries as Cultural Hubs programme January to March. Sarah is frequently commissioned by Dorset AONB Stepping into Nature and the National Memory Day project, Literature Works, to deliver memory café and reminiscence poetry workshops for people living with dementia and their carers.

All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”

(Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)

I am no great speed fiend like Mr Toad, but I am enjoying my commute to Weymouth Library, especially in the mid-Winter blue dawn. The B3157 is often described as ‘the scenic route’ along the Jurassic coastline between Bridport and Weymouth, which means that it takes slightly longer than the A35 route through Dorchester, and floats the car along a narrow magic carpet ribbon road over rolling landscape. The sea rips and bounds below at the roadside flanking the way like a huge silk flag; willing the car’s ride up and down steep hummocks and mounds.

It is a stunning route. But an adjective like ‘stunning’ is too easy to wield about when discussing coastal landscape; it is a two dimensional word for tourist brochures, a byword for ‘you must come, you have to see this’. It is a word that guarantees an attractive and impressive beauty. But in this beauty there lies poetry, and when the shifting moods and colours of such open and ancient landscape are mirrored by an even vaster skyscape, and sound-tracked by the distant roar of the untamed sea, the view works immediately and deeply into the body and mind; to electrify and stimulate earth-bound senses, to connect in the moment to our wilder imaginations and ancestry, to find connection and freedom in a breath.

Half way to work, the high view from Abbotsbury Hill calls me to stop, and I obey. Sometimes a milky mist-soup, sometimes a crisp tidal jigsaw of shimmering silver pools, eddies and lurching wavelets along the silhouette of the Fleet. As I look from shore to horizon and back, I become aware of tiny figures moving on the spit below, at first fuzzy and indistinct, then more easily distinguishable. There’s Elsevier Block’s men crouched low in readiness for a cargo landing at night near Moonfleet. Over there, that’s Florence. She’s running two miles along the shingle tombolo in her ‘going away’ shoes, seen from up here she is a thumbnail-sized miniature, On Chesil Beach. Look there! A Dutch steamship is driven hard ashore in a squalling gale…

And there are many more stories, past and to come. Voices lingering on the winds, the life stories of the individual pebbles themselves and of each wave and the beach itself. If I listen long enough they all speak. This is all the journey.

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As the open road of my new residency project at Weymouth stretches out over the next three months, it carries all the excitement, creativity and possibility of adventure. I am charting a path to explore the theme of Weymouth-on-Sea, but there is space and openness for creative happening, collaboration and community. There is time to pay attention and enjoy the voyage with new perspective from the library–eye view of the town. I have a dedicated space in ‘writer’s corner’ at the entrance of the library, which is cozy as a Captain Cat’s Cabin, decorated in the style of a writer’s garret. It is the perfect place to watch and listen, to write. This space is available for everyone to use, with free writing materials, curated bookshelves and stimulus to reflect on the seashore and sea-fringes of your own life.

Much of the residency project is led by community engagement: the project is part of Dorset’s Libraries as Cultural Hubs programme. I’ll be talking to people visiting Weymouth Library to gather memories and reflections about how the sea and coast shape lives today, and in living memory. There may be mermaids, Vikings, piers, rowers, forts, Kings, quartz, dinosaurs, ferries, loves lost and found, everything ordinary and anything extraordinary lost and found on the tideline. My ears are open to all languages and all dimensions. A busy town library like Weymouth holds daily micro-shifts of change and of continual movement, mapped by events social, cultural and elemental. I’ll be writing my own site responsive work whilst there, and a group community poem based on postcards I’m asking visitors to write and leave in Writer’s Corner for display. I like to think of it as beachcombing words and phrases…

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Please sail by and say hello to Sarah at Weymouth Library from now until end of March, see the Dorset Libraries as Cultural Hubs website for more details about when she is in (once a week). Sarah is delivering free participatory events, workshops, reading cafes, 1-2-1 mentoring, young writer’s lab, and a Weymouth-on-Sea residency exhibition on 28th and 29th March.

 

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