Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Vanessa Kisuule
"At Hawkwood, I got a brief window of time where I might try to follow the example of my surroundings, to let words flow without meeting them with immediate scrutiny or judgement. Like the writer Anne Dillard says, good ideas ‘fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.’"
This being my third time at Hawkwood, there was a simultaneous feeling of escape and return. I knew what was in store: a calming, permissive place to work, supportive and enthusiastic staff, gorgeous food at regular intervals. This time, however, I was staying at The Lodge rather than the main house. There, I put on fires every evening in the handsome log burner in the living room and the gently uphill walk to the main house for meals was a welcome break from sitting, the brisk winter air shaking off any lethargy.
There is the the fantasy of sitting in front of a window flaunting some bucolic idyll, a cascade of effortless words unfolding onto the page. The quixotic hope that a change of scene will magically rid the mind of doubt and fear is hard to shake, but the work of writing was as difficult and elusive as it always is. The difference was the absence of distraction, the respite from the endless swirl of chores that split one’s time, attention and energy.
The book I’m writing addresses some tough ethical quandaries around separating art from artist and abuse of power in our intimate relationships. I tussle not just with trying to write well, but whether my ideas themselves are morally robust. The passage of my thoughts often felt like a busy city street hemmed in by skyscrapers, constricted by pressure and shadow.
In those moments, I observed the quiet constancy of the nature around me: the cows content to chew away on the same small patch of grass every day, the trees with their firm roots, there long before me and sure to be long after, the faithful trickle of the stream that runs without fear of exhausting its source. All these things help loosen my all too human, egoist notions of perfection.
At Hawkwood, I got a brief window of time where I might try to follow the example of my surroundings, to let words flow without meeting them with immediate scrutiny or judgement. Like the writer Anne Dillard says, good ideas ‘fill from behind, from beneath, like well water’. Everything about Hawkwood’s atmosphere was regenerative: the walks, the conspiratorial smiles and nods from others as we passed in the halls and, of course, the food. It was served exactly how I like: in generous portions with brilliant company.
I was lucky to be sharing my lodge with fellow writer Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff. We gave each other plenty of space to write in the day and in the evenings had frank talks about the endeavour of writing, sharing our silly niggles and trepidations. I often feel awkward talking about my writing in general conversation. People ask polite questions, but its hard to know whether they’re motivated by genuine interest or obligation. But at Hawkwood, I was amongst fellow artists and thinkers who get it. Even when shut away in my own study, I was buttressed by the knowledge of others hard at work in close vicinity, wrestling with their own complex ideas. There was the gentle hum of shared endeavour, a permission and incentive that would have been sadly absent if I had been the only person in the building.
Thank you Hawkwood for the ever flowing spring of your generosity. I can’t wait to come back.
Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol-based writer and performer, holds over ten slam titles including The Roundhouse Slam 2014, Hammer and Tongue National Slam 2014, and the Nuoryican Poetry Slam. Featured on BBC iPlayer, Radio 1, and Radio 4, she’s graced festivals worldwide and was Glastonbury Festival’s Resident Poet in 2019. Her poem ‘Hollow,’ reflecting on Edward Colston’s statue toppling, garnered 600,000 Twitter views in three days. With two poetry collections by Burning Eye Books, she’s been lauded in the Forward Poetry Prize Anthology 2019. Vanessa’s versatile work spans The Guardian, NME, and Lonely Planet. Her theatrical journey encompasses Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh Theatre, and Pentabus. As Bristol City Poet, she co-tutors Southbank Centre’s Poetry Collective, while actively crafting an essay collection and debut novel. Vanessa’s workshops offer tailored mentoring for creative growth.