Category Archives: The Now

Brazil Residency – conclusions



I’ve been back from Brazil almost a week and have been reflecting on my experiences there. Time for a wrap-up post!


I (rather reluctantly) left Boiçucanga about ten days before I went home – this was because the residency actually officially started a week before I came (with short notice I had to come later!). So I took the bus to Sao Paulo and hung out with the artists I’d met in the beautiful spot by the sea in their city – there I saw the bustling streets, high-rises, graffiti, buses and underground, restaurants, bars, art galleries (MASP was a highlight), and their homes.  The video of translations and original versions of my work was broadcast at a gallery opening, which was, quite frankly, mindblowing. People were so incredibly generous to me, and I felt that I didn’t have enough time to give everyone their due. Huge thanks in particular to Lourdina, the residency founder, for her kindness, and to Bea, for putting me up for so long.


While I’d had warnings that Sao Paulo was dirty and stressful with little to attract tourists, my experience was so personalised that I couldn’t help but see the sunny side of things. I managed to do less work than I’d have liked, since my laptop succumbed to the blue screen of death for reasons unknown early into the Sao Paulo stint. But I took a lot of photographs, some of which I hope to share on Twitter and other places.


I’m home now, and as I thought, have a lot to think about regarding my time. I started work on a poetry collection while there – I’ve had a few poems published over the years, but have never really felt like I had a whole collection in me, until now. It’s exciting and challenging to approach it. They are poems about Brazil, about Boiçucanga and my time there. There are possibilities of working with a translator and getting in touch with Brazilian publishers about the finished work, and ideally I would like to return to the country for further research. I’m working too on a project to build a connection between Scotland and Brazil for visiting and local artists and writers, though it’s at a very tender stage, with much research still to be done on the practical points. I hope it will bring good things for many people.


So, at the end of all this, I think back to the point where it started – where I realised I could actually make it. Massive thanks to Kaaysa for hosting me, and biggest of all to The Saltire Society and the Society of Authors for providing the funding – at great speed, as was needed – to make it happen. Thank you for everything. The effects are ongoing, and I will feel them in my work, possibly forever.


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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 7



Yesterday a small group of us went to an Amerindian village to meet with a shaman. The above picture is of the ritual hut, where we watched a ceremony unfold, full of stories and musical instruments from the pipes to the lyre and drums. The floor of the hut was dirt, and we sat on pallets or on mats or chairs, or stretched out on the floor. A fire was regularly stoked with long branches, sending snowflakes of ash falling on our heads. The shaman laid out his objects and spoke slowly and at length. Thankfully one of the artists was kind enough to translate the discussions of his cosmology – the four elements that make up the world, and Patchamama, the (if I’m understanding it right) nothingness that rules it all. Some people took a kind of tea made from cactus called Wachuma – not a hallucinogen but a kind of drug that makes you look inward, that is to the shaman the personification of an ancestor who was seeking knowledge and was reborn into this plant.


There was a rhythm to the events, and everything happened at a leisurely pace.  The process of storytelling and ritual and music took over six hours and in the end we all walked back a couple of kilometres in the falling dusk, rather wordless about what we had seen.


Even now it’s hard to distil, an experience which is ongoing and will take some time to unfurl.



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Brazilian Residency Notes 6



(the artists’ studio, taken from the basketball court)

A full week has passed since I came to Kaaysa in Sao Paulo state. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, in an experience overflowing with expansive moments:

1. I am the only native English speaker here, though there is a French-Canadian woman here who, like me, doesn’t speak Portuguese. This state comes with its benefits and challenges.


2. The benefit of being surrounded by people who speak a language you cannot understand is a sense of freedom in social situations. There is no expectation that you will talk. You can flit here and there. You can busy yourself with your work, if you are working in a shared space, the sound of the language flowing over you. When people do talk to you, you know that they are making the effort. Their speaking in English is a kind of gift to you. You can cherish their words a little more.


3. The challenge is similar to the benefit of freedom. You are, in some ways, the ghost at the feast. With so much liveliness and companionship (people are very friendly here), you are the figure that can drift unseen or unacknowledged. Some times plans are made – for an excursion, for a talk – and you will have no idea until it begins to happen, at which point you must awkwardly ask what is going on. That question comes up all too often for my liking to my lips. What’s happening? You must always sound a little clueless.


4. I am the only writer here. The rest are visual artists. That is a double kind of invisibility – perhaps triple, with the language issue and my own introversion. All their art is in the studio, on the walls, on the table. It’s beautiful and complex. It sings out. My writing is in the books of mine I brought to share and on my computer. I have lent one of the artists my book; the rest have not seen my work at all, though we have had lots of conversation about their process, and a little about mine, only in the most oblique, partial way. It’s this that is possibly the hardest part for me. For my work to be unseen in the milieu of vibrant creation here is far harder than for my self to be so. This is some new thing for me to learn.


5. Things happen on their own schedule here – or appear to (see above). When someone is going to give a talk, there is no hour that is deliberately set aside for it. Lunch can happen at 1 or at 4. Dinner can start at midnight, long after you’ve broken down and cooked something and eaten it by yourself.


6. Sleep is a good idea. Brazil is so beautiful, and even with the days of rain we had, there was still so much to see and do, and a desire for the charming company of the others here, and even just listening, learning, writing, writing – people stay up late here, working at times that I have tried to emulate, for the experience. But all this comes at a price. Yesterday I was exhausted all day, and finally I made myself go to bed at the (ludicrously early) time of midnight. I slept til ten thirty, finally, rather than springing out of bed at seven after five hours of sleep as I had been doing. I feel better. A little tender round the edges.


7. I miss the rain. Now it’s gone. I have started listening to Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, and I wonder if she says anything on the role of rain and loneliness. It is a specific type of rain, though, with its own steady, kindly rhythm, that is not found in NYC, which her book deals with. I am fascinated to see what she has to say about visual art and loneliness, to listen to it, here, while I am surrounded with the stuff of it.


The learning continues.



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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 5



Rain. Days of rain, and the flood it brings. Above you can see the patio, under a near permanent two inch flood. So in all that time what did I do? Simply read, worked, talked to other artists almost endlessly. It stopped raining for the morning, in which I (foolishly as it turned out) did a clothes wash that is probably now still under and awning just as wet as it was when I took it out (the air saturated with water).


In that brief window of dryness I walked into town with one of the other artists, and we stopped frequently to look at some aspect of the town that marked it as fascinating – decayed ghost signs handpainted on walls, with black mould and moss creeping over it. A field that had become a swamp. A diy-looking area of construction. The mist draping gracefully over the rainforested hills. A binbag of exploded papaya. Dogs taking themselves quite affably for a walk.


Soon it was raining again, and it did not let up.


So, working, reading, taking notes, watching the others at work (something I could do endlessly, if it probably didn’t bother them), making communal meals, talking hours into the night about art theory and practice, swapping names of visual artists and writers. Drinking a little rum and juice and listening to the magnificent rain who owns the night, and all the frogs in it singing in praise.

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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 2



Yesterday I had no expectations for what the day might bring – and it turned out to bring quite a lot.


What you can see in the photo above is Ilha dos Gatos, the island of cats, just off the coast of Boiçucanga. The other artists on the residency were taking a trip there yesterday, something I didn’t know about since I passed out in my room at seven, and slept through various door knocks to see if I’d like to come. Eventually I was roused and asked “would you like to take a boat trip?” to which the answer is always yes, by the way (I am not often asked it, sadly).

I took a car down to the small boat with Ed and his wife Maria. The trip over was in beautiful sunshine – I missed the turtle apparently swimming alongside the boat, but no matter. On the island, folk went swimming in a natural pool full of tiny striped fish and gobies who wriggled themselves up on land. The beach had a few other revellers playing music, and a big friendly dog roaming about. A big fresh fish and some aubergine and courgette were grilled up, and so the time passed by quite peacefully. Until it came time to head home.


Our boat, rented for the day, was nowhere to be seen. On the hills of the coast, a great dark blue stain was spreading, with little white forks of lightening here and there – a bit of summer afternoon rain, it seemed. Still no boat. Then the storm hit us – just as I had wanted. The wind whipped about. The rain so heavy it felt like warm hail. It pounded into the sand and into the bare shoulders of the artists and the singular other group left. There was much concerned yelling on both sides while their dog ran around and up to us, shaking and looking for reassurance. The coconut trees swayed menacingly. Finally the boat arrived but it was too choppy to come close to shore, so we were ferried by waterski in ones and twos. Rescue waterski – and the first time I’d ever ridden one. I clung on with Maria. Once by the boat we had to jump in the water and swim to the ladder. My rucksack was soaked through, but luckily someone had brought a wet bag to keep all of our stuff safe.


The ride back was slow as everyone, soaked to the skin, eyed the shore, where the folds of the mountains retreated in gently grading triangles of blue. Until the river where we boarded. And then back to Kaaysa.


I couldn’t have asked for anything better, really, for a welcome into Brazilian life.

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In the Herald

Some words of mine recommending a lovely, under-publicised place in Scotland are in the Herald, alongside a few others.

Check it out here!

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September activities

1. Pursuing with static vigour the idea of Autumn – that is to say, ideas collected from other countries (North America, mainly). Leaves red and orange. Mist. A little bird skeleton with the wings still on. Mushrooms and toadstools. Camp fires. Slugs and black beetles under stones coming out when the rain does. My tweets accrue on the subject, while I stay indoors looking at a milk sky, trying to:


2. Write essays for the Necessary Fiction residency. Write a recap for The Female Gaze. I need to start, I stare at the blinking cursor, my head in the mountains, my hands rustling leaves. I link too much, I stand signing. I am a sign of myself.


3. Awaiting. Waiting. Which has more verve, more glamour? To await something. Waiting on something. Waiting for. This is the linguistic exploration of someone at a bus stop, looking both ways and there is nothing and the phone battery is dead and you forgot your book. No cars. A deer up ahead, ghostly on splayed foot. My white deer, I think of you. It disappears around behind the corner shop and the recycling bins.


4. All the waiting leads to omens. To rituals – checking things, expecting things. Imagined deer. But a magpie did land on my window sill however many days ago. I couldn’t see it, but knew from the rattle. When I got up to look I only caught sight on the wings, the gloss – and it landed in a rowan tree, and there is no meaning in this, of course not.


5. No writing. Writing fiction will be October. I want cold breath and a clear head for that time.

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