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What does a poet in residence actually do?

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Laura Chamberlain Laura Chamberlain | 09:05 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

A few months ago I visited the National Wool Museum in Dre Fach Felindre. As a keen knitter, with a wider interest in all things arts and crafts, it was a perfect day out - save the wintry weather. And no, I didn't visit in June.

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. Photo: Keith Morris

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. Photo: Keith Morris

A highlight was getting to meet, and I dare say interrupt the work of, the newly appointed poet in residence at the museum Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch. I wrote about her residency at the time and even though it only seems like a couple of weeks ago, her residency is now coming to an end.

Samantha has been back in touch to let me know how she's got on during her time at the museum. The residency has been a platform for her to work towards her fourth collection of poetry, on the theme of textiles.

You often hear the term artist or poet in residence but if you've ever wondered what it actually entails, read on for Samantha's insight into her post.

"My Leverhulme residency, and so my time at the National Wool Museum, draws to a close on 14 July with my final free workshop in which we'll be looking at imagery and metaphor.

"Each of the monthly workshops has introduced students to a different aspect of the writing process, often drawing on artefacts from current exhibitions at the museum.

"I have also been running fortnightly writing surgeries all of which booked out weeks in advance and were free of charge. Over the course of the last six months I've seen the work of the participants go from strength to strength; one noted: 'You have knocked me sideways and I guess a few folk here could say the same. You changed my focus and the way I write.'

"My research has taken me around Wales, visiting mills and interviewing weavers, as well as to Styal Mill Museum and Helmshore Textile Museum in the north of England. I've come across some fascinating voices and drawing all the strands together will be a long process.

"Not only am I intrigued by the voices of the living, but also by the voices of the dead which I've come across in letters, diaries and legal documents. One aspect that I'm particularly interested in is social responsibility in industry and to this end I've been looking at the life of Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer who moved to Scotland where he bought the New Lanark Cotton Mills in 1799.

A loom in action at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

A loom in action at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"I went to New Lanark in May to see how his factory worked. He was a man of vision who introduced free education and medical care for his workforce and decreed that two evenings a week should be devoted to dancing!

"He also wanted his mill at New Lanark to be surrounded by gardens because he thought it was essential for his workforce to have somewhere to walk and reflect outside factory hours.

The roof garden at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

The roof garden at New Lanark Mill. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"I found that once I started on the research, other avenues opened up, leading to new poems, and that's the most exciting part for a writer because you never know where the road will take you.

"It has been a privilege to interview staff at the National Wool Museum as part of my research and I am grateful to all those who have generously shared their time and expertise as well as to staff at the National Museum in St. Fagan's and at Cathays and at the National Waterfront Museum who have given me the opportunity to view archives not normally on display to the public.

"Working with the staff and meeting such enthusiastic visitors has made the residency at the National Wool Museum a real pleasure.

"I've been privileged to encounter some inspirational people including previous artist in residence, Julia Griffith Jones, and the musician Helen Adam, with whom I ran a joint Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum to celebrate the anniversary of the Rebecca Riots in Drefach. Helen taught me some mill tunes and following the session I wrote a poem which took its inspiration from a weaving song Y Gwydd.

Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

Rhythm and Rhyme Day at the National Wool Museum. Photo: Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

"Last night we held a celebratory end of residency reading at the National Wool Museum where participants in the workshops had the opportunity to read alongside myself.

"I performed some of my textile poems as well as poems from my new collection, Banjo, which was published last month by Picador. It has already been positively reviewed in both New Welsh Review as well as on the London Grip website and was recently named as one of the top new poetry collections in the Telegraph.

"This weekend I will be reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, alongside the two other prizewinners from this year's National Poetry Competition (in which I won second prize for my poem Ponting) and on the Sunday morning I'll be taking part in an event on Antarctica in the company of poets Bill Manhire and Melanie Challenger."

To read more about Samantha's work visit her website www.rhydderch.com.

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