Halls Island Residency

Is it an embarrassment of riches to be accepted for two residencies, almost back to back? It’s been an amazing summer, and I’m grateful. April White and I got to spend two hot and mosquito-filled amazing weeks at the Halls Island Residency, working on the Garbage Poems project.

Where Anna's poetry happenedMy room and writing desk at the Halls Island Residency.

I’m writing the poems, built out of words taken garbage I’ve found at local swimming holes, and April is doing watercolour illustrations of the garbage. It was a quiet thrill to come into the dining room in the evening and see the paintings that had appeared while I was writing.

Here’s one of my recent favourites, painted on Halls Island:

“Math Notebook Inside Page,” watercolour, 2019, by April White. For more recent paintings from The Garbage Poems you can check out April’s instagram: @aprilmarylynn or search #thegarbagepoems on Instagram.“Math Notebook Inside Page,” watercolour, 2019, by April White.

(April is amazing. If they weren’t my collaborator, they’d be my art crush. Okay, maybe they’re both. You can see some sneak peaks of the garbage poem illustrations on Instagram by following April or by searching #thegarbagepoems. Check out April’s website for their other projects.)

But not only is the process about creating found(ish) poems from the garbage words, it’s also about the particular experience of swimming. The reliability with which swimming seems to reset my nervous system, especially while I deal with the daily realities of chronic illness and a concussion. The way I relate to my body when I’m in the water—how it’s become one of the only times I enjoy my body and experience being in it as an unambiguous pleasure. The joy I feel swimming in wild places, which I sometimes call my survival joy.

April and I spent several afternoons playing with a GoPro in the lake, taking slow-motion video and underwater pictures. It took a while, but I can now call this research without using scare quotes. Like many people, I don’t have an easy relationship with my body. I can struggle with how it looks on camera. But there was something about filming bodies in joy, and watching those images play back while we clung to the ladder on the dock, still immersed in the water. With practice, I learned to stay with the embodied feeling, the felt-sense of the physical joy, while looking at the pictures of my body underwater.