I’m Rebecca Sharp, a writer and interdisciplinary artist, and the CEE’s inaugural Artist in Residence. I hail from Glasgow; lived over ten years in Liverpool before moving into north Fife in 2014. My core practice is as a writer – plays since 2001, and poetry, some articles and prose. You can see my previous work detailed here on my website. Interdisciplinarity has been there from the start: having come through writing and devising work for theatre (itself an interdisciplinary art form), I continue to make hybrid and collaborative projects in performance, visual and digital installation, sound, and print. I love to get under the skin of things; to understand how something works, dreams, what its language is; how the various parts fit and move together; why something wants (needs) to be said or made. Often the juiciest, crunchiest things happen in the hinges.

Over the next 18 months, I’m going to be writing my first full-length poetry collection – due out with publisher Tapsalteerie early in 2024, as the culmination of the residency. I’ll be exploring the research interests and projects of my new colleagues within and associated with the CEE, offering my own responses through this Journal; a series of Blog posts, podcasts, in-person and online events (including participatory workshops); and finally, through the new collection of poems itself.

This all follows my existing shorter (pamphlet) collection, Rough Currency (Tapsalteerie 2021), which explores our various entanglements with fossil fuels and the oil economy. In that collection I look up, down and around at capitalism, geology, nostalgia, deep-time, enchantment, mythology; how it’s all connected practically, thematically, imaginatively. At this very early stage, I imagine the new poems will behave in a similar way, allowing for an even wider scope (simply, there will be more of them).

I can share one with you now – and believe me, it’s a relief to know I have at least one already written! The poem is Velella velella, about the hydrozoan relative of the jellyfish (not strictly a jellyfish, though in the poem I do refer to it as such, invoking poetic licence). The poem was commissioned for the Anthropocene Issue of Magma Poetry (#81, October 2021), supported by AHRC.

Velella velella

by-the-wind sailor –
algaenous gathering of blue in blue 
refracted light. 
A dream of the low regions, rising –
slow comets lifting through galaxies 		
of ocean, prized by another gravity. 
Destined to settle on the high plains 
of water and wind, cellophanous sails 
to the air – a flotilla of bottletops 
tipping a bulbous moon. 					
	Geology is mirrored, 				
	Velella velella – as labradorite, 
flashing blue feldspar still holding
half of the story. As above, 
	stones ghost the surface – blink warnings			
	of distance, watch themselves haunting 
your orbit. Did they ever distract you, 
Velella, or tempt you off course? 
To slip starlit between what’s seen 
and what’s shown –						
a slow dance of letting go.					
	O free-floating cosmopolitan –
	cowboy hydrozoan, cosmonaut 
	of the inverted world – 
	what consciousness is this? This 
jellyfish, this strange awareness 
of mesh and modality? This life
divided, osmotic – oracular this time,					
this time in defiance of density.
Shape-shifting hydromancer, stargazer					
with your back to the skies.
The speaking world and the listening world –
a moment of each till you split 
	into legend – your budding medusae, 
floating angels of code expressed over 
and over as living memorials to the host. 
	You are a bloom,
Velella velella – a flutter, a torrent, 				
a whole turn of events. To drift, 
losslessly as the last gust ushers you 
to land. A viscous shift, where water 
meets rock and oscillates –
a salted latch.
Brinkmanship slips beyond sight, 					
beyond grasp. We send up the signs:
If Destroyed True
(If Not Destroyed Also True) – 
our ludic augury, this game of membranes;
epochal in its way. 
Check the bearings. Cast bones 			
into waves of exhalation 
and new photonic light.
Senses sharpened by rain.
Rudder bites the air – 

Rebecca Sharp

Earlier this year I reached out to artist Steve Smart, with whom I’ve collaborated before, to make a short film of the poem – which we’re delighted to present here for the first time. Joyfully, composer and musician Alex South agreed to come on board to create a soundscape, and I’m so grateful to them both for being so generous with their time and talents. Happily I’ll be working with both Steve and Alex again for this residency – Steve will be creating a video trailer for the new collection (as he did for Rough Currency – also providing that book’s cover image); and I’ll be collaborating with Alex for a musical interpretation for the final collection launch event.

In the video, you’ll hear the text read by me, and you can turn captions on to see the text. I’ve also included the poem in its original layout, below – as you’ll see, the text billows out from the left margin and back again, exploring a threshold, evoking a wave, a pulse, an ebb and flow, and the form of the Velella itself.

This is probably the best expression of where my head is at right now. I’m interested in shape-shifting, imagining what life is like for other species; lessons for how to stay curious and adaptable. And likewise, with the diversity of human experiences where conditions are far from equal: what we can learn by extending our perspectives out to one another, what new insights and energies are released.

It’s a pleasure to share this space with you. If you’d like to get in touch with any reflections or questions at any time, my contact details are over on my Centre Bio page.