My name is Charlotte and I’m a writer and poet. Until recently, I was based in Cornwall, where I studied BA English and History at the University of Exeter (at their Penryn, Cornwall campus). Our campus was shared with art students from Falmouth University so instantly my life became enriched by peers who were writers, film-makers, designers, musicians, academics and artists.
Cornwall is a vibrant and haphazard place of vision - where art spaces are built within old mills, abandoned warehouses become sites for electronic music, and studios are filled with skilled artists who collaborate and enable each other to fulfil their ambitions. Cornish identity and tradition feels sturdy and proudly stoic but there is a capricious energy in the air – a desire for transformation, for the unexpected and the mysterious. We were surrounded by teal swirling seas, high hills, ancient woods, wild garlic and gorse, stone circles, stunning gardens with palm-trees, the sun-kissed River Fal, the breathless and jagged north coast, the Lizard, dark coves, the golden pastoral glow of the Roseland and long expanses of Bodmin Moor, Goonhilly and the cliffs of Porthtowan which hold their own secrets at night. I could go on.
Cornish spirit permeates the air, all the pubs feel strangely timeless and everyone who comes here is proud to be a small part of such a bizarre and impassioned space. As of September 2020, I had been there for five years! Cornwall seized my roots - although I’m far from having discovered everything it has to offer. That’s a rare gift from a place; an opportunity to return and endlessly explore.
When I was in my second year of study, I started working at the Fish Factory Art Space - a warehouse-turned-gallery opposite Penryn quay. Our ceiling makes up the floorboards of the sail-loft above and when in the gallery, it’s fascinating to listen to sounds of sails being sawn and sewn ready for the ocean beyond. As their intern, I interviewed a wondrous array of artists from the studio and visiting artists from around the world; performers, costume makers, potters, painters, plant-musicians, illustrators, people from Boston to Bermuda, writing profiles and helping to organise the Fish Factory website. I also worked as their barista/bartender, which also allowed me to meet an array of interesting people. I’ve attended many exhibitions which have deeply resonated with me, I’ve seen innovative perspectives of the body, pictorial mountains of snow, collaborative poetry, sculpture, painting, carving and worked at many music events. Very often, when walking home past the harbour life, Cornwall becomes beautifully surreal.
The relationship between Cornwall and its visitors/upstarts is enigmatic, often forming a point of tension but I hope the determined respect for Cornwall from all sides will continue to transcend difficulties (I’d recommend the film Bait to capture a glimpse of Cornish sentiment). I was pleased to become part of what a frie nd coined the “Cornish Hustle” juggling multiple jobs, creative practices or business with odd jobs scattered here and there. There is a generosity of spirit in Cornwall which crashes like a wave as situations jolt from one extreme to the next and everyone helps each other to keep up. As well as working in the art gallery I worked in Falmouth’s oldest coffee house - a former hotel founded in the 1790s with an original dumbwaiter, a small freight elevator used to carry food and plates between storeys. In the summer we were inundated with tourists and locals alike, the population booming with the season. It was a common sight to see huge cruise ships and vessels drift into Falmouth harbour and dwarf fishing boats. As summer turned to autumn and visitors faded, I became very familiar with the quirky old building and its shadows. Below the shop-floor there was a downstairs lounge and a small locked door only the staff could access, leading to what was once an underground pavement, a secret passage used by smugglers long ago beneath Church Street. The high street of Falmouth, a town famously founded by the Killigrews (a family of pirates) bustles with vibrant life, and beneath its cobbles lie hidden secrets. As a person who is very susceptible to emotion (at my own peril) I came extremely close to strange energies. I believe that where there is life, there are the ghosts of others and ourselves in the gaps of circumstance, time and subconscious emotion. It’s a testament to Cornish momentum which rattles and renews old bones.
I’ve had a marvellous time in Cornwall and I’m so fortunate to have had the comfort of green/blue space available to me. With Cornwall acting as vivacious host, these experiences in life and nature informed my creative practice and studies. While living there, I was inspired to join the newly-founded Cherry, a collective for feminists and creative womxn directed by Emily Mort. We organised interdisciplinary evenings of art, photography, poetry and talks in quirky bars with doors disguised as bookcases and colourful décor. During this time I encountered some of the most inspirational and motivated voices of my life. There were lots of other events in Cornwall following similar tangents of the bizarre - music events which began in unexpected places; downstairs bars, cottages and fields, always concluding with the un-inhibited dance and the sporadic appearance of seals.
As Exeter-Penryn is a much smaller campus than main Exeter, I was fortunate to have close relationships with eccentric professors and their expertise. With thanks to them, family and friends I graduated from university very happy with a strong desire to stay. So I did. I became very close with the artistic community (and the pub community) and such a rich social circle led to a series of events titled Poetry and Prosecco - evenings of spoken word with fellow poets, Molly Milton, Holly Smith and Emily Harrison. Ed Hanley (EBÏBLE) invited me to become co-host of KER-PLUNK radio which then led to CHERRY RADIO with Tom Stewart. I also hosted an exhibition, RESEMBLANCES, with Esme Lansdowne, showcasing poetry inspired by art, creating a dialogue between vision and language alongside Halcyon Neumann, Lily Wellan and Ed Hanley who provided live music and digital sound. I have performed spoken-word for Riptide Literary Festival, Kespos (a series of events across multiple Cornish locations) and for the film-screening Of Women Uprooted - a documentary in collaboration with the charity Falmouth and Penryn Welcome Refugees. There are so many creative events in Cornwall. None of this would have been possible without the readiness of Cornwall to facilitate creativity nor without the community of people who say YES with epic Cornish dynamism. Go to Cornwall, it will steal your heart
If you want to see more of my work check out my page in the Cherry directory. Thank you to Zest for giving me such an affirming platform to speak about my favourite place.
Editor: Amber Patterson