Arts Arts Editor Muse

Life in Lockdown:'Sometimes the best things happen by accident'

Elizabeth Walsh speaks to Jessie Summerhayes about her new collaboration that was born out of lockdown.

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Image Credit: The Ciderhouse Rebellion, 2020

'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email; we’d love to hear from you.

It’s great to admire and aspire to replicate the work of celebrities and world-renowned creatives. We all have our favourite author or poet and while their success is admirable it can seem that reaching similar heights is simply unachievable. However, this isn’t the case. We are capable of achieving anything we put our minds to and students here at York are testament to this. All it takes is a willingness to try, and sometimes inspiration can come from much closer to home. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Jessie Summerhayes, a first year English and Related Literature student and poetry enthusiast who is very much on her own path to success.

Jessie began by telling me a bit about her family background. She explained that her father is a professional violinist and makes up one half of the improv folk duo The Ciderhouse Rebellion. Having been immersed in his music from a young age and being largely aware of how he strove to tell stories through music, she looked for ways to do the same. Admitting that she missed out on the opportunity to play, Jessie found poetry, especially spoken word, to be her own form of expressive communication.

The act of writing poems is far from new to her. We laughed about having written stories when we were younger and she went on to tell me that she began writing  poetry properly at the age of twelve. However, the poems she has written recently are different to those she usually writes. The extensive period of being stuck inside has certainly been a time for many of us to try new things, and in Jessie’s case it’s resulted in success.

During lockdown, the musical influence she has grown up with was continuous. This was especially the case during a three-week window in which the band worked on a new project via the challenging medium of the landline. Inspired by their spontaneous improvisation Jessie decided to have a go, even recording an improvised poem on the spot!

Looking for further inspiration in these uncertain times, she turned to the nature on her doorstep. In relation to where she lives in Derbyshire she told me that, "parts of the landscape around us  have stayed the same since the medieval period" further explaining that, "these things are constant despite what’s going on". So, from the certainty of the unchanged landscape, intertwined with the chaos of everyday life, her poetry collection Rùnian (meaning whisper in Old English) was born.

The collection comprises nine longer lyric poems, each preceded by a shorter one which sets the scene, providing what Jessie described as a "snapshot" of what is to come. When I asked her to tell me a bit more about the poems she explained that she has grown up by the sea and as a result, half of the poems are "sea poems". The rest are based on historical events that occurred where she lives, such as the Harrying of the North. To make sure the poems were accurate she delved into extensive research, including the plants that would have been in the area. To summarise her collection, she told me that "everything has come from things I’ve grown up knowing."

During this pandemic, we have all had to adapt to a new normal. Everyday life has been somewhat of a challenge and it is certainly not the easiest time to start a new project. However, working from different parts of the country, a collaboration under the name of Words of a Fiddlers Daughter has emerged. The collaboration consists of poems from Rùnian being spoken aloud, accompanied by improvised music played by The Cider House Rebellion. Initially unable to meet in person to record, Jessie told me how two of the tracks on the album were recorded over the phone and not without difficulty. As the lockdown has eased they were lucky enough to record the rest in a socially distanced manner in North Yorkshire.

The project will be showcased at the Yorkshire Festival of Story, which has again had to be adapted to an online format. Viewers can book a free ticket and tune in to watch Words of a Fiddlers Daughter from 7-8pm on the 27 August. With all the hard work and dedication from  both sides it is not one to be missed.

Both Jessie’s poems and the collaboration that has evolved from them are proof that sometimes, the best things happen by accident. I would like to think that examples of natural and unedited artistic talent such as this, will serve as inspiration for more people to just have a go. You never know what might happen. What starts as merely an idea or a spontaneous rough draft of a poem on a page could end up being something amazing.

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