The Charles Causley Trust are excited to announce that our next resident of Cyprus Well is Cahal Dallat.

Cahal will be with us from May through to July and we are excited to share his plans with you via a series of readings and performances he is organising while he is resident at Cyprus Well. He is here in his capacity as both poet and musician. It seems poignant to recognise Charles’s love of music, as well as poetry, in his centenary year, a wonderful way to celebrate Causley’s own talent and support of the arts beyond literature. Cahal has recently been shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley 2017 along with two other Causley alumni. We will be the first to shout from the rooftops if he or one of our other poets wins this prestigious award.

Cahal Dallat is a London-based poet, critic and musician. He studied Statistics and Operational Research at Queen’s University Belfast and is married to poet Anne-Marie Fyfe, with two children. Cahal reviews literature and the arts for the TLS and Guardian among others, and has been a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s weekly arts programme, Saturday Review, since 1998. His first poetry collection, Morning Star, was published in 1998 and he won the Strokestown International Poetry Competition in 2006. His latest collection of poetry is The Year of Not Dancing (Blackstaff Press, 2009) and, in addition to readings and creative-writing workshops, he gives frequent combined poetry/music/literary-history performances with his wife in Britain and Ireland and, annually, on tour in the US. He has worked in television, publishing, public utilities, construction & information technology and has taught systems analysts in India. He plays several instruments including bandoneon, musette-accordion, traditional flute, mando-fiddle, balalaika, piano, clarinet & soprano-sax. He is also the organiser of — and inspiration behind — the W.B. Yeats Bedford Park Project to create public artwork in West London’s 19c garden-suburb/artists’-colony where Nobel-prize winning poet and dramatist W.B. Yeats spent his early years.

Literature Works is sponsoring Cahal’s residency as part of our advance funding commitment to the Causley 100 Centenary celebrations.

Over the course of his residency, we’ll be keeping in touch with him to get the latest on the work he’s doing. We’ll interview him after the first month of his residency and he will also be telling us more about his experience of being poet-musician in residence at Cyprus Well through a series of guest-blogs across the duration of his stay. We look forward to hearing more about the work he produces to celebrate the centenary and sharing opportunities to see performances and readings of his work during his time in the South West.

Before his residency begins, Literature Works wanted to catch up with Cahal to find out what his plans are for his time at Cyprus Well. We’re intrigued to see what will come out of this multi-artform residency and wish him a productive stay. Cahal had this to say:

The Causley Trust’s idea (& generosity) in offering a combined musician/poet residency in Charles Causley’s centenary year is a timely recognition of Causley’s interest in music, traditional, classical and contemporary, alongside his deep absorption in words, both the words of his own poetry and of other contemporary poets and a word tradition, oral and verbal, stretching from ancient Celtic songs through the Border Ballads to the shared folk song inheritance of Britain and Ireland.

I’m passionate about the importance of seeing those different arts and traditions as a shared space, a shared inheritance – I’m just back from a month in the US, much of it spent in Cajun/bayou country in South West Louisiana and in Appalachia working with – and lecturing to – for example, the Southern Folklife department at University of North Carolina. I lectured on how so many of what appear as Carolina & Tennessee and Kentucky reels and ‘breakdowns’ are based on Scottish and Irish dances, how the songs of work, protest, love and tragedy that created country, and rock’n’roll, and eventually rock music, all have their roots over here (and in particular in and around the Antrim Glens where I grew up playing a mix of Highland laments, Irish airs, the Celtic planxties of the 17c Irish harpers)….

I also gave ‘Illustrated’ lectures, which explored the fact that the connections between airs and themes are perhaps best understood in performance — so we’ve created a series of ‘mixes’, my poet wife, Anne-Marie Fyfe, and I, that combine music, readings, images, poetry, life-&-letters, literary history etc bringing in James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, WB Yeats, Louis MacNeice, WH Auden, Charles Causley, John Clare, Pete Seeger etc

And I see Charles Causley as working in that same wide field of poetry-&-music-&literary/ballad history so I’m looking forward to writing new settings of a number of his poems and to working with
local musicians, particularly with music students through the Cornwall Music Service Trust to create performances that engage musicians with Causley’s words and the wider traditional and literary sources they draw on (many of those mentioned above!), and that will re-engage audiences with Causley’s life and work and the whole world of contemporary poetry.

So what’s new? I’m already in admiration of many known settings of Causley’s songs, particularly those by Jim Causley, and Alex Atterson. What I’m hoping to do is eliminate a few borders both geographically and chronologically. Geographically, because we need to see Charles as a universal poet rather than simply a Cornish (/borders-of-Devon) poet.; I’m also widening the sources to Scottish and Irish airs, Celtic baroque compositions: that’s not to take away from an essential Englishness, more to emphasise a shared common culture. And timewise, although he draws from sources as old as the Fitzwilliam Virginals Book (much of it by Irish and Cornish composers) and airs that John Clare and Hardy and Robert Burns would recognise, there’s an almost unexplored strand in Causley that is the dance-band, concert-party music of his generation, of the ‘Thirties, wartime and ‘Fifties, music that is optimistic and easy-going, music that he will have heard on the radio on his postings to Gibraltar and the South China Seas as well as been singing along to in naval barracks – music that perfectly sets off the complicated issues a working-class poetic genius had to struggle with in a changing world.

I’ve already spent time at Exeter University searching through Charles Causley’s sheet music, classical, popular and ‘English Folk-Song’ and studying the editorial process behind his book of modern ballads which brought together some of the key 60s folk-movement/protest-song players: so I can’t wait to get down to sitting at Charles’ piano and making something new, and something even older, something reaching even further back into his collective British-Isles music-and-words inheritance than has been tried to date…

And we’ll have talks and performances through the residency period, opening up the project with music-&-poetry at the annual Charles Causley Festival in June, providing a pre-concert talk (on some great Irish and British composers and ballad/folk-song collectors) at the Dante String Quartet’s Tamar Valley Festival in July and celebrating the actual centenary of Charles Causley’s birth on Aug 24th at Launceston and elsewhere. All really exciting for anyone lucky enough to be interested in music, or poetry, or even both!

We’ll be bringing you regular updates on Cahal’s work from now until July.