On Writing ‘Mushroom’ / Lisa Kelly
During Lockdown in 2020 I became obsessed with fungi. My regular walk around a nature reserve became a daily ritual, during which time I looked out for fungi, took pictures of them on my phone and tried to identify them. At a time of collective trauma, my fascination with fungi and learning about their life cycle, their problem-solving abilities, and their diversity, was an escape from the endless traumatic news on the television in the stuck environment of the living room.
Fungi seemed to offer answers, or at least to not be defeated by obstacles. Their determination to survive, their multifarious uses from medicine to food to connecting plants and roots with essential nutrients, opened a wondrous underground world, and sometimes overground world. Finding a mushroom – the fruiting body of fungi – felt like a gift; an omen there are better ways to negotiate life’s challenges through connectedness and co-operation. The fact that some fungi can also kill us if ingested, and their arcane qualities, afforded an added supernatural aura. I wanted to learn from fungi.
On a day when it was too wet and boggy to go on my usual route, I decided to walk around the suburbs and stick to the pavements, not expecting to see any mushrooms. People were keeping their distance during any encounter, according to Lockdown rules, and there were not many people out as it was raining. So, a passing woman holding a bunch of mushrooms lent her a mystical presence in the drab streets. A goddess from the underworld; Persephone’s autumnal twin. Fantastical musings perhaps, but the impression she made stayed with me and I wanted to follow in her footsteps and find some mushrooms.
I found some in the small meadow, which is a remnant of an original common, and run by a Trust. I picked only one as I was not sure if it was edible and took it home intending to fry and eat it if I could certify it wouldn’t poison me. Back home, with nothing much more to look forward to than another government briefing on the spread of the plague, I felt overcome with a sense of melancholy and the need to write and process my feelings. Sometimes, a change of scene, away from your usual writing environment can generate fresh work. I took my pen and paper into the cupboard under the stairs and shut the door, so I was in the dark. This offered my first line of a free write – ‘You are in the dark as you write. Literally in the dark.’
I had no intention of writing a sestina. The cramped, musty space offered its own images, and the day’s walk gave the narrative thrust. My knowledge of fungi worked its way into the writing. The darkness and sense of having disappeared from the normal domestic space of the kitchen into a neglected enclave, often associated with punishment in fiction, dictated the tone and mood. The most significant line for me is, ‘Try to think like a mushroom.’ I wanted to become one, part of the mycelium, letting my thoughts and writing entangle like hyphae. It didn’t happen, but the writing did. For many writers, that is the revelation. You don’t know what you want to write until you start writing.
On the practical side, I decided not to fry and eat the mushroom. I chucked it away but felt an enormous guilt. Somehow, it had become something I should care for in the creative process of cooking, but instead discarded. For me, the mushroom had an affinity with, or was a symbol of, all the sick and depressed people suffering during the pandemic. Later, the feelings of failure and inertia in the writing transformed into a sense of agency as I worked with the material and moulded it into shape. With the free write, certain words kept repeating, and they became the six words of the sestina. The circling, obsessive nature of a sestina – its relentlessness, felt apposite. I can’t remember how long it took me to finish the poem – that time feels nebulous now. But my foray into trying to think like a mushroom is something I have taken with me as an ongoing practice – when I can’t sleep, when I am problem-solving, or when I am attempting to become more connected with my environment.
You can read ‘Mushroom’ alongside three other poems from Lisa Kelly in Issue Thirteen of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here.
Lisa Kelly‘s first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, is published by Carcanet and was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Poetry Prize 2021. She is co-Chair of Magma Poetry and is studying British Sign Language.
Issue 13 cover photograph by Jo Mazelis.
© The Lonely Crowd 2021. All rights reserved.
Join us to celebrate the artists putting inclusivity first, with Candoco and DASH
Uniqlo Tate Play: Kusama’s obliteration room
Location: Turbine Hall
Yayoi Kusama’s obliteration room is a playful, interactive artwork for all ages. You are invited to transform a completely white domestic apartment into a sea of colour using sticker dots.
Tour: Audio Description Tour, Kusama’s obliteration room
Location: Turbine Hall
An audio described tour for visitors who are blind of Yayoi Kusama’s obliteration room. Seats and hearing equipment provided. Please meet from 18.10 at the benches near the Cloakroom on Natalie Bell Building, Level 0. Please note this tour is now fully booked.
Location: Turbine Hall
U:Studio and our Tate team welcome you to Tate Modern Lates to help plan your night.
Activation: Candoco Open Workshop
Location: South Tank, Blavatnik Building, Level 0
Times: 19.00–20.00 and 20.30–21.30
Catch a glimpse of Candoco Dance Company’s creative process as they lead an open workshop for invited guests and collaborators inspired by the choreography of Trisha Brown Dance Company inside the Set and Reset display in the South Tank. The session at 20.30–21.30 will be BSL interpreted.
Digital Display: Anna Farley’s Set and Reset visual guide
Location: Tanks Foyer, Blavatnik Building, Level 0
Discover Anna Farley’s new visual guide for Tate, a guide for everyone that gives you another way to access the display Set and Reset.
Music: DJ Sets programmed by Global Roots
Location: Level 1 Bridge
19.00–20.00: Pelin Pelin
Drinks and Music: DJ Sets programmed by Global Roots
Location: Terrace Bar, Blavatnik Building, Level 1
Enjoy summer cocktails, craft beers and more alongside DJ sets.
20.00–21.30: Anja Ngozi
Workshop: Are You Comfortable Yet? with Anahita Harding
Location: Blavatnik Building, Level 2
Are you comfortable yet? Artist Anahita Harding invites you to respond through written text, poetry or visual motifs. Your response will be shared and performed by invited guests throughout the night. All performances will be BSL interpreted.
18.30: CRIPtic, Nina Thomas (recordings)
19.45: Lisa Kelly
20.30: Shaun Shears
21.15: Sam Castell-Ward
Digital Display: DASH– We Are Invisible We Are Visible
Location: Blavatnik Building, Level 4
This month, 31 artists with disabilities set out to disrupt 30 locations with surreal interventions alongside the 102nd anniversary of the first DaDa International Exhibition. See the results of their work from We are invisible We are Visible.
Talks: Art Chats
Location: Blavatnik Building, Level 5
19.00–19.30 Artist Davey Jose discusses how he explores his spinal injury in his work, hosted by his younger brother, presenter and teacher Bobby Seagull.
20.00–20.30 Artists Leah Clements and Amanda Lynch speak to Helen O’Malley, Producer of Community Programmes at Tate, about institutional change and artistic access in the cultural sector.
21.00–21.30 Meet artists Poppy Nash and Christopher Samuel for a discussion hosted by Senior Creative Producer, Liat Rosenthal
All talks will be BSL interpreted.
*Please note each talk requires a free ticket, available to collect from the Level 0 ticket desk, on a first-come, first-served basis from 18.30.
Talk and Screening: Jo Bannon and Candoco – Feeling Thing
Location: Starr Cinema, Natalie Bell Building, Level 1
Watch Feeling Thing, a film that invites us to pay attention to the objects around us and experience them as the dancing, feeling things they are. This screening will be followed by a talk with the artist Jo Bannon, Candoco’s Artistic Director Charlotte Darbyshire, and dancer Ihsaan de Banya, hosted by Tamsin Hong, Assistant Curator of International Art at Tate. The talk will be BSL interpreted and we have seats held for BSL users – please email us to reserve a seat.
*Please note this requires a free ticket, available to collect from the Starr Cinema, on a first-come, first-served basis from 18.00. (If you are a BSL user who has reserved a seat in advance you do not need a separate ticket.)
Performance: Christina Lovey – Rhythmicity Me
Location: Natalie Bell Building
18.00–18.45, Level 2 inside In the Studio rooms 8 and 11
19.00–19.45, Level 4 inside Media Networks rooms 6 and 12
20.00–20.45, Level 4 inside Materials and Objects rooms 5 and 9
21.00–21.15, Level 2 inside In the Studio room 2
In Rhythmicity Me, Christina Lovey uses rhythm tap to create sounds and vibrations that respond to artworks across the galleries. Here she shares her experience of processing data through rhythmic actions with viewers and the space.
Screening: Tate Shorts
Location: Natalie Bell Building, Level 4
Relax and enjoy Tate short films which explore how artists with disabilities respond to the gallery, featuring David Johnson, Lisa Squirrel and dancers from Corali.
Talks: 10 Minute Talks
Various times, throughout the building
Staff and volunteers from across Tate share their personal insights into works from the collection.
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DATE & TIME
29 July 2022 at 18.00–22.00
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Please join us if you can at the launch of the Solitude issue of Magma, M83, co-edited by Isabelle Baafi, Ilya Kaminsky and Lisa Kelly.
Hope to see you there!