The poet's chair and the little 'ray of genius'

Holly Corfield Carr, Tyntesfield's resident poet, hammering a large piece of yew tree with a chisel

Our resident poet, Holly Corfield Carr, has put down her pen and picked up her chisel. Working alongside the Somerset Bodgers, Holly spent three days transforming a lump of wood from a fallen Tyntesfield yew tree, into a very special chair.

This year, as part of the National Trust’s Women and Power programme, Tyntesfield is delighted to have award-winning Bristol poet, Holly Corfield Carr, as poet-in-residence. 

In response to the life and legacy of local poet, playwright and campaigner, Hannah More (1745-1833), Holly has spent the last few months immersing herself into the natural environment of Tyntesfield’s Plantation. Finding inspiration in the wooded landscape, Holly has composed a new book of poems, 'Indifferent Cresses', alongside hosting a series of woodland writing workshops in Tyntesfield’s glade. 

However, keen to discover more of what makes Tyntesfield special, that’s not all Holly has been up to. At the beginning of June, our resident poet put down her pen and picked up her chisel!

Working alongside the Somerset Bodgers, who have their workshop in Tyntesfield’s Home Farm courtyard, Holly set about turning the trunk of a fallen Tyntesfield yew tree into a very important chair. With expert-bodger Dick on hand to advise, over the course of a few days, Holly transformed the lump of yew wood into a magnificent woodland stool.

The poet's chair

The poet’s reading chair will play a very important role throughout Holly’s residency. The chair will be placed in the poet’s root house in the glade, and it is where Holly will sit when she performs her Indifferent Cresses poetry.

Affectionately nicknamed the ‘yew tooth’, the chair will also have an essential part in the woodland poetry workshops,  that Holly is leading throughout the summer. All attendees will have the chance to compose their own landscape-inspired writing, before sharing their work, whilst sat upon the poet’s chair. With every performance, Holly hopes the wood of the chair might absorb a little of each writers’ genius.

Holly Corfield Carr's finished woodland chair sitting in the glade in Tyntesfield's Plantation.
A wooden chair which has been carved out of natural wood sitting in the sun in a wooded area.
Holly Corfield Carr's finished woodland chair sitting in the glade in Tyntesfield's Plantation.

Hannah More's peculiar habit 

If this idea seems a little romantic, it is! The idea to make the chair came to Holly whilst she was researching the life and habits of the Romantic writer Hannah More. Through reading biographies, letters written between Hannah, her friends and family, and journal entries by those closest to her, Holly discovered that Hannah had a rather of peculiar habit. An obsession with sitting in the chairs of ‘geniuses’.

This penchant for perching on legendary chairs seems to have begun during one of her early visits to London. On a visit to the influential playwright and actor, David Garrick’s house, Hannah was delighted when she saw ‘the famous chair, curiously wrought out of a cherry-tree, which really grew in the garden at Stratford.’ She sat in the chair for a little while, hoping to ‘absorb his shadow’, but ‘regretfully caught no ray of inspiration.’

Holly Corfield Carr performs poetry from 'Indifferent Cresses', sat in her poet's chair in the Plantation.
A woman wearing a botanical print dress, with cropped brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses, reads animatedly from a purple book, whilst sat in a woodland chair.
Holly Corfield Carr performs poetry from 'Indifferent Cresses', sat in her poet's chair in the Plantation.

Sacred spots of inspiration

Undeterred, chairs were not the only ‘intellectual artefacts’ that Hannah strove to touch or collect from those who inspired her. Writing home to a friend back in Bristol, Hannah expressed the ‘enthusiastic ardour’ she had to see the ‘almost sacred spot’ of the late poet Alexander Pope’s home. In a later letter, she confessed that during the visit, ‘from the grotto, I stole two bits of stones, from the garden a sprig of laurel, and from one of the bed-chambers a pen.’

Similarly, when Hannah was invited to visit Samuel Johnson - the eminent eighteenth-century writer - at his home, 7 Johnson Court, Hannah was thrilled. Whilst waiting for him in the parlour, Hannah spotted a rather impressive looking chair. Presuming it was the chair of ‘Dictionary Johnson’, she quickly made a bee-line for it, hoping ‘to catch a little ray of his genius.’

Alas, unfortunately for poor Hannah, when the tale of her mischief was later recounted to Johnson, he had a mighty good laugh. It turned out that particular chair was dreadfully uncomfortable and he never sat in it.

" These stories of More trying to steal little “rays” of genius from male writers’ chairs and pens are as funny as they are painfully familiar to me. I made this chair as a bit of mischief so I might tell wild stories about who might have sat in it, or in whose garden the yew grew but, more than that, I want women to glow with their own genius, whichever chair they’re sat in."
- Holly Corfield Carr, Tyntesfield's poet-in-residence 2018

Although we kindly ask that visitors aren’t tempted to take home any ‘inspirational artefacts’ from Tyntesfield, we hope that our workshop attendees have better luck in harnessing each other’s creative genius, through sitting in our poet’s chair.

Hannah More at Tyntesfield