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Writing (MA)

James Sunderland

James Sunderland (b.1997) is a writer and artist based in the South-East of England. They previously studied English Literature and Philosophy at The University of Sheffield. 

James’ work has recently been published by NewGradgrxmx magazineThe PluralistARC Magazine and Reaching for the Horizon. They have acted as an Editor for the 2021 annual ARC publication, as well as co-founding and editing Homecoming Zine, a publication that focuses on elevating voices of disabled and chronically ill creatives. James has also been an editorial assistant for the University of Sheffield’s PhilonoUSjournal and is a freelance editor in their spare time.

James recently completed a residency working alongside the creative team behind the St Just Ordinalia 2021. 

My practice as a writer looks to blur the space between prose and poetry, searching for matter within the written, and spoken, word. Influenced partially by works such as Stéphane Mallarmé’s fragmented A Tomb for Anatolé and concepts surrounding Derridean Deconstruction theory, my work seeks to manipulate and fragment the physical text to reflect meaning: sentiment, movement, emotions and conception. 

I am particularly concerned in expression of identity and definition of the self, and how we use the space that surrounds us to define ourselves. This interested has culminated in my Final Major Project: If my body were to feed the children, a project that is still growing, even post submission. 

This interest in identity has also been cultivated through writings that explore gender identity, mental health, eating disorders, chronic illness and disability, and place. Conversely, I also explore the loss of identity: of grief, of erasure, of gentrification and commodification, of environmental damage and ever-changing landscapes of the countryside, suburban and urban. 

Section titles and themes
Extract from "To Care: A Companion in Death - Interlude"Formatted specifically for this page, this is an extract of the Interlude from If I were to feed the children. This section explores my relationship with my recently deceased cat (pictured left) and sociological and philosophical practices on relationships with animals and death.

Abstract

In the middle of a small commuter town, half-way between London and Cambridge, lies a field of wheat. If my body were to feed the Children is an examination of our relationship with death, the landscape that surrounds us, and sourcing identity through the dirt under our feet. In an amalgamation of archaeological research, philosophical questioning and experimental poetry-cum-prose, I explore my relationship with my own body and its history of chronic pain, dysphoria, dysmorphia and eating disorders through this wheat field, in an attempt to question what it means to have the long-dead beneath a field that grows wheat for children. Through extended reading on interactions with death, such as Professor Sue Black’s all that remains, a life in death, and questions of death-taboos, like Geoffrey Gorer’s Pornography of Death, as well as practice in the wheat field: from playing a Roman Sistrum to picking up dog shit from on top an Iron Age Chief’s tomb, this piece seeks to blur boundaries between the living and dead, between gossip and rumours, between fiction and non-fiction: between identity and myself. Interspaced between chapters touching on topics such as place hood, ritualistic death, identity post-death, sacrament and cannibalism, is an interlude on the death of a companion. Exploring the grief that the loss of a companion can bring, and the social taboos that still exist in mourning an animal. If my body were to feed the Children demands attention on death and how we look at the landscape that envelops us. 

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If you have any questions about this project or would like to learn more, please get in touch via the contact information provided!

Medium:

Final Major Project
The Dancing Stones | Meyn an DonsA short Spoken Word piece, written during James' residency at the St Just Ordinalia 2021. This piece focuses on the Tregeseal East Dancing Stones and their connection to local folklore and the artist's Cornish heritage. Spoken primarily in English, this piece also uses repetition of short phrases in the Cornish Language. Repeatedly circling the stone circle, the artist tries to grasp onto their own cultural identity, only to question it and circle back once more.
Photography by James Sunderland
St Just Ordinalia Residency OutcomeThe first four pages of the outcome from St Just Ordinalia 2021
Judas, St Just Ordinalia Residency Outcome

Identity: of the artist, sand, sea and blood 

Scouring my own identity, of family trees and recent relatives, often brings me back to Cornwall. 

A county with its own historic language and culture that forms part of the Celtic Congress, its constitutional status is often questioned within England, as the only UK Celtic nation not to self-govern. 

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As part of my work at the RCA, I have continued to expand my research into the Cornish Cultural Revival and my own personal history. This has included:

  • Interviewing the Cornish and Welsh Language Poet and Bard Tim Saunders.
  • Archiving historical Cornish Language documents, such as Henry Jenner's Handbook of Cornish Language.
  • Archiving and reading the works of Melville Bennetto, the author of the first Cornish Language novel - An Gurun Wosek a Geltya. These works included the aforementioned novel as well as self-published Cornish Language pamphlets and booklets.
  •  Compiling research and writing into the 2021 Archaeologies project: An lyver kog rag an Lien Kernowek: Fatla dhe drehevel a ikonek lyver (A recipe book for Cornish Literature: How to create a Landmark Novel)

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Residency

Alongside this work within the RCA, I also got the opportunity to work alongside the Creative Team for the St Just Ordinalia in September 2021, as Writer in Residency.

The Cornish Ordinalia is a collection of three medieval mystery plays, written in Middle Cornish, dating to the early fourteenth century. Known to be potentially the oldest evidence of written stage directions, these plays told three Biblical stories: Origo Mundi (The Origin of the World), Passio Christi (The Passion of Christ) and Resurrexio Domini (The Resurrection of Our Lord).

These plays would have been performed in the medieval plen a gwarry, or playing place. The 2021 St Just production was performed and watched within the ancient circle, one of only a couple surviving in Cornwall. 

Outcomes from the St Just Ordinalia residency included a hand-bound, limited edition, collection of poetry, writings, photos and interviews with those involved with the Ordinalia, as well as a spoken word piece, presented in the form of a video, entitled The Dancing Stones, where both English and Modern Cornish is spoken.

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Included below is a sample of work produced through this exploration.

Medium:

Written Practice, Interviews, Video
A series of extracts of Phone Notes, including planning spoken word performance and an extract of a discarded poem.

Medium:

Mixed-Media: Digital and Physical Notebook Fragments