A Week Away: the comedown

That awful anticlimactic feeling when you come home after going away. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my home. But going away, especially when it involves poetry and friends, is such an adrenalin high that the coming home really is a comedown; a kind of poetry cold turkey.

Sunday I spent doing the laundry, made a fuss of the cats, went shopping for food. You know, all those things that reinstate your space in the domestic sphere. On the way back from the shops I took some things that she’d left in the car back to Hilary and we had a coffee together. I got my car washed and waxed. I had meant to dedicate some time to PhD but my head was in the wrong place. So I concentrated on getting back into home. I watched Manchester Utd lose the last game ever at the old White Hart Lane site. I also watched Wayne Rooney score the last goal that will ever be scored there. I’m excited to see the new Spurs stadium next year: my son’s friend Ray, hospitality manager at Spurs, has been working on the development of the site.

Monday it was my great-grand daughter’s sixth birthday. Oh my, how time flies. She had a lovely day, as all childhood birthdays should be. I remember getting up on my birthday mornings and feeling taller by a year. Yes, I felt taller, as if I’d grown a bit as well as grown up a bit. I made a big saucepan full of butternut squash and ginger soup on Monday morning, to get me back into some kind of healthy eating after the excesses of last week. I fell asleep on the sofa at lunchtime and woke up too late to go to my aerobics class. What’s going on? I’m a part-time insomniac. It’s the post-holiday comedown. So that was two days of the week wasted and it’s only Monday!

Tuesday I gave myself a good talking too and did eventually get down to some work. I’ve been worried that my Selima Hill chapter is thin on theory. Before I went away I had read it through, colour coding it in themes and theoretical content. On Tuesday I did a cut and paste job to put all the theory in one document to ‘weigh’ it. I decided it did need developing; perhaps in a discrete introductory chapter that I can then refer to in the analytical chapters. It wasn’t quite as thin as I suspected, but it could do with fattening up a bit. Of course, I saved the original chapter as it was and saved the cut-and-pasted version as a separate document. I’m meeting with my study team on Tuesday, so I’ll see what they have to say before I proceed with a separate chapter; but I definitely feel the need to  put the theory on a high calorie diet and so I began re-reading the theory books to get started. I also managed to download a PhD thesis that Antony had recommended which concentrates on Selima Hill’s poetry. I began to read that. It convinced me that my theory does need some work.

Wednesday was my day at the Black Ladd, doing Amie’s books. With two week’s worth of work to catch up on, that didn’t leave much time for anything else. In fact, I worked until about 3.45 and still hadn’t finished. I had to go then because Bill and I had tickets for Twelfth Night at the Royal Exchange Theatre. We went into Manchester on the wonderful Metrolink. We got off at Exchange Square, which is so convenient; went to a little Italian trattoria in Exchange Square. Salvi’s is a small, family owned restaurant; a deli at entry level, the restaurant is downstairs. It is worth finding. I asked for gorgonzola cheese to start: oh, my! Two big slabs, one creamy as brie, the other firmer, more like Stilton. Both were little bites of heaven.

We went from Salvi’s to the Royal Exchange, about five minutes walk. I picked up the tickets from the box office and we had a coffee before the performance. Wow, Twelfth Night, Fantastic production. It was in modern dress; the yellow stockings and cross-gartering became a luminous cycling outfit, all lycra and close-hugging. Sir Andrew Aguecheek was one of my favourite characters though: appropriately long and thin with straggly red/blond hair. Such energy from that performance. Unfortunately, the run is finished now; but the next production is Jane Austen’s Persuasion: details here if you’re interested:


Twelfth Night is a play I know like the back of my own hand. I’ve seen it loads of times; loads of different interpretations. I studied it for O-level English more than half a century ago; but no-one told me then what a fantastically funny plot it has. We didn’t get to see it performed–for some inexplicable reason we went to see Macbeth instead; which was wonderful, but a whole other ball game. I was too buzzing from it to sleep when I got home. In fact I didn’t sleep at all; can you get jet-lag travelling from Anglesey to Saddleworth?

On Thursday we did the weekly shop then I went into the Ladd to finish what didn’t get done on Wednesday; so now it’s all up to date ready for a new beginning this coming week. Friday we walked into Uppermill along the canal to visit the bank and to enjoy an al fresco coffee in Java. It was a lovely morning, the sun shining, the bluebells on the far bank reflected in the canal. We saw lots of male mallards but no females: I suspect they are on nest duty. But on the walk back we did see one female with six or seven ducklings close to the far bank. She had her work cut out keeping them all together; mini-mallards spilling out all over the place. In the afternoon I managed to stay awake in order to get to the gym for my pilates class. Pilates was recommended to me by the rheumatology nurse as good exercise to counter the slightly stooping posture resulting from the fractured fourth thoracic. Oh, my! It looks so easy; it feels so hard! I used muscles I didn’t know I had; and I’ve been feeling them ever since.

Yesterday, Saturday, I was at my desk by 8.00 a.m. I prepared my timetable of work for the next couple of weeks to give myself some direction. It will involve theory, I think, but I need to wait until I’ve spoken to the team on Tuesday in order to concentrate that where it needs to be. I don’t want to waste time running down blind ginnels. So I decided to concentrate yesterday on the creative side. I was reading Selima Hill again while I was away in Anglesey; and I’ve started to re-read Pascale Petit’s The Huntress in readiness for an analysis of her work when Mama Amazonica is published in the autumn. I thought about ‘the golden shovel’ I learned about during NaPoWriMo in April. This is a device for writing your own poems using a line from a favourite poem, then using the words of that line as the end words of your poem. I chose a line from Pascale Petit and wrote a golden shovel. It’s actually not bad! I tried again with a line from Hill: poem number two, acceptable. Altogether I wrote four poems yesterday morning using this device. I think they may be worthy of the portfolio; but I’ve put them away for now. I’ll bring them out in a couple of weeks to see if they still do it for me.

In the afternoon, I met Hilary in the local garden centre for coffee. She is also working to complete her MA portfolio, so it was a bit of mutual down-time. And that’s my week: a week of anti-climax, a kind of holiday jet-lag, sleep disruption (which doesn’t take much) and getting back on the bike. I’ve got my meeting this week and my timetable, which can be edited after the meeting. So I’m on my way again. PhD is a relentless slave-driver: I can’t afford many weeks like the last two, when it has been pushed aside. It will have its dues; I will pay it respect from now on; promise.

I’ve got a poem this week from our Trearddur workshops. We were sent out into the garden on a treasure hunt to look for clues and one of the clues I found was a skein of grey darning wool. It sparked this little poem. Amazing really, that there’s a poem in anything if you look hard enough.


No-one darns anymore

We were taught to darn a sock
in domestic science—we called it domski
like it was a Russian conspiracy.

And perhaps it was, a way of making us all
good Babushkas. A wooden mushroom
was tucked into the heel behind the hole

to keep the hole taut for sewing. Threads—
the warp of a loom—drawn across the hole,
then the weft woven with a needle and wool

until the hole shrank and withered
under warp and weft.
Well done, an average pass.

Now move on to making a patch
over that tear in your skirt.

No-one darns any more. It’s a shame
we ever did. Life’s too short and after all,
there are cheap replacements in TKM.


Rachel Davies
May 2017

A Week Away: Part the Second

It’s 4.30 a.m. I can hear the rain on the roof. Even by my entrenched insomniac standards, I have had a poor night’s sleep. And Bitch Week is over for another year. I am not happy.

We had a good week: workshops, poetry, international travel and friendship. We started our workshops on Sunday, the day we discovered the dishwasher at the cottage wasn’t working. Penny rang the owner who said she would send a local maintenance man: she lives in Chester so couldn’t deal with it herself. We asked that he visit in the afternoon as we were busy with poetry in the morning. Polly prepared the writing activities for Sunday, which included some pieces we could only write using questions. That was interesting, and influenced later tasks when questions were no longer a requirement.  Unfortunately, after the first activity, the ‘local maintenance man’, Mike, turned up to investigate the problem with the dishwasher, completely disrupting the flow of the workshop. He hummed and hah-ed in the kitchen for ten minutes and declared ‘no idea what’s wrong’. A local appliance repair man would come the next day. Back to the poetry. A ‘treasure hunt’ to look for clues as writing prompts was fun; the hunt took us into the garden on a lovely summery day.

In the afternoon Penny, Hilary and I went for a walk to visit three or four small coves, including a sandy beach. Penny bought us all ice creams. It was whipped ice cream, which I’m not too keen on, but the ice cream man assured us it was whipped Cornish ice cream and the best in the land. It wasn’t, it was whipped ice cream: frozen emulsion paint. Thank goodness Penny asked for 99s; at least the chocolate flake was OK. We walked down to the sea: Penny and Hilary paddled but it was too cold for me. It was my turn to cook dinner on Sunday; I made a pastitsio with lentils instead of meat. It was good. In the evening we read the writing we had drafted at the workshop in the morning. There were some good pieces, worth working on. We were ‘plum tuckered’ as they used to say in the old westerns, and we were in bed by 9.30.

Monday: Penny’s workshop. She prepared a variety of activities using poetry as prompts. For one, she chose runner-up in the National Poetry Competition as stimulus for our own writing:  Caleb Parkin ‘The Desktop Metaphor. It was good to read it together, and interesting to use it to inspire writing of our own. It’s not an easy form to emulate. Her last activity involved a little children’s book she had bought us all about being naughty. We really enjoyed the poems we wrote based in our analysed ‘naughty’ types. On Monday afternoon, after the morning workshop, we went into Trearddur for lunch at the Black Seal, a lovely restaurant close to the sea. We chose a window seat; the food was lovely and we decided to revisit on Wednesday evening when we planned to eat out.

On Monday evening we had dinner cooked by Hilary: a vegetable chilli, rice, tortilla chips and home-made guacamole. Delicious. After dinner we spent a pleasant evening reading from collections of published poets we had brought with us. Lovely to read Greta Stoddart’s  Alive Alive O, among others, as I was due to introduce her to Poets&Players on Saturday afternoon; it really whetted my appetite for that. Don Paterson’s 40 Sonnets was in the mix; Helen Ivory’s The Secret Life of Clocks and Rita Dove’s Mother Love. There were anthologies too, giving us a wider access to poets. It was a really enjoyable evening. That night I didn’t sleep well at all. I was still buzzing with poetry, plus excited for Tuesday’s trip to Dublin.

We were up early: a taxi was booked for 7.30 to take us to the ferry port. We were practically the first there. A bus transported us to the ferry then stayed on board to transport us to the Dublin terminal at the end of the voyage. We found seats at a table by the window and went off in search of breakfast. We found an abandoned newspaper on a table, and Polly picked it up to read. She tore out the puzzle page for me to do the sudoku page: the easy one I completed in one-touch sudoku; the difficult one I messed up completely and didn’t have a rubber to put right my mistakes. Hilary and I were just starting on the word puzzles when a man came and asked us if we had bought the newspaper. We said no, we’d found it on table. Turns out he had left it there to reserve the table. What? Who does that–a newspaper to reserve your place? Newspapers are always left on public transport. He wanted it back. He was thoroughly unpleasant, despite our apologies, took his newspaper back, including the torn-out, half-completed puzzle page, and glowered at us every time our paths crossed on the remaining trip. We just put on our best feminist, confident ‘you-can’t-intimidate-us-you-tosser’ attitude, which pissed him off even more. I half hope he loves doing sudoku and I’d spoiled his day.

We pulled into Dublin–do ships ‘pull in’?– at just after midday: it was a sailing of about 3.5 hours. We caught the express bus to the city centre–€5 return. Our first visit was to Trinity College to visit the Book of Kells. Wonderful. The mediaeval illustrations and symbolism, the amazing manuscript. It is a fantastic exhibition, if you are ever in Dublin. My favourite, though, was the much smaller Book of Mulling, written in the late 7th Century in Irish Minuscule Script. Beautiful. The Long-room Library, upstairs from the exhibition, is fantastic; something like 2,000,000 books in there. As Polly said, if you started reading them when you were 5, you couldn’t get through them all if you lived to be 100.

Hilary and me through the Brian Boru Harp, which became the national symbol of Ireland. Photo by Polly Atkinson.

From Trinity College we made our way to the Molly Malone statue on Suffolk Street. She is indeed beautiful. She stands opposite O’Neill’s Pub, famous haunt of political dissenters, including W B Yeats. We had our first pints of Guiness and ate a late lunch. From there, Polly and I took the short walk to the Post Office. This was the site of the Easter Rising, 1916. The building was badly damaged in the uprising, and was rebuilt in the 1920s, reproducing the original building. It was good to be there, at the site of the political struggle which ultimately resulted in the partition of Ireland into the Protestant North and Catholic South. It did lead to peace as well, until the eruption of The Troubles in the sixties. We took lots of photos, then went to visit the dapper James Joyce statue across the road.

James Joyce, O’Neill’s Bar and Molly Malone.

Hilary and Penny decided to visit the Temple Bar shops instead of coming to the Post Office and we agreed to meet back at O’Neill’s at 5.30 for another Guiness before getting the bus back to the ferry terminal at 6.45. Polly and I were standing on Westmorland Street looking to the map, finding a route to O’Neill’s when a lovely woman stopped to ask if we needed help. She was emblematic of the wonderful warmth we took from the Dubliners all day. We chatted for about fifteen minutes: she was a librarian and told us about some of Dublin’s ‘hidden gems’ to visit if we come again. They include a library built by a Catholic for Catholics at a time when libraries were only available to academics and Protestants, which generally meant the same thing. Apparently the library has ‘cages’ for the readers to prevent them from stealing the books. Definitely on the list for my next visit. This woman was also a poet and helps to organise the Listowel Poetry Festival, which includes a poetry competition; too late for this year, but one to look out for next spring. You can find details of the festival here:


The ferry ride home was calm and comfortable. We put in to Holyhead just about midnight and our lovely taxi driver was waiting for us as he said he would be. We were home by 12.45 a.m. having had a fantastic day.

Wednesday we’d given ourselves a free day to recover from our trip. I did some PhD reading: Juliet Mitchell Feminism and Poetry; and I wrote a long entry in my journal about the Dublin trip. I sat in the garden at the cottage for part of the morning, but it was so hot I had to escape the sun and go indoors. We were blessed with the weather all week. In the evening we ate out at the Black Seal as planned, a lovely meal; in bed by 9.30 to catch up on sleep we missed the day before.

Thursday, Hilary had planned writing activities, practical and fun ones involving black-out poetry, among other things. She kicked off with one of those ‘automatic writing’ pieces that always produce surprises. She and I went to Morrison’s in the afternoon and had lunch while we were there: an afternoon tea involving two quarter sandwiches, a scone and butter and a pot of tea for £2.50, how cheap is that? I filled my car up in Tesco’s filling station to save time on Saturday morning. Polly cooked a delicious biryani, Hilary and I added veg samosas and onion bhajis we’d bought in Morrisons, so we had a real Indian feast. We just chatted through the evening.

Friday was my workshop. I prepared an Oulipo workshop with activities involving N+7: identifying the nouns in a poem then exchanging them for the seventh following noun in the dictionary. We also rewrote one of the short poems we had written earlier in the week, using words that didn’t contain an ‘e’, challenging but fun. Relaxation, packing up to leave in the morning, then a chippy tea and chatting late into the night. It was a good day.

Saturday we packed the car and came home. I gave Polly a lift because she was coming to Poets&Players with us in the afternoon. Penny drove home alone: she couldn’t make P&P, she was visiting in Hebden Bridge. We left the cottage at about 10 a.m. and dropped Polly off in Chorlton about 12.30. Hilary and I had lunch at the Whitworth Gallery with the P&P committee members and the poets, Greta Stoddart and A B Jackson. Cheryl Pearson joined us later. Oh, my what a wonderful afternoon. The ‘players’ were Liam Byrne (saxophone) and Andy Hulme (guitar). Cheryl Pearson read from her about-to-be-launched pamphlet Oysterlight. A.B.Jackson was a consummate performer of his work. I had the pleasure of introducing Greta Stoddart, who was wonderful as ever. It was a splendid afternoon of music and poetry, our last event until the autumn. We are starting to think Arts Council bid for next year’s funding. How quickly that comes around.

It was good to be home after a week away. The packing is all waiting downstairs to be dealt with, there will be laundry, there will be ironing, the downside of going away; but there will also be poems to work on. I say, bring on next year. I can’t wait.

Here’s the poem I redrafted using no words that contain the letter ‘e’. The original was the poem I wrote in Penny’s workshop about my analysed ‘naughty type’: I was Miss Catastrophe–I can’t think how that happened!–so the title had to change for a start.

Miss Clumsy

It wasn’t my fault.
It was how that chair shot out in my path.
It was how stairs form a switch-back.
It was how doorsills caught my foot.
It was how that cup saw you through doors.
It was how that sofa lost a yard of width at night.
It was how soap jumps from the soapdash, slick at foot.
It was how cars do rough wanion*.
It was how that branch said it was strong: it wasn’t.
It was how I had too much toddy in my mug.
It was how that drinking trough didn’t look dirty.
It was how that pot had a wonky bottom.
It was how a pyracantha struck my tights.
It wasn’t my fault,
you told us to do it.

‘wanion’: old English word for revenge

Rachel Davies
May 2017

A week away, part the first

I’m writing this from sunny Anglesey; well, I don’t know if it’s sunny because it’s 5.00 a.m and only just light, but I’m nothing if not optimistic. It’s certainly lovely though. With three friends, we’ve hired a cottage here for our annual Bitch Week writing retreat. That is to say the bitch Spelks have gone on tour: the dog Spelks don’t join us for this one. We spend the week doing writing exercises in the morning–we take it in turn to run a workshop–then doing the sightseeing thing in the afternoon. I’m not going to tell you what’s planned–that’s a story for next week. Suffice to say, here we are.

Poetry has been ascendent this week, but the PhD has had it’s share too. And football. On Sunday  I had to rush into Manchester to return books to the library at MMU before the fine was due. Oxford Road was eerily empty: it’s usually teeming with people but this was Sunday morning, early, and hardly anyone about. A quick schlepp down to All Saints, drop off the books, schlepp up again, grabbing a coffee in Pret en route to Metrolink and I was home again before Utd v Swansea. Rooney gave away a free kick close to the end to lose a one goal lead and two valuable points. Bah!

In the evening we watched a television drama of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with Holiday Grainger and Richard Madden. I did enjoy it; I did. But the play is not the book. I was a young nursing student when Lady C went on trial for obscenity in the sixties. Of course, an illicit copy was passed around the nurses’ home with all ‘the best bits’ dogeared for  easy reference. We drooled over every eff word and sex act. But I read the love letter from Mellors to Connie at the end and I couldn’t pass it on to be drooled over any more. I loved it; I kept it. I don’t know whose copy it was to begin with, but it was mine at the end. I still have it on my bookshelf at home, fifty years later. It became my springboard for other DH Lawrence books; and then his poetry. I love his work. And my own mum and dad’s story is a bit of a DH plot itself: landed gentry daughter marries farm labourer and is disowned by her father; so I sort of related to his books. The TV play had them riding off into the sunset at the end in (presumably her) Rolls Royce and the love letter, even the need for the love letter, wasn’t referred to. So I did enjoy it as a piece of drama; but it wasn’t entirely DH. Ho hum.

On Monday I got down to some serious PhD work: I was at my desk before 10.00 to finish my analysis of Selima Hill’s sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’. So the incomplete chapter I sent off to Angelica and Antony last week is now complete; at least I have done all the work; at least I have analysed all the poems. You see, it never ends. I printed it off to read: I find screen reading difficult, don’t see the glaringly obvious, only what I mean to see. So I read my printed copy. I’m not happy with it. It feels disorganised in some way, not concise or clear enough. I need to do some serious redrafting. So on Tuesday morning I went into Oldham to buy myself some new highlighters and colour pens and read it for common themes and repetitions. I need to get it in a more economic order, I think. A bit of cutting and pasting. I’ll save it as Mark 2 though, so I retain the original in the event of a balls-up!

On Monday I went with Hilary to a performance workshop with Rosie Garland ahead of our reading on Wednesday evening. Rosie is a consummate performer of her work, so it was good to have some insight and tips from her. She ran an interesting workshop, lots of discussion about body awareness, relaxation, voice projection, use of the mic etc. Practical stuff. At the end we read our sets to each other for feedback, taking on board some of Rosie’s advice in the performance. It was a good workshop, thank you Rosie. When I got home I sent off a poem to the Poetry Society Stanza Competition. This year it’s judged by Jean Sprackland and the theme is ‘Forecast’. I wrote an apocalyptic poem at Steve Ely’s poetry workshop a couple of Saturdays ago and that seemed to fit the theme. A bit of editing and I sent it in. I’m not expecting it to be a winner, but its a free competition for PS and Stanza members and it needs our support.

Tuesday I should have gone to Peterborough with my daughter but at the eleventh hour our trip was cancelled due to the quite serious illness of the mother of a friend we always meet for lunch. We postponed our visit until later in May so that gave me a buckshee day to play with. Of course, I used it for PhD work; all my spare time, and a lot of my planned time, is PhD time. Commitment to a serious body of work requires a huge demand on time. I feel guilty these days if I do anything that takes me away from that. That’s my excuse for leaving the housework, for instance; there’ll be time enough for a good spring clean when I get this next eighteen months behind me. The fact that any excuse to leave the housework is a good one is not an issue. There was a time in my life I would have felt guilty for leaving the housework to do the studying, but not now. Older and wiser.

Wednesday the usual sanity of doing the books. It’s a day in my week when life is kind of ordered, and I’m glad of it. The precision of figures, the unambiguity. All up to date in readiness for this week away. In the evening Hilary, Bill and I went into Manchester for the performance event from Amy McCauley’s writing workshops from Leaf on Portland Street. The workshop was at the Sandbar off Oxford Road, opposite All Saints Park. It was a good event, music to kick us off from two RNCM students, then the Leaf members all read some of their work. It was a good mix of poetry and prose. The acoustics were difficult, as performance in the back room of a pub often is: a lot of noise from the bar next door. But I enjoyed hearing everyone’s work. I read a set from my mother-daughter portfolio, a couple of them quite recent from NaPoWriMo. Hilary read a set from her MA portfolio too. It was a good night.

Thursday, ‘Star Wars Day’ [May the fourth be with you] was spent ironing to get ready for packing to come away. Ironing is seriously bad for T4 and I have to do it in short bursts with rests and stretches and Hot Water Bottle therapy in between. It’s only the posture that sparks it off, I’m sure the break is healed; but it hurts no less for that. In the evening Man Utd beat Celta Vigo 0-1 in the away leg of the Europa Cup semi-final, so that’s a step closer to the final. Sometimes it looks as if the old Utd flair is coming back. C’mon!

Friday was a serious day of getting ready to come away: the ironing finished and the packing done. The iPad packing list proved a real boon again, makes the job so much easier. I spent the afternoon preparing my writing workshop for next Friday. I won’t say too much and give it away, but it’ll be different and [hopefully] interesting. I’ll tell you next week. This year we have a spare workshop day, so we are taking Kim Moore’s idea of ‘put a poem in your pocket’. The idea is, we each take a published poem we admire, a copy for each of us. I have chosen Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Invisible Ink’ from her collection The Bees. We read and re-read these poems until we make a connection with one of them. We live with that poem all week, reading, sleeping eating with the poem under the pillow, until we feel able to write a response to the poem with a poem of our own. I’m particularly affectionate to this idea. The last time I did it with Kim my poem won first prize in the Wells Competition 2014 🙂

Yesterday, Saturday, we arrived in Trearddur Bay in two over-stocked cars. The four of us met up in the Sea Shanty cafe for lunch. We let ourselves into the cottage at 2.30, unpacked, went to a local Tesco for provisions, then opened the wine and settled in. Hilary cooked a lovely tartiflette for supper. We laughed a lot. Poets eh? Friends eh? Where would we be without them? This is the view from our first floor balcony at the cottage:


Oh, yes, I think I can get some work done here.

No poem this week, I’m not organised enough. Hopefully there will be something from the week for next Sunday. I’m planning early morning PhD editing as well as walks along the beach; and I’ve brought my own PhD library with me to catch up on some re-reading to strengthen the theory in the chapter. It’s going to be a good week.


Rooftop Protests, Spelks and the Grim Reaper

Poetry and life have had a big slice of me this week; the PhD has been pushed to the periphery, although it has been a productive periphery.

On Sunday I was early at my desk putting the disparate parts of the Hill chapter back together in a readable whole. I worked for about four hours, quite pleased with the results, but still with a couple of footnotes to check.

I also put together the anonymous poems document for Stanza. Every third Stanza we have an anonymous workshop when members submit poems to me by a deadline and I put them all together in a common font style and size with no acknowledgement to the poets. We agreed this format to facilitate a more open discussion of the work without the sanction of considering the poet’s personal feelings in the feedback. I send the document to all those members who have submitted poems to give them chance to read the poems and make comments before the meeting. I had eight poems submitted this month, so it promised to be a good meeting. That done, I worked on two poems for our Spelk session on Friday. The task this month was to work from a newspaper article: not to write a poem about the article, but to use just the words in the article to make our own poems. I followed the letter of the rule for the first poem I wrote, but found it extremely constricting. I wasn’t happy with the tight poem that resulted. On Sunday I decided to work with two forms I had discovered on Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook page. Still working from the newspaper, I took a sentence from one article and planned a ‘golden shovel’, the form that uses the words of the sentence as the last words of each line of the poem. I took another sentence and used it as the stimulus for a pantoum. I’ll post this poem at the end of the blog. I was much happier with the constraints of the form but the freedom to use other language besides the language of the article, I think it produced better poems that felt more like mine.

In the afternoon we watched ManU beat Burnley, three points that were much needed in the quest for a place in the Champions League next year: still a way to go in that quest, but every little helps.

Monday I wrote the ‘golden shovel’ poem I had been planning the day before, a poem about packing for a holiday. It’s a bit of silliness, but I’m quite happy with it. I meant to do some more work to the Hill chapter on Monday but I was quite late up, with writing in bed; and on Monday I have early lunch to allow me to leap around the gym without throwing up, so I didn’t have time to settle to it, really. Aerobics in the afternoon was good, but T4 was moaning by the end of it. I just tell it to get over itself and I go off in search of coffee.

Tuesday I had a haircut in Uppermill first thing, then I had to go into Manchester to meet Shirley, a colleague on the Poets and Players committee. She asked me to collect her Beautiful Dragons anthologies at the launch last week, which I did. However, I forgot to take them to the P&P event at the Whitworth as agreed, so we met up on Tuesday so I could hand them over. We met at ProperTea, the café by the Cathedral. I love the ritual way they serve tea there, and their Polish rye toast is the best ever: it has caraway seeds in, so a lovely delicate flavour. I had it with honey. Shirley had a slice of chocolate honey cake: Proper Tea get their honey from the Cathedral when they can. There are a million bees in hives on the roof of the Cathedral, how impressive is that, bees surviving in the city? We talked long and hard about poetry; and I remembered to hand over the books.

I went from ProperTea to the MMU library to collect a book I’d reserved, Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (I always want to say ‘pleasure dome’, unsure if it’s a nod to Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Frankie Goes To Hollywood: I’m pretty sure it’s a Freudian slip though!) When I got there, the book wasn’t on the reserved shelf so I had to go in search of it on the library shelves. The only copy they had was available on a one-week loan; so I have to go into Manchester again later today to return it before it costs me money.

When I walked along Oxford Rd. toward the library, there was some kind of rooftop protest happening at the old Corner House by Oxford Rd. station. Three or four men were up on the roof, the police had a cordon around the area and there was quite a crowd in attendance. By the time I walked back, the cordon had been extended, and the traffic was being held up. It transpires that the men had been squatting in the building, had been recently evicted and were making their protest against homelessness in the city. Power to their elbow, I say: homelessness, rough sleeping, is a huge blot of shame on the UK in the twenty-first century. It has grown and grown in the last five years. The divide between haves and have-nots in this country has never been so wide. I always have a pocket of change to hand out when I go into the city. And to those people who say ‘they will only spend your money on drugs’ I say ‘when I give it to that homeless person that money is their money to do with as they wish. If I was forced to sleep on the street, I might want something to take the edge off too.’ Well, I hope their protest made people sit up and take notice for a while. Certainly there was quite a sympathetic crowd there and it made the local television news; but I shouldn’t think it will make any difference in the great scheme of things. Mostly, I suspect, the homeless are socially invisible.

On Tuesday afternoon I read the anonymous poems (although of course I knew who wrote them because they came to me) and made comments and discussion points on them. At 7.00 p.m. I collected Hilary and Penny and we went to the Buffet Bar for Stanza. There were eight of us this month, so that made a good discussion group; the discussion was interesting and helpful. It was a good meeting.

On Wednesday I went to the Black Ladd as usual to do the books. I had to go early as we were catching a train to York soon after 2 o’clock. I managed to get all the work done before we went. I parked my lovely new car close by Greenfield Station: I felt a bit anxious leaving it there overnight, but it was fine. We arrived in York just before 4.00 and decided to walk to the hotel, about a mile we reckoned; and a mile it might have been had we followed the map correctly. We crossed the river, as the map suggested; but we hadn’t realised there was a choice of rivers. We crossed the Ouse and we should have crossed the little Fosse, so we were completely in the wrong direction. We eventually found ourselves on the map again and put ourselves in the right direction, only to miss the hotel altogether and walk past it by a mile: its signage wasn’t high viz. Thankfully the hotel was lovely. We stayed at the StayCity hotel, which was only built last year so it was new and clean. It was next door to a Co-op so we bought ourselves a bottle of chilled Gewürztraminer and had a much needed glass of wine. We were in York for the Danny Baker ‘From Cradle to Stage’ show at the Grand Opera House and we decided to eat after the performance. Amie had bought the tickets for herself and her partner, but he wasn’t able to go so she’d asked us if we’d like the tickets. It has to be said, before Wednesday I wasn’t Danny Baker’s biggest fan; but oh my, it was entertaining. The show started at 7.30 and didn’t end until 11.30, just Danny Baker talking about his life, his memoirs and the televised version. It was funny, nostalgic and interesting. He talked for four hours with just a short interval; which was impressive enough if he hadn’t been treated in 2011 for mouth and throat cancer. What an achievement. Of course it was too late to find anywhere to eat by the time it finished, so we went back to the hotel and had a sandwich and a hot chocolate.

We came home on Thursday. Unfortunately, when I produced the tickets for the train attendant, I’d bought day returns by mistake instead of the open returns I meant to buy; but he let us off, bless him, as did the attendant on the second leg from Huddersfield. I suspect it was helped by the fact we had senior rail cards: they were being indulgent to two oldies with impaired faculties, but it was good of them; they didn’t have to accept two out-of-date tickets after all. We went shopping when we got home and in the afternoon I made a saucepan full of pasta sauce for the lunch I was planning for Spelks on Friday. In the evening we watched ManU hold out for a draw against City, so that was a good result; not as good as a win would have been, but considering Fellaini had a rush of blood to the head and head-butted Aguero, and was rightly shown a red card, it was a good result.

Friday. Spelks. I love Spelks, but you know that already. We met early this month, at 11.00  a.m. because Hilary had to be at the RNCM in the evening for the annual Rosamund Prize event, a collaboration between MMU poets and composers from RNCM. The Spelk task this month had been set by Rod and I wasn’t the only one who had found it constrictive, including Rod himself. But the other Spelks had more or less stuck to the rules and produced some reasonable poems. It was a good session. I had made pastitsio for lunch and we ate too many nibbles and drank too much wine, but it was a lovely meeting as ever. Poetry, friends, food and drink: what’s not to like! Of course, because it was my turn to host, I should have prepared the stimulus for the next event and I completely forgot. But we aren’t meeting until June so I’ll get the activity to them by email in the next couple of days. Doh!

Saturday I had a really productive day with the PhD work. I read the Freud (pleasure dome) and finished the putting together and reference checking of the Hill chapter. I sent it off to Antony and Angelica for discussion at our next meeting. I also sent the sonnet corona and three other poems off to Jean Sprackland for discussion when we meet again toward the end of May. So it was quite a productive day and I was pleased with what I accomplished. I also wrote a dreadful poem for NaPoWriMo, so I am completely up to date with that challenge, even though most of the poems were eminently forgettable. The three extra poems I sent to Jean were all NaPo poems though, so some good did come of it. Just one more poem to write today and that’s it, the end of April and NaPo month.

Well, here’s the poem for this week. Yes, it was an April NaPoWriMo poem. I wrote it last Sunday, following Steve Ely’s workshop on Saturday for Poets&Players. The workshop looked at the work of Emily Dickinson, so it involved a lot of death references and funerals, and you can see the legacy of that in this poem about the grim reaper. It is a pantoum, using a short sentence from a Guardian article: ‘These are all such timely warnings’. Here are details of a P&P workshop on May 13th, lead by the lovely Greta Stoddart: there are a couple of places left, if you’re interested:



Remember, what you sow he reaps.
Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning.
You can’t help muttering in your sleep.
These are all such timely warnings.

Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning:
life’s watery, distant, thin and cold
and these are all such timely warnings,
while you think you’re too young to grow old.

Life’s watery; distant, thin and cold
in the muddy earth, despite the coffin.
While you think you’re too young to grow old
death’s wintry fingers reach there often.

In the muddy earth, despite the coffin,
you can’t help muttering in your sleep.
Death’s wintry fingers reach there often,
so remember what you sow he reaps.

Rachel Davies

April 2017

PhD, poetry and playing hooky

This week I have finished my sonnet corona for the creative element of the PhD, worked on the critical element of the PhD, been to two and a half poetry events, met up with lots of poetry friends and acquired a new-to-me car. Even by my standards it’s been a full-on week. I feel sorry for people who say they’re bored now they’re retired. Look at your options: boredom isn’t one of them.

On Sunday I got started late on my work. I made a huge plateful of pancakes with berries for breakfast and took my time eating them while I watched Andrew Marr so by the time I started, my head wasn’t in the right place for the critical element. Instead I prepped my work timetable for the week and then concentrated on the creative element. I wrote the fifth sonnet for the corona, in the daughter’s voice. Later in the day I had added the sixth, this one in the mother’s voice. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the two distinct voices, but I can work on that when I get the first drafts done. I left the sixth one on a good line for rounding back to the first line of the first sonnet to complete the crown. I’m reticent to tell you I abandoned work in the afternoon to watch Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-0 at OT, because it shows you the limits of my commitment to work. It was a fantastic match. In the evening I booked a hotel in York for next Wednesday. My daughter, Amie, had bought tickets for Danny Baker’s ‘From Cradle to Stage’ but her partner couldn’t make it so she asked if we’d like to go instead. I booked us a studio apartment in the centre of York for £80.00 for the night: I call that a bargain.

Monday was a big and dedicated PhD day. I worked on the Selima Hill chapter, putting all my disparate redrafted bits together in a whole. It’s taking shape. At 4.00p.m. I met up with Hilary to go to Amy McCauley’s writing workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. This turned out to be the ‘half’ a poetry event I mentioned in my opener. We decided to get off the tram at Exchange Square and eat in a small, family run Italian ristorante there. Unfortunately, we lost track of the time, and when we picked the track up again, it was ten past six and the workshop had started at six; so we decided to workshop our own poems, take a leisurely coffee then go home. So sorry, Amy, we played hooky from your workshop: another first because, much as I hated school, I never once skived off then. When I got home, I booked train tickets to York: I found out there is no parking at the hotel I booked. York is very aware of its environmental responsibilities and discourages traffic in the city centre with excellent park-and-ride facilities. So we are going by train and taking the walk from the station when we get there.

Tuesday I was at my desk by 8.15 for another good day at the Hill chapter. I have a problem with the theoretical input even now. If I put too much theory into my argument, it feels like digression from what I’m really wanting to say; too little and the writing feels undernourished. Do I put explanations in footnotes or in the body of the work? Oh, this academese has always been a foreign language to me. I’ll decide at the next redraft, when I have it all put together in a finished draft of the whole chapter, I think. I’ll have spoken to Antony and Angelica again by then, so I’ll talk to them about it. After three hours of work on the Hill chapter, I changed tack and wrote the seventh and concluding sonnet for the corona. I printed off the whole thing and read it aloud, always a good way to listen to any inconsistencies in the rhythm etc. I was quite pleased with it as a first draft. It still needs some work on the distinct voices of mother and daughter, perhaps some idiom to distinguish them, but I’m pleased overall. It’ll be interesting to see what Jean Sprackland thinks of it when I send it to her next month. I’ve got time to do a bit more redrafting before then though.

Thursday it was the Manchester launch of the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology at
No. 70 Oxford Road. Hilary had organised the venue, in one of the lecture theatres there: it was intimate and comfortable. There were about fifteen of us ‘dragons’ there: other launches are taking place around the UK. But it was lovely to meet up with poet friends and share in the community of poets again for a celebration of some wonderful work. The anthology is called The Bees’ Breakfast. It has a poem celebrating every county, and a few cities, in the UK. I chose my native Cambridgeshire as my inspiration and wrote a short poem about the fens, centred around the man who became my stepfather and who was fenland through and through. I’ll post it at the end of the blog. You can find Beautiful Dragons publications here:


Please check it out and support them if you can: Rebecca Bilkau is the editor and works unbelievably hard on these collaborations. Some fantastic poets are involved as well, so you’ll get real value for money if you decide to buy. After the launch we all spilled out into the Thirsty Scholar for a celebratory drink. The community of poets served me yet again: Anna Percy and Rebecca Bilkau talked to me about my PhD work; they were really supportive and I thank them for it: we all need some support to keep us going. Rachel Mann also offered to read my sonnet crown, bless her. I love my poetry friends.

Friday was the pick-up day for my new car. I’ve been running on adrenalin all week thinking about it: not just about having it, but actually buying it. In all my half a century of adulthood (?) I’ve only bought four cars on my own and I find it extremely stressful: the knowing if I’ve done the right thing, if I really need a new car, if I’ll need the money for something else as soon as I’ve spent it, if, if, if…But at 2.00 p.m I went to the Pentagon dealership and took possession and oooh! it’s loverly! Here is a photo of the red, glittery bits that show in the paintwork when the sun shines on them: I know, a really blonde reason to buy a car, but just look at them and tell me you wouldn’t have been beguiled too:


This all brings us round to yesterday, Saturday. I had a wonderful day of poetry. It started with a workshop at the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road organised by Poets&Players. Steve Ely ran the workshop: it was based around the poetry of Emily Dickinson. We read, discussed and wrote poetry. I have a couple of embryonic poems from the workshop which I’ll be working on at home. Steve’s workshop was well organised, interesting and enjoyable. After a communal lunch with the committee and the competition winners, it was our competition celebration event. Oh my, what fantastic poems Michael Symmons Roberts had chosen as winners: Sharon Black in first place with ‘Post Op’; Ian McEwan in second with ‘Poem with this cow in it’; and Pam Thompson in third with ‘My life as a bat’. It was fantastic that all the prize winners could attend, especially as they came from the south of France, Bedford and Leicester; and they all read wonderful extra poems to go with their winning work too. I had the great pleasure of introducing Michael Symmons Roberts to our audience; and Li Liu, dressed in her wonderful costume creations to enhance the music, provided the ‘player’ element with her cello and Bach Cello pieces. It was a fantastic afternoon in wonderful surroundings of the south gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park, on a lovely summery day:


A lovely day and a wonderful week. I love my life. Here’s my poem from the Beautiful Dragons anthology The Bees’ Breakfast. 



Sometimes dreams can be nightmares.

He wanted most of himself to be buried, to become
an enrichment of the fenland soil he loved so much,
his heart and lungs to be thrown in Whittlesey Wash
to feed the eels he knitted his nets for.

Oh, he was generous. He gave me some peonies once,
dug up from his garden. He shook the soil off though—
that soil’s worth three thousand pounds an acre he said.
I looked for the smile but there wasn’t one.

One night his skeleton grew out of the earth like a myth.


Rachel Davies

April 2017



Golden Shovels and the community of poets

I’m a bit late with the blog this week. It’s been a bad week for sleep but even by my standards, the early hours of Saturday were just weird. At 1.30 a.m. we were woken by a woman outside our bedroom window, wailing into her phone. ‘But I love you so so much, I just want you back. My family says I should tell you to f*** off, but I just want you, please, come back…‘ etc etc. I have no idea who she was: we live on a fairly quiet country lane and you would only want to be out there if you were meaning to be there. After a five-minute wail, her heels clicked off down the lane and she was gone. My initial response was anger at being woken up. I wanted to shout down to her to stop being so needy and kick him into touch; but when she’d left I kept wondering who she was, why she was there and if she got home alright. And then I was angry all over again that she’d put that concern on me. In the history of insomnia, that is a pretty unique wake-up, I think; but it might be the subject of a poem some day.

So, the week in brief. PhD, poetry and life have all made their demands this week. Timetabling is working well for me. I have spent a lot of time putting the Hill chapter back together in order to send off to Angelica and Antony later in the month. Angelica has been putting lovely pictures of her working week in Mainz in Germany this week so I don’t think she needs it just yet: a good thing; it still needs some work. I’ll be back at it later today. I have been working on my sonnet corona this week as well: I promised Jean she would have a sight of it before the end of May, so still a month to work on that. Four of the seven sonnets complete and fairly polished. It’s hard to get two distinct voices into a dialogue; but vital to get that right.

Poetry has had a big space in the week, it being National Poetry Month. I’ve continued to write a poem a day: some of them have been rubbish, but there are some little gems in there too, worth keeping to work on in more leisurely times. One or two have been mother-daughter themed poems, which might be incorporated into the portfolio when I put the PhD work together next year. The real joy of NaPoWriMo is that, under its pressure, I am managing to write a poem every day. I always thought I could only write in my study–my ‘room of one’s own‘. But I have learned that I can even write poems while I’m watching telly in the evening; or when I stop work for a cuppa. They fit themselves into my spare moments, I don’t have to make huge spaces and times for them. True, they are not all worthy, but they are ‘poems’ and I am managing at least one a day.  Will I keep up this pressure after May 1st? Who knows; but I might.

I joined Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo FaceBook page at the end of March. She posted thirty prompts for poets to use if they needed a kick start with their poems. I have used some of the prompts; they’re good starters. But through that page, I have learned new forms I didn’t know about and that has helped me to write poems when ideas were lacking. I think I wrote about the pantoum last week: a form I vaguely knew about but hadn’t used before. This week I learned about a nonet and a Golden Shovel. Yes, really. Had you heard of them? I hadn’t; but I have now, and I have them in my NaPoWriMo repertoire. I wrote a nonet about a birthday gift my dad asked me to wrap up for my mum when I was a teenager. The nonet is a nine-lined poem (no surprise there then); but the first line must have nine syllables, the second eight and so on down to one syllable for the last line. I quite like the poem: I might post it at the end of this blog. But its shape offends my OCD: it all comes down to the point of that final syllable and it looks unstable, top heavy. So now I’m thinking I could write a reverse nonet, that stands on its nine syllable last line; or a specular nonet, that writes down to one syllable and back up to nine, like a mirror. See? There’s no end to poetry once it gets into your system.

Oh, and the Golden Shovel, you ask. No I’d never heard of one of them either. Now I’ve written two. You take a line of poetry you really like and use the words of the line as the last word of each line of your own poem; so if the line you start with has six or ten words in you write a six or a ten line poem. I took that wonderful line from Plath’s ‘Morning Song’: ‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch‘ so my own poem became a nine-liner about watching my mother make a Victoria sponge. Your own poem doesn’t have to be along the same content as the original; your poem can be about something completely other. I guess the words in the line you choose might influence the content of your poem to some extent, but not necessarily so. Form can be very liberating when you are stuck for a beginning. Yesterday morning on Breakfast I saw a report about an elephant hospital in Thailand: they make prosthetic limbs for elephants traumatised by land mines. How sad is it that that should even be a thing? I thought of humankind having dominion over the animals and this seemed the worst possible example of how we abuse that trust. I tried to write that poem, but it wasn’t until I was in bed last night, approaching midnight, that I found a line by Pascale Petit that gave me my ‘in’: ‘that tight smile as if you’re tunnelling into the sun’ and the Golden Shovel gave me my poem. It needs some work, but it’s there in the shadows. The Golden Shovel is another example of the community of poets; or of what Carol Ann Duffy describes as poets all dipping into the same ancient stream. I love poetry; did you know?

Life has had its fair share of me this week too. On Tuesday I went to look at cars. I have had my eye on a Vauxhall Mokka for some time, decided I would buy one as a birthday present to myself later in the year. I asked Bill to come with me to the dealership just to look, just to work out my options. Yup, I bought one. Yup it’s brown–I can hear you shouting You bought a brown car? What were you thinking? I would have been shouting that before I saw the macadamia brown of the Mokka: I thought it was black when I saw it on the forecourt, until the sunshine showed the red glitter in its paintwork and I was hooked. My new-to-me Mokka 4×4 is brown and I’ll be collecting it before the weekend, hopefully. Lovely number plate too: VO16UUZ. Can’t wait.

On Wednesday I went to a meeting of the PMR-GCA north west branch. This is a support group for sufferers of Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis, the auto-immune conditions that I have dubbed the ‘ugly sisters.’ This was the first I heard of this group and I’ve been being treated since December 2013! I didn’t hold out much hope of it as a support group: I joined a FB support page at the beginning of my encounter with the ugly sisters and it seems to me it’s just a forum for proving you are suffering worse than anyone else; and I can’t be doing with that, being terminally optimistic. So I went to the meeting at the Victoria Hotel in Hollinwood expecting the worse and thinking I’d sit at the back and make good my escape if I couldn’t bear it. But actually it was quite helpful. A rheumatologist from Oldham Royal was there to answer questions from the floor and it was interesting overall. I’ll give it another chance to disappoint me in June!

Saturday my son Richard and his friend Ray came to visit. Amie, I and they went into Manchester for lunch at San Carlo in King St West. It was a lovely meal and I’m guessing I had a month’s supply of Slimming World syns in the dessert alone: a mile-high strawberry pavlova. I love spending time with my wonderful children; a shame Mike couldn’t be there: he had to work. He was missed.

So; if you have chocolate today, enjoy it. If you are a Christian, have a peaceful and life-affirming Easter. If, like me, you don’t subscribe to the religious meaning of Easter, have a lovely weekend anyway, and a perfect and productive week next week. Here’s my nonet ‘Painted Lady’. I discovered that by centre justifying it I’m happier with it standing so precariously on that one syllable. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to reduce the spacing on WordPress so it’s a bit longer and thinner than it is in Word, but here it is anyway:

Painted Lady

That face powder and blood-red lipstick

you gave her for her birthday said

more about you than it did

about her. Did you want

your Bull and Butcher

tart for a wife?

She was worth

so much



Rachel Davies

April 2017

NaPoWriMo and a little soul

I’ve had a wizard week when all aspects of poetry, PhD and life came together in a (near) perfect whole.

The timetabling idea is proving a bit of a boon. At the moment I’m only timetabling a week at a time; I may extend that when I get used to working to a fairly rigid plan. But a week is enough at the moment. So far it’s working for me. It does mean that I fit more work into a week than I would have done, because I fill the odd empty hour between other jobs with something productive. So this week I have been working on the revision of the Hill chapter, writing and editing my crown of sonnets and writing a poem a day for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). Eight poems written so far this week, some of them, very satisfyingly, to my mother-daughter theme: two birds, one stone.

Sunday it was my grandson’s 19th birthday. Amie and I went to Telford armed with birthday presents for him and for my great-grandson who was two the day before. We went out for a celebration meal: a table for nine. It was a lovely relaxing day of family and happiness. I still managed to write a small poem after I finished my Sunday blog, before I had breakfast. It’s not a particularly good poem, but it might be, one day. And it was a mother talking about a daughter, so it’s in my academic interest to make it good enough, isn’t it?

On Monday I wrote a pantoum. I think it’s the first one I’ve ever written. On Sunday night when I got back from Telford, I googled ‘pantoum’, downloaded an example, made my page double columned and wrote a practice pantoum beside the downloaded one. It was rubbish, but it was just testing out the form.  On Monday morning, in those lovely early hours when I’m the only person in the world who is awake, I wrote my pantoum proper. It is about watching my mother slicing runner beans just after my brother died. I am pleased with it, it is suggestive rather than explicit. It works, I think. Another poem for the portfolio, perhaps?

On Monday morning I visited the Integrated Care Centre in Oldham to visit the rheumatology nurse as part of my treatment for the Ugly Sisters: polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis. These are two horrible autoimmune diseases I developed in 2013 and 2015 respectively. They are linked; they are painful; they are treatable with cortico-steroids. Unfortunately the steroids cause all sorts of detrimental side issues for the body, like osteoporosis. Vitamin D and Calcium are essential; and a drug to help the body assimilate the Vit D into the bones. Osteopenia–a kind of osteoporosis light–is the reason I have broken two bones in the last couple of years, so I have to have that ‘assimilation’ drug injected twice a year. Monday morning was that day. In the afternoon I went to my aerobics class: it gets easier every time I go; then into Manchester to meet Hilary and Penny to plan our next Bitches Week in Anglesey in May. We had a meal together in Leaf on Portland St. then, after laying down our plans–which include a day trip to Dublin–we went on to Amy McCauley’s writing workshop. I took the leopard ‘revenge’ poem I wrote at Stanza last week. It was well received and I was given useful feedback on revisiting it.

Tuesday was all about rewriting sections of my Selima Hill chapter. The timetable is about planning short writing tasks: short, that is in content, but taking plenty of time to perfect. I rewrote two pages; I worked on the sonnet section as well. I have loved developing this section: only a couple of pages, but very satisfying. After a brew-break, I went back to work. I rewrote the third sonnet in my corona, in the daughter’s voice. I had made the daughter altogether too acquiescent in the first draft, and that wasn’t a daughter I wanted, so I made her more ambitious, less reliant on love, more reliant on her own mental resources. Not brilliant yet, a bit ‘lifeless’, but better. I kept the original two ‘daughter’ sonnets: they have some lines in that I don’t want to lose. So, altogether, Tuesday was a productive day. The daughter sonnet served as my fourth NaPoWriMo poem.

On Wednesday morning I wrote my fifth poem in bed before the world was awake. It is a poem that tells of the experience of appendicitis when I was a child, but told from a third person viewpoint. It’s amazing how much you remember of something when you write a poem about it! After breakfast, I took Rosie Parker for her dental check up. Worried about getting her into the cat carrier, we allowed plenty of time for the fight. But she was gentle as a lamb, went in with no fuss; so we were at the vet’s earlier than expected. Her teeth are fine following the dental treatment she had earlier in the year; so that’s good. No more cat carriers until her annual boosters in July. I went from the vet’s to the Black Ladd to work on the accounts for the morning. Bill came for lunch as usual, then after lunch we went into Manchester to the Palace Theatre to see The Commitments: Amie had enjoyed it so much when she went, she had bought us tickets as soon as she got home. Oh, my! It was wonderful: all the soul days of my youth compressed into two hours of fantastic entertainment. I’ve read the book–I love Roddy Doyle’s books; I’ve seen the film; the stage version was the icing on the cake.  We went for a meal in Don Giovanni’s after the performance. A lovely day altogether, thank you Amie. When I got home I researched my sixth NaPoWriMo poem, a ‘found’ poem based in the lyrics of some of the songs. I wrote it in bed early on Thursday morning. I’ll post this poem at the end of the blog: it was fun to write but I don’t think it is for publication anywhere else! In the evening on Wednesday, I received news of the winning entries in our Poets&Players competition from Michael Symmons Roberts. I can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you; but you can come along to our celebration event at the Whitworth Art Gallery on April 22nd, details here:

Coming Events

Thursday I went to the Black Ladd again to finish off what I didn’t get done on Wednesday. All up to date again. In the afternoon I worked at polishing the sonnets in my sonnet crown. I’ve cut out a lot of the words from the third sonnet, the daughter one. And I’ve adapted her ‘voice’ to make it distinct from the mother’s voice, by taking out the rhymes at the end of lines. There are still rhymes but they’re embedded in the lines, less obtrusive. I’m much more pleased with it now.

On Friday, the usual chores in the morning. In the afternoon I went to a pilates class at my gym. I talked to the rheumatology nurse on Tuesday about exercise. When she measured me, I appeared to have shrunk about an inch since I damaged the fourth thoracic vertebra last July. This is because it was a compressed fracture: the bone was crushed in the fall. She thought the pilates was a good idea to improve posture: the injury has left me with a very slight stoop. So, on Thursday, pilates. T4 still objected when I lay on the floor but I told it to shut up and get on with it. There were some moves I definitely couldn’t do, like making a shoulder bridge and taking my legs over my head, feet all the way down to the floor. I didn’t want to go home with more compressed fractures, so Julie gave me alternative exercises at those times and I did the full hour. I have felt every muscle in my body ever since, so it must be doing me good. I’ll go again, but not next week. Julie is ‘old school’ (her words) she ‘doesn’t work bank holidays’. Easter next week. When I got home I wrote my daily poem. When we drove into Uppermill this morning the moors looked as if they had dressed themselves in flak jackets, those brown/green/khaki colours the moors have at this time of year. Trump had ordered the bombing sortie into Syria in the night and it seemed as if even Nature was at war. So that was the inspiration for my Friday poem

Saturday, more timetabled PhD work. I was at my desk by 8.00 a.m. and worked well all morning, about five hours altogether, putting all aspects of the Hill chapter together in a readable whole. I also wrote a fourth sonnet for the corona, in the mother’s voice, a response to the third sonnet, the daughter’s sonnet. After lunch, Hilary, Penny and Polly came with their partners to watch the Denshaw premiere of the Sky Arts programme we were involved with in the summer, about spotting the fake painting among the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. I had recorded it on Sky+ so we could watch together. Yes, we were in the programme: only as supporting extras mostly, but Penny got a speaking part near the end.

So that’s it for another very busy week–are there any other kinds? Here’s the poem I drafted following The Commitments. Nostalgia is good for the soul; soul is good for nostalgia.

The Commitments

 all the best days of my youth


I bet you’re wondering how I knew

they call you Mr Pitiful?

I laughed when you left, but now

I’m added to your chain of fools

and I can’t stand the rain against my window,

it makes it easier to bear.

I’ll wait till the stars come out

because it gets bigger baby, and I try

and I try and I try and I try, I can’t get no—

all you wanna do is ride around Sally.

I wish I knew you before you met her—

get out my life why don’t you babe

be a do-right-all-night man—

bye bye baby, baby goodbye.


rolled into two and a half hours of soul

Rachel Davies

April 2017

Stanzas, sonnets and Spelks

It’s been a good week this week. My timetabling is proving a real asset: I seem to be getting loads done, both critical and creative work. I feel as if this PhD is becoming manageable.

Sunday was Mothers’ Day. I had a lovely relaxed day, had phone calls from all three of my children, was given tickets to see Ricky Gervais in London in October, went for a leisurely shopping trip to Oldham and still had time to do some work on my sonnet corona. It was that strange day after altering the clocks when time seems different: sometimes passing too quickly, sometimes hardly moving, it kept being the wrong time of day; but how lovely that it was still light after 8.00 in the evening; and that sense of victory at having beaten back another winter.

On Monday I worked on my sonnet cycle in the morning. I redrafted the second and third stanzas. I tried to insert ClipArt and the screen froze twice so I had to reboot the MacBook, which meant I lost the work I had done. Twice. Note to self: don’t use ClipArt on the MacBook. Like Robert the Bruce, I tried again and managed to save the redraft this time before I lost it. In the afternoon I went to my aerobics session. Third week in a row. The fourth thoracic is better about it now, not complaining so much. Next week I’m planning to do a Pilates session on Friday afternoon as well, see how it goes.

Tuesday the timetable had work on the sonnet part of the Hill chapter, so that’s what I spent the morning doing. Mind mapping first to decide what I needed to say, then checking notes to find the relevant authoritative back-up for the arguments. I had made a good start by lunch time, which came late because I got lost in the work. I love it when that happens. In the afternoon I spent time preparing a writing activity for our Stanza meeting in the evening, and doing a bit more work on the corona. I feel as if I’m redrafting the life out of it, so I decided to leave it alone for a bit; but it’s like when you have a spot or a scab or something: you know you should’t pick at it but you can’t help it. I wanted to take it to Spelks on Friday so it was at the forefront of my mind all week.

Our Stanza meeting on Tuesday evening was good. Hilary Robinson and I prepared writing activities and we spent the session writing poetry. Hilary’s activity was based on David Tait’s idea from his Smith-Doorstop collection Self Portrait with the Happiness. My poem from that activity, ‘Self Portrait with the Rage’, was inspired by a night that happened more than twenty years ago and it involved a leopard and not a little violence to someone. I loved  writing it, a catharsis I didn’t even know my soul needed! My own activity was based around instruction manuals. I printed off a few from the internet. We wrote poems that had a story involving the thing in the manual and interspersed the lines of the poem with lines from the manual. Fun, but it also produced some good writing. I felt both my poems were worth working on at home, and that’s always a good feeling. There were only five of us at the meeting: our ‘last Tuesday of the month’ slot has been co-inciding with other poetry events in Manchester lately; two members are involved with university courses on Tuesday and one was unavoidably absent. But five members is enough when they want to be there and they are serious about their poetry. It was a good night, I enjoyed it. If you want something to fill your diary on Tuesday 25th April, 7.30-9.30, why not come along to the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar and join us for the evening? Details of our FaceBook page here:


Wednesday was my accounts day at the Black Ladd, but this week I only had the morning to work because it was Amie’s check-up at the Christie. She has to have three-monthly checks for the malignant melanoma she was treated for in 2014. All was good, and they are talking of going to six-monthly check-ups after September if she is still clear. She has come along way in two years; 2014 was horrible. If you thought melanoma was just a rogue mole and when it’s removed that’s the end of it, think again. It is malicious; it can get into the lymph system with the possibility of being carried around the body, and this is what happened to Amie. She also had sepsis following one session of surgery: having had lymph nodes removed, her resistance to infection is low. So, don’t treat ‘a rogue mole’ with kid gloves: if you’re worried, get it investigated as soon as possible.

This meant that Thursday morning I had to go back to the Black Ladd to finish the work I hadn’t got done on Wednesday. Thursday afternoon I spent a couple of hours adding a fourth sonnet to the corona. It’s in the daughter’s voice. I’m less happy with the ‘daughter’ bit, the voice isn’t right and the argument is weak, she’s not coming across in a strong light. It’s going to need some work before I send it to Jean at the end of the month. But first I needed to take it to Spelks on Friday: it was written following the prompt from Polly involving the trip to the Manchester Art Gallery to see the ‘Strange and Familiar’ photographic exhibition.

Spelks. Have I ever told you how much I love this group? It is my favourite poetry group in the world ever: a closed group of six friends who meet every month to write and share poetry. We meet in each other’s houses and it always involves food and drink. This week we met at Rod’s house and took along the poems from the photographic exhibition. Oh my, there were some good poems. I loved Rod’s poems inspired by the Orange marchers in Glasgow; and Hilary had written some good stuff in her new concise style, repetition and tight forms. But they were all fantastic. Unfortunately Polly, who set the task, couldn’t be there this month, she was at a wedding in Edinburgh, but she had sent her poems electronically, so she was definitely there in spirit. We had a lovely afternoon, as we always do. I took my corona and received some good feedback. The first two sonnets, the ones I’d worked on most, were considered the best. The third and fourth, mostly in the daughter’s voice, were less successful, which is what I had been thinking as well. I really need to rethink the daughter in this set of poems. But they liked the form of the corona and the way I had a surreptitious rhyme scheme going on. So, I’ll write it into my timetable and work on it some more. It’s like a puzzle that needs solving: it will get done; I’ll have a full draft of seven sonnets to send to Jean Sprackland by the end of April.

Saturday was very productive. The sonnet section of the critical piece is almost done and I’m pleased with it so far. I also put my ‘leopard’ poem from Stanza onto my MacBook; and I wrote a poem for NaPoWriMo, the ‘write a poem a day for National Poetry Month’; it was from a prompt from Carrie Etter involving something you collect. I wrote about my collection of teddy bears, which was vastly depleted when I donated most of them to a charity toy collection a couple of Christmases ago. I kept a few of my favourites though, including the pink and white soft toy dog my daughter had as a baby, which I ‘bought’ with two books of Greenshield Stamps. Remember them?

As this week seems to have been a lot about Amie, I’m including a poem I wrote when she was first diagnosed with the melanoma. It refers to her childhood nightmares and how a mother can sort some things quite easily, but some other things are just too big to deal with.


a zebra can’t hide

I saw it in your face today, the threat

in the shadows, your worst nightmare,

like the zebras, rabbits, alligators

that populated your childhood dreams,

came with drums into your dark, beat

toxic rhythms in your sleep. I used

to chase them out so you’d sleep again,

I could do that then. Braver than me now,

you googled nodular melanoma and faced

the M word: malignant is the grown-up

nightmare with the toxic drum. I can’t chase

this one away. I’ll not to lie to you, you said.

I’m scared. As if I couldn’t see it in your face.

As if a zebra can hide in a whitewashed room.


Rachel Davies


Spring, ducks, clocks and mothers

Make no mistake, it’s a struggle juggling life, poetry and a PhD. I have two Bachelor degrees, two Masters degrees and they were hard but I never doubted I would be able to finish them. A PhD is a whole new ball game. It is very hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and it should be. I had a conversation this week with a poet friend who is struggling with the pain-in-the-arse that is RD1. I remember it well. My own struggle with it seems a lifetime ago, it is hard and I feel her pain. But it’s a hurdle that has to be jumped in order to get onto the good stuff. And then the good stuff is hard as well. She has a fantastic PhD project, and in order to get onto that she has to sign off RD1. She can do this!

Every week I ask myself why I am putting myself through it: I don’t need to do it, I don’t need a job in academe. But of course, for me it isn’t about academe, it isn’t about employment; it’s all about a personal challenge, a vanity almost. For this friend of mine, a professional poet who is also doing some undergrad teaching at MMU, it is about career and I guess that makes it harder; she is driven as well by an ambition outside her own personal motivation. I have the luxury of saying it’s the journey, not the destination: if I don’t achieve the PhD at the end of it, at least I’ve enjoyed the ride. I’ve learned loads, had an amazing quality of mentoring by two professional academics and one wonderful poet in Jean Sprackland. The added pressure of career ambition must be unbearable. C’mon, jump that hurdle, get onto what you’re good at: poetry and the personal that’s political.

I’ve had a brilliant week this week, got lots done. On Sunday last, I started my crown of sonnets inspired by my reading of Rita Dove and the visit to the Strange and Familiar exhibition at the City Art Gallery. I drafted three sonnet stanzas, so you could say, if you were really naff, that I have a sonnet half-a-crown! It even has a rhyme scheme of sorts; a near-rhyme scheme really. I worked a lot on the first sonnet, tightening it up, cutting the dross. I’m quite pleased with it. The other two need lots of work in terms of persona voice, form etc. I’ve tinkered with it all week. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with you yet as I’m also writing it for Spelks and I need to keep it for the next Spelkerama next week. You might see it, or some of it, soon though.

Also on Sunday, I redrafted and submitted my political rant, inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’. This is for the Beautiful Dragons anthology, Noble Dissent, which will be published later in the year. I sent the first draft to editor, Rebecca Bilkau, and she liked it but advised it needed to be tightened up, being a prose poem therefore a big block of text. I had already redrafted it by the time she got back to me; so I’m hoping the version I submitted this week will be accepted as it is. I loved writing this one.

On Monday this week it was the third and last event in the current series of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange. Carol Ann read a couple of poems; three strong MMU Writing School MA students read poems that are contributing to their portfolios; the house poets read a poem each, a fantastic new one by Mark Pajak; then Adam O’Riordan finished the evening with a reading from his new collection A Herring Famine, which Carol Ann is tipping as a major prize-winner this year. I love these events, to be steeped in poetry with the added advantage of meeting up with lots of poet friends. The next series will be in the autumn; keep an eye out for ticket sales because they go like the proverbial hot cakes.

Driving to the park and ride to catch the tram on Monday evening, my poor little motor was making a most alarming sound on right turns: sort of like a seven-league bedspring going off. It sounded expensive. I limped home at the end of the evening and didn’t move my car again until I took it to the car hospital on Thursday. On Tuesday morning I rang the Vauxhall dealership to book it in for repair: they couldn’t fit me in until April 7th. April 7th? That’s longer than it takes to see a GP! I rang the local garage just down the road and they fitted me in for Thursday morning. I settled for the local garage.

The rest of Tuesday was dedicated to PhD. I prepared a timetable of writing tasks; literally booking time slots to fit writing into my life. I worked on the advice of The Clockwork Muse by Evictor Zerubavel. He advocates seeing your writing in small, bite-sized pieces rather than the whole project: work on a couple of pages until you are happy with them before moving on. So I wrote two-page writing bites into my timetable, which only goes to the end of March: I wanted to test it out, see if I need to modify it at all before filling it in further. I worked on the first task in my timetable: reworking the first two pages of the Selima Hill section. I worked on it most of the rest of Tuesday. There is a lot to be said for working on small sections, perfecting them before moving on. Having perfected those two pages I can see now where I need to put more academic authority into them, and that will be the next task for them. That is what writing is all about: drafting, redrafting, perfecting. I think this timetable is going to be an asset. I planned creative as well as critical tasks into the timetable, so that neither dominates. I’ll be working on them side-by-side; which is good because often the critical work sparks ideas for the creative and it’s right not to wait.

On Wednesday I had to rely on lifts to get me to my job at the Black Ladd. Oh, how I hate the loss of independence when my car is off the road. So I was very pleased on Thursday morning to get it to the garage at 8.30 a.m., just when they were opening up. The mechanic had first hand knowledge of the bed-spring sound as I parked it up to wait for treatment. He said he would get back to me when he’d inspected it. We went on to Tesco to do the week’s shopping. I received the phone call at lunchtime: the driver’s side front spring had broken and needed replacing. It would cost £132, did I want him to go ahead with it? Well, I had been thinking £4-or-500 so, yes, I did want him to go ahead with it. And when he told me it would be about 2 hours, I was delighted. We went to collect it at 4.00 p.m., sounding as good as new. Oh yes, I’ll be going there again in future. Of course, waiting around for garage phone calls interrupted the flow of work on the timetable, but Thursday’s task was a creative one, and really I work best on creative writing in the early mornings, so I know I can make that up, no problem.

Friday was a lovely day: cold, but full of bright sunshine that makes you think winter is in retreat at last. We parked the car outside Uppermill and walked in along the canal path. The canal has been drained for maintenance work, just a dribble on the canal bed; but the ducks were still sitting in it, looking slightly ridiculous, like duck delegates to a conference on global warming. They were still managing to do the ‘up tails all’ thing, in only inches of water. They are pairing off for the spring reproduction, though, and the sunshine must have uplifted them somewhat. On Friday evening I met my friend Joan. We first met on holiday at Lake Como in 1995 and we have  met for dinner almost every month since then. On Friday we went to Panama Hatty’s in Prestwich. Lovely meal. The M62 was a nightmare on the drive to her house, though; for most of that section of the journey I didn’t get above 20mph and second gear; then on the way home, the exit road from the M60 to the M62 was closed, but they didn’t flag it up until I was already on the M60, so I had to do a full 360 on the roundabout and drive back to Oldham and go home by a different route. I think the ‘different route’ might become the standard route in future, cutting out the M62 altogether. It has aspirations to being a smart motorway, but it isn’t being very smart at the moment.

Saturday saw me at my desk again. The timetable said ‘rewrite the “sonnet paragraph” of the Hill section’. Well, confession: I didn’t get it rewritten; but I did do a lot of preparatory reading–Montefiore, Paterson, the Cambridge Companion– deciding what is relevant to include to enhance the argument for subversion of the form. I was pleased with what I achieved. At lunchtime I had a visit from Angus, Ben and Cooper (the Cockerpoo). They brought me a lovely bunch of flowers for Mothers’ Day. Unfortunately Amie was at work and couldn’t come: Mother’s Weekend is always a busy one in the hospitality industry. Downstairs I have cards from all my children, waiting to be opened. As the cheesy FaceBook meme says, everyday is Mothers’ Day when you have children as lovely as mine.

On Saturday night we put the clocks forward an hour: winter is officially done. I can’t wait to see this evening being light until after 8.00. Yes, we made it for another year!

I’m including a poem for my late mother this week, in honour of Mothers’ Day. I don’t write nostalgic, lovey-dovey, mumsy poems: despite–because of?–the nine children she gave birth to, our mum wasn’t the maternal sort. So my relationship with my mother isn’t one I’m sentimental about. This poem is a memory of my sister and me ‘getting it’ for laughing at the tea table. It didn’t stop us laughing though.


What I remember of the spoon is

how it was her crowd control at mealtimes

how she held it upright in her hand,

it’s handle to the table-top, how it tapped

a rhythm like a slow drum,

how when we laughed we knew the spoon

would greet us with a firm handshake,

a spoon shaped bruise would raise itself

on the back of our hands, how we tried

not to laugh but it was a contagion,

how you tried to drown your laughter

in a cup of tea but one snort spread tealeaves

across your face like freckles and we laughed,

laughed so much we knew. Here it comes now

Rachel Davies


Strangely Familiar Big Things

This week I have successfully combined ‘life’ and ‘PhD’ to have a productive week. ‘Poetry’ has been well in the mix as well, so that, I conclude, was a good week.

First ‘big thing’: I went back to my aerobics class for the first time since the Fourth Thoracic was crushed last July. It was exactly eight months on Thursday last since the fall  so it’s been a long time since I went. It was good to see everyone; I was welcomed back like the prodigal daughter. I managed the aerobics very well, although I could feel my back getting sore by the end. I didn’t attempt the floor exercises: sit-ups, planks etc. They are for another day. I felt really good when I went for the usual post-exercise coffee, though. The down-side was that the fourth thoracic has been nagging for most of the week: I had to take painkillers on Thursday morning for the first time in months. It won’t stop me going back for more next week though!

Tuesday was the next ‘big thing’. I had to be in Uppermill for a hair appointment for 9.00 a.m. I was there early enough to call at the pharmacy for a prescription which wasn’t ready yet, so I went to my hair appointment and called back at the pharmacy after. This is only relevant because I was hoping to heat up some butternut and ginger soup I’d made on Monday and take it for my lunch as I was out all day. By the time I got home to change my sweater–all those chimbley little bits of hair, ugh–it was too late to bother about the soup, I had to be at MMU to meet Michael Symmons Roberts for 11.30; so, hairy sweater in the laundry, I set off souplessly for Metrolink. I made it to the Geoffrey Manton building for 11.20. I had the competition entries in my laptop trundle trolley: a box file with online entries, a separate ring binder with postal entries, too heavy to carry down Oxford Road. I met up with Michael in the foyer and we went up to his room  for the handover. So, if you sent poems to our Poets&Players competition, they are now in the safe reading of Michael. We can’t wait to hear his decision.

I walked back up Oxford Road, trundle trolley bouncing along behind me, over the cracks in the pavement, and took myself to the Manchester Art Gallery. I started my visit with a well-deserved pot of tea. Then, as it was 12.30 by now, I decided to have lunch before doing the work I came to do. I shared my table with two complete strangers, but we had a lovely conversation about the attraction or not of the written word: I said I had come to view the Strange and Familiar exhibition with a view to finding some poems. They loved the art, but weren’t writers at all. They wished me well in my quest. I took the lift to the second floor exhibition.

The exhibition was fantastic: mostly black and white photos taken from the fifties to the present day. I was particularly interested in the photos from the sixties, the era I grew up in, so evocative of a wonderful decade. Then I came across four huge face photographs. These weren’t beauty portraits, they were hideous: broken veins, rotting or missing teeth, over-done make-up, huge painted red lips, clogged mascara. One, the elderly woman with perm curlers on the extreme right of the series, could have been the mother in my PhD portfolio series; and, I reckoned, she could have been an elderly version of some of the trendy permissives in the sixties photos. The link was obvious and gave me an idea for a set of poems for the portfolio; possibly written as a sonnet corona. I’ll be giving this a go later today. Two birds, one stone. I was actually there to research our next Spelk activity, to write three poems inspired by the exhibition. It’s good when there is a confluence of all the aspects of my life.

I left the gallery at about 5.00. I walked out to find a coffee shop, passing the recently refurbished City Library. I haven’t been in since it was refurbed, so I decided I had time and I wandered in. I sat in the cafe, but didn’t order anything. I had the good fortune to sit down next to two elderly gentlemen who were discussing Roman history. It was too amusing to ignore; I surreptitiously took out my notebook:

Ernie: Mancini is the Roman name for Manchester.

Charlie: What about Manchuria then?

Ernie: A Manchurian is a person from Manchester.

Charlie: It must come from China then.

Ernie: Caesar either means ‘bald’ or ‘full head of hair’, I can never remember which.

…and so on. It was very entertaining. Although I do think Ernie had quite a well-read knowledge of ancient Rome; Charlie was more aspirational. I moved on. I went to a Costa for a cappuccino and an hour’s reading (Paterson’s 101 Sonnets) en route to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation for the launch of my friend Fokkina McDonnell’s first poetry collection. It was a lovely evening; first some poet friends of Fokkina’s, from her poetry group in Chorlton, read their own work, then Fokkina read from her new collection: fantastic, semi-autobiographical poems from various ‘eras’ in her life. I bought her collection, asked her to sign it, dipped into it on the tram on the way home. I haven’t read it through yet, but I look forward to finding the time to do so soon.

On Wednesday my son, Michael, went home to Tidworth. It was lovely having him to stay for a few days, and he seemed quite relaxed as he left to go back to work. Later in the day, my own work at the Black Ladd went smoothly for a change and I was home by 3.00, all done including the filing I’d left for the last couple of weeks. Desk cleared, yay!

Thursday and Friday I read and reread 101 Sonnets. It was rather disappointing to see that of 101 sonneteers, Don Paterson only included 14 women poets. This, of course, reflects the sonnet as a huge element of the male canon of poetry in this country’s literary history. Shame, though, a bit of a missed opportunity I thought.

Saturday was our Poets&Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery, another ‘big thing’. There was a poetry workshop by the fantastic and vivacious Helen Mort to begin with. Lots of discussion around the poems we read as well as opportunities to write from the prompts. Then, after lunch (yes, I did manage to take a flask of soup for this one) we had the big event in the South Gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park. First up, Persian percussionist Arian Sadr enthralled us with his  Tonbak (Persian goblet drum) and Daf (a circular frame drum): how can ten fingers and one drum make so many varied sounds? Next Andy Hickmott read from his latest collection of poems about the history of Ancoats Dispensary; then Helen Mort gave us a reading which began with a poem we had commissioned on the theme ‘borders’. Here is a link to the commissioned poem:

More percussion from Arian after the break, then Jane Draycott read from her latest collection The Occupant. I was enthralled by a pair of green parakeets in the trees outside the window while Jane was reading. There is a small flock resident in the park. It was a wonderful afternoon of poetry and music, a real gem of an afternoon. We had a short committee meeting after the event to complete planning for the year’s programme.

So, another week done and dusted. Later today I will be attempting to put some of my notes from ‘Strange and Familiar’ into poems; hopefully into sonnets; hopefully into the start of my crown of sonnets. Watch this space.

To finish, here is a link to a sonnet by a woman poet, no less than our current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Paterson had the good taste to include this one in his collection. I love it.



The Times Saturday Review, 1992