Trains and Golden Shovels

It’s 6.00 a.m. and I’m writing this from a hotel room in Birmingham. I’m here for the Verve Poetry Festival. It’s the end of a very good week. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even fitted in a run this week. I haven’t given up on the NY resolution though, just too much else going on.

On Sunday it was dog-sitting day again: a couple of long, snowy walks. By the time we went home at 9.00 p.m. there was much snow on Saddleworth roads and a hair-raising drive home. This was worrying because on Monday we were due to travel to Glasgow and it looked as if we might be snowed in. But there was no extra snow overnight and we were taken to the station in a 4×4 car, so apart from a short delay at Piccadilly we were OK. We were in Glasgow by 1.00 p.m. We went to the Museum of Modern Art, walked to George Square, where the striking ship-workers had raised the red flag in the early twenties and had afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, the décor designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The chairs are designed for aesthetics, but not so much for comfort:

Buchanan-Street-02

Yes, that is the tops of heads you can see: the chairs are very tall and double as screens to afford some privacy to customers. We had five hours in Glasgow, so only time for a taster; we are definitely up for a weekend break at some time in the future. I had bought first class tickets on the train for Bill’s birthday: it wasn’t a first-class journey. The heating failed in our carriage—it was ‘toasty warm’ in the other carriages apparently—and we rode home togged up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves!

On Tuesday I met Hilary for coffee. We discussed the hand-stitched pamphlets we’re preparing for our reading in York on Feb 22nd. In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours processing entries for the Poets & Players competition:
https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2018-closing-date-28-february-2018/ As you can see, there are still ten days to get your entries in, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday evening, Hilary and I went to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for ‘A Body of Words’, a talk/reading around food and the body. Kelsie Silverstone read some poems and talked about her fund-raising commitment to ‘Beat’, an eating disorder charity. She is planning a sponsored head-shave: if you would like to support Kelsie, her Just Giving page can be found through this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kelsie-silverstone
Dr Angelica Michelis gave a talk about “the relationship between eating/non-eating bodies and how food, its consumption, digestion and rejection tell us stories about desire, abjection, fear and pleasure, in short – stories about our selves/ourselves.” (ref IABF website). Malika Booker read her wonderful poetry, a modern Carribbean take on Bible stories. It was an interesting and thought provoking evening.

Wednesday daytime was taken up with the accounts at the Black Ladd. Of course, it was Valentines Day. I don’t subscribe, seeing it as yet another way for consumerism to put my money into the pockets of people who don’t need it as much as I do. However, we did go out to eat, prior to seeing the live screening of RSC’s Twelfth Night at the Odeon in Oldham. Oh my, it was good. Ade Edmondson played the pompous and down-fallen Malvolio. He was impressive; but my favourite performer was Beruce Khan playing Feste. If you get chance to see it, don’t miss it, either live in Stratford or live screened to a cinema near you.

Thursday was taken up with stuff that must be done before I could come away on Friday: ironing, packing, processing competition entries, printing poems for the judge, hand-stitching pamphlets: there aren’t enough hours in a day. On Friday, Hilary and I travelled to Birmingham for Verve. On Friday evening there were fantastic poetry readings by Mir Mahfuz Ali, Sasha Dugdale and Karen McCarthy Woolf. Very different poets, but all good. The evening was chaired very efficiently, and with humour, by Jo Bell. I bought, and got signed, Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka a very challenging collection of poetry remembering Bangladesh’s bloody independence from Pakistan in 1971. I was particularly interested by this collection, because when I was a primary school head-teacher—1993 to 2003—my school served the Bangladeshi community in Hyde. Of course, I knew the history; but the harrowing human element, the extreme suffering of that history, is addressed in this collection.

Saturday was a full-on day. We had breakfast at the hotel then took the fifteen minute walk to Waterstones for a day of poetry at the festival. It started with a poetry breakfast, which didn’t include a second breakfast, but it did involve poetry. It was an introduction to the weekend. I had to leave after half an hour because I had a workshop booked with Karen McCarthy Woolf. This was about form, especially little known poetry forms: who has heard of the ‘gramofand’ for instance? Not me. It’s a form that makes near-anagrams of the title of a poem in the end words of its lines—I think. There is an example in McCarthy Woolf’s first collection An Aviary of Small Birds. ‘Emotions’ plays with that title throughout the poem. But mostly we were exploring the ‘golden shovel’, a form where you take a striking line from a published poem and use the words of that line as end-words of the lines of your own poem. I’ve experimented with this form before, but we studied it in more detail yesterday. We even heard a wonderful recording of Gwendolyn Brooks reading ‘The Pool Players’, the short poem that inspired Terrance Hayes to invent the form in the first place: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55678/the-golden-shovel

I had an afternoon free after the workshop so I walked around The Bullring, a mass of humanity on a Saturday afternoon, then walked back to the hotel for a brew and a glass of wine in the bar before returning to Waterstones for the evening readings by Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and Sandeep Parmar. Pascale read from Mama Amazonica, which was a real treat for me; Hannah Lowe impressed: she is funny and entertaining and her poetry is brilliant. She reminded me a lot of Kim Moore. I bought her collection Chan, which she signed for me. Sandeep read from her collection Eidolon, a modern retelling of the Helen of Troy myth, questioning the patriarchal interpretations of history. The Q&A session after the readings was interesting. After a short break there was another event, the Out-Spoken Press showcase, with interesting readings by ‘performance’ poets. My favourite was Bridget Minamore’s reading from her collection Titanic, reliving the breakdown of a love affair. It wasn’t all broken hearts and teardrops though; it was funny and poignant and her delivery was thoroughly entertaining. I might buy her collection today. Carribean food was served during the interval as well, compliments of the festival organisers. Well, even poets need to eat. The vegetable curry was lovely. We were so buzzed-up by poetry that it was well after midnight before we were ready for sleep.

And here I am, awake at 6.00 a.m. writing all about it. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned PhD once in this blog post. That’s because I haven’t been able to fit it in anywhere, except inside my head. It is a constant psychological presence, and the notes I took from last night’s Q&A session, particularly Pascale Petit’s responses, were all with that in mind. I promise it will feature more next week, by hook or crook.

Here’s a poem, a ‘golden shovel’ I wrote for Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo last April—she’s planning another event for this April if you’re a poet and you’re on Facebook and you fancy it. My ‘shovel’ takes that famous opening line from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Morning Song’ and uses the words of that line as the end words of the lines of my poem ‘Making Cakes’. After yesterday’s workshop, it would probably be a different poem, but it was my first ‘golden shovel’. I’ll try harder in future, I promise.

 

Making Cakes
after Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’

When I think of you baking, it’s about love—
the way you lay out your ingredients, set
out bowls and spoons before you begin. You
work in your own way, no recipe, say going
to a recipe book is a waste of time—shortcuts like
weighing eggs, then equal measures of butter, sugar, flour: a
perfect Victoria sponge, this is your way. Your cakes are fat
monuments to Demeter, spread with jam and that gold
impersonator, buttercream. I’ll just pull up a chair to watch.

 

Rachel Davies
April 2017

Birthdays and Bigotry

Life, PhD and poetry: that’s what this blog aims to explore, and this week all three have had a piece of me.

It was Bill’s birthday on Monday. On Sunday we went into Oldham to see ‘Darkest Hour’ and then went for a meal after the film. Gary Oldman was indeed wonderful as Churchill. The great man wasn’t a favourite of mine: too many disastrous political decisions in his career; but he was the man for the job when Great Britain lived under the Nazi threat. And oh my, the power of words. His speeches brought tears to my eyes. A film to see for sure; and we saw it in the very room where Churchill was first chosen to represent Oldham as an MP, back in 1900. The old Town Hall is now a multiscreen Odeon cinema.

I know, I said Bill’s birthday was on Monday and we celebrated on Sunday. That’s because Monday was taken up with ‘other stuff’. I saw him for about an hour in the morning and not again until 9.00 at night. I went out for my run on Monday morning; except I didn’t run. It was sleeting quite hard so I settled for the treadmill at the gym. But it took me half an hour to drive about four miles, still only half way to the gym. The traffic was awful for some reason: perhaps there had been an incident on the M62 or something. Anyway, I got to the roundabout in Shaw, about halfway to the gym, drove all the way around the roundabout and went home again; no running. Because I had to be at Amie’s for 10.00 for a morning’s dog-sitting. I spent the morning submitting some poems to various venues. After a long dog-walk up the fairly steep lane behind Amie’s house, I left at 12.30 to collect Hilary. We were meeting Polly Atkinson in Propertea in Manchester to plan a poetry break in May.

There used to be five of us planning these poetry breaks once; but two members of the group fell away for various reasons, so now just the three of us. We eventually agreed on a holiday cottage along the east coast between Filey and Scarborough. It’s booked. We are going in May, immediately after the Poets and Players competition celebration event: we didn’t want to miss Pascale Petit. One to look forward to, then, with close access to York, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay: there’s no end to the inspiration we can find.

After the planning meeting, Hilary and I went for afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie to use the Groupon we couldn’t use a couple of weeks ago, then we walked to Chapter One Books in the Northern Quarter for The Group. There were six of us at The Group this week, with some wonderful writing to discuss. I took ‘Alysoun’, my alternative mother poem about the Wife of Bath. It was well received. There were some brilliant poems discussed; and a further instalment of the teacher meeting her teacher in a pub. It was a good evening discussing writing with very pleasant and like-minded people.

We took the tram home to Oldham. A homeless man approached us on the platform at Victoria and asked for some change for a cup of tea. We both gave him some. I didn’t expect thanks for this, but he was very grateful. He said mental health issues had caused him to lose his home and he just wanted to be warm: it was indeed a very cold night. What I also didn’t expect, from a woman who was also waiting for the tram, was a lecture on why we shouldn’t give to ‘them’ because ‘they all’ get together at the end of the day to share the takings and then go home to their comfortable houses. Patronisingly, she suggested we were targeted because we look like a soft touch, two grey-haired old ladies who daren’t say ‘no’. I think we were targeted because he could smell the prejudice of other people there, perhaps. I tried to engage her in a conversation about charity, but bigots are difficult to reason with. So I was silently seething on the tram. It was 9.00 before I got home, and I could at last celebrate Bill’s birthday with him. I took him the cakes we didn’t eat at our afternoon tea; and a bottle of Chablis to toast his unbelievable age! Oh, and did I tell you, I’ve booked train tickets to Glasgow for Monday; with afternoon tea in the Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street. The tea rooms were designed by one of his architect heroes, Charles Rennie Macintosh, so we’ll have Monday together, albeit a week late!

On Tuesday I was back at Amie’s for dog-sitting duties. Her partner, Angus, is in Canada on a snow-boarding holiday with brothers and friends; the dogs are missing him, so I’m helping out while Amie is at work. Oh my, they are gorgeous; and energetic. I took my work with me and had a productive day on the thesis. I have doubled the word count this week. I’m still not happy with it, but I’m working on it and that’s what matters. After a long dog-walk at lunchtime, I thought again about that woman at Victoria and I got my revenge in a poem. She became the latest ‘alternative mother’ in my sequence. That poem was very cathartic: I’ll post it at the end of this blog. That kind of prejudice needs calling out.

On Wednesday morning I did go out to run. It was a lovely, bright morning, and it was light enough to go out at 7.30. But, oh my, it was cold. It was -6*C on Saddleworth. I ran along the track of the Delph Donkey again. All the puddles had thick ice on them, so at least I didn’t get muddy. But I could have had dental surgery without anaesthetic: by the time I got back to my car my face was numb, my tongue was numb; and my chest was wheezy from breathing in the cold air. I am an historical sufferer of asthma: I haven’t needed an inhaler for years; I could have done with one on Wednesday morning. But I ran; and I ran two lots of 5 minutes and one 8 minute slot. When I think of that New Year run when I felt as if I was dying after running spurts of 1 minute, I can see how the stamina is building. It feels good, as if I’m achieving something I didn’t think I could do. On Friday I ran again, but on the treadmill this time. It was sleeting quite hard when I went out to run, and after the downpour for most of Thursday I didn’t think the Donkey track was a good idea. The good news is, I ran for two spurts of 8 minutes each. I surprise myself every time I go!

On Thursday, my copy of the ‘Mind’ anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying arrived in the post. It has some brilliant poems addressing mental health issues and is on sale to raise funds for mental health charities. You can get a copy here, if you would like to buy in order to contribute:

https://www.amazon.com/Please-Hear-What-Not-Saying/dp/1984006649/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517601752&sr=1-2&keywords=please+hear+what+im+not+saying

If you do buy, make sure you get the latest (2018) anthology though; there is also a 2011 copy of the same name on sale as well.

Saturday was another PhD day. I worked some more on the thesis on Saturday. I’m still not happy with it; I need to take time to really think out what it is I’m wanting to say; what point am I trying to make? At the moment it feels too much like a poetry review and not an academic piece; not academic enough, anyway. I’ll keep chipping away and eventually it will be what I want it to be. It’s a hard task-master, this PhD thing. Its whip is soft but relentless!

Anyway, here is the poem I wrote about the woman at Victoria. I hate bigotry in all its manifestations. She had a willing audience in another man who was on the periphery of the group waiting for the tram. He was agreeing with her, giving her permission to be a bigot, so she aired her views loud and clear. There was no reasoning with her; and I resent the assumption that because I have grey hair I need someone ‘sensible’ like her to warn me. What use is money unless you can do some good with it? Any one of us could be reduced to the need to ask for a brew; thankfully up to now, I haven’t had to: but I will be sympathetic to anyone who asks a cup of tea of me. Here’s my ‘own back’:

 

Alternative Mothers no. 13

That Woman Waiting For The Rochdale Tram At Victoria

The poor only have themselves to blame,
you say. Workshy. Scroungers.
It’s true, you say.
But what about the homeless, I ask.

They’re not homeless, you say, they’re immigrants
coming over here taking our jobs.
After Brexit there won’t be any immigrants

 you say. Farage and Johnson’ll send ‘em all home.
They’re good blokes, you say, they’re one of us.
I say, they’re not one of us, Ma, well
they’re not one of me. I say

Q: How do you know when a Leave campaigner’s lying,
A: Their lips are moving.
You don’t laugh.
You cuff my ear instead.

A homeless man on the platform tells me
he has mental health issues,
asks for the price of a brew—
he doesn’t read the tabloids Ma, I say, he wraps
his body in them to keep himself warm,
he wipes his arse on the Mail.

I just want to be warm, he says. I give him some cash
but you say all the Manchester ‘’homeless’’—
you actually manage to pronounce the quotation marks—
they all get together at the end of the day to share the takings
then go home to their comfortable houses.
You’ve seen them on the tram, going home, you say.

But what about charity, I ask.
Charity begins at home, you say.
But what if you’re homeless, I ask.
I start singing there’s a hole in my bucket.
You pick up today’s copy of the Daily Mail.

Rachel Davies
February 2018

 

 

I’m Fine With February…

…well, I’m not, actually: I hate it. But I’m using a psychological approach to it this year to find the positives. Mostly so far, they involve the fact that the days are getting longer, and that can’t be bad. Spring is on the way, I keep telling myself.

On Sunday last I meant to do some work, but when I sat down to have breakfast, the first ball was being served in the men’s final at the Australian Open. How could I not watch Roger Federer in a record-breaking 20th grand slam final, his 6th Australian Open? Marin Cilic looked a bit of a push-over in the first set, but he learned how to fight back and it went to the full five sets. I was so pleased to see Federer win in the end, he’s such an elegant player; and his emotional acceptance speech shows how much it still means to him. I’ve loved watching him play for twenty years. And he’s not done yet. He has earned the nick-name The Goat (the Greatest Of All Time) apparently, and you can’t argue with that. I did make a start on my thesis while I was watching: I decided on three poems that will form the start of it, so I wasn’t entirely work-shy. I never did get down to it in any serious way though. I’m a bad person!

On Monday I went with Hilary to York for the launch of the Beautiful Dragons Press anthology Noble Dissent. We each have poems in there. It’s a collaborative response to Brexit, to Trump’s inauguration and to yet more Tory austerity. Hilary’s poem is about Annie Kenny, an Oldham suffragette; mine is a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem ‘Girl’; it depicts a political agent coaching a candidate in ‘successful’—for ‘successful’ read ‘dodgy’—practice. The train to York was delayed by the wrong kind of freight train on the line; but we reached York in time for tea at Betty’s before the event. It was a small meeting, but vibrant; seven of us there reading our own poems and the poems of absent friends. We had time to discuss the politics behind the poems and it was a good evening all round.

Tuesday I got down to some serious work. I actually started the writing of my thesis. It begins with the three poems I chose on Sunday, with reflections on them and on the whole mother-daughter relationship thing. It all feels too personal at the moment, but there, I’ve done it, I’ve started writing. I can edit later. At about 11.00 Hilary came round to help me record my poem ‘Meg’ for Andy Nicholson’s podcast for the launch of Please Listen To What I’m Not Saying, an anthology of poems to raise funds for mental health charities. I’ll post details on here when I have them in a couple of weeks. We recorded three or four other poems as well, for future podcasts. I was grateful for Hilary’s help. The recordings got to Andy OK too; and I had a listen in to the copies Hilary sent to me. I hate the sound of my own voice. I don’t think I sound like that at all.

After lunch I spent time preparing for the Stanza meeting in the evening. It was a writing session this week and I had to step in at the last moment when a friend sent apologies for illness. I came up with an activity from one of the prompt books I bought last year. This week we went back to our old haunt, the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. It felt good to be back. We had three very different writing activities producing some interesting writing: another good evening of poetry.

Wednesday I had a meeting with the accountant to check the VAT at Amie’s restaurant. There was snow on the ground when I left home. It was that kind of snow that’s like tiny snowballs stinging your face when they hit; but it was very local snow, because when I got to The Black Ladd—less than a mile away—there was none. Anyway, I’ve been having trouble with online banking for a couple of weeks so we rang Natwest to sort it out. Turns out they’re having trouble with Safari and Google Chrome and if I download Firefox it’ll be fine. Am I, or are they, missing the point here? If they know there’s a problem—where there has never been a problem in the past—shouldn’t they be sorting it out? I don’t want to download Firefox, I want it to work with Safari again, as it always has until a couple of weeks ago. I did manage to get it to work on Explorer, on the laptop I use for the accounts, so that’ll have to do for the time being. All that used up time I don’t have, so it was well past 5.00 when I left for home, about three hours later than usual. Bill cooked tea—jacket potatoes, nothing too demanding—I needed a bit of pampering.

On Thursday I was doggy-sitting for Amie’s two Cockerpoos. I took my work with me. I had a very productive morning working on my thesis and I was quite pleased with what I achieved. I revisited the writing I did on Tuesday, reorganised it a bit and added to it, made it less personal, so now I have more than a thousand words I’m quite pleased with: it’s probably still a bit too personal, but I can work on it. The thing is, I’ve made a substantial start and that’s important. It’s going to get easier now. I took the dogs out for a longish walk just before lunchtime; or they took me? How can two closely related Cockerpoos be so different in temperament? Sonny, the younger one, is energetic, excitable; Cooper, the older brother, is sedate and organised. Sonny looks up to him and copies everything he does: if Cooper sniffs a spot, Sonny has to sniff the exact same spot; if Cooper explores under a bramble, in goes Sonny. It was a lovely walk, blew some cobwebs away. After lunch I did some online research into ‘The Wife of Bath’ for a poem I’m planning for my ‘alternative mothers’ series. I’m rereading Chaucer’s prologue and tale, in Victorian translation, not the middle English original of course. She’s a feisty old bird, I took lots of useful notes.

Saturday, more work. I updated my Poets & Players competition spreadsheet. Entries are coming in thick and fast. You have until the end of the month to get your poems in, so come on, give me some work to do: https://poetsandplayers.co
I did some reading around presence, absence, absence in presence etc. for the thesis. All very confusing, but it’s a thread I’ve made for myself. There is no end to this research thing, always another path to slink down. After lunch I was back at my desk, drafting my ‘Wife of Bath’ poem. I’ve called it ‘Alysoun’, after her Christian name in the prologue. I know, she appears to be childless in the prologue. But she was married at 12 to an old man; so I have imagined her having a secret baby in a convent prior to being married off. Poetic licence? Well, Geoffrey doesn’t actually say she didn’t have children, so it’s plausible. And she definitely enjoys a full-on sexual experience. I had thought I’d have real fun writing this, a feisty daughter for a feisty mother. But it has actually written itself as a very dark piece, a poem full of resentment. I love it. I’ll be taking it to The Group on Monday for feedback.

So, another week on the road to PhD. I heard this week that my end date now is 21st May 2019. So I have a year and a bit to complete it, a bit more breathing space. But I must learn to knuckle down and not be waylaid by the likes of Roger Federer. He might be good to look at, but he is not the path to success. Prevarication is the thief of time; or something.

I’ll leave you with a little poem I wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s surreal ride on the poetry carousel in December. It sort of sums up how PhD can take over your life to the detriment of other stuff. It was literally a series of random thoughts; although it was obviously dredged from the unconscious, because it was only when I re-read it this morning that I saw the connections: the slut’s wool, the words ‘defying their right to be constrained in ink’, feeling trapped behind my own eyes. I hope this PhD angst is all worth it in the end.

 

Random Thoughts

slut’s wool under the brain’s bed
words defy their right to be constrained in ink
each new day a wiped board
my eyes the windows I stand behind watching others being free
the train’s hooter a clarion to unexplored spaces
in an ideal world every day would be followed by Saturday

 

Rachel Davies
December 2017

Achievements. And a lovely rejection.

I’ve been reading Ruth Padel’s Silent Letters of the Alphabet this week. I came across it in the PhD thesis a friend lent me and it sounded like a good read so I ordered a copy from Amazon: £2.60 including postage. It said it was in ‘very good condition’, and it was. What it didn’t say was that it was a signed copy; so that was a surprise, and a real bargain. It contains a series of three lectures Ruth gave at Newcastle University, on what poetry is and how to improve the making of it. I recommend it as highly readable if you like to read or write poetry.

So that’s part of how I started my week this week, reading Ruth Padel. I also spent some time thinking how I was going to record my ‘Mind’ poem, ‘Meg’, for the podcast. I hoped to piggy-back on Hilary’s recording session, but she had completed it before I had chance to ask her! Her son’s a bit of a techie and he helped her. Andy Nicholson, who is making the podcast—do you ‘make’ a podcast?—has stayed in touch and I can record it via Skype or Facetime, so all is not hopeless.

Monday was the first run of the week, and it was raining a bit, but not enough to stop me running outdoors. It was my first 3mins spurts of running and I was dreading it; by the end of the week I was managing 5mins spurts and feeling very positive about personal achievement. I’m proud to say, I am beginning to enjoy it. Who’d have thought? Anyway, when I got home, I spent a couple of hours revisiting some early portfolio poems then got ready for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at No. 70, the MMU site on Oxford Road. We had a lovely discussion about my decision to convert to part-time for my remaining PhD time—a decision I have heard has been ratified. We talked about the change of format of my thesis, and I found that very useful because I’ve done a lot of thinking about it for a couple of weeks. I’m thinking a thematic approach based on the themes of my poems: relationships, roles, mirrors; and what Jean calls ‘thingy’ poems, poems in which I write about my mother through the things she used: a churn, spoons, knives cutting beans, her hands cleaning eggs. I had a much clearer idea of where I want to go after talking with Jean. And the best part of the meeting, she really liked the ‘alternative mother’ poems I sent her. I had numbered them: she felt they would be better with a title to give the reader a context and I agree, especially after the feedback I had about ‘Pope Joan’ from The Group. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road after the meeting. I met up with Hilary in Bundobust, an Indian street food restaurant off Piccadilly Gardens. We had a lovely banquet of vegetarian dishes and were thoroughly ‘bundobusted’ when we left for the short walk to Chapter One and The Group. We think we have found our new home. We were given a ‘fenced off’ part of the café to meet and discuss our writing. Great tea/coffee, monumental cakes and poetry: what’s not to like? I took my Boudicca poem; Rosie Garland took a poem about the venerable Bede; Hilary took a surreal poem she wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s workshop at the carousel in Grange in December; and Melissa took a section of a story about a young woman meeting her old teacher in a pub. There were just the four of us, but oh my! the writing was good. I was so buzzed up with poetry, and the positive meeting with Jean, I couldn’t sleep on Monday night. Poetry does that to you: it’s a drug.

Tuesday was a brilliant day. Back in October, Hilary and I invented CCP days: Cider, Cake and Paperchase. Tuesday was the second in the series. We got into Manchester about 2.30: Bill took me to the tram stop as the day involved cider. We went to the new Gino di Campo bar above Next for coffee. It’s a nice space: we sat in a window seat which deserves a better vista than the National Football Museum, whose glass and steel structure always looks completely out of place in that red-brick area of Manchester. Since Next’s refurbishment last year, there is now a Paperchase section in there: we visited that to whet our appetites before going on to the big store on Market Street after our first cider of the day in the Oyster Bar. We bought some paper in the sale for covers for a pamphlet of our poems we are preparing in time for a reading we have scheduled in York in February. I also bought a new travel pass wallet—a watermelon—and a set of emoji page markers. We went from there to Patisserie Valerie for a ‘groupon’ afternoon tea; but they were out of afternoon teas—how is that possible? We were told we could ‘choose any sandwich and cake from the counter’: not the same thing at all! So we saved our ‘groupon’ for another day and went to Wagamama to eat instead. They didn’t sell cider so we had to improvise with a beer.

Wednesday a treadmill run: the rain was lashing down like knives. It was my day doing the books at Amie’s restaurant. While I was there I had an email from Atrium to say they were taking my poem ‘Mary R’, one of my ‘alternative mother’ poems. It will be on the webzine in May; so that was wonderful news. That’s the third of them that’s been accepted for publication so far.

On Thursday evening we met up with Hilary and David at Stocco for an Italian meal before going to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham where we met Hilary’s sister, Cath. We went to see Lemn Sissay reading his one-voice verse drama Something Dark inspired by his early life in foster-care and children’s homes; and his search for his birth family. It was funny and sad; I was appalled to learn his foster father had been a teacher: so little compassion! It was a great night: Lemn is always really entertaining, his ad lib humour is brilliant. By the end though, I wanted to go on stage and give him a hug! The show ended with a Q&A session.

Friday, the last run of the week: it was a beautiful, bright morning. If all winter days were like this one, I could just about bear it; but we seem to live under a permanent pall of cloud on Saddleworth from September to June! Friday was one of those winter days when you feel spring is not far away. I ran the donkey track and had a smug feeling of personal achievement all day. I had a dental appointment at 10.20 to discuss my options re the root canal. The infection is cleared up; so it seemed weird to be discussing the next step when I don’t seem to need a next step. But the dentist said the infection will come back, soon or two years down the line and we need to consider future treatments. He outlined the options, none of which sounded appealing. I told him I would think about it and discuss it again at my routine appointment in May. That’s one to look forward to, then! It was such a lovely day I decided to have my car mini-valeted. I left it with the car wash while we went to Oldham for lunch; it looked lovely when I picked it up two hours later. The sun was shining on its brown paint, really showing up the gorgeous red glittery bits; the inside was spotless; and all for a tenner. In the evening I went out for a meal with Joan. We went to Glamorous, lovely Chinesemeal; and there was a baby at the next table who looked very like Joan’s granddaughter; so she was happy.

Yesterday I began to plan my thesis in detail following the discussions with Jean. I need to bite the bullet and start writing really; but I can’t seem to get going. I literally don’t know where to start. But as Chairman Mao said, ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’, and sooner or later I’m going to have to take that step. But it feels like one giant step for womankind, so I planned. I think this journey will probably start with some poems: one day soon I’ll take that step and there’ll be no stopping me. I also had a lovely rejection email from the Breakwater Review. Oh, I know a rejection is never lovely really; but they said very positive things about the two poems I sent them, just they’re not right for them. They encouraged me to send the poems to other publications and asked me to send more work to them in future. So that’s a lovely as a rejection slip gets.

Here’s one of the poems I reworked this week. It was inspired by the family ritual of making butter. It was a whole family affair: dad milked the cows, we siblings churned the cream, mum made the butter pats attractive for market.

Churning

See the churn, a pot-bellied pig on wood block feet
scrubbed, sterilized, the iron handle fixed to paddles.

It has the sicky smell of breast fed babies. Now,
hear the cream shushing like the tide as the handle

turns the paddles. Enthusiasm becomes effort
in the sweat and ache of cream thickening.

Pass the handle to the next sibling in line, up to Big Sis
the alchemist who churns base cream into gold.

Watch the ceremonial handing over of butter to mother
to knock into shape with wooden pats on a cold board,

see the magic of that emerging image of yellow, rolled, ridged
its wheatsheaf or thistle print, its bold statement of luxury.

 

Rachel Davies
January 2018

Press release

This is a press release for Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, the anthology of poems/short stories in support of mental health charities. My poem ‘Meg’, along with poems by several friends, is in the anthology which is edited by Isabelle Kenyon. It would be good if you felt you could support the charities, which do sterling work for mental health in this country, either by visiting  https://www.amazon.co.uk after the release date (8.02.18) or by clicking the link to  Fly on the Wall publishing at the end of the press release.

 

PRESS RELEASE

Isabelle Kenyon, isabellekenyon@hotmail.co.uk

For immediate release

Guildford resident set to publish book to raise money for mental health

Local resident, Isabelle Kenyon from Guildford is set to publish poetry book, ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’, in aid of mental health charities.

Isabelle, who is a theatre marketing assistant for G Live, Guildford, hopes that with the support of her colleagues, friends and family, and the 116 poets involved in the anthology, she will raise an incredible amount for UK mental health charities, providing support and advice for anyone experiencing mental health problems.

Isabelle said, “I am thrilled to be editing this anthology to raise money for charity. This is one of the toughest, yet most thrilling project of my life. Knowing the money we raise will be used to improve the lives of people living with mental health problems throughout the UK is amazing. The money raised will fund vital work such as helplines, advice services and the campaigning.

The book will be released on February 8th through Amazon, and will be available to buy both in paperback and Kindle formats, worldwide.

To support Isabelle’s charity book release, please visit www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk to find out more about the project.

 

 

 

Amoxicillin, aliens and an anthology

This week I’ve been in that default ‘I can’t do this’ state of self-doubt. The advised redirection of the thesis by the team at last week’s meeting had me thinking ‘what does this mean for me; how can I approach this?’ And then, the community of poets; where would I be without them? A poet friend sent me a thesis she had been recommended to read. It is exactly what I needed: a reflection on the writer’s own poetry backed by theoretical research. I only meant to skim-read it for a taste of what it offered, but it was so good I couldn’t put it down. The first half of the week was fogged by amoxicillin and paracetemol as my body fought a root canal infection, so it was good to be able to read, tucked up in front of the fire. I’m happy to report the amoxicillin has gone and with it, the toothache; for now at least.

I began pondering how this revised approach to the thesis might work for me. If I can come up with something similar I will be a very satisfied woman. I spent the week thinking and rethinking. I always do a lot of thinking before I commit anything to paper; even my poems are half constructed in my head before I write them down. I developed some ideas based on a thematic approach to the work. By the end of the week I had started to act on those ideas, even though they aren’t fully formed yet. At the beginning of the week I revisited some of the early portfolio poems. I edited, even redrafted, some of them and made some notes in red on the process involved in writing/redrafting them. But as I thought more about the thesis I realised I needed to do more than redraft, I needed to sort them into ‘sorts’ of poems: poems about things as aide memoirs, poems about masks, mirrors, roles and relationships, poems about death. It took me a whole day to do that sorting out, re-filing them on the computer. Of course some poems fit more than one category and it’ll be up to me how I use them when the time comes to start writing. But I’m on my way, I think. I need to revisit the theory now, to see how that will back up what I’m reflecting on.

I also sent some of my poems out to earn their space in the world. I’ve sent individual poems to be considered for publication; and I sent a pamphlet-sized collection to the Iota Shots competition. I always take the view that I’m financing the competitions rather than hoping to win: I’m not someone whose default position is confident of positive outcomes; then if I do win, and I have on a few occasions, it is a surprise and a bonus. So fingers crossed. Of course, I filled in my triple-tracking submissions system. So far, so good.

On Friday I had a lunch-time Poets & Players meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. It was a lovely, positive meeting because we just heard recently that we have been awarded Arts Council funding for another year. So we met to begin planning in earnest our events for 2018-19. We have some exciting plans in place if all the poets we invite return acceptances. Keep an eye on the P&P website for updates: https://poetsandplayers.co The next event is on February 17th at the Whitworth, details are on the website, just follow the link. Details of the P&P annual competition are also on the website, so check it out and get your entries in. You have until the end of February to enter. Pascale Petit is our judge this year so it will be good to meet her at the celebration event in May. I’ve enjoyed reading her poetry so much for the PhD, it’ll be good to get my copies of her books signed. My son Michael’s friend has been reading Mama Amazonica as a result of reading my blog, so I’ve promised to get an extra copy signed too. It would be lovely if they could come to Manchester for the event, to meet Pascale in person.

In other poetry news, the anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, supporting the mental health charity ‘Mind’, is due for publication in February: details here: www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk   A poet friend is putting together a podcast https://spokenlabel.bandcamp.com/ and he has asked me to read my anthology poem, ‘Meg’, for the podcast. We’ll be working on that this coming week. And lastly, our next Stanza meeting is on January 30th. We are going back to the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar for this one. If you fancy it, check out our FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

My other resolution, to complete the ‘Couch to 5K’ challenge, has continued. Despite toothache and foul weather, I went to run on Monday. It Was Raining!!! It poured, so I think that was really above and beyond—and showed real commitment. On Wednesday the rain had turned to snow and I reached the limits of my commitment. I turned to the gym and ran on the treadmill for Wednesday’s and Friday’s sortie. But I did it and I’m still on track. I’m hoping the weather might have improved for tomorrow’s run: I much prefer running outdoors. Treadmill running can be quite boring to be honest; and you don’t get a nice little map of your run. Mike rang me last night. I told him about the challenge and that I was running three minute spurts now. He joked they wouldn’t have me in the army on that level of fitness: but I don’t suppose they want a seventy-year old grandmother in the army; and I don’t want to be a soldier anyway, so that’s OK!

I’m including a poem I came across when I reorganised my computer files yesterday. It says a lot about the mother-daughter relationship, I think, that mix of wonder and strangeness. We expect our daughters to be known to us, but they are their own people, and that makes them strangers sometimes. This is an extreme example and not written about any daughter of mine, Amie; but I can relate to it. I wrote it as part of the mother-daughter drama-in-verse I experimented with twelve months ago. It’s good to find a surprise in your writing. As Robert Frost said, ‘No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’. He meant, I think, that if the writer isn’t surprised by what she writes, the writing won’t surprise the reader either. So, here it is. Prepare to be surprised:

 

Alien

I’m looking at her but I don’t know who she is.

My real daughter was stolen from the maternity ward
I’m telling you. Aliens lifted her from her crib,
left this mysterious doppelganger that I can’t know.

Remember that school photo, the one
where she’s sitting bolt upright, smiling at the camera
but her eyes are staring at the lens like lasers?

I tell people she’s my love child with Ming the Merciless.

 

Rachel Davies
2017

Running buddies and root canals

My week started with family and ended with toothache.

On Sunday Amie and I travelled to Peterborough through rime-covered scenery to have lunch with Richard—he was down with the flu over Christmas, high temperature, days in bed. Part of the down-side of being a teacher is you always get ill in the holidays; you hang on and hang on in term-time and crash when you break up. That’s what happened to Richard in December, so we all went out for lunch on Sunday. While we were in Peterborough, Amie bought me a pair of blue-tooth headphones in the January sales to take my mind off running; I set them up when I got home and downloaded Stevie Wonder as a run-buddy.

So. Running. I’ve been at it two weeks now, and it’s going well; better with an up-beat running partner in my headphones. When I say ‘well’, I mean I’m completing the challenge and not needing breathers; and ‘run’ is more ‘jog’ really. I should be starting Week 3 tomorrow morning, but I inadvertently repeated one of the days this week, didn’t realise till I got back to my car; so tomorrow I finish week 2 of the plan. I dread going every time, but love it when I’ve done it.

When I got home from my run on Monday I got down to some work. I filled in all the deadlines I know about on my new calendar: there are too many for January 31st, they hardly all fit in the space. I printed off documents I needed for my team meeting on Tuesday. I also printed off a poem, one of my ‘alternative mother’ poems for The Group on Monday evening. We used to meet at Leaf on Portland Street, but Leaf is closing at 6.00 in the evening from now on so we had to find alternative accommodation. We met at Porter & Cole, a bar in the Northern Quarter. It’s a lovely space, a bit of a barn, but they sell artisan items for the home as well as serving drinks. Seven of us met on Monday. I took my ‘Pope Joan’ poem: they thought it really needed her name in the title; either that or some more backstory, which would make it a different poem. I’ve just been giving these ‘alternative mother’ poems a number. Thing is, I think The Group was right, some of them do need a named title really. I have written one about Boudicca too, I think that needs a name. But I don’t want to name the women I’ve known that I’ve written about. Perhaps I should just make up names for them?

On Tuesday I caught Metrolink to Manchester for my meeting with my Director of Studies. It was an interesting meeting, didn’t go at all as I expected. Firstly, we discussed the creative work I’ve been doing, which is unusual as I don’t normally discuss the creative side in any depth with the supervisors of the critical aspect. But Antony had a suggestion to make. He wants to see me take a more integrated approach to the critical side, focussed on a ‘poetics’ approach to my creative work and the theory and analyses I’ve been doing. They were reasonably happy with the critical writing I’ve been doing so far but suggested I see that as ‘building blocks’ to this integrated piece. I won’t be putting aside what I’ve done so far, just using it differently. Angelica thought I didn’t seem to be enjoying the critical writing, it felt like a chore; and she’s not wrong. I’m much happier doing the creative aspect of the work: I’m a poet, not an academic. So she also felt the integrated approach, based in a reflection on my own poetry, might be more enjoyable for me. September loomed up before me like a beast as they were talking and Antony asked how I would feel about doing my remaining time as part-time study; effectively that will stretch the deadline to next April/May with the understanding that I can submit whenever I’m ready in that time. That sounded attractive, pushing the deadline back by a few months so I’ve applied to do that: extended the deadline without asking for extra time. Breathing space. After our meeting, I spent a couple of hours in the library checking out a Pascale Petit article that Rachel Mann recommended I read.

In other PhD related work this week, I heard from Jean Sprackland: we agreed a meeting for January 22nd to discuss the poems I sent her. These were some of my ‘alternative mother’ poems, so it’ll be interesting to get her feedback. I also started to revisit some of my earlier portfolio poems this week to edit or redraft them; and to make some ‘poetics’ notes on the process.

In the ‘life’ section of the blog, this week I’ve had a sore tooth. It started off bearable but became more insistent as the week went on. It’s a tooth I had crowned about twenty years ago and it was particularly painful when I bite on it. I thought I’d probably cracked the tooth under the crown or something. Anyway, I rang my dentist for an emergency appointment on Friday and he fitted me in mid-morning. An x-ray of the tooth revealed an infection in the root canal, so he prescribed antibiotics; but he said the antibiotics only have a restricted chance of working. I have to go back to see him in a fortnight to discuss further treatment options, the best of which is work on the root canal in his surgery, the worst of which will involve surgery at the dental hospital. I look forward to meeting him again in a fortnight then, as you can imagine. Bloody teeth. As my Aunt Mary used to say, they’re a trouble coming, a trouble while you’ve got ‘em and a trouble going. I hate teeth. When I was a junior nurse on a women’s geriatric ward, one of the patients thought she would help the staff by collecting up all the sets of dentures and putting them in the sink to clean them. Guess who had to reunite them all with their owners! So I’ve had a cringe-worthy relationship with teeth most of my life. But it would be good if the antibiotics would at least give some temporary relief to the toothache: it’s not happening for me yet.

So there you have it; another week in the pursuit of a PhD: Antony has given me something to get my teeth into; trouble is, it hurts to bite!

This poem is one of the ones I revisited this week. Years ago, when my sister found her first boyfriend, our mum said to her ‘boys only want you for one thing’, and she said ‘well tell me what it is and I’ll give it to them’. That’s how naïve we were. So this poem remembers that conversation. The story of the poem never happened, it’s just that wonderfully dismissive, old-school first line I love. Lessons we learn from our mothers, eh?

 

So What Is It?

Boys only want you for one thing, you said,
but you never told me what that is

so now I’m climbing the steps to the bumpy slide
at Wicksteed Park, the ladder confusing
my sense of being right side up in the world
and he’s behind me so there’s no going back

and when I get to the top, I’ll have to sit
in that little house, with my feet overhanging
the chute and a hundred miles of metal
humping between us and solid ground.

Now he’s pushing me
and I’m learning about exhilaration.

 

Rachel Davies

2017

 

 

Triple Tracking and Surrealism

The Millennium reached the age of maturity on Monday. It seems like only last week that I saw in the year 2000 in Germany, where my youngest son, Michael, was stationed with the army. I have a lovely photo of me, taken at midnight on 31.12.1999, holding my grandson, Richey, who was 20 months old at the time. He is 20 years old in April. On Monday the millennium had its 18th birthday celebrations.

The first week of 2018 done, and my New Year resolutions are still on track. They have been the focus of the week; they’ve contributed to the creative aspect of the PhD as well, which is a bonus.

2018 New Year Resolutions:

  • to complete the PhD
  • to do the ‘Couch to 5k’ challenge
  • to be more organised in sending my poetry out for recognition

The first one goes without saying. Never a day goes by when I don’t contribute to that one. With only nine months left to get it done, it is on every breath I take at the moment. Which brings me to the third resolution. This week I have been working toward a system for keeping track of submissions. I’ve not been very organised in that task in the past. The joy of poetry to me is in the writing of it. Of course I love to see my work in print: it means someone valued it. But I haven’t been systematic in sending stuff ‘out there’. I’ve entered the occasional competition, submitted to some anthologies. I even kept a spreadsheet at one stage, but couldn’t really see how it was helping me. So this week I did some research. I wanted to know how other poets keep track of their own work. Good old Google. I found various spreadsheets very similar to the one I had devised myself, which hadn’t been a help to me. Then I found this: https://www.writerswrite.com/triple/ It is not only a spreadsheet for submissions, it doesn’t just allow you to keep track of acceptances; it allows you to track how many times a single poem has been rejected and resubmitted. And it includes tables (I made mine in Word) for individual poems and individual publishers/competition, so you can see at a glance where your work has been and you can avoid resubmitting a poem to a publisher who has sent it back in the past. You have to open up all three trackers and make entries every time you submit to make sure the system it doesn’t have holes in it. It all seemed like a good idea, so I spent a day setting it up. I think I’ll like it as a system; but it’s still too early to tell. However, I’ve tracked my recent submissions on this system and I’ll learn in time if it works. I’ll return to this. It’s helping the creative aspect of the PhD as well; because one of my targets this year is to submit to ‘quality’ publications. I’ve been doing this. I have sent out some of my PhD portfolio poems this week. It was very satisfying to enter them into the triple tracking system. I hope it works as well as it promises.

I also heard from a poet friend that she uses a calendar to track deadlines, so she’ll never inadvertently miss a publishing opportunity. I tend to keep those ‘opportunities’ as open tabs on my computer, and then the deadline passes and I haven’t submitted, because I didn’t check the tab again—I told you I wasn’t systematic. Keeping a calendar seems such a simple idea, I can’t think why I didn’t think of it myself. So this week I bought a desk-pad calendar to do that very thing: to write in all the deadlines I find out about, so they are a constant visual reminder to me while I’m working. This is the calendar I bought on Friday, waiting for me to fill in the deadlines I know about for the next couple of months:

 

IMG_1302

So there has been progress in that particular resolution. Which leaves the second resolution: how have I done in the ‘Couch to 5k’ challenge? Well, I’ve done the first week. I downloaded an app to my iPhone and Apple watch and on New Year’s Day I drove myself to a local footpath, the track of a disused railway line known locally as the Delph Donkey, which has the advantage, in the foothills of the Pennines, of being a flat path. I followed the instructions on the app. Unfortunately on Day 1, I started at the very beginning of the track, which was well and truly waterlogged. I tried to skirt round the huge puddles but the ground around was sodden too, so I faced the challenge with thoroughly soaking feet. I wondered if I’d end up with trench foot in my bid to be fit—I’m nothing if not a drama queen. Anyway, I did it: 6 x 1.5 minute walks plus 6 x 1 minute runs with a five minute warm up and cool down. The voice on the app is of an American woman—‘yer doin’ grreat’, she says. ‘Eff off’, I respond, ‘I’m dying here’. Yup, it was hard for someone who has let her levels of fitness drop below critical. Day two I did on Thursday as I had an appointment with my rheumatologist on Wednesday. Two extra running sessions in Day 2; I actually ‘brisk walked’ the last 1 minute run, completely empty of fuel. Day 3, a repeat of Day 2, and I managed it all; so already I’m improving. It’s still torture; but I will do it because that’s who I am. I don’t give up easily. Even if it kills me.

Other aspect of my week revolved around personal stuff. On Wednesday, the rheumatologist was pleased with the progress of the ugly sisters, Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis. These are twin auto-immune diseases I was diagnosed with in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Coritco-steroid treatment brings its own issues, but I’m gradually coming off the drugs. I’m hoping to be Prednisolone-free by the summer. Bring it on.

Yesterday I met up with some of the staff of the primary school where I was headteacher for eleven years. I’ve been FaceBook friends with them for some time, so it was good to meet and have a good old chinwag and a laugh about those lovely days at work. It was a good school, a pleasant learning environment for the children. I believed in children and not curricula as the driving force behind school and we provided learning experiences, not targets. I’m so glad I don’t have to run a school in today’s target-driven climate. I think I would antagonise ‘the powers that be’ even more than I did in those days when the achievement of unrealistic targets was becoming what schools were supposed to be about. I’m a believer in the pendulum swing, and I look forward to the day when the child regains his/her position ‘at the centre of the education system’, as Baroness Plowden advocated in the late sixties. Unfortunately, we have a generation of children oppressed by the recognition of ‘fronted adverbials’. Whatever they are.

So, this week’s poem. I went to Kim Moore’s Poetry Carousel in December. This poem is a product of Hilda Sheehan’s workshop about surrealism. We had to jot down some dream memories. Then we found random sentences, phrases, words that attracted us, from a selection of books Hilda had brought along. At the end of the workshop we put together a poem built from these various jottings. This is my poem. I recognise the dream memories; I recognise the bits I took from books. They hang together in a ‘surreal’ poem that has no meaning whatsoever, but I like it. It has a sort of mystery, as if something is happening at the edge of the Unconscious; which of course is what dreams are; and what our random jottings from  books are. Take it for what it is.

 

Being dead and not having done it

and let her write her essays on Defoe,
how he was whisked into hospital,
for showing his other hand trapped
in the Grand Guinol.

Hyacinth: a body carnal. Shoes with golden heels.
The girl plays with you, runs away
to Goose Green to evade a drugs charge, pulls
chewing gum like magic porridge from her mouth.

I know what it feels like to drown. Death
is a long, lit ginnel where rutting stags cluster
around the ends of ancient languages.

As you are my judge, Pauline,
in the year of my conception my parents
were model citizens.

 

Rachel Davies
December 2017

Review and Preview

It’s that time of year when we put on our Janus masks, look back at the last year and forward to the next. So I’ll do a quick review of 2017. I won’t dwell on national and international events too much: they’re so depressing: just to say it seems to have been a year when the country and the world went a little mad. Sorry, a lot mad.

I think I’ve had a good year personally, though. I didn’t have any major accidents or illnesses, so in the light of recent history, that was a big plus. I had my seventieth birthday in July. They call that a ‘significant birthday’, a milestone event. I know lots of people who got quite depressed when they turned 70, but I actually enjoy my birthdays. They’re going to happen anyway, so you might as well meet them full on and have a ball. I read somewhere that birthdays are good for you: the more you have, the longer you live, so why wouldn’t you enjoy them! [insert laughing emoji]. My son Richard gave me my first—and last—ever tattoo, a Manchester bee on the inside of my forearm to commemorate the people killed in the Manchester bombing in May. My daughter gave me a gorgeous pair of glittery Doc Marten’s that sprinkle moon dust when I walk and get covetous looks from other women. It was also my daughter’s fiftieth birthday this year, so we all booked a holiday cottage in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey and went away for 120th birthday celebrations; a lovely memory.

IMG_1265The view from our 120th birthday celebrations in Trearddur Bay

I filled my year with poetry. I went on a fantastic poetry residential in St Ives in February with Hilary Robinson. Kim Moore organised it, she and David Tait were tutors and I met up with lots of lovely poetry friends. Hilary and I even got to meet Simon Armitage when we walked into St Ives one day to look for poems, so that was a bonus. Naturally, our street-chat with Simon turned up in the poems we found. In May I went on a residential in Trearddur Bay with three friends. That included a day-trip to Dublin, which was good. A poem I wrote on that week was commended in the Battered Moons competition in the Autumn, so that was good. There was another poetry residential in December, this time the Kim Moore carousel in Grange over Sands, with input from Hilda Sheehan, Steve Ely and David Morely. I had two poems published in Beautiful Dragons anthologies: A Bee’s Breakfast in February and Noble Dissent, which was released in November and will be officially launched early in 2018. I’m invited to read at the launches in York and Preston in January and March respectively.

I had a poem published in the Riggwelter online journal https://riggwelterpress.wordpress.com and have just had one accepted for an anthology for the ‘Mind’ charity, which will be out early next year. I have also been writing like mad for my PhD portfolio; I’ve started work on a new sequence of poems about women who might have been my mother but weren’t. It’s one of these I submitted to Mind. I’ll include another at the end of this post.

I’ve been to lots of readings in the year; I’ve seen/heard Michael Symmons Roberts read at the Poets&Players prize winning event in May and again in August when he read from his wonderful new collection Mancunia, poems inspired by his native Manchester. By the way, the P&P annual competition is open for entries again at the moment, details here: https://poetsandplayers.co I’ve been to several Carol Ann Duffy readings: Carol Ann Duffy and Friends events plus a reading she gave to Nantwich Words and Music festival in October. That one was the best reading I’ve heard her give. I’ve heard Penelope Shuttle, James Sheard, Kayo Chingonyi, Malika Booker to name just a few. Yes, it’s been a good year for poetry. I’ve also read myself at several open-mic events in the year, offering some of my portfolio poems to the public. They have been well received.

It hasn’t been a bad year on the PhD front either. I’ve started writing the thesis in earnest. I attended a thesis-writing course at MMU in the summer, which set personal achievement goals to get us on track. It was good to meet fellow PhD researchers and to realise everyone has the same trepidations that you experience yourself. Also in the summer, I had a very pleasant and positive annual review meeting with Michael Symmons Roberts, which made me think perhaps I can do this thing. He advised getting my work into quality publications, and I’ve been working on that goal since. And now it’s my final year, I have to submit in September 2018 so I have to get my skates on. I have a meeting with my team on 9th January to discuss work in progress. I’m beavering away on that at every opportunity; and on my collection of poems for the creative aspect. I sent a set off to Jean Sprackland yesterday; we’ll be meeting soon to discuss them. I’ll be glad to submit and put it behind me; it’s been hard and unforgiving; it’s been intense and time consuming. When I get my life back I’ve promised myself I can read rubbish for a year! And I’ve told Bill that study and I are like boats and Steve Redgrave: if I ever mention undertaking anything big again, he has my permission to shoot me! My holiday in September involved analysis of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and that work has been really useful in writing the relevant section of the thesis. Also, a piece I wrote from that analysis, a ‘thin’ version of the Petit section of the thesis is published in The North issue 59, just out. I’m even mentioned on the front cover, which was an unexpected bonus.

Looking forward to 2018, my most important goal is to complete the PhD and hopefully see an end to it. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but it has been stressful, full of self-doubt and angst. I have questioned why I started it in the first place: it’s a personal quest, I have no interest in university teaching whatsoever. But I did start it, and next year I will finish it. I really hope I succeed, but if I don’t, I know I gave it my best shot, and that’s the most you can say. Also, I had an Apple watch for my birthday, from my partner Bill. It is guilt inducing, because every day it reminds me I haven’t moved enough, or I haven’t stood up enough, or I haven’t used up as many calories as I should. It has become my fitness Jiminy Cricket. So tomorrow I start my ‘Couch to 5K’ fitness regime. That’ll teach it. Apple approval all round; as long as I keep it up. Watch this space. My third and last resolution is to give the house a good spring clean; although it will be autumn before I get round to it. It gets the light touch at the moment, I’m far too busy. Housework is what I do when I have nothing better to do, and if you read this blog often, you’ll know I always have plenty of better stuff to do! My eldest sister used to say ‘I don’t mind housework, but it all needs doing again next year.’ And that’s kind of my outlook on housework too. But it’s getting me down now. 2018 will be the year of the big clean-up. I can bear not to do it, but I can’t bear to half do it. When I start it’ll be full-on.

And there you have it. Review and preview. 2017 summed up, resolutions committed for 2018. I hope you have a truly wonderful and creative New Year. Eat, drink and be merry tomorrow, for on Tuesday we diet.

Here’s my poem. I revisited a poem I wrote at Mark Pajak’s workshop in Nantwich in October. So in this poem my un-mother is a sloth. There is no end to the fun you can have if you let your imagination run free. Imagine having a three-toed sloth for a mother. Well, you’d never get nagged to tidy your bedroom, would you?

 

7

 see youself as someone who relinquishes
digits to evolution then patents
what you save in your own slow show

see yourself as hanger-on
so your ceiling rose is hearth rug
the laminate floor your roof

see yourself as worshipper of inertia
so downtime is your vocation
quiescence your life’s career

see yourself as passive philosopher
pondering the energy of predator
and arriving at the ergo of leaves

see yourself as someone who is a human
failing but can’t even be arsed
to crack a smile at the irony of it

Rachel Davies
December 2017

 

 

May your stockings be filled

 

IMG_1109

My Christmas Eve morning brew

It’s Christmas Eve, the day that always seemed to last for ever when I was a child. My mother spent the day preparing turkey and veg for ten for Christmas lunch; it was a day that smelled of metholated spirit and burnt feathers. No, she wasn’t an addict! She had a small, blue bottle of meths with an insert like a tiny pair of forceps obstetricians use to deliver reluctant babies. She used to light this insert with a match and it burned with a blue flame. She used the flame to burn off the stumps of feathers after she’d finished plucking the bird. She was always busy on Christmas Eve, but it was the one day in the year I longed for bedtime in those days when I was ‘happy as the heart was long’, as Dylan Thomas said. My Christmas Eve this year will be very different from that; for one thing, I’m vegetarian so no plucked birds for us. For another, I won’t be entertaining ten people to lunch.

The PhD has had its day(s) this week; I’ve got loads of work done. I spent two full days working on the Pascale Petit analysis for the critical section. I really got lost in it. The work I did on holiday in September, and the review of her poetry I wrote for The North, all came in really useful and I’ve written nearly 4000 words already. I had an email from my Director of Studies, asking for a meeting early in the New Year: we’ve agreed January 9th. So I’ll be busy later today adding to the section and updating the plan of action so he has a mental picture of what the critical aspect of the thesis will look like by next September when I submit. I need to think about that plan too: 20,000 words isn’t many when you actually start to write them.

I’ve also been busy with the creative aspect. There are benefits to being a part-time insomniac. I’ve been awake by 4.00 a.m. most mornings this week and I’ve written four new poems in my series about women who weren’t my mother. They’ve come to the paper almost fully formed, which is a lovely feeling: they needed only a little revision. One of them was a ‘sevenling’. I’m really pleased with that one. One of them was inspired by Boudicca, an historical heroine of mine. My staff used to call me Boudicca—on account of my coming from the fens—when I slipped into fight mode to plead the school’s case against Ofsted or the LEA. I’ll post one of the new poems at the end of this blog, but it won’t be the sevenling. I’ve already sent a couple of them, including that one, off for consideration to an anthology of poems for the mental health charity, ‘Mind’.

It’s been a very good week for the PhD then; a brilliant week for poetry; and life had a big slice of me too. In the week I received notification of issue 59 of The North, which will include my review of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and The Huntress. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough in itself, I am also mentioned on the front cover: a ‘feature’ on the poetry of Pascale Petit by Rachel Davies. All I have to do is get a poem published in there and my ambitions are all fulfilled. That’s one New Year’s Resolution sorted then.

On Friday I drove us south again to visit my sister in Stamford, Lincolnshire, to deliver her Christmas present. We stayed for a couple of hours, had coffee and mince pies. Her son Nick called in while we were there, so that was good. We drove from Stamford to Bourne—only about eight miles—to spend some lovely time with a best friend, Jo and her husband Bernard. I’ve known them both since we all worked in a primary school together in Peterborough in the mid-eighties. She asked me to look after her baby—he’s nearly thirty now—on the day of her wedding to Bernard. I said I would if I could have a title: I’ve never been a bridesmaid but I was a bit old for that. So I was officially ‘Mother Superior’ at her wedding; nothing to do with holy orders though, just a punning recognition of a day’s surrogacy. It was, as always, lovely to spend time with them. We only get to meet up once or twice a year: Jo spends a lot of time in her little apartment in Goa since she retired. But meeting rarely means we always have lots to talk about when we do meet up. We left Bourne at about midday yesterday as they were preparing to drive south to Tunbridge Wells to spend Christmas with children and grand-children. Finding time to be with friends and families is the best thing about Christmas.

The drive home from Lincolnshire was better than we expected given the closeness of the day to Christmas. There were a couple of hold-ups on the A1; and I took the wrong exit and ended up in Yorkshire north of the M62. But St. Tim of the Satnav sorted us out and got us back on track. We left Saddleworth in thick, thick fog on Friday morning, could barely see the slip road to the M62 at J22. The roads were clear of fog from Huddersfield though; and when we got back to J22 yesterday: thick, thick fog again. I remember telling my grandson, Richey, on one foggy day in Saddleworth, that we were really in low cloud but he had no concept of how we could be in clouds because clouds belong up in the sky. I had to show him later how clouds were still sitting on the hills across the valley after the fog had cleared on our side. Yesterday the clouds were very low on Saddleworth: you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. But this morning I can see lights across the valley, so hopefully the fog has cleared for anyone driving home today. When we got home, we lit a fire in the wood-burner and we hunkered down for Christmas.

There, another good week; a few more steps along the lane to PhD. And now it’s Christmas Eve. Later today I’ll be going to a party my lovely daughter, Amie, is hosting for friends and family. I’ll be spending Christmas with people who are important in my life; and I’ll be thinking of family and friends who, for whatever reason, will be missing from my festivities. I’ll also be thinking of those people less fortunate than me, who won’t be spending Christmas with loved ones at all, or who won’t even know the difference between Christmas Day and all the other days in a year. Spare a thought for them, and have a lovely Christmas and a happy, successful and very creative New Year.

Here’s a new poem about a woman who might have been my mother; actually she was an aunt, my dad’s sister. She always came to spend Christmas with us. She was a remarkable and very lovely woman. My dad first taught me how to knit; but Aunt Mary taught me how to knit things. She was blind, but her knitting was intricate; and when I went wrong, she could feel her way through the pattern and find the mistake and put it right. This poem is dedicated to her.

 

3.

You say there’s none so blind
as them as don’t want to see,

You buy me a scarlet coat
so I’ll stand out from the crowd,

knit me rainbow
socks on four needles,
teach me to feel the colours.

You show me how even
silent laughing can be loud
if you listen hard enough.

Your acres of bosom
are a perfect pillow for a story;
you tell me how bad stuff found you
but you survived it.

You tell me to be true to myself,
live in peace with others
but always be my own lover.

 You say fingertips
are as useful as eyes, knuckles
as feeling as fingertips
for finding your way in the dark.

You’re beside me every time
I knuckle my way out of dark spaces.

 

Rachel Davies
December 2017