Monthly Archives: March 2016

So fast they follow…

One Sunday doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow, as Gertrude would have said if Shakespeare had got the line right. So here goes with another blog post.

One thing I’m learning about doing a PhD is that each week is different. There is no consistent way to approach it. I try to work whenever I can: some weeks that is easier than others. Last week was pretty much a PhD write-off. This week has been all about the PhD. I have done so much I’m feeling a little smug!

I have now written about half of my Freud chapter. I know it will need heavy editing before I send it off to the team, but that’s OK. I’m not keeping a close eye on it as I work, but just getting words down on paper as Angelica advised. I know I’m quite pleased with it because it shows me that I understand more than I would have given myself credit for at the outset. I know I need to consider reasons why I’m including those aspects I am including in relation to the theme of my research project: I am doing that more in considering the unconscious, including dreams and slips. I know I will have to refine that when it comes to editing. But I’m writing it, and that feels good.

I have continued my reading: reread relevant chapters in Everyday Life, continuing reading Dreams. I also dipped into my two lovely new books about Elizabeth Bishop: Colm Toibin’s biography and her collected correspondence with Robert Lowell. What a tome that one is! And fascinating. I can’t wait to really get down to reading it in due course.

I tried applying Endnote to my writing as well, following on from last week’s course. This will be brilliant, I decided, for preparing the bibliography. I am finding it less so for inserting references. Endnote offers two possible versions of MHRA style of referencing: MHRA (author and date) and MHRA (footnote). I wasn’t sure which I should be using so I emailed a query to Angelica. She sent me a style-guide sheet that suggested something different again: with footnotes but using ‘ibid’ for subsequent footnotes. So I went with Angelica’s advice. Footnotes don’t follow this format on Endnote MHRA (footnote). So, I don’t know why, but I’m expecting referencing style to need editing further down the line.

So lots happening this week on the PhD front and it feels good. I really feel I’ll have something to send to the team on 5th April in readiness for our meeting on 12th. It won’t be polished, but it will be something to talk about.

In the world of poetry, lots has happened too. Firstly, I videoed our Poets and Players performance last Saturday: poets Mark Pajak, Carrie Etter and our ‘player’, Sarah Lowes. On Sunday I came to uploading the videos to the Toshiba external drive I use to send them to another P&P committee member for editing and publishing on our YouTube channel. Techno-hitch. They refused to be uploaded. I checked space on the Toshiba ex-drive and there seemed to be plenty. I tried to delete some of the past videos on there and it wouldn’t let me for some reason. I spent a good two or three hours trying and failing. In the end I decided to upload them to a Seagate Slim external drive that I bought to back-up my PhD stuff so I could carry it around with me to MMU library etc. Futile really, because I always save to the iCloud drive anyway, so I haven’t actually used the Seagate for anything. Guess what? The videos uploaded without any problem whatsoever! So I don’t know why my computer has stopped talking to the Tosh. Bad news is, my colleague’s computer isn’t recognising the Seagate and he can’t retrieve the videos anyway! So I have now to save them to a smaller memory stick and get that to him instead. The devilry of things technical. I’m no technophobe as long as it does as it should. Why, though, does technology have to assert itself in this negative way from time to time. Hopefully the Tosh will have got over its strop before I need to upload the videos from the April competition celebration event. Watch this space.

It is coming up to Spelks again. I love a Spelkerama. The activity this month was to visit a churchyard, take notes and write poems from the visit. So, on Sunday, stressed from my techno-tussle, I decided to visit the old church at Delph Heights. The church isn’t used any more, so I was surprised to find relatively recent graves in the churchyard. Clearly the churchyard is still used for burials. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, cold but spring-like. Daffodil spears were pushing up through the grass, some even in flower in the lea of church walls. Catkins were bursting on the willows but the ash buds were tightly black, not ready to face the world yet. I spent a pleasant hour reading grave stones, taking notes, making lists. Since then I’ve written two poems from that visit, one of them referring to an activity from the Carrie Etter writing workshop of last Saturday morning. I have since written a third poem following a virtual visit to the churchyard in Lillingstone Dayrell in Buckinghamshire where my brother and my parents share grave space. I’ve been there so many times it only required a visit in my mind to write this third poem. I think this one might fit the PhD portfolio too, so it’s win-win.

Spelks should have been held on Good Friday, but Keith was still in hospital, due to be discharged on Good Friday. Penny would be collecting him and taking him home. And you can’t hold a Spelkerama without two of the Spelks. So we decided to postpone the meet until Easter Monday. I’m hosting this month so I have prepared the next prompt, about which more next week. I had planned to include one of my graveyard poems at the end of this blog, but I can’t now as they won’t have been presented at Spelks. So a rethink there then.

Life continues apace. On Tuesday my partner and I, went into Manchester to collect my Elizabeth Bishop book that had been on order at Waterstones. We decided to do afternoon tea at ProperTea, the cafe at the Cathedral. Tea is a ceremony here: they have a huge selection of teas and bring it to the table with decanting glass and timer to make sure it is perfectly infused before decanting. I had the jasmine pearls tea, it was delicious. If you haven’t been to ProperTea, go. If you enjoy tea, you won’t be disappointed. You can find out more here:  As you see, tea isn’t all they do.

Finally, I was woken on Tuesday by the dawn chorus for the first time this year: a blackbird singing his little yellow socks off outside my bedroom window. Great tits are checking out the bird box and we have our first daffodils blooming in the garden. Yes, Spring has sprung and I feel full of optimism. Winter is behind me for another year (smiley face emoticon and little spring dance).

So to the poem. I read that earth is about to pass through the trail of Halley’s comet, giving us a fine display of meteor showers. This was a post on FB so it may be extant already, but it reminded me of our holiday in Australia in 2007. We had gone to watch the cricket: the three-way one-day internationals between England, Aus and NZ. We drove the ocean road from Melbourne to Adelaide, a road-trip that took us three days. On one of the days we stopped off in a small village called Robe. We were told at our guest house that McNaught’s Comet was doing the celestial rounds and we would get a good view here because there was no light pollution. So, after dark we went outdoors and stood looking out to sea. I don’t know what made us think that was the direction to face, but face it we did. Nothing. Nada. Zero comets. As we turned to go indoors, my breath was taken away by the sight of McNaught doing his rounds behind us! Oh, my, how beautiful was McNaught? Like a child’s drawing of a comet, like the depiction of the comet in the Bayeux tapestry. It looked close enough to reach up and touch, it’s tail trailing the sky for miles. I fell in love. You can see a picture of the comet here: ; but believe me when I say, this picture is as like the real thing as a plastic daffodil is to the ones growing in your garden. It can only give you a limited idea of how blown away I was by the real thing. When I came home, I wrote a long, rambling poem about it and took it to my MA writing workshop, led by Simon Armitage. His advice was, ‘You seem to be writing a love poem, Rachel. Go away and think about it as a love poem.” Now, to ask a woman who has failed at marriage twice to write a love poem is stretching the imagination to breaking point; but I wrote this, a ‘not-a-love-poem’. It is probably not good poetry, but I think it’s a good poem. It’s probably another of what my son called ‘pornetry’ after last week’s post; so, with apologies to my lovely son, I give you McNaught.

On First Seeing McNaught’s Comet

Adelaide 2007


He didn’t take me out or wine and dine me

at Don Gio’s, expect me to laugh at his jokes,

or touch my fingers across the table, or buy me

flowers like ordinary blokes.


We didn’t enjoy a first blistering kiss,

or share a universe-shifting fuck

that makes you wish it could be like this

for ever, knowing you never have that kind of luck.


We didn’t run barefoot on winter beaches

or play hide and seek among autumn trees

or picnic on chicken and soft summer peaches

or laugh at ourselves doing any of these.


We didn’t get married or live as a couple,

and share a life or a name or kids;

so his twice worn socks couldn’t burst my bubble,

or his morning farts or his pants with skids.


He never once, in post-coital passion

whispered a strange woman’s name in my ear

or came home drenched in his girlfriend’s Poison

or shielded his phone so I couldn’t hear.


He didn’t promise roses and bring me thistles

or when I soared try to tie me to land.

McNaught was never a man to commit to

but a brilliantly cosmic one night stand.



…the good news or the bad news?

PhD work has been squeezed out by life and other irritations this week, but I’ve kept up with reading, finding every five minutes I could to read The Interpretation of Dreams. One thing that is good about reading Freud is, he repeats his theories in so many different ways, so many times in his books that to keep reading is to keep revising; eventually you just have to become familiar with his train of thought. I actually can’t wait to take up the writing again; but this week I haven’t been able to fit it in. PhD, you must be more assertive! Don’t let life get in the way of a good workload.

So what in my life has stalled my good intentions, what has managed to get through the defences?

The PhD: my planned meeting with Jean Sprackland on Tuesday scaled the barbed wire, for a start. We met to discuss some PhD portfolio poems I sent her a couple of weeks back. The good news is, on the whole, she liked them. Her favourites were what she called ‘the thing-y poems’; i.e. the poems that were rich with things and facts, were multi sensory, were ‘real’. Her number one was ‘Churning’. Did I post that one on my blog some weeks ago? She was less impressed with ‘Demeter’s Lament’: liked the retelling of the story but felt that was all it was, thought I should do more with it, ‘rough it up a bit’, perhaps modernise it. I know exactly what she means; I’ll give it a go. She was generous with her feedback and advice, and I feel as if the creative side of the portfolio has started to earn it’s bread. However, life has got in the way to such an extent, I just realised I haven’t even written and submitted the RD9 record of the meeting yet. A job for later, then.

On Friday I attended an Endnote introduction at MMU. This is one of a series of mini-courses in research skills the university puts on for research students. Actually, I attended the same mini-course in October last year, knew it would be useful but didn’t know how useful until I started to write my Freud chapter; by which time I had forgotten most of what I learned. I remembered how to save books to my library; but not how to use those book titles to add references to my writing. Of course, I have a MacBook and the university uses PC, so the details are slightly different and Mac, I was told, could be a bit more complicated. But I managed to download the ‘plug-in’ for ‘cite as you write’, and later today I’ll be testing it out with my chapter. Fingers crossed for me, because, if it works as it should, it really does save an awful lot of work and worry.

So, what in my life has barred the way to further progress in the study? Well Life Barrier no.1: the major event this week has been the botheration of white goods. On Monday the washing machine packed in. It refused point blank to finish its wash cycle and went into a major sulk. I tried other cycles to tempt it, but nothing would make it pump out its water and let me retrieve my clothes. So, we called in the washing machine doctor. The bad news is, its programme ‘mother-board’ was shot; can’t be replaced. As there is no good news, we had to fork out £370 for a new machine. This was fitted on Friday and the old one taken away. The new one is a Bosch; it has a fantastic red light display for temperature, time left in cycle, spin speed etc. Pretty, but excessive: at the end of the day, all I want it to do is wash my smalls.

Life Barrier no. 2: I visited my post-op friend on Sunday last. He was looking a bit peaky, but on the path to recovery, thank goodness. I took him the Maurice Riordan book I bought  at the Anna Freud Centre as a get-well soon card. Of course, as I suspected, he has it already, so I have told him to exchange it for any (unsigned) book on my poetry bookshelves when he comes to visit next. I arranged with Penny to meet for coffee in Uppermill on Tuesday to give her a bit of a break from nursing. So, jump to Tuesday: we met up with Hilary, our other friend. All of us are doing post-grad studies at the moment and we got round to discussing something I included in my blog a couple of weeks ago: what does a student actually look like? We were saying how, when we go to uni, young students who are on leaflet-handing-out duties never consider handing us ‘oldies-but-goodies’ a leaflet. Don’t get me wrong, we probably don’t want to attend the ‘how to make friends in your first year’ support group, but we all wanted to tap the leafleteers on the shoulder and say “excuse me, I’m a student as well”; we want to be visible. Penny took a selfie of us all and posted it on FB with the caption: ‘Breaking news, this is what a student looks like’. By the end of the coffee break Penny was feeling a bit more relaxed. I told her to give Keith my mobile number when she went to Uni on Wednesday in case he needed anything: she was a bit concerned about leaving him on his own. The good news is, she went to uni and I didn’t get a call. The bad news is, on Thursday Keith was readmitted to Wythenshawe hospital with suspected gall bladder infection, so his recovery has been a bit impeded. One step forward, two steps back…

Poetry Barrier no. 1: I delivered the competition poems to Jackie Kay. We had word from her she would be home on Monday evening so I drove them over to her home address to drop them off. Her light was on but she wasn’t home. Luckily, just as I knocked her door, her lovely neighbour, Mohammed, walked up his drive. He thought she wasn’t home because her car wasn’t there; could he take in the parcel for her? Now, these poems have become like children to me over the weeks and I was reluctant to leave them with a stranger; but I knew that the chances were pretty slim of Jackie being home the next time I tried to deliver; so I handed over my babies to the care of strangers. Of course, later in the week the wonderful news broke that Jackie Kay is the new Makar for Scotland, a well deserved accolade; and this is, presumably, what had kept her from home longer than she expected. I had an email from her to say she had the poems and would be in touch when she had had time to read them. So the results of the competition, all that hard work, will be known shortly. The competition reading is on April 16th, with a reading by the Makar. You can find details here:  Why not come along to the reading, it will be fantastic. Jackie Kay is always fantastic.

Poetry Barrier no. 2: I decided to send some of my poems out into the world to try to earn their bread. I submitted to the Cinnamon Pamphlet competition on Tuesday, after our coffee meeting. I’d meant to write a further 1000 words to the Freud chapter but the coffee took longer to drink than I planned for so I only had time left for a submission. The closing date for the Cinnamon competition isn’t until March 31st, so there’s  still time if you fancy it. Details here:  Anyway, after I had spoken to Jean on Tuesday I decided to revisit some of those portfolio poems (they weren’t included in the first submission).  When I was happy with them I substituted some of them for some of the poems in my Cinnamon submission and made a second submission to the competition. Now the long waiting game. Good luck to any of you who are awaiting competition results; or responses to magazine submissions.

Poetry Barrier no. 3: Poets and Players. Yesterday morning it was the Carrie Etter workshop at the Whitworth Art Gallery. It was wonderful, so relaxed and full of creative energy. After a lovely lunch in the gallery cafe, ‘the cafe in the trees’ as Carrie called it, we had our Saturday afternoon reading in the vast room upstairs. Sarah Lowes was the ‘player’; she had her electric piano and she sang; wonderful. Then terrific readings by Mark Pajak, William Letford and Carrie Etter. What a lovely afternoon. As one evaluation sheet filler-in wrote, ‘Bloody marvellous’; and it was. The next event is the competition event mentioned above, plus a ‘Thursday Late’ session on 28th April with Ira Lightman and Andrew McMillan; details here:

Poetry Barrier no. 4: Make an Aria. I had a meeting at Royal Northern College of Music with my composer, Laura, and representatives from the college and from Music Theatre Wales about our work to date. I took along printouts of our three act scenario to share with the meeting. Unfortunately  I had some cut-up melon in a lunch box in the same bag and the juice leaked so I was a bit embarrassed by the wet stains along the bottom edge of the documents; but I explained it was nothing sinister and they found it quite amusing. They liked our scenario. “Lilith” tells the story of a young Aleppo refugee, separated from her family and trafficked into sexual slavery. We, Laura and I, came away knowing where to go next. We have a deadline of May 26th, the next consultation, to have the text of our aria prepared and the music in the planning stages.

A last delightful distraction this week, which can’t really be called a barrier, is that my lovely daughter gave me £60 worth of shopping vouchers she received as loyalty rewards from a brewery she deals with in her gastro-pub business. The vouchers had to be used by March 31st, and she isn’t big on shopping so she asked if I would like them. I noticed ‘Waterstones’ in the list of qualifying traders so I said I would love them. I took them into Waterstones on Deansgate after the RNCM meeting and spent them on two books I probably wouldn’t have allowed myself to afford without them: Elizabeth Bishop’s complete correspondence with Robert Lowell and Colm Toibin’s ‘On Elizabeth Bishop’. I am a lucky girl, (smiley emoticon, little jiggy dance).

So you see, although I haven’t done a great deal to my opening chapter, as planned, I haven’t let the grass grow either. My life is manic as ever; and because of that I know I will get this thing done. If you want something done, ask a busy person, isn’t that what ‘they’ say?

My poem: this is a light-hearted sonnet I wrote for the lovely Linda Chase when she was running a weekly writing workshop at MMU when I first began my MA. I had been to meet my grand-daughter at the airport and I was having a coffee while I waited for her plane to land. People-watching is a favourite sport, and I was listening to the conversation among a group of forty-something women at the next table. This poem is an embellished summary of that conversation. I dedicate it here to Keith: may your recovery continue apace and may you not need to refer to this poem for advice in the future (smiley face with blushing cheeks emoticon)!


Owed to Viagra

I met this gorgeous feller in Las Vegas who

takes Viagra; but it makes his heart go flip-

no, really, when he takes off on a V trip

a tidal surge goes through his arteries, so

he has to dissolve a heart pill on his tongue

and wait for his pulse to slow; and all the time

I’m gagging for it, I’ve x-marked my G-spot, I’m

ready to roll and I can’t do with waiting too long!

So, I’m on the bed, I’m pouting from the pillow

wishing his racing heart would take a rest,

(but not so much his other bits lie fallow

if you hear what I’m saying) when I lose my zest,

go completely off the boil; it just feels wrong

to join the queue to melt over his tongue.


Rachel Davies

circa 2007


Freud the psychoanalyst, Freud the family man

I’ve had a good week, lots to blog about this week. I nearly wrote lots to blag about: a slip of the pen Freud would have been proud of! I won’t dwell on an analysis of it as a slip.  No blagging though, I’ve had a good week.

I’ll start with the end of the week and work backwards. I’ve just spent a couple of days in London for the Spring Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival at the Anna Freud Centre. Bill and I travelled down by train on Friday morning, got to Manchester Piccadilly in plenty of time for a relaxed coffee and to buy enough picnic in Simply Food to last a family of five for a week, settled into our seats on the Pendalino, which left bang on time. When we weren’t eating I had lots of quality reading time: The Interpretation of Dreams. We were in the centre of London from the centre of Manchester in just over two hours, relaxed and happy. Lots of advantages over driving; and not too expensive either with a senior railcard. Win win.

We took a black cab to our hotel. We’ve found it’s not so much more expensive than the underground on short journeys and you get to see parts of the Capital you don’t see from the tube. We were settled into our hotel room by about four o’clock. It was a lovely sunny, spring day, just warm enough to say winter’s a thing of the recent past. We decided to go out for a walk to find the Anna Freud Centre in Maresfield Gardens. It was only a ten minute walk from the hotel. On the way back we passed the Freud Museum, which was still open so we went inside. Fascinating. The staff were so helpful and friendly. The girl in the shop was pleased to see I had the same colour Doc Martins on as her; we spent a few minutes discussing the many virtues of Airwair.

Anyway, we had a look round the museum. There was something uncanny about seeing the analyst’s couch, with Freud’s chair placed at its head, his study left just as he worked in it. Of course, he only spent about twelve months in this house. Forced by Nazi persecution to leave their home in Vienna, Berggasse 19, the Freud’s came to London in 1938. Sigmund was old and infirm and he died a year later at the outset of war. But there is so much we associate with Freud and psychoanalysis in this museum which was once a family home. It is wonderful to be so close to one of the great minds of the twentieth century. And no more so than while watching the home movie playing in one of the upstairs rooms. Here is Freud the family man, filmed in part by Anna, his psychoanalyst daughter. In this film other family members bring gifts and love to the Freud’s on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary; except an aunt who stayed in Austria and perished in the camps: a stark reminder of the evil the Freuds had left behind in Vienna. Here is Freud the man, Freud the husband, father, grandfather. Here is a family enjoying a family party, playing with the children, playing with the family pets. Here is a family Hitler condemned as ‘sub-human’, a warped attitude that sent the world to war a year after this film was shot. What a small distance we’ve travelled since, with the rise of the political right on both sides of the Atlantic, people voting for exactly the evil politics their fathers and grandfathers went to war to defeat. I despair sometimes.

Probably the most moving aspect of this home movie for me was to hear Sigmund Freud’s voice in a very rare recording of the uphill struggle he had in getting his developing thought on the human psyche accepted. I have read so much Freud since I started this PhD, getting my small brain around his huge thoughts. I don’t agree with everything he said, but it is groundbreaking thought. I stand with the post-Freudian feminists in opposing much of his male dominated psychology; but I also recognise that without Freud there would be no post-Freudian feminist reaction. So I respect and admire an original thinker. Until Friday afternoon in the Freud museum ‘Freud’ was bookfuls of difficult words to decode and make sense of. Hearing his voice, seeing the home movie forced me to see Freud the man. I was unashamedly moved to tears. I approach his books from a more sympathetic viewpoint now: the Freud museum did that for me. In celebration I bought a bean-bag Sigmund to sit on my study bookshelves alongside his heavy words. I tried to post a photo of my ‘little thinker’ Freud doll but no-go. You’ll have to take my word that it’s uncanny how Freud-like it is.

The next day, yesterday, we went to the Spring Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival at the Anna Freud Centre. Bill opted to accompany me even though he could have done anything he wanted in London for the day. He is a very supportive partner and I thank him for it. But I also know he was at saturation point by the end of the day! I loved it. The morning concerned itself with psychoanalysis and the arts: ‘Poetry and Psychoanalysis’ (Valerie Sinason), ‘The mind of the artist’ (Mark Solms), ‘Signs for an Exhibition’ (Eliza Kentridge).

After lunch we saw four poetry films, the best of which in my opinion was ‘You Be Mother’ (Sarah Pucill 1990). Here was a film full of sexual and menstrual symbolism: emotion, disintegration, constraint. Three other poetry-films were interesting but didn’t excite me in the same way. Fortunately Sarah Pucill couldn’t attend the conference due to illness. Don’t get me wrong, I wish her no ill will and I hope she recovers from her illness quickly. But the three other poet-filmmakers were in attendance, either actually or virtually via Skype and I felt their commentaries about their films and the making of the films detracted from the experience I added as a watcher. Sarah Pucill couldn’t do that for my favourite among them and for that I was grateful. The reader is part of the package: when a poem (or a film; or a poem-film) is finished and ‘out there’ it doesn’t just belong to the artist any more. The reader (or watcher; or reader-watcher) brings his/her own experience to that of the artist and enriches the art. I wanted my experience of ‘You Be Mother’ to stand, not be diminished by the artist’s commentary, however interesting that may have been. You can find the film here: Let’s see what you think.

The Conference ended with Maurice Riordan giving a close reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘Santarém’, which was fascinating for me: she is one of the focus poets in my research into the mother-daughter relationship. Conference closed with Pascale Petit reading, among other poems, from her collection ‘What the Water Gave Me’, poems inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo. The end of a wonderful day of psychoanalytic poetry, art and film. Bless Bill’s heart, he was all in by the end of it. I could have done another three days! But we called a cab to Euston and wended our weary ways home.

The other major event this week worth including in this blog post was my meeting on Tuesday evening with Laura, my composer from RNCM, in relation to the ‘make an aria’ project. We have our RNCM consultation this Thursday coming and need to put together an opera scenario and place our aria within it. We had a lovely meeting over coffee in the 8th Day cafe on Oxford Road, a favourite haunt of Manchester’s vegetarian students. We came up with a broad outline of our scenario in three acts. After research, I found the name of our tragic heroine, Lilith (this is a Syrian name meaning ‘of the night’); our villain is Tariq (‘he who pounds the door’). On Saturday morning from my hotel bed at 3.00 a.m. I gave these characters a backstory and worked the first draft of our scenario. I’ll revisit it later today and email it off to her for her input prior to Thursday’s consultation. I’m enjoying this project enormously so far.

Apart from all this I had writing time this week too. On Sunday I wrote the first 350 words of my Freud Chapter (working title). A very small step, I grant you, but bearing in mind Mao’s famous saying ‘ the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ I’m on my way. On Tuesday morning, yes, you guessed it, at 3.00 a.m. I woke with the real opening paragraph to the Freud Chapter (working title) going through my head. I wrote it down. After breakfast I scrapped the 350 words I wrote on Sunday and began with my 3.00 a.m. inspiration. By lunchtime this had grown to 1200 words, about 20% of the planned chapter. So, I have done remarkably more than the single step needed to start the journey and although progress is slow it is tangible. I’ll have something to send to the team prior to my meeting with them on April 12th and that feels good to report. I’ll add to it this week; I’m optimistic that the chapter will be first-drafted by the meeting.

So, enough. My poem. In the light of this weekend’s conference I am posting a poem I wrote inspired by the art of Leonora Carrington following a visit to Tate Liverpool with friends last May. The poem was entered in the 2015 Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition and was placed third, which was lovely. The 2016 competition has just opened for entries. You can find details here: The judge this year is Jo Bell, who actually won the competition a couple of years ago. The closing date isn’t until June, so you have lots of time to think about and perfect your entries.

Ix Chel and the Madonna

The Magical World of the Mayas Leonora Carrington

Tate Liverpool May 2015


One eye a telescope the other a microscope

you see it all, how the land is a woman

reclining—sleeping or dying—her breasts pert


her belly taut while Mayan temples

and Catholic symbols spring like Cain and Abel

from between her knees and each tries to win


her best breast. You see it all, how the earth

blurs the binaries of night and day, truth and lie,

old and new, gods and God until they all seem


the same somehow, indistinct, not to be trusted.

You see it all, how a thousand crucifixes can pierce

her left breast, pierce her heart and still Ix Chel


breathes through her death throes, how the wood

of Calvary grows on her abdominal plain even

as the Ceiba tree withers, its branches bleached,


leafless, its roots in the realm of the dead atrophied

to stumps that can no longer suck the waters

of faith. You see it all, how Madonna and Child


process across her skin and her skin rends open

exposing the powerless jaguar god of the underworld

where the Monkey Twins hide themselves behind human


death masks, learn to live out eternity in the dark.

You see it all, how Kukulkan still slithers across

an angry sky crying I’m here, I’m here and none hears


but the dying few, how Chaak the thunder god

weeps tears plump as pears at Ix Chel’s passing

and the Popl Vuh hands down its myths to anyone

who will listen and you listen and you see it all.


Rachel Davies

May 2015



Some Forward Momentum

When I was a new primary headteacher, talking about the relentless pace of the job, I once said to a more established head, “My mantra has become ‘Dear God, please send me an ordinary day’.” His reply: “These are the ordinary days, Rachel.” My week has been a bit like that: full of extraordinary ordinary days. Fast and furious. Unusual.

On the PhD front, this involved a meeting with Angelica Michelis, my supervisor lit-crit expert. She is such a boon; what she doesn’t know about psychoanalytical literary criticism isn’t worth knowing. Anyway. I got to her office at 11.00 a.m. on Tuesday as per her email and she wasn’t expecting me until Thursday! Embarrassing; but I checked her email later and I was right. Why do I always assume a position of being in the wrong? That bloody grammar school headteacher of mine: when you’re always on the receiving end of major put-downs, you come to believe that negativity. For fifty plus years!

Anyway, we had our meeting and it was so worth it. I explained how I was worried my Freud chapter was just going to become descriptive and I felt I needed to set up and resolve some arguments. I suggested comparing and contrasting with feminist psychoanalytic theory and she said this was a sensible idea. “But”, she said, “Freud should be given space on his own; yes it would be descriptive, it is bound to be. Why not write the chapter in two parts, one covering Freud and the second covering the feminist theory to provide the contrast?” Neat resolution. “Just write it,” she advised. “Don’t spend too much time thinking about it, just put pen to paper. You won’t know what you know until you start to write.” So, a two-part chapter it is. And I’m on orders to have something to send to her and Antony in time for our next meeting on April 12th. Yipes, the way time slips past me at the moment, that’s no time at all. So this weekend I have started planning the writing of the first chapter of my PhD thesis. How exciting is that? And how daunting? Only 80,000 words to go!

While I was with her, I asked if she’d heard anything about my RD1 registration. She hadn’t but she would give Deborah a ring to find out. Of course, Deborah’s line was engaged, so she would try again and email me if she had any information. By the time I got home, an email was waiting. RD1 has been ‘done and registered’. No modifications. So now I am officially  a PhD research student of Manchester Metropolitan University. I feel really grown up.

Incidentally, I sent a message to the friend who is also doing a PhD, who asked me about my RD1 (R2D2 he calls it!) to say I’ve been registered. I wanted to put an emoji in the message but thought I’d check out the new GIF icon on Messenger. Inadvertently I posted a cheesy GIF into the message which really was embarrassing and I couldn’t delete it. I think he was surprised. Shocked. Stunned. Sorry Andrew, it was a genuine mistake! I love my iPad, but that touch-screen technology is jolly sensitive sometimes! Happy to report we are still friends though.

My poetry life: this has been taken up with processing the last of the Poets and Players competition online entries. I had 700 poems to print off altogether. I have tried to keep up to date with them so the task didn’t impinge too much on the PhD work but the entries come in slowly at first and gather momentum exponentially. So, on Monday, the closing day, I spent the morning getting them all up to date before going out at lunchtime. I expected to have some fresh entries when I got home; I had 80 more poets, 140 poems to process that evening! Thank you and good luck to all who entered, but oh my, it’s a task to get the entries all processed and ready for the judge. I worked on Tuesday night until midnight, then up at 5.00 a.m. to process some more. I had thirty five poems still to print off by Wednesday afternoon but they are all done now and ready for Jackie Kay when she lets me know how to get them to her. The competition has netted us sufficient funds to mount a couple of P&P events outside the ACE funding we received this year, so that is an achievement.

Monday it was Spelks, my favourite poetry group. We met at Rod Whitworth’s house this month, shared our poems, ate food and drank bubbles. I never drink and drive but I had a half glass of prosecco even though I was driving. It was the last day of February, my least favourite month. I couldn’t let that go without drinking a toast to its passing! Our Spelk task this month was to write a fan letter-poem to a musician and then write their reply to us. We had to use some of their lyrics in our own poems. What we found was, the ‘letters to’ made decent poems, the replies were, on the whole, pants. I’m including one of my poems at the end of this blog.

I also contacted my RNCM composer, Laura, about our ‘Make an Aria’ project. We have given the  project some thought and are meeting on Tuesday this week to firm up the ideas and start to write something in time for the consultations with RNCM tutors and Music Theatre Wales rep on 17th March.

On Thursday the husband of a dear friend, Penny, had open heart surgery. He was in theatre about 6 hours and wasn’t allowed visitors on the day. So naturally, she was distraught with worry. Another friend, Hilary, and I went to hers for supper on Thursday to distract her as much as we could. We had a pleasant evening of Indian food, wine and poetry. Unfortunately, on Friday the North West was covered by a thick blanket of snow. Penny tried to get out of Mossley to visit Keith in Wyhenshawe hospital, but the snow prevented her from getting the car out. She walked to the bus-stop but busses were cancelled as well. So she didn’t get to visit on Friday either. He phoned her from his ICU bed and sent selfies of his scar and various pipes and tubes; told her he’d been out of bed for a short walk and not to worry about visiting while the snow was bad. So she felt a bit better then, and she did manage a short visit yesterday; short because he was very tired. But he’s hoping to be out of ICU and on the ward tomorrow, so that’s good progress. We’re all rooting for him because it’s his turn to host Spelks next month and we’re relying on him to be there!

On Tuesday night it was the Christmas ‘do’ for my daughter’s restaurant staff. It’s impossible for people in the hospitality trade to have a Christmas ‘do’ in December, they are so busy servicing other people’s Christmases. I give her a day a week to do her books so I’m counted as staff even though mine is a labour of love. She took us all to a Turkish restaurant in Royton: Istanblue. We had a lovely meal and pleasant company. Afterwards she and the young ones went to the Black Ladd, her gastro-pub, for drinks and partying. I went home to print poems. And more poems. More and more poems!

So you see what I meant about ‘ordinary days’? People ask me how I fill my time now I’m retired. It’s never been a problem for me. I wonder when the ‘put your feet up and relax’ bit kicks in. I’m not ready for pipe and slippers yet, though.

Here’s my poem, ‘Garfunkel’, written for Spelks. I have strong opinions about Simon and Garfunkel. Together they were great. Split up, Simon continued to be great, Garfunkel not so. I feel the same about Lennon and McCartney: together, wonderful; separated, Lennon wonderful, McCartney meh! You are at liberty to disagree, this is just my opinion. This is what I have tried to convey in this poem, a modern sonnet. Enjoy.



When I asked about friendships you said

it was like bathing in troubled water,

friends swim together for a while then

one of them catches a branch, watches

as the other disappears over rapids, waving.


When I asked if that’s how it was with Simon

you said it was you caught the branch, he

rode the waterfall, surfed the white water

soaked up the roar, learned to be

a stronger swimmer for it.


When I said but what about bookends

you said bookends work well together

but sometimes they are pushed apart

by the weight of words between them.


Rachel Davies

February 2016