Monthly Archives: April 2016

Poetry and other Panaceas

I’ve had one of those weeks that makes me realise how good life is. I’m a terminal optimist, so that helps, but even so…

On Sunday we decided to go into Manchester, to the Royal Exchange Theatre. I saw on Facebook (it does have its good points!) that there was a performance of Come Closer, ten dramatic monologues by young black writers and actors. This was a collaboration between Talawa Theatre Company and The Royal Exchange.  All ten monologues were being performed on Sunday from 12 noon to 3.00 p.m. Oh, my, how good was that? Three hours of wonderful theatre. And it was a FREE event: didn’t cost us a penny. If you ever see this advertised again, go. Go. You won’t regret it. Although it is too late for this now, you can find details of the project here; just so you know not to miss it next time:

Late on Sunday evening my lovely daughter rang to ask if I wanted to go to Peterborough on Monday to visit my elder son. Short notice, but of course I said yes. An impromptu treat, we set off at 9.00 on Monday morning. We met a friend, Maria,  for lunch, had coffee in Carluccio’s then lunch in Chimichanga. Richard is a teacher and was working, but he escaped  the prison of school at 4.00 and met us at Maria’s. She prepared a lovely supper of pasta and salad and we had a lovely day and a very special evening. I didn’t get any work done, but it lifted my spirits, as it always does to spend time with my children.

On Tuesday I had a day to dedicate entirely to PhD study time. I started at 7.3o a.m. and worked all day, only taking breaks dictated by the body’s needs. I love that, when I’m so engrossed in something that time doesn’t dictate. I was reading and note-taking the Juliet Mitchell Selected Melanie Klein. Klein is difficult to understand, seems to make huge leaps of assumption in her psychoanalytic theory; but it must be intuitive because she achieved huge respect for her theories in her lifetime; and not a little opposition, most notably from Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter. It worries me that I’m starting to look at babies in the supermarket and thinking ‘I know what you’re doing: you look innocent and loveable, but there is a sinister intent behind those baby blue eyes. You’re not to be trusted.’

Anyway, I worked until my body rumbled, had a short break for lunch then back on it. After lunch I tried to upload the Poets and Players videos from my iPad. I managed to airdrop them to my MacBook but couldn’t for the life of me move them on from there. But I knew I was spending time with an Apple wizard the coming weekend; if he can’t help, no-one can. So I put that job on hold after an hour of trying and went back to my books. Speaking of books, I think I told you I ordered several books online following my team meeting last week? I love it when they start to drop into my post box. I’ve been receiving books all week: all second hand but all in ‘as new’ condition. It’s like an impromptu Christmas, or a birthday come early. My favourite of the books I ordered was recommended by Angelica: Promises Promises is a collection of essays by  Adam Phillips: it is a book about psychoanalytic theory and it is READABLE; very readable. I found a sentence, though,  that sums up my ambivalence about academic language: ‘It had clearly shown something that was terrifying partly because it could never be clearly shown…’ (p51). This is the kind of academese I am going to have to teach myself: a level of obscurity that sometimes looks like the emperor’s new clothes to a plain speaker.

On Wednesday, Victoria Wood died. I have grown old on her humour: what an enormous talent; what a sad day. One of my favourite sketches of hers (and how do you choose from so many) was one of her ‘real’ ‘documentaries’ about an NHS waiting room. Interviewed by the ‘researcher’ about the reason for her visit, she said she was there to see about ‘one of those test tube babies’ because she only had a small flat and she thought a test tube baby would fit perfectly. On Thursday evening I watched a dedication to Victoria Wood’s talent: it was fantastic to be reminded of the many ways we’ve laughed (and cried) with her over the years. And it included the ‘test tube baby’ sketch; so I was happy; sad but happy.

Wednesday is my day at my daughter’s pub-restaurant (I do her books for her) and it was the accountant’s VAT visit first thing. And, of course, I have had a couple of weeks off-task recently for microbes and holidays, so it was catch-up day. By the time I left, though, I had the books up to date and looking good. I got home about 3.30 in the afternoon. In the evening on Wednesday, I was due to go the the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for a workshop run by Martin Kratz. The workshop was about ‘Burgess, Belli, Keats and the sonnet’. I was still feeling a bit meh from the headcold, and brain-fried from the accounts and I nearly messaged Martin to cancel. I’m so glad I didn’t. This was a course I didn’t ‘need ‘ to do, I booked myself onto it because it looked interesting. It was. I knew Burgess’s prose writing already. One of my favourite book titles is a Burgess: ‘Little Wilson and Big God’. Brilliant title, good book. But I knew less about his poetry. Of course I know Keats poetry; I knew nothing about Belli. I do now. It was a fantastic evening, I’m so glad I made the effort, it revived me no end; as learning something new always does.

On Thursday I spent another day with my books: finished note-taking the Mitchell book and settled down to reading the Phillips. Books eh? Where would we be without them. Some of my best friends are books.

Some of my other best friends are poets, and this weekend I’m in Much Wenlock with three poet friends for the Wenlock Poetry Festival. I drove down on Friday. We have rented a holiday cottage on the outskirts of town. On Friday we went to the first readings: Daljit Nagra and Lemm Sissay. I love both poets. Daljit opened with some new poems from his residency at Radio 4. If I’m honest, I was disappointed with these poems. They seemed a bit dead. Too far removed from what I think he does best, which is draw on his Indian heritage, as exemplified by Look We Have Coming To Dover and Tippoo Sultan… and brought to dizzying heights in his Ramayana. His R-P Radio 4 poems lacked that vitality for me. What can I say about Lemm Sissay? He over-ran his alloted time by thirty minutes; thirty energetic and ‘stand-up-comedy’ minutes. He was brilliant: entertaining, funny, pathetic, poetic: in short, he was brilliant. A wonderful opening session for the festival.

On Saturday we heard Jonathan Edwards read; were lectured to (in the best possible way) by Don Paterson on the sonnet; heard Jean Sprackland and Robin Robertson read; and in the evening heard the Wenlock competition winners read their poems follow by wonderful readings from Andrew Macmillan and Don Paterson. What a full on day of poetry. And we found time to look around Much Wenlock in the short breaks we allowed ourselves. I found the latest Selima Hill collection, Jutland, in the Wenlock Bookshop, so I was a happy lady. More poetic treats later today followed by an end of festival meal in the Plume of Feathers just up the road from our cottage. I’ve seen lots of poetry friends here this weekend too, always a good experience; and met in real-time some poetic FB friends, so that’s a bonus.

Well, another week used up in my thirty six allowed weeks working towards this PhD. It doesn’t sound much when I put it like that. Better knock on. The poem this week is one I’m struggling with; it will be an entirely different poem by the time I’m done with it, but I’m posting it anyway, so you can see I am keeping up my pledge to write a poem a week to the theme. I think I’ve worked this one too much: it feels very tight and anal. But here it is, take it or leave it. It records my mother’s panacea for all ills from the common cold to near death and all points between; including being moved by literature. The italicized phrase has been elevated to the status of family myth.


What love isn’t…


A man with a chain-saw is inside my cranium

braced by my ear, and he’s sawing his way out.

It might be a haemorrhage caused by that cricket ball

hitting my head.

                     Take three aspirin, get to bed.


This abdominal pain feels as if Shaka the Zulu

is fighting for freedom deep in my bowel

and his iklwa spear has lodged in my groin

so I’m pinned to the mattress, can’t eat sleep laugh cry.

                       Take three aspirin, get to bed.


It’s Friday, on telly Cathy’s haunting the West Riiding

and Heathcliff is missing her, she’s half his identity,

and she’s calling him to her to make him a man again:

hear her voice over moorland, hear wind in the heather:

that’s your daughter, hysterical, sobbing and laughing,

crying for two lovers dead from love that was wasted

and she knows what that feels like, it’s telling her story.

And how will you deal with it? What will you tell her?

                        …Take three aspirin and get to bed.



Meetings, microbes and much angst

It’s been a week of highs and lows. I’ll begin, as the week did, on a high. Sunday and Monday were all about keeping fit.

On Sunday we met some friends we haven’t seen for about 5 years. We met up at Werneth Low in Hyde and went for a lovely walk, about 4-5 miles I guess, before going to the Joshua Bradley for lunch. It was lovely to see them again after all this time. How life slips past you when you’re not looking; but friends are always friends. On Monday I went to my aerobics class for the first time in about a month; so needless to say, it nearly killed me! I like to think I’m healthy and fit, but a break in activity takes some recovering from these days. I walked a fair bit in Wales last week, and walked again on Werneth Low on Sunday, so actually I didn’t suffer the post-aerobics stiffness in the week that I’d expected. So perhaps I’m still fitter than I give myself credit for.

On Tuesday I had my PhD meeting with the study support team. Ouch!

It’s a funny thing, and I suspect it has a lot to do with the negativity I was fed at grammar school (I think I may have mentioned the demon headmaster?) but why is it when we hear criticism it’s only the bad stuff that registers. This was the first meeting about anything I’ve written; namely the Freud chapter (working title). Not academic enough; points made but not argued; language too ‘bloggy’ (predictive text just wanted to change that to ‘bloody’ and I almost left it!). I pointed out that the chapter was really me telling myself what I’ve learned about Freud and that I realised it probably won’t be a bit like that at the end; and that I knew the language wasn’t academic enough: I wrote a note at the end of the chapter to that effect. But I came away from that meeting feeling as if this whole PhD thing was just too much for me, that it was out of my reach. All I took from the meeting was that overpowering feeling of ‘not academic enough; not good enough’. And a long booklist from Angelica to help me think psychoanalysis as literary criticism rather than just psychotherapy.

I spent forty eight hours asking myself if I could teach myself academese; I kept telling myself there was no sense in wasting my money on a PhD I wasn’t good enough to complete. I scratched that ‘worthless’ scab until it bled. Profusely. In psychoanalytic speak, my vicious and cruel super-ego gave me a very hard time. On Friday I came to write the RD9 form for the meeting. I took out my notes of the meeting and reread them. I reread the notes Antony had made on my writing. And guess what? It wasn’t all bad. Yes, there was criticism of my writing style, but I had already highlighted that to myself. There were positives too. ‘Obvious engagement with Freud’s writing’; ‘good to have started writing’; and a long list of books, plus two from Angelica on loan. I wrote a brief but accurate RD9 and sent it off to Antony; received a reply that the meeting had been ‘productive’. I went straight on Amazon and ordered some of the books on the list: I like to own them then I’ve got them for as long as I need them. So by Friday evening I was so over that meeting; like Boudicca (a nickname I earned from my staff when I was a headteacher), I was ready to take it on again. I will learn academese, I will do this. I am at my best when I’m challenged: and this PhD is the most challenging thing I have ever done. And so it should be if it’s worth doing.

The rest of the week as far as the PhD is concerned has been taken up with reading. I have moved on from Freud to Melanie Klein: object relations theory. It’s hard, but not as hard as I expected. All the Freud reading has definitely helped in this. I’m reading The Selected Melanie Klein edited by Juliet Mitchell; thinking all the time what this means for lit-crit.

In other news: on the poetry front, on Tuesday evening I went with friends to Chorlton, Lloyds bar for Quiet Quiet Loud. We all had a reading slot at the open mic session there. We went for a curry at Coriander in Chorlton before the reading: if you like Indian food and you are near Chorlton, go there. It was lovely, one of the nicest Indian meals I have had. Anyway, we went from there to the readings. It was a lovely evening. Sarah L Dixon regularly holds events there, details of the next one here:

On Saturday it was the celebration event for the Poets and Players competition. What a lovely afternoon that was. The three prize winners read their winning poems and received their prizes from Jackie Kay. You can find the winning poems here:   The Alba Quintet, an ensemble of music students from Royal Northern College of Music, provided the ‘players’ element and they were fantastic: a Brahms piece to open the event and a Mozart piece after the break. And I got to introduce Jackie Kay, one of my favourite contemporary poets. What a wonderful writer; what a gracious woman. It was a lovely event, and free for the audience. Feedback after the event was excellent, so I look forward to analysing the evaluation sheets. Unfortunately my video camera went into shut down: I suspect the hard drive is full, so it wouldn’t record. But I had my iPad in my bag and that deputised. So now I have a lovely Jackie Kay reading and the Alba Mozart on my iPad to listen to whenever I feel like it. I just have to work out how to get it from my iPad to the USB stick for Paul to edit and publish. How hard can it be? Details of forthcoming P&P (free) events can be found here:

On top of all this, the microbes have been fighting back. I have developed the cold from hell this week. I keep telling myself and my partner ‘I’m alright, it’s just a cold’; mostly because I know that when he gets it it will have morphed into pneumonia or something deadly and I don’t do sympathy; so I don’t expect sympathy either. That’s fair isn’t it? When I haven’t been doing all the above, I’ve been snugged up on the sofa under a blanket with a hot lemon drink in my hand. So, fitness to start the week, microbe attack to end it. Ho hum!

The poem: I fulfilled my aim again this week and wrote a poem for the blog. I wrote it in bed on Saturday morning at 4.30 a.m. It’s called ‘Oedipal’ and it relates that ‘woman as object, man as action’ thing that I grew up with. Thankfully that’s changing as a perception. A bit. Slowly.




was the wet sheets in the wind

was breakfasts, lunches, snacks

the oven, the rising loaf

the broom, the mop, the cloth

the cylinder of Vim

the garden for his grain

the soil, the water, hoe

the blueprint, mirror, plan

was powerless

and good as dead



held the house in his open hand

hefted shires on his back

saw through walls, can-opened roofs

propped the sky up, calmed its wrath

dusted it off if he wanted sun

whisked up clouds if he needed rain

walked the equator in a day

sprinted the universe before lunch

was phallus

and he was god


Rachel Davies

April 2016


Working Holiday…

Doing a PhD doesn’t mean you can’t take a holiday: I proved that this week. I took the PhD with me, worked in the early hours before breakfast and left the rest of the day for relaxation. Well, I am an early riser, before breakfast is the best time for me; you’ll have to find your own best time.

Slow down, Rachel. Be methodical. Firstly, I can report that I am recovered from the nasty microbe that laid me low last week. I have eaten lots of biscuits and mint humbugs this week to give me energy; don’t think for a moment I enjoyed them, they were medicinal! It seems to have worked. We have walked quite a lot this week and the energy levels were high. I think the sugar helped settle the stomach too. In that really hot summer of 1976, I caught infective hepatitis swimming in the north sea off Heacham. The doctor prescribed barley sugar to suck to settle down the angry liver. It worked then; and I think it worked on the stomach this week. That’s my scientific opinion and I’m sticking to it. Pass me a humbug.

OK, so on the ‘life’ front: we went from my grandson’s birthday celebrations in Telford to Pembrokeshire to live the week in a tiny cottage near Saundersfoot, a small village called Pentlepoir. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. But it was adequate as a base for getting out and about in Pembrokeshire. Over the course of the week we did lots of touristy things. We walked into Saundersfoot, about 2.5 miles each way. It was a lovely walk, spring was out in all her finery. We saw primroses, violets, celandine, anemone, even the bluebells were beginning to break their buds. The birds were singing love songs, the sun was warm. It was the perfect upper after the illness of the week before. We sat in the sun on the lovely sandy beach feeling like real English holiday makers. I wanted to wear a knotted handkerchief but Bill insisted I buy a sunhat like everyone else. We walked to the sea’s edge, saw crabs, even a hermit crab, before going for a huge ploughman’s lunch in a local pub. On another day we went to St David’s, the smallest city in the UK: it’s really a village-city but the cathedral is gorgeous, next door to a monastery ruin. I bought myself a new tunic in Window on Wales. On Friday we took a ride in a first class carriage on the steam railway at Gwili. It reminded me of train rides I took as a child: not that we travelled in a first class compartment then; and we didn’t travel by train much at all; but I remember a trip to London with the school when I was about 8. I don’t remember why we went or what we did when we got there, but I do remember how my lovely white ankle socks got filthy black in the air vent at the bottom of the carriage. It reminded me of iconic films of the time too: Brief Encounter and The 4.50 From Paddington.  In the afternoon we visited the museum of speed at Pendine Sands.

We didn’t leave poetry behind on our visit though: we went to Laugharne, a poetry pilgrimage to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse and writing shed. That was fascinating. A video installation said he wrote 75% of his poetry between the ages of 16 and 20: how fantastic is that? Of course he drank himself to death with 18 whiskeys at aged 39; and his best piece (in my opinion), Under Milkwood,  was the last piece he wrote. We bought the CD of the iconic Richard Burton reading; sorry, I really don’t like Dylan reading his own work: that tiresome ‘poet’s voice’. Feel free to disagree. We ended our visit with tea and Bara Brith on the terrace looking out over the estuary.

I took my MacBook and Freud books on holiday with me. I’m an early riser and I was determined to do a couple of hours of work a day before holidaying. I managed it; even on the day we came home. I got up about 5.00 a.m. each morning, made sure there were biscuits, I brewed coffee and worked. On the first couple of days I worked on my Freud chapter, taking care of the edits: I had printed off a copy before we came so I could read hard-copy and ‘mark’ it with a red pen. I edited it on screen. I added a further 1000 or so words: it was more than 4000 words when I emailed it off to Angelica and Antony to read prior to our meeting on Tuesday next week. It is still very much first draft; all the time I am reading I am seeing ways I can improve on what I’ve written. I have read The Ego and The Id  while I’ve been away, re-read it taking notes to cement my understanding. I need to revisit my Freud chapter again now and redraft: add to what I’ve already written as well as to write some more. I wonder if it will ever really be finished. It will soon be time to move on to post-Freudian feminist reaction, so I’ll have to finish with Freud soon, but I have enjoyed reading him so much; and learned loads. And in a holiday of 6 days, I managed about 12 to 15 hours of work; that left me the rest of the days to enjoy the holiday, knowing I wasn’t getting too far behind.

On the poetry front, I wrote a mother/daughter poem. I set myself the task last week of writing a  poem a week to my research theme. I managed that this week despite being on holiday. I don’t think it’s a particularly good poem; it could certainly be better than it is, but I did it. It’s a poem about birth, written from the new-born daughter’s point of view. It sort of begins to explore the myth of penis envy; but it needs work. It’s my blog poem for this week. Feel free to comment and offer suggestions.

The poem:




This is how I like to think it happened:


that I slip into the bright lights of the delivery room,

blink, fill my lungs and yell;

that you lay back on the mattress, exhausted,

laugh at the strength of my voice;

that the midwife cuts the umbilical cord, says

     you have a healthy daughter

that you weep tears of joy,

hold out your arms say

     a daughter is a gift;

that the midwife wraps me in a dressing sheet,

puts me into the crook of your arm,

that you look into my face,

smell my hair in that instinctual way

of an animal recognising its own offspring

that you touch my cheek

as if you’ve known me all your life

as if you can’t believe we’ve met at last.

that you whisper you’re beautiful

as your breasts tighten and swell.


This is how I think it really happened:


that I slither into the bright lights of the delivery room,

blink, fill my lungs and yell;

that you lay back on the pillows, exhausted

laugh at the strength of my voice.

that you ask How is he; that the midwife

wraps me in a dressing sheet, says

     you have a beautiful daughter

that she offers me to the crook of your arm.

that you take me but hold me at arm’s length

without the contact of skin on skin,

that you recognise without scenting

that I am decidedly not yours

that you tell the midwife you will bottle feed,

say you need to sleep

that she takes me from you, puts me in the crib,

wheels me out;

that I learn from day one

how to get by without a penis.


Rachel Davies

April 2016


The Chances of Anything Coming From Mars

One of my original aims in writing this blog was to reflect on how working towards a PhD fits into my life in other areas. The short answer this week is: it hasn’t. This week has been all about being ill.

I’ll take the week in chronological order from Monday. Monday was Spelks, my favourite day in a month. We met at my house this month, had a lovely afternoon of poetry and celebration; ate drank and shared. Possibly ate and drank more than was healthy, but we had a lovely, lovely afternoon. One of my Spelk poems, redrafted following feedback, is included at the end of this blog post. My activity for the next session involves researching and responding to ‘significant’ anniversaries: The Easter Rising (100 years), Pickles finding the stolen World Cup (50 years), that kind of thing. So far so good.

Cut to Monday night, 11 p.m. Suffice to say, thank goodness we have an ensuite bathroom. Monday night was all about a tummy bug, a violent little tummy bugger. Exacerbated by a urinary infection. No graphic details, just believe me when I say I felt ILL! Apart from necessary toilet breaks, I slept Tuesday away. Anyone who has been following this blog for any time at all has probably picked up that I am a virtual insomniac: about four hours is a restful night for me. So to sleep away a whole day is a measure of how poorly I was.

On Wednesday, feeling weak as water and as my secretary used to poetically put it, ‘rough as a bear’s arse’, I tried to make an appointment at the doctor’s surgery to do something about the urinary tract infection. No appointments available, either ring again tomorrow, no guarantees, or try the walk-in centre in Oldham. So, long story short, after two and a half hours of my life I’ll never get back, I came home from the walk-in centre with antibiotics. The urinary infection was soon on the run. The tummy bug has taken longer. I am still feeling the effects nearly a week later.

On Thursday my partner, Bill fell to the microbes; a lighter dose than mine, but nasty all the same.

Question: on the road to recovery, do I stick with a light diet? Answer: Not easy for a vegetarian, much easier if you can eat steamed fish or chicken.

Question: do I eat a high carb diet to increase energy levels? Answer: good idea; but a high carb diet will also leave your poor beleaguered tummy feeling overworked, an overstuffed pillow.

So, here I am on Sunday morning. Everyday, in every way, I’m getting better and better. As  H.G.Wells graphically showed in ‘War of the Worlds’, even the most mighty can be brought low by an organism it is impossible to see without a very strong microscope.

I’m writing this from a bed in my son’s home in Telford. Last night was the celebratory meal for my lovely grandson’s 18th birthday. I had a side order of mac and cheese, a side salad and two boules of vanilla ice cream. Each dish was like a saucer. It was enough. I passed on the birthday cake, swapped wine for aqua frizzante. Happy birthday Rich. Later today we are heading down the Heads of the Valleys road to South Wales. We’re off to Pembrokeshire for a week of R and R. It was our Christmas present to each other.

In other news, the Poets and Players competition winners, judged by the new Makar for Scotland, the lovely Jackie Kay, have been informed. I could tell you who they are, but then I would have to kill you. That is privileged information until our celebration event at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester on April 16th at which the prizewinners will read alongside Jackie Kay, with music by the Alba Quartet. If you want to know the winners you’ll have to come along: it will be a wonderful afternoon of poetry and music. Details here:

I also heard on Friday that my poem, ‘St Francis and the Birds’, an ekphrastic poem from a painting by Sir Stanley Spencer, was placed third in the Galway University Hospitals poetry competition, so that was a lovely get well wish too.

PhD work has been forced into the back seat this week then. I have printed out and edited the Freud chapter. I haven’t written any more to it this week so it is still about 40% first-drafted. I have brought books and MacBook away with me to do a couple of hours a day writing in the wee small hours while the rest of humanity sleeps. On Wednesday I will send what I have to my support team for comment and feedback at our meeting on 12th April. I have done a little reading and that is it. Sorry. I’ll be back on track next week, I promise.

My poem: a virtual visit to the graveyard where my brother, father and mother are all buried. It’s one of those poems that has needed writing for years but needed an ‘in’. The Spelks graveyard exercise was the ‘in’. I have worked on it a bit from feedback I received on Monday. It’s not finished by a long chalk, and WordPress has messed with the formatting but when it’s finished I think it might go into the PhD portfolio. Which brings me to my latest crazy resolution: I am going to try to write a poem every week for the portfolio and post the first draft here on my weekly blog. A big commitment, but so is a PhD. Watch this space.


In Lillingstone Dayrell Churchyard

memories:     a rifle-range silver spoon like the paddles

of a water wheel in a millpond of porridge

a lick of iced fancies     a tray of bloaters     a cheer for Sterling Moss

A Brown Eyed Handsome Man                       Leader of the Pack

a record deck                        a mini-van     small returns

for a life barely lived                 and  presents as bribe baits


we got new coats                 he got a new coffin

we got tight shoes               he got a gaping grave

there was a sense of what the fuck

a realisation that God doesn’t

there must have been tears                      I don’t remember tears


you two clung together for years

dumbstruck             heart shattered        silently unreachable

you never asked how we were

if we grieved too      how we grieved

we had to cope together    get by together

face after this together


how often did you wish it was one of

your ten-a-penny seen one seen them all daughters

and not your prince in the cold ground

not your only prince lonely in his earthy bed

not your prince         so young        so beautiful

so strong                   so dead


you’re all reunited now

up here every day we learn again

how to live without you


Rachel Davies

March 2016