Daily Archives: April 24, 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:   http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/come-closer-speak-what-you-feel

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.