Monthly Archives: May 2016

Shards, arias and feral cats

I have Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems as my bedtime read at the moment. I’m telling you this because, in a sense, it ties my week together.  A couple of years ago I went with a group of friends to Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. One evening, back at our cottage, Hilary produced a list of proscribed words for poets. It included words like palimpsest and ziggurat; it also included ‘shard’ as an overworked metaphor. With a few glasses of wine to limit our better sense, we wrote ‘consequence’ poems: write a line of a poem, pass it to the next poet to add another line, fold the top line under etc. Each line had to contain at least one of the proscribed words. It has to be said, it didn’t make for good poetry! So, I have always remembered these words; and that Peter Samson, editor of ‘The North’ poetry magazine, often speaks against ‘shard’.  I have noticed how often Plath uses ‘shard’ in her poems; I even think I spotted a cheeky ‘palimpsest’ once, but can’t swear to it. So does that make Plath a bad poet? Or was it the number of times she used ‘shard’ that made it a pariah in the world of poetry in the first place; in effect, is it all her fault?

Anyway, to move on: life intervened again this week. That is to say, the domestic goddess appeared to me in a dream so I felt the urge to do something about the public health hazard we call our bathroom. I gave it ‘a good bottoming’ as we northerners say. I think it has reduced the likelihood of prosecution, at least. My ironing basket is empty as well. Unfortunately, neither job will remain a done deal for long. My eldest sister used to say, ‘I don’t mind housework, but it’ll all need doing again next year!’ And I’m in that camp. Housework is one of the things that gets done when I have nothing better to do. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you probably know I always have better things to do. Bill does his bit but every now and then the goddess calls and I must answer. I can bear not to do a job, but I can’t do half a job so when it gets done, it gets done well. We need sunglasses to visit the loo now.

I have kept up my reading schedule. I finished Klein, started on the Cambridge Companion to Lacan, a collection of essays about his work.  Psychoanalysis and philosophy mixed. Difficult but fascinating. And I am enjoying trying to understand the significant differences between his thought and other theorists. Jouissance, objet a, the unconscious structured as a language. The essays, by international academics, are really good to read, but I’m feeling the pull toward the original writings of Lacan. Is there no end to this? I’ve only abandoned one chapter, an essay on Marxism and Lacan. I thought I had a basic understanding of Marxist theory, but that mix was over my head. I decided it wouldn’t have a great impact on my ‘mother-daughter’ theme, so I turned to the next essay. Sometimes in life, you just have to move on!

The result of all this wonderful, challenging reading is that I’m beginning to plan my next piece of writing. At the moment the planning is still in my head: I am starting to see what a chapter on psychoanalytic theory might look like. There is still a considerable amount of reading I need to get through, but I think I will begin serious planning of the chapter on paper this week, and the plan for the chapter might be the next topic of conversation with my support team. Time’s passing rapidly and I don’t want to waste it. If my plan is acceptable to academe, I can start some serious writing during the summer; and the reading and the writing can progress alongside each other then.

In other news, I had the second consultation with Music Theatre Wales re the aria I am writing in collaboration with my RNCM composer, Laura Nadal Abellà. Laura is a young woman from near Barcelona; she has had several premieres of her work performed in Barcelona in recent weeks; and this very weekend she is in London where the London Sinfonietta is performing her work. So I feel very privileged to be working with her. Michael Symmons Roberts was present at the meeting this time, as Professor of Poetry and MMU. It was good to have him there, fighting the corner for the words, as it were. The piece I had written for Laura was discussed: I made the mistake of calling it a poem, should have talked of ‘text’; but I explained I am not precious about it as a piece of work and Laura can work with it as she needs to in terms of repeating lines etc. One line presented a problem for being sung: I had written ‘Tariq’s syringe’ and it was felt that the two esses might be a stumbling block, but Laura seems unfazed by it. The next meeting isn’t until September/October by which time the piece will be at rehearsal stage; Laura and I will collaborate by email in the meantime and meet up when we need to.

After my consultation I met up with Rachel Mann who is also a poet involved in the aria project. Rachel, like me, is doing a creative-critical PhD at MMU; we met when we were both doing our MA Creative Writing at MMU, so I have known her for nearly ten years. We had coffee in the 8th Day cafe on Oxford Road. Several other of the poets came in while we were there, so it became a poets’ collective for a while. Rachel and I discussed our arias, and the philosophical aspects of the PhD reading. It was good to talk to someone who is on the same path. I had a FaceBook message from Sarah Fox at MMU who is considering setting up a social group for beleaguered PhD students to meet up and talk about their work. I would really appreciate this: talking to Rach on Thursday made me realise what an important aspect of learning discussion really is. This was only informal discussion but that helps so much to clarify your own thoughts. I hope Sarah gets this group off the ground: from the comments in the thread, it would be greatly appreciated, I think.

On the poetry front this week, I have sent out my Poetry Society Stanza e-mailing to remind poets of the deadline for this month’s meeting on Tuesday at the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge Station; this week it’s an anonymous workshop. Poets submit new and unpolished poems to me by midnight on the Friday preceding (i.e. last Friday in this case) and I put them all together in one document, common font and presentation for us to discuss without knowing who wrote which poem. We have found this a really useful way to give feedback because it removes the inhibitors of knowing who wrote the poem and how s/he might react to feedback. It leads to honest and fruitful discussion. We will have, I think, eight poems to discuss on Tuesday, so it promises to be a good meeting. You can find details of the Stanza’s activities on our FaceBook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

On Saturday I went with poet friend Hilary Robinson to the Poetry Business Writing Day in Sheffield. These writing days are run by Ann and Peter Sansom. They involve writing activities in the morning and discussion and feedback to poets of their work in the afternoon. They are always productive, they are fun and they are a lovely way to keep in touch with poet friends. Yesterday, among others, it was good to meet up with John Foggin, Keith Hutson and Pam Thompson. The next writing day is on June 11th. You can find details of Poetry Business events here:

http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/workshops/writing-days

So you see how my week has come full circle: Peter’s dislike of Plath’s ‘shards’ round to attending one of his writing workshops. This leads me nicely to my poem this week. No, I didn’t write it in Sheffield: I wrote it in my garret on Friday afternoon; although I did write a couple of poems yesterday at the Poetry Business that could become project poems with very little effort. Anyway, this poem was inspired by my Plath reading. I read a poem of hers, ‘Whiteness I Remember’; it begins ‘Whiteness being what I remember/about Sam…’ and for some reason it reminded me of a kitten we had when I was a child. I grew up on a farm so cats weren’t really pets: they were feral, there to do a job. But we children treated them as pets none-the-less. I’ll say no more: I’ll just give you the poem.

 

What I remember of the kitten was…

how she had in her fur all the colours of cat

how she was feral, nameless, employed

as an assassin of mice

how when she sat on my lap she purred

like a chain-saw at a tree trunk

how when she sat on my lap her arms

found their way to my neck,

one on either side, seeming to hug

how her tail was a lexicon

how her voice was a quiet word of greeting

how she was the animation of love

how I needed her more than she needed me

how she could have slept anywhere,

curled up like a Danish pastry,

how I watched the front wheel of your car

break her like a biscuit

 

Rachel Davies

May 2016

 

Another bloody Sunday and sweet FA

‘Another bloody Sunday and sweet FA’ was a play I remember watching on telly when I was younger. It was about a footie fanatic who refereed in a Sunday league. The ref was so bored he ended up scoring the winning goal. The title is how I feel about this week: how Sundays roll round so fast I think there must be two in a week; and this week has involved a lot of football. Not to mention cricket.

The purpose of this blog was to see how I am fitting PhD work into my ‘real’ life. This week has been exemplary: lots of PhD, lots of ‘real life’ and a fair bit of poetry. Ideal. First the ‘real life’ bits. On Sunday I went to Telford to visit family. It was my great-granddaughter’s fifth birthday. How quickly they grow up; and she is growing into a beautiful girl, confident, self-assured, knowing her worth and her place in the world. Her grand-parents (my youngest son!) had given her a lovely new bike. How, I ask myself, did my baby get to be a granddad? How did I get to be a great-grandma? I’ve not finished being a teenager yet; but there you have it. ‘Tempus just keeps on fuging’, as Reggie Perrin used to say. On Monday I took someone I love very much to the Christie Hospital for a three monthly check to make sure the devastating melanoma has not returned in some sinister disguise. She was treated eighteen months ago, and if you ever thought, as I confess I did, that it was the ‘best’ cancer to get because they remove the mole and it’s done with, forget that. It is a malicious and malignant enemy. It has left a frightening legacy and every three months she is checked by an oncologist or the plastic surgeons who undertook the removal of the melanoma. On top of these checks she has six monthly scans to ensure it isn’t reappearing internally: yes that is a constant threat. The next scan is in June. So if you are worried about symptoms, see a doctor soon as…details here, if you are interested:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Malignant-melanoma/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

Next, football. On Sunday, Manchester United’s last premiership match of the season, against Bournemouth,  was abandoned when a ‘suspect device’ was found in one of the toilets. This has been well reported on the news so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say we were planning to listen to the match commentary on the radio on our way home from Telford. Instead we watched the rearranged match on TV on Tuesday. Hurrah! On the last league match of the season, Utd remembered how to play. A wonderful and much needed win which came too late to get them into European Champions League football next year. But a reassuring win none-the-less. I spent the rest of the week hoping they hadn’t peaked too early for the FA cup final against Crystal Palace on Saturday. I rushed home from Poets and Players (about which more in a mo) to watch the match; thanks to a slight delay in kick-off time, I only missed a couple of minutes at the start. Way-hey! another Utd win: first silverware since Sir Alex left the club; and the first FA Cup win for Utd for twelve years. I know, remarkable. But they did deserve the win, dominated the match from the start. So I’m a happy red this morning. And to add the cherry, as cricket commentators call the ball, England won the first test match of the season after forcing Sri Lanka to follow on at Headingley. Cricket and football: what I would spend my time doing if I wasn’t doing other stuff.

I can’t leave ‘real life’ without mentioning the Whit Friday Band Contests. I live on Saddleworth, where the contests happen. Every Whit Friday, Saddleworth is on lock-down with road closures from late afternoon to after midnight and the wonderful sound of brass bands floating through the villages as depicted in the film ‘Brassed Off’. On Fridays, being awful creatures of habit, we go into the biggest Saddleworth village, Uppermill, to visit the bank, do other business and have an al fresco coffee in Java. This Friday, Uppermill was a mass of humanity to rival Hong Kong or Tokyo (the impression I have of visiting both cities). People everywhere, even at 11.00 a.m., some of them with little camping stools set on the pavements to claim their spots for the evening entertainment. We did what sane people do: finished our business, drank our coffee (indoors as all the al fresco tables were taken) and went home to hunker down in annual siege conditions. A great day was had by all.

Next the poetry bit of my life: this has taken a fairly forward back seat this week after my week away in Bowland last week. But poetry is never far from the fore and this week is no exception. I finished the Adam Phillips essays, Promises Promises, as my bedtime read this week. It will get a proper reading in PhD time in the future, but as a first read I am done with it. I replaced it with Sylvia Plath’s poetry: still very much to do with the PhD, but again, this is an exploratory reading to find poems I want to concentrate on later. I have been reading Ariel, her last collection, published posthumously. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the community of poets, and here is another example. When I was first accepted by MMU to do my PhD, I did what all tinterweb-savvy folk do and announced it on FaceBook, saying it would involve, among other stuff, a reading of Plath’s poetry. A friend, whom I met through the Creative Writing MA at MMU, congratulated me on my insanity and sent me said copy of Ariel through the  post. How kind was that? It is the ‘Restored Edition’, with a foreword by her daughter, Frieda Hughes and facsimiles of Plath’s original manuscript in the back. A wonderful gift to receive, a wonderful reminder of the community of poets.

On Monday, I heard I had been long-listed in the 2016 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition. Unfortunately, I learned in the same email that I hadn’t got beyond the long-list. Ho hum, back to the drawing board! On Friday I heard from my composer, Laura, at RNCM about the first draft poem I sent for our aria. The good news is, she liked it very much and thinks she can work with it. We have our next consultation meeting with staff from RNCM and Music Theatre Wales on Thursday, so we will at least have something to talk about. I was talking to another poet who is involved in the project on Saturday and he asked me how many pages I had written for my aria. It hadn’t occurred to me in terms of pages! I wrote a poem that said what we had discussed and passed it to my composer. I’ll find out on Thursday if it’s enough, no doubt.

On Saturday, yesterday, I wrote my blog poem before going out with friends to the Whitworth Art Gallery for the May Poets and Players event involving Moniza Alvi as the headline poet, supported by Jonathan Edwards and Cath Nichols and our ‘players’, Glenn and Chico, a flamenco duet. Oh my, another wonderful event by P&P; and despite Bradford Lit Fest happening a few miles to the east and Chorlton Arts Fest happening a mile or two to the west; and despite the Manchester Games happening just about on our doorstep, still our audience was impressive. These are free events with access to some of the top poets in the UK and beyond, reliant on Arts Council England as a major funding stream. And that is getting harder and harder to access. Our bid for next year’s programme is in the process of being prepared as I write. Hopefully we will be able to continue to mount these wonderful and well-appreciated events for several years to come. Anyway, yesterday I got the job of introducing Jonathan Edwards, bless him. Lovely poet, lovely man. Our next (free) event is in September and includes Pascale Petit, details here:

Coming Events

Pascale is also running a writing workshop for us on the morning of the event. The workshop costs just £20.00 if you are interested. Let me know, or go to our FaceBook page to get yourself signed up:

https://www.facebook.com/Poets-Players-206511376557/?fref=ts

So all this just leaves the PhD work. This has been intensive this week to make up for the back burners it simmered on last week. I have given the best part of four full days to PhD reading. I have nearly finished Klein’s Love, Guilt and Reparation, only half a chapter to complete later today before I get onto the next big thing, Lacan. I feel as if I ought to give you some kind of break-down of my understanding of her work, but I don’t want to lose my readership, so suffice to say I am learning so much; I even understand some of it! I feel like a weighing balance: in one pan is my reading, in the other is writing. The reading pan is heavily weighted and almost touching the ground at the moment, the writing pan is way too high. I must get some more writing done soon to get some balance into this and I am beginning to think about writing again. I think my writing ideas have changed and developed a lot and my approach will be much more integrated than my last attempt at a start. I’ll keep you posted, when I have the confidence to start again. Later today I’ll be reading again. Lots.

So that brings me to my portfolio poem. I have fulfilled my commitment to write a poem a week for the project. This poem is a knock-on from reading Plath. I found her poem ‘You’re’, describing her son in utero, I think, very moving but also very exciting as a form. I haven’t reproduced the form, or the excitement probably, but it is what inspired me to write this poem before setting off for Poets and Players yesterday. Be kind to it, it has barely got its eyes open yet.

She

 is a spider whose sac is tight packed with minute

spiderlings like streptococci dispersed by rough wind

then who stands by to watch their scurried panic

 

is a towering cumulus threatening rain

putting out the sun in watery hisses sometimes

an elusive hint of thin light penetrating

 

is a banker who deposits the currency of smiles

in inaccessible long-term accounts then becomes Fagin

whose waifs must pick pockets for the interest

 

is a history book, no plot, no character, no chronology

no words but an index not alphabetically arranged

confusing, unmemorable, unknowable

 

is a thick oak door, locked from the inside

behind the door a lead-lined box its lock unpickable

in the box the keys to the box and the door

 

Rachel Davies

May 2016

 

 

 

 

Poetry, poetry and more poetry

I’ve had a wonderful week. The poetry part of my life has been to the fore this week, the PhD on the back burner, simmering slowly. I’ve been in the Lake District, in Bowland Bridge not far from Windermere, with four women poet friends, The Bitches. We go away every year to enjoy our own poetry retreat. This year, as a bonus, we chose the hottest week of the year. We had some rain on two of the days, but both times it rained overnight, so didn’t bother us at all. ‘Rain before seven, fine by eleven,’ we used to say in the fens, and it worked for us this week.

My bedroom at our cottage opened onto a private patio with a gorgeous view across the Cumbrian landscape, so that is where I sat to work early mornings before the others were awake. Early on Sunday, I was joined by the black and white cat who adopted us and whom we called Ezra on account of his goatee beard and his obvious interest in poetry.  I made a first attempt to write the words to an aria. I am involved in a joint project between the Royal Northern College of Music, Music Theatre Wales and Manchester Metropolitan University to write an aria on the theme of ‘immigration’. I am working with a composer, Laura, and we are exploring the trafficking of young girls into prostitution. We wrote our scenario in March, and decided our aria would come in the last act, would be Lilith (our young heroine from Aleppo) reflecting on her current situation in a brothel somewhere in Europe. We wanted it to reflect her hopeless situation, so it wasn’t easy to write. But I drafted it on Sunday morning and have revisited it all week. I sent it off to Laura for comment on Friday: I have no idea about music beyond listening to it, so it will be interesting to get Laura’s feedback. We meet with representatives from RNCM and MTW next week for our next consultation on the project.

After breakfast, Penny ran a workshop based around Kim Addonizio’s work. Kim writes beautiful sexy poetry, tackling topics you don’t often find in a poem. So Penny challenged us to write something shocking about the body that we wouldn’t normally write; to get down to the basics with bodily functions and sex. We all wrote three poems during the morning’s workshop. I’m reasonably pleased with all mine as first drafts. We worked all morning and retired to the village local, The Hare and Hounds for an al fresco lunch. The afternoons on our retreats are ours to do as we want with. Sometimes we do stuff together, sometimes we take time to be alone. On Sunday, I spent a couple of hours with Melanie Klein, reading and note-taking. I didn’t want not to do some PhD work in the week, and I got a couple of chapters read on my private patio in the sun. Hilary cooked a vegetarian roast dinner and Eton Mess dessert then in the evening we shared some of our favourite poets. I read some of Jane Yeh’s Ninja. I love the dark humour in her work. Louise introduced us to a Czech poet, Miroslav Holub whose work I found interesting. I need to know more about him.

On Monday at 1.45 a.m. Ezra decided he wanted to get closer to us, so  he jumped through Louise’s first floor window (?) and onto her bed. I don’t have to tell you what a shock that was for her. Being a dog-lover, she put him out onto the landing, thinking he would do what a dog would do and find somewhere to curl up and sleep. How little she knows cats. Any cat lover will tell you if a cat sees a closed door they want it opened; so Ezra decided to choose the least cat-oriented poet among us and scratch and miaow at Penny’s door to be let in. Penny knocked me up as I am the one among us who befriended him in the first place, and asked me to help her put him out of the house. That was it for sleep for at least two hours so I did some more PhD reading while I waited for sleep to find me again.

After breakfast on Monday we were joined by Kim Moore, a lovely young poet who lives in Barrow. She came to be an honorary Bitch for the day. Hilary ran the morning workshop based partly in the activity we did with Holly McNish in Wenlock a couple of weeks ago. She also gave us an activity based in beautiful photographs of people from the world’s disappearing cultures. After the workshop we went to the Hare and Hounds for lunch again then in the afternoon Hilary made scones to a Paul Hollywood recipe; Hilary is a wonderful baker, the scones were little clouds of gorgeousness. We ate them with clotted cream and Hilary’s home-made strawberry jam. We sat in the sunshine on the main patio overlooking the valley and chatted and laughed about nothing much until Kim had to leave us at 4.00 p.m. to go to her junior band practice, she is a peripatetic brass instrument teacher in her day job. If you haven’t read her ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’, find it here:  http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/27301/auto/0/THE-TRUMPET-TEACHERS-CURSE.  We didn’t need dinner after all those scones, but we had it anyway. Louise cooked mushrooms en croute with lots of nibbly bits as starters. We soaked up the last of the rays on the patio before retiring to the conservatory to read and share more poems, our own this time.

Monday was Polly’s workshop. She cracked a whip and had us on a poetry marathon: quick fire writing tasks that gave us no time to think. We wrote about ten poems each on Tuesday morning, most of them surprisingly worth reading. Lots to work on at a later date. It was pressured, but good fun too, just writing from your unconscious without giving it too much composing thought. In the afternoon we went into Bowness on Windermere. We took a ride on a lake cruiser, were shamelessly taken by the nasal twang of the boat’s tour guide. His commentary was very negative too: ‘we’ll have no…on my boat’ e.g. standing on the seats or smoking in the toilets; so that became our mantra for the rest of the week. Back on dry land, we ‘did’ the shops: I bought a very colourful pair of sandals I found in a half price sale in a rather expensive shop, so I was a happy bunny. We had a pasty for lunch; I had to intimidate a lovely man who bought the last vegetarian pasty in the shop but it was OK, he let me have it. He thought it said ‘chicken’, not chickpea. I hope he enjoyed his chicken pasty as much as I enjoyed my chickpea and potato one.

My turn to cook dinner when we got home. I made a butternut and mushroom risotto with ginger and syrup sponge for dessert. After dinner, more poems in the conservatory. We had a practice run for our open-mic readings on Wednesday.

Wednesday was spent doing touristy things. We went to Conishead Priory, which is now a Bhuddist Centre in the north west. We visited the Buddhist temple, which is beautiful, very friendly and welcoming. We had lunch in the World Peace Cafe then went for a lovely walk to Paradise and the beach. We walked along the shingle for some way; why is the sea so reviving? Is it because we are an island race and have a maritime past to connect us to the world. I love the sea, don’t feel it’s a real holiday if I don’t see the sea at least once. Later in the afternoon we went into Ulverston; more shops, mostly charity shops. We had a lovely curry in Naaz and then went to Natterjacks for the open-mic readings Kim had organised in honour of our visit to Cumbria. It was all that is good about open mic nights: a lovely and diverse set of readings and cake. Kim organised a ‘Hunger Games’ style approach to the second half, so if you wanted to read you had to fight for a spot on the carpet. All good natured aggression!

On Thursday it was my workshop. Another lovely summer’s day, I sent us all out into the local landscape with a hand lens to take notes for poems. We wrote a (some) poem(s) when we got back to the house, shared our poems at the end of the workshop. I have enough notes for ten more poems; I hope I get round to writing them sometime because I really enjoyed collecting the notes. We had an ad hoc lunch at the cottage, eating up all the left-over nibbles in the fridge before walking to the Hare and Hounds for an al fresco pint and a ‘thunder and lightning’ ice cream from the local shop: vanilla laced with chocolate and caramel. In the evening we had booked to eat in the pub and to take part in the weekly pub quiz. Oh my, how hard was that quiz? We did our best: the winning team, a regular at the quiz, scored 32.5 points; we scored 28.5 so we didn’t do too badly for beginners.

On Friday we packed the cars and left. Penny, Hilary and I called at Kendal on the way home; more shopping and lunch. We were back in Greater Manchester by 4.00 p.m. I dozed most of the evening. Saturday I gave to the PhD. I had been doing some reading of Klein and Phillips on holiday, but I really attacked the Klein on Saturday, rendering unto Caesar… I also wrote the poem I have included in the blog this week. It is a nod to Kim Moore’s ‘Some People’. It’s a bit of a rant really, but I enjoyed writing it. I think the message is implied. I hope you enjoy reading it, remember it was only born yesterday; I’d welcome any comments.

Some Mothers

(After Kim Moore)

 some mothers like to sit for hours with babies at their breasts

or with babies tucked onto a hip like an extension of themselves

when they need to walk around, some mothers carry their babies

in a papoose close to their heart where they will always hold them;

 

some mothers love the smell of some babies when they are straight

from the bath and dusted with Johnson’s baby talc; some mothers

love the smell even when some babies sick up clotted milk on their best

silk shirt or soil themselves neck to knee with liquid ordure; when there’s

nowhere to change them, some mothers find a place to change them,

 

they know that soiling is what babies do, that this is the job some mothers

signed up for; some mothers don’t ignore some babies’ cries even

for a minute, even in the middle of the night when all some mothers

want is the oblivion of sleep, some mothers comfort some babies even

when they are so tired they don’t know their own names or what

day it is or when they last found themselves in a dream, some mothers

comfort some babies even then; some babies know some mothers

 

are there to feed them and change them and read them stories and sing

them nursery rhymes and lullabies, some mothers sing so long childless

couples next door complain but some mothers still sing and tell stories

about their own mothers or about the night some babies were born,

some mothers tell what the midwife was called and how much

some babies weighed and how long some babies took to be born

and what time it was and what day it was and how proud they felt,

 

some mothers recognise this is all the history some children need to know;

some mothers wouldn’t dream of leaving some children alone unless

some children were so lost in their imagination it would be wrong

to interrupt; some mothers have magic rubs or kiss-it-betters, their hands

can cool fevers and pluck pain painlessly out of tummies and heads;

in moments before sleep some mothers kiss some children goodnight

ten times more than some children can count on all their fingers;

some mothers don’t offer pills in place of hugs, some mothers

 

know that love is not the same as new shoes, good food, a roof

to sleep under, some mothers know these things are not everything.

Birthdays and Bowland Bitches

The PhD has taken a front seat this week; except on days when other priorities have been unavoidable. I’ve spent three whole days reading and taking notes. I finished the Kristeva Melanie Klein and began to read Melanie Klein’s own Love, Guilt and Reparation. The early chapters focusing on the analysis of Fritz/Erich (her son) are very readable. Understanding psychoanalysis is a leap of faith in many ways, the interpretations that are made regarding the sexual proclivities of children; but she makes it all sound very plausible in those analyses, and I am open-minded enough to be prepared to accept what she says. And certainly, if her reflections on the analyses are to be believed, Fritz/Erich was a much happier child to have his proclivities lifted out of repression. The chapters that record her analyses findings in talks to various psychoanalytic associations are harder to get a handle on, presumably because of her perceived professional audience. But, as with Freud, the more I read the more sense she makes.

I have continued to read Adam Phillips Promises Promises, the collection of essays on literary criticism. They are very readable; but to get the most out of them I really need to read some of the literature he is writing about. Sometimes, although I have enjoyed reading his style in the essay, the content is over my head. My favourite essays have been ‘Poetry and Psychoanalysis’, the first essay in the collection; also ‘Winnicott’s Hamlet’ and ‘Editing Houseman’, essays based in works I know quite well. But all the essays have shown me the way to approach criticism in an individual and engaging way.

I had to change my day at the pub this week; or rather, my day doing the books at my daughter’s gastro-pub. I had to move this to Tuesday, which is normally one of my dedicated PhD work days. But I had worked throughout the Bank Holiday weekend, so I didn’t feel too bad about this. And as I’m taking Promises Promises as my bedtime read, I kept the PhD end up to a certain extent anyway. I had to change my day because on Wednesday I drove to Stamford in Lincolnshire to spend the day with my sister, who has a ‘significant’ birthday today. It is fair to say, she is not overjoyed about this! I arranged for all my friends to send her a 70th card, so she has been inundated: that birthday will come whether you welcome it or not, so my philosophy is to meet it head-on and show it who’s boss. I will have the same ‘significant’ celebration next year, and I intend to face it off with knobs on. My sixtieth birthday celebrations lasted nine months; so bring it on, I say. Anyway, my partner Bill and I went to visit and took her out for a celebratory lunch at the Bertie Arms in Uffington. Very nice it was too. And it involved cheesecake. Happy birthday, Jane.

Thursday Bill’s car had to go in for MOT and annual service. This set him back the cost of a rear tyre as well as the cost of the service etc. After shopping to make sure he can survive a week without me (he is no chef!) it was back to the PhD grindstone for a couple more hours of reading. I had to stop to pack a suitcase for a week away in the Lakes. I am a last-minute packer. I tend to keep a packing list on my iPad and edit it for the nature of the excursion. At bedtime, I remembered I hadn’t yet uploaded the Poets and Players Thursday Late event with Ira Lightman and Andrew McMillan; so I had to do my own version of a Thursday late to get it done.

On Friday, I took the external hard drive with videos to the post office to send to a colleague on the committee to upload to our YouTube channel. Details of our YouTube channel here:   https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL426OGPKVF3PQz2TTCS71iRuW0GKF11zY   I went from there to collect two friends for a sortie to the Lakes. This particular ‘holiday’ is a week away with four women poet friends, we call ourselves The Bitches. We hire a cottage every year and organise our own poetry retreats: Bowland Bitching this year, Barmouth Bitching last year, Beckside Bitching the year before. You get the gist. Well, we all take it in turns to run a poetry workshop in the mornings, do ‘touristy’ things in the afternoons, take it in turns to cook dinner. It works out much cheaper than regular retreats (which we also do sometimes) and we take  the poetry seriously and laugh a lot the rest of the time. This year, Cumbrian poet Kim Moore is joining us as an honorary Bitch on Monday (tomorrow). Kim has organised an open mic session for us this year at Natterjacks tea rooms in Ulverstone on Wednesday 11th, which we are really looking forward to: poetry and cakes, what’s not to like? Come along if you’re in the area on Wednesday, details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/582464351904862/

So, we arrived in Bowland Bridge on Friday afternoon. The sun was shining and it was gorgeously warm; this a week after I had to dig my way out of the snow, remember. Oh, the vagaries of the British weather. Anyway, we arrived too early to take up residence in our cottage so we visited the local pub, the Hare and Hounds in Bowland Bridge, for lunch. We sat in the garden watching the birds, most notably a thrush hunting for worms. At 3.15 we walked to the cottage to see if it was ready to move in; even though the owner was still there doing maintenance stuff, he let us move in early, thanks to Penny who pleaded for the food we had in the warm car. Our other two friends joined us at 4.00. Having settled in, unpacked, opened the wine, we had dinner, Penny’s vegetarian spag bol, and an evening of poetry reading.

Saturday I was up early. Let me tell you, I have a luxurious bedroom with doors overlooking a private patio. I crept downstairs at 5.00 a.m. to make myself a lovely pot of rooibos tea and took it out to the patio with my books to do some work. Even that early the morning was lovely: goldcrests in the trees, swallows on the wing, rabbits in the adjoining meadow, absolutely idyllic. And so peaceful in the Cumbrian countryside, so restorative. Peace was spoiled by a dawn raid by the locals: alright it was just a very friendly cat with a lovely miaow who was desperate for a stroke. Cats know a soft touch when they see one: I am that soft touch. He stayed for ages, purring like a combine harvester!

Our first poetry workshop was on Saturday morning after breakfast. Louise organised a writing activity around self portraiture after visiting the Rembrandt self portrait at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal on her way here. It was an interesting take to write a self portrait in poetry in the third person, as if someone is viewing your portrait in a gallery. After writing, we read each others’ poems for feedback and criticism, then finished the workshop by reading our own poems to the group. I am including my self portrait as my blog poem this week as it involved comparisons with my mother. It is very early draft: I only wrote it yesterday after all, so it will be stored and brought out for redrafting at some later date. We walked to a second pub for lunch: about a mile and a half away up a very steep hill. Lunch in the beer garden again in lovely sunshine. We are blessed. It was Polly’s turn to cook dinner on this evening, a delicious vegetable biryani. We spent the evening on a practice run for our open-mic reading, offering advice and feedback. We want to get it right.

Anyway, here’s the poem. Treat it kindly, it’s hardly learned to walk yet!

Legacy

 Here’s a face with her mother’s clear skin,

sculpted chin, straight, unobtrusive nose; the hair,

a cap of tight curls more tamed than the unruly mane

of her school photos, suggests the perm and a half

her mother had to pay over the odds for

to curl her thick straight hair; but these curls

are all nature’s, at once her pleasure and her bane.

 

Here’s a pair of eyes brown as September conkers,

their gaze challenging all comers to put her down

if they dare. These are not her mother’s submissive blue,

they are an inheritance from the father’s dominant gene.

 

Here above the upper lip, a hint of moustache more shadow

than whiskers that thirty years ago would have been waxed away.

Sixty years of experience has upped her sense of self, so she thinks

fuck it, there are more important things to stress about.

 

Here’s a face where laughter has left a more valuable legacy

than crying. Those two grooves gouged between the brows,

though, speak of tears having played their part in her make-up:

they tell of pains recovered from, frowns cut down to size.

 

Here’s a face that carries its past into its future.

The eyebrows plucked to parentheses in the Garboesque

fashion of the sixties have given up trying to grow back

so now in their silver age they’re barely there.

 

Here’s a face that wears its history like a crown.

The double piercings her mother would have frowned on

are a celebration and a rebellion against the grey and beige

uniform of geriatrics. This is who she is, they say,

you take her as she is or you can piss off.

 

Rachel Davies

May 2016

The Community of Poets

A poetryful week. It is amazing that when I retired from primary school headship 13 years ago, I knew nothing of the wonderful community of poetry: poetry was just the angst you wrote in the privacy of your own home, something secret you didn’t tell other people about. How pleased am I that I found my way into this community? This week has been all about the community of poets.

I spent last weekend with three friends at Much Wenlock for the poetry festival. I mentioned this last week. On Sunday morning three of us went to a Holly McNish writing workshop. Holly is the kind of poet everyone should spend time with: she is so joyful, you can’t help feeling good in her company. She ran a fantastic workshop that involved sanitary bags from women’s toilets and lots of secret information about ourselves written on scraps of paper. We all came away with an unusual poem that we never would have written without her input. Later in the day, she did a reading from her new book, Nobody Told Me, a reflection on pregnancy and new-motherhood. Poetry and prose, it is an interesting take, personal, political (small p), and entertaining. After lunch we went to a reading by Greta Stoddart and Paul Henry. I enjoyed Greta’s reading very much; Paul Henry’s poetry seemed very ordinary by comparison, although I think he had some groupies in the seats behind us who probably wouldn’t agree with me. We ended our Sunday with dinner at the Plume of Feathers, about 200 yards from our hired cottage.

Home on Monday, still buzzing from the poetryful weekend. On Monday afternoon I had to clear the hard drive on my Sony Handicam. I have been using it to record the Poets and Players events for the last year or so; but it got poorly at the last event and messed up the Jackie Kay and competition winners’ recordings. So, I wiped the hard drive clean, thinking it was a space issue: I’ve had it since 2007, so there was a lot on it; all backed up, of course. I prepared an instruction sheet for a friend to use it at the Thursday Late session at the Whitworth this week; I couldn’t go. Ira Lightman, Andrew Macmillan and the cellist Heather Bird. Well, the upshot is, the Handicam still didn’t have enough room despite being wiped clean, so I think it’s probably on its last legs. Ho hum! The event went well, I believe; different from our usual Poets and Players events, but it was a different audience. You can find out about up-coming P&P events here:  https://poetsandplayers.co/future-events/

On Tuesday I met with four poet friends to plan our up-coming poetry retreat in Bowland Bridge in the Lake District. We hire a cottage every year and organise our own writing workshops, one a day. We incorporate ‘touristy’ stuff as well, so we have a brilliant week away. This year, after I asked on FaceBook if there were any open mic events in the Bowland area during that week (i.e. next week), lovely Kim Moore actually organised an event especially for us. The event will be at Natterjacks tea rooms, hosted by Kim on Wednesday 11th May, 7.30 p.m. If you are in the area, come along. Details here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/582464351904862/

On Tuesday evening, it was Stanza. I co-ordinate the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza in the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge Station.  This week was a reading week: we chose to read the poetry of Jackie Kay. There were only four members there this week, several had sent apologies, so we were a small and select band. We read several of Jackie’s poems and had interesting discussions about and beyond them. It was a good night despite depleted numbers. Our next session is on 31st of May, an anonymous workshop. You can find details on our Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

On Wednesday morning, in bed, very early, I wrote three poems for Spelks. Yes, three. I didn’t mean to, they just came to me as I was writing the first one. The theme this month, set by me at our last session, was ‘anniversaries’. These could be personal anniversaries, national or international ones, for instance 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, 200 years since Charlotte Bronte’s birth, 100 years since the Easter Rising. You can have two poems this week. Here is one I wrote in bed on Wednesday, to commemorate the day 50 years ago when Pickles found the stolen world cup:

Pickles

 not onions not Branston

not walnuts not limes

not piccalilli not gherkins

not cauliflower not beetroot

not eggs not silverskins

 

in 1966, I remember, the Pickles

on everybody’s lips was

that cold nose that sniffed out

the stolen trophy, saved

the tournament.

 

Who’s a good boy then

—yes you are!

The other poem, one for my PhD project, I’ll post at the end. On Wednesday evening my partner and I went to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester for a performance of King Lear in collaboration with the Talawa theatre company. I can’t say too much about it here because some friends have still to see it, but I can say it was fantastic. I love the play, have seen several versions of it, but this was up there with the best, in my opinion. Don Warrington played Lear brilliantly. And ‘Blow winds, crack your cheeks’ is one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare.

On Friday it was Spelks. I was worried, because it was also the snowiest day of the year so far: we had to dig our way our of our lane. We had about three inches of standing snow overnight and I had a dental appointment at 8.30. We just got the lane cleared of snow when it started to come down thick and fast again, large fluffy flakes, sticky snow. So I rang the dentist to cancel; again: this was a replacement appointment for cancelling when I had the head cold a couple of weeks ago. So I was worried I would have to cry off from Spelks and you know by now how much I love Spelks: seven friends who meet monthly to write, read and share poems. But it was OK. The snow had receded by lunchtime and the lane stayed clear, so I put emergency rations in the car (just joking!) and set off for Mossley. By the time we went home the snow had practically gone: that’s the nature of it at this time of year, thankfully it doesn’t hang around for long. The theme for Spelks this month was anniversaries; it inspired some brilliant work. We shared, laughed, ate and drank. In short, it was everything that is good about the community of poets.

In among all this, the PhD has been progressing apace. I spent several spare hours (?) reading and taking notes on Julia Kristeva’s Melanie Klein: object-relations theory,  fascinating stuff. I think I am beginning to understand what she is about and how I can use her theories to inform my own research. I have also been reading Promises Promises, Adam Phillips’s collection of essays on psychoanalytic theory and literature criticism. Very readable. Very interesting.

So, my PhD themed poem this week. It was inspired by the Spelk theme of anniversaries: it is twenty five years this July since my mother died. This poem reflects on that night, and the death of my only brother thirty years earlier, a catastrophic event for the family.

Loss

Twenty Five Years

since you died and I’m thinking

how I held your hand

tried to reach you across the barren land

you retired to that devastating summer

 

how I held your hand and waited

as your breath changed from shallow

to rasping to rattling then one long hiss

like a puncture

and no more opportunities for love

 

how I tried for years to reach you

and even that night I couldn’t find the way.

I thought we might have made it then

but now I’m in a place where everything

has a familiar strangeness

a sort of half remembered landscape

 

where he still is, where he’s always been,

still seventeen,

still the same oppressive absence he became

that summer. As far as I can see

the only one missing is you.