Daily Archives: May 8, 2016

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!


 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