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.
(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.