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

 

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