Life is what happens…

…when you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon sang. Well, the PhD work has been knocked into second (third?) place by life and poetry this week. Still, I have managed to do some PhD work in a manic week. I’ll take my week day by day, as we all must of course!

My old Aunt Mary used to have some very wise and amusing sayings; one of my favourites was ‘I love hard work; I could watch it all day’. Another, the obverse of this, was ‘Everybody’s willing: some’s willing to work and some’s willing to let them.’ This week I’ve been willing to work. My Poets & Players committee work took over my weekend. It’s Arts Council England bid time again and this year (the goalposts change every year) we need a ‘Constitution document’ to accompany the bid. I volunteered to write it. If you want something doing, ask a busy person, isn’t that what they say? I drafted the document and e-sent it to other members of the committee for comment. We also need evaluation data for the bid, and evaluation is one of my responsibilities on the committee. I had a backlog of events’ evaluation forms to analyse, so I spent the weekend getting them up to date too. On the whole, they are very positive about the work we do; the main complaint always seems to be about the lack of comfort in the chairs (they’re not that bad in my opinion), and there’s not a deal we can do about them anyway. I don’t think ACE would appreciate us spending public money on comfy chairs. So we have to go with what the Whitworth provides. I worked on the evaluations on Sunday, even doing a batch in bed on Sunday night, then up at 5.00 a.m. on Monday to finish them off. So good to know they are all up to date and ready for the bid.

Later on Monday I went to my aerobics class, trying to get back into the groove. I’m pleased to announce that already it was easier than the week before: face pink rather than scarlet, aprés-aerobics cappuccino less of a life-saver, more of an indulgence.

On Tuesday I swapped my usual day for going into my daughter’s gastro-pub to do her books, a job normally reserved for Wednesday. I swapped, because on Wednesday I went with her to the Christie again for a six-monthly CT scan to monitor the progress of her melanoma treatment. This is a horrible, horrible disease and, as cancer cells had invaded her lymph system, the chances of it returning as internal metasteses are relatively high, so a six month scan to keep check. The scan is a bit of an ordeal, not least because of the radio-active cocktail she has to drink before she goes into the machine. She positively glows with the internal heat on the way home. She calls it ‘the worst cocktail bar in Manchester’ and I wrote a poem about it once, after her first scan eighteen months ago on a bitingly cold day in late December 2014:

The Worst Cocktail Bar in Manchester

 Waitresses dressed as nurses come to the tables,

greet you cordially, take your cocktail order: Strangled

Gland, Corpse Reviver, Black and Blue, Lacy Legs.

 

You consider Lacy Legs, but settle for Black and Blue.

You knock back two glasses, pull a face, wait 15 minutes,

take a chaser. You look around, see people downing

 

orange cocktails, yellow. One woman sips a white liquid

like breast milk. You pour another glass, retch, hold

your nose, keep it down. Something in it smells

 

like aniseed but not quite. You swear you’ll never drink

Pernod again. You save the last shot for just before the scan.

Really, you say, this is the worst cocktail bar in Manchester.

 

You try not to lick your lips, begin to feel the blood heat

coursing. On the way home you ride with the windows down.

In the back seat I ignore the December freeze, keep my gloves on.

 

Now, the wait for the results; the longer the wait the better, we’ve been told, because if there is a problem they will get in touch sooner rather than later. But the wait is always an anxious time. So far no news, so good news, right?

On Tuesday evening I went with a friend to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for an unusual poetry reading. Two MMU MA Creative Writing students were the starters to the reading; and very good they were too. Then the main course: Michael and Matthew Dickman are identical twin brothers, both poets. They have written a collection of poems, ‘Brother’, which tells their experience of their older brother’s death by suicide. You can imagine, this is an unusual book. It is also produced in an unusual way, ‘top to tail’ as it were, with Michael’s book starting at one end and reading one way through the book, and Matthew’s starting at the other end and reading the opposite way through the book. Their voices are very distinct too: if I had to buy half the book, I think it would be Matthew’s half. His poetic voice is exciting and surprising. Michael had too many  flies in his half; just my opinion. I could see why they were there: all to do with the dreams he had in the aftermath of his brother’s death, but an image a touch over-egged for me. A quality evening, though, I’m glad I went and I got to meet up with lots of poet friends, which is always rewarding.

On Thursday morning, I went to Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School for a focus group meeting about doing a research PhD. Several research students were there, hooked  like me, perhaps, by the bribe of an Amazon gift token! Two striking things: one, how much older I am than all the other young women (yes they were all women) there; two, how I was the only ‘Humanities, Languages and Social Science Faculty’ student in a roomful of ‘Science and Engineering Faculty’ students. I felt as if I was in a parallel universe; as if I had walked onto the set of ‘Brave New World’ and I was playing the Savage! Their main issues were around not  getting their own laptops on their own desk-space in their own designated offices early enough. What? I’m a poet: isolated in my garret, I beaver away on a laptop I had to buy myself. Clearly, I made poor career decisions in my life! It was an interesting meeting though; and one of the brilliant things about being a student of mature years is seeing the sceptical look on young shop assistants’ faces when I ask for student discount.

On Friday I sent my entry to the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition. The closing date is later this week so get submitting , details here:

http://www.manchestercathedral.org/poetry

Fingers crossed for that one. Apart from that, I took the day off to indulge my love of sport. I have been following the football all week, of course. England are sitting nicely at the top of their group, and the other home nations involved, Wales and NI are holding their own. I must say, though, that none of the teams looks like champion material yet: none has taken my breath away, all a bit of a damp squib so far. Perhaps someone will step up to the mark in the knock-out rounds?

On Saturday I did at last get round to some dedicated PhD time. In fairness, I have been doing reading in bed – at both ends of the night – all week, but this was the first time at my desk (in my garret) concentrating on PhD work. I had an email from my Director of Studies in the week setting up the next planning/review meeting on July 4th. So I spent Saturday writing a writing plan for the psychoanalytical chapter. I’m not going to start writing it before I meet the team, but I am taking along a plan to discuss, so that I can get down to serious writing through July and August to have a chapter to discuss early in the new academic year; all supposing I get through the year one review and get myself registered for year two. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect to fail the review, but I haven’t heard back from Michael Symmons Roberts re a meeting date yet. I sent a reminder yesterday.

On to this week’s poem. I have taken my poetic sling-shot and killed two birds with the one stone. I am currently working on a Beautiful Dragons project inspired by Earth’s seas. This is my third Beautiful Dragons collaboration, although there have been more than three. I was first involved with Rebecca Jane Bilkau, the editor and producer of these high quality anthologies, three years ago when I was invited by a poet-friend to sign up for a poem in the ‘Heavenly Bodies’ anthology. The deal was, a spreadsheet was prepared by Rebecca Jane with all the relevant constellations and planets in the known universe and poets put their name against the one they fancied and wrote a poem to that constellation. I chose Gemini on that occasion. Last year’s project involved the elements in the periodic table. Imagine, over eighty elements, over eighty poets, all meeting the deadline and producing together a wonderful anthology of themed poems. I chose ‘phosphorous’ for that anthology and my poem ‘Phossy Jaw’ is published in ‘My Dear Watson’: elementary…? This year’s theme is ‘the seas’. I chose the Ionian sea, an area I have holidayed in several times and I have combined that commission with my mother/daughter theme to write a poem loosely based on the Odyssey. You can find out more about these wonderful collaborations, and perhaps buy some to help out an excellent small press, here:

http://www.beautiful-dragons.com/Beautiful_Dragons/Welcome.html

So, my poem:

 

Like Penelope

she wove the shroud of her days

from remnants of hope and love

unpicked it in those lonely nights

while demons competed to possess her,

 

no, not Antinous, Demoptolemos or

Peisandros, not Bob or Tom or Jim.

Frustration, Anger, Disappointment, these

were her suitors; and the long empty years

 

and the looking in the glass and seeing

a woman she didn’t recognise,

to these she was in danger of losing herself.

She was already tied by grief to her Telemachus.

 

Her husband wandered for years

from brain bleed to death, on that odyssey

lost speech, his senses, his way, himself, her.

He never regained Ithaca.

 

Rachel Davies

June 2016

 

 

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