Monthly Archives: July 2016

Eton Mess and a Haunting

I got back to the PhD work with more concentration this week. I intended to start writing again, but found it difficult to sit at my desk; my back is still very painful. So I upped the reading, all the time having in the back of my mind the need to write and what my approach will be. I did plan the format of the chapter, propped up on pillows on the sofa. I read somewhere that August is ‘write a page a day’ month; and if I do manage a page a day, I’ll have a chapter that’s 31 pages long by the end of the month; and although no-one is going to weigh the chapter as a mark of success, 31 pages will be about 6000 words, which is what I’m aiming for. A page a day doesn’t seem so big a task, does it? Not really…

I have been reading Jacqueline Rose The Haunting of Sylvia Plath. It is a difficult and intense read. However, chapter 3, ‘The Archive’, really grabbed my attention. It is about the posthumous editing of Plath’s poems, journals and letters by Ted and Olwyn Hughes (Ted’s sister) and Aurelia Plath (Sylvia’s mother), and how this editing affected the content and ‘message’ of what she wrote. I was, of course, particularly interested in the mother’s role in this. What it did show me, in particular, was how I need to write from the inside of psychoanalysis, not write ‘about’ psychoanalysis. I must learn to assume an in-depth knowledge on the part of my readership and write as if I have an in-depth knowledge myself. And, of course, I sort-of do; except it is still a relatively new subject to me, my cognition hasn’t entirely assimilated it in the sense of knowing it from the inside; so that is going to be a challenge when I next sit at my desk. I’m looking forward to it, I relish a challenge.

I had to hand the reins of my Poetry Society Stanza over to my lovely friend, Keith Lander, on Tuesday of this week. It was a reading session and in honour of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, we had agreed to read, share and discuss his sonnets. Feedback I received from members was very positive and I was sorry to miss it, but rest and recuperation seemed more important, especially as I had arranged to spend Wednesday with two other friends, Penny and Hilary. Hilary drove us to Ilkley for a day of retail therapy and lunch at Betty’s Tearooms. I rode in the front passenger seat; Hilary has heated seats, and that made for good heat therapy. So my corner of the car was an oven, while the fan was blowing cold air and the windows were open. I managed to walk around Ilkley with them, but I became adept at finding a chair to sit on at all the shops we stopped in. In one shop Hilary found a wonderful advertising slogan, which she handed to me; so the shop assistant, bless her, took our photo with the slogan mid-shot.


Silly, I know; but these women cheer me up no end, share my sense of humour . Poets, both; I think I have talked several times about the importance of the community of poets and I feel blessed to have these women in my life. Betty’s lunch was wonderful as ever, completed with the necessary comfort of an Eton Mess. At the end of the day my back was very sore from walking around Ilkley, despite topping up the Tramadol; but I came home with a couple of charity shop bargains, applied the heated-seat therapy on the way home and spent Thursday recuperating on the sofa with Jacqueline Rose and Sylvia Plath for company.

The blog is shorter this week; it would be fairly boring to write about sitting on the sofa most days doing very little. So I’ll sign off with the week’s poem. This is the third and last of the Spelk ‘ancestor’ poems I wrote three weeks back. I feel bad that I have not achieved my target of a poem a week for the portfolio since my accident; but my brain is more receptive than productive at the moment. I think I can be excused for that under the circumstances: it’s hard to be creative when your brain is fogged with opioids. I hope next week to be back on track with a new poem: watch this space. In the meantime, a poem about Grandmother. I didn’t know her, but I must have inherited my attitude to life from someone, and I don’t recognise myself at all in my perception of my mother. So I like to think Grandma was a bit on the edge, a bit at kilter with the world. That’s how I tried to envisage her in this poem, another modern sonnet:


Grandma was a white one

She flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:

heated seat and pillion, power assisted

bristles. The family wasn’t impressed though,

snubbed her at the door, turned their backs,

virtually cast her out—let’s face it who would

dare do it really? What did snubs mean to one

who could get what she wanted from life’s

cauldron without so much as a couplet?


She didn’t chant the old hubble-bubble, just

threw down a word or two, a wow phrase,

a strong verb, wrote each stanza as if it was

her last. Fly where you’re not welcome, that’s

what she taught me, come down in a mess

of family, write them like you mean it.


Rachel Davies

July 2016

Valley of the Tramadols

This week has been all about pain relief and escapism. Following my fall in Costa last weekend, my face is a bruise but the pain has all been in my back. Paracetamol, Codeine and past episodes of Vera saw me through the early part of the week. Thank you Brenda Blethyn. However, poetry, PhD and family have provided some light relief too.

On Monday it was Spelks, my favourite date in the calendar. My eyes were beginning to blacken and my back was sore but I was determined to be well enough to go and go I did, armed with painkillers and a pillow for back support. I’m so glad I went; laughter is the best medicine, even when it hurts to laugh. We were seven for the first time in ages so that was a bonus. The ‘ancestors’ theme produced some really good poetry too. I’ll be posting a ‘grandma’ poem at the end of the blog this week. The next Spelks is arranged for 23rd August which I could only pencil in because I still hadn’t had my review date confirmed by Michael Symmons Roberts; but when I got home the email was in my inbox: review on 22nd, so I’ve inked in the date for Spelks. I think I proved this week that wild horses won’t keep me from that group.

On Tuesday I was very sore, probably from doing too much on Monday; so I hunkered down with more Vera, regular pots of Rooybos tea and comfort eating. I planned the pain relief cocktail throughout the day. Bill learned to cook. On Wednesday I managed to get an emergency appointment at the GP surgery; the pain, on a scale of 1 to 10 was hovering at 12! I burst into tears when I sat down in the consulting room. She, Doctor Day, had a feel around my back, declared the muscles in spasm and wasn’t happy that I was flinching when she palpated the spine. She sent me off with a prescription for Tramadol, a strong opioid, and a request for spinal x-ray. So, next stop Oldham Royal. The thoracic area that the doctor requested the x-ray for was clear, but there was evidence of an old compressed fracture a couple of vertebrae up from the tender area. I knew nothing about this, but I’m guessing it didn’t help having me jar the whole spine again in the fall. On the way there, despite the heat outdoors, I had the heated seat switched on it the car and that helped ease the pain; so when I got home I looked out a microwave heat pad in the bowels of a teddy bear I was given for a Christmas present years ago. That has been my best friend since.

I took two Tramadol as soon as I had them in my  hand, and repeated the dose every four hours as per directions. After the Thursday morning dose I had the strange sensation of sitting two inches beside myself on the sofa, couldn’t quite get a handle on the world. I was on a Tramadol high! So I have reduced the dose to one every six hours through the day, topped up with paracetamol, as per advice from the doc. Two last thing at night helps with a night’s sleep. Anyway, my daughter bought us tickets for the live screening at Ashton u Lyne cinema of Richard III from the Almeida Theatre, London, for Thursday evening. There were times when I didn’t think I would be able to go, but you can’t keep an old dog down. I figured that if I stayed at home I would be on the sofa looking at a screen, so I might as well be in a cinema seat looking at a screen. I took my pillow, my pills and reasoned that we could come home anytime it felt like a step too far. It wasn’t. Ralph Fiennes’ Richard III was brilliant: like Blackadder with attitude. I enjoyed it so much I almost forgot I was an invalid. I’m so glad I went.

On Friday I went into Uppermill to meet Penny, Hilary and Hilary’s lovely daughter Hannah for coffee. Hannah lives in Geneva but was in the UK for a Nottingham University summer school for the Post Grad Teaching Certificate she has just undertaken. We had scones and coffee and long chat and laughed as we always do. By Friday my whole face was a bruise, and I have dark bruises on both upper arms. I looked as if I had been in the ring with Mike Tyson. But it is amazing how people make a point of not noticing. It made me smile. I would have wanted to know the ins and outs of that kind of bruising, but people are too polite to ask; I suppose they make up their own stories about it. Bill dropped me off at the cafe and went to Tesco armed with a shopping list and left me to my community of poets. Where would I be without them? In the afternoon I mopped up the last episodes of Vera: I’ll have to find another diversion now.

On Saturday I found the diversion I needed when I got back to the PhD and started writing. Yes, I’m on my way. Next week will be all about psychoanalytic literary criticism. Having made a start I know where I want to go with it. In the afternoon my lovely daughter invited Bill and me to her house for our evening meal. So at 4.30, armed with pillow, pills and other accoutrements of comfort we arrived at her front door. I had sent her photos of my bruising so she wouldn’t be too shocked. Imagine my own shock when I was greeted at her door, not just by her but by my great-granddaughter, my grand-daughter, grandson and two sons. She had arranged a surprise family party for me to make up for the rubbish birthday I had last week. How kind was that? It was better than any drugs. Here  is a picture of me partying, gently:


If it looks as if I’m in pain that’s only because I am. But I am determined not to let it define me.  I am getting back to normal; I really am. Keep telling yourself that, Rachel: believe in the power of positive thought!

And so to the poem:

This is an entirely fictional character portrait of one of my great-grandmas. I didn’t know any of my great-grandmas so it could be true, couldn’t it? As true as any other fiction I could come up with. I enjoyed writing it. It is a modern sonnet, by the way.

Great Grandma Gouda

She’d not spoil a butty for a ha’p’orth of cheese.

Port to life’s Stilton, she was lavish as a dill pickle;

but cross her, she fermented, could hold a grudge

in one hand, a grater in the other for much longer

than it took to say sorry and mean it. Family myth:

there was this bent grocer, heavy bags, light sugar,

tight bugger short-changed her by a ha’penny

and Grandma Gouda’s elephant memory recalled it

whenever she spent coin there, checked her change

as if her life hung on it, turned customers away

with her mellowing revenge. Profits melted, debts

soared. Grandma Gouda bought the shop, built

a strong cheese empire with France and Holland.

She would have voted In.


Rachel Davies

July 2016


Guess, stress and the NHS

Life – and the NHS have definitely taken precedence this week. I’m a day late with the blog, which will be explained, and thereby excused, I hope, by the end. I’ll take a chronological approach so not to spoil the denouement!

Firstly, on Monday I had a lovely day of friendship and fun. I went with three of my poet friends into Manchester. We all met at the Manchester City Art Gallery to take part  in the Sky Arts project. I promised you more details this week, but we had to swear ourselves to secrecy on the day, so I have written to ask permission to say a little about it, no joy on that one yet. I think it’s OK to say we were looking at one particular exhibition, the Pre-Raphaelites, with the aim in mind of finding a fake. We worked as a group and were filmed doing it. But really it was all about guessing. I’ll give you more information next week if permission is granted. I can’t afford to take on Rupert Murdoch in a legal battle – who can?

We had lunch at the gallery, then Louise left us: the three remaining, Penny, Hilary and I made our way eventually to Chorlton, where we had a lovely curry in Coriander, one of the best Indian restaurants we’ve been to – details here:

After our curry, we went to Lloyds Bar in Chorlton for the Quiet, Quiet, Loud readings hosted by Sarah L Dixon. We each had a four minute reading slot. I tried some of my portfolio poems, which have appeared here on the blog, for their first public airing. I think they held up well. These events give a voice to new and established poets and are entirely down to the work Sarah puts in and the ‘crowds’ who fund her to enable her to do that work. Support them if you can.  Details of forthcoming QQL events can be found here:

On Tuesday I had another family day when I went to Peterborough with my lovely daughter to see my older son. We went into the city for lunch then dinner at Maria’s, a friend and honorary family member, in the evening. Altogether a good day, and almost the last highlight of the week.

Wednesday was all about doctors. My daughter had an early appointment at Oldham’s Integrated Care Unit with the dermatologist/plastic surgeon to have another mole – another suspected melanoma – removed from her leg. She was treated kindly and quickly: I dropped her off and went in search of a parking space, by the time I got to the dermatology department she was about done and dusted. Just the anxious wait now to hear if it is innocent or malignant. As an aside, the dermatology department is on the same floor as Sexual Health, so it is with some feeling of the need to explain myself that I pressed the 5 in the lift. After that, I went to my doctors’ surgery to see the practice nurse about a blood test I must have before I can have a further reduction of the Prednisolone (cortico-steroid) I am taking for Polymyalgia Rheumatica. I’m stuck in a Catch 22: I can’t reduce the dose until I have satisfactory inflammation markers in the bloods. I can’t have satisfactory markers until I get rid of the UT infection that has plagued me since Easter, and that is recurrent because I am taking Prednisolone to suppress my auto-immune system. Fingers crossed I can have the blood test at the end of this week, and fingers crossed then that it will be satisfactory.

On Thursday I did what I should have been doing on a normal Wednesday, which is the books at my daughter’s pub/restaurant. I had an early appointment with the accountant, come to check the VAT figures. No problems – except the amount she has to pay! I worked until lunchtime, nearly got it all done, some of the work carried over into next week. In the post on Thursday I had a cheque for £100, winnings from my Premium Bonds, so in the afternoon we went into Oldham to deposit that in the bank. While I was in Oldham, I upgraded my mobile phone to an iPhone 6, then had a few stressful hours setting it up which I won’t bore you with here. I love it now it’s done though.

Friday involved doctors again, my partner Bill this time. Let me say again how wonderful our NHS is. Without it I would have been dead years ago. However, its wonderfulness was surpassed on Saturday. Saturday was my birthday. I spent the early hours writing three poems for Spelks – I think I’ve mentioned before how special Spelks is in my life. This month’s task was to write poems to ancestors, real or imagined. Mine are all more or less imagined and I think they could all fit my portfolio too, which is a boon. I am posting one of them at the end of this blog, so if my fellow Spelks read it before this afternoon when we meet, I apologise lightly. Feel free to comment or make notes for the meeting!

Later on Saturday morning I decided to check out the local theatres to see if there was anything I fancied for a birthday treat. I found a play at the Exchange Theatre – The Mighty Waltzer – so I booked us two tickets. We went into Manchester on the tram after lunch. We had time for a coffee before the performance so we called into the new Costa at the Cross St end of Market St. We had to sit downstairs, it was so busy. I had a decaf cappuccino and a gingerbread man for my birthday cake. When we got up to leave, to climb the stairs to go to the theatre, I tripped at the bottom of the stairs, hit my chin and my head on the metal-edged steps and felt my back snap. Agony. And I have revisited those steps coming up to meet my face regularly since, so I have a better understanding of PTSD now. Anyway, the biking paramedic, who patrols the city centre, was called and he did an initial examination and declared no apparent broken bones but advised a hospital check. An ambulance was called and I was taken to the Manchester Royal Infirmary. En route the Polish paramedic in the ambulance read and updated my records. He read that I was taking Prednisolone; but he read it as pregnancy. He actually asked me if I was pregnant! Ha, on my 69th birthday. Now that would have been an immaculate conception!

Anyway, when I got to MRI, I was examined quickly, hardly any waiting around, I was seen by nurses, two doctors, I was x-rayed, given painkillers, declared fit to go home by 6.30. Altogether four hours of quality care, not about waiting times, all about the wonderful work our health professionals do under obscene pressures. Thank you, all of you.

We took a taxi back to the Derker tram stop in Oldham: I didn’t feel up to travel on the trams. The taxi driver was wonderful. The meter showed £30 as we entered the Oldham town boundary and he turned off the meter then. I wondered what it would cost us by the time he had driven the extra three or four miles to the tramstop, but he just charged us the  £30; what a wonderfully kind gesture: people are, on the whole,  fundamentally kind in my experience. We picked up our car from the park and ride and completed our journey home. The dinner we planned, which would have included wine and some disgustingly indulgent pudding, turned into a Chinese take-away. So, my birthday, which should have involved theatre and alcohol involved instead too much drama and drugs: painkillers. Thank you to all my FaceBook friends for your kind birthday wishes, but put them on hold: I’ll celebrate when I’m feeling better. And I am feeling better already, I think: I’m sitting up in bed writing my blog, which I couldn’t do yesterday, so that’s progress isn’t it? Please say it’s progress.

So, here’s my poem: a response to a photo of my mother as a child, the eldest of three sisters, all in the photo, all dressed in the fancy meringue dresses of the twenties middle classes in a posed group for the professional photographer. That is where my mother came from, the landed gentry. She was disinherited for marrying my father, who was a lowly farm labourer. I know, it sounds like the plot of a DH Lawrence novel, but that is how it was; and that is why I know so little about my grandmothers. Oh, even my paternal grandparents weren’t too happy about the match: snobbery on both sides! I do know that my maternal grandmother was Cook for Lord Caernarfon, he of the Tutankhamun discovery and the mummy’s curse. That is in the poem. Both my grandmothers were dead long before I was born, and under the circumstances they didn’t get talked about at home. So I have reinvented them in these poems.


Dear Grandma Ghost

I wonder who she is, this girl I never knew,

inscrutable in her organza meringue, her white

stockings, her shiny buttoned bar shoes.

She looks like a princess. Was she your princess

or did you only sell your soul for a prince? It seems

your dreams were cursed too. You did have dreams

didn’t you, of travel, romance, money, connections.

But her dreams were made of heads on chargers,

pearl handled daggers, foxgloved and nightshaded brews.


And I wonder who you are,

shadowy grandmother, Pharaoh’s curse, one of life’s

losers. I like to think you rebelled, imagined when you

devilled him kidneys that Anubis would soon do

for his own kidneys and everyone else involved would

cop for the early exit pursued by a mummy. Of course

you couldn’t have known this but you also died young,

too young for me to know who you were, too young

for me to ask who she was, this girl I never knew.


Rachel Davies

July 2016

Forms, form and friends

This has been a week of PhD and Life; poetry took a backseat.

Sunday was spent worshipping the domestic goddess in preparation for friends visiting later in the week. I can bear not to do a job, but I can’t bear to half do one, so when it gets done it gets done properly. I hate housework, but I must say, I like the house a little better when it’s done.

Monday, the PhD had its day. I had my support team meeting at MMU. I had emailed my chapter plan; it was too descriptive. I was advised to write the first chapter as an introduction, think about the analysis of the poems, what psychoanalytic criteria I will use to analyse each poet, which four or five (max) poems I will choose to work with for each poet. Don’t outline psychoanalytic theory as such, just as it affects my project. In other words, write for an academic audience as if I am an expert in the field. Well, this would be a whole lot easier if I felt like an expert. I’m learning that Academia is a sport you have to learn the rules for before you can play. Angelica lent me a PhD thesis to read to get a feel for the language; this PhD isn’t remotely like mine in content so it feels OK to do this; it is the method I’m looking at, not the content. Also, I have useful comments on the plan I sent them: basically, what I saw as a conclusion to the chapter is the chapter I need to write. So, that’s July and August taken care of; I have to have the chapter drafted for a meeting in the autumn term.

I met a poet friend – she is doing the MA creative writing at MMU at the moment – for lunch after my meeting; then on Monday afternoon we went to a meeting at the Martin Harris Centre at Manchester University. This was about poetry in collaboration with other art forms. A composer spoke of her collaboration with the poetry of the recently deceased Geoffrey Hill; an academic gave a talk on the collaboration of Ted Hughes with the artist Leonard Baskin. Lastly a poet gave a talk about his collaboration with the music of Shostakovich, then read several poems from his collection from the collaboration, published by Carcanet. I wasn’t impressed, too many clichés and worn out phrases for my taste. It was a very heady afternoon; I was glad to have a friend in the audience. By the way, the audience out-numbered the speakers by 2:1, so there was nowhere to hide during question time; and since my only question was ‘how did you manage to get Carcanet to publish your collection?’, I kept my mouth shut. I enjoyed the afternoon on the whole though, especially the talk about Ted Hughes.

On Tuesday I went with my lovely daughter to visit my younger son and his family in Telford. We had a lovely day together. On Tuesday afternoon I had a phone call, followed up by an email, about the exciting Sky Arts project which I’m involved in with some poet friends, but more about that next week. When I got home on Tuesday evening, I had an email from Deborah Bown at MMU asking about submission of my RADA form: no, I’m not joining the college of dramatic art, it’s the form to complete for the annual review. It was supposed to be in by the end of June. I had missed reference to that deadline in needing to hear from Michael Symmons Roberts so I had to complete it and submit by the end of Wednesday. I still don’t have a date from Michael; I’ll send a reminder by the end of this week if I haven’t heard. So on Tuesday night I completed RADA, just having the list of courses I’ve attended to fill in on Wednesday afternoon. RADA was in Deborah’s inbox by the end of Wednesday. I also completed RD9, the record of the meeting with the team, and sent that off the Antony and Angelica.

On Wednesday, a little routine. I work at my daughter’s pub/restaurant, doing her books for her every week. I’m not an accountant, but I did manage large budgets in my past life as a primary headteacher, so I keep her finances in order for her. I have a quarterly visit from the accountant to make sure I’m doing it right: the next visit is next week. After the books were up to date for the week I went off to Tesco to shop for my visitors. I hate shopping of any kind: I really hate food shopping. If I didn’t have to eat I’d be rich.

On Thursday my friends Jo and Bernard came to stay. I have known them for thirty years, we all used to teach in the same school in the eighties. We meet up two or three times a year and always have lots to talk about. We went out for an Indian meal on Thursday evening then when we got home we watched the second semi-final, Germany v France in the European Championship, France the surprising winners by 0-2. On Friday, Jo wanted to visit a sick friend in Abergele. However, she woke up with an asthma attack and her inhaler was at home: she hasn’t had an attack for about six years so she didn’t think to bring it with her. She had had an emotional week, which had probably contributed. We had breakfast, but it was obvious the asthma wasn’t going to go away by itself; by ten o’clock she was having real trouble getting her breath so Bill took them all off to Oldham Royal’s A&E department. Our wonderful NHS: she was seen immediately, put on a nebuliser, given steroids and an inhaler on prescription. She was home within three hours, right as rain. They left us for Abergele at about 1.00. We took ourselves out for bank business and lunch then home to watch the men’s semi-finals at Wimbledon. Was Federer waving goodbye to Wimbledon after his defeat by Riaonic? I hope not; I love to watch his elegant play.

At last, on Saturday I had a day I could devote entirely to the PhD work. I read Adam Phillips The Beast in the Nursery, a book recommended by Angelica; I also read Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry with a view to analysing later. I do know that the psychoanalytic criterion of my analysis of her poetry will be based in loss and mourning: her mother was taken away from her when she was two, incarcerated in a mental hospital. Elizabeth never saw her again. My slant on Plath’s poetry will, I think, involve the quest for phallus as power; she was always in competition with Ted, her mother a presence in the background pushing her to succeed. That is where I am in my thinking at the moment; but it might change over the summer. I feel as if I’m swimming in semolina; and will do until I actually start writing to see what I really think.

On Saturday I also wrote my blog poem. It is a short one this week. Last week I organised one of the writing activities at our monthly Stanza. My activity was around the writing of a cinquaine.  A cinquaine is a five-line syllabic poem: the lines are built using the syllable count 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. This is the form I have used for this week’s poem: the cinquaine as a stanza form in a two-stanza poem. I like to use form when I don’t have an idea for a poem; writing to a form often produces a poem when free-verse won’t do it. I had no idea what I would write about this week; this is what I wrote in the constraints of the form. I don’t entirely know what it’s ‘about’; but poetry doesn’t have to be ‘about’ anything; sometimes it is the rhythm and the words that count. I think this is one of those. It’s sort of about my relationship with my mother but it’s also about more than that in a philosophical sense. Anyway, here it is, be kind to it, it’s still finding its feet.


If Love…

is what

creates a life

how does it become this

apathy                        how do we sustain

the act


this thing

close to the word

for hope when it’s really

another fruitless chore      a slow



Rachel Davies

July 2016

Cars, cats and carapaces

Poetry, PhD and Life have all bitten chunks out of me this week.

Firstly, poetry. On Sunday last I drove to Kendal for the inaugural Kendal Poetry Festival. I left home at 7.30 for an eighty-plus-mile drive. Traffic was light at that time so I was able to stop at Lancaster services for a coffee. It was about 9.30 when I got to the Abbot Hall Art Gallery for the festival. The first event was an ekphrastic writing workshop led by Hilda Sheehan. We worked with the Laura Ford exhibition, ‘Seen and Unseen’, with her wonderful surreal sculptures  and sketches.


I wrote a poem inspired by this sculpting of a bride and groom (in my interpretation) carrying dead ducks for the wedding breakfast (in my interpretation). If you get chance to see her work, do, because it is exhilarating and funny and unsettling. You can find out more here:

After the workshop, Fiona Sampson gave a talk on the life and work of Mary Shelley. That was really interesting, trying to find Mary amid all the Percy Bysshe Shelley romanticism and anti-feminist criticism. After lunch, a wonderful reading by Fiona Sampson and Greta Stoddart, more than ably supported by Dove Cottage young poets and young musicians. I’m sorry not to have their names to hand, but they were wonderful. It was a great festival, and now I’m thinking of the poetry I missed by only doing Sunday: it had been running since Friday night. Next year (I’m sure there will be a next year) I shall book a room and do the whole weekend, for sure.

On Tuesday evening it was Stanza night. I co-ordinate the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza for the Poetry Society. We meet on the last Tuesday of the month at the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar from 7.30 to 9.30: check us out on our FaceBook page here:

This week we had a writing session. Three members, Keith Lander, Penny Sharman and I prepared activities for poetry prompts and we wrote to those prompts. At the end of the evening we had time to share the wriggling embryonic poems we had written. Let me tell you, there were some crackers from each activity. I used to hate writing under pressure like that, but I really enjoy it now. The trick is to stop thinking, stop trying to write a good poem and just write. It can be a poem later, and a good poem much later.

Secondly, PhD work. I sent off my writing plan to the team, and I have a meeting to discuss it tomorrow. If it is acceptable as a plan I intend to spend July and August doing the writing. I’m aware that I’m already 30% into the time allocation and I need to crack on. I’ve done loads of reading, but without a written thesis at the end of it, reading is going to gain me nothing but intrinsic enjoyment. So, write I must. It will be good to get going, have something concrete to look to. I also heard from Michael Symmons Roberts in the week re. my first year review of progress. We are going to meet towards the end of August. I have emailed some possible dates to him, but haven’t anything established yet. I’ve got a progress file put together, including the poems I’ve been writing for the blog; well, the ones I like enough to go in. There have been a couple I’ve rejected out of hand. The reading has continued, both piles on my desk are growing slowly. I have been reading The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds by John Bowlby this week, which was no hardship because he is very readable and it’s nearly finished. It’s one of the books I bought with my Amazon voucher last week. The other, Home is Where We Start From by D.W.Winnicott has been added to the ‘to read’ pile, next on the list.

Thirdly, life. It’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Which suggests it gets in the way a bit sometimes; and it does. When I drove home from Kendal last Sunday, the engine management light on the dashboard was on for most of the journey. It had been on on one short journey the week before, but had turned itself off after that so I hadn’t worried about it. The car was driving OK on Sunday, but I took it easy and kept ears and eyes peeled for a problem, which didn’t materialise. On Monday morning I rang Pentagon Vauxhall and took it to Prestwich to get it checked out. It turned out to be a problem with the cooling system sensor (she writes, pretending she knows what she’s writing about; she doesn’t) but what she does know is it cost her £130; which actually wasn’t too bad, because Bill had convinced me it would be upwards of £300, what the cost had been for him when his engine management light had been on. So I felt as if I had come off quite lightly there, and I have my car back after an overnight stay in car hospital.

On Friday I had to take my lovely cat Rosie Parker to the vet for her annual check and booster injections. She didn’t appreciate being bundled into the cat carrier and driven the three or four miles to the vet, and she whined most of the way. But she is fine, and she forgave us as soon as she was home so that’s good. This is my beautiful Rosie, she is such a lovely natured cat.


On top of all this I’ve been suffering from PRSD – Post Referendum Stress Disorder; I can’t remember a time when I’ve been this depressed by an election, even when Margaret Thatcher was voted in for a second term; even when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition was replaced by an outright Tory win. I’m a farm labourer’s daughter and I’ve voted Labour all my life. This week I joined the Labour Party, appalled at the shadow cabinet rebellion. If there was ever a weak time for the government and a time for the opposition to stay solid; ‘Blame Corbyn’ seems to be a national sport, second only to football (ouch) but what a ridiculous time for the party to devour itself!  I still can’t get over all the repercussions of last week’s vote; I think we’ll be feeling the after-shocks for some time to come. So on Thursday we booked a holiday. We usually find some sun in early September to make ready for the ravages of winter. It was quite difficult to book this year as I had to wait to hear from Michael Symmons Roberts; and I wanted to fit in with my daughter’s Christie appointments; and the world and her husband seems to be going on holiday at that time, while we are still welcome in Europe (don’t set me off again). We are going to Minorca toward the end of August. I have never been; Bill has been about a hundred years ago, before he and I were together. I have forbidden him to tell me everything he knows about it and to not keep telling me about ‘when we stayed in…’ I want to make up my own mind, do my own exploring. That’s what’s good about going somewhere new – public transport and unexplored walks.

So, that’s my week. Here’s my poem. I have been reading Selima Hill collections. I love her work, the way she makes such surprising juxtapositions of images: ‘He’s standing by my bed like a cupboard/standing with no face in the dark’. I have tried to write in the style of but I can’t: my poems have to make some kind of sense at the end, I can’t leave them hanging as she does. But, it was one of her poems that inspired this week’s blog poem. I read her collection Jutland, her poem ‘Coleslaw’, which begins ‘But what if being kind is exploitative’. I liked that ‘what if…’, it seemed to be able to lead anywhere so I gave it a go. I ended up writing a poem I didn’t know I had in me: check out what I said above about not trying to write a poem or even a good poem but just write. That’s what I did, and it took me down unchartered waterways. It became about how we hang onto our own grievances without considering the grief of the other. I formed the first draft into this poem. For some reason it came in iambic pentameter and the second lines of the couplets rhyme with each other. I hope you like it.

The Bat And Not The Ball

what if being loveless was protection

a carapace a breastplate a firewall


not disappointment at a missing member

not a statement about lack of love at all


for years it hurt to see you couldn’t see me

like the worn out pushchair waiting in the hall


I sulked because you tried hard not to know me

but you were as strange to me as Senegal


and what if I didn’t notice all you wanted

was for once to be the bat and not the ball


and consider this          what if chopping onions

turns out more rewarding than a smile


Rachel Davies

July 2016