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