I’m going to make a bold statement; and possibly a premature one, but I’m a risk taker. Here we go: this has been the best week of my PhD work so far. There, I said it.
I had my meeting with the team this week. I was feeling not a little trepidated (is that even a word?) when I boarded Metrolink for Manchester on Tuesday. I had sent my writing off to Angelica and Antony for their feedback, and I wasn’t feeling positive about it. Not insignificantly, my work had been negatively affected by my fall in the summer, so I hadn’t done as much, or as thoroughly, as I had planned. But I sent what I had achieved: about 12 pages.
I had an hour in the library prior to my meeting, a chance to finish a relevant chapter in Peter Gay’s biography of Freud; then across to the Geoffrey Manton building to meet with A and A. As usual, they were very supportive, but I knew I was in for a hard time when Antony began by saying ‘The Melanie Klein section was the best bit’; which, after all is like saying the rest wasn’t up to much. Melanie Klein starts on page 8, so that says it all, really. Damn it, academese is a language I have yet to learn: not enough academic rigour; don’t waste words on stuff that doesn’t need saying; make your language tight and unambiguous; get used to inserting footnotes (possibly on every page to back up statements you do make) as you go along; etc, etc. My face was dropping like a latex mask, I could feel it, throughout the meeting.
And then, Christmas came early! Antony, very guardedly–I think he thought I might be upset at the suggestion–mentioned a new route to PhD that is just coming into operation. It is called a ‘practice-based PhD’ and the critical element can be reduced to between ten and thirty thousand words, negotiable, the weighting heavily in favour of the creative side. Still 80,ooo words, but heavily geared toward the creative element. ‘How would you feel about that?’ asked Antony. ‘I would feel as if my corsets had been well and truly let out,’ I said. I think even I can manage ten thousand words of acadamese, it would be similar to a lengthy assignment on a post-graduate degree. And to be able to concentrate on the creative aspect, wow, heaven. So I said yes, I would love to do that; he had already spoken to the administration who can’t see a problem with transferring; so I wait the final confirmation. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road to my next meeting at No. 70 with Jean Sprackland.
We met over coffee. I had sent Jean a set of poems and an old story I had written years ago to consider as the outline idea for a verse drama. The poems received positive feedback. Her favourite was ‘Spoons’, which I posted on here a few weeks back. She gave me positive and constructive feedback on the poems: some useful ideas for developing some of the early drafts. It’s such a privilege to have a good poet like Jean to be mentor to my writing.
Then we started to discuss the verse drama idea. The story would be a useful starting point but would need to be adapted to the theory I have been reading, notably to Jessica Benjamin’s ‘master/slave’ analogy in The Bonds of Love. It was in reading this book that I thought of my old story, recognising a good prompt for a verse drama. Jean thinks this is an exciting idea, and especially so in light of my intention to change routes to the PhD. A verse drama would be wholly appropriate to that route, being a substantial piece of work in itself. ‘How did I see the creative submission?’ she asked me. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it could be the verse drama plus a pamphlet sized collection; or it could be the verse drama alone, if it proved substantial enough.’ She suggested what I was thinking: that the verse drama alone would be the ambitious move: to really work on that as something relatively new and uncommon in poetry terms. So that’s what I committed to. I feel more excited than at any time since I began working toward the PhD: raring to go.
When I got home (about which, more in a minute) I contacted Amanda Dalton at the Exchange Theatre to ask if I could meet with her to discuss the idea, and in particular the technicalities like stage directions etc. She has agreed to meet me, and I am waiting for her to get back to me with dates. How kind and giving the community of poets is, for sure.
So, about that journey home from Manchester. I planned to go home, have a meal and go back into Manchester in the evening with my partner, Bill, for the Manchester Literature Festival/Poets&Players event with Ian Macmillan, Mona Arshi and the music trio, Blind Monk. I caught Metrolink at St Peter’s Square and congratulated myself not just on getting a seat, but on getting a forward facing seat. Life’s good, I thought. Smug: what’s that about pride and falls? As we rode into Victoria the message came across the intercom: due to a points failure, this service would have to terminate at Newton Heath and Moston; your tickets will be accepted on any service bus. So, at Newton Heath we were duly turned off the tram and told to make our own way home. I have no knoweledge of Newton Heath at all so I followed the other fifty passengers like a sheep up to Oldham Road, which I did recognise: we stopped at a bus stop opposite the Wing Yip Chinese supermarket. It was raining. It was cold. We were miserable. After fifteen minutes, a bus arrived. It was only going as far as Hollinwood: two grateful Hollinwood dwellers boarded. Another bus arrived. It was almost full, only room for two passengers. Another bus arrived. It was nearly full, only room for sixteen passengers. Unfortunately, I was number 17: I had my foot on the bus when his hand came up, sorry that’s all I can take. So we were at that wet and miserable bus stop for about forty five minutes. Eventually I caught a bus to Oldham. I even managed to get a seat. I couldn’t see a thing out of the misted up windows, had no idea where we were or where the bus would stop: thankfully, it stopped eventually at Oldham Mumps bus station, and we were assured the trams were working on Oldham side of the points failure so I was able to get the tram to Derker, where I had parked my car for the day. I got home in the end at 6.45: two and a half hours after catching the tram at St Peter’s Square, a journey that normally takes about half an hour. I was cold, wet, miserable; and my poor old back was sore. So, on the sofa for me with the hot water bottle. Bill cooked us a ready-meal and we missed Poets&Players altogether: it was too late to go by the time I got home. So I’ll have to wait for the videos. Apparently, it was a wonderful evening we missed: I don’t doubt it, P&P events are always events not to be missed. Damn you, points failure: you ruined my evening as well as my journey!
The rest of the week was fairly routine; except Friday, which was Spelks. Have I ever mentioned Spelks on here, how I love it? I think I might have, once or twice. This month it was at my house. It’s only three weeks since the last meeting and it crept up on me and took me by surprise. I said in an email to one of our group last weekend, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’ She replied, ‘I thought Spelks was this Friday.’ Aaaargh! It was. I hadn’t written anything for it. The activity was all about the view from a train, about journeys etc. So on Thursday evening, I thought I’d better make a contribution. I wrote a poem about the tram; about how the passengers always seem to have their eyes to a virtual reality screen when there are real and wonderful things to see out of the window. On Tuesday’s journey into Manchester, for instance, there was the most magnificent rainbow, possibly the fattest rainbow I’d ever seen, and I think I was the only person to see it. So that’s what my poem was ‘about’ really.
As usual, Spelks was fantastic. All seven of us present with some wonderful poems from the prompt. I love this group. Bill very kindly took himself off to the cinema to give us the house to ourselves. We shared our poems, offered feedback, ate too much, drank too much and planned. We are making the last Friday of the month our Spelking day in future so that we are not grubbing round trying to find a date that fits in with everybody. Also we are putting together a pamphlet of our work to have available at Spelk readings: we are doing it ourselves at the moment, because we don’t know how it will go down with our adoring public. In all the planning, I forgot to pass on the next activity, so that had to go into an email later.
So that’s it, really. Another week done in my quest to fit a PhD into an already full life. The best week yet. I’m optimistic. But as anyone who knows me knows, I’m eternally optimistic. Actually, I’m terminally optimistic.
Here’s my Spelk poem, drafted very quickly on Thursday evening: the honey buzzard over Manchester is entirely poetic licence and may have to be rethought! But there just might have been one; and the virtual passengers would certainly have missed it if there was!
On Metrolink To Manchester
what I’d like
is to not be told in a voice loud as a lecture that she’s on the tram,
that she’ll be half an hour, that she’s had a shit day,
that dinner’s in the fridge, that the wine’s chillin’
no, what I’d really like
is to not know that she’s got everything except her toiletries,
that she’s bought a fucking lovely overnight bag,
that she’s bought six pairs of crutchless panties, two tassel bras
that she’s packing a jumper just in case
no, what I’d really like
is to not hear the tinny seepage from his badly fitting ear-buds
no, what I’d really like
is that he would sit so quietly I could hear his unspoken thoughts
as relentlessly as the tinny seepage from his badly fitting ear-buds
no, what I’d really like
is to be able to see what she’s reading on her Kindle,
to chat with her about plot, characterization, narrative arc
no, what I’d really like
is if they would all just raise their eyes for a moment
from the screens of their virtual worlds
to notice that majestic honey buzzard gliding the thermals,
the rainbow arcing over Strangeways like a promise.