When I was a young teacher, the school caretaker said to me once, ‘there used to be 52 weeks in a year when I was a boy!’ I know what he meant now. Where does time go? It was only last week we were celebrating Easter and now, here we are listening to the fizz and boom of fireworks. And they’re singing ’tis the season to be merry’ on the telly! Normally, time flying only matters from a mortality perspective, but now, I have only one and three quarters years left of PhD time. I have to knock on!
And I have tried knocking on this week. I revisited the cut and pasted, footnoted chapter and did a complete redraft. I am happier with it but still think it lacks the advanced fluency of Acadamese to be acceptable. I have sent it to Angelica and Antony for advice so I hope I might have a bit of positive feedback to keep me going. The thing about Acadamese, though, is that I see in it the Emperor’s New Clothes. When I am reading, I sometimes come across passages that are so obscure they defy understanding. And they also, I suspect, defy criticism. No-one in Academe wants to appear like the first minister of Hans Christian Andersen’s story and actually say it doesn’t make any sense, so they nod sagely, approve it and pass on. Or am I just being a tad cynical? I don’t think I’ll ever be so fluent in Acadamese that I’ll achieve that level of fluent obscurity: is that something I should be aspiring to though? [insert confused faced emoticon].
I have also done lots of reading. I’ve started looking forward to the next section which will be a reflection on feminist criticism of psychoanalysis. I have done reading toward this section during the year, notably when I was on holiday, so I already have a good grounding. This week I have been reading Nancy Chodorow’s Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory. Not far in, and some passages of obscure Acadamese that require rereading to wring out the meaning, but an interesting take at the beginning on the same theory as Dinnerstein’s Rocking of the Cradle, of the consequences for society of the (almost exclusively) female nurturing of infants; that male children have no early carers who are ‘like them’ to give them a role model in caring; and they don’t get to see their role models fulfilling their designated role of worker outside the home either, so men grow up not knowing what masculinity actually looks like; and women grow up with a role model of carer and nurturer, not seeing any alternative. I love all this; but I also have to keep an eye on my theme and decide what it’s contributing to that.
On the creative side, I have continued to read Simon Armitage’s Odyssey for some research into verse drama. Use of vernacular speech, characterisation through dialogue, minimal stage directions, movement back and to through time; these are all good tools to apply. I’m growing ideas like weeds at the moment. Soon I’m hoping a beautiful hardy perennial will break the soil and flower. [Question to self: can this paragraph double as my poem this week? Insert smiley faced emoticon.]
Poetry this week. I was invited to go and see Simon Armitage do a reading on his home turf this Friday. The reading was in the Mechanics Institute in Marsden, Simon’s native Yorkshire town. All proceeds went to the ‘library alteration fund’; isn’t that a wonderful way to interpret a refurb? It really means proceeds went to ensure the library avoids public spending cuts. Anyway, Bill and I met two friends, Penny and Keith at the Mechanics and made sure we were early enough to get good seats. Simon read for forty minutes, an interval of about twenty minutes to refresh glasses at the bar, then another reading of twenty minutes. Bless him, he was full of cold and his voice was definitely waning by the end. But he kept it oiled with Budweiser and made it through to the conclusion. I have known Simon since he was a lecturer at our wonderful Writing School at MMU when I was doing my MA. I have heard him read on many occasions, including a great performance of The Death of King Arthur at the Globe Theatre, Simon being the narrator and actors acting the principal roles. So I’m a bit of an Armitage groupie, but he never lets me down; and Friday’s performance was one of his best ever: a lovely mix of humorous and serious poetry; rhyme and free verse; poetry and prose; micro-fiction. Even Bill loved it, and he only tolerates poetry because it is important to me. It was a foul night driving over the Pennines through thick, low cloud on Friday, but oh my, I’m so glad we did.
Friday lunchtime I met with some friends, Hilary and Penny, for lunch. I tried to be good and stick with the weight-loss regime, but they force-fed me scone with home-made raspberry jam and clotted cream: resistance was futile. We met to get down to some serious planning of our annual writing retreat which we call our Bitching Week. We fancy Anglesey next year, in early May. We hire a [fairly luxurious] cottage and take it in turns to run writing workshops in the morning then do the sightseeing bit with an ear for the poetry of it in the afternoon. We take turns to cook dinner and eat out a couple of times. This will be our fourth year; we love it. There are usually five of us; this year there will only be four: one of our number has moved to the North East and her involvement will be a problem. So, four go bitching: watch this space. We haven’t quite booked it yet, but we are close. It needs a full meeting of the four to make final decisions and pay the deposit. Bring it on.
So, PhD and poetry are both alive and thriving. Onto life: all is good except the dishwasher decided to go on strike this week. I’m having to wash pots by hand which I’m not happy about. I always say if I didn’t have enough room for an oven and a dishwasher in my kitchen the oven would have to go. I thought initially that we’d had the dishwasher for about eighteen months. We had to replace almost all our white goods during the last eighteen months: you buy them together and they die together. However, when I consulted my old journals I found it was still three weeks inside its 12 month guarantee, so that was good. You see how a love of writing can save you money? I keep a mundane journal every day, recording the boring day-to-day facts of life’s journey along with the few jewels you claim along the way. So, an engineer is coming on Wednesday to repair the fault. Until then I’ll have to continue to wash up by hand. Bleugggh!
And that’s it for another week. Except I can’t let Bonfire Night go by without a memory of my old cat, Manjo. How he hated fireworks, especially those that made shrill, whistling sounds. He used to do this weird commando crawl across the living room and find a place to hide under, usually the sofa, until the mayhem stopped outside. He would flop to his belly, then drag himself along on his forepaws, just like Clint Eastwood in that film…Remember, remember: animals don’t like fireworks as much as humans. They are distressing and frightening; and there is something tasteless in remembering men who were hung, drawn and quartered or burned at the stake, isn’t there? Something primitive about celebrating that kind of cruelty? I know I sound like an old bugger: I am. But really, we pet lovers have to put up with this firework thing now until after New Year and it’s not fun.
Rant over. It’s two years since I was on a Kim Moore workshop week in St Ives. We had a beach party on October 30th to see in Halloween. It was a lovely, balmy night and so peaceful. I have such happy memories of St Ives; and I’ll be doing it all again in February. Well, probably not the midnight beach party bit at that time of year; but with Kim, you never know. I think there are still a [very] few spaces left on February’s residential so if you fancy it, I can promise you you won’t regret it. Kim and David Tait, both alumni of the Writing School, will be running the workshops and Kim [who is now enrolled at MMU again for PhD] announced this week that Penelope Shuttle will be one of the guest readers. So what’s not to like? Check it out here:
and ring the hotel to book. I’m posting a poem I wrote at that October residential in 2014. It’s a favourite of mine. See you next week.
To St Ives a Love Poem
Even though the future sits at your feet like a black dog
and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of sea mist
and your shoreline roars at the passing of summer
and your white horses rise on their hind legs
till your fishing boats get seasick; even though your trees
shed tears like baubles and your shops drip gifts like rain
and your cobbled streets and narrow alleys wind
around me like a clock and your posters announce
Fair Wednesday as if all the other days are cheats
and your bistros display fish with eyes wide as heaven,
scared as hell and your railway bridge yells
do what makes you happy and it feels like a tall order;
even though your choughs are impatient for pilchard
your huers won’t see today from the Baulking House,
still, you open your arms and kiss my cheeks in welcome.