Monthly Archives: January 2017

Spelkbirds and Chinese warriors

It’s so gratifying to see the daylight creeping in at 7.30 a.m. and staying until 5.00 p.m. I hate the dark days of winter, they are so grey and miserable over Saddleworth Moor; and I have February to negotiate now, so thank goodness for work and for poetry. This has been a good week for both.

First the poetry: it was Spelks on Friday. I think I’ve probably mentioned once or twice how important this group is to me: friends and poetry, two of my favourite things. Anyway, last time we met, Hilary set the task for this week’s meeting. It involved ‘sunography’: a photosensitive square of fabric that we had to make an image on. I had chosen the only sunny day for weeks, Friday 20th, and used a felt seagull-shaped fridge magnet to make an image of a seagull on my square. It worked, slowly revealing itself, the ghost of a seagull. The final stage was to rinse the fabric under cold water and leave it on a flat surface to dry, and there it was, my ghost seagull. On Sunday last, I sat and embroidered my seagull back to life while I watched telly in the evening. It doesn’t look very seagull, but it does look like some kind of bird. So, during the week, mostly in the wee small hours in bed, I wrote two poems for my Spelkbird, pictured here. Yes, alright, I didn’t say I was an expert embroiderer, I haven’t done any embroidery for half a lifetime, but I enjoyed  doing it.


Our Spelkerama was on Friday afternoon at Penny’s house. All six of us were there, so it was a lovely, friendful meeting. Lots of fantastic poetry from the sunography activity: even when there wasn’t enough sun to make an impression on the fabric (we do all live in Manchester/Oldham and it is January!), there were lovely poems about the image not appearing: win win; and as ever, lots of sharing, laughter and food. I think I put on half a stone on Friday afternoon. Penny’s lovely buffet and Cadbury’s mini-eggs eh? What you gonna do? I’ll post one of my sunography poems at the end of the blog this week. I have written a PhD poem that I want to share as well, but Anna Percy has invited me to be involved in a Stirred Nasty Women project, poems in protest and response to the Trumpdom over the Ocean and other mad, mysoginistic decisions that have been taken globally this year and I’m not sure of the ‘previously unpublished’ rule at this stage. So the PhD portfolio poem is probably going to wait to appear in that anthology. Details of the project on Facebook here:

On the PhD front, I had several hours of writing. I forgot to save one day’s work, and it was lost from the MacBook. So annoying, and it meant I had to waste another day making up the loss. But I have sent off just less than 5000 words to the supervisors for discussion. The Selima Hill chapter isn’t complete, I could keep writing about her poetry for ever; but I have enough to discuss, and to make sure I’m on the right (I nearly put write: Freudian?) wavelength with it. I can’t afford any more negative feedback on my flawed Acadamese, I’m half way through the three years now. But I’ve read Katrina Naomi’s thesis, and I’m taking strength from that. It has taught me it doesn’t have to be obscure to be successful. I can’t write obscure, I’m a writer who believes wholeheartedly in the accessibility of the written word, so they will have to accept that. I’ll be more assertive for my own corner since I read Katrina’s (successful, accessible) thesis. I’ll always be grateful to Kim Moore and Rachel Mann for pointing me towards it.

On Monday we had to take Rosie Parker to the vet for dental treatment under anaesthetic. She wasn’t impressed with being placed in the pet carrier; and Jimbobs wasn’t impressed that his breakfast was delayed until she was in there and couldn’t get at the food. The treatment went well, but she had to have 6, SIX! teeth extracted. It’s strange, because she is the one who eats more biscuits and biscuits are supposed to be good for teeth. Ho hum! She was prescribed painkilling drops, the same kind that Jimbobs is taking for arthritis. He loves them, I call him my junkie boy. But she wasn’t so impressed; and he got awfully jealous when I was giving her hers, he felt I’d chosen the wrong cat. And as she smelt of vet and not of Rosie when I brought her home, there was a lot of unusual and unfriendly spitting going on on his part. Pets, eh? They’re worse than children. I took her back to the vet for a post-op check up on Friday and all was good; and I could stop giving her the drops, so one bone of contention was solved for him.

On Tuesday Amie and I went to Telford to visit my son, Michael. Always good to see family, and it was his wife’s birthday on Monday so we took cards and birthday presents. She’s at an age when she really wants to forget her birthday, I think; but I think you should face them head on and enjoy them. You’re still going to be the age you are whether you celebrate it or mourn it; might as well celebrate then, is my philosophy.

Wednesday, as usual, was my day for doing the books for my daughter’s restaurant. I’m only telling you this this week, because the saga of the new laptop continued. I switched on, tried to open Sage and got the message ‘Sage can’t work offline, please connect to the internet’. Well, you managed to work very well offline last week, Sage, so why are you being so arsey? Amie does have a wifi connection in the office, but the signal isn’t strong and it gave up trying weeks ago. But, necessity is the mother of invention, as the old adage goes. I had just prepared everything to take home and work from home when I decided to try to get the wifi signal working again. I turned off and turned on the hub thing, pressed and held the wifi button and , abracadabra, wifi! I don’t know how long it will last, she is on a high hill on the edge of a moor, but it worked for Wednesday, and I have a good idea what to do in future if it puts its foot down and gets stroppy.

On Saturday we went into Manchester to see the illuminated ‘Terracotta Army’ in Exchange Square.

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It was lovely to see them, they are only there for a few days, I think they go away today; but obviously they are a pale imitation of the real Terracotta Army. There’s a good Wiki article about the originals here:

I want to  see the real thing now, there’s always something new to do and learn! The restaurants in Manchester were all full so we picked up a Chinese take-away on the way home, which seemed appropriate on Chinese New Year. Kung hey fat choi.

And here’s my poem, the second of my two Spelk poems about my sunography bird, about the process of bringing it back to life with embroidery. I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I enjoyed doing it and writing it. Do you know Jonathan Livingston Seagull? If you don’t, you should! He has lessons to teach us all.


for Jonathan Livingston Seagull

For a while you were satisfying as a ghost.

But you were no active haunter, you just

lay there tediously not shaking your chains,

not oohing, not smashing the best china,

not turning the air that indescribable cold, so

not making my follicles rise like small molehills.


I decided to resurrect you, give you back a life:

not the one where you clog on the roofs of caravans,

squabble with rivals over scraps, steal sandwiches

from the hands of visitors; not the one where you swoop

and glide over the sea like a kite before landing

like a stone on the beach to catcall derision.


True, in a past life, you were this kind of hooligan.

But Jonathan would say you can be better than you were.

So my magic has made of you all the birds of the air.

I called up beak of puffin, beret of arctic tern, crest of peewit.

I called up tail of lovebird, wings of kiwi,

flamingo legs, the speckled breast of the dparis.


If you only ever sing one song, ghost bird,

make it Be Who You Want To Be.


Rachel Davies

January 2017

Eel words and real words.

This week has been all about poetry. These are my favourite weeks, where the madness of poetry helps to keep me sane.

I spent Sunday writing the Selima Hill chapter. I had to tell Bill, in no understated terms, to leave me alone in the study to get on with it. He is a very kind man and thinks it helps if he offers me cups of tea occasionally: it doesn’t help! I’m a writer who can’t do with interruption. My son can’t work without music on in the background, some of my friends write while watching the television or listening to the radio. I need silence. I need my own space and my thoughts flitting around my head like butterflies until they settle on the page. I prefer the house to be empty, but if that’s not possible, I must have the space of the study clear of interruptions. I think it’s important to maintain the conditions that are productive for you, because concentration is everything; broken concentration is a double whammy because it disrupts the thoughts you were unravelling and also limits the production of new thoughts. So stick to your guns and make sure you have the conditions that suit your style of working. Stick up for yourself. PhD is hard enough without not being as kind to yourself as you can.

Anyway, I did get the space to myself on Sunday and I enjoyed it, re-reading Selima’s work and finding in it hidden clues to support my thesis. The clues are there if you look in the right places, because that’s how poetry works: the poet writes the poem based on their observations/experience/imagination/inspiration. Then the reader comes along with their own and separate observations/experience/imagination/inspiration and between them, the poet and the reader, they construct the poem. So the poem exists not as the single entity of the poet’s intention, but as as many entities as there are its readers. It’s like this with all written words: the reader brings a world of experience to interpreting and decoding the message. That’s why we so often say of poems or songs: they have written my experience, this ‘song’ or this ‘poem’ is about me, about my life. So, anyway, I wrote another 2000 words on Monday so I now have nearly 4000 and counting. The rest of the week was diverted from PhD work, poetry and life took precedence, but I’ll be back at my desk later today adding to, perfecting the chapter before sending it off to the supervisory team for discussion.

On Monday afternoon I had an interesting meeting at MMU about a ‘research buddies’ scheme they are trying to establish. Post-Grad research students were asked before Christmas if we were interested in being involved; I decided to accept the invitation because I have found initiation into the mysteries of PhD very challenging, as you know if you read this blog regularly; and I thought that experience might be help and support to other students who struggle with it; so I signed up and Monday was the initial meeting to see how a buddies scheme might look and what kind of support it might offer. I enjoyed the meeting no end, and it was good to meet other post-grad students from different areas of study. I must say, I impressed myself with how grown-up I felt in the group discussions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being narcissistic; but as a headteacher I always had that peculiar feeling that I was in the wrong body, that somewhere along the line I had fooled someone into thinking I could do this job and now I had to pretend I could do it. I know now that this is a common feeling among headteacher friends I have spoken to; but then I used to look around headteacher meetings and think ‘how do they know so much?’ I didn’t think for a minute they were probably thinking the same about me. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at my job and I enjoyed it, but always that feeling of inadequacy. I have to say here that it has more to do with the constantly changing nature of education than with any incompetence among the professionals. But on Monday at this PhD research meeting I actually felt as if I knew what I was talking about, which was a wonderfully empowering feeling! And it was a meeting that felt resolved: we came to conclusions that are going to be enacted by the university and there will be a second meeting when a draft protocol is prepared for discussion. I’m glad I decided to be involved.

I stayed in Manchester after the meeting. I worked in the library for a while then went to find food: that sad thing about dining alone in a restaurant. But I took a book with me, and you’re never alone with a book. Because Monday evening was Carol Ann Duffy and friends at the Royal Exchange Theatre. These are wonderful poetry events. MMU Writing School MA students get to read their work alongside the Poet Laureate and another headline poet of national/international standing. This week my lovely friend Hilary Robinson was one of the MA students reading along with Keith Hutson and an exciting young man whose name I forget but who is definitely a poet to watch. The headline poet for this event was ex-Makar Liz Lochead. So Hilary got to share the stage with two Poets Laureate, what a wonderful opportunity is that for an aspiring poet? It was a lovely event, wonderful poetry; and Liz Lochead bought one of our Spelk pamphlets on the strength of Hilary’s terrific reading. Fantastic.

During the ‘life’ filled rest of the week, I did manage to work on my portfolio poem that I mentioned last week. I took a whole new look at it, which I’ll explain at the end of this blog. I also started the process of making poems for Spelks, not before time as we meet next week. But this activity involved photosensitive fabric and required some sunshine, which has been in short-supply on Saddleworth lately; but the sun shone hugely on Friday so I made my image. I’m on my way and I’ll tell you more next week.

This brings us to Saturday; another of my favourite events, Poets&Players at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. This was our first event of 2017, and it was a blinder! The day started with a workshop run by Ian Duhig. We shared stories and recounted each others stories as if they were our own, then wrote about something we had heard during the morning. I wrote about a village in Africa where  women without the protection of men are treated very badly, with only the protection of a woman designated ‘witch’ to protect them. It is a poem in the making and might reach these pages one day.

In the afternoon we had our P&P readings. Music, and musical drama, was provided by Chris Davies, Henry Botham and Katy-Anne Bellis. Here are a couple of photos of their wonderful performance:

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Becky Cherriman and Fiona Benson read in the first half followed by our headline poet, Ian Duhig, hard on the heels of his shortlisting for the TS Eliot prize for The Blind Roadmaker, which I bought and got signed. It was a wonderful afternoon, fantastic readings, great entertainment. There was standing room only as visitors to the Whitworth packed the south gallery to watch the monster from Where The Wild Things Are do a Gene Kelly, ‘Singing in the rain’ tap-dance. Good stuff; and it’s all free of charge. After the event, we, the committee, met in the cafe to continue planning for the rest of the year. The next event is on February 25th. Details of our exciting future events can be found on our website: poets&

So that’s it then; another packed week! Here is the poem I’ve been drafting for my portfolio. It concerns a father who has had a stroke and the daughter who is his carer trying to make sense of his disrupted speech. At first I wanted him to have a voice, because I know from my own experience  of this that the stroke victim thinks they are talking sense; the words make sense in their heads but the production suffers. But the poem didn’t work if the speaker made sense to the listener so I did a sort of ‘oulipo’ thing and went to the dictionary for words close in sound to the words the father was trying to utter; then I made some compound words using these words. This represents his speech; most of it doesn’t make sense, but I hope some of it will carry a gist. The intervening stanzas are the daughter’s responses. Of course, in the portfolio I won’t be able to provide this kind of explanation, but I hope the context of the poem in the collection will go some way to explain it. Anyway, here it is, in all its imperfections:



Lipstick!         toadmouse   trapmouse

mould                        ras-ras-rascal                       searaft

wattle-weave           ears-years ears-years

Lipstick for fucksake!


What do you want Daddy?

your words are scrambled like eggs

What are you after? Is it keys,

a pee, a cup of tea? I can’t solve cryptic.


Listless!                  Listless!         tonsil-worm-work

bread-breast            heard-word   stupid

Listless for fucksake!


What do you want Daddy?

Words are sliding out of your mouth

like speedy eels that keep wriggling

long after they’re chopped up in the bucket,

long after they’re dead. You’re making

slippery eel words but my eel nets are torn.

I can’t catch what you’re after. I don’t speak eel.


Liversausage!                       stare-wands

bridge-welly       maaa-market            trumptoast

Liversausage for fucksake!


Calm down eel daddy, swim slower.

Tell me what you want.

Rachel Davies

January 2017

Life is what happens…

When you have family, or are coming to PhD with a long personal history, sometimes life gets in the way and you just have to accommodate that. It’s hard sometimes to provide space for yourself to undertake serious study when you have other demands and commitments; but you won’t get the end result without finding that space somewhere, somehow. This week has been a bit like that, difficult, demanding in other areas of my life. I’ve had some worrying family news midweek that I won’t go into but it’s been in the back of my mind since Thursday; however, I have found some space and time for the PhD and I have made some progress.

The first ‘other’ priority at the start of the week was the saga of Jimbobs the Cat. The quest for a urine sample continued. On Sunday I made sure he had only access to the litter tray with the vet’s waterproof litter in. For twenty four hours I kept him separate from Rosie Parker, provided water, food, company; and waterproof litter. For twenty four hours he refused to pee. He must have had a knot in his little winky, because he was stubbornly not forthcoming. So on Monday morning I prepared to take him to the vet for a second shot at cystocentesis (extracting urine from the bladder with the aid of a needle). As we were surreptitiously getting the pet carrier out, Rosie Parker slid past me like mercury, as is her wont when there’s a recently opened door. She headed straight for his special litter tray, got in and peed; while Jimbobs sat by and watched her. So, off to the vet, where they did manage at last to get a sample; and it was clear, so in a sense all that angst was for nothing! But it’s good to know he’s healthy. And the medication is working on the arthritis in his hip, so he’s back to jumping and running like an Olympian. He loves that medicine: I think he’s becoming a bit of a junkie.

Tuesday provided space to do some PhD work. I meant to start writing; but I spent time placing various psychoanalytic and feminist theories into my writing plan. I accept that this is a sophisticated form of prevarication, but it will be helpful none-the-less. I had to face the fact that I am actually quite nervous about starting writing again: if I don’t come up with an acceptable level of acadamese this time, there isn’t any sense in carrying on. I’m half way through the time commitment. I have to knock on; but I’m a little bit scared of starting, even though the thoughts of it fill my head 24/7. I’ve never been scared of writing before, it’s a new experience for me; but I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I prevaricated some more on Tuesday by revisiting and revising some of my theoretical reading to clarify what would fit the tenor of the Selima Hill analysis most appropriately. It was a good day’s work, even though I didn’t actually write any words.

In the evening on Tuesday I got out the new accounts laptop to see if it had changed its mind about installing the software. I hadn’t heard back from the accountant with any advice, and I really needed it for work on Wednesday. I noticed that the laptop had had itself an update session so the install window had disappeared! I clicked the download icon and the download started all over again. It was much slower than Penny’s fibre optic session at the weekend, but it did download successfully. I clicked install and, yes, it did install. Huzzah! I put the two numeric security keys into the relevant spaces and a second window appeared asking for the account number to complete registration. I didn’t have an account number. So I emailed the accountant again. I knew it would be difficult to get a reply because it’s the end of the VAT quarter and the accountants are all out and about preparing VAT submissions for businesses. But on Wednesday morning I had an e-reply from Claire who didn’t know the account number and would ask when Emma came into the office later. And so it goes. So in the morning I rang the office and asked for the account number from the young man who answered the phone. He promised to get back to me; and he did, very quickly with an account number beginning with the letter H. The software didn’t recognise letters, and the remaining numbers without the H weren’t correct either. ‘I’ll have to ask Emma when she comes into the office this afternoon,’ he said. Well thank heaven for Emma, they should look after her, eh? Anyway, it was obvious I wasn’t going to have the software to use at the restaurant on Wednesday, so I went into work to do as much as I could to get the  paperwork ready to input into Sage if I ever managed to get it up and running before I died! Later in the afternoon I had an email from Emma with an account number that was recognised, and installation was completed at last. I restored my backed-up files and we were good to go.

On Wednesday evening, a little light relief. We went to the live streaming of the RSC’s production of The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon. Wow, how good was that?  The play is interesting anyway, slightly surreal and different in lots of ways from much of Shakespeare’s work; although there are similarities with Midsummer Night’s Dream, the belief in magic and fairies/sprites etc. But the RSC production of The Tempest was one of the most exciting productions of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. Ever. It was beautiful. The use of computer technology for special effects was worthy of Hollywood, so that Ariel was there in person, but also had a larger than life avatar projection that gave the impression of flight. The storm scene was also portrayed by technology so that the sea was an electronic projection and very, very real. It was just the best stage play I’ve seen in my life. I would love to see it in real life in the theatre to see what a different perspective that would give to it; but if you ever have the chance to see it, go. You won’t be disappointed.

The computer issue meant I had to give up Thursday to the restaurant books as well: it is that time of month (VAT!) so I had about three weeks’ worth of paperwork to input to make sure the figures were correct. On Thursday I got to the restaurant about 10.45. It was beginning to snow, but quite sleety and not really the threatening kind of snow. But my office is below street level and I can’t really see much out of the high window. So I’m working away when Amie arrives. We chatted for a while then got back to our various work. She came in about an hour later and said ‘Have you seen the weather? I think you should go home.’ Big snow; serious snow; snow lying on the roads and looking hazardous. So I packed up the work and took it home to do. That drive was difficult, my poor little Corsa hardly got out of first gear and the downhill slope to the junction with Oldham Road was a skid hazard; but I made it home, although I didn’t try to take the car down our little lane, I left it up on the top road. We hunkered down in front of the fire and I got the books up to date in the afternoon in the comfort of my own sofa.

On Friday we were snowed in. We didn’t need to go anywhere, so we didn’t bother to dig ourselves out; we hugged the fire and felt blessed. In the afternoon the sun had worked hard to clear the lane without any input from us so we did go into Uppermill for the bank and to collect a prescription. I had to have a medication review with the pharmacist as I’ve been on prescribed medication for Polymyalgia Rheumatica and its ugly sister, Giant Cell Arteritis, for more than three years now. He was asking me if I had any side effects from the medication. That’s a hard question to answer because if you don’t know what the side effects are you can’t know if you’ve got them; and if you ask and he tells you what they are, the old family medical encyclopaedia syndrome clicks in and of course you have them all. So I just answered in the negative; except for the Prednisolone, the corticosteroid I have to take. It makes me very shaky, some days worse than others. I told him he doesn’t want to be sitting at the next table as me when I’m eating soup, it’s a messy business! He was surprised I could laugh about it; but what you gonna do? I have to take the Pred, so I have to deal with the shake. I’m working hard to get the dose reduced, but you can’t just stop taking corticosteroids, you have to reduce the dose gradually and come off them slowly: a sudden stop would cause organ damage. Keep taking the tablets, Rach, order bruschetta instead of soup!

Saturday: PhD, you can have all my time. I had a good five hours of working. Yes, I grasped the nettle and started writing the Selima Hill chapter. I have almost 1400 words of the chapter which is a terrific start. It definitely needs revisiting and editing/redrafting; but it is a start. And that is the hard part. It used to be called ‘white paper syndrome’; but of course now it’s ’empty screen syndrome’. Well, my screen isn’t empty any more. I have made a start; I’m on my way. It’ll be easier from now on, she says hopefully!

And amid all this I’ve been mentally composing a new poem for the collection. I’ve made a very early draft, but I won’t post it yet, I’m not happy enough with it yet. You may have it in a week or two, when it grows up a bit.

See you next week.



Random acts of annoyance

Yes. It’s been one of those weeks. Six years ago this week I was in Tokyo on my way to Australia for the one-day internationals between Australia and England. This week I’ve been up S*** Creek without a paddle. Guess which I preferred?

Have you ever tried to get a urine sample from a cat? No? Lucky you. I’ve been trying to get one from Jimbobs this week; and he’s not into obliging. I spent Tuesday shut in the conservatory with him, his water fountain, a litter tray with special waterproof litter and fraying nerves. Altogether he was separated from Rosie Parker for almost twenty four hours with only the vet’s litter for a receptacle, the pipette at the ready to suck up anything he managed to produce. He wasn’t productive. Nothing to report. So I rang the vet and told her it really wasn’t working. She advised I take him in for a day and they would try to get a sample by needle directly into the bladder: cystocentesis is the medical term. So on Friday morning we fought to get him into the pet carrier and trundled him off to the surgery. They kept him for best part of the day. Guess what? No sample forthcoming.  £16.00 for ‘kennelling’ and we have it all to do again tomorrow! It’s a good job I love him.

And then, more botheration. On Wednesday, the small notebook laptop I keep exclusively for the Black Ladd accounts gave up the ghost. It’s been feeling poorly for a few weeks and Amie advised me to buy a new one. I put off buying until I next meet the accountant for the quarterly VAT visit so she can install the Sage software for me. But events took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when I powered up the notebook and it just displayed a large unsmiley face. I kid you not, one screen sized sad face! So I did the accounting essentials without the laptop on Wednesday and went home to find a replacement online: click and collect at PC  World. I don’t need a fancy all singing, all dancing machine, just one that will handle the Sage 50 accounting software. And there lies the rub. The accountant sent the download setup link via email and I tried on Thursday, after I collected the laptop from the store, to download the software. At first nothing happened. I tried again, still nothing; but I had to go out and when I came back there was a slight movement on the download bar. I watched it for three hours (!) and it got to two thirds downloaded then stopped; and remained motionless for the next twenty four hours. Now, we live out in the wilds of Saddleworth and the broadband isn’t fantastic out here, so on Saturday I took my new laptop to Keith and Penny’s house and hitch-hiked the superhighway on their fibre optics. Hooray, it downloaded in no time. Click install. Aargh! An error message: ‘This access control list is not in canonical form therefore cannot be modified‘. This is more obscure than the obscurest acadamese, techno-biology a step too far for me! Something to do with ‘administrator permissions’. Thank goodness for friends. Keith is a techno expert and he couldn’t find a solution. So I think it will be down to the Sage support helpline in the end, but of course I’m only an add-on to the accountants Sage account so have no access myself. My breath is well and truly bated: I need that software to do the books.  So now I’m scuppered. I’ll have to wait until Monday to speak to the accountant and (hopefully) find a solution.

In between all this annoyance, I’ve kept the PhD work to the fore whenever I could. I have kept Jimbobs company with my reading when he was not trying hard enough for a sample; I have prepared my plan for the Selima Hill section, found the poems I will use, decided where and how I will use them, decided which aspects of theory will support my reading. Now I just have to start writing. And as anyone who writes knows, starting is the hard part. There is always one more book you have to read, always one more distraction that is more pressing than sitting at the desk and writing. So, on Tuesday, my next free day for PhD, I shall start. I will keep Katrina Naomi’s thesis in mind and I will write, in my own version of acadamese. It won’t be perfect, it will be revisited many times before submission, but it will be a concrete thing. It will be a start. And my end-of-January deadline for meeting the team is approaching apace, so I must do this. All hands on keyboard on Tuesday, no more prevarication.

Wish me luck for urine samples and laptop health this week. Here’s a poem to end. It’s the second poem I wrote for Spelks last week, based on three works of art. The main one was a painting of an Infanta, looking as if she was made from origami. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the title. There was also a painting of a young 1920s woman sitting in a drawing room drinking tea from an expensive cup while a tennis-whited male stands just outside the open window looking in; and a painting of a knight in shining armour. This is the poem I made from my amalgamation. Yes, it needs some work, but I quite like it.


Origami Girl

She dances under a full moon

on paper feet you can only guess at

hidden in the folds of her dress.


Vega and Talitha shimmer

at her breast and waist,

stars she sets her course by.


Her faceless face is

sandwiched between her curling aura

and a stiff ruff that ensures

there’s no looking back, no  downcast eyes.


She’s spurned the comfort

of the drawing room, the Minton cups,

the girl circle, turned her back on suitors

who lurked in her peripheral vision

bent on colonizing.


She’s chosen instead to dance

along the independence path. She’s

not one for a dark knight.



Rachel Davies

December 2016


Out with the old

Happy New Year. 2017. This will be a momentous year for me.

The old year wasn’t the best ever, was it? For me it was strewn with health issues. It began with the residue of a foot injury I acquired on holiday in Greece in 2015. It ended with the residue of the fractured spine I acquired on my birthday when I fell onto a set of stairs in July. It has been the year of the microbe, my body has been a battleground on several occasions, one of the downsides of the auto-immune system being suppressed by cortico-steroids. I am starting 2017 in reasonably good health; long may it last. All this on a personal level; and the resurgence of the extreme right wing in Europe and USA does nothing to make 2016 a year to celebrate as far as I am concerned. Let’s hope some political humanity is restored in 2017; although it is hard to see where it will come from.

Of course, 2016 wasn’t all bad. I have had a wonderful year in poetry and the PhD is progressing apace. On the poetry front, I was placed third in the Galway Hospitals poetry competition; I had poems published in The Interpreter’s House and in Beautiful Dragons anthologies; I read at Black Cat Poets, Saddleworth Literary Festival, Quiet Quiet Loud and at ‘Spelks meets Sounds of the Engine House’ in Chorlton. In May we female Spelks had our annual Bitching Week retreat in Cumbria when Kim Moore arranged a reading for us in Ulverstone. The Spelks have met regularly every month, and in November we all went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for some extra poetic stimulation. Spelks has a wonderfully sociable way of keeping us all writing. In August there was a Poetry Carousel organised by Kim Moore with workshops by Tsead Bruinja, Clare Shaw, Billy Letford and Kim herself. I have also enjoyed workshops organised by Poets & Players including input from Pascale Petit and Carrie Etter. I’ve been to Kendal and Ilkley poetry festivals, Poets & Players readings, other readings by Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and a variety of  wonderful poets. I’ve seen some terrific theatre: Don Warrington as King Lear stands out, and the recent duo of Much Ado…and Loves Labour’s Lost were wonderful in a more light-hearted way.  Among all this, I have enjoyed several holidays and short breaks.

You see, it’s interesting. Before I wrote that last paragraph, I would have said the bad things had predominated in 2016; but what a wonderful year I had in poetry. That reminds me of a seven-year-old I taught once who loved to write: he said he didn’t know what he thought until he could see what he wrote. And I haven’t even mentioned how my wonderful friends, Penny and Hilary worked so hard to help me get over the devastating fall I had in July. I’m remembering them taking me to Ilkley on a hot summer day when I had the heated seat switched on in Hilary’s car as heat therapy for my back during the journey and they rode with the windows down and hardly complained at all; and when we went together to the Manchester Art Gallery to be involved in a Sky Arts project to spot the fake in the exhibition and I had to wear face make-up for the first time in my life to cover up the bruises, how they looked after me so well and made sure I wasn’t on my feet any more than necessary, elbowing other visitors out of the way of seats so I could sit down. I love these whacky women.

On the PhD front, I’m learning acadamese. If you read this blog regularly, you will know it is not a language I am comfortable in, but I am more fluent than I was a year ago, so that’s progress. I considered quitting for a very short time this year until I read Katrina Naomi’s Goldsmith’s PhD thesis and she showed me that academese doesn’t have to be obscure to be successful. I’ll always be thankful to Kim Moore and Rachel Mann for pointing me in that direction; and to Katrina for having the confidence to write it ‘as if she’s talking to someone down the pub’, as one of her supervisors told her. I’ll hold out for something less stilted myself as a result of reading her thesis. I’ve read loads of books, all PhD related: psychology, critical theory, feminism. I’ve read poetry and poetry and poetry: Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Jackie Kay, Selima Hill, Pascale Petit, all relevant to my PhD theme; but I’ve almost certainly settled on Hill and Petit as my poets for analysis, and am enjoying reading them with renewed depth. I thank Katrina Naomi again for introducing me to a Petit collection I wasn’t familiar with. The Huntress (2005) is fantastic: how did I not know about this one? It’s perfect for my analysis as well. That’s a job for 2017 when her new collection, Mama Amazonica will be published, and that will be pretty useful as well.

And behind all this joyful work is the support of family. I have three wonderful children who have looked after me and cheered me up no end when I needed it most. My daughter Amie, my sons Richard and Michael: what did I do to deserve these wonderful people in my life? I look at them and know I got something right. And my partner, Bill: his support has been fantastic. He has chauffeured me around a variety of poetry events to keep me happy when I’ve been unable to drive myself following my injury, despite having no fixed passion for poetry himself. The support of friends and family is so important when you undertake a significant period of study: I know this because I haven’t always had that support from partners in the past. So thank you Bill, and thank you all; and to all the friends I haven’t listed but who keep me grounded.

So, it’s New Year’s Day 2017 and I know it’s a good start to the year, because I can see Saddleworth from my bedroom window and it doesn’t involve snow! I hate that on January 1st when you get up and all the year is out there in front of you and there is nothing of it behind to look back on. I can do the dark days of January and February as long as the snow stays away and as long as I have good things to look forward to. The first ‘good thing’ I’ll concentrate on is in February when I’ll be travelling to St Ives with Hilary for a poetry week organised by Kim Moore with shared input from David Tait, details here:

I think there may be one or two places left so if you’re interested, ring the hotel to enquire. You won’t be disappointed, and it would be good to see you there.

It’s my 70th birthday in July, my daughter’s 50th in June; so we are planning a joint 120th birthday family gig in the summer. I’ll think about that when I get the winter blues too. And the holiday we’ve booked in Zakinthos for September. They’ll all keep me going.

Resolutions? I intend to get back to the gym and do some serious work to restore my fitness levels now that the fourth thoracic is healed. I’ve missed my regular aerobics sessions. I don’t know how I’ll do and I won’t know until I try. At some stage I need to spring clean the kitchen: I have loads of old crockery, glass wear, plastic containers that need throwing out. At some stage this year I intend to  change my car; I’ll be walking more, eating healthily. But mostly my resolutions will be PhD focused because that is the core of my life at the moment; and it takes up most of my energy. I’m nearly half-way through; I can’t afford to prevaricate any longer: I’ll have to ration access to tinterweb to avoid distraction. I can do this…!

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote for our last Spelks session, which was this week at Hilary’s house. Keith set the activity, involving works of art; so sort of ekphrastic poems, but we had to incorporate three works of art into each poem. Hilary provided us with a fantastic meal that involved her lovely ‘Naughty Pudding’; I love this group, but I think you know that. Anyway, my poem ‘Exposed’ came from that activity. I don’t think I actually incorporated three works of art, but there are certainly two here; but, hey, poetry is all about subverting the rules. And this poem fits my mother/daughter theme, so that’s a bonus. Enjoy!



The goat herd, brought here

by the old nanny, found me.


He said I floated downstream for days

with only the black mouser always ready

to jump ship and Time crawling in our wake.


An ancient prophecy says leave your girls

without protection or breast, a daughter

will be the death of a mother.



I like to think she lay awake nights

tearing herself to shreds with remorse.


But really I suppose she slept, happily

dreaming of pulling all her teeth out.


Rachel Davies

December 2016