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.