My latest journal has a legend on the cover: ‘Don’t count the days, make the days count’. I hate February, all that residue from winter, all those grey skies and cloud blankets, all that unhappy weather. I normally count down the days to March and spring; but I’m listening to my journal this year. I’m not doing a countdown. Instead, I’m making the days count. And so far, the weather has been decent, some sunshine to convince us spring is round the corner. This week I saw a honeysuckle coming into leaf; and found snowdrops breaking their buds; and heard the garden birds practicing their dawn chorus. Life isn’t so bad, is it?
Once again, the community of poets has come to my rescue. I’ve been reading Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing. It was recommended to me by poet friend, Janet Rogerson, who has just successfully completed a PhD from Manchester University. As you know if you visit this site regularly, I am having trouble coming to terms with Acadamese, that formal language that theses must be written in. Except Helen Sword says that’s not the case. Sword recognises my problem with “a deeper, duller kind of disciplinary monotony, a compulsive proclivity for discursive obscurantism and circumambulatory diction (translation: an addiction to big words and soggy syntax).” Exactly so: the accessible phrase in parentheses makes much better reading to me. And to Sword. She talks of academic journals written in a style she finds “almost unreadable”, built on “gratuitous educational jargon” and “intellectually pretentious writing”. She, and many of her fellow academics, want to see “originality, imagination and creative flair”. Such a breath of air for someone coming to terms with the slings and arrows of thesis writing. I’m on a high reading it. It reminds me of Katrina Naomi’s thesis; it reminds me how I will progress.
So, I’m feeling very positive again; I sent off almost 5000 words last week to my ‘critical’ supervisors. I have had an acknowledgment but no dates for a meeting yet. I’ve got the intellectual gloves on to fight my corner for accessible text. I have also sent off four new poems to Jean Sprackland who is supervising the creative element of the work. The four poems are contributions to the collection I am putting together in place of the verse drama which didn’t manage to fly. I am telling the story in poems now instead; and these were the first four of those poems. I’m waiting for dates from Jean too: she’s taking a sabbatical this term so I feel really privileged that she has agreed to eat into her own time with a meeting, bless her. The community of poets: what wonderful, supportive people they are, for sure.
So, I have eased off on the pressure of PhD work this week while I wait for meetings. It has been a week of life and poetry instead. On Monday, I went on my first ever protest march. I joined the thousands in Albert Square–and the tens of thousands around the country–protesting at President Trump’s ban on entry to USA from seven mainly Muslim countries; and protesting at Theresa May’s complicity-through-acceptance in that. Surely governments of right-thinking nations should stand up to fascism in whatever guise it presents itself? The mid-twentieth century shows what can happen if we accept, appease and comply. I felt it was time to ‘stand up and be counted’ against this pernicious, not to say arbitrary, Trump regime, and the general and worrying right-leaning tendencies of many western democracies. So, on Monday evening Bill and I met up with Kim Moore (also on her first protest, although she’s half my age), Clare Shaw and her lovely daughter, and we protested. We tried to listen to the incoherent speeches–the mic wasn’t working well–so we just cheered as the crowd’s cheer rolled back to us, and booed in the same vein. But oh my, the energy of that crowd, and the positivity toward a multi-cultural community. It was fantastic. We marched through the streets of Manchester and met only positive response, even from passengers on buses that our march was holding up. Really, you know, people are fantastic; and if we stand together and uphold what we believe in, we can return the world to a place we can be proud of.
While I was on Albert Square, doing my protest for a decent world, Amie rang to invite me to go to Peterborough with her the next day to visit son Richard. Of course, I said yes immediately without access to my iPad diary,which was at home. It was only on Tuesday morning at 5.00 a.m. when I was sitting up in bed planning my day that I remembered it was my Stanza meeting on Tuesday evening. So I was torn between cancelling Peterborough and abandoning Stanza. Again, the community of poets came to the rescue and my lovely friend Hilary agreed to step into the breach and chair the Stanza for me. I have some fantastic friends: I am blessed. So, family day on Tuesday and it was wonderful. It was a day I normally give to PhD work, but Richard is a teacher in Peterborough and I normally only get to see him in school holidays. The next holiday, the February half term, I will be in St Ives on a poetry writing week, so it was good to have this chance to see him. Always good to see family; thank you to Amie for taking me.
Thursday was one of those ‘life’ days I’d rather forget. It cost me mega-bucks. I took my car in for an annual service. I pay monthly on a service plan so it doesn’t come as so much of a shock; imagine then how much of a shock it was when Pentagon got in touch to say I needed work doing to the sum of £500! Apparently the ‘coil’ had corroded. I didn’t even know it was on a birth control programme, but there you go! So, I had to pay up and look big. It’s been an expensive month: I had to pay the latest instalment on my PhD fees this month too; and pay the balance on the St Ives week. So I’m a bit strapped for cash now. But it’s February and I remain positive. And I’m on dog-sitting duties this week for my daughter; her partner is in France on a snowboarding break. Her lovely cockerpoo Cooper: here’s a random picture to cheer you up:
I took him for a walk along the canal at Uppermill yesterday and he sniffed all his messages en route, and sniffed every dog we passed; one poor dog, a female cockerpoo, got more than she bargained for when she came up to sniff noses: she backed off and ended up slipping into the canal! Thankfully her owner was there to help her out, and we all got a good soaking as she shook herself dry. Must be a poem in that one, I thought.
On the poetry front, lots happening at the moment. The Poets & Players annual competition, judged by the wonderful Michael Symmons Roberts, is open for entries at the moment, details here:
I am processing the online entries, which are beginning to arrive in the in-box. I have promised myself I will keep the processing up to date as they come in, to ease the heaviest workload towards closing date, the last day of February. So I have found several spare hours to print off and log the entries. Mostly this is a fairly straight forward job; but why oh why can’t people read the rules of entry? I have had to disqualify entries of poems more than forty lines; I have had to disqualify entries that came emblazoned with photographs and illustrations. READ THE RULES is the first rule of entering poetry competitions; comply with submission guidelines. And thank you for entering our competition. We appreciate it, we really do: it helps us mount our fantastic P&P free poetry and music events.
I have also been working on the next Spelk poem. Yes, it is early for me, Spelk poems are usually last minute, beat the deadline pieces; but this time Penny has asked us to write a ‘long’ poem and it requires some research. So I made a start on the research. Also, on Monday evening we, Hilary, Penny and I, are going to a poetry workshop in Manchester, led by Amy McCauley. We have to write an ekphrastic poem before the workshop so I have been doing some thinking around that, seeing if I can bend that to my will and write a poem that will also fit my PhD portfolio–two birds with one stone. So guess what I’ll be doing later today? Yup!
And so to the poem: I’m posting a poem I wrote very quickly last Sunday morning for the Stanza I didn’t manage to attend. I haven’t had my feedback on it yet, so you are getting it very first draft.
You know what, life is hard,
how, in a flash it takes away everything
a person was, sucks out the kernel of them
and throws the empty shell on the ground.
In a past life he built houses.
In a past life he built cities full of houses.
In a past life he walked miles for the fun of it,
ran marathons for charity
climbed mountains because they were there.
In a past life, he gave her everything she asked for
at the downturn of her mouth.
She enjoyed that, being his raison.
Now he can’t speak, can’t tell her he’s sorry,
can’t tell her he misses her.
He’s the shell of the nut, empty, discarded.
I do what I can for him but its like dressing
a dummy, no interaction, not even the nouse
to be embarrassed that his daughter
wipes his arse, holds the bottle while he pees.
She should be doing it really as some sort
of payback. But she says she’s too ill,
too weak, too busy caring for herself to care for him.
She won’t say what’s wrong with her.
So I keep wiping his arse, holding his bottle,
then I put them to bed in separate rooms.
I’m weaving a threadbare fabric.