It’ll be a quick one this week. I’m off to Piccadilly Station early tomorrow morning so I’m writing this in bed on Saturday night for a change. I’m going to a week-long poetry retreat with Hilary Robinson. Kim Moore and David Tait are running the course and Penelope Shuttle is coming to read to us on one evening. There’ll be lots of poetry friends there and I’m a little bit excited about all this!
So, another week of poetry, life and PhD; not necessarily in that order. On Monday I went to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the latest Carol Ann Duffy and Friends event. Carol Ann wasn’t there this week; she is suffering from the awful microbes that seem to be bowling over all my friends at the moment. Instead, we had a variety of ‘Carol Anns’: Michael Symmons Roberts stepped in at the last minute to introduce the event and read a poem from his forthcoming collection. It was a longish poem about Manchester and her history; fantastic and original and creative: it will make the centre-fold of the collection, and will span a double page spread. Keith Hutson was CAD for the second half introductions. Elaine Feinstein was the headline act this time. She got off to a slow start, but when she warmed up she was amazing. Eighty six years old and still doing entertaining readings. She talked of her time at Cambridge in the late fifties, mentioned a Fulbright scholar who was there at the same time, and in my mind I imagined her being on first name terms with Sylvia Plath, who I am guessing was the Fulbright scholar in question; there’s a good chance anyway. Feinstein talked a lot about her conversations with Ted Hughes during her reading. For me, though, the highlight was MMU MA Creative Writing student Paul Stephenson and his reading of the sequence of poems he wrote following the 2016 Paris bombings, which he experienced personally as a resident in Paris at the time. The poems form his Happenstance pamphlet, The Days that Followed Paris; more details here:
Tuesday was my PhD supervisory meeting. I was a bit nervous about this one; but I received some positives on my writing and really helpful and constructive feedback from Antony and Angelica. I still have a long way to go; I asked them both if they thought I could do it; both said yes they thought I could, but it will be hard work and a huge time commitment. We discussed the possibility of transferring to the MFA, which is a doctoral level degree but doesn’t include the critical element. The MFA is about preparing a full length poetry collection for publication. I reflected on this when I got home but I have decided to stick with the PhD: ultimately, I might not be successful and that would be painful; but it would be more painful to give up now. So I recommitted all over again. I had put something in my writing about Selima Hill subverting the form of the sonnet and Angelica thought that would be an interesting idea to unpack; so I loaded the Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet onto my Kindle on the way home, and that will be the mainstay of my reading while I’m away in St Ives.
I did a lot of reflection prior to writing the RD9 record of the meeting and I realised I have been a bit scared of the PhD until now. I need to relax a bit and enjoy it more. I felt I needed to revise my plan, I feel a bit as if I’m floundering without a clear plan of action since the critical element was renegotiated; but A & A said not to worry about that. So I’ll do the reading, write when I’m ready and let it ‘grow organically’, in Angelica’s words. After all, cut and paste is a wonderful facility. If I achieve this, there will be the biggest party ever thrown on Saddleworth. I sent the RD9 off on Thursday.
On Friday I had a little light relief when I went for dinner with my friend Joan. I promised her I would mention her in the blog this week. She passed the first anniversary of being a grandmother last week, so there were lovely photos of Madeleine, who we call ‘Busby Babe’ in honour of Joan’s lifelong love of Manchester United, playing in the snow near their home in Chicago.
And all week I have been keeping on top of the competition entries for Poets&Players. They are coming in steadily now; but this ten days–the closing date is Feb 28th–they will be coming in thick and fast. And I’ll be away in St Ives, so I think I’ll have a huge job when I get home. I should be able to process the entries into my spreadsheet while I’m away; but they will all need printing out when I get home next weekend. Details of the competition are here:
Please enter: as the old Lotto motto goes, you gotta be in it to win it. And Michael Symmons Roberts reading your poems is a prize in itself, isn’t it?
Saturday I spent reading the sonnets book; and packing my suitcase. I keep a packing list on my iPad. I am a last minute packer and it doesn’t seem quite so tedious if you have a list to remind you what to pack. So now I’m all ready and fired up for the week. I’m hoping to manage three or four hours of PhD work a day: some reading at bedtime and a couple of hours before breakfast: as you perhaps know by now, I’m a very early riser.
I’m posting a poem I wrote on Kim’s last St Ives workshop in October 2014 this week, in anticipation of another lovely week away. I can’t believe that was more than two years ago! I wrote this when my daughter, Amie, was having treatment for malignant melanoma. It was a worrying time and my head was in a bad place. It was a particularly drizzly morning in an otherwise week of lovely weather when Kim sent us all out to write about the town. This is the poem I wrote on that drizzly morning.
Love Letter To St Ives
Even though the future sits at your feet like a black dog
and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of 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.