Monthly Archives: March 2017

Spring, ducks, clocks and mothers

Make no mistake, it’s a struggle juggling life, poetry and a PhD. I have two Bachelor degrees, two Masters degrees and they were hard but I never doubted I would be able to finish them. A PhD is a whole new ball game. It is very hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and it should be. I had a conversation this week with a poet friend who is struggling with the pain-in-the-arse that is RD1. I remember it well. My own struggle with it seems a lifetime ago, it is hard and I feel her pain. But it’s a hurdle that has to be jumped in order to get onto the good stuff. And then the good stuff is hard as well. She has a fantastic PhD project, and in order to get onto that she has to sign off RD1. She can do this!

Every week I ask myself why I am putting myself through it: I don’t need to do it, I don’t need a job in academe. But of course, for me it isn’t about academe, it isn’t about employment; it’s all about a personal challenge, a vanity almost. For this friend of mine, a professional poet who is also doing some undergrad teaching at MMU, it is about career and I guess that makes it harder; she is driven as well by an ambition outside her own personal motivation. I have the luxury of saying it’s the journey, not the destination: if I don’t achieve the PhD at the end of it, at least I’ve enjoyed the ride. I’ve learned loads, had an amazing quality of mentoring by two professional academics and one wonderful poet in Jean Sprackland. The added pressure of career ambition must be unbearable. C’mon, jump that hurdle, get onto what you’re good at: poetry and the personal that’s political.

I’ve had a brilliant week this week, got lots done. On Sunday last, I started my crown of sonnets inspired by my reading of Rita Dove and the visit to the Strange and Familiar exhibition at the City Art Gallery. I drafted three sonnet stanzas, so you could say, if you were really naff, that I have a sonnet half-a-crown! It even has a rhyme scheme of sorts; a near-rhyme scheme really. I worked a lot on the first sonnet, tightening it up, cutting the dross. I’m quite pleased with it. The other two need lots of work in terms of persona voice, form etc. I’ve tinkered with it all week. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with you yet as I’m also writing it for Spelks and I need to keep it for the next Spelkerama next week. You might see it, or some of it, soon though.

Also on Sunday, I redrafted and submitted my political rant, inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’. This is for the Beautiful Dragons anthology, Noble Dissent, which will be published later in the year. I sent the first draft to editor, Rebecca Bilkau, and she liked it but advised it needed to be tightened up, being a prose poem therefore a big block of text. I had already redrafted it by the time she got back to me; so I’m hoping the version I submitted this week will be accepted as it is. I loved writing this one.

On Monday this week it was the third and last event in the current series of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange. Carol Ann read a couple of poems; three strong MMU Writing School MA students read poems that are contributing to their portfolios; the house poets read a poem each, a fantastic new one by Mark Pajak; then Adam O’Riordan finished the evening with a reading from his new collection A Herring Famine, which Carol Ann is tipping as a major prize-winner this year. I love these events, to be steeped in poetry with the added advantage of meeting up with lots of poet friends. The next series will be in the autumn; keep an eye out for ticket sales because they go like the proverbial hot cakes.

Driving to the park and ride to catch the tram on Monday evening, my poor little motor was making a most alarming sound on right turns: sort of like a seven-league bedspring going off. It sounded expensive. I limped home at the end of the evening and didn’t move my car again until I took it to the car hospital on Thursday. On Tuesday morning I rang the Vauxhall dealership to book it in for repair: they couldn’t fit me in until April 7th. April 7th? That’s longer than it takes to see a GP! I rang the local garage just down the road and they fitted me in for Thursday morning. I settled for the local garage.

The rest of Tuesday was dedicated to PhD. I prepared a timetable of writing tasks; literally booking time slots to fit writing into my life. I worked on the advice of The Clockwork Muse by Evictor Zerubavel. He advocates seeing your writing in small, bite-sized pieces rather than the whole project: work on a couple of pages until you are happy with them before moving on. So I wrote two-page writing bites into my timetable, which only goes to the end of March: I wanted to test it out, see if I need to modify it at all before filling it in further. I worked on the first task in my timetable: reworking the first two pages of the Selima Hill section. I worked on it most of the rest of Tuesday. There is a lot to be said for working on small sections, perfecting them before moving on. Having perfected those two pages I can see now where I need to put more academic authority into them, and that will be the next task for them. That is what writing is all about: drafting, redrafting, perfecting. I think this timetable is going to be an asset. I planned creative as well as critical tasks into the timetable, so that neither dominates. I’ll be working on them side-by-side; which is good because often the critical work sparks ideas for the creative and it’s right not to wait.

On Wednesday I had to rely on lifts to get me to my job at the Black Ladd. Oh, how I hate the loss of independence when my car is off the road. So I was very pleased on Thursday morning to get it to the garage at 8.30 a.m., just when they were opening up. The mechanic had first hand knowledge of the bed-spring sound as I parked it up to wait for treatment. He said he would get back to me when he’d inspected it. We went on to Tesco to do the week’s shopping. I received the phone call at lunchtime: the driver’s side front spring had broken and needed replacing. It would cost £132, did I want him to go ahead with it? Well, I had been thinking £4-or-500 so, yes, I did want him to go ahead with it. And when he told me it would be about 2 hours, I was delighted. We went to collect it at 4.00 p.m., sounding as good as new. Oh yes, I’ll be going there again in future. Of course, waiting around for garage phone calls interrupted the flow of work on the timetable, but Thursday’s task was a creative one, and really I work best on creative writing in the early mornings, so I know I can make that up, no problem.

Friday was a lovely day: cold, but full of bright sunshine that makes you think winter is in retreat at last. We parked the car outside Uppermill and walked in along the canal path. The canal has been drained for maintenance work, just a dribble on the canal bed; but the ducks were still sitting in it, looking slightly ridiculous, like duck delegates to a conference on global warming. They were still managing to do the ‘up tails all’ thing, in only inches of water. They are pairing off for the spring reproduction, though, and the sunshine must have uplifted them somewhat. On Friday evening I met my friend Joan. We first met on holiday at Lake Como in 1995 and we have  met for dinner almost every month since then. On Friday we went to Panama Hatty’s in Prestwich. Lovely meal. The M62 was a nightmare on the drive to her house, though; for most of that section of the journey I didn’t get above 20mph and second gear; then on the way home, the exit road from the M60 to the M62 was closed, but they didn’t flag it up until I was already on the M60, so I had to do a full 360 on the roundabout and drive back to Oldham and go home by a different route. I think the ‘different route’ might become the standard route in future, cutting out the M62 altogether. It has aspirations to being a smart motorway, but it isn’t being very smart at the moment.

Saturday saw me at my desk again. The timetable said ‘rewrite the “sonnet paragraph” of the Hill section’. Well, confession: I didn’t get it rewritten; but I did do a lot of preparatory reading–Montefiore, Paterson, the Cambridge Companion– deciding what is relevant to include to enhance the argument for subversion of the form. I was pleased with what I achieved. At lunchtime I had a visit from Angus, Ben and Cooper (the Cockerpoo). They brought me a lovely bunch of flowers for Mothers’ Day. Unfortunately Amie was at work and couldn’t come: Mother’s Weekend is always a busy one in the hospitality industry. Downstairs I have cards from all my children, waiting to be opened. As the cheesy FaceBook meme says, everyday is Mothers’ Day when you have children as lovely as mine.

On Saturday night we put the clocks forward an hour: winter is officially done. I can’t wait to see this evening being light until after 8.00. Yes, we made it for another year!

I’m including a poem for my late mother this week, in honour of Mothers’ Day. I don’t write nostalgic, lovey-dovey, mumsy poems: despite–because of?–the nine children she gave birth to, our mum wasn’t the maternal sort. So my relationship with my mother isn’t one I’m sentimental about. This poem is a memory of my sister and me ‘getting it’ for laughing at the tea table. It didn’t stop us laughing though.


What I remember of the spoon is

how it was her crowd control at mealtimes

how she held it upright in her hand,

it’s handle to the table-top, how it tapped

a rhythm like a slow drum,

how when we laughed we knew the spoon

would greet us with a firm handshake,

a spoon shaped bruise would raise itself

on the back of our hands, how we tried

not to laugh but it was a contagion,

how you tried to drown your laughter

in a cup of tea but one snort spread tealeaves

across your face like freckles and we laughed,

laughed so much we knew. Here it comes now

Rachel Davies


Strangely Familiar Big Things

This week I have successfully combined ‘life’ and ‘PhD’ to have a productive week. ‘Poetry’ has been well in the mix as well, so that, I conclude, was a good week.

First ‘big thing’: I went back to my aerobics class for the first time since the Fourth Thoracic was crushed last July. It was exactly eight months on Thursday last since the fall  so it’s been a long time since I went. It was good to see everyone; I was welcomed back like the prodigal daughter. I managed the aerobics very well, although I could feel my back getting sore by the end. I didn’t attempt the floor exercises: sit-ups, planks etc. They are for another day. I felt really good when I went for the usual post-exercise coffee, though. The down-side was that the fourth thoracic has been nagging for most of the week: I had to take painkillers on Thursday morning for the first time in months. It won’t stop me going back for more next week though!

Tuesday was the next ‘big thing’. I had to be in Uppermill for a hair appointment for 9.00 a.m. I was there early enough to call at the pharmacy for a prescription which wasn’t ready yet, so I went to my hair appointment and called back at the pharmacy after. This is only relevant because I was hoping to heat up some butternut and ginger soup I’d made on Monday and take it for my lunch as I was out all day. By the time I got home to change my sweater–all those chimbley little bits of hair, ugh–it was too late to bother about the soup, I had to be at MMU to meet Michael Symmons Roberts for 11.30; so, hairy sweater in the laundry, I set off souplessly for Metrolink. I made it to the Geoffrey Manton building for 11.20. I had the competition entries in my laptop trundle trolley: a box file with online entries, a separate ring binder with postal entries, too heavy to carry down Oxford Road. I met up with Michael in the foyer and we went up to his room  for the handover. So, if you sent poems to our Poets&Players competition, they are now in the safe reading of Michael. We can’t wait to hear his decision.

I walked back up Oxford Road, trundle trolley bouncing along behind me, over the cracks in the pavement, and took myself to the Manchester Art Gallery. I started my visit with a well-deserved pot of tea. Then, as it was 12.30 by now, I decided to have lunch before doing the work I came to do. I shared my table with two complete strangers, but we had a lovely conversation about the attraction or not of the written word: I said I had come to view the Strange and Familiar exhibition with a view to finding some poems. They loved the art, but weren’t writers at all. They wished me well in my quest. I took the lift to the second floor exhibition.

The exhibition was fantastic: mostly black and white photos taken from the fifties to the present day. I was particularly interested in the photos from the sixties, the era I grew up in, so evocative of a wonderful decade. Then I came across four huge face photographs. These weren’t beauty portraits, they were hideous: broken veins, rotting or missing teeth, over-done make-up, huge painted red lips, clogged mascara. One, the elderly woman with perm curlers on the extreme right of the series, could have been the mother in my PhD portfolio series; and, I reckoned, she could have been an elderly version of some of the trendy permissives in the sixties photos. The link was obvious and gave me an idea for a set of poems for the portfolio; possibly written as a sonnet corona. I’ll be giving this a go later today. Two birds, one stone. I was actually there to research our next Spelk activity, to write three poems inspired by the exhibition. It’s good when there is a confluence of all the aspects of my life.

I left the gallery at about 5.00. I walked out to find a coffee shop, passing the recently refurbished City Library. I haven’t been in since it was refurbed, so I decided I had time and I wandered in. I sat in the cafe, but didn’t order anything. I had the good fortune to sit down next to two elderly gentlemen who were discussing Roman history. It was too amusing to ignore; I surreptitiously took out my notebook:

Ernie: Mancini is the Roman name for Manchester.

Charlie: What about Manchuria then?

Ernie: A Manchurian is a person from Manchester.

Charlie: It must come from China then.

Ernie: Caesar either means ‘bald’ or ‘full head of hair’, I can never remember which.

…and so on. It was very entertaining. Although I do think Ernie had quite a well-read knowledge of ancient Rome; Charlie was more aspirational. I moved on. I went to a Costa for a cappuccino and an hour’s reading (Paterson’s 101 Sonnets) en route to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation for the launch of my friend Fokkina McDonnell’s first poetry collection. It was a lovely evening; first some poet friends of Fokkina’s, from her poetry group in Chorlton, read their own work, then Fokkina read from her new collection: fantastic, semi-autobiographical poems from various ‘eras’ in her life. I bought her collection, asked her to sign it, dipped into it on the tram on the way home. I haven’t read it through yet, but I look forward to finding the time to do so soon.

On Wednesday my son, Michael, went home to Tidworth. It was lovely having him to stay for a few days, and he seemed quite relaxed as he left to go back to work. Later in the day, my own work at the Black Ladd went smoothly for a change and I was home by 3.00, all done including the filing I’d left for the last couple of weeks. Desk cleared, yay!

Thursday and Friday I read and reread 101 Sonnets. It was rather disappointing to see that of 101 sonneteers, Don Paterson only included 14 women poets. This, of course, reflects the sonnet as a huge element of the male canon of poetry in this country’s literary history. Shame, though, a bit of a missed opportunity I thought.

Saturday was our Poets&Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery, another ‘big thing’. There was a poetry workshop by the fantastic and vivacious Helen Mort to begin with. Lots of discussion around the poems we read as well as opportunities to write from the prompts. Then, after lunch (yes, I did manage to take a flask of soup for this one) we had the big event in the South Gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park. First up, Persian percussionist Arian Sadr enthralled us with his  Tonbak (Persian goblet drum) and Daf (a circular frame drum): how can ten fingers and one drum make so many varied sounds? Next Andy Hickmott read from his latest collection of poems about the history of Ancoats Dispensary; then Helen Mort gave us a reading which began with a poem we had commissioned on the theme ‘borders’. Here is a link to the commissioned poem:

More percussion from Arian after the break, then Jane Draycott read from her latest collection The Occupant. I was enthralled by a pair of green parakeets in the trees outside the window while Jane was reading. There is a small flock resident in the park. It was a wonderful afternoon of poetry and music, a real gem of an afternoon. We had a short committee meeting after the event to complete planning for the year’s programme.

So, another week done and dusted. Later today I will be attempting to put some of my notes from ‘Strange and Familiar’ into poems; hopefully into sonnets; hopefully into the start of my crown of sonnets. Watch this space.

To finish, here is a link to a sonnet by a woman poet, no less than our current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Paterson had the good taste to include this one in his collection. I love it.

The Times Saturday Review, 1992

I love it when I learn new stuff!

I had an oops moment on Monday. I took the pile of coins from the restaurant to the bank. NatWest have one of those coin counting machines that sorts the coins, tells you how much you have deposited and issues a deposit slip to take to the counter. It saves a lot of time at the counter; tip the money in, wait for the slip. Except when I tried to tip the money into the maw of the machine, I missed and tipped it all over the floor. Coins everywhere! Thankfully one of the bank’s staff came to help me scoop it all up, a dirty business. Note to self: next time you take coinage to the bank, take it in more than one bag.

In the afternoon I went into Manchester to meet Hilary, Penny and Keith for a meal in Leaf before Amy McCauley’s writing workshop there in the evening. Always lovely to see them; Penny and Keith went to Simon Armitage’s reading at the Dancehouse on Oxford Road; but Hilary and I stayed for the workshop. I took a political poem I wrote in St. Ives, a bit of a rant against the class system in this country. It was a good session, some interesting writing, a mix of poetry and prose, so that’s refreshing. We stayed for a drink after the workshop: several poet friends there, as well as Amy. I was telling her about my PhD, how it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done: she completed hers last year, so she was very understanding.

Tuesday I dedicated the whole day to PhD work. I googled all the female sonneteers I read about in the Cambridge Companion. I have been inspired by the idea of a crown of sonnets, also called a sonnet corona. I hadn’t heard of it until I read this book. If you don’t know, it’s a sonnet cycle of seven or fourteen sonnets; each new sonnet begins with the last line of the last sonnet and the last line of the sonnet cycle is the first line of the first sonnet. It has a circularity, then, a relentless concentration on the central idea. I found a crown, ‘Belongings’ by Sandra Gilbert, which I really enjoyed reading. You can find it here:

I read about Rita Dove’s ‘Mother Love’, which is a modern retelling of the Persephone and Demeter myth. I ordered it second hand from Amazon. It is amazing; Dove was the Poet Laureate of the USA and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know her work until I bought this collection. Why have I never come across her work before? ‘Mother Love’ is a wonderful collection, and it ends with a sonnet crown, ‘Her Island’. I love this new-to-me form.

On Tuesday afternoon I caught the tram into Manchester to meet Peter, a colleague on the Poets&Players committee. He brought the postal entries for me to put with the online entries to take to Michael Symmons Roberts on Tuesday this week. I met Peter and his wife in the Rylands Library cafe for the hand-over. So that’s it, when I hand over to Michael, my part in the competition is over for another year; apart from, hopefully, introducing Michael at our winners’ celebration event in April, details here, along with other forthcoming P&P events:

Coming Events

On Wednesday I had a virtual PhD support meeting with Jean Sprackland. Jean is on Sabbatical this term but had agreed to ‘meet’ via an Adobe chatroom. I had sent her four poems in February, and it was these we discussed. Jean really liked ‘Code’ and ‘Exposed’, both of which I posted on here in early drafts. She liked the new creative voice in them and advised me to try to develop this; they are different from my normal poetic voice and quite exciting for that. She liked ‘Weaving’ least of all: less exciting than the others, and I would agree with that. She advised me to go to an art gallery for inspiration that isn’t autobiographical, which is where ‘Code’ and ‘Exposed’ took me and that’s why I like them both. I like an outward looking challenge. She gave me good ideas on minimal revisions, and a long look at the other two. We also discussed the sonnet, and particularly the crown. I said I could see how it could be adapted to suit dialogue between a mother and daughter in that circular way these conversations sometimes go, and the sonnet is always an exciting form to subvert by meter and rhyme scheme. So, I am committed to giving it a go before our next face-to-face meeting  toward the end of May. Ooh, watch this space.

On Thursday I sent off a couple of poems to the ‘And Other Poems’ call for submissions for St. Patrick’s Day. The poems are both loosely Irish, one probably more than the other; but I sent them anyway. I’m waiting to hear. I did hear from the Yorkmix competition: I wasn’t on their shortlist, ho hum. It’s a poet’s life: submission and rejection with the occasional ray of light from an acceptance or a competition success. Pick up that rejected poem, dust it off and send it somewhere else. My friends Keith Lander and Bernie Cullen were both on the shortlist, so that’s good news for them: I wish them both luck with the final decision.

Saturday was absolutely dedicated to work. I wrote my RD9 of the ‘meeting’ with Jean and sent it off to her and to my Director of Studies, Antony. I spent a couple of hours writing a poem for the ‘Noble Dissent’ anthology from Beautiful Dragons. It’s an anthology inspired by our favourite dissenters. I wrote a poem in the style of Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’, a prose poem I have loved for a long time. It is a dissent against the roles and behaviours ascribed to girls in a patriarchal society. As a piece of writing, it’s perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I love its pace and the relentless nag of it. I adapted it for my own poem about modern politicians, also a bit of a rant. I can’t post it here because it is for publication in the anthology; but I can post a link to ‘Girl’ so you can read it if you want to. I read my poem to Bill in the afternoon. I got really constructive feedback: ‘I don’t like it at all, the repetition’s boring’. Come on Bill, don’t hold back, say it as you mean it!

In other news, my son Michael came to stay yesterday for a few days, until Wednesday next week, so that’s a bit of a treat. Last evening we went out for a meal with Amie and her partner. It’s always good to have the offspring together; just a shame Richard couldn’t be there as well. He’s a secondary school teacher, so too busy getting ready for the big offensive of summer exams.

That’s it then; another week under my belt. I downloaded another book onto my Kindle this week: The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel, an Ivy League professor. It’s a practical guide to organising your writing tasks: lots of good advice about timetabling your writing into your lifestyle, actually planning writing times in. I like this idea. The book also gives good advice on how to see your writing as bite size pieces, not as an unmanageable whole. It advises writing in manageable pieces, say two or three pages a day, and being prepared for the first draft to be totally unsatisfying but to do it anyway and revisit it later when the whole thing is in first draft. Well, I know all about that!

Here’s a link to Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’; I hope you like it as much as I do.

These rules are NOT made to be broken

The week started with a long journey by train. I said goodbye to St Ives, train to St Erth, then, yes, the train from St Erth did journey straight through to Manchester Piccadilly. We caught that train at 1.00 p.m. and by the time we arrived in Manchester at 8.00 p.m. our bums were welded to the seats. It’s a long time to be confined to a seat with half a window and only chocolates for company. Next year I’ll drive down, breaking the journey with a hotel stop half way. Yes, I will be going again next year, it was a fantastic week.

Monday was the closing day for the Poets&Players competition. My inbox was full of entries to be processed, despite keeping the spreadsheet up to date while I was away. I already had more than 100 poems to print off while I was away; that number increased to about 400 by deadline. So that took most of my week: Tuesday and Thursday seemed to involve nothing else. I eventually printed off the last entry at 11.30 on Thursday night. It’s always such a relief to get that job done.

Now, a paragraph or two about following the rules!

The rules state ’40 lines maximum, excluding the title’: that’s clear then. So why send a poem that has 120 lines; but just to convince me, number it 1 to 40, with each number covering 4 or 5 lines of poetry? Did you think I wouldn’t notice? The 40 line rule is designed to get a poem onto one side of A4 paper. When your poem runs to 2 and a half pages of A4, I’m going to notice you infringed the rule, no matter how hard you try to dupe me.

The rules state ‘no illustration or photographs’: why, on the header of your poem, then would you draw a huge picture of your pet rabbit  or include photos of you and your friends taking al fresco coffee somewhere on the continent?

The rules ask for poems to be sent in a single attachment file, .doc, .docx or pdf, single spaced in a clear font size 12. Why send them singly, then? Which isn’t so bad when you are only sending three, but ten? Think of the poor administrator who has to open each file and then print them off separately, when that task could be undertaken once. And why send them via dropbox or other route that makes it almost impossible to print off?  Your poem should sing from the page, it should be a joy to read, a pleasure to look at if you want to get it noticed, not written in a font that shouts from the page, or one that is so ugly it is barely readable.

The rules clearly state no changes will be made to the poem once submitted; so don’t send me a poem, then a revision the next day, then a second revision a week later. Your first submission is the one that will be processed, so make it the best you can before you send it in. And don’t send poems that are previously published, then read the rule that says they can’t be previously published and ask me to withdraw that poem. And make sure the poems you send are the same as the titles you listed on your application form. Please, make a difficult job easier, not even more difficult. Roll on next year!

Wednesday was my day at my daughter’s pub restaurant, where I do the books. There was a lot to do this week, with being away last week; so it was difficult enough without the accountant messing up the payroll. When I stopped for lunch, I bumped into one of the waitresses who should have been on the payroll and, I realised, wasn’t. So after lunch I rang the accountant and pointed out that members of staff (there were two of them) were missing from the payroll. When we investigated, we discovered that he had sent me the payroll for February 9th by mistake; I hadn’t noticed and had paid most of the wages by BACS via online banking. So when he sent the correct payroll for the week, I had to work out the difference between what I had paid them and what I should have paid them and make adjustments accordingly. So, it was about 6.00 p.m. when I got finished there; normally I’m home about 3.oo. As if life isn’t full enough of things to do without making life more involved than it needs to be.

Friday morning, after a bad night’s sleep due to the late night processing of competition entries, I was sitting up in bed at 5.00 writing the first section of a ‘long poem’, our task this month for Spelks. My life has been so manic this month, I had no time to write it before. I took notes of our journey to St. Ives, and planned to make my long poem from that. I wrote myself as far as Birmingham on Friday morning, but it had the hallmark of a long poem, as that section flowed onto two sides of A4. It’s not a very good poem, it’s very first draft, but at least I had something to take to Spelks on Friday afternoon. Have I ever told you how much I love Spelks? It is my favourite poetry group, made up of six friends who meet monthly at each others’ houses with poems we write from a prompt the previous month. As usual there were some cracking poems; mine definitely needs some work, and I doubt it’ll ever be finished; but I’ll post a bit of it at the end of this blog so you can have a taste. I did also take some of my St. Ives poems, and I was much happier with them, but I have sent them off to various poetry outlets, so I can’t post them here yet.

What does this all tell you about my week? Yes, apart from reading at bedtimes and early mornings, PhD work has not even been in the back seat, it has been stored well and truly in the boot of my life. Saturday I got round to some serious contribution. I tried, and failed, to locate a PhD thesis my Director of Studies had recommended I read, so I’ve asked for clarification. I revisited my research proposal and posed myself some revised questions in the light of the renegotiated critical/creative weighting. And I finished reading the Cambridge Companion to the Sonnet: what a fascinating book! Is there no end to the reading I have to do; each book leads to three or four other books. This book is a collection of essays about sonnets from Dante and Petrarch to the twenty first century; I knew the sonnet had a history, but such a colourful one? I’ve learned so much. I need to revisit it now (thank goodness for Kindle: I highlighted the bits I need to revisit) and decide how I will use the reading in my writing. While I was reading on Saturday morning, there came a huge rap at the door. A teacher who was on my staff in a past life when I was head of a primary school in Hyde was just passing and thought she’d call in. Lovely to see her: she was acting deputy head when I had a particularly nasty time at school and was always very supportive. We had a cuppa together and lots of ‘catch-up’ chat. But that meant my PhD time was eroded yet again.

I started writing this blog to see how a PhD would fit into my life with family, poetry and all the other demands on my time. I feel my commitment to the work has been back sliding this past few weeks, other priorities have taken precedence. I need to rent a holiday cottage, I think,  and go away on my own and prioritise PhD work for a whole week, no other demands on my time. And I will, soon, when I have nothing else in my diary. I will have to clear a week somewhere toward the end of April, certainly before the end of May. I can’t get a PhD without doing the spadework.Watch this space.

So, here’s an excerpt from my long poem about the journey to St. Ives. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but I’ll post a couple of cuts. One is a reflection on comparisons between the Cheshire Plain and my native Fens; the other is a humorous conversation I got into with fellow travellers just as we were pulling into Birmingham New Street.



… on the screen of my window the story of Cheshire

is constantly rewinding as we travel to yesterday, the sun

is a peppermint licked smooth by a planet still living

its childhood behind weakening cloud.

Cheshire makes me nostalgic for the fens of my childhood,

it’s similar but different, the Fens’ brand of flatness has less trees,

more horizon, the villages in Cheshire look like an architect planned them,

in the fens they’re like buboes on the skin of the landscape;

in Cheshire there’s hedges and copses in the flatness, in the fens

only dykes and the fields are the thing.


We stop at Wolverhampton where the world and her husband

pile into the carriage; while first class is empty, in the hoi-poloi carriage

there’s standing room only, the aisles packed with people and we listen

to a couple who’re planning a wedding, the colour theme is yellow

and she’s asking her mother what’s a decent alternative to a frock,

she thinks trousers, I suggest yellow velvet, a nice pair of knickerbockers

and her mother agrees but the daughter’s not seeing it; her mother thinks

it would look lovely with a neat little pillbox like Hepburn in Charade,

perhaps white trimmed with yellow, a bow at the nape. I can tell

by her face that the daughter wants to hit me but we’re off

at the next station, we’re at Birmingham New Street.


Rachel Davies

March 2017