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

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