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.

 

http://www.fulgura.de/sonett/karussel/original/prayer.htm

The Times Saturday Review, 1992

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