Monthly Archives: April 2017

Rooftop Protests, Spelks and the Grim Reaper

Poetry and life have had a big slice of me this week; the PhD has been pushed to the periphery, although it has been a productive periphery.

On Sunday I was early at my desk putting the disparate parts of the Hill chapter back together in a readable whole. I worked for about four hours, quite pleased with the results, but still with a couple of footnotes to check.

I also put together the anonymous poems document for Stanza. Every third Stanza we have an anonymous workshop when members submit poems to me by a deadline and I put them all together in a common font style and size with no acknowledgement to the poets. We agreed this format to facilitate a more open discussion of the work without the sanction of considering the poet’s personal feelings in the feedback. I send the document to all those members who have submitted poems to give them chance to read the poems and make comments before the meeting. I had eight poems submitted this month, so it promised to be a good meeting. That done, I worked on two poems for our Spelk session on Friday. The task this month was to work from a newspaper article: not to write a poem about the article, but to use just the words in the article to make our own poems. I followed the letter of the rule for the first poem I wrote, but found it extremely constricting. I wasn’t happy with the tight poem that resulted. On Sunday I decided to work with two forms I had discovered on Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook page. Still working from the newspaper, I took a sentence from one article and planned a ‘golden shovel’, the form that uses the words of the sentence as the last words of each line of the poem. I took another sentence and used it as the stimulus for a pantoum. I’ll post this poem at the end of the blog. I was much happier with the constraints of the form but the freedom to use other language besides the language of the article, I think it produced better poems that felt more like mine.

In the afternoon we watched ManU beat Burnley, three points that were much needed in the quest for a place in the Champions League next year: still a way to go in that quest, but every little helps.

Monday I wrote the ‘golden shovel’ poem I had been planning the day before, a poem about packing for a holiday. It’s a bit of silliness, but I’m quite happy with it. I meant to do some more work to the Hill chapter on Monday but I was quite late up, with writing in bed; and on Monday I have early lunch to allow me to leap around the gym without throwing up, so I didn’t have time to settle to it, really. Aerobics in the afternoon was good, but T4 was moaning by the end of it. I just tell it to get over itself and I go off in search of coffee.

Tuesday I had a haircut in Uppermill first thing, then I had to go into Manchester to meet Shirley, a colleague on the Poets and Players committee. She asked me to collect her Beautiful Dragons anthologies at the launch last week, which I did. However, I forgot to take them to the P&P event at the Whitworth as agreed, so we met up on Tuesday so I could hand them over. We met at ProperTea, the café by the Cathedral. I love the ritual way they serve tea there, and their Polish rye toast is the best ever: it has caraway seeds in, so a lovely delicate flavour. I had it with honey. Shirley had a slice of chocolate honey cake: Proper Tea get their honey from the Cathedral when they can. There are a million bees in hives on the roof of the Cathedral, how impressive is that, bees surviving in the city? We talked long and hard about poetry; and I remembered to hand over the books.

I went from ProperTea to the MMU library to collect a book I’d reserved, Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (I always want to say ‘pleasure dome’, unsure if it’s a nod to Samuel Taylor Coleridge or Frankie Goes To Hollywood: I’m pretty sure it’s a Freudian slip though!) When I got there, the book wasn’t on the reserved shelf so I had to go in search of it on the library shelves. The only copy they had was available on a one-week loan; so I have to go into Manchester again later today to return it before it costs me money.

When I walked along Oxford Rd. toward the library, there was some kind of rooftop protest happening at the old Corner House by Oxford Rd. station. Three or four men were up on the roof, the police had a cordon around the area and there was quite a crowd in attendance. By the time I walked back, the cordon had been extended, and the traffic was being held up. It transpires that the men had been squatting in the building, had been recently evicted and were making their protest against homelessness in the city. Power to their elbow, I say: homelessness, rough sleeping, is a huge blot of shame on the UK in the twenty-first century. It has grown and grown in the last five years. The divide between haves and have-nots in this country has never been so wide. I always have a pocket of change to hand out when I go into the city. And to those people who say ‘they will only spend your money on drugs’ I say ‘when I give it to that homeless person that money is their money to do with as they wish. If I was forced to sleep on the street, I might want something to take the edge off too.’ Well, I hope their protest made people sit up and take notice for a while. Certainly there was quite a sympathetic crowd there and it made the local television news; but I shouldn’t think it will make any difference in the great scheme of things. Mostly, I suspect, the homeless are socially invisible.

On Tuesday afternoon I read the anonymous poems (although of course I knew who wrote them because they came to me) and made comments and discussion points on them. At 7.00 p.m. I collected Hilary and Penny and we went to the Buffet Bar for Stanza. There were eight of us this month, so that made a good discussion group; the discussion was interesting and helpful. It was a good meeting.

On Wednesday I went to the Black Ladd as usual to do the books. I had to go early as we were catching a train to York soon after 2 o’clock. I managed to get all the work done before we went. I parked my lovely new car close by Greenfield Station: I felt a bit anxious leaving it there overnight, but it was fine. We arrived in York just before 4.00 and decided to walk to the hotel, about a mile we reckoned; and a mile it might have been had we followed the map correctly. We crossed the river, as the map suggested; but we hadn’t realised there was a choice of rivers. We crossed the Ouse and we should have crossed the little Fosse, so we were completely in the wrong direction. We eventually found ourselves on the map again and put ourselves in the right direction, only to miss the hotel altogether and walk past it by a mile: its signage wasn’t high viz. Thankfully the hotel was lovely. We stayed at the StayCity hotel, which was only built last year so it was new and clean. It was next door to a Co-op so we bought ourselves a bottle of chilled Gewürztraminer and had a much needed glass of wine. We were in York for the Danny Baker ‘From Cradle to Stage’ show at the Grand Opera House and we decided to eat after the performance. Amie had bought the tickets for herself and her partner, but he wasn’t able to go so she’d asked us if we’d like the tickets. It has to be said, before Wednesday I wasn’t Danny Baker’s biggest fan; but oh my, it was entertaining. The show started at 7.30 and didn’t end until 11.30, just Danny Baker talking about his life, his memoirs and the televised version. It was funny, nostalgic and interesting. He talked for four hours with just a short interval; which was impressive enough if he hadn’t been treated in 2011 for mouth and throat cancer. What an achievement. Of course it was too late to find anywhere to eat by the time it finished, so we went back to the hotel and had a sandwich and a hot chocolate.

We came home on Thursday. Unfortunately, when I produced the tickets for the train attendant, I’d bought day returns by mistake instead of the open returns I meant to buy; but he let us off, bless him, as did the attendant on the second leg from Huddersfield. I suspect it was helped by the fact we had senior rail cards: they were being indulgent to two oldies with impaired faculties, but it was good of them; they didn’t have to accept two out-of-date tickets after all. We went shopping when we got home and in the afternoon I made a saucepan full of pasta sauce for the lunch I was planning for Spelks on Friday. In the evening we watched ManU hold out for a draw against City, so that was a good result; not as good as a win would have been, but considering Fellaini had a rush of blood to the head and head-butted Aguero, and was rightly shown a red card, it was a good result.

Friday. Spelks. I love Spelks, but you know that already. We met early this month, at 11.00  a.m. because Hilary had to be at the RNCM in the evening for the annual Rosamund Prize event, a collaboration between MMU poets and composers from RNCM. The Spelk task this month had been set by Rod and I wasn’t the only one who had found it constrictive, including Rod himself. But the other Spelks had more or less stuck to the rules and produced some reasonable poems. It was a good session. I had made pastitsio for lunch and we ate too many nibbles and drank too much wine, but it was a lovely meeting as ever. Poetry, friends, food and drink: what’s not to like! Of course, because it was my turn to host, I should have prepared the stimulus for the next event and I completely forgot. But we aren’t meeting until June so I’ll get the activity to them by email in the next couple of days. Doh!

Saturday I had a really productive day with the PhD work. I read the Freud (pleasure dome) and finished the putting together and reference checking of the Hill chapter. I sent it off to Antony and Angelica for discussion at our next meeting. I also sent the sonnet corona and three other poems off to Jean Sprackland for discussion when we meet again toward the end of May. So it was quite a productive day and I was pleased with what I accomplished. I also wrote a dreadful poem for NaPoWriMo, so I am completely up to date with that challenge, even though most of the poems were eminently forgettable. The three extra poems I sent to Jean were all NaPo poems though, so some good did come of it. Just one more poem to write today and that’s it, the end of April and NaPo month.

Well, here’s the poem for this week. Yes, it was an April NaPoWriMo poem. I wrote it last Sunday, following Steve Ely’s workshop on Saturday for Poets&Players. The workshop looked at the work of Emily Dickinson, so it involved a lot of death references and funerals, and you can see the legacy of that in this poem about the grim reaper. It is a pantoum, using a short sentence from a Guardian article: ‘These are all such timely warnings’. Here are details of a P&P workshop on May 13th, lead by the lovely Greta Stoddart: there are a couple of places left, if you’re interested:


Remember, what you sow he reaps.
Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning.
You can’t help muttering in your sleep.
These are all such timely warnings.

Mourners talk crock when they’re mourning:
life’s watery, distant, thin and cold
and these are all such timely warnings,
while you think you’re too young to grow old.

Life’s watery; distant, thin and cold
in the muddy earth, despite the coffin.
While you think you’re too young to grow old
death’s wintry fingers reach there often.

In the muddy earth, despite the coffin,
you can’t help muttering in your sleep.
Death’s wintry fingers reach there often,
so remember what you sow he reaps.

Rachel Davies

April 2017

PhD, poetry and playing hooky

This week I have finished my sonnet corona for the creative element of the PhD, worked on the critical element of the PhD, been to two and a half poetry events, met up with lots of poetry friends and acquired a new-to-me car. Even by my standards it’s been a full-on week. I feel sorry for people who say they’re bored now they’re retired. Look at your options: boredom isn’t one of them.

On Sunday I got started late on my work. I made a huge plateful of pancakes with berries for breakfast and took my time eating them while I watched Andrew Marr so by the time I started, my head wasn’t in the right place for the critical element. Instead I prepped my work timetable for the week and then concentrated on the creative element. I wrote the fifth sonnet for the corona, in the daughter’s voice. Later in the day I had added the sixth, this one in the mother’s voice. I still wasn’t entirely happy with the two distinct voices, but I can work on that when I get the first drafts done. I left the sixth one on a good line for rounding back to the first line of the first sonnet to complete the crown. I’m reticent to tell you I abandoned work in the afternoon to watch Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-0 at OT, because it shows you the limits of my commitment to work. It was a fantastic match. In the evening I booked a hotel in York for next Wednesday. My daughter, Amie, had bought tickets for Danny Baker’s ‘From Cradle to Stage’ but her partner couldn’t make it so she asked if we’d like to go instead. I booked us a studio apartment in the centre of York for £80.00 for the night: I call that a bargain.

Monday was a big and dedicated PhD day. I worked on the Selima Hill chapter, putting all my disparate redrafted bits together in a whole. It’s taking shape. At 4.00p.m. I met up with Hilary to go to Amy McCauley’s writing workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. This turned out to be the ‘half’ a poetry event I mentioned in my opener. We decided to get off the tram at Exchange Square and eat in a small, family run Italian ristorante there. Unfortunately, we lost track of the time, and when we picked the track up again, it was ten past six and the workshop had started at six; so we decided to workshop our own poems, take a leisurely coffee then go home. So sorry, Amy, we played hooky from your workshop: another first because, much as I hated school, I never once skived off then. When I got home, I booked train tickets to York: I found out there is no parking at the hotel I booked. York is very aware of its environmental responsibilities and discourages traffic in the city centre with excellent park-and-ride facilities. So we are going by train and taking the walk from the station when we get there.

Tuesday I was at my desk by 8.15 for another good day at the Hill chapter. I have a problem with the theoretical input even now. If I put too much theory into my argument, it feels like digression from what I’m really wanting to say; too little and the writing feels undernourished. Do I put explanations in footnotes or in the body of the work? Oh, this academese has always been a foreign language to me. I’ll decide at the next redraft, when I have it all put together in a finished draft of the whole chapter, I think. I’ll have spoken to Antony and Angelica again by then, so I’ll talk to them about it. After three hours of work on the Hill chapter, I changed tack and wrote the seventh and concluding sonnet for the corona. I printed off the whole thing and read it aloud, always a good way to listen to any inconsistencies in the rhythm etc. I was quite pleased with it as a first draft. It still needs some work on the distinct voices of mother and daughter, perhaps some idiom to distinguish them, but I’m pleased overall. It’ll be interesting to see what Jean Sprackland thinks of it when I send it to her next month. I’ve got time to do a bit more redrafting before then though.

Thursday it was the Manchester launch of the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology at
No. 70 Oxford Road. Hilary had organised the venue, in one of the lecture theatres there: it was intimate and comfortable. There were about fifteen of us ‘dragons’ there: other launches are taking place around the UK. But it was lovely to meet up with poet friends and share in the community of poets again for a celebration of some wonderful work. The anthology is called The Bees’ Breakfast. It has a poem celebrating every county, and a few cities, in the UK. I chose my native Cambridgeshire as my inspiration and wrote a short poem about the fens, centred around the man who became my stepfather and who was fenland through and through. I’ll post it at the end of the blog. You can find Beautiful Dragons publications here:

Please check it out and support them if you can: Rebecca Bilkau is the editor and works unbelievably hard on these collaborations. Some fantastic poets are involved as well, so you’ll get real value for money if you decide to buy. After the launch we all spilled out into the Thirsty Scholar for a celebratory drink. The community of poets served me yet again: Anna Percy and Rebecca Bilkau talked to me about my PhD work; they were really supportive and I thank them for it: we all need some support to keep us going. Rachel Mann also offered to read my sonnet crown, bless her. I love my poetry friends.

Friday was the pick-up day for my new car. I’ve been running on adrenalin all week thinking about it: not just about having it, but actually buying it. In all my half a century of adulthood (?) I’ve only bought four cars on my own and I find it extremely stressful: the knowing if I’ve done the right thing, if I really need a new car, if I’ll need the money for something else as soon as I’ve spent it, if, if, if…But at 2.00 p.m I went to the Pentagon dealership and took possession and oooh! it’s loverly! Here is a photo of the red, glittery bits that show in the paintwork when the sun shines on them: I know, a really blonde reason to buy a car, but just look at them and tell me you wouldn’t have been beguiled too:


This all brings us round to yesterday, Saturday. I had a wonderful day of poetry. It started with a workshop at the Whitworth Gallery on Oxford Road organised by Poets&Players. Steve Ely ran the workshop: it was based around the poetry of Emily Dickinson. We read, discussed and wrote poetry. I have a couple of embryonic poems from the workshop which I’ll be working on at home. Steve’s workshop was well organised, interesting and enjoyable. After a communal lunch with the committee and the competition winners, it was our competition celebration event. Oh my, what fantastic poems Michael Symmons Roberts had chosen as winners: Sharon Black in first place with ‘Post Op’; Ian McEwan in second with ‘Poem with this cow in it’; and Pam Thompson in third with ‘My life as a bat’. It was fantastic that all the prize winners could attend, especially as they came from the south of France, Bedford and Leicester; and they all read wonderful extra poems to go with their winning work too. I had the great pleasure of introducing Michael Symmons Roberts to our audience; and Li Liu, dressed in her wonderful costume creations to enhance the music, provided the ‘player’ element with her cello and Bach Cello pieces. It was a fantastic afternoon in wonderful surroundings of the south gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park, on a lovely summery day:


A lovely day and a wonderful week. I love my life. Here’s my poem from the Beautiful Dragons anthology The Bees’ Breakfast. 



Sometimes dreams can be nightmares.

He wanted most of himself to be buried, to become
an enrichment of the fenland soil he loved so much,
his heart and lungs to be thrown in Whittlesey Wash
to feed the eels he knitted his nets for.

Oh, he was generous. He gave me some peonies once,
dug up from his garden. He shook the soil off though—
that soil’s worth three thousand pounds an acre he said.
I looked for the smile but there wasn’t one.

One night his skeleton grew out of the earth like a myth.


Rachel Davies

April 2017



Golden Shovels and the community of poets

I’m a bit late with the blog this week. It’s been a bad week for sleep but even by my standards, the early hours of Saturday were just weird. At 1.30 a.m. we were woken by a woman outside our bedroom window, wailing into her phone. ‘But I love you so so much, I just want you back. My family says I should tell you to f*** off, but I just want you, please, come back…‘ etc etc. I have no idea who she was: we live on a fairly quiet country lane and you would only want to be out there if you were meaning to be there. After a five-minute wail, her heels clicked off down the lane and she was gone. My initial response was anger at being woken up. I wanted to shout down to her to stop being so needy and kick him into touch; but when she’d left I kept wondering who she was, why she was there and if she got home alright. And then I was angry all over again that she’d put that concern on me. In the history of insomnia, that is a pretty unique wake-up, I think; but it might be the subject of a poem some day.

So, the week in brief. PhD, poetry and life have all made their demands this week. Timetabling is working well for me. I have spent a lot of time putting the Hill chapter back together in order to send off to Angelica and Antony later in the month. Angelica has been putting lovely pictures of her working week in Mainz in Germany this week so I don’t think she needs it just yet: a good thing; it still needs some work. I’ll be back at it later today. I have been working on my sonnet corona this week as well: I promised Jean she would have a sight of it before the end of May, so still a month to work on that. Four of the seven sonnets complete and fairly polished. It’s hard to get two distinct voices into a dialogue; but vital to get that right.

Poetry has had a big space in the week, it being National Poetry Month. I’ve continued to write a poem a day: some of them have been rubbish, but there are some little gems in there too, worth keeping to work on in more leisurely times. One or two have been mother-daughter themed poems, which might be incorporated into the portfolio when I put the PhD work together next year. The real joy of NaPoWriMo is that, under its pressure, I am managing to write a poem every day. I always thought I could only write in my study–my ‘room of one’s own‘. But I have learned that I can even write poems while I’m watching telly in the evening; or when I stop work for a cuppa. They fit themselves into my spare moments, I don’t have to make huge spaces and times for them. True, they are not all worthy, but they are ‘poems’ and I am managing at least one a day.  Will I keep up this pressure after May 1st? Who knows; but I might.

I joined Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo FaceBook page at the end of March. She posted thirty prompts for poets to use if they needed a kick start with their poems. I have used some of the prompts; they’re good starters. But through that page, I have learned new forms I didn’t know about and that has helped me to write poems when ideas were lacking. I think I wrote about the pantoum last week: a form I vaguely knew about but hadn’t used before. This week I learned about a nonet and a Golden Shovel. Yes, really. Had you heard of them? I hadn’t; but I have now, and I have them in my NaPoWriMo repertoire. I wrote a nonet about a birthday gift my dad asked me to wrap up for my mum when I was a teenager. The nonet is a nine-lined poem (no surprise there then); but the first line must have nine syllables, the second eight and so on down to one syllable for the last line. I quite like the poem: I might post it at the end of this blog. But its shape offends my OCD: it all comes down to the point of that final syllable and it looks unstable, top heavy. So now I’m thinking I could write a reverse nonet, that stands on its nine syllable last line; or a specular nonet, that writes down to one syllable and back up to nine, like a mirror. See? There’s no end to poetry once it gets into your system.

Oh, and the Golden Shovel, you ask. No I’d never heard of one of them either. Now I’ve written two. You take a line of poetry you really like and use the words of the line as the last word of each line of your own poem; so if the line you start with has six or ten words in you write a six or a ten line poem. I took that wonderful line from Plath’s ‘Morning Song’: ‘Love set you going like a fat gold watch‘ so my own poem became a nine-liner about watching my mother make a Victoria sponge. Your own poem doesn’t have to be along the same content as the original; your poem can be about something completely other. I guess the words in the line you choose might influence the content of your poem to some extent, but not necessarily so. Form can be very liberating when you are stuck for a beginning. Yesterday morning on Breakfast I saw a report about an elephant hospital in Thailand: they make prosthetic limbs for elephants traumatised by land mines. How sad is it that that should even be a thing? I thought of humankind having dominion over the animals and this seemed the worst possible example of how we abuse that trust. I tried to write that poem, but it wasn’t until I was in bed last night, approaching midnight, that I found a line by Pascale Petit that gave me my ‘in’: ‘that tight smile as if you’re tunnelling into the sun’ and the Golden Shovel gave me my poem. It needs some work, but it’s there in the shadows. The Golden Shovel is another example of the community of poets; or of what Carol Ann Duffy describes as poets all dipping into the same ancient stream. I love poetry; did you know?

Life has had its fair share of me this week too. On Tuesday I went to look at cars. I have had my eye on a Vauxhall Mokka for some time, decided I would buy one as a birthday present to myself later in the year. I asked Bill to come with me to the dealership just to look, just to work out my options. Yup, I bought one. Yup it’s brown–I can hear you shouting You bought a brown car? What were you thinking? I would have been shouting that before I saw the macadamia brown of the Mokka: I thought it was black when I saw it on the forecourt, until the sunshine showed the red glitter in its paintwork and I was hooked. My new-to-me Mokka 4×4 is brown and I’ll be collecting it before the weekend, hopefully. Lovely number plate too: VO16UUZ. Can’t wait.

On Wednesday I went to a meeting of the PMR-GCA north west branch. This is a support group for sufferers of Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis, the auto-immune conditions that I have dubbed the ‘ugly sisters.’ This was the first I heard of this group and I’ve been being treated since December 2013! I didn’t hold out much hope of it as a support group: I joined a FB support page at the beginning of my encounter with the ugly sisters and it seems to me it’s just a forum for proving you are suffering worse than anyone else; and I can’t be doing with that, being terminally optimistic. So I went to the meeting at the Victoria Hotel in Hollinwood expecting the worse and thinking I’d sit at the back and make good my escape if I couldn’t bear it. But actually it was quite helpful. A rheumatologist from Oldham Royal was there to answer questions from the floor and it was interesting overall. I’ll give it another chance to disappoint me in June!

Saturday my son Richard and his friend Ray came to visit. Amie, I and they went into Manchester for lunch at San Carlo in King St West. It was a lovely meal and I’m guessing I had a month’s supply of Slimming World syns in the dessert alone: a mile-high strawberry pavlova. I love spending time with my wonderful children; a shame Mike couldn’t be there: he had to work. He was missed.

So; if you have chocolate today, enjoy it. If you are a Christian, have a peaceful and life-affirming Easter. If, like me, you don’t subscribe to the religious meaning of Easter, have a lovely weekend anyway, and a perfect and productive week next week. Here’s my nonet ‘Painted Lady’. I discovered that by centre justifying it I’m happier with it standing so precariously on that one syllable. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to reduce the spacing on WordPress so it’s a bit longer and thinner than it is in Word, but here it is anyway:

Painted Lady

That face powder and blood-red lipstick

you gave her for her birthday said

more about you than it did

about her. Did you want

your Bull and Butcher

tart for a wife?

She was worth

so much



Rachel Davies

April 2017

NaPoWriMo and a little soul

I’ve had a wizard week when all aspects of poetry, PhD and life came together in a (near) perfect whole.

The timetabling idea is proving a bit of a boon. At the moment I’m only timetabling a week at a time; I may extend that when I get used to working to a fairly rigid plan. But a week is enough at the moment. So far it’s working for me. It does mean that I fit more work into a week than I would have done, because I fill the odd empty hour between other jobs with something productive. So this week I have been working on the revision of the Hill chapter, writing and editing my crown of sonnets and writing a poem a day for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). Eight poems written so far this week, some of them, very satisfyingly, to my mother-daughter theme: two birds, one stone.

Sunday it was my grandson’s 19th birthday. Amie and I went to Telford armed with birthday presents for him and for my great-grandson who was two the day before. We went out for a celebration meal: a table for nine. It was a lovely relaxing day of family and happiness. I still managed to write a small poem after I finished my Sunday blog, before I had breakfast. It’s not a particularly good poem, but it might be, one day. And it was a mother talking about a daughter, so it’s in my academic interest to make it good enough, isn’t it?

On Monday I wrote a pantoum. I think it’s the first one I’ve ever written. On Sunday night when I got back from Telford, I googled ‘pantoum’, downloaded an example, made my page double columned and wrote a practice pantoum beside the downloaded one. It was rubbish, but it was just testing out the form.  On Monday morning, in those lovely early hours when I’m the only person in the world who is awake, I wrote my pantoum proper. It is about watching my mother slicing runner beans just after my brother died. I am pleased with it, it is suggestive rather than explicit. It works, I think. Another poem for the portfolio, perhaps?

On Monday morning I visited the Integrated Care Centre in Oldham to visit the rheumatology nurse as part of my treatment for the Ugly Sisters: polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis. These are two horrible autoimmune diseases I developed in 2013 and 2015 respectively. They are linked; they are painful; they are treatable with cortico-steroids. Unfortunately the steroids cause all sorts of detrimental side issues for the body, like osteoporosis. Vitamin D and Calcium are essential; and a drug to help the body assimilate the Vit D into the bones. Osteopenia–a kind of osteoporosis light–is the reason I have broken two bones in the last couple of years, so I have to have that ‘assimilation’ drug injected twice a year. Monday morning was that day. In the afternoon I went to my aerobics class: it gets easier every time I go; then into Manchester to meet Hilary and Penny to plan our next Bitches Week in Anglesey in May. We had a meal together in Leaf on Portland St. then, after laying down our plans–which include a day trip to Dublin–we went on to Amy McCauley’s writing workshop. I took the leopard ‘revenge’ poem I wrote at Stanza last week. It was well received and I was given useful feedback on revisiting it.

Tuesday was all about rewriting sections of my Selima Hill chapter. The timetable is about planning short writing tasks: short, that is in content, but taking plenty of time to perfect. I rewrote two pages; I worked on the sonnet section as well. I have loved developing this section: only a couple of pages, but very satisfying. After a brew-break, I went back to work. I rewrote the third sonnet in my corona, in the daughter’s voice. I had made the daughter altogether too acquiescent in the first draft, and that wasn’t a daughter I wanted, so I made her more ambitious, less reliant on love, more reliant on her own mental resources. Not brilliant yet, a bit ‘lifeless’, but better. I kept the original two ‘daughter’ sonnets: they have some lines in that I don’t want to lose. So, altogether, Tuesday was a productive day. The daughter sonnet served as my fourth NaPoWriMo poem.

On Wednesday morning I wrote my fifth poem in bed before the world was awake. It is a poem that tells of the experience of appendicitis when I was a child, but told from a third person viewpoint. It’s amazing how much you remember of something when you write a poem about it! After breakfast, I took Rosie Parker for her dental check up. Worried about getting her into the cat carrier, we allowed plenty of time for the fight. But she was gentle as a lamb, went in with no fuss; so we were at the vet’s earlier than expected. Her teeth are fine following the dental treatment she had earlier in the year; so that’s good. No more cat carriers until her annual boosters in July. I went from the vet’s to the Black Ladd to work on the accounts for the morning. Bill came for lunch as usual, then after lunch we went into Manchester to the Palace Theatre to see The Commitments: Amie had enjoyed it so much when she went, she had bought us tickets as soon as she got home. Oh, my! It was wonderful: all the soul days of my youth compressed into two hours of fantastic entertainment. I’ve read the book–I love Roddy Doyle’s books; I’ve seen the film; the stage version was the icing on the cake.  We went for a meal in Don Giovanni’s after the performance. A lovely day altogether, thank you Amie. When I got home I researched my sixth NaPoWriMo poem, a ‘found’ poem based in the lyrics of some of the songs. I wrote it in bed early on Thursday morning. I’ll post this poem at the end of the blog: it was fun to write but I don’t think it is for publication anywhere else! In the evening on Wednesday, I received news of the winning entries in our Poets&Players competition from Michael Symmons Roberts. I can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you; but you can come along to our celebration event at the Whitworth Art Gallery on April 22nd, details here:

Coming Events

Thursday I went to the Black Ladd again to finish off what I didn’t get done on Wednesday. All up to date again. In the afternoon I worked at polishing the sonnets in my sonnet crown. I’ve cut out a lot of the words from the third sonnet, the daughter one. And I’ve adapted her ‘voice’ to make it distinct from the mother’s voice, by taking out the rhymes at the end of lines. There are still rhymes but they’re embedded in the lines, less obtrusive. I’m much more pleased with it now.

On Friday, the usual chores in the morning. In the afternoon I went to a pilates class at my gym. I talked to the rheumatology nurse on Tuesday about exercise. When she measured me, I appeared to have shrunk about an inch since I damaged the fourth thoracic vertebra last July. This is because it was a compressed fracture: the bone was crushed in the fall. She thought the pilates was a good idea to improve posture: the injury has left me with a very slight stoop. So, on Thursday, pilates. T4 still objected when I lay on the floor but I told it to shut up and get on with it. There were some moves I definitely couldn’t do, like making a shoulder bridge and taking my legs over my head, feet all the way down to the floor. I didn’t want to go home with more compressed fractures, so Julie gave me alternative exercises at those times and I did the full hour. I have felt every muscle in my body ever since, so it must be doing me good. I’ll go again, but not next week. Julie is ‘old school’ (her words) she ‘doesn’t work bank holidays’. Easter next week. When I got home I wrote my daily poem. When we drove into Uppermill this morning the moors looked as if they had dressed themselves in flak jackets, those brown/green/khaki colours the moors have at this time of year. Trump had ordered the bombing sortie into Syria in the night and it seemed as if even Nature was at war. So that was the inspiration for my Friday poem

Saturday, more timetabled PhD work. I was at my desk by 8.00 a.m. and worked well all morning, about five hours altogether, putting all aspects of the Hill chapter together in a readable whole. I also wrote a fourth sonnet for the corona, in the mother’s voice, a response to the third sonnet, the daughter’s sonnet. After lunch, Hilary, Penny and Polly came with their partners to watch the Denshaw premiere of the Sky Arts programme we were involved with in the summer, about spotting the fake painting among the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. I had recorded it on Sky+ so we could watch together. Yes, we were in the programme: only as supporting extras mostly, but Penny got a speaking part near the end.

So that’s it for another very busy week–are there any other kinds? Here’s the poem I drafted following The Commitments. Nostalgia is good for the soul; soul is good for nostalgia.

The Commitments

 all the best days of my youth


I bet you’re wondering how I knew

they call you Mr Pitiful?

I laughed when you left, but now

I’m added to your chain of fools

and I can’t stand the rain against my window,

it makes it easier to bear.

I’ll wait till the stars come out

because it gets bigger baby, and I try

and I try and I try and I try, I can’t get no—

all you wanna do is ride around Sally.

I wish I knew you before you met her—

get out my life why don’t you babe

be a do-right-all-night man—

bye bye baby, baby goodbye.


rolled into two and a half hours of soul

Rachel Davies

April 2017

Stanzas, sonnets and Spelks

It’s been a good week this week. My timetabling is proving a real asset: I seem to be getting loads done, both critical and creative work. I feel as if this PhD is becoming manageable.

Sunday was Mothers’ Day. I had a lovely relaxed day, had phone calls from all three of my children, was given tickets to see Ricky Gervais in London in October, went for a leisurely shopping trip to Oldham and still had time to do some work on my sonnet corona. It was that strange day after altering the clocks when time seems different: sometimes passing too quickly, sometimes hardly moving, it kept being the wrong time of day; but how lovely that it was still light after 8.00 in the evening; and that sense of victory at having beaten back another winter.

On Monday I worked on my sonnet cycle in the morning. I redrafted the second and third stanzas. I tried to insert ClipArt and the screen froze twice so I had to reboot the MacBook, which meant I lost the work I had done. Twice. Note to self: don’t use ClipArt on the MacBook. Like Robert the Bruce, I tried again and managed to save the redraft this time before I lost it. In the afternoon I went to my aerobics session. Third week in a row. The fourth thoracic is better about it now, not complaining so much. Next week I’m planning to do a Pilates session on Friday afternoon as well, see how it goes.

Tuesday the timetable had work on the sonnet part of the Hill chapter, so that’s what I spent the morning doing. Mind mapping first to decide what I needed to say, then checking notes to find the relevant authoritative back-up for the arguments. I had made a good start by lunch time, which came late because I got lost in the work. I love it when that happens. In the afternoon I spent time preparing a writing activity for our Stanza meeting in the evening, and doing a bit more work on the corona. I feel as if I’m redrafting the life out of it, so I decided to leave it alone for a bit; but it’s like when you have a spot or a scab or something: you know you should’t pick at it but you can’t help it. I wanted to take it to Spelks on Friday so it was at the forefront of my mind all week.

Our Stanza meeting on Tuesday evening was good. Hilary Robinson and I prepared writing activities and we spent the session writing poetry. Hilary’s activity was based on David Tait’s idea from his Smith-Doorstop collection Self Portrait with the Happiness. My poem from that activity, ‘Self Portrait with the Rage’, was inspired by a night that happened more than twenty years ago and it involved a leopard and not a little violence to someone. I loved  writing it, a catharsis I didn’t even know my soul needed! My own activity was based around instruction manuals. I printed off a few from the internet. We wrote poems that had a story involving the thing in the manual and interspersed the lines of the poem with lines from the manual. Fun, but it also produced some good writing. I felt both my poems were worth working on at home, and that’s always a good feeling. There were only five of us at the meeting: our ‘last Tuesday of the month’ slot has been co-inciding with other poetry events in Manchester lately; two members are involved with university courses on Tuesday and one was unavoidably absent. But five members is enough when they want to be there and they are serious about their poetry. It was a good night, I enjoyed it. If you want something to fill your diary on Tuesday 25th April, 7.30-9.30, why not come along to the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar and join us for the evening? Details of our FaceBook page here:

Wednesday was my accounts day at the Black Ladd, but this week I only had the morning to work because it was Amie’s check-up at the Christie. She has to have three-monthly checks for the malignant melanoma she was treated for in 2014. All was good, and they are talking of going to six-monthly check-ups after September if she is still clear. She has come along way in two years; 2014 was horrible. If you thought melanoma was just a rogue mole and when it’s removed that’s the end of it, think again. It is malicious; it can get into the lymph system with the possibility of being carried around the body, and this is what happened to Amie. She also had sepsis following one session of surgery: having had lymph nodes removed, her resistance to infection is low. So, don’t treat ‘a rogue mole’ with kid gloves: if you’re worried, get it investigated as soon as possible.

This meant that Thursday morning I had to go back to the Black Ladd to finish the work I hadn’t got done on Wednesday. Thursday afternoon I spent a couple of hours adding a fourth sonnet to the corona. It’s in the daughter’s voice. I’m less happy with the ‘daughter’ bit, the voice isn’t right and the argument is weak, she’s not coming across in a strong light. It’s going to need some work before I send it to Jean at the end of the month. But first I needed to take it to Spelks on Friday: it was written following the prompt from Polly involving the trip to the Manchester Art Gallery to see the ‘Strange and Familiar’ photographic exhibition.

Spelks. Have I ever told you how much I love this group? It is my favourite poetry group in the world ever: a closed group of six friends who meet every month to write and share poetry. We meet in each other’s houses and it always involves food and drink. This week we met at Rod’s house and took along the poems from the photographic exhibition. Oh my, there were some good poems. I loved Rod’s poems inspired by the Orange marchers in Glasgow; and Hilary had written some good stuff in her new concise style, repetition and tight forms. But they were all fantastic. Unfortunately Polly, who set the task, couldn’t be there this month, she was at a wedding in Edinburgh, but she had sent her poems electronically, so she was definitely there in spirit. We had a lovely afternoon, as we always do. I took my corona and received some good feedback. The first two sonnets, the ones I’d worked on most, were considered the best. The third and fourth, mostly in the daughter’s voice, were less successful, which is what I had been thinking as well. I really need to rethink the daughter in this set of poems. But they liked the form of the corona and the way I had a surreptitious rhyme scheme going on. So, I’ll write it into my timetable and work on it some more. It’s like a puzzle that needs solving: it will get done; I’ll have a full draft of seven sonnets to send to Jean Sprackland by the end of April.

Saturday was very productive. The sonnet section of the critical piece is almost done and I’m pleased with it so far. I also put my ‘leopard’ poem from Stanza onto my MacBook; and I wrote a poem for NaPoWriMo, the ‘write a poem a day for National Poetry Month’; it was from a prompt from Carrie Etter involving something you collect. I wrote about my collection of teddy bears, which was vastly depleted when I donated most of them to a charity toy collection a couple of Christmases ago. I kept a few of my favourites though, including the pink and white soft toy dog my daughter had as a baby, which I ‘bought’ with two books of Greenshield Stamps. Remember them?

As this week seems to have been a lot about Amie, I’m including a poem I wrote when she was first diagnosed with the melanoma. It refers to her childhood nightmares and how a mother can sort some things quite easily, but some other things are just too big to deal with.


a zebra can’t hide

I saw it in your face today, the threat

in the shadows, your worst nightmare,

like the zebras, rabbits, alligators

that populated your childhood dreams,

came with drums into your dark, beat

toxic rhythms in your sleep. I used

to chase them out so you’d sleep again,

I could do that then. Braver than me now,

you googled nodular melanoma and faced

the M word: malignant is the grown-up

nightmare with the toxic drum. I can’t chase

this one away. I’ll not to lie to you, you said.

I’m scared. As if I couldn’t see it in your face.

As if a zebra can hide in a whitewashed room.


Rachel Davies