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


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