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:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1381945521826511/

Harvest

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

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