About staying positive

I woke up this morning to news reports of yet another terror attack in London. Besides the three terrorists shot dead at the scene,  six members of the public were killed and several injured in the attack. So much hate in the world; and we’re here for such a short time. When will it ever end?

I settled down to some work for the PhD on Sunday and Monday this week, after a rather lax couple of weeks. I concentrated on the creative side, the part of the work I feel most comfortable with. I wrote up the poems I drafted at the Poetry Business on Saturday; three of them are good to include in the portfolio. They are still early drafts, but have real potential. Next I pulled all my portfolio poems together from the various Mac files I had them stored in. I was gratified to see I have about fifty poems; this was genuinely a surprise to me. I printed them all off to do a red pen job on them. I also looked into other poem files, wondering if other stuff I have written in the past could fit the theme. All in all I found around seventy poems that can be adapted to fit the portfolio with very little work. And another ten that are peripheral but that I can use as springboards for other creative work. I’m planning golden shovels, pantoums, villanelles, sestinas from words, phrases, lines of my own poems. I made a start by writing a golden shovel from my own prompt: not a good one, but an experiment to see if it can be done. Of course, it can. Even bad poems you have written and squirrelled away can prove useful; recycled poems may be the way forward in ‘white page’ anxiety. It felt good to have such a creative contribution to the PhD. I am increasingly aware that this is going to be the bulk of the work and it may have to be exemplary to counter weaknesses in my critical input. I really believe this! At the end of last week I found out I have been invited to read some of my work at a ‘feminisms’ event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on June 13th; most of my contribution will be PhD, mother-daughter poems. Come along if you’re in the area on the night: it’s a great line-up of poets, I’m delighted to be included; details here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/feminisms-in-public-and-bad-language-present-an-evening-with-mmu-writers-tickets-34904685855

On Tuesday I had a family day. My son Richard is a teacher and this was his half term break. He visited on Tuesday; we met at Amie’s house for lunch. We would have been eating out under other circumstances, but Amie has just become the proud mummy of a second Cockerpoo, Sonny. Her first, Cooper, is about eighteen months old and stands about two feet high; Sonny looks like a bit dropped off him, tiny by comparison. But oh my, he can hold his own in the play fighting they engage in. He is adorable; I even forgive him for leaving needle teethmarks on the toggles of my Seasalt jacket! He is just eight weeks old and came to stay on Sunday, so Amie didn’t want to leave him alone to go out, hence we ate in. We had a lovely day together: family days are always a treat.

On Tuesday evening it was Stanza. For the first time we met at the Britannia Inn in Mossley. There were only three members there this week, attendance affected by the Bank Holiday, I suspect. We were reading and discussing the poetry of Fiona Sampson. It was a good session, even with so few members. Fiona’s poetry isn’t easy on the page: the lack of most punctuation gives no help to the reader; I like that, because often phrases can look forward to the next line or backward to the last and it’s up to the reader to make the choice where the link belongs. It’s good to hear the poems read aloud too; that helps give them music and meaning. It was a very pleasant couple of hours, doing what we like best. We were welcomed at the Britannia, we will be meeting there again late this month; June 27th, keep in touch via this link:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

On Wednesday I went to my job at the Black Ladd quite early; I needed to get finished by lunch time, and I was. After a light lunch I caught Metrolink into Manchester for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at the Eighth Day cafe on Oxford Road. It was a lovely day for the walk down Oxford Road and I was ready for the pot of rooibos when I got there. In  April I had sent Jean some poems to discuss: my sonnet crown and three ‘formed’ poems that I had written for NaPoWriMo, a golden shovel, a nonet and a pantoum. I had also sent the sonnet crown to Rachel Mann, who is coming to the end of her PhD at MMU. She had sent me some feedback on Tuesday so I was interested to hear what Jean would have to say. I was pleasantly surprised by both sets of feedback. This was the first time I had written a sonnet crown: I didn’t even know there was such a thing at Christmas! I enjoyed writing it as a dialogue between a mother and a daughter, stimulated originally by a Spelks’ activity at the Manchester Art Gallery. I knew it was very early draft when I sent it to Jean; I had worked on the first sonnet in the sequence and I was pleased with this but I was unsure about the rest. So imagine my delight when Jean liked it. Yes, it needs a lot more work in terms of the distinct voices of the two characters; and Jean advised I need to ensure a ‘volta’ in each sonnet, no matter how slight, but she thinks it is worth working on. She also thinks I could usefully write a couple more sonnet crowns, perhaps a couple of daughters in dialogue about their mothers, or vice versa. So I think I have opened up a route to more work as well as perfecting the crown I have written already. Jean’s feedback was very much in line with the feedback I received from Rach, so that was gratifying too. Of the other poems I sent her, the feedback was also positive and she thinks formal poems are also a way forward. She loved the pantoum, which pleased me because I was particularly pleased with that one as well. She couldn’t think of anything to say that would make it a better poem than it is; which is gratifying too, because I have entered it into a couple of competitions, so I won’t say too much about it, only that I hope the judges like it as much as Jean did! We discussed briefly how I felt the critical element of the PhD was progressing and I said I was less confident about this aspect; I’m a good student but I’m not an academic. I’m doing this as a personal challenge and I have started to see the critical side as more about the journey than the destination. I am enjoying the work but don’t know if it will ever be good enough to warrant a doctorate. But it is only a small part of the whole: the creative work is 75% of the product, so I have made up my mind it might have to be the aspect that pulls me through in the end. She suggested not seeing this as two separate aspects, but to try to integrate the creative and the critical, writing some theory and some analysis and incorporating some poems of my own inspired by that aspect of the critical work. I like this idea: I’ll be discussing it with Antony and Angelica on Tuesday this week.

On Wednesday evening I met Hilary Robinson in Manchester. We had a meal at Bella Italia then went into St Anne’s Square to see the floral tributes to the victims of the Manchester bombing. Oh my, St Anne’s Square is normally a bustling shopping square but on Wednesday it was so quiet and reverential, lots of people there paying their silent tributes to the victims. It was incredibly moving, and I was in tears again reading the written tributes among the flowers, particularly those from children. The smell of flowers was overpowering, even just approaching the Square. Balloons, flowers and written tributes as far as the eye could see.

After our visit to the Square we went to Waterstones for the launch of Rosie Garland’s latest novel, The Night Brother. It was a lovely event, Rosie in contest with a group of hell’s angels revving their bikes at the traffic lights outside. I’m pleased to report Rosie won that particular battle. She is such a good performer of her work, I have decided The Night Brother will be sun-bed reading for the holiday in September this year.

Thursday, another family day when I drove to Stamford to meet my sister for lunch. It was her birthday in May and I hadn’t had chance to visit until this week. Retirement isn’t just the best job I’ve ever had, it seems to be one of the busiest too! Who knew retirement would be so demanding! We had a long afternoon together, it was good to see her.

Friday disappeared in personal business and shopping. I visited Sonny while Amie was at work, had a cup of coffee with him, kept him company for an hour, allowed him to nibble the toggles on my jacket. Saturday, Mike visited for the weekend. We ate at the Black Ladd in the evening: Amie had to work, but at least we got to meet up after she had done cheffing–is that even a word? We are meeting for breakfast later this morning before Mike drives back to Andover.

So that’s it, another week on the journey to PhD. It has been about the creative side this week and I find that really positive. When I am involved with the critical work I question why I ever embarked on this at all; but when the emphasis is on the creative, I know why I did. I am a creative writer; I’m not an academic. I may not get a PhD out of all this work, who knows until that decision is made in my 2018 assessment; but I will be giving it my best shot, and I will have a cracking set of poems from the past three years work. I’ve decided I’m too old to stress about it, I’ll just relax and enjoy the ride.

When I was trawling through my poems for work that could make a contribution to the PhD portfolio, I came across this poem I wrote for the christening of my best friend Jo’s granddaughter, Madeleine. It won’t fit the portfolio as it stands, obviously, but it is an idea I thought might be worth recycling, this idea that we are all part of our own history, that our names are not words just plucked out of the air, they often have their roots in the past.

Naming Madeleine Daisy Vee

 Daisy and Vee are packing crates for your history;
Madeleine is a gift of love and yours alone.

Before you were a flush of joy on Emily’s cheek
or a spark of pride in Andy’s eye, before Sebastian

touched the swell of you and smiled to be introduced,
before Sebastian was Sebastian or even a suggestion

of a longing your mother nurtured, before your father
joined his life with your mother’s in a Cotswold church,

before that tentative first date when two young people
opened their eyes to how the future could be, before

those two people searched and found each other, before
Gigi and Taid were Gigi and Taid, were just mum and dad,

before Gigi and Taid were even mum and dad, when Gigi
was a daughter and called her military father Vee for Vater,

before Gigi and Taid were flushes on their parents’ cheeks,
fleeting thoughts in their parents’ hearts, before your world

was filled with mother, father, brother, Gigi, Taid, almost
a whole century before all of this, a man you never met

looked at a woman you never met and said
Daisy’s a lovely name. That’s when your naming began.

Rachel Davies
July 2013

2 thoughts on “About staying positive

  1. Good to hear you’re getting positive feedback on the creative part of your PhD, Rachel. I’m also looking forward to Rosie Garland’s launch of her latest novel – she’s reading at our local independent bookshop on Tuesday evening.

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