Big birthdays and books

How fast three years flies past you while you’re busy doing a PhD! Three years seemed a long time when I signed up for this. I could have taken six years doing it part-time; but my seventieth birthday is only four weeks away; if I’d taken six years to do it, I was aware I’d be nearly 75 by the time I was finished; 71+ seemed old enough to hang my books up. But now, only twelve months left to get it done to leave me time for some polishing of the script. Tempus just keeps on fuging, as Reggie Perrin used to say.

This week, a good week. Saturday was my son Richard’s birthday, so on Sunday Amie, Bill and I went to Peterborough to take him out for a lovely lunch with some Peterborough friends. We had a lovely day. I mentioned over lunch that I would like a commemorative Manchester Bee tattoo, just a small one on my inner wrist. Richard said he would buy me one for my birthday. So, to celebrate my 70th birthday I’ll be visiting a tat parlour for the first time in my life . I’ve never wanted a tattoo before, but I love the little bee; and you’re never too old for a new experience. Watch this space.

Tuesday I started working on the PhD. I did my homework for the ‘Writing Up, Writing Down’ course, focussed on writing the thesis. I wrote a blurb to explain my thesis in one paragraph; not an easy task, but it really concentrates your mind. It clarified what exactly it is I’m attempting in this piece of work. I feel as if I hovered above it and saw it as a whole for the first time, and got some clearer idea of what it’ll look like as a finished piece. And that seems to have made it more manageable. I also had to make a plan of a piece of writing I am committed to having completed in draft by the end of the course on July 5th. I have chosen to develop the sonnet chapter in line with the target I set myself after my meeting with Angelica and Antony.

On Tuesday evening we went into  Manchester for the Feminisms in Public/Bad language readings at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I read some of my mother-daughter poems and Hilary read some of her MA portfolio centred around relationship breakdown. It was a lovely night altogether and I got very positive feedback on my poems after. Kim Moore read first, and then Nic Royle; Mark Pajak, Natalie Burdett, Zafar Kunial were also involved; these are the poets/writers I know from the MMU Writing School. I didn’t know Sue Fox before this event: she is a lecturer in Film and Media studies; but oh, my! what a visceral reading from her about women’s desire. I don’t know her work at all, but I sort of want to read her ‘transgressive novel’ The Visceral Tear having heard her read on Tuesday. One for the holiday perhaps. Here’s a photo of me reading my set at IABF:

IMG_0767

Wednesday morning it was the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course. I picked up a coffee en route and I was first to arrive, closely followed by Myna Trustram, the lecturer who has organised the course. It was lovely that she said how much she had enjoyed my reading on Tuesday evening: I hadn’t even realised she was there. I was partnered with two different course members this week: another sociologist/criminologist who is doing research into the Manchester ‘Street Angels’ who support vulnerable groups in the city centre; and a visual artist doing research into ‘film as fabric’. So many new things to learn in the world; I’ll never be done learning. We shared our ‘homework’ and had a short time to do some work towards the writing task; but I don’t write well in a roomful of people. I need an empty building, not just an empty room. So if fleshed out my plan of action in that time. I was put in touch with a book by Rowena Murray: Writing Your Thesis which has practical advice and writing activities on doing just that. I have since downloaded it to my Kindle. A useful read to anyone swimming in the deep water of thesis writing.

On Saturday I settled at my desk to a good work session. I had a plan of action; I stuck to it. First I sent out my Stanza mailings: next Stanza on Tuesday 27th June, 7.30-9.30, Britannia Inn, Mossley. Details here:

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

Next, I checked my MMU emails and found my way around ‘Skillsforge’, the online facility for uploading records of meetings, annual reviews and final assessments, anything to do with the work, and ultimately submitting the thesis. As a result I found the message about my annual review: Michael Symmons Roberts will be conducting my review, so I got in touch with him for a date we can meet. How lucky am I to be closely and personally involved with two top UK poets in the course of this PhD. Whatever the outcome, I will never be sorry I gave it a go.

Next, I went through the writing I sent to my team last week and edited it in line with Antony’s comments. I did an MMU library search for work on ‘the sonnet’ and downloaded a couple of journal articles via Jstor, a fantastic facility for students to access work from home. I think they will both be useful. I also searched for the Reality Street Book of Sonnets, by Jeff Hilson, an anthology recommended by Antony. I was able to access the introduction online and I enjoyed reading it so much I’ve bought the book. It wasn’t available as a Kindle book, unfortunately; but that’s probably just as well, because Kindle does mess with the formatting of poetry. So I’ll have to wait for it to be delivered to my door.

Well, that’s it for this week; a good week towards the PhD. I’ve concentrated on the thesis writing, tried out some of my poems at the Feminisms reading and received positive feedback, both on the night and the next day; and I’ve spent more money on books. Without books we may as well all be dead anyway, so that’s a good way to stay alive!

Today it’s my daughter Amie’s birthday. I won’t say how old she is, but in August we’re having a family 120th birthday celebration. She’s in Northumbria with her partner, her beloved dogs and some lovely close friends this week; having a week-long birthday celebration of her own. I hope she’s having a fantastic time, she deserves it. A couple of years ago I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She is the least ‘consumerist’ person I know and she said she didn’t want anything. Then she said, ‘just write me a poem’; so I did. It’s a poem about the night she was born. I think I probably posted it to mark her birthday last year as well, but that’s OK. It’s her birthday and her gift. And every year since she’s been born I think of that woman in the next bed, thinking of the baby who was born the same night. Here it is. Happy birthday, Amie.

Just Because

…all my life I wanted to meet you and because you were
late by three weeks and the cocktail I drank while I waited,
nervous, for you to arrive slid down my throat like orange
frogspawn while I gagged over the stainless sink and

because when you did come you chose the secret hours
for our bonding and  because you came with a name
so I felt as if I’d known you all my life and because
meeting you made me feel I had achieved something,

like the first woman ever to do it so that I was too high
to sleep after and  because back in the ward in the
next bed was a woman more aware than me of the way
the sand runs quickly and because I noticed her empty
crib, grieved her empty womb, I just wanted to say…

 

Rachel Davies
June 2014

 

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