I read this week that keeping your brain active is prophylaxis against dementia. Well I should be protected then, my brain is never still. I’m a gold medal reader; I write; even when I’m watching rubbish on the telly I’m usually doing an iPad sudoku at the same time. My brain thinks it’s had a good night if it sleeps five hours. When I retired from my primary headship one lovely child said to me, ‘you’ll be able to put your feet up now.’ I have to report, feet-up hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve had another busy week. I spent Sunday being creative for the PhD. I edited a poem I wrote some time ago and wasn’t happy with. ‘Dear Grandma Ghost’ is a poem I wrote about a photograph of my mother and her sisters when they were little girls. I redrafted it as a modern sonnet, but it doesn’t really like being restrained in this form. I was more happy with it after spending a couple of hours on it, but it still asks a lot of the reader. My maternal grandma was Lord Caernarvon’s cook: he who bankrolled the Tutankhamun pyramid raid, so I allude to that in the poem, but it isn’t clear why. Anyway, I decided to take it to Stanza on Tuesday for feedback.
Monday I spent a lovely day with family. Amie, Richard and I went to Todmorden for lunch in a vegan café, The Old Co-op. Amie had discovered it in an internet search: Richard is a vegan and he always seems to get last dibs on an exciting meal when we go out. The Old Co-op was lovely though, lots of choice. I can’t seem to say the same for the rest of Todmorden, unfortunately. Perhaps we didn’t look in the right spaces, but there didn’t seem to be too much to hang around for, and what there was was horribly depressing–sorry if Todmorden is your home, but that’s how I felt. I’m open to being convinced otherwise. We drove back to Shaw and caught Metrolink into Manchester for a look around. My younger son, Michael, got in touch while we were having lunch, so we were all together in spirit.
On Tuesday I had the day to myself: Bill was out of the house playing golf. I had a hair appointment first thing. I took my Kindle and when I called into Java in Uppermill for a coffee before coming home to settle to PhD work, I was able to read some of Jessica Benjamin so I felt less as if I was skiving. I love my Kindle: how you can carry a library in your handbag. It’s no good for poetry as a rule, though. It messes with the formatting. But it is brilliant for academic books because you can highlight passages without feeling like a book vandal; and you can immediately check references in the body of the writing. When I got home I worked on the sonnet crown. I’m chipping away at it all the time, making the dialogue more natural, colloquial, believable. I like it more every time I work on it.
Tuesday evening it was Stanza. We met at the Britannia Inn in Mossley: it’s becoming our new home. It was the anonymous workshop this month, when members send me a poem they want feedback on and I send them all out without names attached. We find this leads to more honest, less constrained feedback if we don’t know who we are addressing; although it has to be said, when you get to know the poets, it isn’t difficult to guess who wrote what. We had six members this month and a very pleasant evening with good discussion around the poems. I took my ‘Dear Grandma Ghost’ and at the end of the evening, when the poets had owned up to the poems, Rod asked if it was part of my crown of sonnets. No, it isn’t; but that did give me a way into the problem of clarifying it. It could be a crown: I could develop it in that way to reveal it to the reader. Thanks Rod, I feel another sonnet crown coming on.
Wednesday, after doing the books at the Black Ladd, Bill and I went into Oldham for an evening meal prior to going to the new Odeon Cinema in the town centre to watch ‘Dunkirk’. I’m not avid for war films, but this one had Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance in, three of my favourite actors so they were my draw. And they didn’t disappoint. The film itself was like watching the first ten minutes of Private Ryan for a full two hours: it was mental torture; but they, and particularly Rylance, were brilliant. He was at his understated best. I loved him as Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’; and I saw him play Olivia in Twelfth Night at the Globe some years ago. He definitely retrieved Dunkirk from becoming a death wish!
Thursday was all domestic stuff; and I worked with Amie to review her menus. Friday I bought some prescription sunglasses with the 50% off voucher I got from Specsavers when I picked up my new specs. The sunglasses are a bit of an indulgence, but I find lenses that change shade with the sun are fine outdoors but it takes a bit of time for them to clear when you go indoors, rendering you temporarily vision impaired. Hence the sunglasses. My distance vision is really too weak for normal sunglasses now. Ho hum!
Saturday I was at my desk just after 8.00. I dedicated most of the day to the creative element of my PhD. I went through my portfolio, editing poems that needed it, and I spent five glorious hours sending poems out for publications and competitions, including sending a selection of my portfolio poems to the Overton Prize organised by Loughborough University, details here:
They accept poems that have been previously published so that’s a bonus. I also sent off a couple of non-portfolio poems for consideration for a children’s anthology of humorous poems aimed at children 7-11 years old. I sent poems about a woodlouse and a jelly fish. So, some of my babies are out there, finding their way in the world. Wish them luck.
In the afternoon I did some more reading of Benjamin’s Bonds of Love. This is going to inform my analysis of Pascale Petit’s poetry when Mama Amazonica arrives. By the end of Saturday, the old brain was complaining it needed a rest. Sorry, can’t rest: let’s watch Vera and do a sudoku, shall we?
I’m going to give you ‘Grandma Ghost’ as my poem this week, mainly because I know it’s nowhere near ready for publication. After Tuesday I have decided to develop it into a crown of sonnets, so that I can show the story without having to spell it out. The story is, I didn’t know either of my grandmas. As I said earlier, my maternal grandma, the one of the poem, was the cook for Lord Caernarvon before she married my granddad. He–Lord Caernarvon, not granddad–bankrolled the discovery by Howard Carter of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Of course, since then there has always been speculation about a ‘mummy’s curse’ on those involved, many of them dying young; including my grandma who died very young, although I don’t think she actually went out to Egypt. My mother left her nursing career to nurse grandma in her final illness. I don’t know much more about her than that, really. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t miss her when I was growing up; I didn’t realise what a grandma was until I became one myself, so I miss her more in my dotage than I ever did as a child. I have tended to invent her bit by bit; and this poem is part of that.
Dear Grandma Ghost
Inscrutable in her organza frock,
white stockings, button bar shoes, this girl
I don’t know who became my mother.
Was she your princess Grandma Ghost?
I wish I’d missed you when I was growing up.
You were a story passed down in instalments,
the shadowy outline of a Pharaoh’s curse.
I used to imagine you cooking the lunch
as Anubis stood at the gates of hell licking his lips,
ensuring you all exited stage left in the desert heat
pursued by a mummy. And he caught you
before we had chance to meet, before I could ask you,
Grandma Ghost, about this girl who’s my mother,
inscrutable in her organza frock.