Poetry, PhD and life have been in pleasant harmony this week. I’m starting with poetry, because that’s always the best bit.
On Sunday I went with Hilary to Sheffield for the Poetry Business writing day. It was unusual for it to be held on a Sunday; they are normally on the last Saturday of the month, but Ann and Peter Sansom are so busy at the moment, they had to fit the June writing day into its own space. Which meant there weren’t as many poets there as there normally are either, and that was nice. In the morning, about ten of us were writing to Peter and Ann’s prompts in a relaxed learning space. It was lovely. In the afternoon a writing workshop for poems we had brought with us, or one written up from the morning, feedback given in a very positive and supportive environment. I love these days, always come away with two or three embryonic poems to work on at home. The next Writing Day is July 29th, details here:
Monday saw me in my office sorting out an entry for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition. This is organised by Rachel Mann, poet in residence. I met Rachel when we were doing our MA together at Manchester Met’s Writing School and we’ve been friends ever since, so this is one competition I like to support. It is for poetry of a religious or spiritual nature, broadly interpreted. I don’t do religion, but anyone who writes poetry knows every now and again a spiritual poem will write itself, so I sent off two. I don’t think they’re winners, but they’ll do their best.
I also started to draft my annual review student’s report. I have arranged a meeting with Michael Symmons Roberts on Thursday of this coming week for the review interview. It all has to be arranged online through MMU’s Skillsforge programme; I completed the form with details of the meeting, signed it off. It had to wait for Michael’s virtual signature before the online report form could be generated for my personal reflection on the year. Michael isn’t the speediest responder to emails, so I thought I’d better knock on with drafting my report in line with last year’s form so when the form was generated it would be a cut and paste job. It was. At last the form was generated on Friday, so I did that cut and paste job on Saturday morning, all ready for my meeting with Michael on Thursday. Job done.
On Monday afternoon I spent a couple of hours giving the bedroom a damned good clean. I even hoovered the roof beams. I checked my lovely new Apple watch and it had recorded 3 minutes of exercise out of my 30 minute target. Three minutes! I worked harder on that job than I do at the gym. On Tuesday I had a couple of hours tidying my desk, putting books away, shredding paper; 2 minutes exercise recorded! What have you got to do to convince Apple Watch you’re working out?
On Tuesday evening it was East Manchester and Tameside Stanza at the Britannia Inn in Mossley. We had a writing workshop this month. Three of us took writing activities for the group to write to. Weirdly, Hilary and I had both prepared the same activity–we hadn’t spoken to each other about it. We even had the same poems as examples and prompts! Twins from other mothers! Thankfully, Hilary had taken two activities so she had a back-up. I wasn’t so smart. So, we had an activity from Pat about playing Jacks–do you remember that childhood game? I (and Hilary) took an activity around the ‘golden shovel’–google it to learn more. Hilary took an activity based on metaphors in names. We wrote to the prompts then shared our burgeoning poems at the end of the evening. A good night altogether. Only five members, but very pleasant and productive.
Wednesday was the third session of the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course. The first, warm up, activity was to see our thesis as a metaphor and write to that metaphor to show how we were doing. People variously chose a long run, a long walk, a box that stuff is put into, a garden. I saw mine as a piece of embroidery: it started with Binca (the primary school teachers among you will know what I’m talking about) and is progressing to fine linen, silks and a sewing ring. I concluded it will never be the Bayeux Tapestry, but it will make a passable sampler; and after all, that’s enough. We then spent an hour or so discussing a piece of our thesis that we’d taken with us, the piece we are committed to completing by the end of the course. I was paired with Mary, who is doing research into ‘film as fabric’; we read and discussed each other’s piece. She said she found my writing interesting and good to read, that it flowed well. I wished she was my supervisor!
Afterwards, I went into the Black Ladd for a couple of hours to do the books; at least to do the most pressing parts of the books that I could fit into a couple of hours. After an early evening meal, Hilary and David collected us and we all went to Didsbury for Michael Connelly’s ‘The Other’ reading. Michael pairs poets/writers who want to read and the pair reads each other’s work. I was paired with Michael himself. He kicked off the evening with a reading of four of my poems, poems that hadn’t seen the light of day for some time, so it was nice to hear them read again. I then read four of Michael’s. If you know Michael Connelly’s work, you will know that his poetry is a tad bizarre: surreal and unsettling. The poems I read are all fairly new, I think, revolved around various aspects of the seaside and were also unusual. My favourite line was ‘with a mouth like dropped lasagne’ or something like that. I liked it so much I repeated the line. I love a surprise in a poem.
On Thursday I met Rachel Mann in ProperTea for a catch-up. Rachel’s just starting a three month sabbatical from her job as vicar of St Nicholas church in Burnage. She has just submitted her PhD thesis, lucky woman. It will be brilliant because Rachel is brilliant; she is also an academic, studied philosophy at under-grad level, so acadamese is her second language. And she is a fine poet, so I know the creative element will be excellent. We had a long chat about PhD and how mine is going. She’s lovely, Rach. She said she knew I’d be fine because I’m a worker and I’ll do what I have to to succeed. I’ll certainly do what I have to, but at the end of the process it’s down to the examiner, and he might not think so. Crystal ball, anyone?
Friday I spent too long in bed in the early morning writing up the poems from Sunday’s Poetry Business day and submitting some poems to The Interpreters House. (I found out later that I wasn’t eligible to send them because I was in TIH only two publications ago; you have to wait for three to lapse. So I sent them straight out to Obsessed With Pipework instead!) At 8.00 a.m. I remembered Rosie Parker’s visit to the vet for 9 o’clock for her annual check and vaccinations, so it was a mad rush then to get ready and get her there on time. I met Amie in the vet’s. She was there for Sonny’s booster injections. You meet your daughters in such unusual places!
On Friday afternoon I had an extreme batch-cook. Someone left the freezer door slightly open and everything inside was thawed out. So I had to try to save as much as possible. In order to refreeze it all, I had to cook it first; so I have now got a freezer full of pasta sauces, curries, savoury mince, stews etc. It’ll save me cooking for a couple of weeks or so, anyway.
Saturday was a brilliant day, the start of my seventieth birthday celebrations. Number 1 son, Richard and his friend Ray, took me into Manchester for lunch. We ate at a little Italian restaurant in Exchange Square. Lunch involved two crisp chilled glasses of novocaine, because at 3.00 I had an appointment booked for my birthday tattoo. This is my first tattoo, the Manchester worker bee. I needed a glass of wine to calm the nerves. A young woman in the waiting room was intrigued that I was having my first tattoo at 70–she couldn’t believe I’m 70 and she admired my plum coloured Doc Martins–so she waited until I’d had it done to see it and make sure I was OK. But it was fine, just a slight discomfort, nothing painful at all. Here are some photos of the event:
My birthday isn’t for another two weeks. So far, it’s going really well!
I’m leaving you with a poem I wrote from Hilary’s naming activity on Tuesday. It’s one for the portfolio, but very early draft. It came to me in rhyming couplets, which is unusual, but I quite like the contrasts in it. Enjoy:
is October sunshine burning through cloud
or god-growling thunder, a moor-grime shroud
a coin in my pocket, a fashion trend
or a byword for Beelzebub’s latest girlfriend
morning breaking after a heavy night
or Godzilla’s sister, a vampire bite
dill pickle, strawberries, a chocolate shake
or hemlock—Paraquat is her namesake
gentle as a dandelion clock, a kitten’s paw
or a diligent kipper-bone stuck in the craw
the good in the world and all the world’s shame
is printed indelibly behind her name.