I started to write this blogspot to see how a PhD would elbow its way into my life: what it would nudge out of the way to make its space. I’m reminded this week that, in the end, completion may not be negotiable. The week has been dominated by frightening global events as two playground bullies square up to each other across the wide Pacific. Trump has been using hyperbolic phrases like ‘locked and loaded’, ‘…the likes of which the world has never seen’ and ‘fire and fury’–which one American local newspaper reported as ‘fire and furry’: typo or satire? The trouble with playground bullies is they don’t back down until they have bloody noses, and the bloody noses of this scenario will make a world-wide mess. I was fifteen at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and I remember well how a frightened world held its breath; and the crisis then was handled by men who understood the power of diplomacy. Trump and Kim only seem to understand ‘my bomb’s bigger than your bomb’; so perhaps we’re all f****d. Let’s hope someone with influence somewhere has a bit more foresight than them. We live on such a beautiful planet, that we seem bent on destroying. Here’s a picture I took from my bedroom window at 5.00 a.m. this morning. I was struck by the mist hanging in the Tame Valley: autumn is just around the corner I’m afraid; and we haven’t even had a summer yet!
Anyway, I plod one, tending my own garden as Candide advised. I’m beginning to have more flowers than weeds at last, I think. I have finished the analysis of Pascale Petit’s ‘The Huntress’ this week all ready for the section I’ll write later in the autumn. A daughter speaker tells of her relationship with her mentally ill mother: ‘Like Cortés, I found her monstrous’, she writes in the poem ‘Portrait of My Mother as Coatlicue’, pronounced Koh-at-lee-kway meaning ‘serpent skin’; this is the frightening Earth Mother Goddess, her head, decapitated by her own offspring, replaced by two serpent heads. That first line of the poem pretty much sums up the relationship between mother and daughter in the whole collection. I can’t wait for Mama Amazonica to arrive later in the autumn. Alongside this, I continue to read and take notes on Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love for the critical aspect. I can see how that relates directly to Pascale Petit’s poetry: I can see where I’m going with it.
I also did some work on the creative aspect: I’ve vowed to give that more space as it carries the weight of the thesis. I revisited the sestina I posted here last week, trimmed it considerably, making it less of a baseball bat: much more subtle than the baseball bat I felt it was last week. I like it. I’ll leave it alone for a few weeks now before I come back to see if I still like it after a break. I’ve started to edit some of the other poems in the portfolio that I’m not happy with too. This is my favourite thing: to take a rough first draft and model it like clay until I have a product I can live with. It’s the making of something worthwhile; without creativity, what are we? I find my creativity in words.
On Wednesday evening Bill and I went to Oldham Odeon to see the live screening of Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s plays I didn’t know at all. I went expecting to see a Roman history, and it sort of was; but oh, it was so much more that I didn’t expect. It is bloody and bizarre: bloody bizarre! Rape, intrigue, limbs lopped off in the name of justice, enforced cannibalism; and so much blood shed, you have to wonder how they all stay alive. And it still managed to be funny in places as well: as I said, bizarre! Shakespeare must have been on something when he wrote this one. But it was wonderful for all that; David Troughton in the lead role was brilliant.
In other news, I sent out my Poetry Society Stanza mailing this week. We meet again on August 29th, 7.30-9.30 at the Britannia Inn in Mossley, when we are going to read and discuss the poetry of Australian poet and librettist Gwen Harwood. You can find some of her work here:
Come along if you’re in the area, you’ll be very welcome.
And in other other news, my granddaughter, Corinna, completed her nursing degree this month and on Monday she managed to land a staff nurse post in Telford Hospital, so that was reward for three years of hard work. She’s been a single parent for much of that time as well, and I’m so proud of what she’s achieved. And Bill had his last appointment at the hospital: he was discharged on Monday after ten years. He had radical surgery for prostate cancer ten years ago and on Monday that phase of his life came to a happy conclusion when he was discharged into the continuing scrutiny of his GP; so that was some really good news.
That’s it then, another rewarding week. I’m sure you know that July 31st was the centenary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele in the first world war. It seems appropriate to remember that this week, with the playground bullies doing their worst. So for a change, this week I’m going to post a poem by Isaac Rosenberg to remind us all of the reality of war. It isn’t glorious, it isn’t victory at any cost. It is just too high a cost. We wear the poppy for remembrance, but we don’t remember. Not really. If we did, we wouldn’t still be making war. Rosenberg fought at Passchendaele, so he understands absolutely. The ‘queer sardonic rat’ has more chance of life than the ‘haughty athletes/…bonds to the whims of murder’. As long as the playground bullies remember that themselves, just keep pulling faces across the ocean and don’t resort to pressing buttons, we’ll all get through this. We will.
Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver–what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe–
Just a little white with the dust.