For the love of poetry…

I’ve concentrated on poetry this week, mostly the creative aspect of the PhD. This has been one of my favourite weeks: a week dedicated to poetry. I have read poetry, written poetry, ate, slept, dreamed poetry. Wonderful.

On Monday I met up with poet friends Polly Atkinson, Hilary Robinson and Rod Whitworth. We went to Proper Tea for lunch–yes they are open again, having undergone a refurb, mostly in the kitchens I’m guessing because the decor hadn’t changed a great deal, still the old doors they have used to make the counter and the settles by the windows. The counter has turned through 90 degrees and is now a chiller cabinet full of gorgeous sandwiches and cakes. We met to celebrate my birthday: someone asked me if I’ve done celebrating now! Silly question! I’ll celebrate this one until I have the next one. Did you know, science has proven that birthdays are good for you? Apparently the more birthdays you have the longer you live. Really.

One of the books I downloaded to my new Kindle this week is The Practice of Poetry by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. This is a collection of writing prompts that have been used in creative writing classes by poets who also teach. I have been writing to some of the prompts this week, mostly in bed before sleep–which has meant not much sleep because poetry is such an upper! One activity involved thinking of a part of someone’s anatomy and writing about that part as a representation of the whole. I wrote about my mother’s hands. I remember her telling me how she hated her hands when she was a little girl because she had dimples where her knuckles would be and she wanted knuckles like her mother. Of course, when I knew her she had her wish: hands that were Rough-knuckled, raw from hard labour. Be careful what you wish for. I described her hands as she cleaned the eggs ready for market. I quite like the poem from that activity. I have other poems in the pipeline stimulated by some of the other activities too. One of the activities is to do ten minutes of ‘automatic writing’ a day, then after ten days to read the writing and underline what can be kept and perhaps made into a poem. The rule is to write but not to edit, not to read what you’ve written for the full ten days, when you’ll have almost ten pages of writing you don’t know too much about. I’m finding that less satisfactory at the moment, because automatic writing–writing for ten minutes without stopping just what comes into your head–is hard without a prompt to start you off. But I’m persevering, sticking to the rules. I’m giving myself a starting prompt every morning.

Tuesday is one of the days I can give whole-heartedly to PhD work, because Bill plays golf and the house is all mine for the day. I had a great day on Tuesday this week. I decided to write another sestina; but I wanted to bend the form to make it less obviously a sestina. So I decided to compile a list of homophones–words that sound the same but are not necessarily spelled the same, and don’t have the same meanings: ‘there, their and they’re’ is a group that is always used as an example. Would you believe it, there is actually a website dedicated to the homophone: groups of homophonic words arranged alphabetically:
All I had to do was choose ones I thought I could work with. I chose six homophone groups and wrote my sestina. It took all morning: who knew poetry was such a long job! I have worked on it all week, trimming it, refining it. Because it has words like based/baste and cord/chord/cored with variations like record/accord/discord it really is a sestina in disguise, I think. It will fit in the portfolio, although the ‘story’ of the poem is entirely fictitious. I’m really quite pleased with it. A good morning’s work.

On Thursday my copy of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica arrived in the post. On Saturday Bill played golf again so I had another day dedicated to PhD. I gave it over mainly to reading Mama. I read the whole collection in one sitting: I couldn’t put it down. It is a collection that deals with the mother-daughter relationship through the mental illness of the mother, much as The Huntress does, but in a way more sympathetic to the mother, I think. I read it aloud to myself, the whole collection. I had a very rusty voice afterwards; but reading a poem aloud does slow your reading down and it gives you a different perspective on the work. I can’t wait to get down to a serious analysis now. Petit has such a creative way of writing: humming birds feature largely, beautiful and abused in this collection, as the mother has been. The animals of the Amazon region are used as metaphors for the people and personalities in the poems; for instance the abusive father is often depicted as a scarab beetle. In ‘Jaguar Girl’, ‘Her gaze is tipped with curare/…/Her claws are crescent moons/sharpened on lightning./…/Her own tongue is a hive/that stings’: wonderful images for a fearful and frightening woman. Compare this with the tense tenderness in ‘Jaguar Mama’: ‘…the whirlpools and rocks of her tongue/almost pulled my skin off, I never knew/if she was grooming or preparing to eat me.’ I love this collection. I think a comparison of the two works will be an exciting and original part of my thesis.

On Saturday I also did some submitting to competitions. I’m not good at submitting work, I don’t do it enough. I’m never sure when a poem is ready to make its way in the world; there always seems to be some small change you can make. But I sent some out on Saturday to try to earn their living. Given that most of the best competitions receive well over a thousand entries, I’m realistic about their chances; but, as the early lottery adverts used to say, ‘you gotta be in it to win it’; so I sent off to Oxford Brookes and Buzzwords on Saturday. Online entries are so easy; too easy perhaps. Now I need to sort my poems out for sending to journals; prepare myself for the inevitable rejections that make the occasional acceptance more sweet.

Later today, more poetry. I have to reread Hilary’s MA portfolio so that we can discuss it when I meet her on Monday before the Leaf Workshop. I’m honoured that she has asked me to read and comment before her final submission in a couple of weeks time. Her collection  addresses marital infidelity and reconciliation: it’s a good read. I also have to read a selection of Gwen Harwood’s poems for our Stanza meeting on Tuesday evening. So, plenty of poetry to keep me going for a day or two; as well as the daily ‘automatic writing’ and my promise to myself to write a poem a day while I’m on holiday. Yes, we fly to Zakinthos on Thursday for two weeks of sun, sea, reading, boules, bumming out. I intend to get lots of work done in that two weeks; the best kind of busman’s holiday! I’ll be blogging from the Ionian region next Sunday; bring it on.

In honour of the upcoming holiday, I’ll post a poem I wrote in Zakinthos two or three years ago. There seems to be some seismic activity in the Mediterranean area at the moment: this week there was an earthquake on the island of Ischia in the bay of Naples; in July an earthquake between Turkey and the Greek island of Kos. When we were on holiday on Zakinthos–2014 I think–there was an earthquake that was strong enough to move furniture across the room and make waves on the hotel swimming pool. No structural damage, but it was quite a scary event none-the-less. What struck me most was the noise: a loud boom like a bomb to begin with then the dreadful grinding sound as the earth’s tectonic plates rubbed against each other. This is the poem I wrote from that experience:


Koukounaria Quake

mobile phone footage of lanterns swinging,
floors flapping like tablecloths being shaken
of crumbs, windows spitting out their glass,
cars like Dinky toys tossed by a petulant child,
fissures in roads that swallow juggernauts whole:
this is an earthquake.

But a mobile phone can’t record the noise,
as if the earth were turning in her sleep,
dropping her bedtime read to the floor, breaking
wind. She grinds her teeth and the hotel shifts
and the wardrobe slides across the bedroom
and ripples ride on coffee mugs and coffee
slops onto tables and tables walk the floor
and the swimming pool gets the surf up
and tourists, not used to this, make to leave
the safety of structures built to withstand it.

Eleni checks on her pregnant daughter, the earth
settles to sleep again and all three carry on
as if something extraordinary didn’t just happen.

Rachel Davies



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