I wondered when I started the PhD whether those enjoyable and, until now, indispensible, parts of my life would have to go by the board to make room for the research. I have proved that, actually, they don’t. I have taken several holidays since I’ve been doing the PhD; some of them have been work related: poetry writing weeks that have served the creative aspect of the research. But some have been just holidays; just the chance to sit back and rebuild. I have never left the work at home and ignored it for a week or two. Let’s face it, it won’t be ignored.
This week I’ve been in Zakinthos on the ultimate sun-bum’s holiday. The work sulked so much when I told it I was going on holiday, I smuggled it into my cabin baggage and brought it with me. Of course, I never ever intended to leave it home alone; but it didn’t know that, and I’m hoping it will be kinder to my as a result of my generosity.
So, among the sun worshipping, the Greek salads, the yogurt and honey, the Mythos, the local wines there has also been work. And, I have to say, quite a smug-making lot of it. Before I came away, I promised myself I would write a poem a day while I was away. I downloaded several prompt books to my Kindle to keep me focussed. I have to report, I probably haven’t managed a poem a day; but in response to one prompt, I have been keeping a dream journal. I have had some weird dreams since I’ve been here. One of them relates to the broken promise of a poem a day: I was invited by a teacher I worked with years ago to go into his classroom and read poems to his class of 8/9-year-olds. There were other poets there to read, we all had a ‘slot’. I was first to read; unfortunately I had left the poem I wanted to read at home; and I couldn’t remember it at all. One little girl in the group had copied my poem out in her writing book and she lent it to me; but writing wasn’t her strength, and it was really hard to read what she had written; so I blagged. I tried to make it up as I went along. Alice Oswald was like Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder: why wouldn’t you remember the poem? You wrote it! The only lines I can remember were the first line: Write ‘the’ and part of a limerick that came at the end: They called him Max the Tax. Not much of a poem then; not even poetry! But I took so long making it up, I took every other poet’s slot of time too. Anxiety dream, definitely. I must write more poems, as per my promise to self.
However, I have drafted about four poems since I’ve been out here, and I think the dream journal will stimulate more unusual ones. So I’m not slacking really. I’ll post a poem at the end of this blog that relates directly to the ‘poem’ dream. I can already see where I’ll change it, but I like the idea.
In other news, regarding the critical element, I have been very conscientious. I made myself the promise to work for two hours a day before breakfast to analyse the Pascale Petit poetry in Mama Amazonica. That is a promise I have kept, rigorously and satisfyingly. I have analysed all but thirteen poems in the collection. That gives me 3-4 a day for the rest of my time here to get the job done. I have found that about four a day is as many as I can do: they are quite gruelling, dealing with rape, abuse, mental illness. Petit approaches these themes by placing them in the backdrop of the Amazonian rain forest. They are brilliant. The mother is written as beautiful, abused creatures: the hummingbird, the deer. She is often predatory in her response to abuse, so she is jaguar, fossa, python, boa. The abusive father/husband is almost always a cockroach—‘Cockie’; sometimes other low, unattractive creatures, in one instance a ‘screw-worm’; which all seem descriptively appropriate. I will definitely have fulfilled that promise-to-self by the time I board the plane home on Thursday. And so far I have 12,500 words; not all words I’ll be using in the chapter, but they’re there to be cut-and-pasted, along with the analyses I did of The Huntress. So I feel I’m making real headway with the critical aspect while I’m out here, and putting myself in a strong position to start writing the Petit chapter when I get home.
There, you see, you can allow yourself holidays while you pursue PhD. You just have to be prepared to take it along for the ride: it doesn’t cost extra, as a child would do; and mostly it behaves itself without annoying other holiday makers with its noise, unlike some children (see last week’s blog)! In the hours between breakfast and drafting poems on the sunbed I have enjoyed all the aspects of ‘holiday’. I have played boules on the beach every day with Bill; the beach here is lovely soft sand, unlike a lot of Greek beaches there is no shingle. So it’s a good boules surface. It helps us believe we’re not just beach bums. We’ve also played mini-golf a couple of times. The first time I beat Bill, who is a regular golfer at home. That didn’t go down too well, it stung a bit; but yesterday he beat me quite comprehensively to put me back firmly in my place. I enjoyed the crowing while it lasted, though. We have been walking, stopping off at a lovely beach bar for pizza and draft Mythos on the way back to the hotel. And, of course, we’ve been swimming. I’m not a huge fan of swimming, I learned as a young adult, not as a water baby. I learned, actually, in the nurses’ home swimming pool when I was a student nurse in the sixties. A gorgeous doctor taught me to swim; I only did it because I needed to look competent in his eyes. We weren’t an ‘item’, but I fancied the pants off him. Years later I saw him again when my son Richard broke his arm. The gorgeous doctor of my teen years and my memory was actually a disappointment: shorter than I imagined, balding and gaining a paunch. But he did teach me to swim and I’m grateful for it. I’ve never been a particularly confident swimmer, although I love that I can swim; and as long as my feet touch the floor when I stop, I’m happy.
Oops, I must dash: I’m taking a boat trip to see the Zakinthian turtles later today. Life’s just so full, I don’t know how I fit it all in.
Here’s the poem I wrote as a response to the anxiety dream I had in the week. It has a long way to go, but I wrote it following Jean Sprackland’s advice to write more poems in a syllabic form. This one is a (double) nonet: nine lines, nine syllables in the first line reducing to one in the ninth. I think I’ll retain the form and redraft some of the content; but it does show that I am making an effort; honest!
In this life I’m a double nonet
In a past life I was a sonnet.
I tripped off the quill in inky
magnificence, perfect in
first draft. There was nothing
slant about my rhymes,
they were bold, strong,
I used to be a sonnet, fourteen
lines of perfect Shakespearean
rhyme, a turn at line nine. But
the life was edited
from the first draft and
now I’m doggerel,