Masks and Mirrors

It’s been another busy week—is there any other kind?

On Sunday I first-drafted the review of Pascale Petit’s The Huntress and Mama Amazonica. I have concentrated on her themes of ‘masks and mirrors’ in both collections. Then I reorganised it and made a second draft. I sent this off to Hilary Robinson to read and for advice and feedback.

On Monday morning I drafted a new poem in bed. It was the writing workshop at Leaf on Portland Street—we’ve been tasked to come up with a name for the group—in the evening, and I was concerned I had nothing new to take. So I wrote a poem about my mother, from one of the prompts in the many books I bought before my holiday. This prompt was to take the opening phrase, ‘I come from…’ and make this the start of every stanza. I adapted this to ‘She came from…’ and drafted my poem. I was rather pleased with it. So I took it to Leaf in the evening, and it was well received. I was given some constructive and useful feedback too; so now it is an even better poem. It was a lovely evening, as always, with some seriously good writing to discuss. I love the generous community of poets.

Tuesday saw me in Manchester bright and early for a day’s work at the MMU library. There were two books on the psychology of masks I wanted to read. Both were on a two week loan only, so I decided to read them in the library. The first one by Christopher Monte, Beneath the mask: an introduction to theories of personality (1999 Orlando Harcourt Brace College) was a big fat brick of a book, so I didn’t want to have to take that one home to read. It was the first one I tackled. It turned out to be a kind of résumé of various theories of masking from other psychological theorists. It would probably not be an acceptable book on the bibliography of a doctoral thesis, but it gave me lots of academic references to check out in more focused academic works: Jung, the Freuds, Winnacott, Karen Horney etc., so it was well worth the effort of reading the relevant chapters.

But oh my, MMU library was a distracting reading environment on Tuesday. The noise in there! Mobile phones going off, students answering them, library staff showing around freshers to introduce library systems. It was like trying to read in a market place. So, when I’d done all I could with Monte, I decided I’d take the other book, A L Strauss’s Mirrors and Masks, to read at home. I left the library and, it being a lovely day, I sat in All Saints Park to eat my butty before going home. The park was full of young students, crowded around a huge red ‘welcome’ installation, having lunch, chatting, getting to know new friends. A middle-aged woman was in there with a bag of peanuts, feeding a grey squirrel from her fingers: the squirrel was taking the nuts from her fingers with his little hands, very tame. It was good to watch. After lunch I went off in search of coffee and spent an hour reading the Strauss book in a Costa coffee shop, which turned out to be quieter and more conducive to reading than the library. I think the book is rather too sociological in its tenor, and, published originally in the fifties, is probably ‘old hat’ for a scholarly read. But I’ll stick with it for a bit, see what it has to offer.

On Tuesday evening it was our monthly Stanza meeting. This session was a writing workshop. Three members, Pat, Linda and Hilary had prepared writing prompts and we wrote poems from the prompts. Pat’s activity involved looking at, smelling, feeling and tasting a prickly pear. I saw these growing on huge cactus-like succulents in Zakinthos; they looked spectacular on the plant; but oh, my, they are a different thing to eat. Pat loved them; I think it’s fair to say she was the only member who did. To me, they were tasteless; or at least they just tasted ‘green’, the way grass might have done if I’d been eating that. The seeds were like indestructible little bits of grit. They were good to look at though. And the poems they inspired were worth a read. I won’t be having prickly pear in my fruit salad any time soon, though. The other activities? Linda’s involved a poetry form I hadn’t come across before, a ‘Quennet’, named for its inventor, the French oulipo poet, Raymond Queneau. It is a truncated form, using staccato adjectival phrases in a prescribed format. Hilary’s activity was a variation on the golden shovel. All-in-all it was a good night.

On Thursday people kept wanting to stick needles in me. I had blood tests first ahead of my next appointment with the rheumatologist about the Polymyalgia Rheumatica, Giant Cell Arteritis and Osteopenia triptych that has taken over my body. I’m hoping to reduce the corticosteroids again next week, fingers crossed. The second needle was in the hands of the lovely pharmacist in Uppermill’s Well Pharmacy: the annual flu vaccination. He is such a gentle man. We go there every year: no appointments necessary, no queueing up and totally NHS approved. I recommend him to anyone who will listen.

By Friday I had the feedback from Hilary on my ‘Mama’ review. It took a while for it to pass through the ether with all the comments in tact, but we managed it eventually. As a result, I wrote an additional paragraph before submitting it to The North for consideration. I have already had a provisional ‘yes’, so I’m hoping they will like it and include it in the next edition. Watch this space. I enjoyed writing it, whatever the outcome, and it’s a start on the chapter I’m planning for the thesis, so it won’t be wasted by any means. I’m really ready to get my teeth into the chapter now, and am considering redrafting the Hill chapter to bring more cohesion around masks and mirrors to the whole thing. Will this thing ever be finished to my satisfaction?

And lastly, Saturday. Yesterday was the Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield. Hilary and I left Saddleworth early to get to Sheffield in time for coffee before the event. It was lovely to see poetry friends there: Pam Thompson, John Foggin, Keith Hutson, Janet Lancaster and several others; also lovely to meet new people. The writing prompts were varied and stimulating as ever and the standard of writing was high. I love these writing days: if you are interested in poetry, I’m sure you would like them too; details here: http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/workshops/writing-days

I took my aeroplane poem, the one I wrote about fellow passengers en route to Zakinthos. I received some really constructive feedback from most of the group; I also took a verbal kicking from a young female poet who thought it was sexist, prejudicial and ‘a snobby attack on single mums.’ Ouch. I can see why she might think that; but it was all inspired by actual events, so hardly prejudicial, I think. I’ll look at it again in the light of her feedback and decide if she had a point; but I’m not inclined to change a good rant just in the interests of political correctness; that would knock the life out of it.

So, a poem from yesterday’s Poetry Business workshop. We were asked to write about something that had ‘arrived’: a parcel in the post, a package for a neighbour, that kind of thing. I wrote about ‘seventy’ arriving. Here’s a first draft:

 

Significant

Seventy has arrived.
It knocked on the door, then waltzed in
uninvited, as if it had been expected.

Seventy has arrived
and taken over the lounge
with its greetings cards, its balloons and bunting,
its ‘seventy years young’ badges,
its ‘you don’t look a day over…’
its fire hazard birthday cake.

Seventy has arrived
and you, hot on its heels,
kicking it into submission with Doc Marten’s
salted and peppered with glitter
that settles on the ground like moon dust
as they walk.

Seventy has arrived
and the bee tattoo is its music.
Play it again.

 

Rachel Davies
September 30th 2017

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