Poetry. PhD. Life.

This week has had a bit of everything in magnificent balance.

Sunday was spent mostly travelling back from Swindon. We had an open return ticket so we didn’t have booked seats; we thought it wouldn’t be a problem on a Sunday; and it wasn’t, on the train we caught from Swindon just before 12.00. We had seats together around a table. But this leg of the journey was only short. The train from Cheltenham Spa to Manchester was ram-packed: we eventually found seats beside each other, but they were on either side of an aisle. We were only able to move to seats together after Birmingham. We arrived in Macclesfield without incident. And there we stayed for an hour and a half: there had been a death on the line in Levenshulme and so no trains were being allowed into Piccadilly until the incident was cleared. I was reflecting on the sadness of someone being so desperate that the railway line was the answer. A fellow passenger thought only of the inconvenience to herself: surely there was more than one line into Piccadilly she said. We are human, but some of us have little humanity! We crossed the road from the station for a pint and waited for the next train to Manchester.

Tuesday I gave entirely to the PhD. I copied my Pascale Petit review into a second document and investigated how I can use it to form the beginning of a chapter of my thesis. Obviously it needed to be more in depth, more academic authority, more theory, more analysis of more poems. It needed to be ‘more’. I also reread the Selima Hill sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’ to see if there was evidence of masks and mirrors in her work to make that an over-riding theme of the thesis. Obviously, ‘masks’ would be eminently arguable, because I see her ‘sister’ as a version of herself in this sequence; so the whole piece is ‘masked’ by the identity of the sister. I need to discuss this idea with my support team: I must set up a meeting soon. I also trawled the index of several of the main theoretical authorities I have been reading for references to masks or mirror; and found a surprisingly satisfying range. This could be a rewarding aspect of the work, I think.

Interestingly, later in the day I had an email from the reviews editor at The North, a response to my Pascale Petit review submission. ‘It’s an interesting piece and reads very well,’ she said, but the editorial team felt ‘it was more of an academic essay than a review.’ Given the issues I have had with academic language, this made me laugh out loud. I wondered what my Director of Studies would say about it if I were to send it to him as it stands: not academic enough, I suspect. However, Suzannah at The North suggested some edits to make it more acceptable for publication, and that’s what I’ll be doing later today. If I can get it back to them by tomorrow, and it is more in the house style, I think it will be in the next issue. Watch this space (again).

On Tuesday evening we went into Manchester for the live screening of the National Theatre’s (Benedict Cumberbatch’s) Hamlet. Oh my, how good was that? It was by far the best version of Hamlet I have seen in my entire life. He was brilliant, the production and direction was brilliant. Hamlet’s soliloquys were delivered with other actors on the stage: the lighting put Hamlet in the foreground, the other actors in the background, acting in slow motion as if time had stopped while we were given access to Hamlet’s thought processes. It was just wonderful; except for Gertrude’s announcement of Ophelia’s death. I love the first line of that speech: One woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow. But when she goes on to describe how Ophelia died it all becomes too melodramatic; and I wonder, if someone observed all that dying, why didn’t they take action to pull her out of the water. But that’s just me, perhaps, being a literal thinker. There will be another live screening at the Printworks in Manchester this Tuesday coming; if you are in the area, I do heartily recommend it, you won’t regret it. It was an iconic performance.

On Wednesday, the prizewinning poems, including my ‘Chiggy Pig’, were up on the Battered Moons website: http://www.batteredmoons.com/2017-the-poems/

On Thursday I received my first Christmas present of the year. Yes, I know it’s only October; but I help at a Slimming World group on Thursday evenings and it was the Christmas launch this week with offers on the purchase of a twelve week ‘Countdown’, a prepaid twelve week session of commitment; and that twelve weeks takes us right up to Christmas Eve. Our Slimming World consultant gave all her helpers a Christmas card and present to get us in the spirit. I won’t open it until Christmas though. Probably not. Maybe. My own ‘weight loss journey’ this week was a disaster, after last week’s jaunts to London and Swindon, so I have my work cut out to do better this week. And that particular commitment was blown out of the water straight away on Friday when I met my friend Joan and we went out to eat in a new restaurant in Prestwich. Oh well; still the rest of the week to work on weight loss. Except on Saturday I went to a Thai restaurant in Nantwich with Hilary, had a lovely Thai curry lunch; and then scones with jam and cream for tea. Probably not a good Slimming World week then.

We were in Nantwich for the Words and Music Festival, organised by our friend Helen Kay, among others. A workshop in the morning, led by the brilliant young poet Mark Pajak was absolutely fantastic. He gave us a way of looking at poems of violence as timelines; which gave us an opportunity for backstory, or ‘what happened next’ poems of our own. He will be running an online course for the poetry school along similar lines in the spring I think; but there is nothing for 2018 on the Poetry School website yet. I really enjoyed it; and as a little light relief, we had an activity involving a sloth—nothing violent involved in this activity—and I wrote what could become a passable poem. In the afternoon we went to a reading by Carol Ann Duffy, and she was at her brilliant best. She read from The World’s Wife and Bees, poems I’ve heard several times; but she also read from Rapture. I haven’t heard her read from this collection so it was a new experience. And she called the sonnet ‘the little black dress of poetry’; which quote I must get into my chapter on the sonnet: it’s too good a quote to waste!

In the evening it was an open mic session of (mostly local) poets reading their own work. Hilary and I both had a five minute slot and I read some of my mother poems as well as the poem I wrote at the Poetry Business writing day, about being seventy: I included it in my blog ‘Masks and Mirrors’ on October 1st. I love open mic sessions, because poets of all abilities get an audience; and it is so good to reflect on the buzz people get from writing creatively. Any creativity is definitely good for the soul.

So, wow, another wonderful week. Is there any other kind?

Here is one of the new ‘mother’ poems I read yesterday. I don’t know if it’s about my mother, or about her daughter; but I really like it, whatever. It came from a prompt in one of the many books I took away with me to Zakinthos in September.

 

 Inheritance

She came from a long line of Amazons
who could catch a flying fuck
and make a poem of it.

She came from the bloodline of Boudicca
her hair the flames that would ignite Rome.

She came from the flatlands
where the North sea is a lament
calling itself back through cuts and dykes.
She turns with the tide.

She came from the soil, grew
wild as bulrushes, untamed
as the brambling hedgerows, fruitful
as a codling orchard.

She came from the confluence of love and hate,

She came to you as gift. Unwrap her slowly.

 

Rachel Davies
September 2017

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