Family, microbes and the occasional witch.

Some weeks you have to push hard to get any PhD work in. This has been one such. It has been a week with family; and a week of fighting off the microbes. But I have managed some constructive work too.

On Sunday I continued to concentrate on the creative side of the work. I did some more submitting of poems. I sent to The Interpreters House; and I bit the bullet and took Michael Symmons Roberts’s advice and sent some of my ‘mother’ poems to Rialto. I don’t hold out much hope: it’s a serious publication; but they’ve gone and I haven’t had an immediate rejection, so I’ll take that as a positive. However, they do say on the website that it could take three months to make a decision, so I’ll just forget about them now and wait. Unfortunately I heard very quickly from TIH: almost return of e-mail. I had sent the poems as separate Word docs; the website specifically asks for poems to be sent in a single document, so I was asked to resubmit following the submission guidelines. I’m very grateful to be given the chance to resubmit. I administer online entries to our Poets&Players annual competition and I get really annoyed with people who ignore the submission guidelines. So I was very embarrassed to have done that myself: I apologized profusely, resubmitted as per the guidelines and made a mental note to be less irritated when P&P is open for entries next year!

On Monday I had lunch with Amie and Richard. Richard is a teacher and it is his half-term break so he came up to the miserably moor-grimed north and we went out for lunch. We took a lovely walk into Uppermill from Delph along the route of the old Delph Donkey railway line. Signs of autumn everywhere, obviously, which included some stunning bracket fungi similar to this one, only darker, like an Oreo biscuit. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate in Muse in Uppermill: they allowed us to take Amie’s dogs inside, which was lovely of them.

On Monday evening, after Richard had returned to the Flatlands, Bill and I went into Manchester for the first of the latest season of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends readings at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It was lovely to meet up with several poet friends. These are lovely events: CAD hosts the readings and reads a couple of her poems followed by MA students of the MMU Writing School; then the evening completes with a poet of national/international standing giving a reading. At this event Keith Hutson, MA student, presented a radio play he has written about the stormy relationship between the fifties/sixties comedians Hilda Baker and Jimmy Jewel. It is a short two-character play and it was very good. Keith writes a lot about iconic music hall performers, he’s a bit of an expert; the play is an extension of this poetry interest. The national/international poet this time was Andrew McMillan, who joined the Writing School as a lecturer this term. I love Andrew’s poetry, so sensual, physical. You can read about his work here: https://www.andrewmcmillanpoet.co.uk

On Tuesday I had a head-cold brewing. I did some PhD work. The two don’t necessarily mix well. I decided to stay with the creative aspect until I’ve had a chance to discuss my ideas for the critical aspect with the team. So I got out the ‘how-to’ books for ideas for poetry. I went to one of the books a friend had sent for my birthday: John Redmond’s How To Write A Poem. It is a book about looking at different emphases in poetry: multiple voices, point of view, who is being addressed, scale and vista etc. Each chapter is short, with examples of well—and lesser—known poets; and each chapter includes a writing prompt. I read a couple of chapters, but didn’t get around to using the prompts. I kept dozing off over the reading, so I gave up at lunchtime and pampered myself on the sofa with some old episodes of crime dramas: Morse and Vera. There’s nothing like a good crime drama for a bit of escapism when you’re feeling below par, I find. My younger son, Mike, rang for a chat, so that was nice. He called me Nurse Ratchett for my unsympathetic treatment of Bill’s knee injury in my blog last week, which made me laugh. Apart from a ‘clonking’ Bill can feel when he walks, said knee is on the mend. He managed the walk into Uppermill quite well on Monday anyway, although I did have to collect him in the car for the return journey.

On Wednesday and Thursday the cold really made its presence felt. I went about my usual routines, but I was glad to get back to putting my feet up. On Wednesday I had an email from Antony, my Director of Studies, asking if we could meet on November 14th as next week is ‘employability week’ at MMU, whatever that means. Then on Thursday I had an email from The North asking the ‘prose writers’ for a short biography to accompany the pieces we had written. I had submitted a revised version of my Pascale Petit review more than a week ago; so I hope the request for a biography means they have accepted it, although I’ve had nothing to say so. I asked the question when I sent my biography off, but still not heard officially. What do you think?

Friday morning was taken up with a visit to Oldham Royal Hospital. Bill was given an appointment for the fracture clinic last week when he presented to A&E following the injury to his knee; although there was no fracture, the A&E doctor pointed out that it was really an ‘acute orthopaedic’ clinic and she wanted to be sure from an expert that there was no lasting damage. We arrived with plenty of time, were seen early and were on the road again before the actual time of his appointment, so that was good. Unfortunately the doctor we saw was a hand expert and couldn’t really tell Bill much about his knee that we didn’t know already: arthritis was present. So he advised contacting his GP and getting referral to a knee specialist. Who knew there were specialists for every joint in the human body? So the drama of the knee injury, like all the best soaps, is to be continued. And no, I’m no more sympathetic than I was last week, Mike. I think it’s probably an ex-nurse thing.

Yesterday I decided I would work a bit more on the critical side of the PhD to see if I could put together enough of a chapter to send to Antony and Angelica prior to the meeting in a couple of weeks. I’m very aware of the time constraints of this, my final year. So I went back to my theoretical reading: re-read the Lacan bit about the mirror stage (I understand the concept, but his writing is really inaccessible) and I did a library search, so now I need to visit the MMU library to borrow a couple of books. I checked them out on Amazon, but they were about £20 each; so I’ll borrow first and buy if they are indispensible. I started to re-read Jessica Benjamin The Bonds of Love too, which has a good chapter on mutual recognition, which is really what Lacan’s mirror stage theory is about, I think. So, a good morning’s work, by which time the head-cold was making itself felt again. I called it a day, stopped for lunch and watched Man U beat Spurs 1-0 to secure their second place in the Premiership table.

That’s it, then: another week done. I really need to knock on, so this week I’ll have to defeat the microbes or learn to live with them. Sympathy? No, I don’t want sympathy. I want to be microbe free: we all know what the common cold did to the Martians in War of the Worlds: they can be tricksy little buggers.

On Tuesday this week it’s Halloween, so I’ll leave you with a poem about my Grandma: not a real one, I didn’t know the real ones, but the one I wish I’d had. I invented her to fill the grandma gap. I hope she did exist, I quite like her. And it’s a sonnet, one for the portfolio.

 

Grandma was a white one

She flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:
heated seat and pillion, power assisted
bristles. Her coven wasn’t impressed though,
snubbed her at the crossroads, turned their backs,
cast her out. Jealousy’s the new ducking stool
she said, helping herself to anything she fancied
from life’s cauldron without so much as a couplet.

She didn’t chant the old hubble-bubble, just
threw in a word or two, a wow phrase, a strong verb,
the merest pinch of an adjective.
She wrote each stanza as if it was her last.
Fly where you’re not wanted, that’s
what she taught me. Come down in a mess
of family, reinvent them like you mean it.

 

Rachel Davies
2017

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