Monthly Archives: November 2017

The unpalatable secret of eternal youth.

Sometimes working for PhD doesn’t feel like work at all, so this week I feel as if I’ve been slacking; but I really haven’t. It’s just that the work I have done hasn’t been behind a desk. It’s been one of those weeks it’s been difficult to fit in desk-time.

On Sunday I did lock myself in the study for the morning. I filled in an RD9 record of my support team meeting. It’s all done on ‘Skillsforge’, the university’s on-line recording system. It’s a bit of a chore filling them in, but they are a necessary record, and it helps to remember what a positive experience the meeting was. I also sent out my Stanza mailing: it’s our next Stanza on Tuesday this week. I can’t believe a month has gone since Pat and I dressed as witches and read spooky poems to each other. I know for a fact there will be more members there this week. Details of what we’re doing can be found here, so if you feel like joining us, you’ll be most welcome:

All the admin out of the way, I settled to the serious and pressing stuff. I looked for instances of ‘masks and mirrors’ in my poem analyses of Pascale Petit’s work. What a wonderful thing is a search engine. I used the ‘search in this document’ facility and found more references to those things even than I expected, especially when I typed in ‘make-up’, ‘disguise’, ‘reflections’, etc: variations on the theme. So I narrowed down the number of poems I’ll be using for my critical piece on Petit’s poetry. I re-read the poems as well: not a chore at all. I felt I’d had a good morning’s work by the time I stopped for lunch. Pressing housework was my prevarication for the afternoon.

On Monday evening I went to the workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. The group, after a vote of its members, is now officially called ‘The Group’, which I don’t think will change much, do you? It’s a fairly unambiguous title, don’t you think. Anyway, I picked Hilary up to catch Metrolink into Manchester. It’s the first time I’ve seen her since she came back from her globe-trotting holiday, so it was particularly lovely to spend time with her. We made space for coffee and chat before The Group started. There were six of us there, and some lovely writing shared. I took a recent poem from the sequence I mentioned last week and got some useful feedback. They felt that when I get into writing the sequence, I could even have more than one poem from that one piece. They also said—wonderful idea—that as it’s a sequence I could have a narrator/chorus to fill in the narrative blanks that a series of poems written in the voices of different characters necessarily threatens for the reader. So I came away feeling fired up to get on with some more of it. If you are serious about writing—poetry or prose—and you live in the Manchester area, you should try to come along. Amy McCauley and Rosie Garland are members and they in particular are seriously spot-on with critiquing work, they get right to the meat of issues. We meet here: every second Monday, 6.00p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

On Tuesday I went into Manchester again, to meet up with Rachel Mann. She has just completed—and achieved—her PhD. We met when we started our MA in Creative Writing at MMU in 2007, so I have known her for ten years now. We met over tea and toast in Proper Tea. I wanted to pick her brains about masks and mirrors in the poetry of, particularly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, two poets she studied in depth for her PhD. She didn’t disappoint: she gave me lots of references in ‘Aurora Leigh’; and an article by Pascale Petit asking if women write differently to men. When she emailed all this to me she threw in a chapter in Elisabeth Bronfen’s Over Her Dead Body, and Rossetti’s ‘In An Artist’s Studio’; how generous is this of her time and knowledge. I say again: the community of poets…

On Friday I drove south to visit my sister in Stamford, Lincs. We haven’t seen each other since May so it was good to catch up. She made us a lovely lunch too: overload on Stilton cheese and trifle—not on the same plate, obviously—and lots of chat. We drove home via Holmfirth and the first snow of the winter proved a challenge driving over Saddleworth Moor, although it disappeared as we descended into Greenfield. I cursed the decision not to stay with the A1 and M62 route then, but it was snowing in Denshaw when we got home as well, so I think the route down from the motorway to the village would have been as hazardous. I really don’t like winter: I was born in one of the hottest summers of the last century and I’m definitely a summer person. Roll on Spring, I say.

It snowed again overnight, there was about two inches of lying snow when we got up on Saturday and it was still coming down. I was due to go to York for the Poetry Society Stanza Reps meeting on Saturday, so I cursed the snow all over again, thinking I’d have to cry off. But by 9.30, when Bill took me to Stalybridge to catch the train, the roads were passable so I did manage to get my train. Interestingly, there was no snow at all on the other side of the Pennines; it was a lovely crisp, sunny, cold winter’s morning, but no snow. I was in York before mid-day. The Christmas markets were on, so it meant queuing for everything, even a cup of coffee in the many cafés along the street into the town centre. But I eventually got a cup of coffee to take out and I sat in a courtyard by a church and ate my packed lunch and drank my coffee and felt generally at peace. My meeting started at 2.00 p.m. It was good to meet up with old poetry friends: Paul McGrane, Bernie Cullen, Simon Currie; but also good to meet new people. It was a lovely meeting, so many different approaches to running a stanza, and all valid. I learned a lot about reviving our dwindling fortunes at the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza: we’ll be discussing some new ideas on Tuesday.

I’ll leave you with a poem that couldn’t be any newer if it tried: I just finished it this morning. It’s part of the same sequence; and I apologize: yes, it is a double nonet. I have this rhythm in my head and I must break it, but this one tells thoughts about death I’ve held for a long time. I often think of my brother, how we lost a brother, our children lost an uncle. But when I think of him, he’s always seventeen. Laurence Binyon wrote ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old’, and here I am, his younger sister being old enough to be his Grandma. So it’s these thoughts in this week’s poem. I promise I’ll never write another nonet, ever. Although…


The Secret of Eternal Youth

You were seventeen when you found it.
I was fourteen. Now I’m older
than Grandma was then and you’re
still seventeen. There’s
no portrait in
the attic,
no foul
no fresh clear
water springing
from the summit of
Mount Olympus. You found
the lost key to eternal
youth and it’s the simplest truth:
you died. You’re seventeen for ever.


Rachel Davies
November 2017

Travelling that divergent path…

Yesterday I met some poet friends who started their PhD at the same time as me: we were on the same induction programme two years ago. It was good to see them, because PhD can be a lonely journey: you plough your own furrow and the more you plough, the bigger the field seems to get. You work away on your own research, and it takes you where it will: there are productive routes and there are interesting but diverting side paths. And then, suddenly and surprisingly, you reach a place where ‘two roads diverge’, as Robert Frost said, and you decide to take ‘the road less travelled’, because that is the requirement of PhD: an ‘original contribution to knowledge’. That sounds such a daunting phrase at the outset: if it is an original contribution, how will you discover it among all the existing knowledge you’re researching. But the phrase needs bringing down to size: you aren’t looking for a new knowledge system, just a new slant on an already huge body of human experience. For me, the lightbulb moment came in reading Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica in the summer. That’s when I found my ‘road less travelled by/and that has made all the difference.’ It was reassuring to hear that the experience of friends mirrors my own: we are all searching for our own way out of those woods.

This week I had a meeting with my support team for the critical aspect, so I concentrated on the creative aspect of the PhD at the start of the week. This is my favourite kind of work; it constitutes about 75% of the thesis and yet it gets the smaller share of my time while I knock the 25% that is the critical aspect into submission. So it was good to spend time on just writing poetry. I prepared plans for three short sequences of poems; one is a single event viewed from multiple perspectives. My intention for that one is to give a voice to everyone involved in the event, even the dog. I also prepared a plan for a series of poems about women who might have been my mother: thank you to Kim Moore for that idea; and one directly related to mirror theory, about all the mirrors held up to me as a child to provide opportunities for me to become ‘me’; or, conversely, to allow me to develop the masks that became the multiple faces of me that enabled me to negotiate my place in the world. I even wrote a couple of poems for the first sequence, one of them fulfilling the ‘syllabics’ framework I talked about with Jean. Unfortunately, it’s another nonet, about which more later. I must get beyond this little nine-line wonder, but I do find nonets very satisfying to write.

On Tuesday I went to MMU to meet Antony and Angelica, my support team for the critical aspect, to discuss my ideas for a ‘masks and mirrors’ focus on the work. I had sent them a piece to whet their appetites a couple of weeks ago, explaining that it was just to show them where my thoughts were leading, that there was an authoritative theoretical base for said focus. None-the-less, they were concerned that I was getting bogged down in the theory, and that, with only 20,000 words to play with I needed to get straight in with the analysis of the poetry and bring the theory into that rather than dedicate space to the theory on its own. I’m happy with that. They also asked, was I changing direction from the ‘mother-daughter’ theme into something completely different at this late stage: that wouldn’t be acceptable. Good God, no! Absolutely not; I’m planning to examine the mother-daughter theme through a focus on masks and mirrors. They were happy with that and thought the focus could be a good idea, a good way to bring a huge body of work down to manageable size. Yes, that’s what I’d hoped for. I’d also sent them the review I wrote for The North as a taster of where I was going with the Petit analysis. Interestingly, one of the parts they liked most about it was the inter-textual bit about Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’: Antony thought I could have developed that idea in much more depth. This was one of the ‘academic’ bits I toned down in the review, on the request of the editors! Different strokes for different folks! Antony asked me to send him the sections on the sonnet and the Selima Hill analysis that I’d revisited following our last meeting in the summer; I sent it, on the understanding that the Hill section would be redrafted now to some extent in the light of the ‘masks and mirrors’ focus. There is lots of useful stuff in ‘My Sister’s Sister’, on masks in particular; redrafting it won’t be a huge problem. So, altogether it was a productive meeting and I came away feeling good about my work and I actually felt as if the end might be in sight.

After the meeting Antony sent me an example of a creative-critical PhD thesis that might give me some insight into the process of writing it. It was, he said, nothing like my own work, but the style of the writing might be helpful for me. I read it in bed on Tuesday night. It was a PhD from Edgehill University, so it had a heavy emphasis on poetics, which is an Edgehill creative writing interest: I know this because a friend has just completed her MA in Creative Writing from Edgehill. So the thesis was quite avant garde in it’s approach; but it was a useful read, because a large part of it wasn’t really prose at all, but a fairly staccato series of reflections, a list in single sentences. It was food for thought, though, that the thesis can be what you want it to be, that it doesn’t have to follow academic rules. This is reassuring to one who has struggled to become fluent in acadamese.

On Saturday it was the Poets & Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. James Sheard ran a poetry workshop in the morning: it was interesting because we didn’t actually do much writing, but we did a great deal of discussing ideas. The theme of the discussion was ‘the territory of the poem’: territory in terms of ‘place’ but also the psychological territory explored in poetry. I found this useful. The piece of writing we were asked to do as a culmination of the disucussion was focussed on a particular place we visit regularly in our poems; we had to make notes on the place in terms of its concrete elements that make it real. I chose Lillingstone Dayrell churchyard, where my brother is buried. My brother’s death was a huge event for me when I was fourteen; he was just seventeen. I began by thinking about the churchyard, the yew trees, the gravestones, the situation of the church surrounded by fields, the church itself, its Norman origins, its huge wooden door which is never locked, the cold discomfort of it. And then the thought popped up that it was here ‘I came face to face with God and I turned my back’. Wow. It’s true, this was when I became an atheist; at my brother’s funeral, when they put his coffin in the ground and threw soil onto it. How could a beneficent god allow that? There is the skeleton of a poem in that thought alone. So it was a productive morning all round.

The afternoon event involved music from students of Chetham’s School in Manchester: so young, but so much talent. There were two string quartets, one played to start the event, the second opened after the break. They were wonderful. The poetry readings were by Rebecca Hurst, Kayo Chingonyi and James Sheard. As usual it was a wonderfully uplifting event: poetry and music in the south gallery; and the green parakeets in the trees of Whitworth Park through the huge windows. Fantastic.

It’s been a productive and positive week. Oh yes!

I’ll leave you with another nonet: I promise I’ll break the habit soon. This is a response to a longer poem, ‘Not good enough for sainthood’, that I wrote from another perspective, the sister’s, on the same event. It is part of the sequence of multiple viewpoints for the same event, the untimely death of a young man, my brother. This nonet is written in his voice; it doesn’t stand alone particularly well, perhaps, but it works in the context of the sequence, I think.


I didn’t ask for sainthood

 …truth is, it hijacked me that summer
out in the fields, helping strong men
harvest hay; gut wrenching pain,
theatre, surgeons, counting
to ten backwards then
the eternal dream.
I much preferred

Rachel Davies
November 2017


The 3 Pees: PhD, Poetry and Parking Fine

Hard to believe, but this is the first time since I left school that I’ve been registered as a full-time student. I decided on full-time because six years seemed like forever when I started this PhD: I knew I would be 71 when I finished, even if I registered full-time, and that seemed old enough for anyone to be studying in this depth. So I registered for the three year, full-time option; and even then, three years seemed like a long time. Now, I’m well into the third year, the sand is running out. I recently paid my first of the final year instalments; only two more to pay!

But I keep chipping away at it like a word sculptor, making it take shape. I’m beginning to see the finished piece. Sunday last saw me at my desk after breakfast. I decided to make a start on putting my theoretical reading into something. I had thought not to write anything until after my meeting with my supervisory team: we’re meeting on Tuesday this coming week to discuss my ideas about masks and mirrors in self development. But it seemed like a good idea to have something to show them where I intend to go with it, so I started writing my piece on Sunday. I realised in writing it that it was heavy on mirrors with less on masks, so another library search found a good academic article on multiple identities in adolescents: multiple identities is an aspect of masking, so that was really useful.

So Sunday was a good day’s work. I picked it up again on Tuesday. More library searching and I found another article on Winnicott’s theory of the True and False self. I have read Winnicott, but this was a useful article, and it put me in the direction of a Winnicott book I haven’t found yet. They have a copy in MMU library, so I’ll be seeking it out on Tuesday. I drafted my own writing onto the recent review I wrote on Pascale Petit’s poetry: it’s that I’m going to develop for the Petit chapter of the thesis. I ‘red-penned’ places to be developed and notes to self on where to go next; and it was at this stage when I sent it off to Antony and Angelica as a discussion document, with the proviso that it is a very early draft discussion document, not an academic piece needing assessment.

I also heard from Jean Sprackland on Tuesday. She reminded me we haven’t met for ages and perhaps we should set up a meeting soon. It is indeed some time since we met: it must be last May when we last had a discussion around the creative aspect of the PhD. We talked then about concentrating on form and syllabics. Although I have new poems for the portfolio since then, I’ve written very little within those form perameters. So I got back to her asking if we could meet in December: I’ve been concentrating too much on the critical side—as usual—and the creative has been back-burnered somewhat. December would give me time to compose some poems for discussion. Her reply was we could leave it till January if that helps; so agreed on January as a deadline and I wished her Merry Christmas, despite it being early November. I’m a ‘keep Christmas for December’ person: as a recent FaceBook meme said, ‘There are twelve days of Christmas and none of them are in November’. So it seemed strange giving out Christmas wishes in November; but not as strange as the house I saw the other day, all decorated up for the season. Please!

As a result of that email from Jean, and in light of the critical piece having gone off for discussion, I did concentrate on the creative aspect on Saturday. I spent the day in my cat’s favourite chair—he wasn’t impressed—in the study, notebook and pencil in hand and worked on a new poem in a syllabic format. I’ll include the early draft at the end of this blog. It’s only a short poem, a nonet; but it took a big bite out of the morning. I think I’m pleased with it, but I need to put it away for a week or two and come back to it with fresh eyes to know for sure if it’s repaying the time and effort. I also wrote a second poem based in the ‘timeline’ idea from Mark Pajak’s workshop in Nantwich last month. I chose the wrong poem for my starting pistol, I think, and my own poem doesn’t work. It’ll be deleted from my MacBook later today. Sometimes you know immediately they don’t work; not even worth working on. It happens. I’ve learned that to write that kind of poem, you need a starter with a distinct story, an ‘event’ poem. I tried to work from one of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica poems, to tie it in with the critical aspect. It didn’t work, not enough happening as a story. I decided I need more direction in my creative work so I devised a plan for a series of poems to follow a story, multiple characters and voices all focussed on the same event. I’ll be working on that later today.

In other news: Poetry and Life. In ‘Poetry’, my copies of Magma: The Deaf Issue and PN Review dropped on my mat this week. Good to see poets I know personally and some who are only known to me through their words in there along with poets who are new to me. I’ll enjoy reading these two lovely magazines in my tea-breaks this week. I also paid the balance on the Poetry Carousel that Kim Moore is running in Grange-over-Sands in December. I’m really looking forward to that one: a round of poetry workshops with David Morley, Hilda Sheehan and Steve Ely as well as Kim. It’s been an expensive couple of weeks; but worth every penny.

In ‘Life’, Bill had an appointment at the hospital on Thursday. It took ages to find a parking space: all the hospital car parks were full with several cars looking for spaces. I tried the local streets but they all have ‘Permit Only’ signs, so no joy there. After about fifteen minutes of driving around looking, I came across a car park at the back of the hospital I didn’t even know existed until Thursday. I found a space and was so excited to have parked the car and be just about in time for his appointment—if we could find the location of the clinic—that I forgot to pay. Yup, I had a little packet behind the windscreen wiper when we returned to the car later. I handed it to Bill to take care of. Two parking tickets in one month? Seemed fair to share this one! Then on Friday, I met my friend Joan for dinner. We meet once a month. Joan has recently joined a reading group and they have been reading the poetry of Ruth Padel, which reminded me of her Radio 4 programme ‘Poetry Workshop’ that my Poetry Society Stanza was involved in in 2012. We had a lovely afternoon working with her; she is a gracious and generous woman. Joan was pleased to know I had met her.

So, to my latest poem: so new the ink’s barely dry. I was thinking how it’s easy to hold grudges against the ones who reared us. My own children have this on-going banter about how hard-done-to they were as children. But when I reflected on my relationship with my own mother, which wasn’t an easy one, I realised that life was hard for her, that she had to give up so many of her own aspirations in being a wife and mother. She was born too soon, should have had a career as well as a domestic role. She was too intelligent, gave too much to being a wife and mother. I think it hurt her in ways we weren’t aware of as children, but which I appreciate now, as an adult looking back. That is what this is about, if it’s about anything.


Molly 2

Why did we expect her to give like
some dumb altruistic martyr
beguiled by an after-life?
We were the stakes of her
endless slow-burning
woodpile, turned our
deaf ears to
her mute


Rachel Davies







Remember, Remember…


Years ago, when I was a class teacher in Peterborough, the headteacher I worked for read a poem in assembly one day. It was this time of year, the start of November. The poem was a long list of ‘no’—no light, no sun, no leaves on the trees, etc—and its last line was ‘November’. I think of that poem every year; but I can’t remember any more of it than that, and I can’t remember who wrote it, either. I’ve tried Google, but I don’t know enough of it to be useful. Do you know the poem, the poet, where I can find it? I’d love to hear from you if you do. It’s 5.30 a.m. and November is happening right now outside my window. The rain is lashing, the wind fighting the trees; these are the only sounds I can hear. Perhaps I should be writing my own ‘November’ poem.

Oh my, I’ve had a good week; except Sunday, which was a day of good intentions, paving the road to hell. I meant to do some work. I needed to do some work. I didn’t do any work. I prevaricated so long, had one more pot of tea, watched Andrew Marr, stayed out of Bill’s way while he repaired the under-cupboard lighting in the kitchen, stroked the cat—all those really important things you have to do before you can get down to work. Then I looked at the clock on the telly screen and it was nearly lunchtime already. Oops. When I went into the kitchen to make lunch I realised the telly clock was still showing BST; I didn’t realise it required a manual change over. I altered the clock; finally I gave up on work.

But it wasn’t a disaster, because I dedicated Monday to work instead: the best, most productive day I’ve had for some time, one of those days when you can see the wood among all those trees. I had agreed with Amie that I would dog-sit her two Cockerpoos, Cooper and Sonny on Monday, along with her sister-in-law’s Lassa Apso, Bella. I went to her house on Monday morning, early, with a bag full of books and technology, determined to work all day. Amie and Angus went to a family funeral in Thirsk. The dogs were a bit excitable at first but they soon calmed down. Bella, who is nearly as old as me in dog-years, was a bit nervous being left with a stranger and two boisterous young dogs, kept leaving little puddles on the kitchen flags, bless her. I took the boisterous ones out for a walk just before lunch: they pulled me up the lane, then pulled me back down again. It was exhilarating! The rest of the day I worked. I did so much systematic reading, real preparation for the theoretical framework for the next chapter of the thesis. I re-read Lacan on mirror-stage theory; I read Winnicott and Bowlby; I re-read Benjamin. I took copious notes; I even made a note of books I needed to find in the MMU library. I worked for about five hours all together, and felt really satisfied when I finished.

On Tuesday I packed a healthy lunch and headed for Manchester to MMU library. The problem with going into the library, it’s a big expenditure of time for little reward. It takes a couple of hours of travelling to get there and back, and I’d rather spend that time working. That’s why I prefer to buy my books; but the Winnicott book I wanted was £20 second-hand from Amazon, so the library it was.

I found the books I was looking for and had another morning reading: Winnicott Playing and Reality; I read the chapters I needed in the library and although I didn’t feel I had achieved anything I didn’t know already from reading about his theory in Benjamin, at least now I had a first-hand reference, always a Brownie point in a PhD bibliography. I ate my lunch in the social space beside the library: it wasn’t a day for picnics; then I went back to search for a couple of other books, and although I found them, I didn’t feel they contributed anything to my work. I went home.

On Tuesday evening it was our Poetry Society Stanza. We had agreed to dress up for Halloween and read ghostly, witchy poems for the occasion. I don’t really like Halloween. In the religious calendar it’s the eve of All Saints Day, ‘the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed’ (Wikipaedia). But it has become a capitalist money-making machine and ‘celebrations’ bear no resemblance to this religious remembrance. Not that I’m religious at all; I’m really not. But I’m no capitalist either. So normally I leave Halloween to those who don’t mind being given one more opportunity to be ripped off by billionaires. But this year we agreed to dress in our Halloween costumes and read scary poems. So I borrowed a witch’s dress from Hilary, who was away in the Antipodes and couldn’t be with us, and bought my own witch’s hat and headed for Mossley. In the event, there were only two members present. Several members had been laid low by microbes and sent last minute apologies. Just Pat and me, then. Pat, who is an artist, had made a most glorious witch’s cloak with papier maché skulls and all sorts hanging from it. She won the fancy dress prize for sure. But although there were only two of us, we had a lovely evening reading the poems we’d brought: the witch’s speech from Macbeth, obviously; Jane Yeh’s ‘The Ghosts’; I took along an anthology of poems about the Pendle Witch Trials from a project I was involved in with Clitheroe Stanza in 2012 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the infamous trials and I read a couple from that. Luckily we both took lots of poems and our readings and discussions lasted all evening. It’s always good to have time to enjoy poetry.

On Wednesday it was my usual day doing the books at the Black Ladd. After lunch I picked up the post from the shelf where the staff leave it and there was a parcel with my name on. Often, when I buy online, I have parcels delivered to the pub because I don’t have to worry about missing the delivery: there’s always someone there to receive the post. But I couldn’t remember ordering anything online recently. So I took a sneaky look inside. It was a pair of Ugg gloves. I rang Amie. Yes they were for me. When I was dog-sitting on Monday, I’d left my old Ugg gloves at her house when I went home. One of the gloves has a hole in the forefinger. I’ve repaired one of the fingers, but this is a wide hole, big enough to need a patch. I’ve been meaning to replace them this year when the winter stock is in the Ugg shop, but haven’t got round to it yet. Amie had been going to send me flowers for to say ‘thank you’ for dog-sitting, but seeing the state of my gloves she’d decided to replace them for me. ‘It’s only like three bunches of flowers,’ she said. Bless her heart. So now I’ll try to repair the unrepairable gloves and donate them to a homeless woman next time I’m in Manchester.

On Friday I had a message from Hilary, who is currently enjoying a holiday in Tasmania. Lemn Sissay is coming to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham in January, did I fancy it? We both saw Lemn at Wenlock Poetry Festival a couple of years ago: he is such an entertaining reader. I first heard him read some years ago at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. He was recording ‘Why I Don’t Hate White People’ for Radio 4. It was fantastic. At the Coliseum in January he will be presenting his one-man play, ‘Something Dark’. So of course I fancy it; I bought five tickets: for Hilary and me and our respective partners and for Hilary’s sister Cath. It should brighten a cold January day.

Yesterday I completed the systematic reading I’ve been working away at all week. So later today I’ll be at my desk again, writing it all into the chapter on ‘masks and mirrors’ for the thesis. I’m looking forward to getting down to writing: it always feels good to have something productive to show for your efforts.

So, it’s November 5th, the night we all remember Guy Fawkes and his friends who tried to blow up Parliament while it was in session in 1605. We light bonfires topped with his effigy, we ignite fireworks to simulate the gunpowder he planned to use. Of course, he wasn’t successful; so what we really ‘celebrate’ is the disembowelling of a group of terrorists. We are a strange bunch. Here’s a memory of bonfire night from my childhood. We didn’t ‘do’ fireworks: my mum was a nurse and knew only too well the damage fireworks can do. But one year she gave into pressure and let us have fireworks. It didn’t end well!


All The Excuse You Needed

you told us horror stories from your life as a nurse

but we ground you down slowly for years until you gave in

so we all went with Dad to Ken Harker’s to choose legal bombs

how we waited for the velvet darkness of that fenland night

how we tied Guy Fawkes to the stake

how at last we lit the bonfire we’d been building for weeks
chucked scrubbed potatoes into the flames,
held mugs of piping hot soup in gloved hands

how our eyes soared into a universe reformed by a super-cluster
of new galaxies from that first launched rocket

how he knew better than the Fireworks Code
spurned the tight lidded biscuit tin, shortened the safe distance
from the blaze, lit blue touch-papers and didn’t retire

how an athletic fire imp jumped the short arc
from blazing fire to fireworks box

how the fireworks all ignited together, a spectacular display
we only heard, a symphony of terrifying booms and whistles

how we saw nothing at all of that constellation of colour,
its spinning wheels, its horizontal rockets, its jumping jacks

how we all turned our backs and ran for our lives

how for years we had to make do with imagining
what that display might have looked like

because this was all the excuse you needed


Rachel Davies
November 2017