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:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

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: https://thisisleaf.co.uk/manchester/ 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
draught
of
potion,
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

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