Monthly Archives: December 2017

A post about Christmas spirit…

I’ll be a bit later posting this this week: I’m writing this morning from Kent’s Bank, Grange over Sands, and the hotel wifi in my bedroom is temperamental. I might have to wait until I get downstairs to get sufficient signal to get online. I’m here on Kim Moore’s Poetry Carousel. It’s a different kind of poetry residential. Kim invites three other tutors to be involved. Participants are divided into four groups of seven or eight poets and each group has one workshop with a tutor each day. The tutors on this group are Hilda Sheehan, Steve Ely, David Morley as well as Kim. It’s a wonderful idea, and the ‘rides’ are as exhilarating as the Big One in Blackpool. So far I’ve had sessions with Kim (Friday evening) and Hilda (yesterday); later today I’ll be in a workshop with Steve and tomorrow morning, David. The Tutors are all different in their various approaches to stimulating poetry. Kim took the theme of ‘veiling the narrative’ and encouraged us to recount someone else’s story in our work; or just to lie! Hilda used surrealism and absurdist approaches, which I was wary of at first because I’m very much a literal thinker; but it was wonderful! She gave us strategies for developing surreal poetry and I wrote a half-decent, though weird, poem. But I did learn new approaches to building poems and I’ll be using those at home to reach out in my portfolio poems. What a great way to spend a weekend! The next carousel is in December 2018, and I’ve already put my deposit down for that one. Sketchy details at this stage, but keep in touch with Kim’s blog for further details in the coming months:

We were concerned we might not get here for the Friday start. We had snow on Saddleworth; not so much it would keep us at home, but if it was snowy at home, we thought it would be a hindrance in Cumbria. I watched for the weather reports on BBC Breakfast and, one of those modern miracles, the snow was thick in Scotland, had blown down the western edge of the UK, scuppering the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Merseyside and Cheshire, but left Cumbria and Lancs alone! We saw no snow on our journey after Saddleworth; and the motorway traffic wasn’t too bad either. So we arrived in Grange in time to have lunch in the Hazelmere café; and even managed to legally park in the street right outside the café window. The travel angels were on our side on Friday. We’re expecting snow later today, but it should be fine to travel home tomorrow, fingers crossed. Here’s a photo from my bedroom window, looking out over Morcambe Bay: a room with a view!


In other news, I’ve been quite productive this week, on the critical and the creative aspects of the PhD. I have started to write the Pascale Petit section of the thesis at last. Having planned it out last week, I settled to the writing of it on Sunday, and I managed about a thousand words with academic references etc. So I was pleased with that. I knew it would be difficult to find time for the critical work beyond Sunday this week because of other stuff in my life, but I used the time I had well. I also wrote two new poems for the portfolio, both of them for the sequence about women who might have been my mother. These are examples of ‘veiled narratives’: the trick is to make the lie ring true. I have so many ideas for this one: women I have known personally, but also historical figures like Mary, Queen of Scots; or women from literature like The Snow Queen or Jayne Eyre. I can have fun with it, while making serious points about the mother-daughter relationship. And following on from Hilda’s surrealist/absurdist workshop and my reading of Pascale Petit’s work, how about a lioness or a centipede or an anaconda as my mother? There is no limit to the fun I can have.

On Monday morning I did my ironing, knowing I needed to pack a weekend bag for coming away; I also did some laundry to put together a rucksack for the ‘Rucksack for the Homeless’ project in Stockport: There are similar projects in other towns, so keep your eyes peeled. The rucksack project is where my Christmas gift spending has gone this year. I’m ashamed of my country when I see so many people forced to sleep in the street. This is the sixth richest country in the world and when you go to our big cities—even to smaller towns these days—you pass a rough sleeper every fifty yards or so. It makes me angry, ashamed; I can’t spend money on the rubbish we are tempted to buy at this time of year, knowing so many others won’t know the difference between Christmas and Not-Christmas. I see people in Tesco buying A Yard of Jaffa Cakes, or ten tins of Quality Street, or other manifestations of gluttony and I can’t subscribe to it. So my money has gone to the homeless this year; although it’s like peeing in the sea. But I have done a little bit; added my drop to the ocean. Bill and I made up two rucksacks: one for a man and one for a woman. You are asked to put in a sleeping bag, underwear, socks, a fleece or warm jumper, a toothbrush, a spoon with tins of beans, soup, a flask; we also put in personal items and a Snickers bar. We packed the rucksacks on Thursday, ready for delivery. It wasn’t easy to get everything in, but we did it with a bit of brute force. It’ll be grim for the homeless this Christmas, but some at least will know they are thought about. Whisky, gin, rum: these are NOT the spirit of Christmas; helping someone less fortunate than yourself is. I’m not religious, I’m a non-believer, but I am a human being and I agree with the phrase ‘there but for the Grace of God…’ Spare a thought for someone struggling this Christmas, please. Bill delivered the rucksacks yesterday. He was impressed by the set-up in Stockport; and by the number of rucksacks that were being collected. There are good people in the world.

On Monday evening it was The Group at Leaf on Portland Street in Manchester. I took one of my ‘women who could have been my mother’ poems. It is about Hilary’s mother, whom I never met, but I went to her funeral as an emotional support for Hilary, and this poem is based in Hilary’s eulogy for her mother, who sounded like a wonderful woman. After the funeral I asked Hilary if I could be her sister because her mother sounded like an fantastic mum: her response was, ‘you already are my sister!’ How kind is that? So in a sense this is about a woman who was my mother in some—only slightly—parallel universe. I love this poem. It was well received at The Group too. I won’t post it, but I will post the second poem I wrote: it still needs some work, but it’s a different kettle of fish altogether, a bit of fun prompted by a woman my sister used to work with back in the 1960s. She was a ‘formidable woman’, as the cliché goes. Being her daughter wouldn’t have been a silver spoon.

Tuesday I went for lunch with Hilary, her husband David and my partner Bill. We went to a vegetarian restaurant, Green’s in Didsbury. It was lovely. I’ll definitely be taking my vegan son, Richard next time he visits ‘up north’. Also on Tuesday, Hilary and I were invited to read in York in February: this was a case of ‘third time lucky’: we haven’t been able to accept the previous two invites. We also received our copies of Noble Dissent, the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology. My poem ‘Candidate’ is in there, a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem, ‘Girl’. Hilary’s poem in there is inspired by the suffragettes. There are some cracking pieces of work in this collection. Noble Dissent isn’t on their website yet, but it will be soon. We are reading at the launch in Lancaster on March 17th next. We were also invited to the York launch on 29th January; so Tuesday was a good day for poetry related stuff. Perhaps we’ll see some of you at these events?

So, that’s come full circle. I have arrived at Friday, where I started this blog. I’m looking forward to the rest of my weekend in Grange, and I’ll leave you with the poem I talked about earlier. It was a bit of fun; Mary B was a down-to-earth woman who liked a drink—she wasn’t alcoholic, I don’t think. She had a few memorable sayings, some of which I have alluded to in the poem. She talked of her ‘bronchial chest’ and her ‘gastric stomach’, not realising these were pointless adjectives. She also used to say ‘better late in this life than early in the next’; I think of her every time I am harassed by aggressive drivers in my rear-view mirror, or overtaken on blind bends, for instance. Any way, here’s what I think life would have been like if Mary B had been my mother; it still needs some work but I’m fairly happy with where it’s going:

Mary B

You’re always complaining
about your bronchial chest
or your gastric stomach.

You say your chest’s
like a bit o’ raw beef
but that doesn’t stop you

lighting up a Park Drive,
sucking its toxins
deep into your lungs;

and the ulcer doesn’t stay
your daily visits
to the Hare and Hounds

where you down whiskeys
like doses of medicine,
leaving me in the pushchair

out on the pavement
with a bottle of coke
and a bag of ready salted.

Rachel Davies
December 2017



It’s December, so Christmas is allowed now.

Oops, I’m a bit late this week. I got lost in working on a new poem this morning. Poets, eh?

I’ve had a good week this week: productive for work, lots of poetry, time with friends. Last week, my younger son, Michael, complained that the blog was a bit boring: it was all poetry and no social life! I think he was joking, but just in case, I’ve been a bit more of a social animal this week, Mike.

I took the day off work on Sunday. The head-cold I had a couple of weeks ago has been threatening, but not quite managing, to come back all week, so I gave myself a day off work and bummed the day away. But bumming won’t get me a PhD, so on Monday I gave myself a good talking to and I was at my desk by 9.00 a.m. I prepared the ‘anonymous poems’ document for Stanza. I realized I didn’t have a poem to include so I wrote one from the notes I took at the James Sheard workshop a couple of weeks ago: a poem about Lillingstone Dayrell churchyard for the sequence about my brother’s death. It was very first draft, but that’s OK, that’s what a critiquing workshop’s for. I sent the poems out to Stanza members in time for them to have a read before the meeting on Tuesday.

When all that was out of the way I got down to the critical aspect of the PhD. I cut-and-pasted into a single document the Pascale Petit poems from Mama Amazonica that had references to masks or mirrors, in whatever guise. I re-read the poems and my analyses and inserted notes and academic references in contrasting colours. By the end of the day’s work I had completed Mama Amazonica and was ready to begin the process again for The Huntress. That was Tuesday’s job sorted. Two really productive days at the critical work, with a new portfolio poem written as well: I felt really satisfied with what I’d achieved.

Tuesday evening it was our monthly Stanza meeting, the first one since the Stanza reps meeting in York on Saturday. There were five of us there. We discussed the way forward for our group: how could we increase membership, which has dropped off since we moved to Mossley in the summer. We decided to try a move back to Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar for the next meeting in January. It seems easier for folk to get to than Mossley, so perhaps lapsed poets will return to the fold. The business out of the way, we settled to reading and discussing the poems. It was a good night: lots of variety in the poems and good discussion. Surprisingly, my poem about the churchyard was really well received; I got good advice on pruning it a bit to make it tighter, but considering I wrote it very quickly on Monday morning, I was pleased with the feedback, not what I expected at all.

On Wednesday Hilary and I went to the Bad Language poetry reading at Gulliver’s Bar in Oldham Street, Manchester. Helen Mort should have been the headline act; Hilary had an open-mic slot. But Helen was taken poorly and had to send her apologies for the event, so that opened up extra open-mic slots, one of which I managed to get. It’s not often you get to say you were a stand-in for Helen Mort; perhaps I should include it in my poet’s biog? No, perhaps you’re right.

Thursday was a day dominated by microwave ovens. Ours has been on the blink for weeks, we kept threatening to replace it but hadn’t got around to it. It was fitted into the kitchen units and we weren’t sure what a replacement would look like. However, the situation became critical when it failed to notice when its own door was closed, so on Thursday we visited Appliances Direct and looked for a new one. Bill had measured the space and we found a combi-microwave—which I didn’t particularly want but it filled all the size and colour requirements—and we bought it. In the afternoon we took the old microwave out of its housing and prepared to fit the new one in the space. Unfortunately, Bill hadn’t taken a ‘depth’ measurement, and combo-microwaves have a very ample hip measurement: a kind of bustle at the back to house the element or something technical like that. It was a good 5cm. too deep for the space so we had to take it back and change it. We bought a little Daewoo instead. It fitted: it looked lost in the space in fact. Bill considered all kinds of complicated solutions to the problem. I just moved it slightly off-centre, placed four cookery books beside it and a pretty dish on top. It works. Lesson: always look for the easy solution!

Friday was the most sociable day of the week, Mike. I met up with Hilary Robinson and Polly Atkinson at the Manchester Art Gallery. We had lunch and began to plan our next poetry week away in the spring. We used to call these our ‘bitch weeks’, but two of the bitches have moved on, so we decided to rename them our ‘Line Breaks’: clever, eh? We’re hoping to go to the west midlands next year to take in the Wenlock Festival if possible: the website says there will be a festival next year, but no details yet. We’ll all look for cottages with different providers and when we have dates for the festival and three cottages each we fancy, we’ll meet up again to book the cottage and festival events.

We went from the Gallery to Albert Square for a cursory look at the Christmas Markets: really we were looking for a mug of gluwein. Hilary and I fancied the Santa mugs they were serving hot chocolate in; but they wouldn’t serve the gluwein in the white mugs because the measure was wrong. We were told by the girl behind the bar that if we had a gluwein in a black mug  she’d change the black mug for one of the Santa mugs when we finished our drinks. Here’s a pic of my white Santa mug from Manchester Christmas market, 2017; nice, eh?

IMG_1299     IMG_1298

It was back to work on Saturday. I planned to carry on with the Pascale Petit analysis. But I was sidetracked by the Aurora Leigh reference Rachel Mann sent me last week. I just meant to read Book One to find the reference she recommended, but I was enjoying reading it so much, I went onto the Kindle shop and bought the book. I spent the morning reading it and didn’t get any further with my work. It will be useful, honest. I promise to get back to Petit later today. Saturday was also the day that the December issue of Riggwelter online journal was published, with poems by Hilary and me included; link here:

Friday was also the day we learned that Kim Moore, our lovely Cumbrian poetry friend, has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for her first collection, The Art of Falling. Very well deserved, too. Details here:

I’ll be at Kim’s carousel poetry weekend from next Friday. I think it could involve bubbles; well, it will involve bubbles, even if Kim doesn’t want them!

Yesterday was Mike’s birthday, so we had a telephone chat. He was having a good day including watching Manchester United versus Arsenal on the telly. I’m pleased to say our beloved Utd beat Arsenal at the Emirates: 1:3 final result, a nice birthday present. Come on you reds!

I’m posting the poem I sent to Stanza this week. I haven’t worked on it since the feedback, so you get to read the raw first draft. At the Sheard workshop we made notes of a place we visit regularly in our poems: either real visits or visits in our heads. I made lots of notes of the geography of the churchyard. The final couplet popped into my head unbidden while I was making my notes. It was a total surprise to me; and as Robert Frost said: ‘no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’, so I hope it surprises you too. It has a working title: the original title was too silly to retain. I could tell you what it was, but then I’d have to kill you.

Dayrell Churchyard

 The church stands in the middle of a field,
a parish church with no discernible parish, just
a few houses like loose teeth in a broken denture.

The giant yew trees bring a foreboding of darkness,
The church squats beneath them playing hide-and-seek:
it’s been counting to a hundred since Norman times.

The thick oak door wears its iron furniture like a threat,
but it’s never locked. Go inside, feel the cold discomfort,
see the simple altar, smell the decay of damp prayer books.

It’s not warmed by the needlepoint kneelers from the WI
or the bright posters advertising Christingle, or Lent, or
Epiphany depending on your visit. There’s no stained glass.

Now I’m out in the graveyard beside a gravestone
that reads loving wife and mother, loving husband
and father, beloved son and brother.

 I remember the day they first opened that grave,
placed you in it carefully, like the treasure you were,
threw that first spade of soil onto your oak bed.

That was the day I came face to face with God
and turned my back.

Rachel Davies
November 2017