It’s that time of year when we put on our Janus masks, look back at the last year and forward to the next. So I’ll do a quick review of 2017. I won’t dwell on national and international events too much: they’re so depressing: just to say it seems to have been a year when the country and the world went a little mad. Sorry, a lot mad.
I think I’ve had a good year personally, though. I didn’t have any major accidents or illnesses, so in the light of recent history, that was a big plus. I had my seventieth birthday in July. They call that a ‘significant birthday’, a milestone event. I know lots of people who got quite depressed when they turned 70, but I actually enjoy my birthdays. They’re going to happen anyway, so you might as well meet them full on and have a ball. I read somewhere that birthdays are good for you: the more you have, the longer you live, so why wouldn’t you enjoy them! [insert laughing emoji]. My son Richard gave me my first—and last—ever tattoo, a Manchester bee on the inside of my forearm to commemorate the people killed in the Manchester bombing in May. My daughter gave me a gorgeous pair of glittery Doc Marten’s that sprinkle moon dust when I walk and get covetous looks from other women. It was also my daughter’s fiftieth birthday this year, so we all booked a holiday cottage in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey and went away for 120th birthday celebrations; a lovely memory.
The view from our 120th birthday celebrations in Trearddur Bay
I filled my year with poetry. I went on a fantastic poetry residential in St Ives in February with Hilary Robinson. Kim Moore organised it, she and David Tait were tutors and I met up with lots of lovely poetry friends. Hilary and I even got to meet Simon Armitage when we walked into St Ives one day to look for poems, so that was a bonus. Naturally, our street-chat with Simon turned up in the poems we found. In May I went on a residential in Trearddur Bay with three friends. That included a day-trip to Dublin, which was good. A poem I wrote on that week was commended in the Battered Moons competition in the Autumn, so that was good. There was another poetry residential in December, this time the Kim Moore carousel in Grange over Sands, with input from Hilda Sheehan, Steve Ely and David Morely. I had two poems published in Beautiful Dragons anthologies: A Bee’s Breakfast in February and Noble Dissent, which was released in November and will be officially launched early in 2018. I’m invited to read at the launches in York and Preston in January and March respectively.
I had a poem published in the Riggwelter online journal https://riggwelterpress.wordpress.com and have just had one accepted for an anthology for the ‘Mind’ charity, which will be out early next year. I have also been writing like mad for my PhD portfolio; I’ve started work on a new sequence of poems about women who might have been my mother but weren’t. It’s one of these I submitted to Mind. I’ll include another at the end of this post.
I’ve been to lots of readings in the year; I’ve seen/heard Michael Symmons Roberts read at the Poets&Players prize winning event in May and again in August when he read from his wonderful new collection Mancunia, poems inspired by his native Manchester. By the way, the P&P annual competition is open for entries again at the moment, details here: https://poetsandplayers.co I’ve been to several Carol Ann Duffy readings: Carol Ann Duffy and Friends events plus a reading she gave to Nantwich Words and Music festival in October. That one was the best reading I’ve heard her give. I’ve heard Penelope Shuttle, James Sheard, Kayo Chingonyi, Malika Booker to name just a few. Yes, it’s been a good year for poetry. I’ve also read myself at several open-mic events in the year, offering some of my portfolio poems to the public. They have been well received.
It hasn’t been a bad year on the PhD front either. I’ve started writing the thesis in earnest. I attended a thesis-writing course at MMU in the summer, which set personal achievement goals to get us on track. It was good to meet fellow PhD researchers and to realise everyone has the same trepidations that you experience yourself. Also in the summer, I had a very pleasant and positive annual review meeting with Michael Symmons Roberts, which made me think perhaps I can do this thing. He advised getting my work into quality publications, and I’ve been working on that goal since. And now it’s my final year, I have to submit in September 2018 so I have to get my skates on. I have a meeting with my team on 9th January to discuss work in progress. I’m beavering away on that at every opportunity; and on my collection of poems for the creative aspect. I sent a set off to Jean Sprackland yesterday; we’ll be meeting soon to discuss them. I’ll be glad to submit and put it behind me; it’s been hard and unforgiving; it’s been intense and time consuming. When I get my life back I’ve promised myself I can read rubbish for a year! And I’ve told Bill that study and I are like boats and Steve Redgrave: if I ever mention undertaking anything big again, he has my permission to shoot me! My holiday in September involved analysis of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and that work has been really useful in writing the relevant section of the thesis. Also, a piece I wrote from that analysis, a ‘thin’ version of the Petit section of the thesis is published in The North issue 59, just out. I’m even mentioned on the front cover, which was an unexpected bonus.
Looking forward to 2018, my most important goal is to complete the PhD and hopefully see an end to it. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but it has been stressful, full of self-doubt and angst. I have questioned why I started it in the first place: it’s a personal quest, I have no interest in university teaching whatsoever. But I did start it, and next year I will finish it. I really hope I succeed, but if I don’t, I know I gave it my best shot, and that’s the most you can say. Also, I had an Apple watch for my birthday, from my partner Bill. It is guilt inducing, because every day it reminds me I haven’t moved enough, or I haven’t stood up enough, or I haven’t used up as many calories as I should. It has become my fitness Jiminy Cricket. So tomorrow I start my ‘Couch to 5K’ fitness regime. That’ll teach it. Apple approval all round; as long as I keep it up. Watch this space. My third and last resolution is to give the house a good spring clean; although it will be autumn before I get round to it. It gets the light touch at the moment, I’m far too busy. Housework is what I do when I have nothing better to do, and if you read this blog often, you’ll know I always have plenty of better stuff to do! My eldest sister used to say ‘I don’t mind housework, but it all needs doing again next year.’ And that’s kind of my outlook on housework too. But it’s getting me down now. 2018 will be the year of the big clean-up. I can bear not to do it, but I can’t bear to half do it. When I start it’ll be full-on.
And there you have it. Review and preview. 2017 summed up, resolutions committed for 2018. I hope you have a truly wonderful and creative New Year. Eat, drink and be merry tomorrow, for on Tuesday we diet.
Here’s my poem. I revisited a poem I wrote at Mark Pajak’s workshop in Nantwich in October. So in this poem my un-mother is a sloth. There is no end to the fun you can have if you let your imagination run free. Imagine having a three-toed sloth for a mother. Well, you’d never get nagged to tidy your bedroom, would you?
see youself as someone who relinquishes
digits to evolution then patents
what you save in your own slow show
see yourself as hanger-on
so your ceiling rose is hearth rug
the laminate floor your roof
see yourself as worshipper of inertia
so downtime is your vocation
quiescence your life’s career
see yourself as passive philosopher
pondering the energy of predator
and arriving at the ergo of leaves
see yourself as someone who is a human
failing but can’t even be arsed
to crack a smile at the irony of it