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

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