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: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com

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: https://www.thewellspring.co.uk/practical-donations/ 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



One thought on “A post about Christmas spirit…

  1. Sitting cosily indoors cocooned against the south leics snow I’m only slightly envious of your poetry weekending in Cumbria. And thinking about those who have no choice but to be out in all weathers.

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