Deck the halls…

It’s a strange thing about Time that some weeks have seven days in and others seem to be a fortnight long! This week has been one of those long, long weeks, but in a good way. It feels like ages since I woke up in Kent’s Bank and wrote my blog from my hotel bed. It has been a week of family; of preparation and celebration of Christmas; of concentrating on the creative aspect of the PhD—when the PhD has managed to find a slot in the week at all. The critical aspect has been bubbling away in the back of my brain and hardly made an appearance. Real life and poetry have been the things this week.

On Sunday I attended the carousel workshop led by Steve Ely. It was a workshop about writing Death, which sounds morbid and miserable but really wasn’t. It was an opportunity to give the dead a voice. We began with a murder ballad, “Knoxville Girl”. You can find the lyrics here if you’re interested:

We heard a recording and discussed what was happening in the song then rewrote the ballad in the voice of the murdered Knoxville girl. That was a good kick-off for a workshop about death. We read Emily Dickenson’s famous ‘I felt a funeral in my brain…’ and discussed that then wrote our own poems giving a voice to someone/thing that had died in a song or a legend or even in our own lives. I wrote giving a voice to Cock Robin from the children’s nursery rhyme. I revisited Lillingstone Dayrell churchyard in one poem, wrote as if the landscape was the voice of the dead: another poem for the portfolio I think. We wrote about a woodcock killed by flying into the glass doors of the department of chemical engineering, York University. Steve had brought in it’s wing for us to see, beautiful, powerful and so soft.

After lunch I decided to stay in and do some homework, getting my early draft poems onto the MacBook. It feels good to do that with poems I’ve handwritten, they feel more real, you get to see what they will look like as finished pieces. I worked so long I didn’t notice how dark it was getting: it was after 4.00 p.m when I’d done, so really dark by then. I’d agreed to meet with Hilary at 4.30 to share our poems over a glass of mulled wine. We met up in the bar, got our mulled wine and were joined by Bernice before we got to share any poems at all. So we had another mulled wine and a lot of lovely chat, but no poetry. Ho hum.

On Sunday evening we had Christmas dinner in the hotel and opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate Kim’s winning the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, then we all met up in the hall for the evening reading. Hilda Sheehan gave us a really amusing reading of her Frances and Martine poems, which you can read here:

She also read a poem she’d only written the night before after an afternoon walk out with David Morley. I wonder if that one will ever be published? Probably not!

David Morley was the second reader on Sunday; very different from Hilda’s reading, David’s poetry draws on his Romany heritage and on his work as a scientist: The evening completed with Sarah LIghtfeather Demmick and her husband giving us a performance of their country and western singing after the readings. Sarah has a terrific country voice. So it was a fantastic evening of poetry and song, but oh my, I was so tired! I left for my bed at the earliest opportunity and slept for seven hours—a long night for me.

On Monday snow disrupted huge swathes of the country, but there was none at all at Kent’s Bank; just a covering of frost and very, very cold. I packed my case and checked out of the hotel, packed the bags in the car before the morning workshop with David Morley. I was a bit worried about this one because I kept hearing from other course participants how ‘intellectual’ it was and Monday morning when I was so tired at the end of the carousel didn’t seem like a good time for being intellectual. But you know what? I loved it. Lots of alternative ways of looking at nature and writing, finding ‘asemic’ poems—poems without meaning—in nature, for instance the way a reed bank looks like Chinese writing, or the way frost in grass can look like handwritten letters. It’s an exercise in letting your imagination run wild. It’s also addictive: I’ve been seeing messages on the hills of Saddleworth this week in the way the snow lingers in the lee of walls. We wrote concrete poems from the shapes of natural objects: I chose the woodcock’s wing from Steve Ely’s workshop. David introduced us to a new—to me—poetry form, the sevenling. I’ll tell you more about the form at the end, because I’ll be posting the poem I wrote to this form. I think it might be a form I’ll be exploring more in the future.

The journeys home of folk who arrived by train were disrupted by the snow that had the country in thrall; which all seemed a bit bizarre because we had seen no snow at all in Grange. But snow further south had affected the running of trains all over the country; so I gave David Borrott a lift home as far as the Preston exit off the M6; and still no snow! In fact, we didn’t really see any snow to speak of until we got home to Saddleworth. So we were very lucky, and the journey home was a lot easier than it could have been. We arrived home about 4.15 p.m. We had a wonderful weekend of poetry, but I was so tired by bedtime I actually felt ill with it. I didn’t so much sleep as fall into unconsciousness.

On Tuesday I had to take my broken specs to Specsavers to see if they could mend them. They couldn’t, the plastic had snapped; but they could put the lenses into a new set of frames for £20. The downside was it would take until Christmas to get them repaired. I am lost without my reading glasses. I wear varifocals, but the reading portion of the lens is small and my head is constantly moving from side to side like some parody of a tennis spectator when I read books with them. So I decided to buy a second pair, which Specsavers could have ready by Thursday. I had managed to find my 50% off voucher so I used that. New glasses and the repair for £85; not too shabby.

On Tuesday afternoon we went to Peterborough with daughter Amie to meet son Richard and friends for an evening meal in Carluccio’s. We had hoped second son Mike might be able to join us, but unfortunately he couldn’t get out of work. Peterborough was looking very festive with its Christmas lights; even the ‘Ogre’s House’, as my children used to (still) call the Buttercross, was lit up for the season. We had a lovely evening: this has become a tradition now: instead of buying presents we meet up and enjoy being in each other’s company, much better than another unwanted pair of socks or something. Snow wasn’t a problem on this journey either; but coming home there was thick, thick fog in the descent from the summit of the M62 into Saddleworth. I was glad I wasn’t driving, it was nasty. It was midnight as we climbed the stairs to bed.

On Thursday I went to pick up my new specs from Specsavers only to find the broken pair repaired and ready to collect as well! So I could have saved myself the expense of the new pair. Hey ho! I spent the rest of the day preparing for a visit from my friend Joan: Christmas tree up, guest bedroom made up. This is another Christmas tradition. Joan comes for an overnight stay at this time of year and we visit my daughter’s restaurant, The Black Ladd, for the Christmas menu. We had a lovely evening: too much food, some more mulled wine, lots of chat. And Amie was at work, so that was a bonus, she joined us for some more chat. It snowed in a couple of flurries while we were there, but nothing disruptive. When we got up on Friday morning, there was a covering of snow on the cars, but the road was clear so we went out for breakfast to Albion Farm in Delph. I drove us there. Grains Road was covered in icy snow but by the time I realised, it was too late to change routes. It is a downhill road, quite a gradient, so it was a hair-raising drive, but by the time we got to Delph, the roads were clear again. I found a different route home. Joan went home after breakfast; Bill and I went into Manchester to do some last minute Christmas shopping and have a light lunch at Propertea. In the evening we went to the White Lion in Delph for Amie’s partner Angus’s 50th birthday bash. It was a good night. The birthday cake was an extravagant concoction of cream, cheesecake, chocolates and more cream; it was gorgeous. I haven’t eaten so much in months as I’ve eaten in the last week!

So, Saturday: I meant, I really did mean, to do some work to the critical aspect of the thesis; but my brain was switched onto Christmas, not at all conducive to serious academic work. I decided to get Christmas out of my head once and for all. Bill and I went into Oldham to finish Christmas shopping and to buy stamps for cards. When we got home we wrote our Christmas cards and got them ready to post. I hate that job, despite it being full of friends and family. I’m not organised enough, I think. Bill has a notebook with details of his Christmas card list going back decades. It includes ex-neighbours and work colleagues; he ticks them off as he receives cards every year. He writes dozens of cards. I write only for close friends and family, and that’s enough for me, just to let them know I’m still thinking of them even if we don’t meet very often. So that job is done now. In the evening we watched the Strictly final: well, I didn’t expect that: I won’t say too much in case you didn’t see it yet. What will I do with Saturday evenings now Strictly’s all over? I’ve been on a detoxing veg and fruit diet today to try to counter the culinary excesses of the week; so by bedtime I had a huge detoxing headache. I woke up with it still pounding it’s beat at 4.00 a.m. so I went back to sleep. I think it’s gone now; but tiptoe around me in case it comes back.

So that’s it then; a week full of poetry and Christmas. I’m relieved already to get back to normal, and Christmas still a week away! To my poem then, my sevenling that I learned about in David Morley’s workshop. The Sevenling is a poem with seven lines: two tercets and a single end line. The first tercet contains details of three things; the second tercet contains details of three other things, possibly in contrast to the first three. The single line ending is a sort of narrative summary. I like this; as you probably know from my fondness for the nonet, I like short, tight forms. Here’s a sevenling I wrote at the workshop. It’s not about anybody I know, it was a purely intellectual exercise to work out the form. It probably needs some work, but this is as it came out of my pen nib:



He lost these three essential things:
status, the respect of peers,
a knowledge of his own worth.

He found instead a hasty tongue,
a fist of stone,
a scorpion sting.

Lessened, he got by.

Rachel Davies
December 2017

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