I’ve been reading Ruth Padel’s Silent Letters of the Alphabet this week. I came across it in the PhD thesis a friend lent me and it sounded like a good read so I ordered a copy from Amazon: £2.60 including postage. It said it was in ‘very good condition’, and it was. What it didn’t say was that it was a signed copy; so that was a surprise, and a real bargain. It contains a series of three lectures Ruth gave at Newcastle University, on what poetry is and how to improve the making of it. I recommend it as highly readable if you like to read or write poetry.
So that’s part of how I started my week this week, reading Ruth Padel. I also spent some time thinking how I was going to record my ‘Mind’ poem, ‘Meg’, for the podcast. I hoped to piggy-back on Hilary’s recording session, but she had completed it before I had chance to ask her! Her son’s a bit of a techie and he helped her. Andy Nicholson, who is making the podcast—do you ‘make’ a podcast?—has stayed in touch and I can record it via Skype or Facetime, so all is not hopeless.
Monday was the first run of the week, and it was raining a bit, but not enough to stop me running outdoors. It was my first 3mins spurts of running and I was dreading it; by the end of the week I was managing 5mins spurts and feeling very positive about personal achievement. I’m proud to say, I am beginning to enjoy it. Who’d have thought? Anyway, when I got home, I spent a couple of hours revisiting some early portfolio poems then got ready for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at No. 70, the MMU site on Oxford Road. We had a lovely discussion about my decision to convert to part-time for my remaining PhD time—a decision I have heard has been ratified. We talked about the change of format of my thesis, and I found that very useful because I’ve done a lot of thinking about it for a couple of weeks. I’m thinking a thematic approach based on the themes of my poems: relationships, roles, mirrors; and what Jean calls ‘thingy’ poems, poems in which I write about my mother through the things she used: a churn, spoons, knives cutting beans, her hands cleaning eggs. I had a much clearer idea of where I want to go after talking with Jean. And the best part of the meeting, she really liked the ‘alternative mother’ poems I sent her. I had numbered them: she felt they would be better with a title to give the reader a context and I agree, especially after the feedback I had about ‘Pope Joan’ from The Group. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road after the meeting. I met up with Hilary in Bundobust, an Indian street food restaurant off Piccadilly Gardens. We had a lovely banquet of vegetarian dishes and were thoroughly ‘bundobusted’ when we left for the short walk to Chapter One and The Group. We think we have found our new home. We were given a ‘fenced off’ part of the café to meet and discuss our writing. Great tea/coffee, monumental cakes and poetry: what’s not to like? I took my Boudicca poem; Rosie Garland took a poem about the venerable Bede; Hilary took a surreal poem she wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s workshop at the carousel in Grange in December; and Melissa took a section of a story about a young woman meeting her old teacher in a pub. There were just the four of us, but oh my! the writing was good. I was so buzzed up with poetry, and the positive meeting with Jean, I couldn’t sleep on Monday night. Poetry does that to you: it’s a drug.
Tuesday was a brilliant day. Back in October, Hilary and I invented CCP days: Cider, Cake and Paperchase. Tuesday was the second in the series. We got into Manchester about 2.30: Bill took me to the tram stop as the day involved cider. We went to the new Gino di Campo bar above Next for coffee. It’s a nice space: we sat in a window seat which deserves a better vista than the National Football Museum, whose glass and steel structure always looks completely out of place in that red-brick area of Manchester. Since Next’s refurbishment last year, there is now a Paperchase section in there: we visited that to whet our appetites before going on to the big store on Market Street after our first cider of the day in the Oyster Bar. We bought some paper in the sale for covers for a pamphlet of our poems we are preparing in time for a reading we have scheduled in York in February. I also bought a new travel pass wallet—a watermelon—and a set of emoji page markers. We went from there to Patisserie Valerie for a ‘groupon’ afternoon tea; but they were out of afternoon teas—how is that possible? We were told we could ‘choose any sandwich and cake from the counter’: not the same thing at all! So we saved our ‘groupon’ for another day and went to Wagamama to eat instead. They didn’t sell cider so we had to improvise with a beer.
Wednesday a treadmill run: the rain was lashing down like knives. It was my day doing the books at Amie’s restaurant. While I was there I had an email from Atrium to say they were taking my poem ‘Mary R’, one of my ‘alternative mother’ poems. It will be on the webzine in May; so that was wonderful news. That’s the third of them that’s been accepted for publication so far.
On Thursday evening we met up with Hilary and David at Stocco for an Italian meal before going to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham where we met Hilary’s sister, Cath. We went to see Lemn Sissay reading his one-voice verse drama Something Dark inspired by his early life in foster-care and children’s homes; and his search for his birth family. It was funny and sad; I was appalled to learn his foster father had been a teacher: so little compassion! It was a great night: Lemn is always really entertaining, his ad lib humour is brilliant. By the end though, I wanted to go on stage and give him a hug! The show ended with a Q&A session.
Friday, the last run of the week: it was a beautiful, bright morning. If all winter days were like this one, I could just about bear it; but we seem to live under a permanent pall of cloud on Saddleworth from September to June! Friday was one of those winter days when you feel spring is not far away. I ran the donkey track and had a smug feeling of personal achievement all day. I had a dental appointment at 10.20 to discuss my options re the root canal. The infection is cleared up; so it seemed weird to be discussing the next step when I don’t seem to need a next step. But the dentist said the infection will come back, soon or two years down the line and we need to consider future treatments. He outlined the options, none of which sounded appealing. I told him I would think about it and discuss it again at my routine appointment in May. That’s one to look forward to, then! It was such a lovely day I decided to have my car mini-valeted. I left it with the car wash while we went to Oldham for lunch; it looked lovely when I picked it up two hours later. The sun was shining on its brown paint, really showing up the gorgeous red glittery bits; the inside was spotless; and all for a tenner. In the evening I went out for a meal with Joan. We went to Glamorous, lovely Chinesemeal; and there was a baby at the next table who looked very like Joan’s granddaughter; so she was happy.
Yesterday I began to plan my thesis in detail following the discussions with Jean. I need to bite the bullet and start writing really; but I can’t seem to get going. I literally don’t know where to start. But as Chairman Mao said, ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’, and sooner or later I’m going to have to take that step. But it feels like one giant step for womankind, so I planned. I think this journey will probably start with some poems: one day soon I’ll take that step and there’ll be no stopping me. I also had a lovely rejection email from the Breakwater Review. Oh, I know a rejection is never lovely really; but they said very positive things about the two poems I sent them, just they’re not right for them. They encouraged me to send the poems to other publications and asked me to send more work to them in future. So that’s a lovely as a rejection slip gets.
Here’s one of the poems I reworked this week. It was inspired by the family ritual of making butter. It was a whole family affair: dad milked the cows, we siblings churned the cream, mum made the butter pats attractive for market.
See the churn, a pot-bellied pig on wood block feet
scrubbed, sterilized, the iron handle fixed to paddles.
It has the sicky smell of breast fed babies. Now,
hear the cream shushing like the tide as the handle
turns the paddles. Enthusiasm becomes effort
in the sweat and ache of cream thickening.
Pass the handle to the next sibling in line, up to Big Sis
the alchemist who churns base cream into gold.
Watch the ceremonial handing over of butter to mother
to knock into shape with wooden pats on a cold board,
see the magic of that emerging image of yellow, rolled, ridged
its wheatsheaf or thistle print, its bold statement of luxury.