I’m Fine With February…

…well, I’m not, actually: I hate it. But I’m using a psychological approach to it this year to find the positives. Mostly so far, they involve the fact that the days are getting longer, and that can’t be bad. Spring is on the way, I keep telling myself.

On Sunday last I meant to do some work, but when I sat down to have breakfast, the first ball was being served in the men’s final at the Australian Open. How could I not watch Roger Federer in a record-breaking 20th grand slam final, his 6th Australian Open? Marin Cilic looked a bit of a push-over in the first set, but he learned how to fight back and it went to the full five sets. I was so pleased to see Federer win in the end, he’s such an elegant player; and his emotional acceptance speech shows how much it still means to him. I’ve loved watching him play for twenty years. And he’s not done yet. He has earned the nick-name The Goat (the Greatest Of All Time) apparently, and you can’t argue with that. I did make a start on my thesis while I was watching: I decided on three poems that will form the start of it, so I wasn’t entirely work-shy. I never did get down to it in any serious way though. I’m a bad person!

On Monday I went with Hilary to York for the launch of the Beautiful Dragons Press anthology Noble Dissent. We each have poems in there. It’s a collaborative response to Brexit, to Trump’s inauguration and to yet more Tory austerity. Hilary’s poem is about Annie Kenny, an Oldham suffragette; mine is a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem ‘Girl’; it depicts a political agent coaching a candidate in ‘successful’—for ‘successful’ read ‘dodgy’—practice. The train to York was delayed by the wrong kind of freight train on the line; but we reached York in time for tea at Betty’s before the event. It was a small meeting, but vibrant; seven of us there reading our own poems and the poems of absent friends. We had time to discuss the politics behind the poems and it was a good evening all round.

Tuesday I got down to some serious work. I actually started the writing of my thesis. It begins with the three poems I chose on Sunday, with reflections on them and on the whole mother-daughter relationship thing. It all feels too personal at the moment, but there, I’ve done it, I’ve started writing. I can edit later. At about 11.00 Hilary came round to help me record my poem ‘Meg’ for Andy Nicholson’s podcast for the launch of Please Listen To What I’m Not Saying, an anthology of poems to raise funds for mental health charities. I’ll post details on here when I have them in a couple of weeks. We recorded three or four other poems as well, for future podcasts. I was grateful for Hilary’s help. The recordings got to Andy OK too; and I had a listen in to the copies Hilary sent to me. I hate the sound of my own voice. I don’t think I sound like that at all.

After lunch I spent time preparing for the Stanza meeting in the evening. It was a writing session this week and I had to step in at the last moment when a friend sent apologies for illness. I came up with an activity from one of the prompt books I bought last year. This week we went back to our old haunt, the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. It felt good to be back. We had three very different writing activities producing some interesting writing: another good evening of poetry.

Wednesday I had a meeting with the accountant to check the VAT at Amie’s restaurant. There was snow on the ground when I left home. It was that kind of snow that’s like tiny snowballs stinging your face when they hit; but it was very local snow, because when I got to The Black Ladd—less than a mile away—there was none. Anyway, I’ve been having trouble with online banking for a couple of weeks so we rang Natwest to sort it out. Turns out they’re having trouble with Safari and Google Chrome and if I download Firefox it’ll be fine. Am I, or are they, missing the point here? If they know there’s a problem—where there has never been a problem in the past—shouldn’t they be sorting it out? I don’t want to download Firefox, I want it to work with Safari again, as it always has until a couple of weeks ago. I did manage to get it to work on Explorer, on the laptop I use for the accounts, so that’ll have to do for the time being. All that used up time I don’t have, so it was well past 5.00 when I left for home, about three hours later than usual. Bill cooked tea—jacket potatoes, nothing too demanding—I needed a bit of pampering.

On Thursday I was doggy-sitting for Amie’s two Cockerpoos. I took my work with me. I had a very productive morning working on my thesis and I was quite pleased with what I achieved. I revisited the writing I did on Tuesday, reorganised it a bit and added to it, made it less personal, so now I have more than a thousand words I’m quite pleased with: it’s probably still a bit too personal, but I can work on it. The thing is, I’ve made a substantial start and that’s important. It’s going to get easier now. I took the dogs out for a longish walk just before lunchtime; or they took me? How can two closely related Cockerpoos be so different in temperament? Sonny, the younger one, is energetic, excitable; Cooper, the older brother, is sedate and organised. Sonny looks up to him and copies everything he does: if Cooper sniffs a spot, Sonny has to sniff the exact same spot; if Cooper explores under a bramble, in goes Sonny. It was a lovely walk, blew some cobwebs away. After lunch I did some online research into ‘The Wife of Bath’ for a poem I’m planning for my ‘alternative mothers’ series. I’m rereading Chaucer’s prologue and tale, in Victorian translation, not the middle English original of course. She’s a feisty old bird, I took lots of useful notes.

Saturday, more work. I updated my Poets & Players competition spreadsheet. Entries are coming in thick and fast. You have until the end of the month to get your poems in, so come on, give me some work to do: https://poetsandplayers.co
I did some reading around presence, absence, absence in presence etc. for the thesis. All very confusing, but it’s a thread I’ve made for myself. There is no end to this research thing, always another path to slink down. After lunch I was back at my desk, drafting my ‘Wife of Bath’ poem. I’ve called it ‘Alysoun’, after her Christian name in the prologue. I know, she appears to be childless in the prologue. But she was married at 12 to an old man; so I have imagined her having a secret baby in a convent prior to being married off. Poetic licence? Well, Geoffrey doesn’t actually say she didn’t have children, so it’s plausible. And she definitely enjoys a full-on sexual experience. I had thought I’d have real fun writing this, a feisty daughter for a feisty mother. But it has actually written itself as a very dark piece, a poem full of resentment. I love it. I’ll be taking it to The Group on Monday for feedback.

So, another week on the road to PhD. I heard this week that my end date now is 21st May 2019. So I have a year and a bit to complete it, a bit more breathing space. But I must learn to knuckle down and not be waylaid by the likes of Roger Federer. He might be good to look at, but he is not the path to success. Prevarication is the thief of time; or something.

I’ll leave you with a little poem I wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s surreal ride on the poetry carousel in December. It sort of sums up how PhD can take over your life to the detriment of other stuff. It was literally a series of random thoughts; although it was obviously dredged from the unconscious, because it was only when I re-read it this morning that I saw the connections: the slut’s wool, the words ‘defying their right to be constrained in ink’, feeling trapped behind my own eyes. I hope this PhD angst is all worth it in the end.

 

Random Thoughts

slut’s wool under the brain’s bed
words defy their right to be constrained in ink
each new day a wiped board
my eyes the windows I stand behind watching others being free
the train’s hooter a clarion to unexplored spaces
in an ideal world every day would be followed by Saturday

 

Rachel Davies
December 2017

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