Trains and Golden Shovels

It’s 6.00 a.m. and I’m writing this from a hotel room in Birmingham. I’m here for the Verve Poetry Festival. It’s the end of a very good week. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even fitted in a run this week. I haven’t given up on the NY resolution though, just too much else going on.

On Sunday it was dog-sitting day again: a couple of long, snowy walks. By the time we went home at 9.00 p.m. there was much snow on Saddleworth roads and a hair-raising drive home. This was worrying because on Monday we were due to travel to Glasgow and it looked as if we might be snowed in. But there was no extra snow overnight and we were taken to the station in a 4×4 car, so apart from a short delay at Piccadilly we were OK. We were in Glasgow by 1.00 p.m. We went to the Museum of Modern Art, walked to George Square, where the striking ship-workers had raised the red flag in the early twenties and had afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, the décor designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The chairs are designed for aesthetics, but not so much for comfort:

Buchanan-Street-02

Yes, that is the tops of heads you can see: the chairs are very tall and double as screens to afford some privacy to customers. We had five hours in Glasgow, so only time for a taster; we are definitely up for a weekend break at some time in the future. I had bought first class tickets on the train for Bill’s birthday: it wasn’t a first-class journey. The heating failed in our carriage—it was ‘toasty warm’ in the other carriages apparently—and we rode home togged up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves!

On Tuesday I met Hilary for coffee. We discussed the hand-stitched pamphlets we’re preparing for our reading in York on Feb 22nd. In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours processing entries for the Poets & Players competition:
https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2018-closing-date-28-february-2018/ As you can see, there are still ten days to get your entries in, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday evening, Hilary and I went to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for ‘A Body of Words’, a talk/reading around food and the body. Kelsie Silverstone read some poems and talked about her fund-raising commitment to ‘Beat’, an eating disorder charity. She is planning a sponsored head-shave: if you would like to support Kelsie, her Just Giving page can be found through this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kelsie-silverstone
Dr Angelica Michelis gave a talk about “the relationship between eating/non-eating bodies and how food, its consumption, digestion and rejection tell us stories about desire, abjection, fear and pleasure, in short – stories about our selves/ourselves.” (ref IABF website). Malika Booker read her wonderful poetry, a modern Carribbean take on Bible stories. It was an interesting and thought provoking evening.

Wednesday daytime was taken up with the accounts at the Black Ladd. Of course, it was Valentines Day. I don’t subscribe, seeing it as yet another way for consumerism to put my money into the pockets of people who don’t need it as much as I do. However, we did go out to eat, prior to seeing the live screening of RSC’s Twelfth Night at the Odeon in Oldham. Oh my, it was good. Ade Edmondson played the pompous and down-fallen Malvolio. He was impressive; but my favourite performer was Beruce Khan playing Feste. If you get chance to see it, don’t miss it, either live in Stratford or live screened to a cinema near you.

Thursday was taken up with stuff that must be done before I could come away on Friday: ironing, packing, processing competition entries, printing poems for the judge, hand-stitching pamphlets: there aren’t enough hours in a day. On Friday, Hilary and I travelled to Birmingham for Verve. On Friday evening there were fantastic poetry readings by Mir Mahfuz Ali, Sasha Dugdale and Karen McCarthy Woolf. Very different poets, but all good. The evening was chaired very efficiently, and with humour, by Jo Bell. I bought, and got signed, Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka a very challenging collection of poetry remembering Bangladesh’s bloody independence from Pakistan in 1971. I was particularly interested by this collection, because when I was a primary school head-teacher—1993 to 2003—my school served the Bangladeshi community in Hyde. Of course, I knew the history; but the harrowing human element, the extreme suffering of that history, is addressed in this collection.

Saturday was a full-on day. We had breakfast at the hotel then took the fifteen minute walk to Waterstones for a day of poetry at the festival. It started with a poetry breakfast, which didn’t include a second breakfast, but it did involve poetry. It was an introduction to the weekend. I had to leave after half an hour because I had a workshop booked with Karen McCarthy Woolf. This was about form, especially little known poetry forms: who has heard of the ‘gramofand’ for instance? Not me. It’s a form that makes near-anagrams of the title of a poem in the end words of its lines—I think. There is an example in McCarthy Woolf’s first collection An Aviary of Small Birds. ‘Emotions’ plays with that title throughout the poem. But mostly we were exploring the ‘golden shovel’, a form where you take a striking line from a published poem and use the words of that line as end-words of the lines of your own poem. I’ve experimented with this form before, but we studied it in more detail yesterday. We even heard a wonderful recording of Gwendolyn Brooks reading ‘The Pool Players’, the short poem that inspired Terrance Hayes to invent the form in the first place: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55678/the-golden-shovel

I had an afternoon free after the workshop so I walked around The Bullring, a mass of humanity on a Saturday afternoon, then walked back to the hotel for a brew and a glass of wine in the bar before returning to Waterstones for the evening readings by Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and Sandeep Parmar. Pascale read from Mama Amazonica, which was a real treat for me; Hannah Lowe impressed: she is funny and entertaining and her poetry is brilliant. She reminded me a lot of Kim Moore. I bought her collection Chan, which she signed for me. Sandeep read from her collection Eidolon, a modern retelling of the Helen of Troy myth, questioning the patriarchal interpretations of history. The Q&A session after the readings was interesting. After a short break there was another event, the Out-Spoken Press showcase, with interesting readings by ‘performance’ poets. My favourite was Bridget Minamore’s reading from her collection Titanic, reliving the breakdown of a love affair. It wasn’t all broken hearts and teardrops though; it was funny and poignant and her delivery was thoroughly entertaining. I might buy her collection today. Carribean food was served during the interval as well, compliments of the festival organisers. Well, even poets need to eat. The vegetable curry was lovely. We were so buzzed-up by poetry that it was well after midnight before we were ready for sleep.

And here I am, awake at 6.00 a.m. writing all about it. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned PhD once in this blog post. That’s because I haven’t been able to fit it in anywhere, except inside my head. It is a constant psychological presence, and the notes I took from last night’s Q&A session, particularly Pascale Petit’s responses, were all with that in mind. I promise it will feature more next week, by hook or crook.

Here’s a poem, a ‘golden shovel’ I wrote for Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo last April—she’s planning another event for this April if you’re a poet and you’re on Facebook and you fancy it. My ‘shovel’ takes that famous opening line from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Morning Song’ and uses the words of that line as the end words of the lines of my poem ‘Making Cakes’. After yesterday’s workshop, it would probably be a different poem, but it was my first ‘golden shovel’. I’ll try harder in future, I promise.

 

Making Cakes
after Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’

When I think of you baking, it’s about love—
the way you lay out your ingredients, set
out bowls and spoons before you begin. You
work in your own way, no recipe, say going
to a recipe book is a waste of time—shortcuts like
weighing eggs, then equal measures of butter, sugar, flour: a
perfect Victoria sponge, this is your way. Your cakes are fat
monuments to Demeter, spread with jam and that gold
impersonator, buttercream. I’ll just pull up a chair to watch.

 

Rachel Davies
April 2017

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