On Monday evening, I went to the inaugural lecture, ‘Green Noise and Gravestones’, of Professor Jean Sprackland at Manchester Metropolitan University. There were lots of MMU/poet friends there supporting her. There were drinks and nibbles followed by Jean reading from her two new books, due to be published later this year: Green Noise, a collection of poetry, and These Silent Mansions, a collection of essays about graveyards. There was a wonderfully poetic essay about a slow-worm, with a fantastic, shimmering bronze photo, that she’d seen in a graveyard. I know about the slow-worm but I’ve never actually seen one. Jean writes beautifully about nature. One of my favourite poems of hers is ‘The Birkdale Nightingale’, a poem actually about the Natterjack toad. I heard a fantastic and memorable line from one of her new poems: ‘the strong life of the inert’. It was in a poem about her brother growing crystals, but it describes perfectly the objects I remember my mother by in some of my poems: spoons, churns, egg cleaning tools. Jean gave me permission to use the line, properly referenced obviously, in my thesis. It was a wonderful evening.
On Tuesday I was at my desk all day. I still hadn’t heard from Angelica about the writing I’d sent for feedback so I was reluctant to work any more on the thesis until I’d heard from her. I concentrated on the creative side of the work instead: my favourite aspect. I looked for the next poems I want to use in the thesis and did a fair amount of editing on them. Some were poems written specifically for anthologies, for instance ‘Like Penelope’, which I wrote for the Beautiful Dragons anthology Not a Drop inspired by the Ionian Sea. I took out the direct references to the Odyssey and placed it more squarely in the domestic: it was about my mother after all. I like editing poems I wrote some time ago: it’s a bit like a potter refining a piece of clay work, moulding and polishing it until it’s almost perfect. I also wrote a new poem, ‘Test Card’, about watching telly when we were kids and how Mum always fell asleep in front of the telly. Oh my, I am becoming my mother. I’m a part-time insomniac, but I always manage to doze when the telly’s on, even if it’s something I really want to see. I’ve taken to sky-plussing programmes I really want to watch these days, just so I don’t miss it. I’ll post the poem at the end of this blog: I don’t think it’s a poem that will earn its keep on its own, but it might fit into a collection or pamphlet.
On Wednesday it was my day at the Black Ladd. Although the snow has left most places on Saddleworth, apart from the lee of walls and shaded places, on Buckstones Road it is still piled high beside the road where the snow-ploughs left it; great banks of snow all grey and dirty and speckled with bits of tree that blew off in the high winds. Although snow is beautiful when it first falls in its soft whiteness, there is something really sad about dirty snow, as if it is totally uncared for and deserves a good bath and a new set of clothing. There is a saying up here that standing snow is ‘waiting for some more to join it’. I hope that isn’t true. I’m waiting for the heat wave we always get after a hard winter: always the optimist.
I had my feedback from Angelica while I was working at the Black Ladd. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for. She made it clear that she really liked my poems that I’d included, but didn’t understand why I’d made the thesis so autobiographical. It seemed like a new direction to her. I needed to use the poems to describe the mother-daughter relationship, in conjunction with the poetry of Hill and Petit and the work I’d already done on their poetry; but not to write it autobiographically. I was feeling thoroughly depressed when I went home, wondering where to go from here; wondering if I’d ever strike the right notes. How easily I fall into that ‘I’m worthless’ frame of mind. I felt like Macbeth: “I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Dramatic, yes; but apposite. I have to finish this thing because I’ve come too far; although on Wednesday night I felt like ditching the whole idea. I didn’t sleep on Wednesday night worrying about it. I spent the entire night going over it in my mind, planning what I could retain and what get rid of: I never considered deleting, just cutting and saving the autobiographical bits to use possibly in an introduction. On Saturday I was back at my desk re-planning, taking myself out of the work, planning to write it from a non-autobiographical distance. If I ever get this thesis written to anyone’s satisfaction you will hear the cheer go up from Saddleworth; wherever you’re living in the world. I re-read Coventry Patmore’s ‘Angel in the House’ to get me back on track. I know, it’s awful. Virginia Woolf said that ‘Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer’ and I needed to get to know my victim!
On Tuesday the postal entries to the Poets & Players competition arrived at my door. Viv, a colleague on the committee, had been administering them. So on Tuesday afternoon I went out to buy brown paper and a thank you card for Pascale, and an ink cartridge to replace the one emptied by printing off hundreds of competition poems. On Thursday I wrapped all the poems in cling film against the damp weather and then parcelled them up in brown paper and Sellotape with the thank you card for Pascale. I tied the parcel with string; and I took them to Oldham Post Office to send them on their way to Pascale’s home in Cornwall. A woman in the car park started singing ‘A few of my favourite things’ when she saw my ‘brown paper packages tied up with string’. It cost less than I thought it would for the postage. This was just about two reams of paper altogether, so a heavy parcel. It cost just over £17; when I sent the poems to Paul Muldoon in New York a couple of years ago it cost £80+; so I was happy with £17. I heard from Pascale that the poems arrived safely on Friday; so if you entered, rest assured that your poem is probably being read by Pascale as we speak. Thank you for your entry and good luck.
Here’s the poem ‘Test Card’, that I wrote on Tuesday this week. Not the best poem I ever wrote, but it does what I want it to do for its place in the thesis. Although, obviously, it isn’t about me. It’s just a poem.
ITV’s been a thing for three years
by the time Dad buys the television.
Suddenly the wireless is passé
and we’re watching George Dixon
—evenin’ all; we’re rocking
with Pete Murray, high-kicking
with the Tillers, falling for
Digger Dawson, hearing the call
Sitting in your chair by the fire,
head cocked to catch the words,
you’re asleep before DSI Lockhart
has even buttoned his gabardine.
Head nodding, mouth ajar,
soft snoring. We’re keeping quiet.
It’s way past our bedtime.