On not reacting too quickly

Sunday was Mothers’ Day. I had cards from all my lovely children, including the cats. I had gifts that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: theatre vouchers, flowers, a Blue Tooth beanie with built in headphones and a designer belt for getting back to my running. The most poetic gift though, was toilet paper with Donald Trump’s face on every sheet. A perfect franchise idea, in my opinion.

After last week’s blog, I had lovely feedback from friends who are also doing PhD or have recently completed. Offers of coffee and chat; reminders that it is my PhD and I can present it pretty much as I want; recommendations of relevant books to support that take; and this, which sums up very nicely how I was feeling last week:

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So on Sunday I thought a lot about what I should do with Angelica’s advice re the ‘too autobiographical’ feedback. I decided to do nothing until I’d read a book recommended by Angi Holden PhD: Practice as Research in the Arts (ed Robin Nelson). I downloaded it to my Kindle. But I took Sunday off in honour of the day. Prevarication again!

On Monday I genuinely meant to go running again; I’ve let it slide, what with the foul weather and being away, but I decided to pick up a bit behind where I left off. Unfortunately it was lashing with rain and blowing a hooley when I got up so I postponed the pain. Yes, I’m a lightweight! Instead, though, I did settle to work. I wrote another ‘alternative mother’ poem so I had something new to take to The Group in the evening. Amie called in for a brew in the afternoon to make up for having had to work on Mothers’ Day. When she left I went into Manchester to meet Hilary for food in Bundobust before going on to The Group at Chapter One Books. Hilary has just got her MA results: MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from MMU. I gave her a card I bought when Bill and I went to Glasgow a few weeks back. I was always confident she’d get a distinction: she’s a very good poet.

The Group was lovely, as ever. Seven very good writers sharing work for feedback. The ink was barely dry on my ‘alternative mother’ poem. I got useful feedback: I had used ‘white’ too many times, could I find other ways to say what I was saying? Could I form it more regularly—it’s a poem about OCD? It shows how important it is to take new work to  workshops: you don’t take time to tidy it up, so don’t notice things. I’ll be working on it again in the light of their feedback.

On Tuesday I had to go into Uppermill for two appointments. I parked at the Newbank nursery at Dobcross and walked in along the canal. I ran the canal path on the way back to my car. It hurt. When I got home I dedicated the day to reading Practice as Research… I’m so pleased I did, it helped to get the feedback I had from my supervisor into some kind of perspective. Practice in the arts can be research, be it performance, composition—or creative writing; it needs rigorous planning and focus, obviously, but it should be recognised as such. I realised while I was reading that it will be hard for me not to be autobiographical when I’m reflecting on my own poetry: a good deal of it is grounded in my life. I can be objective and detached talking about Selima’s work, or Pascale’s, but I’m too close to my own poetry to detach myself from it and see it only as text. I’ll finish reading the book before I do anything rash, I decided.

Wednesday was a bit of a nightmare: the Sage software wouldn’t load on the Black Ladd laptop to allow me to do the books. I contacted the accountant: I had the software from them. I was getting an error message about ‘permission to use it on this machine’. Grrr! I had permission last week, so why not now. I didn’t get a very helpful response from the accountant: no response at all in fact. So when I’d done all I had to do without the software I decided to try a system recovery. I reasoned that the software wasn’t working now, so what was the worst that could happen? It transpired that Windows 10 had updated itself in my absence to a later version which didn’t recognise Sage. When I effected a system recovery, restoring an earlier version of Windows 10, Sage loaded with no problems. So I was quite proud of myself because I know very little about the anatomy of IT, just how to do what I do. Of course, that took most of the morning to resolve, so I was behind in the work. It was late afternoon before I got home. Bill had put jacket potatoes in the oven, which was good because I was out again at 5.30 to go to an MMU event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation: a talk and poetry reading around the theme of the body and ‘selfies’. Dr Ann Burns gave a talk about the selfie, specifically the ‘duck-face selfie’ and its negative reaction on social media. This was the focus of her PhD—no really, you can get a PhD about ‘duck-face’! And it was fascinating stuff. Judgemental trolls attack women for posting selfies, apparently, a manifestation of women being only what men think they should be. I felt duty bound to flood social media with my own ‘duck-face’ selfies, even though I think they are ridiculous. Why shouldn’t women post duck faced pouts if that’s what moves them. Andrew Macmillan read his wonderful poetry: what an asset to the Writing School he is; and Nicholae Duffy gave a talk about Andy Warhol’s exhibition of ‘stillies’: full-face videos of people sitting and doing very little. It was a fantastic night. Hilary and I posted a ‘double duck-face’ on the MMU Writing School FB page while we waited for the tram at St Peter’s Square. Childish? I know. But also a valid and very intellectual reaction to the evening (insert smiley faced emoji).

On Thursday I had a Poets & Players lunchtime planning meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road. This is where we hold our poetry and music events through the year. The next one is this Saturday. If you can come, you will be very welcome: high quality music and poetry for free. Yes, FREE! So do come if you can. Details here: https://poetsandplayers.co We are slowly getting our year’s events together; some exciting stuff to come, so keep in touch with the website for news.

On Saturday it was the launch of the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology Noble Dissent. This collaborative anthology was conceived in 2016 as a reaction to the election in that year of the Trump and the (in my opinion) disastrous vote to leave the EU. It is a wonderful collection, a celebration of ‘dissenters’ through history. Hilary and I both have poems in the anthology and we braved the Saddleworth snow to drive to Lancaster for the launch. The ‘minibeast from the east’ was doing its worst when we left home, but we were pleased that there was no snow beyond Oldham. There were a couple of light snow showers in Lancaster, but nothing (un)settling. We spent the whole day in the library soaking up the poetry day of the Lancaster Litfest. Readings from Rebecca Bilkau, Rhiannon Hooson, Kate Fox and Hannah Hodgson were my highlights. We only left the room to look for coffee during a break at lunchtime. We had taken an all-day picnic, so we didn’t have to search for food. Just a day of good poetry. Lovely.

The drive home wasn’t so pleasant as the drive there, though. The minibeast exposed its sting from Bolton onwards: blizzard conditions and drifting snow: and windscreen washers frozen over! So we were particularly pleased to reach home. Hilary did the driving and she was brilliant. If you’re thinking of swapping your car any time soon, I can recommend a Mazda: it handled beautifully in the snow even though it doesn’t have 4WD. It took us about an hour longer to get home than to get there, but we did get home. Bill had lit the fire and the slow-cooker casserole I’d prepared before I went was warm and delicious smelling. It was good to be home. I have no idea what the weather is doing at the moment because the windows are all blocked with blown snow. I am on the third floor of our house at the moment, so I’m guessing we’re not buried in a snow-drift; but you never know. I can hear the wind roaring. I can hear a hot brew calling me too. So here’s the poem I wrote on Monday, unedited, not yet redrafted, a poem in its raw, first draft state. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Perhaps I’ll post it again next week when I’ve worked on it some more.

Alternative Mothers #15

 Julia

 whenever I see—
a girl’s model police car with a red light on the roof
or colouring-in that seeps out of the lines
or a boy’s drawing of his mum with arms growing from her ears
or a story that ends then I woke up
or the misplaced apostrophe in Fish and Chip’s…

whenever I see—
odd socks with running shoes—one white one striped
or Adidas gym tights with a Reebok top
or white stilettos with thick black tights
or the wrong pocket in a dress from Pause a Second
or one blue button sewn among the right ones on a white blouse…

whenever I see—
a five leafed clover
or an albino hedgehog
or  snow turned mushy
or a green chrysanthemum
or a blackbird’s white tail feather
or an extra chromosome in a child’s make-up
or bottle-bottom lenses, hearing aids, a wheelchair…

I think of that Christmas and you
throwing away two dozen mince pies hot from the oven
because mincemeat juice has bubbled out
from the geometrically measured hole in your
precision-placed lids.

 

Rachel Davies
March 12th 2018

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