Happy British Summer Time, World

A bit late today: I lost an hour’s sleep last night, and every hour is precious to a part-time insomniac.

Life and poetry this week: PhD has been a side-show, only a slim opening in some of the poems I’ve written. On Sunday I tried to do the homework I brought home from Amie’s restaurant. I had three bank statements to reconcile with the accounts. But I couldn’t do it because the laptop had upgraded itself again to a later version of Windows and Sage wouldn’t open. Again. So I had to do a system restore—again— before I could do the work. By which time it was so cold in the office with the snow falling outside and drifting over the study windows, I decided to park myself by the fire in the lounge until the weather improved; even if that wasn’t until May.

On Monday it was Amie’s routine check-up at the Christie. Oh my, it was cold when she came to collect me at 9.00. I waited for her on the top road, and I had to sit in my car, parked up there in the snow. The wind was making me cry and it was cold enough, I felt, to freeze the tears. I’m pleased to report that the consultation went very well and she has been moved to twelve monthly check-ups now, with an oncology clinic at the six-months point to keep her under surveillance. This is good progress. A scan has been arranged: this is also for surveillance, to make sure this good progress is sustained.

Monday afternoon I met with two friends in Manchester Central Library to plan our week away in Scarborough in May. We are planning writing workshops in the mornings on three days, each of us leading on one of the days. There will be visits to York, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay on the other three days; each of us will set writing activities for one of the days we are out. I’m really excited about this, it will be a good week.

On Tuesday I went into Oldham Library for one of the free Poetry Society workshops launched by Prince William to commemorate 100 years since the end of WW1. The workshop was led by Ian Duhig and had the title ‘A Poem for Remembrance’; but it wasn’t a workshop about the war, it was about personal trauma and recovery. I met up with some poet friends who also took the opportunity for a quality free event. Ian asked us to write poems addressing our own traumas from different angles, not looking at them full-on as it were. Of course, our traumas weren’t as awful as war injuries, they were personal traumas we had felt in our everyday lives: love and loss, bereavement, separation trauma, bullying. I chose to write about something which I felt was too trivial to call trauma, but it has lived with me all my life. It was the bullying headteacher at my grammar school and his parting words to me when I left school at sixteen. I’ve spent a lifetime with his words, proving them wrong; he is a big part of the reason I embarked on the PhD in the first place. I’ll post the poem, very early draft, at the end of this blog. I should say a big thank you to the Poetry Society for offering these workshops free of charge: this one really was interesting.

I took my car to be cleaned on the way home. Oh my, it was filthy; it looked like a farm vehicle, the driver’s side covered in sprayed salt and muck from the Oldham Road, where it had been parked since Saturday because of the snow. By Tuesday afternoon I was able to park it on the drive again: only the most determined snow was still lying by the side of the lane and in the lee of the wind. At 4.00 my friend Joan came and we walked to a nearby pub, The Printers Arms, for an early evening meal. We’ve been meeting up for monthly meals since we met in 1995 at a hotel on the shores of Lake Como. Twenty three years, Joan; it seems like only last week. We’ve laughed a lot in that time. How tempus does fugit.

On Wednesday I was up early; really early. I was determined to reconcile the bank statements before going into the Black Ladd, even if it killed me trying. I hate having outstanding jobs hanging like Damocles’ sword. Luckily I’d left the Sage software open, and Windows hadn’t upgraded again. It took me an hour, but eventually I had a zero in the ‘outstanding’ box. So it’s done and I was a happy book-keeper when I went into work for the day. I was less than happy when I came home from work because the Sage programme, while working OK on the books was sticking when I asked for a VAT report. I tried a couple of times, closed the programme and tried again. I was concerned because I hadn’t done a back-up of the day’s work yet and was worried I was going to lose everything I’d entered. I’m happy to report that I eventually affected a back-up but still can’t manage a VAT report. I’ll need the accountant to see if she can sort it when she comes for the quarterly VAT meeting: she’ll need to run a VAT report then. How computers are wonderful things until they get arsey and won’t do what you ask them!

On Thursday I heard from Andy Nicholson that the podcast of my poems, recorded a few weeks back, is up and running on his website. I’m recorded reading five of my poems: check it out here: https://spokenlabel.bandcamp.com/album/rachel-davies-spoken-label-march-2018

Thursday evening we went into Oldham to see the live screening of the National Theatre’s ‘Julius Caesar’. David Morrisey was earthy as Mark Anthony; and Ben Wishaw absolutely stole the show, in my opinion, as Brutus. I loved it. The setting was modern: it began with a rock concert victory rally. The screening was from The Bridge theatre in London, beside Tower Bridge. The theatre is like a modern Globe, with space for ‘groundlings’ in the audience. The groundlings became the Roman crowd. It was so well done that now I want to go there to see a live performance. They are live-screening ‘Macbeth’ from there on May 10th: if you get chance to see it, you just must cancel anything else you have planned for that evening and get yourself to a cinema near you. You won’t be disappointed. I bought my tickets as soon as we got home.

Saturday was another day dedicated to poetry. It was the Poets & Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The day began with a Hannah Silva workshop. How good was that? Not like any workshop I’ve ever done before. We had lots of practical activities around sound making, use of voice and performance: good fun with a serious application. There was only one writing task: to think of our lives being watched by a neighbour and to write a poem based in a series of six or seven questions she asked us. This might well become another ‘alternative mother’ poem. When we read our work at the end of the workshop, Hannah cleared a performance space at the front of the room. We read our poems to the group; then she asked us to read them again in a particular style: as a barrister summing up his case; or in anger; or shout out every fourth word etc. It was useful for seeing your poetry in a different light for performance.

After a lovely lunch in the Whitworth café, the performance event in the afternoon was another jewel. Kathryn Mason and Alice Roberts, students from the Royal Northern College of Music, gave us harp duets to start both sessions of the event. In the first half, Hannah Silva performed her poetry in line with stuff she’d talked about in the morning workshop. She didn’t read; she had no paper or books. She performed from memory with the aid of a wonderful little pedal device on which she recorded appropriate voice sounds at the start of a poem, then played them as background to her words. I don’t know what the pedal device was called, but I’d love to have a play with one. It was fascinating, and her poetry is powerful. One of the poems, ‘Pain’, from her collection based in the novel 50 Shades of Grey, took every reference to pain from the novel and put them all together to make the poem. Another was a pastiche of lines from other poets containing the word ‘air’. This was exciting poetry: I loved it. In the second session Anthony Rudolf read from his collected works: he has been writing and translating poetry for more than fifty years, so it’s a big collection. His approach to performance was much more traditional than Hannah’s but it was interesting to hear a long-established poet present his work. The next P&P event is on April 21st, with Imtiaz Dharker and Karen Macarthy Woolf. Karen will run the morning workshop: find out more here: https://poetsandplayers.co/future-events/

So. This is my poem, written at Ian Duhig’s workshop. It’s a poem about bullying; about the abuse of power; about making someone feel less than they are. He was a horrible man.

Remember, this is very early draft:

Grammar School B Stream

 Your handkerchief is how we know you
You rely on it in lessons:
when we answer your questions
you gob your derision, an unset yolk
in an albumen of phlegm, into the cotton square,
crumple it into your trouser pocket.

You have a thousand words for worthless
and in five years I’ve caught them all.

So. The last day. I come, excited,
to shake your hand and leave.
I assume you’ll let me go without wounds.
I have my dream job. I am proud of myself.
But pride comes before a fall
and I’ve underestimated you.

Your handkerchief, a neatly folded triangle
in your breast pocket,
is handy to catch your venom.
You fire your words
like pellets from a spud-gun,
each one hitting the bull’s eye.
The sharpest I hear is gutter, the place
I’ll end up, you say,
for talking to a boy from
the secondary modern school.
Your words still sting
as you wave me away.

Rachel Davies
March 2018

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