Monthly Archives: April 2018

Boiled eggs and Christ the homeless

I love retirement, it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I hear some people say they feel worthless, they’re bored, lonely, ‘finished’ now they’re retired. I feel sorry for them: my retirement revolves around poetry, friends and study. Everyday is a new experience and I love it. Poetry, PhD and friends: this week has been full of all three.

On Sunday I worked on the thesis. Every time I work on it, I see alternative—better—ways of presenting it. I must be an action worker, because I have had so many plans but when I put them into action I see alternatives; and yet I don’t see them until I start working on the plan. Does that make me a bad student; or a creative one; or a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants’ one? I am bringing the parts of thesis writing I have done over the last couple of years and putting them together in a cut and paste exercise. Obviously, this requires much writing to tie them all together in a fairly seamless whole. I’m enjoying it. The rub will come when I send it to the team for feedback. I’m running out of time now, only a year left to complete. My plan is to have a first draft final attempt ready to send to my supervisors before 12thMay, when I go to Scarborough for a poetry week with two friends. That way, I can concentrate on poetry and not have the thesis nagging me in the background while I’m away.

Monday afternoon I went into Manchester with Hilary Robinson to meet up with Polly Atkinson, the two friends I’m off to Scarborough with mid-May. We had a planning meeting, with Indian street-food at Bundobust. We went from there to Chapter One Books to The Group, the Monday evening writing group. This was Polly’s first Group; I hope it won’t be her last. There were five of us there this week. Four of us took poetry; Melissa took one of her quirky short stories. I took the ‘alternative mother’ poem I wrote about St Ives. I knew it wasn’t working. The feedback I got from Group was useful. I altered it in the week, made it about Basil Fawlty instead, cut the last stanza. It’s still not my best, but it works better than before. When I got home, I prepared all the anonymous poems into one standardised document and sent them out to Stanza poets ready for Tuesday’s meeting.

Tuesday, back to my desk for more PhD thesis. I was really pleased with the morning’s work; but immediately saw an alternative way of presenting it: not scrapping what I’d written by any means, but changing the order of the work, leading with a different sub-topic. Does anyone else work like this—constantly rethinking while you’re working? Thank goodness for the word processor, what a boon. When I did my first degree, everything was written by hand. How did we cope? Now, I just cut then paste the cut text at the end of the thesis, change it’s colour so I know I don’t want it there, but need to deal with it at a later date. It works for me, anyway. The hard bit is remembering not to delete anything: save it somewhere as something, you may need it sometime. In the afternoon I printed off and read the poems for Stanza. There were only four poems to read, but they were good ones. I took a poem about boiling eggs, with an underlying different message. It’s another poem from St Ives workshops: I’ll post it at the end of the blog this week. We went to the Buffet Bar for 7.30. Unfortunately one of the poets had sent late apologies, so we had four poems, but only three poets to discuss them this week. But it was good, deep discussion. They really were good poems and good poets talking about them. We are a small Stanza, but a good one. We are open to new membership if you fancy coming along. Our next meeting is on Tuesday 29thMay. Details will be here early in May:
We’ll be having a writing workshop at that session, so if you fancy coming, remember to bring pens/pencils and paper.

On Wednesday, after a fairly standard day at Amie’s pub/restaurant doing the books, Bill and I went into Manchester with Hilary and her husband, David. We went to the Royal Exchange for the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends event. Wow, what a great night that was. Carol Ann’s daughter, Ella, kicked off the action with a piece of drama, acting CAD’s poems from The World’s Wife. That was so good: it included improvised pieces of her own among her mother’s poems. Her presentation was brilliant: apparently she took it to Edinburgh Fringe last year. She has a first in drama from Cambridge, so she’s no slouch in the acting stakes. I think it was one of the best things I’ve seen at one of these events; and they’re always good. The second half was taken up with readings by Laureate’s Choice pamphlet poets: Natalie Burdett, John Fennelly and Keith Hutson. Natalie’s and John’s poetry was superb; and Keith is the ultimate performer, entertaining and funny. He has written for some of the best comedians in the business so he knows how to hold an audience. I bought a copy of The World’s Wife and got Carol Ann to sign it for a friend.

On Friday morning, early, I put together the poems I’ve worked on since our editorial meeting with Rebecca Bilkau a couple of weeks ago; and sent them off to her for our Dragon Spawn pamphlet. Later, Bill and I went into Manchester again; some business at the bank then lunch at ProperTea. I wanted to see the new sculpture of Christ so we walked to St Anne’s Square after lunch. The sculpture depicts a homeless man sleeping rough on a bench: the marks of the nails in his feet the only clue that this is Christ, although if you look closely you can make out a face in the folds of his blanket. A plaque by the artwork quotes the Bible: “Jesus said, I was hungry and you gave me food.”The work is by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz and is one of several in major cities around the world. Apparently Westminster City Council refused planning permission for a similar sculpture close to the Houses of Parliament. Too near the knuckle for ministers to see the effects of their cruel policies, I guess; turn a blind eye. You can read all about it here  and see it in St Anne’s Square, Manchester. Here is a photo I found in the MEN article:


Saturday I was back at my desk working on the thesis, so it’s been a very productive week. I now have about 12000 words. As Eric Morcambe very famously said, they’re not necessarily in the right order; but they’re there waiting to be drafted and redrafted until I’ve crafted something that will pay off all the hard work. Fingers crossed. What I need is some positive feedback from my support team and I’ll be a very happy PhD student indeed.

There you have it then; the typical week of a retired head teacher become poet become relentless student. Now, kettle on, I’ve earned a cup of tea.

Here’s the poem I took to Stanza for feedback. I wrote it to one of the prompts from Kim Moore and Helen Mort in St Ives. The prompt was to write about something mundane that really tells a different, deeper story. Here is my attempt. I hope you get its deeper meaning. But really, it’s about boiling eggs, isn’t it? Of course it is.


Boiling Eggs

Saucepan’s on the heat, water
covering two brown eggs begins
to boil. Set the timer to
three minutes. His egg must be soft.

Lift his egg into the Superman
eggcup. Set the timer
for a minute more.
Carry his egg to his place at table.

Lift your egg, test its doneness
by a short breath on the shell,
watch the drying patch
spread like fear.

Put your egg into the Fresian cow,
the eggcup he doesn’t like.
Watch him take a knife to
his egg, slice its head, watch yolk

and white over-run down the sides.
Tap your egg with the bowl of a spoon,
pick at shell fragments. Wait for his knife.
He has no patience with peelers.

Rachel Davies
April 2018

Ghost Trees and Arctic Wastes

What a busy week again! When I retired from my job as a primary headteacher one little boy said to me, ‘You’ll be able to go home and put your feet up now.’ I have to report, it hasn’t happened yet!

Sunday was all about travelling home from St Ives after a wonderful week of poetry with Kim Moore, Helen Mort and lots of lovely poets on the course. The same taxi driver who brought us to the hotel when we arrived collected us after breakfast and took us to St Erth station. He asked us what we’d been writing all week. When we told him poetry he asked if we had published any books. We told him about the Dragon Spawn book we have coming out later this year: he gave us his card and said he wanted to buy a copy. What a lovely man!

Did you know you have to pay for wifi on Cross Country Trains, even for the first hour? I’ve never had to pay for wifi on any train I’ve been on. So we were at Plymouth before I could post my blog last week: I’m too tight to pay a company which is too tight to allow wifi access for free. We upgraded to first class on the Cross Country train from Plymouth to Manchester for a very small payment: by the time we’d accessed the free first-class wifi for the five hour journey, had drinks and snacks on demand, it had paid for itself. And the extra space and relaxed atmosphere meant I got some work done on the way home, writing a new ‘alternative mother’ and revisiting Dragon Spawn poems in the light of my editorial chat with Rebecca Bilkau.

On Monday I went to yoga with my daughter Amie. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; but it was very gentle and I felt good after it. The rest of Monday was taken up with food shopping, unpacking and laundry. Tuesday was the day I got down to serious work. I worked on the thesis. I read previous writings I had done and cut and pasted bits I wanted to use in this new integrated approach. By lunch time I had achieved a rewrite of five and a half thousand words, using the pasted parts and writing them into the work I’d done already. And I redrafted most of the autobiographical excesses. I’ve written notes to myself in green or red to tell myself what I want to change or add or revise the order of. I was feeling very good about it when I stopped work for the day. I also looked for a book I borrowed from MMU library a couple of months ago. I thought it was on my desk, so it seemed a good excuse to return all the books on my desk to the bookshelves: I’m an untidy worker, but I usually know where to put my hands on things. I didn’t find the book anywhere on my desk. I thought my cat, Rosie Parker, might have knocked it on the floor behind the desk: she does that. I looked: no book. I even looked in the bedroom thinking it might have fallen off the chest beside my bed. I looked: no book. Just when I thought I might have to replace it from my own pocket, I decided to look along my PhD bookshelf. There was the book, put away in the most sensible place: that’s why I couldn’t find it then. I spent an hour skim-reading it and couldn’t even remember why I wanted to borrow it in the first place! There is a lesson there about organisation, I guess.

Wednesday was my day at Amie’s pub/restaurant, doing the books. I had a meeting with the brewery rep first thing, something about possible mismatch between delivery notes and invoices. It was fine. While I was setting up the laptop, it offered to upgrade. I asked it to wait an hour, the only option I was given. I didn’t want it to upgrade because I knew from past experience that Sage won’t open when it upgrades itself. I caught it trying a couple of times and delayed it, but I took my eye off the screen while I was talking to the rep and when I went back to my desk it was happily upgrading itself: 3% done, do not switch off etc. So I had to wait while it took all morning to upgrade thinking I would then have to downgrade it again to access Sage. But, although it did take a couple of hours to complete, Sage did indeed open, by which time I’d lost two hours of valuable work time, doing jobs I pretended were necessary to fill the time. I had to leave work at 3.00 because Bill and I had tickets to see an adaptation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the Lowry theatre in the evening. We had a plan to get there on Manchester’s wonderful Metrolink and eat before the performance. The play was interesting. Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams toss a coin at the start of the performance to see who will play Mary and who Elizabeth. Stevenson played Elizabeth on Wednesday. It is a very wordy play, not much action. The  very formal ‘dialogue’ felt like a lecture as characters gave us background information in a way that normal speech wouldn’t have done. But the minimal set was stark and perfect for the play. Act 5, I felt, should have been shorter; if Schiller had brought the play to my Stanza group, I would have said he needed to finish it with the death of Mary. The bit after that was excessive in my opinion, detracted from the drama of the moment. But I stayed awake throughout, and at the moment that is a bonus because I’ve been very tired, recovering from the microbe attack. So staying awake says a lot about how I was gripped. I love that period of history; and it has a strong link to my home town. Mary was originally buried in Peterborough Cathedral following her beheading in Fotheringhay Castle, until her son James I/VI moved her remains to Westminster.

Thursday I had to go back to the Black Ladd to finish the work I didn’t get done on Wednesday. Even so, I brought work home to do. I also took my car for its annual service on Thursday. Don’t you love it when they tell you you’ll get an emailed evaluation to complete and they ask you to score them 9 or 10 because anything lower than that will be a failure! Ha. On Friday evening I went out for dinner with my friend Joan, which I’m only telling you about because she loves a mention.

Saturday was the hightlight of a busy week. It was the Poets & Players workshop on Saturday morning, run this month by Karen McCarthy Woolf. It was a wonderful workshop about trees: lots of reading, discussing and writing. As a finale, we went out into Whitworth Park to look at, and write about, the Anya Gallacio ‘Ghost Tree’ sculpture, a stainless steel ‘tree’ that replaced a dead London Plane tree. I have mixed feelings about it. I love it in winter when all the trees are leafless skeletons. But in the summer it looks incongruous in its starkness:

Ghost Tree by Anya Gallicio; Whitworth Park and Art Gallery

In the afternoon we had music from Adam Fairhall and poetry readings from Nick Makoha, Karen McCarthy Woolf (I had the pleasure of introducing her) and the wonderful Imtiaz Dharker: I could listen to her poetry, read in her wonderfully calm voice, for months. What a fantastic line-up of poets that was. Our next event is the Competition celebration on May 12th, with Pascale Petit and our prize winners. There will be a workshop in the morning, led by lovely Jo Bell: details will be posted on our website:
Mike, if you want me to get Mama Amazonica signed for you, get it to me before May 12th.

To finish, I’m going to post a poem I wrote last week on the course. It is a recollection of an event at school when I was 11 years old. It is told from the point of view of the art teacher, who suffered a nervous breakdown in the middle of a lesson and walked out of school never to be seen again. Of course we didn’t know the background when we were eleven, it just seemed extraordinary, and something to talk about at breaks for several days after. But as a grown up woman, I can see she must have been in emotional pain: perhaps the stress of work; or problems in her marriage? Anyway, this is the poem; I hope it shows something of the confusion of an eleven year old, mixed with the more understanding knowledge of an adult.


First day of term

another new class,
thirty cuckoos wanting food,
sixty eyes sizing me up, sucking me dry.

I have nothing to give.
I won’t cry, I won’t.         I cry.
Paint Inuit, I say.

Paint igloos, paint vast arctic wastes.
They swallow this worm,
thirty holes in snow,

thirty angling Inuit, occasionally a catch.
What next, they cuckoo.
Paint another, I say, paint

polar bears, arctic foxes, a desert of ice.
They swallow this worm,
thirty polar bears.

What next, they cuckoo.
Paint Inuit, I say.
Miss, we’re sick of snow, they cuckoo.

I see their beaks opening
closing. Icebergs are the only food I have.
I walk out.

It’s over.
There’s no going back.


Rachel Davies
April 2018

Poetry and ‘Not’ Poetry

The view from my hotel bedroom, across Carbis Bay

I’ve been in St Ives for a week with some lovely people, the community of poets: old poetry friends: Hilary Robinson, John Foggin, Bernice Reynolds; and lovely new friends: Liz, Sally, Harriet. There’s no literary merit in a list of names, so I’ll just say everyone on the course was talented and kind, it was a fantastic week of poets, poems, reading, writing, discussing. It’s been terrific. Hilary and I left Manchester Piccadilly at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday and arrived at the hotel just before 6.00 p.m. Sunday evening was our own time, the poetry course started on Monday afternoon. We decided on an early night: I still wasn’t entirely over the tummy bug that had laid me low last week.

On Monday morning we walked into St Ives for a look around. We went to Tate Modern for a guided talk about the Virginia Woolf exhibition; although in truth it was a misguided tour: the tour guide talked about Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of Your Own’; and talked of Freud’s theory of the subconscious. Anyone who knows Woolf recognises the mistaken ‘Your’ in that title; and Freud talked of the Unconscious, not the subconscious. But still, it was interesting to listen to someone who appeared to know about the artwork. The Laura Knight landscapes were extraordinary, they could’ve been painted last week, and her portraits are legendary. So altogether it was a morning well spent. We bought a combined ticket to visit the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth museum within the week, so we still had the Hepworth to look forward to. We had a look around the shops in St Ives; I bought two long sleeve tee shirts from Seasalt, because I’d only brought warm clothing away with me and it was summer in St Ives.

The poetry course started at 4.00 p.m. with a joint workshop from Kim Moore and Helen Mort. Oh my, what two terrific poets to work with. The workshop focused on silence, white space, line breaks. It was only an hour long, to get us in the mood, but I got a decent, very short poem from the writing exercise. We were given one-liners from published poems and had to use that as a first line or the title of a poem. I got ‘a large silence’, and I wrote two pages of words before a very short poem—only thirteen words—formed itself.

After the evening meal, we all read a favourite poem by a published poet. I chose Simon Armitage’s specular poem from his collection ‘Out of the Blue’ (London: Enitharmon 2008). It is a series he wrote as a Channel 5 commission to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 9:11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. A specular poem is a poem that repeats itself backwards, as if in a mirror. The extraordinary thing about this particular one is that it’s a prose poem, a big block of print. You don’t realise it’s a specular poem for some time past the turn. The crafting in it is impeccable. After we’d all read our favourite poems—and there were some cracking poems people had chosen—we all dispersed to our beds.

After breakfast on Tuesday we had a workshop led by Helen Mort on ‘Saying the Unsayable’ in poetry. The best part for me was writing a ‘not’ poem, describing a difficult event as if it hadn’t happened. I’ll post the poem that came from this activity at the end of the blog. We had a free afternoon; I spent it drafting the morning’s poems onto my laptop. After dinner Kim and Helen gave us readings of their poetry, a master-class in presenting poetry to an audience.

Wednesday, a workshop led by Kim: ‘Who are you talking to?” looking at point of view and imagined audience. It was really about subverting the focus, ‘lying’ in poems, telling others’ stories as if they are your own. There were some really good poets on the course and the standard of work participants were prepared to share was very high. I wrote an eighteenth ‘alternative mother’ from this workshop, based on Alice in Wonderland. Hilary and I walked into St Ives for lunch after the workshop then we visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum. If you’re ever in St Ives, this is well worth a visit. The sculptures in the garden are particularly gorgeous. They cry out to be touched, and most of them you are allowed to touch: they are so smooth and curvily tactile.

Local based poet Katrina Naomi joined us for dinner and gave a reading in the evening. I wanted to stay and talk to Katrina after her reading: I really enjoyed her PhD thesis last year and I wanted to tell her so. But I still wasn’t entirely over the tummy bug from last week: and I just had to go to bed, I felt so tired. I fell asleep before I remembered I hadn’t even spoken to my partner, Bill.

After breakfast on Thursday we had a workshop—‘Leave it out’—with input from both Kim and Helen. It was about subverting the truth in a poem, how we write unpleasant experiences, find a way to address difficult subjects. I wrote about an art teacher I had when I was in the first year of grammar school. She had a nervous breakdown while she was teaching us, although we didn’t know that at eleven. She kept asking us to paint arctic scenes then just upped and left the classroom mid-lesson and never returned. I embellished the story to make it ‘tellable’.

We walked into St Ives in the afternoon because Hilary wanted to get some fabric she’d seen the day before; but we had to be back at 3.00 p.m. because we had individual tutorials with Helen Mort. We’d given her three poems earlier in the week and we met to get feedback on them, one-to-one. I’d given Helen a couple of my ‘alternative mother’ poems and I had some really useful feedback. The good news is, she really liked them; and it’s a good feeling when a poet as good as Helen Mort says positive things about your work. I had my first Cornish Cream Tea after the tutorial; it’s a mark of how much better I was feeling on Thursday. I hadn’t fancied a cream scone all week.

On Thursday evening we had a sort of poetry quiz. We’d been asked to submit a poem of our own, anonymously, and these were distributed among the group. We each read the poem we’d been dealt and then we had to try to decide which of us had written it. Obviously, we all got at least one right, because our own poems were in the mix; and Bernice, who is from South Wales originally, had submitted a poem with the huge clue of a Welsh cake in it, so most people—although not everyone—got that one right. At the end of the evening, these were the only two I’d guessed correctly, but Hilary won the prize for having five correct guesses. She won a Weetabix purloined from the breakfast buffet with some after-dinner mints left on the dinner table when the evening meal was done.

Friday we had a critiquing workshop. We all took one poem, either brought from home or one we’d written in the week, and received feedback from group members. I took the ‘Alice poem’ I wrote earlier in the week and I had lovely, positive feedback. Mostly they wanted more of it, so I’m committed to developing it. The standard of poetry we discussed was incredibly high. In the evening, course members held a reading. Each of us read two poems to the group. I chose to read two of my ‘alternative mother’ poems, including ‘Pope Joan’, which I’d been working on during the day; and one of the poems I’d taken to the tutorial with Helen on Thursday. I’d worked on it as a result of her feedback and it’s a stronger poem for the redrafting. It was a good night: everyone read some cracking poems, lots of different styles. It highlighted what a talented bunch of poets I’ve been working with all week.

After breakfast on Saturday, most people started to wend their ways home. Hilary and I had booked an extra night at the hotel because we’re in Cornwall and it seems wrong not to see something of the area while we’re here. We planned to go to Healey’s Farm, between Truro and Newquay, where they make Rattler Cyder, a favourite tipple of ours while we’re here. We were going to do some serious tasting. But it takes about three weeks to get there on public transport so we decided to give it a miss and visit Penzance instead. We had a good look around the shops: I bought a brand new maxi-dress in a charity shop, still with the original tickets on; and a ‘vintage’ knee length black velvet jacket which had been revamped with gold printed cog wheel patterns. It’s lovely, and dirt cheap.

This evening there were just us and two other poets who have also booked extra nights at the hotel. We all had dinner together and shared a bottle of wine and it was a good end to the evening. You’ll notice I am writing this on Saturday evening, that’s because tomorrow will be a bit rushed. We’re all packed and ready to leave after breakfast. I won’t be able to post my blog until later, probably from the train home, because my MacBook stopped talking to the hotel wi-fi for some reason. Ho hum.

So, here’s the ‘no’ poem, where you write about an event by saying it didn’t happen. I think it makes it more interesting than just narrating the event. I don’t think you could get away with it too often; but it was an interesting exercise to do it once.

Remember, it’s very early draft:


How it didn’t happen

Moon wasn’t
a football rolling along Mossley hill.
It wasn’t raining and
the March wind didn’t howl.
She wasn’t surprised by his car
not standing in the drive.
Night wasn’t washed
with India ink, windows
weren’t black squares in pebbledash.
House wasn’t silent as death.
Note wasn’t propped on mantle,
wouldn’t tell her
in that unfamiliar hand
what she didn’t know already:
that she wasn’t just dust
scattered by the closing door.

Rachel Davies
April 2018






Spawn of the Dragon


I’ll have to do a short post this week; although it’s been a week as full as any other. I’ll stick with the highest and lowest points.

High point number one: my son Richard came to visit on Wednesday. He’s a teacher, so mostly we get to meet up in the school holidays. He drove up from Peterborough on Wednesday morning and we met at Amie’s house. We took Amie’s dogs for a walk along the canal from Diggle to Grandpa Green’s for coffee and doggy sausages,  then walked back via Woolyknits café for a light lunch and more doggy sausages. Back to Amie’s house after lunch for coffee. I had an appointment Uppermill in the late afternoon and when I got back from there we all watched the film ‘Wonder’, about a young boy with a genetic facial disfigurement. Oh my, Kleenex shares went up that day. Richard stayed the night with us, so I got to have breakfast with him before he drove back to Peterborough to do what all teachers do in the holidays: work.

Low point number one: on Thursday afternoon I got back from sorting the books at Amie’s Black Ladd restaurant to find a letter from Manchester City Council with a photo of my car driving along a bus lane on Oxford Road, fine £60.00; halved if I paid within a fortnight. This was the culmination of a week of stress I won’t go into but it felt like the right time to go out and buy a gun and shoot up the Town Hall. Have you tried to drive Oxford Road lately? And it was a Saturday mid-morning, hardly rush hour traffic: mine was the only vehicle in sight! You don’t know you can’t turn into Oxford Road until you’re in a side road ready to turn into Oxford Road and it’s too late to turn round a go a different route anyway. Grrr! My stomach was clenched tight with this last straw of stress.

Low point number two: it wasn’t stress clenching my stomach. It was a tummy bug.  I spent Thursday evening being sick and Friday all day sleeping back to some kind of recovery by Saturday. Enough said on that.

High point number two: the eponymous high point. On Saturday, feeling feeble and well rung out, I collected Hilary and drove us to Arnside to the English home of Rebecca Bilkau, editor of Beautiful Dragons Press. We are working with her to produce the first in a series of Dragon Spawn Pamphlets. We, Hilary and I, will be the Dragon’s first-borns. We are to be one third each of the first Dragon Spawn, title Some Mothers…and my third will feature versions of my portfolio poems. It was this we went to Arnside to discuss. Dragon Spawn is a series of pamphlets, each by three Beautiful Dragon poets, approached by Rebecca, who don’t have previously published pamphlets or collections, a sort of half-way house to a pamphlet of our own. Yes, and I get to share it with my conjoined twin, Hilary Robinson. How exciting is this? Rebecca made us a gorgeous lunch, which I did my best to honour despite food still being a bit alien to my body; we got to meet Xabi, her beautiful Airedale Terrier; and we had a lovely afternoon discussing the poems we’d submitted. The deadlines are tight: Rebecca lives in Germany most of the year and she is returning in a week. We have until the beginning of May to confirm the poems for the pamphlet, and until early Autumn to see the dragon crack its shell. There might well be more exciting news regarding the official Dragon Spawn launch, but for now my lips are sealed on this one.

Low point number three: closely related to low point number two, because I was poorly Thursday evening into Friday, I didn’t do all the stuff I needed to do on Friday in order to keep on top of a busy week. Mostly this involved doing some ironing and packing my case for St. Ives. Also, I had to miss a haircut, so by the time I come back from St Ives I’ll be looking very ‘Age of Aquarius’–you have to have lived some years. So when I got back from Arnside on Saturday, tired and feeling pale, I had to pack my case for a week away with Kim Moore and Helen Mort on a writing week in St Ives. It was the last thing I wanted to do–the packing, not the week away. Bill, bless him, cooked pie and chips—no he didn’t make the pie!—while I made a start on packing. I filled my case with un-ironed clothing and packed my travel iron as well. I’ll have to iron stuff as I need to wear it this week.

High point number three: Hilary’s husband is collecting me to go Piccadilly station at 8.15, so I’d better get my skates on. No poem this week, I’m afraid, but I expect to have a surfeit of them by next weekend, so I’ll make sure I fit one in the next blog. Meanwhile, have a picture of a dragon hatching from its egg. That’s me, that is!

Dragon spawn

Easter weekend and no April Fools

Happy Easter, everyone. Have a lovely weekend.

This week has been all about poetry and PhD. Life has had a big slice of me, but I can’t say too much about that, because it affects other lives as well; so I’ll stick with the poetry and the PhD.

Pascale Petit got back to us with the results of the Poets & Players competition last weekend. Clearly I can’t say too much about that, but our winners have been informed with instructions to say nothing until the celebration event in May:   So if you heard from us this week, big congratulations. If you didn’t, we’re sorry and sincerely thankful for your support for our competition and the good work that P&P does for poetry. My advice: the poems you sent to us, send them out to some other competition or publication. It’s a thin, thin line between being a winner and not, very often. If you felt your poem was worth entering, it is worth resubmitting to somewhere else. I spent Sunday and Monday mornings sorting through my spreadsheet to find the names of winners; and trawling through emails to copy poems and email addresses to send to Janet, our committee chair. That doesn’t sound much, but it’s a time-consuming job, especially when e-addresses don’t match names. But we really do appreciate everyone who sent work in. Thank you.

Monday I settled to reading again: Robin Nelson’s Practice as Research. This book was recommended by a poet friend, Angi Holden; and it has been useful in seeing research, and research outcomes in a positive light. It is helping me get my thoughts about the thesis in order. I meant to carry on with the reading on Tuesday but life intervened and stole my Tuesday for other stuff. Sometimes life happens and there’s just nothing you can do but muck in.

On Tuesday evening it was the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza meeting at the Stalybridge Buffet Bar. When we got there, our booked room was full of folk drinking ale: the buffet bar is a famous ‘real ale’ watering hole. I announced that we had booked the room for a poetry event. It’s strange how the word ‘poetry’ brings that reaction where eyes blank over, expressions become bored. I told them they were welcome to stay and join in but they all declined. Poetry? I don’t think so. They picked up their glasses as one and left the room. Shame; they don’t know what they missed. Poetry, as all poetry people know, is wonderful. And Tuesday was proof of that. There were only three of us at the meeting, but we had a wonderful time discussing the poetry of Ocean Vuong. Ocean recently won the T S Eliot prize for his wonderful collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds and this is what we were concentrating on. To make it an even better evening, the buffet bar has wifi, so we hooked up to his YouTube channel and he read for us. We listened and discussed. You can find his YouTube readings, lots of them, here:
Check it out, he has such a soothing reading style. Imagine, Ocean Vuong reading at our Stanza!

Wednesday I went to the Black Ladd as usual and worked until lunchtime. At lunchtime Amie and I went to the Christie for her twice-yearly scan. I’ve posted my poem, ‘The Worst Cocktail Bar in Manchester’ on here before so I won’t do that today. But the drink she has to take prior to a scan doesn’t get any easier to swallow: literally. So it’s done now, and that’s it for another six months. She should have the results in a couple of weeks.

On Thursday my lovely grand-daughter, Corinna, graduated from Wolverhampton University. She did her nursing degree there, and now works on the critical care ward in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. She looked gorgeous in her cap and gown. I’m so proud of her, she worked hard to get there.

On Friday I went into Black Ladd again, to get done what couldn’t get done on Wednesday. I meant to stay a couple of hours, but the laptop was using its autonomy to update itself, so I had to wait ages while it did that then wait ages again while I undid the update, because when it updates Windows 10, my Sage software won’t work. This has only been a problem for me for the last couple of weeks. I don’t know how to stop automatic updates: I need to speak to Richard or Michael, who are far more computer savvy than me. I don’t want it to stop all updates, just updates to Windows 10 operating system. So, it was very late afternoon when I got home from there on Friday. Amie, bless her lovely heart, sent me home with two nut roasts, roast potatoes and veg, and a bottle of house white so I didn’t have to do more than put dinner in the oven and wait thirty minutes. It felt good not to have to think about cooking. The nut roast was delicious; the chardonnay wasn’t bad either.

Saturday I settled to work on the thesis again. It seems a long time since I did anything to it, but I’ve been leaving it alone while I did some reading. It was good to come back to it with new eyes. I’ve decided to draft it to my liking—I’ll temper the overtly autobiographical writing in it—and send it to my team for discussion sometime in late June. I enjoyed being back on the case. Starting, and restarting are always difficult times.

So, another week on the long journey to PhD. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, Chairman Mao said. PhD is a long series of single steps, a few even go in the right direction. I’m hanging in there, putting one foot in front of the other. And NaPoWriMo starts today: national poem writing month, a commitment to write a poem a day through April. I’m in Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo facebook group. She very generously puts thirty prompts on there in April to kick start members fulfilling the ‘poem a day’ commitment. I worked it last year, I managed something every day. It would be over-egging it to call them all poems but I did get about five decent poems out of the month. And I learned an awful lot about forms of poetry I wasn’t familiar with before. My plan is to divert the prompts into portfolio poems as much as possible. I’m looking forward to it: I’ll keep you posted. If you’re interested in being involved, check it out here: and ask if you can join the group.

That’s it then; another week worked. And this morning is Easter Sunday. I’m not doing anything special, a day at home with a bag of mini-eggs and a bottle of dry white this evening. It’s my great-grandson’s third birthday today; and tomorrow my lovely grandson Richey isn’t a teenager any more. Oh my, time does flow quickly.

My poem this week is the one I wrote for Hannah Silva’s workshop last week. It’s barely learning to walk it’s so new to the page. But it could well become another ‘alternative mother’ poem when I have time to work on it some more.

The stimulus was to imagine a neighbour watching your life then answer six or seven questions Hannah put to us about that scenario. Here it is:



Every day
she opens the curtains at dawn.
The bedroom lights
don’t go out till midnight
but she’s always up with the sun.
I like to think she sleeps
in winceyette—I heard her say
she’s sick of winter, the long
grey coldness of it, said
she was born to the sun’s heat.
She wears those boots—
all bovver and sparkle
like she’s a glam rock refugee.
She’s a poet though,
they never quite grow up.
I wonder how
she packs in so much life
on five hours sleep max.
I’m sure she’s on steroids.

Rachel Davies
March 2018