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: https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/
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 https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/homeless-jesus-manchester-city-centre-14569297 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.
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.