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:

Anya-Gallaccio-Untitled-2016-The-Whitworth-10-683x1024
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: https://poetsandplayers.co
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

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