3 brilliant poets, a rheumatologist, a thesis and a long drive

I’m away again. I can’t say much about it because there’s not much to say at the moment: it’s a small village somewhere on the east coast between Scarborough and Filey. I and two friends arrived last night, just had time to find a local Morrison’s, buy a pizza and a bottle of wine and hunker down. We’re here for a week of reading, writing and finding poetry, sight-seeing and generally having a good time. I’ll tell you more next week when we’ve had time to explore.

That’s next week. This blog is about this week because it’s been a huge week: poetry, PhD and life; lots of each. Firstly, it was Bank Holiday weekend with lovely weather and record temperatures. On Sunday I went to visit my sister in Stamford: it was her birthday on Tuesday and she has just retired so we took her out for lunch to celebrate both events. Sunday involved cake.

Monday was another lovely day; but I didn’t see too much of it because I was writing poetry, getting onto the MacBook poems I had scribbled in my journal at the two workshops I’ve attended lately, led by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Clare Shaw respectively. I like this, when you turn your scribbled thoughts into something that begins to look like, and be, a poem. I spent a morning working then went out into the garden with a cup of tea to enjoy some sunshine. Bill was gardening. I love hard work, as my Aunt Mary used to say, I could watch it all day.

Monday evening was The Group at Chapter One Books in Manchester. Hilary and I had a very sensible meal in Bundobust and then went to Group feeling very self-righteous. I took one of the poems I’d worked on in the morning. It was about The Fens, the area in East Anglia where I was born and grew up. I’ve just looked for it on my MacBook and can’t find it anywhere: even the search facility isn’t helping. I have no idea where it’s gone. I’ll have to type it up again, then, when I get home: luckily I have  the printed version. There were five of us at The Group and some jolly good writing, as ever: three poems and two short stories.  I received good feedback on my poem, useful ideas for developing it based around the draining of the sea. I’ll work on it again one day soon. That’s the good thing about being a poet, that working and reworking until you have the poem that deserves to be written.

Tuesday was a huge day for work. I’d given myself this one last day to work on the thesis before sending it off to my Director of Studies. I reread the whole thing, re-ordered some of it—again—and added some more poems and reflection on those poems. By the end of the day I had almost 16000 words to send off. I hesitated for a long time before pressing ‘send’; but I did, and it’s now with the team. I’ve asked for some positive feedback this time before the inevitable criticism and need for development: my time’s running out and I don’t want to come back from another DoS meeting, at this late stage, feeling unworthy. I always concentrate on the negatives so I’ve asked for some positives to think on. I heard back from my Director of Studies almost immediately. We are meeting on Tuesday 22nd, the week I get home. Angelica also sent me details of a new book she’s been reading, Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, which sounds just up my street so I have that on my list of books to read when I get home. She also sent me a link to Rose’s London Review of Books review of six books on motherhood: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n12/jacqueline-rose/mothersI’ve brought that away with me to read. I don’t think all of it will be relevant, but it will be interesting and some might be useful to the research and lead me to other reading. So it’s done, sent and waiting to be read and discussed. Think of me next Tuesday.

Wednesday was an unusual day. I had an appointment to see the rheumatologist, Dr Klimiuk, about my ‘ugly sisters’, polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA). I’ve mentioned these two auto-immune diseases on here before. I was diagnosed with the former in December 2013: I woke up the morning after the gym with pains in my thigh muscles. I thought at first it was just post-exercise stiffness and ignored it for a day or two. When it didn’t go away after a fortnight I thought I might have pulled a muscle and so I went to the doc thinking I might need some physio or something. She ordered blood tests, which surprised me: blood tests for a pulled muscle? The results showed high levels on anti-inflammatory markers in the blood samples. Diagnosis: PMR. The treatment, Prednisolone, is also a diagnostic: if it works within three days it is PMR; if it doesn’t work it’s something else. After three days I felt as if I’d been oiled: the pain was gone. This weird complaint that I’d never heard of until I got it affects about 25% of people, mostly but not exclusively, over 50; mostly but not exclusively women. Eighteen months later I developed GCA, PMR’s ugly sister that affects about 20% of PMR sufferers: how lucky am I? The dosage of Prednisolone was increased dramatically and I’ve been reducing it gradually ever since, desperate not to need it any more. It’s a wonder drug for sure, but it has its drawbacks as all medication does. For me it was the tremor in the hands: you don’t want to be sitting beside me when I’m eating soup! I’ve taught myself to eat soup with my left hand since PMR. But the last Sunday in April I took my last Prednisolone tablet, I hope. On Wednesday I saw the rheumatologist for a progress report. Apart from a bit of stiffness in the arms first thing in the morning, which only lasts about an hour, I’ve been fine without the Pred. Apparently the adrenal glands, which produce the body’s own anti-inflammatory steroid, cortisol, stop working while you’re on Pred, they shut down. Because I’ve been on it for nearly 4.5 years—the usual treatment is for twelve to eighteen months—my adrenals might have permanently given up trying to wake up and work independently. So I have to have tests now to see how idle the adrenals are. Imagine them, pulling a sicky every morning then lying back on the sofa of my kidneys with a tinny and a bag of crisps and Sky films on the telly. If they don’t get back to work soon, it could be small doses of Pred ad infinitum. (insert miserable faced emoji).

Thursday we went into Oldham for the live screening of National Theatre’s Macbeth. Starring Rory Kinnear and Anne Marie Duff, it was set in some post-apocalyptic modern state where the rule of law had broken down. It was brilliant, I loved it. The witches were particularly spellbinding, if you’ll pardon the pun. The set was dark, post conflict destruction. The witches were ethereal, one minute you could see them, next minute hear them but they’d disappeared. It was really well done, very spooky and convincing. It’s one of my favourite Shakespeare plays anyway, but this production was brilliant. I don’t think everyone agreed with me: the couple next to us left after ten minutes, the people in front gave up at the interval. They all missed a treat in my opinion. I love the creative ways directors make Shakespeare new and relevant to modern day stories.

Friday, Hilary and I went to Leeds to see Simon Armitage reading. We caught the train, ate totally unsensibly in the Leeds Bundobust, and took the twenty-five-minute-slightly-uphill-all-the-way-walk to the venue at the Workhouse Theatre on Leeds University campus. You know Simon Armitage is going to be brilliant, and we weren’t disappointed on Friday. He read some old favourites; and also from his new collection, Flit, about his work in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where he imagines YSP as ‘Ysp’, a small, central European country that he lived in for a year. The poems are funny and clever. The book is beautiful: hard-backed, containing his poems alongside artwork. Of course, I had to buy it, and another beautiful hard-back-with-artwork collection called Cemetery. He signed them both at the end of the evening. It was lovely that he remembered me from the days when he was one of my tutors on the MA in Creative Writing at MMU.

Saturday was another day full of poetry and life. The afternoon was taken up with the Poets & Players competition celebration event. Arian Sadr gave a virtuoso performance on the Persian drums: how can he do that with only ten fingers? I suspect he has two extra hands hidden up his sleeves. He was mesmerising. Pascale Petit, our judge, presented the prizes; the prize-winners and commended poets read their poems and then Pascale gave a wonderful reading from Mama Amazonica to end the afternoon. I bought a new copy to replace the copy she signed for me in Birmingham, that I have read to death in my PhD work. So now I have a pristine copy that I can keep in perfect order. I also got your copy signed, Emma. After the event, I drove Hilary and Polly to this cottage in the damp east of the country, about which I can say nothing at the moment because we only arrived about 7.30 last night. We have an exciting week full of poetry to look forward to. I’ll tell you all about it next week, no doubt. Meanwhile, here is one of the poems I wrote up on Monday. It’s the poem I wrote for the Karen McCarthy Woolf workshop for Poets & Players in April; it features the ‘Ghost Tree’ sculpture by Anya Gallacio. I mentioned the sculpture in my blog on 22.04.18 and included a photo in that blog post. Here’s the poem I wrote at the workshop:

 

Ghost Tree

after the sculpture by Anya Gallicio, Whitworth Park

 I like you best in winter when your stark form
is practised by other trees in the park.

Did you know
your stripped bark channels
the rainwater you don’t need, to refresh
snake fritillaries growing at your feet?

You are the sun’s fierce heat,
the birds who won’t find shade here.

Your branches reach upward and outward
screeching a symphony of tree-speech:
a silent prayer, your gift of mimicry.

You are the mirror we hold up to ourselves.
We kid ourselves we are also worshippers,

want to protect those sylvan sprites who ride
your slides. There’s no way in though,
no home in you. Rough-sleeping tree spirits,
move on, move on.

You’re just a decoy, a false promise.
You never dress in summer green.

 

Rachel Davies

April 2018

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