We all have our mountains to climb

One day this week I watched Ben Fogle, on BBC Breakfast, talking about his successful Everest attempt. Sir Edmund Hilary famously said he climbed Everest ‘because it was there’. Ben Fogle climbed it because he had wanted to do it since he was a child: it was his childhood ambition. He did it to show his own children, and anyone else who would listen, that you should always try what you want to achieve, not let anyone make you believe you aren’t that person. We all have our personal Everests, he said, and we should all try to conquer them. I decided that that is exactly what I’m doing with the PhD, conquering my own personal Everest. It’s a personal challenge: I don’t need a PhD for my career, I’m doing it because it’s there. Will I reach the summit, plant my flag, take selfies; or will I suffer altitude sickness before the summit and have to come down early? The jury’s still out on that one.

 I’ve been a bit hampered this week: I wrote so much while we were away on our Line Break I had a bad bout of writer’s cramp by the end of the last workshop. This developed into tendonitis, so I wasn’t up for writing much at the start of the week. I read instead: Jacqueline Rose’s Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty (London: Faber and Faber 2018). I downloaded it to my Kindle Paperwhite and sat in the garden in the lovely warm sunshine to read it. It’s very good; and very useful to my own research: the historical blame that mothers have suffered from society; and the personal blame mothers suffer at the hands of their own offspring. Motherhood is a loaded state. I did write up a couple of the poems from Line Break onto my MacBook, but I gave the wrist tendons a rest, and doses of ibuprofen, until mid-week.

On Monday evening I went with Hilary to MMU’s Business School for a very good poetry reading event. Kim Moore was one of three MMU Creative Writing students who read at the start of the event. The headliner was the New Zealand poet, Hera Lyndsay Bird. Her poetry is funny, edgy, very entertaining. She is a confident reader and performer. It’s so good to hear poetry and humour mixed, and mixed so well. My favourite was ‘The Da Vinci Code’, a prose poem about ‘the first day of the Italian Renaissance’. You can find it on her website, here: https://www.heralindsaybird.com/leonardo-da-vinci.html Of course, I had to buy her books after the reading: she has a full collection, Hera Lyndsay Bird(Penguin Books 2017); and a Laureate’s Choice pamphlet, Pamper Me To Hell & Back (Smith/Doorstop 2018). She signed both books; and illustrated her signings with stylized animals. She’s unusual, a breath of fresh air for poetry.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Arena bomb, I had to go into Manchester to meet my study support team. There were embroidered or knitted hearts strung along railings from Victoria Station to St Anne’s Square, just as there had been a year ago; the hearts came from around the country in a visible show of strength and solidarity. It was a sad day, but a joyful one too. Hilary sang in one of the choirs at the commemoration event in Albert Square in the evening, an uplifting and defiant concert. I walked from St Peter’s Square to All Saints campus on Tuesday morning. The sun was shining and it was hard to imagine the horror of a year ago. I wore my bee brooch with pride and there were I (heart) Manchester and bee tee-shirts everywhere. Manchester people are the best.

My meeting was at 11.30; I had time to return a book to the library beforehand. The meeting was very positive, which I needed. We agreed the integrated thesis I had submitted is ‘the first draft of the finished thesis’—yay! It still has a long way to go, but the team had annotated it to show where it needs development or additions. I came away feeling as if I’d taken a step forward. The end is a pinprick at the end of a very long tunnel: I’m never going to be an academic, I’ve learned that much about myself. But I left the meeting feeling as if I might just reach the summit of my personal Everest, and that’s all I hope for.

In the evening I went into Manchester again, with Bill this time. I had two tickets for an unusual reading at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. It was one of the ‘Writers at MMU’ events featuring two Georgian poets, Salome Benidze and Diana Anphimiadi. Their work has been translated into English by Helen Mort and Jean Sprackland respectively, with the support of the Georgian poet Natalia Bukia-Peters, who is now based in Cornwall. The event was hosted by the London-based Poetry Translation Centre. We heard the poems read, first in English then in Georgian. It was a good experience; Georgian is a Kartvelian language, a language of the Caucasus. It has its own script, neither Roman nor Cyrillic, closer to Bengali or Gujarati really, which is beautiful; it looks as if it was knitted, a very looped script. It reminded me of a time before I could read, when English script must have been as undecipherable to me, black loops and swirls on a white page. I immediately wanted to start to decode it; but of course I can’t because I don’t have the language. Here’s an image of Georgian script I found via Google:

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and example of Georgian script: I’m sorry, I don’t know what it says

Again, I bought both pamphlets and had them signed. Salome signed in English; but Diana signed my pamphlet in her native Georgian Script, which was lovely.

Friday was Whit Friday, Saddleworth Band Contest day. We went into Manchester early for the bank and a bite to eat at the Café at the Cathedral—formerly Propertea—before getting home and hunkering down. You don’t want to be out too late in your car on Band Concert day in Saddleworth because roads are closed and the area is in a siege of brass band celebration. We could hear the bands playing all evening from the relative comfort of our living room. Unfortunately, the weather chose to break on Friday, bringing rain, wind and cold to Saddleworth; but I’m sure that didn’t stop the die-hard brass band fans from having a good time. There were lots of pictures on Facebook, anyway.

Saturday I had a long list of PhD jobs to do: RD9 record of the Tuesday meeting; arrange a meeting with Michael Symmons Roberts for my annual review; get together a selection of new poems to send to Jean Sprackland for my next creative support meeting; write a couple of new poems to go into the mix.

IMG_1347 my cat, Rosie Parker, not helping

I wrote two ‘couplings’, a form originated by Karen McCarthy Woolf, which entails taking a piece of prose, lineating it as if it were poetry, then using those lines alternated with lines of your own poetry, responding to those ‘prose’ lines, to make your poem. I searched out a letter from my grammar school headmaster to my parents offering condolences on the death of my brother. He got their initials wrong on the envelope, using my brother’s initials in error; and in the same week as the letter was sent, I was given a Saturday detention for not handing in my homework. So guess what my coupling is about! Roald Dahl never invented a more child-unfriendly school than my old grammar school.

I’m including my other ‘coupling’, a poem I first drafted on our Line Break last week. It has lines from Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (London: Vintage 2014). It is a critique on Coventry Patmore’s ‘The Angel in the House’, a cringe-worthy piece about a woman’s role in life being the unassuming, obedient domestic goddess behind the man doing the real work in the world. Sack that for an idea!

 

Angel In The House

 She is conjuring trick
pulling time from her hat
a reptile
luscious, an unsucked fruit
a fallen angel, a griffon,
Madonna or whore
from the pages of an illuminated bestiary.
Halo or vulva, an enigma
something bright and distant
a red light or a candle flickering
like gold falling through water,
                        sunlight refracting. She is
a broken marionette
                        a reaction
of wings legs and light, splashed feathers
                        dashed perfection, a contamination
wearing jesses
                        her ring a choker, her dresses a prison
and the man holds them
and the man holds her
                                    and the man pulls her strings
 

 Rachel Davies
May 2018

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