on reflecting and earwigging

It’s that time of year for the annual review of progress in the PhD. So this week I have been looking back over the year, and looking forward to next May and my final submission, in order to write my annual review report. This will be my last review. This time next year I will have submitted my thesis. It will all be over.

But this blog isn’t just about PhD; it’s about fitting PhD into my life. This week has been a mix of life, poetry and PhD, the kind of week I like best: balanced. So on Sunday I settled to work, revisiting the poems that will find their space in the Dragon Spawn collection in the autumn. I had an email from the editor, Rebecca Bilkau, with suggestions and questions about some of the poems. I addressed those queries on Sunday. The thing about editorial advice is, it’s a dialogue, I think. I read her feedback, I thought carefully about it, I implemented her suggestions for editing the poems but I couldn’t agree with all her comments. I acted on them all initially, but I reverted to the original sometimes if I thought the poem was lessened by accepting her feedback unquestioningly. I sent the poems back to her later in the day with editorial changes; or with my reasons for not acting on her editorial advice. I have heard back from her that she has the poems; she has taken them on holiday to a Greek island where she will be reading them in the Aegean sunshine over a glass of village wine. I hope my poems have a good holiday: they’ve worked hard and they deserve it.

On Monday it was poetry again. I wrote up some of the poems from our recent Line Break workshops. We’d made a commitment to take one of the poems from the week to the next Group, which was on Monday evening. I decided to take a poem I wrote from snippets of conversation I overheard during our day out in York. I called it ‘Earwigging’, being a colloquialism for ‘listening in’. The poem is included at the end of this blog. It is a ‘found’ poem, built entirely from phrases I overheard; I have included no narrative of my own at all. I have repeated some phrases for emphasis, and to give some feeling of there being a narrative behind the ‘earwigging’. A couple of members left The Group recently, for very positive reasons; and a couple had sent apologies for this week. I have to say, The Group felt lessened without them. I suppose we’ll have to find a new dynamic now and it will take time.

On Tuesday, life claimed a large piece of me. My son Michael came to stay for an over-nighter. He arrived mid-afternoon and we went to Amie’s Black Ladd restaurant for lunch. In the evening he went to the Rolling Stones concert at Old Trafford with Amie’s partner, Angus. Mike called the Rolling Stones ‘the best rock band in the world’. He had already seen them in Southampton a couple of weeks ago and thought them brilliant. Wednesday didn’t disappoint. Their energy is astounding: all in their mid-seventies now, they run the equivalent of five or six miles during the show, all while singing and playing instruments. Mike and Angus were right in front of the stage and they caught a couple of plectra the Stones threw into the crowd. Mike was so impressed he’s going to try for tickets to the gig in London for himself and Richard. It’s nice that seventy-year-olds can be such an inspiration to the younger generations: very different from the standard media portrayal of ageing as a burden, as a weakened generation needing expensive medical and social care over milky tea and plain biscuits. Good on ‘em, I say, flying the flag for a productive and energetic old age.

On Wednesday morning we met up with Amie for breakfast before Mike went back to his real life five hours drive away and I went on to do the books at the Black Ladd.

You notice I’ve hardly mentioned the PhD once in all this: it has been a big part of my week, though. I’ve been reading a lot from the reading list I got from my last supervisory team meeting. I’ve been reading in all the spare half hours between doing other stuff; reading in bed; reading during tea breaks while preparing for Mike’s visit. I love my Kindle: it’s so convenient for taking your reading with you. I’m someone who does prefer the feel and smell of a real book, actually; but with a Kindle you can carry a whole library of books in your handbag or pocket, move from one book to another, highlight passages and make annotations, follow up references, check the meaning of unfamiliar words. It’s a godsend to any student.

On Saturday I prepared my RDAR, the official university form for the annual review report. I think it’s an acronym for Research Degree Annual Review. I spent the morning working on it, checking facts, thinking about progress since the last review, trying to be honest. One focus of the RDAR was on ‘skills development’: how my skills as a researcher and an academic have been developed during the year, for instance through presentation at conferences. The quick answer is, presentation skills are not something I feel the need to develop. I presented to conferences several times as a teacher and a head-teacher; I don’t want to do it in my retirement. I am doing this PhD, the top rung in a long ladder of education, as a personal challenge, not to gain skills for future academic employment, which I don’t want or need. My skills development has all been in the creative aspect: producing, editing, publishing poetry and presenting it to various audiences; and in developing my knowledge of poetry—and academic writing—through my on-going reading. That’s the best bit for me, the aspect I most want to develop. I sent the report off yesterday afternoon: my review is on June 18th. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve also managed to watch some tennis from Roland Garros, especially Rafa Nadal who is one of my sporting heroes. I’ll be watching the final this afternoon, whatever else I do today. I watched the England football match on Thursday too. There’s lots of football coming up with the world cup starting this week. I’ll have to ration myself to England and Brazil matches, I think, or it could take over my life and I can’t afford the time for it to do that. I must watch the Brazil matches because I have drawn Brazil in the sweepstake at the Black Ladd. Bill has drawn France, so not too shabby a couple of teams to watch out for.

Lastly, running: I’ve kept up the Couch to 5K challenge, completing week 4 on Friday. I go out early, about 7.00 a.m. for my run; it’s a lovely time of day in the early summer. This week I have had a yellow wagtail, a shrew and a robin as running buddies. I’m beginning to look forward to my running: who would have thought it possible? By next Friday I will be running twenty minutes in one go. I can’t say I’m not a little bit worried about that but hey, bring it on.

Here’s my ‘Earwigging’ poem. It is very different from anything I’ve ever written before, experimental, a bit whacky. But I enjoyed it. Of course, it won’t find space in my portfolio on several criteria: it’s not a mother-daughter poem and it’s not very good for two. I suppose I could give it more of a narrative, make a ‘story’ from it; but then it wouldn’t be what it is, a ‘found’ poem from snippets of chat I earwigged in York. Treat it as a bit of fun; I did.

 

 Earwigging

This train will be calling at—
where’s Daisy gone

what’s the difference between—
one’s keen and the other’s not
where’s Daisy gone and where did Sir go
and if you don’t pull… oh where did Sir go

get those hands washed before you—
ant ‘ad chips of a while.
he’s more likely to wear my
yer sleepin’ dad?

but—where’s Daisy gone

tell me of something they do in Bali
you’re not gangs you’re not gangs
representatives—in a row
come back for me
and do it quickly

but where did Sir go
and where’s Daisy gone
oh, where did Sir go
drinking espresso in Carluccio

so what’s more important
do it now, do it quickly tell people
eight weeks till I got paid
too much too much
tell ‘em what to do

but where’s Daisy gone

Guten dag, vilcom im der—
ulia machia how are you
a quick question or two—
what’s woh thi eh eh
and where’s Daisy?

Gone.

 

Rachel Davies
June 2018

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