…the new fifty

Age is a frame of mind, that’s always been my mantra. It’s easy to look at numbers and think yourself old, too old to do stuff. Don’t look at numbers, look to how you feel and get out there. A couple of weeks ago my family went to see the Rolling Stones, septuagenarians leaping around the stage like youngsters; this week, William Roache (Coronation Street’s Ken Barlow) was on BBC Breakfast talking about being the oldest actor in the oldest running drama in the world. In his eighties, he wants to keep working until he is the first centenarian on a soap. His message was ‘don’t think yourself old’, my sentiment exactly. ‘So many people retire and their energy goes down,’ he said, ‘their self-renewal goes down.’ We replace our entire body of cells every seven years, apparently. Every seven years there is a new you. The cells reproduce less perfectly as we get older, like the photocopy of a photocopy of a photograph, and that’s the physical ageing bit; but every seven years we are renewed. It’s only when we look at our wrinkles, our wattle chins, our saggy bingo banners and think we’re old that we start mentally ageing; and there’s the danger.

I’m seventy-one in a couple of weeks. Shall I face it and give up, sit in front of day-time television, too old to ‘do stuff’? Not likely. Another positive affirmation came this week in this article in the Guardian online:https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/jun/21/what-does-running-do-to-your-brain?CMP=fb_gu

It examines the effect of running on your mental health; literally on your physical brain health. I’ve been running for six weeks, couch to 5k challenge, and even in that short time I’m feeling this article: I feel good; I feel fitter; I feel like I want to get out there and run again. I know I’m fortunate in having good health and time on my hands; but seventy is the new fifty. Age is a frame of mind. I’m going to be the first centenarian to do something—I will do such things,—what they are, yet I know not: but they shall be the terrors of the earth.Lear knew what he was talking about. Although, thinking about it, it didn’t end well for him, did it?

On Monday this week I had my annual review. One of the good things about being a seventy-something student is, you don’t have to worry about rules; you don’t have to impress with ‘right answers’—you can give truthful answers that suit you. I had a lovely conversation with Michael Symmons Roberts about how the work is coming along; about skills I have—or haven’t—developed through the year; about being on target to complete. I was pleased when he read the report from my Director of Studies: not only was it a lovely, positive report, it agreed with my own assessment of my progress. We talked about the joy of revisiting poems and redrafting them; the importance of support from poet friends but ultimately being your own harshest critic. I came away from the annual review really feeling I am up to this; I have a year left to prove that to myself and my assessors. I had my picnic in All Saints park—it wasn’t sunny, but it was pleasantly warm. From there to the library to read a couple of articles I’ve tracked down in my research and then a meeting with Jean Sprackland about the creative aspect of the PhD. We talked about poems and redrafts and edits; and we talked about putting the seventy-plus poems I have into some kind of collection order and incorporating them into the thesis before I send it to my study support team in September. I’ll send a copy to Jean and meet to discuss the poems as a collection. Monday was one of the best days of this week. Last week I talked about PMA—positive mental attitude. Monday had it in spades. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road to catch my tram home. And I was home in time for the England match. A perfect day!

On Tuesday I worked on the thesis, putting together the bibliography from my footnotes. Yes, I know, you can get software to do it for you; I’ve been on a couple of Endnote courses at MMU since I started the PhD; but I can’t get the software to work effectively on my Mac. It works perfectly, I’m sure, with Windows, but it seems to have glitches with Mac. I’ve decided to download an update and give it another go on a defunct piece of writing to see if it’s more user friendly now. If anyone can offer advice, comments below please. Meanwhile, I compiled my bibliography by hand, following the MHRA style guide. Form is all in footnotes and bibliography. I think I’ve cracked it, but I still have questions about, for instance, web-links: how do they fit in the bibliography; or do they just hold their own in the footnote?

I looked through my poems when the bibliography was up to date. I have poems in the portfolio that I am really pleased with; I have others that I know require some work. Mostly they are the early poems I wrote for the PhD; some of them a bit pompous, some a bit harsh, about ten that are just not very good. I’ll either rework them; or write new poems to replace them in the collection. On Tuesday afternoon I worked on a couple and, in my mind, improved them; very satisfying activity.

On Friday I had an email from Rebecca Bilkau, editor of Beautiful Dragons Press. I’d sent her a set of poems for the ‘Dragon Spawn’ collection, a joint collection with my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson and the triplet we haven’t met yet, Tonia Bevins. The collection will launch this autumn. Rebecca is including nine of my portfolio poems in the collection, plus three ‘non-mother’ poems for a bit of light relief. She has taken ‘Love letter to McNaught’, a poem I wrote after seeing McNaught’s comet in the night sky in Southern Australia. I’m so pleased McNaught is finding a home in the collection, he’s always been a favourite of mine, funny with end-rhymed quatrains, very rhythmical—all the things modern poetry isn’t supposed to be. I love his anarchy! Putting this collection together is exciting; and so uplifiting.

Saturday I was back at my desk. I decided to have a creative day, revisiting the poems I’m less than happy with. I completely rewrote two poems, keeping the general subject of the poems intact, but changing the form. I had written a poem called ‘Some Mothers’, after Kim Moore’s ‘Some People’. It went on a bit; it was all mother as domesticity, which I didn’t like about it. Where was the feminist angle? Motherhood is about being a woman; more, it’s about being a person. I rewrote it, in the week the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, took time out of her official duties to give birth to a girl. Women have babies; but they also have careers; and they have jobs they need to provide money for food and clothes and warmth; and they claim benefits and use food banks; and all this was missing from my ‘Some Mothers’. I put that right yesterday. It’s a very different poem now; not in the style of Kim’s poem at all. But I’m happier with it because it’s ‘truer’ to mothers, real mothers, not the mothers created by patriarchy, not the ‘angels in the house’. I reworked another poem too; a poem I wrote on a residential in Bowland a couple of years ago. It started out as a self portrait in words; I changed it into a villanelle yesterday, about how we get all our attributes from some spurious family member: mother’s nose, dad’s eyes, love of books from Great-aunt Kit, temper from cousin Rosie etc. Is anything of us just about us? My villanelle explores that, I think. I need to revisit it, it isn’t perfect, but it is forming; and poetry is a plastic art.

I’m giving you a sneak preview of the villanelle this week. Let me know what you think.

 

Legacy

 They say she has her mother’s nose,
her hair is from her father’s head
so has she nothing of her own?

Her eyes—her dad’s—are conker brown,
her height’s from mother’s brother Ted
who tells her she’s her mother’s nose.

Her granddad taught her how to knit,
she took her Grandma’s love of books;
so, nothing she can call her own?

She sketches just like Auntie Pat,
sews seams as fine as Great-aunt Kit,
who envies her her mother’s nose.

She has a mole like Nana Jones
who passed it down through cousin Jed.
So has she nothing of her own?

Her stubbornness is Uncle Jack’s,
her kindness comes from daddy’s dad
who wonders at her mother’s nose.

She likes to get lost in a book
away from family ties that bind.
So she may have her mother’s nose
but this book world is all her own.

 

Rachel Davies
June 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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