Monthly Archives: July 2018

Soul songs and sea shanties

On Monday evening Hilary and I went to the inaugural ‘People’s Poetry Lecture’, Carol Ann Duffy’s latest brilliant project from MMU. Gillian Clarke was talking about Dylan Thomas, his life and work. Gillian, the former Welsh laureate, is a life-time lover of Thomas’s work. She bought her first collection of his poetry when she was just fifteen after her father encouraged her to listen to ‘Under Milk Wood’ on the radio as a girl. She read from his work: ‘Do Not Go Gentle’, obviously, ‘the best villanelle in the world ever’: she showed how this poem followed the traditional Welsh form in its use of sound; and she read from ‘Fern Hill’:

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea

drawing our attention to his extraordinary use of visual imagery and musicality. She read his poetry beautifully, much better than he reads it himself: I’m not a lover of his ‘poet’s voice’, but she read it like the lover she is. I visited Thomas’s home in Laugharne a couple of years ago, where I learned that the vast majority of his poetry he drafted before he was twenty: how extraordinary is that? This was the first in a series of four planned lectures: in the autumn, Andrew MacMillan on Thom Gunn; Michael Symmons Roberts on Auden; and Helen Mort—sorry I didn’t catch who will be the subject of her lecture and I haven’t seen any publicity for it yet. Gillian Clarke set the bar high; I can’t wait to see how these other wonderful poets measure up. I’ll copy the link to other lectures when they are available. If you can make any of them, I recommend them.

I worked some more on the thesis this week too: and managed to save the work I put in! I ‘Kindled’ a new purchase as well, a book I came across in footnotes to my research. The Madwoman in the Attic After Thirty Years ed Annette Federico with a foreword by Sandra M Gilbert (Colombia; University of Missouri Press 2009).It’s a—mostly—celebratory book of essays by academics, who write how Gilbert and Gubar’s iconic book of feminist lit-crit changed the way they approached their work in academe. Most of them took the book as a launch pad for developing their own ideas, moving beyond G&G’s ground-breaking work into new insights of their own. I love the original; I’m loving this one too. I’ve spent several happy hours in the garden reading it this week.

On Wednesday my son Richard came to visit. We went with Amie to the Lowry theatre to see ‘Dusty’, a musical bio-drama about Dusty Springfield’s life and work. We had good seats with a perfect view of the stage: until a woman with a huge Dusty Springfield hairstyle sat in the seats in front of us, completely obliterating the stage. Thankfully, the seats next to us were empty so we shunted along a few seats. I learned a lot I hadn’t known about the singer. For instance, I didn’t know she’d been expelled from apartheid South Africa for refusing to sing to segregated audiences. And I hadn’t realised she died from breast cancer, I’d always assumed she’d taken her own life after a downward spiral into alcohol and drugs. The drink and drugs were real, the suicide wasn’t. She had a negative relationship with her own mother too, which was interesting from a research point of view. Her mother was clearly biased towards brother Tom and disparaged Dusty for splitting with him and going solo. It was a good show, a romp through much of my own youth. We went to a vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Manchester after the performance. If you like vegetarian/vegan food I completely recommend 1847:

On Thursday morning we all met at Amie’s for a vegan breakfast before Richard went home. It’s always good to spend time with family; it’s just a shame Mike couldn’t have been with us as well.

I’ve not been running since Monday this week. On Monday I only ran 1.8km. I wasn’t feeling centi per centi so I gave up and walked the remaining distance to my car. I’ve been having a flare up of the PMR, so feeling very stiff in my arms in the mornings. Added to that I’ve been feeling hung-over—without the drink; just not feeling my usual sprightly, full-on self. I think the ugly sister, PMR, is at the root of it all. I still haven’t had the results of the synacthen blood test I had at the beginning of July, so on Wednesday I rang my rheumatology nurse to ask if they were available. They have been passed to my rheumatologist for analysis and he will get back to me. I still haven’t heard, so I still don’t know if my adrenal glands are pulling a fast one; which I hope is a good thing: no news is good news? But it would be reassuring to know for sure. I’m fed up with feeling under par; perhaps it’s the heat? Ho hum.

That’s it then, my week in brief. I’m posting a poem this week that is a mystery to me. I wrote it at a Poetry Business workshop in Sheffield with Ann and Peter Sansom. I heard this week that Ann and Peter have been given honorary doctorates for their work in poetry: very well earned in my opinion. This poem was from prompts: a word for a line. I remember ‘silver’ being the word for the first line, for instance. I don’t remember which are the prompt words in the other lines; probably I’ve redrafted out the original prompt words anyway. It became a poem about my mother; sort of. I’m not sure what it’s about, it’s deeply unconscious stuff, but I like it. I hope you do too.


Pirate Copies

My hair wasn’t always silver—it was black
as a mermaid’s purse, waved like an ocean.

I wanted him to sing me sea shanties like a pirate,
feed me oysters, wanted to swim forever in the lagoon
of his arms; in a past life we hummed Fingal’s Cave

into the ears of Mendelsohn, never dreaming the sea
would bring its silver scales to hone our claws.


Rachel Davies
July 2018



Keep shining, brief candle!

It was my birthday week. I had a great week. It involved some work, some play and a lot of celebrating. I love my birthday: the celebrations always last for weeks/months: this one will be no different.

Let me start with the serious stuff, the work. That’s what this blog is supposed to be about after all: PhD, poetry and life. I spent time on Sunday copying and pasting the poems into the thesis. The title page has a working title: ‘Title Page’. I find it hard to give a title to a poem; giving a title to a whole collection is particularly challenging. It’ll come to me one day when I’m reading the poems, or when I’m asleep, or when I’m desperate because I’ve got to submit tomorrow. Suggestions welcome. It’s good to see the poems in some kind of order, and good to have temporary page numbers to reference them in the critical part of the thesis. I’ve referenced them in red ink, because obviously the page numbers will change as the writing grows. I need to be able to find them all as easily as possible to edit when the time comes. I stopped work at lunchtime so I could watch the Wimbledon men’s final: Djokovic v Anderson. It wasn’t one of the greats, actually. Djokovic entirely overwhelmed Anderson, who didn’t really start playing until the third and final set: Djokovic didn’t allow him to play. Sunday evening was taken up with the World Cup Final: a relatively easy win for France, although Croatia at least looked as if they were trying.

Monday was my birthday. A year older but not too much wiser, I hope. I’ve changed my day for working at the Black Ladd, doing the books, so that’s where I spent my birthday. In the evening we walked back there for a birthday meal. Halfway there—it’s about a mile from our house—the heavens opened. Going back was as wet as going onward, so we kept going. By the time we got there we were soaking: I had to wring my skirt out before I could go indoors. But it wasn’t cold, and the rain was welcome. Mostly. The three-week fire on Saddleworth Moor was extinguished by it; but the fire on Winter Hill continues to burn, I believe. Anyway, we had a large glass of wine, and sat at the table in the window from where you can see across Manchester and Cheshire to the Welsh Hills.  It’s spectacular. The meal was lovely too—a Portobello mushroom and beetroot burger for me, new to the menu–and Amie, bless her cotton socks, gave us a lift home, so no more dousing. Happy birthday to me.

Tuesday I was thoroughly dispirited. I came to my desk expecting to work on the next development of the thesis, only to find the work I did on Saturday around Biblical good and bad mothers hadn’t saved. Aaaargh! I’m sure I’m not the only person this has happened to, but it felt huge, a huge disappointment. We’ve had a lot of very short sharp power cuts recently, you hardly notice them happening, but the clocks start flashing so you know there’s been one. I expect the work I did was the victim of a power cut, though I don’t know how. But the wifi hub would have needed to reboot, so the cloud would have been temporarily disabled. Oh, I’m looking for excuses, because I don’t use the MacBook from the mains power source. I don’t know what happened, but suffice to say I closed the document and it didn’t save the work I did. Memo to self: keep pressing the ‘save’ icon while working. Frustrating doesn’t come close, because I was quite pleased with what I lost.  It was only a paragraph, but I didn’t relish starting again. I couldn’t even remember exactly what I wrote; just that I’d been pleased with it and a general idea that it contained Mary and Eve. So I did an internet search into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women in the bible—written predominantly by men, remember, so a bit biased—and came across a 1913 silent movie on YouTube about Judith and Holofernes. He was an invading army commander, come to besiege and defeat Judith’s community. The elders in the community couldn’t come up with any plausible plan to break the siege and save the people; but Judith could. She made herself alluring and went out to meet Holofernes, who fell in love with her. She took him to her bed and in his happy post-coital slumbers she lopped his head, smuggled it back into her community and spiked it on the city walls. The invading army were so shocked and dismayed to see their leader leering at them in death from the city walls, they just packed up and went home. Judith saves the day! The over-acting of the silent era was there in spades: all those hand gestures and facial expressions. It was wonderful; and I was pretending it was research. I couldn’t decide after if Judith was a ‘good’ woman or a ‘bad’ one. Perhaps it’s good to do bad things in the best interests of your (patriarchal) community; but seducing your enemy and then murdering him does seem a tad naughty.

Wednesday I re-wrote the lost paragraph. I don’t know if it’s as good as the original—lost—one, but Judith gets a mention, and it is academically referenced so that’s as good as it gets, I guess. At the end, though, I felt as if I’d been on a treadmill, working like stink and getting nowhere forward. Sometimes work is just a slog. After the paragraph was replaced—and saved—I spent a happy hour researching the fieldfare, a bird of the thrush family. I have an upcoming deadline for a poem inspired by said bird for the next Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie with about eighty birds represented by about eighty poets. The fieldfare used to be known as the fellfer in the Fens and I researched dialect names for it. I didn’t find ‘fellfer’, but I found lots of similar dialect names. I’m thinking a poem around these different names for the same bird.

On Saturday I was back at my desk working on the thesis. I did lots of research into the way a woman in mid-twentieth century could lose her self in marriage and motherhood: the way she was usually called ‘Mum’ or ‘such-a-body’s wife’ and often had to put her other desires on hold for housewifery and maternity. I found out that the Anglican Church only recommended dropping ‘obey’ from a bride’s marriage vows under Rowan Williams’ Archbishopric early in the twenty-first century. Isn’t that astounding? And I found an article on about Meghan Markle NOT vowing to obey Prince Harry. In May 2018. I should hope not too: how archaic an idea is that; and still a thing, apparently. So, the thesis moves on apace.

Other stuff this week: I’ve kept up the running, increasing time and distance, three times a week. I’m quite proud of myself that I can now run more than 3k—I know the app was Couch to 5k, and I will get there; just need a bit more practice. The final aim of the app was actually to run for 30 mins and I’m now running for 35. I’m not bothered too much about distance, just about improving slowly. Three months ago I could barely run at all, so any progress from zero is good work as far as I’m concerned.

On Friday Bill and I went to York for the day. We caught the train from Stalybridge. The train was delayed by about seven minutes, which could have put the connection at Huddersfield at risk, except that train was also delayed, so no problem. The railway is run on delayed trains at the moment: starting times seem to be a rough guesstimate. We had a butty in the sunshine in York then went to the pop-up Rose Theatre that’s in the Castle Car Park for the summer. We went to the afternoon performance of Richard III. The theatre looks like a good replica of an Elizabethan theatre, if you ignore the metal scaffolding in place of the wooden structure of the real thing. The seats, although plastic covered and minimally padded, are authentically uncomfortable though. The play was good, a bit am-dram and over-acted but we enjoyed it. I’m so glad we went, because it’s a bit of history—sort of—a pop-up theatre in York. They are showing performances of Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth as well as Richard III, so why not catch one of them. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Well, that’s it, a lovely week, a lot done and a year older. I’m including a poem that I might well have posted last year, about turning seventy. But I’m posting it again: how time flies. It seems only last week I was celebrating my seventieth and here we are a year on. Tattoos and glittery boots still intact, and I’m still here, still learning, still living life to the full, still loving it.


Seventy has arrived.
It knocked on the door, then barged in
uninvited, as if it had been expected.

Seventy has arrived
and taken over the lounge
with its greetings cards, its balloons and bunting,
its ‘seventy years young’ badges,
its ‘you don’t look a day over…’
its fire hazard of a birthday cake.

Seventy has arrived
and you, hot on its heels,
kicking its arse with those Doc Marten’s
salted and peppered with glitter
that settles on the ground like moon dust
wherever they walk.

Seventy has arrived
and the bee tattoo is its music.
Play it again.

Rachel Davies

a little Noble Dissent

A few months ago, a poem of mine, ‘Candidate’, was included in the Beautiful Dragons Noble Dissent anthology. The anthology was a reaction to right wing bias in international politics: the false rhetoric attached to the referendum, the rise of the Right in Europe, the election of Trump to the most powerful political position in the world. My poem was inspired by the ‘do and say anything to win an election’ mentality, and is a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’, which you can check out here:
‘Candidate’ is a similar prose-poem sort of rant.

On Thursday Donald Trump arrived in the UK on an official tour, making it clear in his interview with The Sun that he is not going to be a post-Brexit soft touch for a trade deal, which seems to have been the main reason for inviting him in the first place. A Trump Baby blimp and hundreds of thousands of protestors around the country let him know exactly how welcome he is here. I was one of them. A tee shirt at the Manchester rally had the legend  “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” (Albert Einstein). Einstein knew what he was talking about, having lived through the Nazi era. Britain has a history of appeasing fascism in the thirties, and look where that got us. So on Friday, Hilary and I went to the rally in Albert Square in Manchester.

Hilary Robinson and I heading for the rally in Manchester’s Albert Square 

My daughter bought us the silly outfits, and they caused a lot of amusement in the crowd; but the rally had a serious message: that Trump’s racist, mysoginist, alt-right policies are not welcome here; that it isn’t OK to cage children separated from their asylum-seeking parents; that white is definitely not supreme. Dissent is a small act, but a noble one; and hundreds of thousands of voices add up to a very big voice. I’m glad we went: It was worth the soaking we got from a very sharp shower just as the rally closed.

There, that’s my rant done. Apart from protesting Trump, it has been a very productive week in other ways. I have continued to work on the PhD thesis, researching the cult of the mother in Western patriarchies: lots of reading about fairy tales, bible stories and evidence in history. I wrote up my response in the week, finishing it on Saturday morning. I’m quite pleased with it, it fits well into the writing I’d already done. I moved on to the next task; but there is only so much a brain can take, so having decided where I need to go next, I left it for next week and worked instead on the creative aspect. I finished revisiting the poems, printed off the latest version and thought about the order I want them to be in the finished collection. I spent an hour in the conservatory—the only place the cats can be excluded from—setting them out in themes across the floor. I’ve started with ‘motherhood in general’; moved on to poems inspired by my own mother, arranged in themes. So there are ‘thingy  poems’ as Jean Sprackland calls them: poems inspired by objects that bring my mother to mind; poems about roles and relationships; poems about grandmothers, real or imagined. I’ve concluded the collection with the two sequences I’ve been working on: my alternative mother poems and the poems depicting the death of my brother and how that affected my relationship with my mother. It was good to see the poems spread out and to affect an order, because they were written fairly randomly. Today I will work on copy/pasting them into the thesis in order, a full collection at the end of the critical work. I look forward to that; to seeing the whole thing in first draft. I feel as if the end is in sight now the two aspects are coming together; and, after all, ten months is a very short time in the life of a PhD.

I graduated this week. Oh, no! Not my PhD; my running! I completed the ‘Couch to 5K’ challenge with a fastest ever pace: I got PBs for the 1K and the 1mile as well; and a cup: I got a cup from the app to celebrate completion. I haven’t run 5K yet; but I have run 3K so that’ll do for starters. 3K is almost 2miles in old currency. Can you imagine? I ran for nearly two miles! I’ll keep up the running, even though the challenge is complete. I’ve got to get to 5K at least. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

A little light relief mid-week: Bill and I went to the Palace Theatre in Manchester to see ‘Mamma Mia’. It was a good, energetic romp through the Abba songs, plenty of eighties memories—unfortunately, not all of them good! Abba became a bit samey toward the end of their career; but I still think ‘Waterloo’ is the best Eurovision winner ever.

Last, but by no means least, it is my birthday tomorrow. I’ve changed my Facebook profile pic to a photograph of me when I was five to celebrate; and to prove I was young once! My lovely children have sent me 2 tickets to see Sir Ian McKellen in ‘King Lear’ at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London on September 29th; with first class rail tickets to get us there. The theatre tickets are in the Royal Circle; I don’t think a tiara is required but I’ll feel like a queen: I have the best children ever. Fact.

I’m going to finish with a poem I’ve been working on; actually it’s two versions of a poem. I’ve retained them both as parts 1 and 2; but I don’t know if it works like that. I’m reluctant to get rid of either but not sure I need both. I’ll leave it for now; a bit of space will provide the answer I need. The poem is inspired by my mother making soup on Monday from Sunday roast left-overs. I didn’t know when I was a child that it was a money-saver, a means of making ends meet. I loved it; I still like a bowl of heart-warming soup, full of goodness, easy and cheap. Here’s the poem.

Stone Soup

When I used to read that story to your grandchildren,
the way the trickster gets the poor woman
to make soup from a stone,
I think of you
cooking soup from Sunday left-overs.
Like in the story, your soup begins with water in a pan.
You drop into it, like a stone, the carcass
of Sunday’s lunch, picked clean;
an Oxo cube or two, some onion, carrot,
pearl barley, sage, potato, turnips, salt and pepper.

With my mouth watering, I listen as it simmers away
smell the flavours mixing, impatient
for you to serve it up, my spoon
fisted in anticipation.

You make loaves of soda bread
we break into rafts to float in our soup lakes.

I don’t understand about making ends meet,
to me your soup is a feast.

Once, aged six, bridging the loneliness
between school and home,
I tell Miss Bacon—wishing out loud—
that we’re having soup for tea.
All afternoon the lie lays in my stomach
like a stone.

But as I walk from the school bus,
up the path towards the kitchen door,
the scent of your soup welcomes me home,
a nose full of tummy rumbling goodness
rubbing out the lie.

Start with this boulder, throw it
into the water bubbling in the pan, she says,
the way a storm might brag before it erupts
with the force that a practiced trickster
proves herself to be. She takes
the skeleton of yesterday’s roast, the flesh
picked clean and in it goes—poor protein,
but with onion, carrot, potato, a woman
can perform a Sermon on the Mount miracle
to satisfy a hungry pack, eking it out
with soda bread floats. The soup is as easy
as the enthusiasm it takes to move from
growling bellies to full ones. A magician she is;
she can produce soup from a stone.

Rachel Davies
July 2018

A week off-piste

Some weeks, life just takes over. This has been one such; although I have carried my Kindle through everything that tried to get in the way, so I wasn’t entirely work-free.

On Monday Hilary and I went into Manchester for the launch of Amy McCauley’s collection Oedipa (Guillemot Press, 2018), a feminist retelling of the Oedipus myth, imagining all the characters as women. It was an entertaining evening, starting with music: two ex-RNCM students with zither-like instruments and a clarinet. Kate Davis, whom I first met when we were both MA students in creative writing at MMU, shared the launch, introducing her new collection The Girl Who Forgets How To Walk (Penned in the Margins 2018). Kate was recently awarded an Arts Council grant to develop her performance skills, and she performed some of the poems, themed around a child living with polio. It was an interesting part of the evening; I took one of her books to read the full collection. Next Amy performed from Oedipa. As usual, Amy’s presentation was interesting, different parts of the room being given to different voices in the collection. The evening ended with two poets having a poetry fight on stage, which was a fun—if slightly belligerent—way to end a poetry launch.

On Tuesday I did manage some work on the thesis, systematically developing arguments. It is a slow process, but a worthwhile one. I worked in the study, but it is in the roof space, and gets very hot in this summer weather, so I took plenty of tea-breaks in the garden with my beloved Kindle for company. This week I finished reading Ariel Leve’s An Abbreviated Life (HarperCollins 2016), the extraordinary account of her relationship with her mother; Moyra Davey’s Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood (Seven Stories Press 2001); and almost finished Tillie Olsen’s Silences(The Feminist Press, 2003), showing how, historically, women have found the road to publication to be an impenetrable path. Actually, seeing all my reading written down, that’s quite a lot of work, isn’t it, for someone who thought she’d been off-piste for a week?

Wednesday I had to go to Oldham’s Integrated Care Centre for an unusual blood test that lasted about two hours: I had my Kindle with me. Several syringe-fulls of blood were taken, and I thought of Tony Hancock at the blood donation clinic complaining he’d have an empty arm. I should know in a week or two if the adrenal glands have woken up after being laid off by four and a half years of Prednisolone medication. Apparently they can forget how to produce the body’s own cortisol after a sustained period on corticosteroids. I hope they are rumbled as lead-swingers and forced back to work soon, because the alternative is low-dose Prednisolone for life, and I really don’t want that. I took my empty arm to the Costa and filled it up with a cappuccino and a cheese scone. Stress is always released with a cheese scone.

On Thursday it was Rosie Parker’s annual check up and injections at the vet. She’s a very canny lady, and as soon as she smells the pet carrier she finds somewhere to hide. On Thursday her hiding places included behind the sofa and under the side tables in the lounge and under the trolley in the kitchen. This latter was by far the most effective space as she was tucked away under work surfaces and refused all cajoling to come out. I had to pull out the trolley to spook her into running for it, and she resumed her former position behind the sofa and under the side tables. It took us a good fifteen minutes to eventually catch her and get her into the cat carrier and secure the lid; we only had a very few scratch marks. The good news is, she is healthy and has even lost a little weight since last year; the bad news is she has a slight gum problem around her lower incisors so we need to get her to the vet’s again in 5 months time for a further check. I look forward to that, then. She returned to her cat carrier in the surgery as if it was her favourite place in the world! A bag of her favourite dental health biscuits and the consultation saw off nearly £90. It’s a good job I love her.

The new fast fibre hub arrived on Friday. That is to say, BT delivered it to the wrong address, despite my spending half an hour on the phone on Thursday to tell them they had the wrong address on the invoice. It was delivered to a house further down the lane. Luckily, I used the package tracking facility and found out it had been left at Delph PO, because the folk at the house down the lane were out when it was delivered and it was there that Royal Mail left the collection card. But I had the text message and the parcel tracking info, so the lovely lady at Delph PO let me take the package. I set it up immediately—the fast fibre contract starts on Monday—and immediately I could smell burning. I checked the plugs and the hub and all seemed well, but I could definitely smell burning. It was only then I remembered I’d put two eggs to boil on the hob before we went to the PO. One had exploded all over the hob, and the saucepan was burned. OOOPS!

I’ve kept up the Couch to 5K challenge, running on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Normally I run at about 7.00 a.m. but on Wednesday I had to run in the afternoon because of the timing of the blood test. Oh my, it was hot for running; but I did it. I ran for 28 minutes at a time and completed the penultimate week of the challenge. This week I have three thirty minute runs to look forward to and the challenge is complete. The running won’t be, though; I still have to work up to the full 5K: by the end of next week I’ll be running about 3K, but that’s a long way on from the 7×1 minute runs I started out on. And without Laura on my case, urging me to ‘keep running until the end’ I can please myself, run at my own pace, build stamina, speed and distance. Hilary and I have challenged ourselves to a 10K next year. Watch this space!

Saturday was as far off piste as you can get. I went with Hilary to a henna workshop at Chapter One in Manchester. There were six of us on the workshop, run by the lovely Neeka Tank. You can find out more on her FaceBook page, here: got to practise on paper first, designing patterns with pencil and then using the henna cones, learning how to control the flow of henna paste, learning tricks for making unshaky lines, learning the traditional meaning behind some aspects of henna design. Later we got to practise on each other’s hands. There are photographs on the FaceBook link above, of the six of us working and showing off our hennaed hands. It was a lovely and very different afternoon. We came away with a goody bag which included tee lights, henna cones and a small bag of Skittles. I spent some time in the evening eating Skittles and making a henna design on my foot. The henna cones can be re-frozen and used again any number of times within six months, so get used to me being hennaed in the coming weeks.

The henna design Hilary Robinson made on my hand

In my poem this week I have viewed the Cambridgehsire fens as a woman, an alternative mother: this is, after all,  the land of my birth. Very different from the Saddleworth landscape I live in now, it has its own beauty, and fenland skyscapes are legendary. I wrote this at a workshop recently, I think it was on our Line Break week in Scarborough in May. I definitely took it to The Group and have revisited it in line with feedback.

Alternative Mother # 19
The Fens

 If landscape has mountains, forests,
a river forcing its course to the sea
she is no landscape.

If her horizon is fourteen miles away
your eyes will see for fourteen miles
across drained sea-bed.

If goddesses reach down to touch her soil
there is nothing between their fingers
and her fecundity.

Her sky though, look at her sky,
high and wide as heaven!
She celebrates all the literature of skies,
their cumulonimbus poetry,
their war and peace.

Rachel Davies
June 2018

Motherhood and/as creativity

We all need some form of creativity in our lives. I believe it is when we stop being creative that we go into decline. Some people find creativity in their work, if they are lucky. When I was in education, teaching—and head-teaching—were creative activities. It still is, I guess, for the imaginative teacher, but it becomes harder under government interference in the classroom. Some find creativity in giving birth and rearing children. My friend Pauline finds her creativity in a variety of craft forms: spinning, lace-making, making celebration cards. My daughter is creative with food—we went to hers for dinner on Tuesday and she’d made lovely spanakopita, a taste of Greece in this Mediterranean weather. And then I have POETRY! My week has been full of it.

I worked on the portfolio of ‘mother’ poems in the first part of this week. I revisited them all, weeded out the ones I really can’t live with, worked on the weaker ones and finished up with just over seventy poems I think I’m almost happy with. My next job is to put them into some kind of order: I just need to find a time when the cats are doing something else so that I can spread them across the floor and arrange them by themes or similarities/contrasts. Rosie Parker will want to help, and she’s not as much of a help as she thinks she is. She’s much better at shredding, usually as stuff is coming out of the printer.

Rosie Parker, my PA

On Tuesday I got Bill to help me take the conservatory table out into the garden and decided to work in the sunshine for the day. I got well creamed up, got my books together, my MacBook, my iPad and settled in the garden. I wrote in my diary that ‘I worked in the garden’ but it was book-work, not earth-work. I read; loads. I revisited reading I’d done earlier in my research, my MacBook at the ready for note-taking. But it’s difficult using a screen in sunshine, so I gave up on paper books and went to my Kindle Paperwhite. After an hour in the sunshine I moved into the shade: it was too hot to work. I finished reading ‘Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood’ edited by Moyra Davey (Seven Stories Press; 2001). This is a collection of essays by various women authors/poets about being a mother and a writer, and how compatible are the two states. It was relatively easy reading, but very interesting, the different ways that women have fitted writing careers into their alternative life as mothers; or more correctly, fitted being mothers into their successful careers as writers. The book ends with short stories by some of the contributors about being a writing mother: comedy, pathos, anger, all motherhood life is here. I came across Ariel Leve’s book ‘An Abbreviated Life’ (Harper Collins 2016) through my reading and I downloaded it to my Kindle. By this time I moved into the relative cool of the conservatory: I was frying. I’m reading Leve at the moment. It is an autobiographical account of her very difficult childhood with her mother, the poet and author Sandra Hochman, whom I hadn’t heard of but who was much celebrated as a writer and poet; she moved in the same circles as Philip Roth and Robert Lowell. Hochman’s only redeeming feature for her daughter was her writing, so I must check her out as a poet. She was a monster as a mother. The book is well worth a read, I recommend it.

Tuesday evening it was our monthly Stanza at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. We read and discussed the poetry of Hera Lyndsay Bird this month. It was a good session. HLB is a modern New Zealand poet; I heard her read at MMU’s Business school a few weeks back and she was good. You can find her work here: on a picture to get a poem. Her work is funny and surreal and entertaining. You’ll love it as much as we did on Tuesday.

Wednesday I had to go to the Black Ladd to use the Wi-Fi: our BT Wi-Fi has been pants for weeks. I had to reboot the hub six times on Tuesday and it was down again on Wednesday morning when I wanted to pay the online wages so I went to the Black Ladd to make sure folk were paid for their work. While I was there I ordered fast fibre broadband from BT, upgraded my account. We haven’t been able to access fibre broadband out here in the wilds of Saddleworth, right on the edge of the exchange’s range; but apparently now I can; so I did. It will be up and running by July 9th. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that was why my Wi-Fi hub had been playing up, BT building in obsolescence to force me to upgrade; because the existing hub has been performing perfectly adequately ever since. The rest of Wednesday I did book-work in the garden again. It was slightly less fierce heat on Wednesday and I stayed in the sun until lunchtime.

Thursday and Friday I doggy-sat Amie’s two Cockerpoos while she was in London. My shifts were in the daytime; Ben was home in the evening. I got lots of work done while I was there: reading, note-taking. We took several doggy walks in the sunshine, but it was so hot for them I didn’t want to wear them out too much; just enough to make them want to sleep a bit when we got home so I could do some more work. They have energy: lots of it. They are adorable.

I was back doggy-sitting again on Saturday morning for a couple of hours. At 11.30 I collected Hilary and we went to Hebden Bridge for the launch of Clare Shaw’s newest collection, ‘Flood’ (Bloodaxe; 2018). We had lunch when we got to Hebden Bridge then a look around the shops. The reading was at 4.00 at the Town Hall. The room was packed: we were wise to arrive early enough to get a seat. The event kicked off with a choir singing one of Clare’s poems, ‘Vow’, which has been set to music. That was lovely, something different. Then Clare read from ‘Flood’. Her poet friends Kim Moore, Keith Hutson and Jackie Hagan all read poems that were linked in someway to Clare’s work, through friendship, support or feminism. I bought the collection and Clare signed it for me. I’ll look forward to reading it, when I have space, perhaps on holiday in September.

In amongst all this, I have kept up the running on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I have completed week 7 of the 9 week challenge, so this week was all about running for 25 minutes with no recovery breaks. I did it, improving the distance I ran in the time by Friday as well. Bill and I saw someone running along the pavement one day this week, a lovely smooth running style. Bill asked me if that’s how I run. I had to say I had no idea; I was too busy being inside my body running and couldn’t get out of my body to see how I was doing it; but in my imagination I’m Mo Farah. Really, I could probably walk as fast as I run, but I’m doing what I didn’t for a moment think I would be able to do six weeks ago when seven-times-one-minute runs were a challenge; and that’s style enough for me.

I’ll leave you with one of the poems I’ve been re-writing this week. It started out as ‘Some Mothers’ after Kim Moore’s ‘Some People’; but it was always too sentimental for me, too ‘mother as paragon’; where were the real mothers in it, the struggles to cope, the loss of self, the women as subjects? I put that right this week, I think. It is a series of lines from the original poem interspersed with new lines to reflect the reality of modern motherhood in the week that Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, became only the second woman prime minister to give birth while in office; Benazir Bhutto being the first. I have interspersed my lines with motherhood quotes, reproduced in italics in the poem. It’s one I can keep working on, and will for some time, but I’m happier with it now. It’s nothing like the original but I think it will earn its place in the submission of my thesis. Here it is:


 having or relating to an inherent worthiness, justness,
or goodness that is obvious or unarguable

 she sits for hours with baby at her breast
or tucked onto her hip like an extension

midwives told they must respect mothers who decide
not to breastfeed

she expresses milk into sterilized bottles
goes out to find her lost self

enthusiastic, anxious, joyfully fecund, heartbreakingly infertile

she knows the lonely struggle of motherhood

she carries baby in a papoose close to her heart
where she will always hold her

she takes a short maternity break, goes back to the affairs of state

she loves the smell of babies straight from the bath
dusted with Johnson’s baby powder

‘photographing motherhood’ focuses on the mother-child bond

she knows the catch 22 of child care, knows
no matter how many hours it won’t be enough

woman posts about the realities of working as a new mum

she knows baby won’t get in the way of running a country

she loves the smell of babies even when they sick up clotted milk
on her best silk shirt

she needs childcare to enable her to work,
needs to be able to work to pay for childcare

she says a prime minister’s womb is nobody’s business but her own

motherhood, the unfinished work of feminism

she knows the stigma of benefit culture, the tabloid shame of the claim

she gets to discuss role reversal with her baby’s father,
who knows there is more to a mother than her baby

woman writes to husband asking for his help raising kids

she understands that babies are shit manufacturing plants

Motherhood is a great honour and privilege, yet
it is also synonymous with servanthood

for the love of her child she will suffer the last ignominy of the food bank

she doesn’t ignore her baby’s cries even in the middle of the night
when all she needs is the oblivion of sleep

she wants the best of motherhood and self

post-partum depression is not ‘the baby blues’

she comforts her baby even when she is so tired
she can’t remember her own name

she has to conquer the world even when she hoped
to meet herself in a peaceful dream.

the rocking of the cradle and the ruling of the world

he rocks the cradle and is happy with this
knowing phallus comes in many guises

she sings nursery rhymes so loud and long
the childfree couple next door complains about the noise

she knows love is more than new shoes, a roof to sleep under,
a full belly

motherhood: all love begins and ends there

she has a library of stories about the night her baby was born
and which fair of face, full of grace day it was.


Rachel Davies
June 2018