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: https://www.heralindsaybird.com/poetry.htmlClick 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.