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



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