A fortnight in seven days…

Even by my standards, this has been a busy week. Poetry, PhD and Life have all been large. I worked on the thesis on Sunday and on Tuesday, continuing the redraft and editing jobs. I separated the thesis and the poems: I found on Wiki images a great picture of teeth hanging on string, perfect for my title Dreaming of Pulling Teeth, so I copied that—no credit asked—as my cover pic. However, WordPress won’t allow me to reproduce it here. I prepared a list of contents and checked out every reference to the poems in my thesis—what a good idea it was to write them in red in the first place, knowing the page numbers would change radically in the edit and I’d need to locate them easily. Finally, on Tuesday, I sent the thesis and the collection off to my team. Because I’d done a lot of cut-and-pasting on the thesis, I deleted the annotations as I went along, so I also sent the previous annotated version—thank goodness I’d saved it when I started work on it—with my responses showing how I’d addressed my team’s advice. Sending it off was like letting out your corsets—I can relax a bit now. But I’m already thinking of other poems I can write to include in the collection.

The portfolio of poems includes a section on ‘alternative mothers’ and the next one will be dedicated to Polly Myalgia. It reared its ugly head again this week. This is a painful auto-immune disease I’ve been suffering for about four and a half years. It’s been treated with the cortico-steroid, Prednisolone. At the end of April, I had a little ceremony when I took my final Pred tablet, so pleased was I to be off it. By the time I saw my rheumatologist in mid-May, the tops of my arms were already a bit stiff and I suspected it was returning; but blood tests for anti-inflammatory markers were only slightly raised, so I stuck with ibuprofen rather than returning to the steroids. By August the stiffness was a nuisance, so I requested a repeat blood test: normal result. I continued to take painkillers and ibuprofen morning and night with no real benefit. A feature of Polymyalgia is that it’s at its worst first thing in the morning and improves throughout the day, and this was happening. This week the pain and stiffness were so bad I contacted the rheumatology clinic again: I had an appointment booked for December but didn’t feel I could wait for two more months. More blood tests and a thorough medical examination and I was diagnosed not with Polymyalgia again, but a ‘spinal issue’ involving trapped nerves, dating back to the fractured fourth thoracic vertebra in 2016. The thought is that the Prednisolone was masking the problem while I was taking it and it’s only since I stopped taking it that the pain has been given permission to make a nuisance of itself. Mostly the problem is in my left shoulder, which has very restricted movement, the right one less of a problem. This all makes sense because when I suffered the fracture, the pain and bruising was predominantly over the left shoulder blade; for more than a year I couldn’t lie on my left side in bed. I’m to see a consultant, probably in the coming week; it’ll probably involve steroid injections directly into the shoulder joints. Ask me how much I’m looking forward to that!

Thankfully, there were other good things on the poetry front this week. On Tuesday evening it was our Stanza meeting. We had a writing session: Hilary, Pat and I took writing prompts for members to write poems, and we shared the poems at the end of the evening. My activity involved writing acrostics but disguising them so they didn’t seem like acrostics. Hilary gave me a lovely book for my birthday, Lost Words, containing some of the words that were removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary to make room for modern technology and social media related words. The words are surprising in their commonness: conker, fern, blackbird, bluebell to name just four. The poet has written acrostics for each word and the book is beautifully illustrated. I used that as stimulus for my activity. Hilary brought a prompt where we had to invent a set of rules for old women to live by: as we were all ‘old women’ at the meeting, that was a good fun activity which brought some lovely poems. Pat’s activity involved photos as stimulus. Pat had been to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset during the summer and brought lovely photos of fossils she’d seen ‘lying around’.

Also concerning poetry, the final proofs of our joint pamphlet Some Mothers Do… arrived from Rebecca Bilkau, the editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. The cover is indeed beautiful: I’ve been trying to get a copy to include in my blog but it all came as PDF and I can’t seem to copy it to my photos. Hilary sent me .docx versions she’d made, but I’m in a hotel room in London this morning and the wifi is limited so I can’t access my email except by G4 on my phone, which isn’t very helpful under the circumstances. Perhaps I’ll be able to do it from the train on the way home. Perhaps. Fingers crossed. There’s a flyer based on the front cover, with details of the launch: here are details of the launch and as soon as I can, I’ll bring you the front and back covers and the flyer in glorious technicolour.

The Launch of Some Mothers Do…
6.30pm Wednesday 7 November 2018
The Portico Library 57 Mosley Street Manchester M2 3FF
Be there, or we’ll tell your ma…

The Portico Library, though, with all the gravitas our poems deserve, obviously! Please come, if you can. There’ll be wine and nibbles, poetry, entertainment and everything. What’s not to like?

And finally, here I am in London. We travelled down on the train early yesterday morning, taxied to our hotel to drop off our overnight bag—I don’t feel up to being jostled on the underground yet—and walked the short distance to the Duke of York’s theatre for the matinée performance of King Lear, with Sir Ian McKellan in the title role. We stopped for lunch at a lovely café, La Roche, opposite the theatre and were in our seats for the 13.30 start. Oh. My. Word. It was wonderful; and McKellan by far the best Lear I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in my time. He was wonderful. I was sobbing by the end, as he carried the dead Cordelia in on his back. Sinead Cusack was brilliant as Kent, Danny Webb as Gloucester; and if you read this blog regularly you’ll know my fascination with TV detective series. Two of my favourite sergeants were in the cast: Claire Price—from Rebus—as Goneril; and Anthony Howell—from Foyle’s War—as Albany. It was such a treat, a birthday treat from my three children. Every year I say ‘that was the best birthday ever’; but this was by far the best birthday ever, ever. I am blessed.

Finally, a poem I wrote in that year of anxiety when my daughter was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma from a mole on her shin. The mole was removed, biopsied, identified as malignant and four years of treatment and ongoing monitoring began. I’d been reading Jane Yeh’s The Ninjas and I had that music in my brain when I wrote this. The rhyme scheme and rhythm gives it an illusion of humour, but it becomes sinister, unlike malignant melanoma which is just sinister. I’ve included it in my portfolio with a set of poems inspired by being the mother of a daughter. Here it is:

 The Moles

Their moleskin pants are designed by Molinari.
They buy their Rayban shades at Sunglass Hut.

They mine the soil in nice suburban gardens
to use it raising hills on grass well cut.

They use white sticks in subterranean tunnels,
in daylight, leave them in the brolly stand.

They carry a brace of useful on-board shovels
so they’re ready for retirement castles in the sand.

They give their name to tide-breaks, whistle-blowers
and pigment patches that could be beauty spots

except sometimes the patches turn psychotic.
They grow and grow like porridge in magic pots,

they grow and grow till molehills seem like mountains:
big bad-ass moles make ugly beauty spots.

They ride down shinbones like a sledge on snowdrift,
a game psychotic moles dig more than soil,

then when they’re bored, they turn to Hammer Horror.
Using Ultra-S-F-X to summon ghouls

they spook the likes of leukocytes and lymph nodes,
blow raspberries on the blades of surgeons’ knives.

They know they’re marked so you should see them party!
High on shots of morphine, they live their lives

like a dance macabre under theatre lights.
Moles won’t give up the dance without a fight.


Rachel Davies







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