Render unto Caesar…

PhD requires a huge commitment in terms of time, work, self-denial; holidays are forfeited to PhD work, down-time is a thing of the past; PhD is a cruel taskmaster that will have its pound of flesh—along with surrounding blood, bone and soft tissue. It is relentless. It is hard. So it’s only when you have a few days respite from it that you realise just how demanding it is.

I sent my thesis off to my study support team a couple of weeks ago—I meet with them to discuss it on Wednesday of this week. I have worked on some of the poems in that time, but on the whole I’ve left it alone, I’ve been in recession from PhD. I’ve managed to sort out my study: it’s ready to face the next round of relentless work after Wednesday’s meeting. I’ve shredded a small copse of trees, returned poetry and academic books to some kind of order on the shelves; I have a desk I can see the surface of for the first time in months. I’ve been out for lunch with my partner, Bill, without feeling too guilty about the time I’m not working; I’ve met Hilary for coffee—about which, more later; I’ve taken a couple of days to spend with friends and family; in short, I’ve had a foretaste of what my life will become when the PhD is done and submitted and I get my life back. But, render unto Caesar…after Wednesday the PhD shall have me back with a vengeance.

There is a lot of book launch preparation going on at the moment. The launch of the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie…will take place at Leighton Moss RSPB bird reserve on Friday November 16th, 7.00 p.m. Come along if you can: there’ll be some good poetry reading. Hilary and I are sharing a cottage for the weekend with a poet friend and fellow Stanza member, Linda Goulden. We all have poems in the anthology. We’re taking the cottage from Thursday to Sunday to give us time for some writing while we’re there. Yes, I’ll be taking PhD work and giving it a couple of hours before breakfast as is my wont on holidays. It won’t be ignored. Then the launch of the first DragonSpawn pamphlet, with poems by Hilary Robinson, the late Tonia Bevins and myself, is happening on November 7th, 6.30 p.m. at the Portico Library in Manchester with a subsidiary launch in Saddleworth at the Black Ladd, Amie’s pub/restaurant, on November 13th, 7.00 p.m. We’ve adapted the flyer for the Portico to produce a flyer for the Black Ladd event: later today I’ll be printing off several copies and distributing them around my local area. We’re having an open mic for other local poets at the Black Ladd event, so if you live in the area and fancy either event, do come along.

On Tuesday I met up with Hilary to discuss a poets’ interview we have been asked to give. Hilary met Deborah Edgeley, editor at Ink Pantry Publishing, when she went to the Nantwich Words and Music Festival in September. Deborah asked if she could do an author interview with Hilary and me concerning our shared pamphlet. We met on Wednesday this week to discuss our response to the questions, some of which invited a joint response, some of which needed individual responses from us. We put together our joint responses over coffee and nibbles, then wrote our individual responses—about our own contributions to the pamphlet—and finished the ‘interview’ by email in the afternoon. The interview will be published on the Ink Pantry website: http://www.inkpantry.com

I came across an advert for an Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V: https://www.anticdisposition.co.uk It’s touring the country in commemoration of the ending of the first world war, visiting several Cathedrals around the country during the tour. I have booked to see it at Manchester Cathedral on Wednesday of the coming week; we’re going with Hilary and her husband, David. It sounds like an interesting production, about which more next week. Wednesday is my last day of recession from PhD: I’ll be back to work with a vengeance after Thursday, so this is a little pool of respite before taskmaster returns.

Enough. Here’s a poem, very much in first draft. I wrote it at Sean O’Brien’s Poets&Players workshop a couple of week’s ago so it’s still a bit raw. It is ‘a novel in thirty lines or less’, the theme of the workshop. It was inspired by the painting ‘A Game of Patience’ by the artist Meredith Frampton: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-game-of-patience-78276 and by the Demeter and Persephone myth. It needs some more work to earn its place in the PhD portfolio, but here it is in its raw first draft:

The Patience of Persephone

She waits for six months in a year
then waits again for six.
She can’t have what she most desires,
that lost part of herself. Listen!
That’s her rummaging upstairs,
another fruitless search in the loft.

I sense the black king’s impatient
for his alabaster maiden, his ice queen.
From reaping to sowing he thinks he can thaw me
with his red hot pomegranate flesh,
his spiked wine.
He blows on my neck with his sulphurous breath
but I won’t melt.
So he waits all over again, from sowing to reaping.

I know it’s time to decide.
The corn’s threshed, the straw’s stacked.
But I will finish my game.
This card says go—you owe him.
That card says stay—you owe her.
It’s all one to me—it seems like
nothing’s owed to me.
But, sod it,
my patience wears thin!

Rachel Davies
October 2018

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