Monthly Archives: November 2018

Poetry and the Watch List

This week has been poetry.
I slapped poetry between two slices of buttered bread,
washed that butty down with the wine of poetry.
I bathed in poetry, poetry was the sponge and the loofah
I washed my back with.
I dived into the stream of poetry,
swam with the tide of poetry
Poetry has been my sleeping, my dreaming
my waking up.
My road has been walked to the beat of poetry’s feet.

So as you can imagine, there hasn’t been much time for anything else; and in fact, my head has been so much in poetry’s space, it’s been in the wrong place for other stuff, including PhD work. I’ve heard the expression ‘I need to give my head a wobble’: this week I understood exactly what that meant. My head will be duly wobbled now that poetry has been cut down to manageable size.

Tuesday was the Saddleworth launch of Some Mothers Do…at Amie’s pub, the Black Ladd. I went for my fortnightly haircut in the morning, but the hairdresser’s wasn’t open when I arrived—first appointment—so I popped into the clothes shop next door for a browse while I waited. I accidentally bought a gorgeous, dark green velvet dress for the poetry event in the evening. It was wrapped and in my bag before I realised what was happening! It’s the hairdresser’s fault for not being open.

We went to the Black Ladd at about 5.00 p.m. Amie closed the restaurant to the public, although the bar remained open. We met up with Hilary and her husband and son; and Angi Holden and Angela Topping, who again read for their friend, Tonia Bevins, our dragon triplet. Richard drove up with our friend, Maria, from Peterborough after work, arrived about 5.30; gradually the audience started to arrive. We were unsure how many would make it: Saddleworth is on the rural edge of Oldham, public transport is non-existent after about 6.00 p.m. so a car is a must: the pub began to fill with friends, neighbours, stanza members. It was lovely that so many people came to help us celebrate the book. We started the poetry reading at 7.15,  had readings from the book in the first half, called an interval to refill glasses about 8.00.  Amie had said she would put on ‘some nibbles’; in the event she filled a table with lovely finger buffet stuff, quiches, samosas, bhajis, macaroons and all manner of ‘nibbles’. it was a lovely surprise. The second half was given over to an open-mic; three of my Stanza members signed up, and Angi and Angela took five minutes each to read their own work. Hilary and I finished off with a couple more poems each from the book. A lovely evening, as they say, was had by all. Thank you so much to Amie for hosting the evening, and to Mo and Jill who helped her; and to all the wonderful people who gave up their time to come. I expected to be so buzzed up I wouldn’t sleep after; but in fact, the excitement of two launches in one week along with wine mixing with residual co-codamol for the shoulder thing and I was out like a light soon after we got home, slept like a baby.

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Hilary and I reading at the Saddleworth Launch of Some Mothers Do… at the Black Ladd

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Bill being a very attentive member of the audience

Wednesday was spent preparing to come away on Thursday. I’m writing this from my bed in Silverdale in the South Lake District, where I’m staying with Hilary and Linda, another poet friend. Hilary and I travelled up together on Thursday for yet another poetry book launch, this time for the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie, launched at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. It’s an anthology with poems by 70+ poets all inspired by birds on the Watch List of endangered species. Yes there are rare-ish birds on the list: the red backed shrike, the dottrel; but more worrying, there are everyday garden birds like sparrow, song thrush, starling. A recent report by the WWF points out that the world has lost 60% of its animal populations in the last forty years! That’s a staggering and shameful figure. Human activity, modern farming practices, habitat destruction, climate change all contribute to ensuring our wildlife is critically endangered. Watch the Birdie recognises the threat and has attempted to do a small thing to redress the balance. John F Kennedy said, ‘One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.’ This anthology is poetry’s way of trying to make a difference. The book launch was at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and the book will be sold in the gift shops at several RSPB reserves in the North West, all profits going to support the preservation work of the RSPB. The launch was another lovely evening, a gathering of about fifty poets, old dragons and new, old friends and new; about thirty read their poems. Beautiful Dragons is the brain-child of Rebecca Bilkau, the editor, and it’s lovely that so many poets sign up to the various anthologies she dreams up. Friday’s launch had a real reunion feel: good poetry, wine, wonderful cheeses and cake, and a silly folk song about humans flying in a ‘flour sack cape’ from Rebecca’s husband, Michael: that’s what I call a brilliant night. On Saturday morning we went back to the reserve for a guided walk, which was lovely. We saw a bittern, which in the world of twitchers—bird watchers—is quite a coup apparently: they wait with binoculars raised for years to see one; we just turned up and there it was!  We saw squillions of different varieties of duck; we saw a large white egret; we saw a pair of cormorants fishing for food; we learned of the bearded tit, which isn’t a tit at all really, and which changes its diet in the autumn and winter from the abundance of insect life in the spring and summer to the seeds of the reed beds, but needs to eat grit to store in its crop to use as a mill to grind the seeds to a pulp so that they can be more easily digested. Evolution, eh! Survival of the most imaginative! After the walk around the reserve, Hilary, Linda and I all joined the RSPB, making a small contribution to the wonderful conservation work they do.

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The cover of the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie

I’m going to include my Birdie poem this week. I chose the fieldfare to write about, because I remember it from my growing up in the Cambridgeshire fens. It’s a member of the thrush family, a winter visitor from Scandinavia. It arrives, and lives, in large flocks, returning to Scandinavia in the spring to breed. In the fens its name is pronounced ‘felfer’, and research revealed it has several dialect names, both here and in its native Scandinavia. The poem is an acrostic, a form that takes the name of the bird and uses its letters as the first letter of the lines, so that the bird—in this case FIELDFARE—is spelt down the page. I tried to disguise the acrostic by allowing the lines to run on, limiting the end stops. I hope I’ve been successful. WordPress doesn’t like the formatting of poetry: alternate lines in this poem should be tabbed in once; I’ll leave you to work it out. 😦

 

Fieldfare

Feature of the fenland fields
in winter, you arrive
in large flocks, flying overhead
to your migrant shelters.
Egregious thrush-cousin of song, mistle,
blackbird: you never joined their choir.
Large and several, you bring a little of Scandinavia
to snow-covered hills and woodlands.
Daring aeronauts, take off, soar, show us
your red capes, grey rumps, black tails.
Felfer, fallowfarer—I see a nickname
as an expression of affection
and you are indeed well-loved—
felfit, felfire, feldifire.
Remember, though, where you found succour
in this theatre of ice and snow:
eat well, entertain us with your tuneless soliloquy
then exit stage right,  pursued by the spring.

Rachel Davies
November 2018
[Watch the Birdie;Beautiful Dragons Press 2018]

Dragon Sisters

This has been a good week. To coin one of Trump’s favourite hyperboles, this has been the best week in the history of weeks!

On Sunday I was working on my thesis. I have cut and pasted a lot, which is painful but necessary. I’ve put all the cuts into an out-takes file for future use if I need them. I put some into a rather long footnote about the historical male domination of poetry publication. I’m showing how difficult it was for women to be anything but domestic slaves. No wonder post-natal depression happened, when women could completely lose their personhood in wifedom and motherhood. Anyway, I’m chipping away at the thesis again, like a word sculptor, giving it the correct shape, honing it. And re-reading Carol Ann Duffy for the poems I’ll add into the mix. She writes so well on having/being a mother.

On Monday my daughter asked if I’d like to go to Peterborough on Tuesday to visit a friend who’s having a hard time at the moment. Of course I would, so that took one of my working days, but it was worth it. I made up the slacking by working Monday evening, sorting out my reading sets for Wednesday’s launch of Some Mothers Do…I settled on a mix of poems from the book and poems that fit the theme of the book. On Tuesday, I was awake at 3.00 a.m. I had a poem going through my head, a message to insert into the ‘thank you’ card for Rebecca Bilkau, editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. I lay in bed trying to form it into a cinquaine, a five-line syllabic form; that’s the kind of creative insomniac I am. Eventually, I sat up and wrote that poem down. By then it was too late to go back to sleep. I emailed it to Hilary Robinson for feedback, then I got up and got ready for Peterborough. Amie was collecting me just after mid-day, so I had the morning to practise my two reading sets for Wednesday. I had two ten-minute slots, so that’s about five poems in each half. I like to stick to timing as closely as I can, it’s the professional thing to do. Poets shouldn’t need to ask, ‘how much longer have I got?’ or ‘do I have time for another one?’ If you prepared properly, you should know the answers to those questions. So I practised the readings to a stop watch. The timings include any introductions you want to give for the poems, so I drafted a few notes to keep intros to a concise minimum. Both sets were just about ten minutes each. My voice was fading by the end, a sign of the nerves I always experience before readings. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy to stand up in front of a room full of people and read poetry, it isn’t. It’s painfully self-revealing and full of ‘what-ifs’: what if they don’t like this poem, what if they question why they came in the first place, what if they have tomatoes and cabbages hidden about their persons and they start throwing? But a poet friend, Clare Shaw once told me, if you don’t believe in your poems how can you expect the audience to believe in them? So that’s why I practise so conscientiously: I need to read them like they’re the best poems in the history of poems—sorry, it’s becoming a habit—while making eye contact with the audience to keep them engaged.

We got to Peterborough about 3.30 p.m. in time for our friend coming home from work. We sat in her house amongst boxes of belongings—she’s moving at the weekend—and ate Chinese take-away out of the containers because she only has one plate that isn’t packed, and we chatted a lot. I hope we helped to cheer her up a little. Relationship breakdown is a hard thing to survive; and I know from personal experience that it helps to have the love and support of friends. It was nearly midnight when we got home.

Wednesday was up there among the best days of my life. I was awake early again, couldn’t sleep for the excitement—like a child at Christmas. I made a little nest for the hatching dragon I found in Wales, a gift for Rebecca. I heard back from Hilary about my cinquaine: she liked it, so I wrote it into a thank-you note and put it into the dragon’s nest with the egg. I practised my reading sets again, edited the intros to make them even more concise. I took some pampering time getting ready for the launch, changed shoes about six times before making a decision, then went out to meet Hilary and her family. Hilary was carrying a big, flat bag she’d made to transport the cake she’d baked for the launch: photo later. We went to Bunderbust to eat, which was lovely because it was Diwali, so a lovely party atmosphere. After the meal we went to the Portico library for the launch. Oh my, what a lovely room, full of old books and knowledge, an awe-inspiring room. My friend Joan, an avid Manchester United fan, had chosen the launch over the match against Juventus—greater love hath no woman! My ex-Reception teacher, Shirley Johnson was there with her lovely husband, which was a wonderful surprise: so many friends and poets in the audience, and all there for we dragon triplets. I gave Rebecca my dragon egg gift, which she loved; and when she read my little poem there were tears in her eyes. The readings went well; Hilary and I opened the event with a joint reading of one of my poems, a ‘coupling’ which takes some factual lines on a subject and intersperses them with poetic responses. Hilary read the factual bits, I read the poetry bits. It was a good opening. I read my first set, followed by Hilary; then Angi Holden and Angela Topping read on behalf of our dragon triplet and their friend, Tonia Bevins who sadly died in the summer before she could see this project completed. Her friends did her proud.

We took a break to replenish glasses and finally eat the lovely cake Hilary had brought. After the interval we had a second round of readings; Hilary and I signed books then some of us retired to the pub downstairs for a celebratory drink. Such lovely people, poets; so supportive as a community. While we were in the pub, Mark Pajak, the poet who organises the Royal Exchange series of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends poetry events, asked me if I’d like to read at the January 14thevent, to promote the book. He can only accommodate one reader in the timeframe, and Hilary read there quite recently. Well, we thought that over for a full two seconds before agreeing. The only barrier was, we were booked to read in Halifax on the same night. Hilary got in touch with the organiser of that event to request a rethink and he’s agreed to find us an alternative date. So, CAD & Friends it is then. Bring it on. I’ll read some poems from all three dragon siblings at the event. Details of the excellent CAD & F series here: https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/carol-ann-duffy-friends-2018

Here are a few photos of the launch at the Portico Library:

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Some Mothers Do…

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Rebecca Bilkau, editor at Beautiful Dragons Press, and our Dragon Mother.

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Still life with Hilary and Cake.

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Me, looking much more serious than I felt on the night.

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Angi Holden (R) and Angela Topping reading on behalf of Tonia Bevins.

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Manchester United fan, Joan, missing the Juventus match to be at the launch.

On Saturday, Hilary came to my house and we worked out how to use the headphone mic and small blue-tooth amplifier Amie bought us for the Saddleworth launch on Tuesday: 7.00 p.m. 13thNovember at the Black Ladd on Buckstones Road—OL1 4ST if you feel like setting your satnavs and joining us for the evening. The bar will be open, there’ll be nibbles, and a roaring fire in the grate; so come along and help to make it a good night. We worked out how the mic works. We set up the amp on a shelf in the lounge and sent Bill downstairs to the garage with the mic and we heard him clear as a bell, even at that distance. Fantastic. Having sorted that out, we signed some books for people who have requested copies but couldn’t make the launch. We feel like real poets, with book signings and everything! We went for coffee and a bite at Albion Farm in Delph, which is getting ready for its Christmas Festival. Yup, the Christmas market is open in Manchester and Albion Farm is getting festive. Deck the halls…

Finally, here’s the poem I wrote for Rebecca. it’s a cinquaine: a syllabic five-line poem, 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllables respectively. Our book is the first in a planned series of DragonSpawn pamphlets for poets who have written for Beautiful Dragons anthologies but haven’t yet had a full publication of their own. It’s Rebecca’s way of giving new poets a leg-up in the publication race. This poem recognises our appreciation and awe at being the first-spawn of the Dragon Mother. I told Hilary that Rebecca had tears in her eyes when she read the poem and Hilary said, ‘why? It wasn’t that bad, was it?’ And that’s why I love my dragon sister so much.

DragonSpawn

Breathe, and
from that fluent
glittery stream draw steam,
fireball choir of hatchling firstspawn
dragons.

 

‘…fluent, glittery stream…’ of poetry, from Carol Ann Duffy’s
‘Invisible Ink’ (The BeesPicador 2011)

Rachel Davies
November 2018

On Sincerity and shameless self-promotion

When I was a teacher, that didn’t feel like work at all; as headteacher, more responsibility, more walking a treadmill but still disbelief that I was being paid to do something I loved. Now I’m retired, the best job I’ve ever had. But reading Carol Ann Duffy for my PhD work? Behave yourself, that’s not work at all! I spent Sunday morning going through all my CAD collections to find poems exploring her roles as mother and daughter. It’s a strand of the thesis: that mothers have also been daughters, can, like female Januses, see the relationship from both directions. I scoured the contents pages of all my CAD books, read and made note of any poem that seemed relevant. On Saturday I read her new collection, Sincerity (Picador 2018) her last as Poet Laureate, from cover to cover. Oh my what a collection, a fitting end to an unorthodox laureateship with a huge nod to her ‘fluent, glittery stream’ of poetry—from her poem ‘Invisible Ink’ (The Bees Picador 2011). The intertextual references to poets of the past are subtle—sometimes as subtle as a brick—but astounding. Spellcheck just offered ‘intersexual’ as an alternative to ‘intertextual’, which it doesn’t recognise; and given that Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, Shakespeare, Auden, Plath, Elizabeth Bishop are just some of the poets she celebrates in her poem ‘Auden Comes Through At The Séance’, I suppose ‘intersexual’ serves just as well! So that was a good morning; but it definitely wasn’t work, I enjoyed it too much. I’ve been blessed in my life that my work has always been rewarding, hobby-like, not like work: mostly the PhD is hard graft; this week it wasn’t work at all.

On Sunday afternoon I was back at my desk, taking the red pen—or rather, the shocking pink marker—to the thesis, seeing how I could rearrange it to cut out some bulk and to eliminate repetition. 20,000 words seems like a lot when you start writing, but I left that particular way-marker behind some miles past and I need to find my way back to it. It was interesting to read it as a whole piece again; and to read some appreciative comments from my Director of Studies: a little positivity goes a long way. By the end of the day I was half way through, building a good idea of where I wanted to go with it. Some of the stuff I’ll cut is important to me so I’ll probably make very long footnotes, as footnotes are not included in the word count! I finished that job on Tuesday. At the moment a radical redraft seems like a mammoth task, so I’ve given it some thinking time, to bring it down to size.

On Tuesday evening it was our Poetry Society Stanza meeting at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. Our numbers have reduced to critical levels in the recent past, so it was good to have five members attending on Tuesday with apologies from two more regulars. I think we are off the red list! This week we read and discussed the poems that won or were shortlisted for Forward poetry prizes recently. Details of winning/shortlisted poets can be found on the Forward website: http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/forward-prizes-for-poetry/forward-prizes-for-poetry-2018/so I won’t list them again here, but we loved poems by Vahni Capildeo, Fiona Benson, Jorie Graham. Favourite poet of the night, though, was Liz Berry, whose poem ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ won the prize for best single poem. I cheated a bit and read a second poem, ‘Horse Heart’, from her pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood, which wasn’t included among the prizes but could well have been. It’s one of those poems that gives me gooseflesh every time I read it. Liz Berry is our headline reader at Poets&Players on 17thNovember, an event I’m sadly going to miss for other commitments; she’s running a workshop for us in the morning as well. A fellow stanza member is taking my copy of her pamphlet to get it signed. If you’re interested, and in the Manchester area, why not come along to the Whitworth: you won’t be disappointed; details here: https://poetsandplayers.co

We almost have our hands on our joint collection, Some Mothers Do…The launch is at the Portico Library on Wednesday this week, and Hilary and I have been undertaking some shameless self-promotion. Hilary managed to get us into the local newspaper, Saddleworth Independent; and we have been sending email invitations to all and sundry. I think we’ll have an audience befitting such a worthy venue; but there’s always room for more, even if we have to sit on each others’ knees, so come along if you can: Portico Library, Manchester; 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday 7thNovember. We will welcome you with open arms—and a complementary glass of wine—and Hilary is making a cake with an iced topping featuring the book’s cover. Janet Rogerson, the Chairperson at Poets&Players, has also circulated the event on our behalf under the P&P logo, which is very considerate of her, so hopefully some of our regular P&P audience will come along. I’m as excited as a child at Christmas!

In other news, I had an ultrasound scan on my left shoulder this week. I didn’t find out anything, have to wait for the results to be with my GP in about a week and discuss it with my own doctor. It was strange to take a stroll around my own shoulder joint and glimpse its inner workings, though. I heard the word ‘ossification’ more than once so I’m guessing the diagnosis will be ‘significant osteo-arthritis’. Hopefully the physiotherapy will restore a full range of movement. I had to move my arm to all sorts of positions it didn’t like going, so I bought Co-codamol at the Lloyd’s Pharmacy attached to the Integrated Care Centre on the way out. A question: why would a box with the warning not to take for more than three days for risk of addiction, then pack four day’s supply of Co-codamol in the box? Seems counter-productive to me. Anyway, I’ve been taking it for about two weeks now, so I think I’m probably doomed! I don’t feel addicted, but it definitely knocks the shoulder pain into some sort of bearable level, so I’ll keep taking it as long as necessary. I gave the shoulder some hot water bottle therapy when I got home and Bill cooked tea.

I went for a haircut on Tuesday. When I got back to the car, my key wouldn’t work! I tried a couple of times, then tried it in the lock: it didn’t fit the lock. Oh my, I was stranded: how would I get home if I couldn’t get in my car. I was about to ring Bill to come and get me, when I realised I was trying to break into the wrong car. This was a Honda, mine is a Vauxhall Mokka. I’d actually walked past my own car to get to this one. Thankfully it didn’t have an activated alarm, or I would have been one very embarrassed woman. I think I need a holiday!

A poem:  a sonnet to celebrate Halloween, which happened in the week. I didn’t know either of my grandmothers. I didn’t know I missed them until I became a grandmother myself; so I have invented them. This one is my favourite: a bit edgy, a bit feisty, knows how to deal with a dysfunctional family. I didn’t meet my grandmothers, but I hope at least one of them was a bit like this:

Grandma was a white one

…flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:
heated seat and pillion, power assisted
bristles. Her coven wasn’t impressed though,
snubbed her at the crossroads,
black-balled her. Jealousy’s the new ducking stool,
she laughed, helping herself from the cauldron
without so much as a couplet.

She didn’t waste the old hubble-bubble, just
threw in a word or two, a wow phrase,
a strong verb, the merest pinch of adjective.
She spelled each stanza as if it was her last.
Fly where you’re not wanted, that’s
what she taught me. Land in your own mess
of family. Spell and respell them.

Rachel Davies
October 2016