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

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