Review and Preview 2018

It’s the time of year for taking stock, for reviewing and previewing. I took a look at last year’s review of the year to find a measuring stick to gauge my successes; by those, and by any standards, it’s been a good year, even after making allowances for my terminal optimism.

I saw that last year I had three New Year resolutions:

  • to complete the PhD in 2018
  • to take on and complete the Couch to 5K challenge
  • To give the house a big autumn clean

So, how did I do on the resolution front, given that the first of these is pretty major? Well, I didn’t complete my PhD: it’s ongoing. In the summer my Director of Studies gave me the option of transferring to the part-time route to give me more time to complete, and I took the opportunity. My new deadline is towards the end of May 2019, and it is a finishing line that is in sight. My annual review in the summer was very positive and uplifting. I have a draft thesis that DoS and I are both quite pleased with. I’m still working on it, but the tasks become shorter and more manageable every time I meet my team. I’ll be sending off the latest version at the start of the year. I’m hoping the thesis will pass muster with very little extra work. On the creative aspect, I met with Jean Sprackland in November to discuss the complete collection. She liked it and declared it a ‘sufficient body of work for PhD’. She gave me some advice on one or two of the poems, but overall it was a very positive meeting. It’s good to know I can consider it complete; although it’s poetry, it keeps coming. I have added five more poems since I spoke to her, with several workshops on the horizon before my submission date in May, so there will be more poems. Overall, I feel in a much more relaxed place about the PhD now than I did a year ago. I have started to say—although very quietly—‘when’ rather than ‘if’. I was enthusiastic when I started this journey over three years ago. I have come close to giving up on one or two occasions, but mostly I have faced the angst and upped the determination to succeed. It has been a tough ride, peaks and troughs; but I’ve reached some kind of plains, like the fens of my personal origin. I feel on flat ground and the chequered flag is in sight.

I did complete the Couch to 5K. It took me two starts. I kicked off on January 1stwith the enthusiasm of all New Year Resolutions. It was hard, but I stuck at it until, by February, a couple of microbe attacks and various other life events got in the way and C-2-5K fell by the wayside. I started again in May, when I was away with friends in a cottage near Scarborough. I kept it up that time and completed it on my birthday in July. I never actually ran 5K, but I did fulfil the running times and I was running about 3K, three times a week. In September the old body let me down again, when an old shoulder injury forced me to rest up: a torn tendon doesn’t too much like being jogged up and down in a 3K run. It’s been a painful few months; I’m still having physio, which I think is working, until I think it isn’t and the pain flares again. But I can now put my coat on myself, so that’s progress. Perhaps, as my doctor assured me, I’ll be back to running next year.

Finally, the big autumn house clean. Well, that was dependent on my finishing the PhD, so of course it hasn’t been done yet. I’m still on emergency rations of housework until the thesis with its collection is submitted. Perhaps it will be a big Spring Clean; and after all, that’s much more traditional and appropriate, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Enough of lapsed 2018 resolutions; what other good things did the year bring? Well, I’ve been on several poetry residentials. In February Hilary and I went to the Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham for a long weekend fix of poetry. We went to workshops run by Liz Berry, Pascale Petit, Karen McCarthy Woolfe; we heard them all read, along with lots of other wonderful readers too numerous to mention. We enjoyed it so much, we’re going again in February 2019. You should consider it if you like poetry: it’s one of the good ones. Details here: 

In April we went to St. Ives in Cornwall for a week of poetry led by Kim Moore and Helen Mort. What a good week that was, despite the norovirus that had plagued me the week before and continued to poke and prod through the week away. We invented a new fitness routine, ‘extreme benching’: it involved tackling the long haul uphill to the hotel from the beach by taking regular rests on the benches along the way. My energy levels were low, but my enthusiasm for poetry was as high as ever. We’re going to St. Ives again in April 2019, Kim has invited Amanda Dalton to be her second presenter this year, so that’s one to look forward to. Here’s a link to that event, in case it isn’t already fully booked up: 

In May I went with two friends, Hilary and Polly, to our own poetry ‘Line Break’ in a cottage near Scarborough. That was a good week, lots of poetry—reading and writing—, lots of touring. We went to York, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay. It was there I restarted the C-2-5K challenge. The weather was gorgeous, as it was for most of the summer; but that week was the start of it. And in December we went to a Kim Moore Poetry Carousel in Grange over Sands. Kim, Andrew McMillan, Sean O’Brien and Greta Stoddart were the tutors: what a fantastic line-up. I found some new poems for my PhD collection while I was there. And yes, I’ll be repeating both of these events next year too.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some truly world-class poets this year. My favourites were Michael Simmons Roberts, Andrew McMillan and Simon Armitage. Jean Sprackland’s inaugural professorial lecture in the spring, and the launch of her book Green Noise (Jonathan Cape 2018) were highlights of the year. A series of People’s Poetry Lectures was launched by Carol Ann Duffy from MMU’s Writing School. Gillian Clarke’s lecture/reading on the work of Dylan Thomas was pretty damn special too. Michael Simmons Roberts will lecture on the work of Auden, and Andrew McMillan on Thom Gunn, both events in the spring. You can find details here:’ll be going to both; can’t wait!

Poets&Players continues its wonderful series of top-class events; and we heard just before Christmas that our ACE funding has been agreed for next year, a lovely Christmas present for the organising committee and the hard work our Chairperson, Janet Rogerson put in. Our January event will involve Collette Bryce; with Lavinia Greenlaw and Daljit Nagra reading for us in February. Come along to the Whitworth, you know you want to: meet next week to knock on with planning the full year’s events thank to the Arts Council. And the wonderful Kei Miller is to judge our competition in 2019, which is open from New Year, so get those pens scratching and send us your best work. Lastly, Carol Ann Duffy and Friends has continued to bring wonderful poets to Manchester for more than ten years. There have been several outstanding events in 2018; and on January 14th2019, I will be reading there, sharing performance space with Carol Ann, Paul Henry, Brian Briggs and other Writing School students/alumni.

I’ve been fortunate to be published several times during the year. I had an article about the poetry of Pascale Petit—a by-product of my PhD research—published in the North; I had a poem published in the Atrium online magazine; I had poems included in two Beautiful Dragons anthologies, Noble Dissentand Watch the Birdie, the former launched at York Litfest in the Spring and the latter launched at Leighton Moss Bird Reserve in November. But the icing on the publication cake was Some Mothers Do…The Dragon Spawn series is for poets who have been published in Beautiful Dragons anthologies but don’t have a full collection of their own. In March this year, Hilary and I were both approached by the editor, Rebecca Bilkau, and asked if we would be interested. It took us all of five seconds to agree, and in November our lovely joint collection was launched at the Portico library in Manchester. It’s great to be Hilary’s dragon sister; but sad that our third dragon spawnie, Tonya Bevins, died in the early summer, before we had chance to meet her. We re-launched the book on a wonderful evening at the Black Ladd, my daughter’s pub/restaurant in Saddleworth. By ‘eck, that was a good night!

And as if all this wasn’t work enough for one old lady in one year, I’ve had a fair old slice of life too. Family, friends, holidays. Holidays! I hired a cottage in West Wales in September so that I could take my work away and do a couple of hours every day before breakfast. On the middle weekend my three lovely children came to stay with their partners. We had a lovely time together; but they said next year they’re choosing the venue; my cottage was far too remote and difficult to get to. They’re still ribbing me about it, even now. But at least they are talking about a next time; so it wasn’t totally off-putting.

And I think that’s it! It’s been a long blog this week: it’s been a full-on year. I’m not making New Year Resolutions this year; except to say I will finish the PhD, I will take a long holiday in the sun and I will read lots of rubbish without the need to take notes and analyse! Bring on 2019! Happy New Year everyone; may 2019 bring you happiness, peace and everything you wish for yourselves.

Here’s a poem I wrote in Greta Stoddart’s workshop on the carousel. It was from a piece of free writing to kick the workshop off. I’d just been out to the car to load my suitcases and when I walked back toward the hotel the sky was on fire with the dawn.


Greta’s prompt  allowed me to put that sunrise into words. Here they are:



 this morning
the sky caught fire.

Small birds were flambéed in its heat.
Seagulls put out to sea.

Cockles buried their shells
in the cool sands of the bay.

The coastguard, roused from sleep,
speared bread onto a toasting fork.

The heavenly choir sang
peace on earth, goodwill.

Someone, somewhere
lit a touch-paper, retired.


Rachel Davies
December 2018


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