Monthly Archives: January 2019

Poetry as public health hazard

Monday was a big day in my week this week. It started with a visit to Doc to check out the blood results. Inflammation markers were raised – about three times normal, but given that they have been ten times normal in the past, this hasn’t been a trigger for concern. However, coupled with the huge beneficial effect of the Prednisolone, we agreed on a diagnosis of ‘return of the Polymyalgia’ – even Doc was surprised by the positive change in my mobility. So I’m now on a reduction plan for the steroids with more blood tests next week to measure the effect. Monday ended with an open mic session at Puzzle Poets in Sowerby Bridge. I went with Hilary – it took us 20 minutes to get to Sowerby Bridge and another 40 minutes to find the Navigation pub, where the event was held, so we were a few minutes late arriving, which was bad form; but Tom Weir, the headline reader, said he’d had problems finding the venue too so we felt a bit better then. I enjoyed Tom’s poetry very much, based in autobiography but very creative, sensitive, full of surprising images. I’ve put his name forward as a reader for Poets&Players. Hilary and I read a couple of poems each in the first half open mic session. After I read, I returned to my seat. The young man beside me said, ‘I’m going to tell you something about your poetry that I bet you’ve never heard before.’ ‘OK,’ I said. ‘I applauded so hard, I dislocated my shoulder,’ he said. I thought he was joking, but the left hand holding the right shoulder and the look of pain in his eye said otherwise. He’d been out into the car park to ‘pop it back in’! I asked if it happened often; he said it had never happened before. I offered him cocodamol, but he’d had beer, so he declined. So there you have it, my poetry carries a health warning. By the way, he was right, I had never heard that one before; but it’s now integral to my author biography. If you ever hear me read, you know what you have to do…

On Tuesday I was wide awake from 3.00 a.m. I’m not big on sleep at the best of times, but a Pred high is definitely not helping. So I did some last minute work on the thesis. Yes, I know I said last week that I would be sending it off on Sunday; but circumstances that I won’t go into scuppered that plan. So, at silly o’clock on Tuesday I went to my study, brought the MHRA style guide back to bed and did some last minute checks on style protocols. I particularly wanted to check where, in the format of the thesis, an appendix fits in. I’d prepared a spreadsheet of my quantitative analysis of women’s inclusion in poetry anthologies since the sixteenth century and I realised I didn’t actually know where it fitted – before the bibliography or after. I found the information in the style guide: it comes before the bibliography, so I placed it and made reference to it in the relevant footnote. Then I sent it off to my DoS. Oh yes I did. I screwed my courage to the sticking place and I pressed send. I’m waiting to hear from them about a meeting. It isn’t all done: I know there are still issues for instance around the spelling of ‘…ise/…ize’ words: familiarise, feminize etc; but I can manage them. It’s the big meaty stuff that’s the challenge. Is that all done? We’ll see.

On Tuesday morning I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery to meet up with the Poets&Players committee. We were planning the year’s events based in the knowledge that we have funding for another twelve months. We have an exciting year coming up: you can find details on the P&P website: https://poetsandplayers.co It all kicks off this Saturday, with Collette Bryce, Kit Fan and Martin Kratz, the poets, and The Kell Wind Trio, the ‘players’. It’ll be a wonderful, uplifting afternoon. This is just the aperitif for a wonderful year’s programme of events. We are fully planned until October now. The meeting ended with a bowl of the Whitworth’s spicy dahl soup: lovely!

On Wednesday I met up with Hilary again to plan some poetry events for the year. We’re off to a small cottage in Coniston for our Line Break week in May. We go every year, a week of immersing ourselves in poetry: workshops, readings, finding time and stimuli to write. So that’s planned– we’ll be leaving Manchester after the P&P Competition Celebration event on Saturday 18th. The competition is open now, I’ve already received a few entries; so if you write poetry, why not give it a go. The closing date is 13thMarch, midnight. You’ll find all the information you need here: https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2019/  Kei Miller and the competition winners will be reading at the event on the 18th. and that’s definitely one not to miss. Hilary and I have also applied to the Didsbury Arts Festival for a slot for an afternoon workshop and an evening reading from our joint collection, Some Mothers Do…I think I may have mentioned our book before?

On Saturday I put together my set of poems for the reading at Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester on Monday evening this coming week. I have a ten minute slot, which is about five poems, depending on how much introduction I plan to give for each. I think I’ll keep intros to a minimum as I’m reading mostly from my ‘alternative mother’ sequence, so a blanket intro at the beginning might suffice. I’m breaking with tradition a bit too, in that I’ll be reading from Some Mothers Do…obviously, and I’m planning to start with a poem each from Hilary and Tonia Bevins, my dragon triplets. Sadly, Tonia died before she saw her poems published in the book, so we’re pledged to read for her in her absence whenever we can; and I couldn’t read one of Tonia’s without reading one of Hilary’s; and anyway, it’s Hilary’s birthday on Monday so it’ll be a small gift from me. Later today I’ll be making my final selection from the ‘alternative mother’ sequence. I’m pretty sure I know which ones I want to read, but I need to time them exactly to ten minutes: it’s not professional to over-run on timings. I’m looking forward to it; I’ll be nervous, I’m always nervous when I read. But as long as shoulders are disjointed in the spontaneous bursts of applause, I’ll be happy.

So, a poem; well, actually I’m going to give you two linked poems that I wrote on the poetry carousel in December. They are inspired by two things that happened at my grammar school. The reference to Shirley Valentine? That school scene in the play/film where the head-teacher asks what is mankind’s greatest invention and girls are saying things like ‘the television’ or ‘the washing machine’ and Shirley is pushing her hand in the air, desperate to be noticed – ‘ooh, miss, please miss…’ At last, when all other options are used up, the head-teacher reluctantly asks Shirley and Shirley says, ‘the wheel, Miss’ and the head-teacher says ‘How did you know that? Someone must have told you,’ and Shirley says ‘of course somebody told me else how would I have known it?’ The disparate logic of head-teachers and their least favourite students. This was my experience of grammar school. However hard I tried, I couldn’t get it right, because the Demon Headmaster had already determined I’d be wrong. So these two poems try to address that negative attitude. I hated grammar school; I hated the Demon Headmaster; I’ve spent my life proving him wrong. By the way, I have no evidence that Gillian Hopper, the favourite of my poems – her name is changed – went on to become a high-class call-girl like her counterpart in Shirley Valentine. But I kind of hope she did.

Shirley Valentine Bakes For The Queen Mum.

Cakes, crustless sandwiches, scones.
Entourage at window
him obsequious, her grin glued on.

Door. First table. Me.
My iced fairies.
His scowl. Mrs Wilby’s apologetic shrug.

Gillian Hopper spitting venom,
her eyes
painting my back green.

HRH drooling.
Me blushing, she
just having time to say

they look… him passing her on
to Gillian Hopper, being the safer bet.

 

Shirley Valentine leaves school at last.

His secretary-wife sits at her desk, smiling.
You walk past her, stand in front of his door,
wait.

You raise a fist, knock the door. No response.
You rap again, harder. Louder.
You know he’s in there,

doing that throat clearing thing he does.
You knock again. Come he spits
and as usual he is god and you

are an unholy sinner.
You play his game, turn the knob slowly,
wait for the click of the latch, push the door.

After five years of put downs
you feel on the front foot, come to tell him
about your nursing placement,

say a last goodbye.

Your mouth wants to speak
but he steals your thunder.
You hear secondary modern, you hear boy,

you hear gutter, the whiplash word
he’s directing at you.
You see his hand raised, a barrier

to whatever foul air you’re carrying.
You hear that’s all, send Gillian Hopper in
on your way out.

You leave, wondering how in hell
that just happened.

 

Rachel Davies
December 2018

 

Coddiwompling towards PhD

Happy New Year. May 2019 bring you everything you wish for yourself, but particularly peace, health and happiness. And success.
Oh yes, please may it bring success.

I learned two new things this week. The first is a new word: coddiwomple.

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It’s a verb. My nephew Gareth posted this photo on Facebook early in the week. I recognised coddiwompling as the thing I’m doing with PhD: I’m coddiwompling towards my PhD’s ‘as-yet-unkown destination’. I’ve been coddiwompling for about four years now. The route is becoming clearer, but the destination remains a mystery until after the final assessment.

I’ve been coddiwompling like mad this week. Hilary Robinson, bless her cotton socks, sent me annotated feedback on the thesis she’s been reading. It was good, positive feedback; but the other new thing I learned came in her feedback. Am I the only one who didn’t know that the em dash has its own protocol in the MHRA style guide? I’d used the em dash as parentheses in several places—without a gap either side, like this. Hilary pointed out that MHRA insists on a gap either side of the em dash — like this. I’ve been using the style guide for referencing; but I didn’t check my em dashes. Now I suppose I ought to go through the style guide to see if there are any more hidden gems. It’s sad to think you can write a fantastic thesis but fail your final assessment because you miss a comma from a footnote; or get one book out of alphabetical order in your bibliography; or deny your em dashes their rightful space. This is how you need friends, to point you in the right direction. Thank you Hilary, my lovely friend.

I think I’ve finished the latest redraft and edit of the thesis. I promised my Director of Studies he’d have it in the New Year; and he will. But I need to big up my courage to press ‘send’. I always want one more check. I think I’ll be sending it off later today; after a final check of the MHRA style guide to make sure there are no more surprises. I have to say, I’m quietly pleased with the piece of work now. I’ve rearranged it, tidied it up, given it an introduction and a conclusion, put the poems together with it at the end of the critical work. It’s the closest it’s been to ready. I read it in bed last night and I think…yup, it’s going off later today. I still have four months before deadline, four months until I have to submit, so there’s still time to do some last minute edits after I’ve met with DoS.

I made a major change to my life on New Year’s Eve. The pain and stiffness that has been plaguing me since the summer was unbearable when I got out of bed on Monday; I walked downstairs like a ninety-three-year-old. Fed up, I made an emergency appointment to see my GP. He ordered blood tests for evidence of a return of the Polymyalgia Rheumatica that I thought I’d beaten when I took my last cortico-steroid in April, after taking them for four and a half years. He prescribed Prednisolone in the interim, pending results of the bloods. Prednisolone isn’t just the treatment for PMR, it’s the most reliable diagnositic. Independent of the results of the blood tests, if Prednisolone works, the problem is PMR; if it doesn’t, it’s something else. I took the first dose when I got home, and I can report that after just one dose, the next day, the first of 2019, I was feeling unbelievably improved. I felt as if I’d been oiled. Yup, Polly is back. This is a strange disease. It affects about 20% of the population. The cause is unknown. It usually clears up after eighteen months to two years. Of the 20% of people — mainly elder women — who suffer, 20% will also get Giant Cell Arteritis, characterised by pain in the temple region of the head. Untreated, GCA can lead to permanent loss of sight. I was one of the lucky 4% who get GCA. And now it seems I’m possibly one of the very small percentage who have to live with PMR for life. I had a message from my GP to make an appointment following the results of my blood tests, so I’m seeing Doc again tomorrow. I hate Prednisolone; but I love Prednisolone. We have an ambivalent relationship. I think I need to get used to the fact that I could be on low dose Pred for the rest of my life. I must learn to live in harmony with it. BTW, being such a lucky girl, do you suppose I should buy a lottery ticket?

I haven’t made any New Year resolutions this year. My thoughts are all on finishing coddiwompling and attaining a positive destination: PhD. 2019 is starting well, though. Poets&Players has a funding stream, so I’ll be meeting with the team on Tuesday of this week to plan our full programme for 2019-20. And I heard from Mark Pajak who, with John Fennelly, organises the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends events at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I’m reading at the event on 14thJanuary, so later today, I’ll be preparing my ten minute set of poems. I’m planning to read some of my ‘alternative mother’ poems: some that are included in Some Mothers Do…;and I’ll try some new ones on the audience. Nothing says Happy New Year like a shot of poetry.

That’s it then, I’m starting 2019 on a high despite having to be best friends with Prednisolone. I hope you all have the best year possible.

A poem: this one came from the Carousel in December: Greta Stoddart’s workshop about line breaks. She gave us the task of writing a nine line poem, gave us the nine words that should form the end word of each line. This is the poem I came up with within those pararmeters. I can’t testify to the fact that the end words are all exactly the same as the ones she gave us, but mostly they really are. I may have changed one or two in the best interests of the poem. It’s earning its place within one sequence in the PhD collection, so rules, like lines, must be broken.

 

Breaking the Line

The blood red sky
sheds tears. Fresh milk
curdles. Now I know

my heartbroken father
left the house with
chisel, mallet—after dark

he’s out there hammering
like a minor god. Grief begins
to surface from the cold stone.

 

Rachel Davies
December 2018