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

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s