Optimism: my default state

When I was a headteacher, my staff used to say I was ‘terminally optimistic’. I could always see a way forward, however hard and negative the outside world tried to make me feel. PhD has tested that optimism to its limits. I have hit all-time lows in pessimism and negativity during my time on the PhD; there have been times I’ve come close to jacking it in and getting my life back. But, ultimately, ‘jacking it in’ isn’t can option because I know how bad I’d feel if I did. I set myself this personal challenge and I must see it through to the end, whatever that end is. I think, reading back over last week’s blog post, I’ve been feeling a bit negative recently, a bit down about it all? This week, I’m back in fighting mode, and I feel better for it.

I’ve been working on the secretarial stuff that’s necessary to a successful outcome. So on Sunday I printed off the bibliography and read the thesis through again to make sure my footnotes were all in the right order after all the cut-and-pasting I’ve done recently. There are prescribed ways of referencing: Manchester Metropolitan University uses the MHRA style of referencing, and footnotes and bibliography need to adhere to the MHRA style guide: first reference a full inclusion of the publishing history of a book, subsequent footnotes an abbreviated form. I ticked off the items on the bibliography as I first referenced them so that I could correct anomalies raised by reordering the work. There were even one or two publications I had omitted from the bibliography that I had to include; and one or two items I had in the bibliography that no longer had a mention in the body of the work. They had to go. So that was all relatively easy to sort out. Less easy was knowing if some items had a slot in the bibliography at all. For instance, I’ve referenced the NHS website over an issue in the thesis: I checked out the implications for albinism, following a reference in one of Pascale Petit’s poems. Does the web address for the NHS site then get a reference in the bibliography as well as a footnote in the body of the work? It doesn’t have a named author, but it is an authority I’ve accessed. The MHRA style guide seems silent on this. I opted for including the NHS web-address in the bibliography as well.

When that initial job was done, I went back through the footnotes with a nit comb. I printed off the relevant advice from the MHRA style guide that advised on the format of footnotes and checked through to make sure all my footnotes were written in the preferred style. I’m trying to be more positive this week, so I’m not going to dwell on the pedantic nature of style guides; but really! Most footnotes, for instance, have a full stop at the end of them:

Selima Hill, Violet (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1997).

But if you reference a web page, and you include square brackets with an ‘accessed date’, no full stop:

Sharon L. R. Kardia and Tevah Platt‘In your grandmother’s womb: The egg that made you’, at <https://genedoe.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/in-your-grandmothers-womb-the-egg-that-made-you/> [accessed 30thNovember 2018]

And those < and > signs you need to include at the ends of web addresses bring their own kind of angst, because they make the web-address that little bit longer, so it won’t any longer fit on the line it was happy to be on before you put them in, and it swings down onto the next line, sometimes without its < sign! So just this secretarial job is demanding of time and scrutiny. I was glad of the uplifting touch of poetry to keep me sane.

I’ve worked on the referencing in most of my available time slots this week, but on Tuesday afternoon, tired of the pedantic nature of footnotes, I took time out for some creative work and wrote up a poem from Vahni Capildeo’s workshop at Verve in February. It’s a poem about ‘the Beast from the East’, that awful weather event last year. I looked over the poems Jean Sprackland had given me editorial advice on and I printed off one of those poems, ‘Lillingstone Dayrell Churchyard’, a poem in three parts. I took the Beast, and the three-part poem to a workshop with two poet friends, Hilary Robinson and Natalie Burdett, on Tuesday evening. This is the second time we’ve met for this purpose, at a café in Oldham. We had food first and poetry after. We all take poems for feedback. Natalie’s also doing a PhD from MMU, so she’s always good for support, bless her. And, like all good friends, Hilary’s always there when I need a sympathetic ear. The three-part poem is now a four-part poem: following discussion on Tuesday evening, I split the final section, placing the first stanza of that section right at the beginning of the poem, and altering the ‘you’ of the section to ‘they’ and ‘she’. I think it works better for it. The community of poets eh? Such a positive force!

On Thursday Hilary and I went to York. We caught a lunchtime train and were in York before 2.00 p.m. We went to Betty’s for a late lunch. We shared a bottle of Gerwürztraminer, so lunch took us about three hours. While we were there, a woman caught the little vase of flowers on our table with her handbag, and I caught the little vase of flowers in my lap; so I spent the rest of the day with a big wet patch on my dress. Luckily it was to the side: I’m reaching that age when large wet patches on your dress can be embarrassing. She was so apologetic, bless her, but these things happen; quite often to me, it has to be said! We were in York for a Litfest event: ‘Writing the Maternal’, a reading and discussion group featuring Liz Berry, Jessie Greengrass and Rachel Bower. It was a lovely event, complete with the visual aid of Jessie’s baby, Poppy, who entertained us with her refusal to take the event seriously. All three writers have addressed the issue of giving birth, and the impact of that on their writing. I have Liz Berry’s signed pamphlet ‘The Republic of Motherhood’, an astounding, powerhouse of a pamphlet. Liz read my favourite poem from the pamphlet, ‘Horse Heart’. It’s one of those ‘goosebump’ poems. You can access the poem here: https://www.thecompassmagazine.co.uk/liz-b/I bought, and got signed, Rachel Bower’s collection ‘Moon Milk’, which I look forward to reading soon. It was a lovely event, a little oasis of poetry in a manic week.

On Friday, mania reached a new height. I took my car for its first MOT on Thursday, but as I was in York on Thursday afternoon, I arranged to collect it on Friday morning. Unfortunately, the difficulty of communicating with the garage while I was out drinking wine and enjoying poetry meant I was late authorising the work that needed doing: a new front tyre. So it was Friday morning before I authorised them to replace the tyre. They promised to have my car back with me by the end of play on Friday. I got the phonecall at 4.00 p.m. to say the tyre they’d ordered hadn’t arrived, so it would be Saturday morning before I could collect my car. I was due to visit my friend Joan on Friday evening. We’ve been meeting up most months since we met on holiday in Italy in 1995: Friday was my turn to go to hers in Crumpsall. I rang and asked if she could come up to Saddleworth instead, so at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday we were driving down the very narrow lane from my house to go out to eat. Unfortunately, a car was driving up said very narrow lane at the same time and Joan had to reverse for some way to find a suitable passing place. Long story short, she burnt the clutch out in the effort, so we were stuck on a stranger’s drive with a car that wasn’t going anywhere. I used my AA membership to get help: help came in the shape of Chris, who sorted us out. He towed the car to a garage in Bury, Joan and I walked back up to my house at the top of the lane, we had a take-away and Joan stayed over.

On Saturday it was Poets & Players at the Whitworth. Bill took me to collect my car from its MOT hospital at 8.00 a.m. then drove on to take Joan home. I took my car to the tramstop where I met Hilary and we caught the tram to Manchester. We called at the Whitworth café for an impromptu breakfast before a workshop with Mark Pajak. Well, how good was that? We looked at the set-up and punchlines of jokes and applied those to poetry. I’ve never been to a poetry workshop before where the first job was to tell and analyse jokes. By the end of the workshop I had written a poem about hair, that I think might find space in the PhD collection. After lunch in the café, it was the Poets&Players event in the South Gallery. Rachael Gladwin was the ‘player’ this time. Rachael is a harpist and singer, so that was a wonderfully calming aspect of the event. Contrast that with Amy McCauley, our first poet. Amy is nothing if not entertaining. A poet and performer, she always comes up with something different. Yesterday she addressed Brexit in her own inimitable way: it involved Union Jack bunting and a good deal of political rhetoric. It was brilliant. This on the day of the big ‘People’s Vote’ march in London. I’m not going to get political; suffice to say if I hadn’t been at Poets&Players, I would have been in London. Manchester sent several coaches of supporters to the event. Amy’s performance was a form of support. Phoebe Power and Jacob Polley also read; I need to go back to read Jack Selfall over again after hearing Jacob’s hypnotising reading yesterday. As usual, this was a brilliant event with wonderful music and engaging poetry. The next event is on April 27th, featuring Mona Arshi, Will Harris, Degna Stone and Maryam Hessavi. These poets will be presenting their poems to our commission ‘Reimagining the City’; with music by Paula Darwish and Serpil Kılıç. It promises to be a good afternoon. Perhaps I’ll see you there? More details here:https://poetsandplayers.co

And as if all this wasn’t enough, I’ve been finalising the administration of the Poets&Players competition, printing off entries to send to Kei Miller on Monday. I met with my colleague at P&P, Viv Finney, to collect the postal entries and tomorrow afternoon they’ll be speeding towards Kei and the judging process. If you entered, thank you so much for your support, and good luck with your entry. The celebration event is on May 18that the Whitworth, details also on our website.

So, I’m going to give you the final two stanzas of the poem I took to discuss with Hilary and Natalie on Tuesday. It remembers that sad time when my only brother died of appendicitis when I was fourteen, he was seventeen. It is actually formatted with lots of line indents to give a sense of panic, but as usual, WordPress has messed with the formatting.  Sorry! I’m so comfortable with the changes in it I sent it straight back to Jean Sprackland when I’d edited it. I have some lovely friends, and they’ve been instrumental in returning me to my default state of optimism this week. Above and beyond the call, Hilary has promised to read my thesis again now I’ve altered it; and this despite a city break in Prague starting tomorrow. She’s taking it to read on the plane if I get it to her today. Thank you Hilary, and thank you all.

Lillingstone Dayrell Churchyard (final section)

[…]

that sense of what the fuck
knowing God isn’t
they clung together
dumbstruck              heart shattered
for years
did they even shed tears?
I don’t remember tears
they never asked how we grieved
if we grieved
we got by together
facedafter this together

how often did she wish it was one of her
ten-a-penny girls
not her boy in the ground
not her only boy      lonely in his earthy bed
not her prince                       so strong
so beautiful      so young
so dead

Rachel Davies
March 2019

 

 

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