I started this blog to reflect on ‘PhD, poetry and life’. It seemed a long three years when I started the PhD, now, suddenly, the finishing line is in sight. But I’m a bit stuck, like in one of those dreams where you know you have to run, but your feet are held in thick, black molasses and you can’t move forward. I can see the end, but I can’t seem to get there. This week, it’s been all about the finishing touches; but I’ve been ridiculously ‘trial and error’ about it. Having incorporated three of the poems I wrote in St. Ives into the collection, I edited the poetry collection’s contents page to reflect the changes. Then, yes only THEN, I decided I needed a contents list for the whole thesis, so I wrote that. And, of course, as any sensible, rational person would have seen but I didn’t, adding that contents page shunted everything up a page, so the collection contents was out of sync with the page numbers and I had to edit that again! At least I hadn’t edited the footnote references to the collection poems; so that’s the last job I have to do. I hope. A meeting has been arranged with the support team for this Tuesday; will it be my last, or will I come away with more work to do? I’m like Sisyphus, who was punished by the gods for his hubris by being made to roll a huge stone uphill, just for it to roll down again when he reached the top. He had to keep pushing that stone uphill for eternity. Perhaps my own boulder is that contents list, those footnotes. And all because I wanted a PhD I didn’t need and have no intention of using: hubris. Later today I’ll be editing the footnotes. Let that be the end of it. Please let that be the end of it!
Thankfully, there is poetry; and there’s been a lot of poetry this week. On Tuesday, I went into Manchester with Hilary to meet up with another poet friend, Natalie Burdett. We met at Gorilla in Manchester for lunch and to workshop some poems. Hilary and I took poems we wrote recently in St. Ives, at the writing week hosted by Kim Moore and Carola Luther. Natalie is currently doing a PhD from MMU as well. Her theme is geography and place in poetry and she brought three ‘place’ poems about her hometown in the midlands. Natalie’s poems are vivid descriptions, almost filmic. It was a good meeting with useful feedback. I took poems I thought were quite weak; but their feedback made me think they might have legs after all. I’ll be revisiting them later today, when I am planning to submit some poems to competitions. I’m not sure these poems be included, but they’re not definitely excluded, so that’s a step forward.
I also sent out my stanza mailing this week. Our Poetry Society Stanza meets every last Tuesday of the month at the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar; our next meeting is on Tuesday of this coming week. We are having an anonymous workshop this week: members email a fairly new poem to me by an agreed deadline. The poem must be one the poet would welcome feedback on: I remember one workshop where a poet brought his magnum opus to the group and got very upset when we offered constructive feedback. He thought it was perfection on a page, it had been published, he said. Well, why bring it to a workshop then? It’s not a space for polished poems. I put all the poems I receive into an anonymous document and send to all poets who submit and I’ll be sending that document out later today to give folk the chance to read and make notes before the meeting on Tuesday. It works well, because if you don’t know who wrote a poem, you’re less likely to be cagey about offering feedback, so it really is constructive. I’ve received six poems this month, which is a result, given that our group has been on the ecological red list, facing extinction in the recent past; especially as I also received two apologies from members. We are still on the endangered list, but I think we’ll survive.
Yesterday, Saturday, was Poets&Players at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Every year we commission new poems, inviting chosen poets to write poems to a particular theme. This year our commission was ‘Reimagining the City’. We invited Mona Arshi, Degna Stone, Will Harris and Maryam Hessavi to respond to the commission, and their poems were truly remarkable; the poems are available on our website: https://poetsandplayers.co Yesterday the poets read these poems, and other of their work, to a large audience in the Whitworth’s South Gallery, overlooking Whitworth Park. It’s a lovely venue, but the weather was awful yesterday, so the squirrels and parakeets had stayed indoors out of the rain and wind. But the poetry was lovely; Mona Arshi read for the first time from her new collection, Dear Big Gods (Pavilion Poetry, 2019), which is published on Tuesday 30thApril. This was her first reading from this fantastic collection. You can order a copy here: https://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/books/id/42309/ The ‘players’ this month were Paula Darwish and Serpil Kiliç, two musicians/composers of British-Turkish heritage. They sang Turkish/Kurdish folk songs, accompanied by a guitar and a kind of Turkish lute or bouzouki called a baglama. Their singing voices were astounding, it was a lovely accompaniment to the poetry. You can find samples of their music here: https://www.countryandeastern.net/artist/serpil-kilic/
So, that’s another good week. In between all this I’ve been fighting microbes, mostly successfully I think. I feel as if I’m winning in the lymphocyte wars anyway. I can’t afford to let the enemy in at the gates!
Here’s a poem: another one I wrote in St. Ives, one I took to the workshop with Hilary and Natalie on Tuesday. The exercise was to address a group of people in the poem: I chose to address that group of people who think us oldies should just go away, not be seen. I have an allergy to the uniform of the aged: it brings me out in hives, I won’t wear it, ever. I won’t be invisible, ever. This is a tongue-in-cheek poem about that, about not being invisible; it has humour, but it carries a serious message. Rise, all you ageing women, rise and be seen; rise and be disgraceful!
Growing Old Disgracefully
I won’t be the one you decide I should be.
I’ll wear my glitter Docs, patchwork jacket,
that pink and tangerine top over slick black tights.
I promise you mutton dressed as lamb is not how
I see myself.
I won’t wear your uniform of the silver vote,
I won’t wear magnolia paint or
barley white to blend in with your walls.
Invisibility isn’t a default state for women over sixty.
Keep your beige, keep your Damart; keep
your Brevit shoes and Velcro slippers,
your flesh coloured NHS frames,
your Regatta fleeces, bland windcheaters,
Pakamacs and Rainmate hats;
stuff your amorphous crimplene.
Give me Airwair, give me Red or Dead
give me colour, pattern, flair, hear me sing,
watch me dance. I want to be shocking.
Beware: one morning you’ll realise
you stacked year upon year
until it’s the uniform or be damned.
I promise you I’d rather be damned. Loudly.
And visibly. Outrageously
and with disgraceful panache.