*insert smiley face emoji*

Last Sunday I worked like mad to get every aspect of the thesis finished. I think I’m happy with it, even though I know there is still work to do. In the afternoon, I sent this latest draft off to my team. Which is good because I’m off to St Ives with Hilary later today for a week of poetry in workshops run by Kim Moore and Carola Luther. I’m so excited, I actually started packing on Friday, which is a first for me; I’m a last minute packer normally. I copied Jean Sprackland into the email so she can have an idea how the creative interacts with the critical. It’s gone. I can relax again for a couple of weeks, I thought as I pressed send.

Wrong. I decided to fill the days following with finding out about presenting the thesis for submission. It requires a title page, obviously; but what does that look like? And what else will I need? I checked out a few theses available online to see what they contain. One, from Goldsmith’s College, had a title page, an abstract, an acknowledgements page, a list of contents. I searched the MMU website for the establishment minimum and couldn’t find anything at all; so I emailed the woman who is designated a point of contact for queries such as this. She sent me some good advice and a copy of the Post Graduate Research Handbook. How had this passed me by? It stands to reason there had to be one, but I didn’t give it a thought. I need a title page, an abstract and acknowledgement of any published work relating to the thesis. It was really useful; and especially, being a PDF file, the links in the handbook were clickable, so I found my way to a couple of MMU thesis abstracts. Then I started stressing all over again about academic language. It scares me. Some people are more than competent at it, I’m not.  So my problem on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday was how to describe my twenty thousand words and its related creative collection in 300 comprehensible but fairly scholarly words. In the end, I did what I always do: I just wrote it, in plain English. Writing is communication, so accessibility is the key for me. I wrote 300 words and sent it off to Hilary for comment. She has read the thesis. Twice, bless her. So she is best placed to assess whether the abstract correctly reflects the thesis. She said ‘yes it does; and I understood it!’ So, I’m buying her a Rattlers cider on the beach on Monday. I sent the abstract off to the team, with a view to discussing it at our next meeting. I can go to St Ives without taking the thesis and the angst it causes, not even virtually. It’s out of my head.  Hopefully I’ll have a relaxing break, eat scones, drink cider and write some brilliant poems—not necessarily in that order. Well, three out of four ain’t bad!

Yesterday I went to read at Saddleworth Literature Festival with Hilary. It was based at Saddleworth School in Uppermill this year. Hilary and I had an early afternoon slot. We met up on Tuesday to discuss our input over coffee. We planned to read from Some Mothers Do…kicking off with a couple of Tonia Bevins’s poems from the book; unfortunately Tonia died before she had chance to see her poems in print, so we always share some of her work whenever we read from the book. Then we planned to perform a duet on one of my poems, ‘Motherhood’ and one of Hilary’s, ‘Jean, the tree in the wood’. They’re poems with two voices so it makes sense to share the reading. We agreed a fifteen-minute slot to read our own work followed by a book signing at the end of the session. I charged up our little ‘Madonna’ mic in case we needed it; and spent a couple of days practising my reading in any spare time slots. I like to be prepared.

Suffice to say, Saddleworth Literary Festival is not one of the big ones. They’re still using banners from three years ago, with A4 paper alterations over old dates etc. We arrived at 12.45 for 1.00 p.m., got the room ready as we wanted it, had a complimentary cup of tea and waited. And waited. No-one came. No audience, no member of the organising committee to see if we had all we needed, or to welcome/introduce us. We waited until 1.30 and then we left. We should have been wary after that festival three years ago, but we decided to give it another go. One year of poor organisation is beginners’ bad luck. Two is incompetence. We won’t be accepting another invitation until they get some writers on the organising committee and access funding streams. We went to the local garden centre for a bite to eat and sat out in the lovely April sunshine. At least we enjoy each other’s company. *insert smiley face emoji*.

Lastly, the upfullness of a poem. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago at the Poets&Players workshop run by Mark Pajak. We talked a lot about how poems resemble jokes, in that poems, like jokes, have a ‘set-up’ and a ‘punchline’. The only writing activity on the day was the last activity before lunch. Mark gave us a list of poetry ‘punchlines’ and asked us to write a poem towards one of them. I chose the first punchline on the list, it spoke to me straight away. As a child I had this headful of truly unruly curls—I still do. Not smooth, Shirley Temple curls, more like an explosion in a wire wool factory. It’s why I keep my hair very short now: I have to show it who’s boss around here. Anyway, you’ll understand how much I hated my hair when I tell you I always wanted to have long, straight, blonde hair, kink-free and Swedish looking, the very opposite of my own mane. At grammar school there was a boy in my class, Peter, I really fancied him. I got my mum to let me go for a shampoo and set, as it was called then: your hair pulled tight onto rollers to tame it and shape it. I felt like the bee’s knees when I came out, my hair was constrained! In school on Monday morning, Peter Brock—yes I’ll name and shame him—asked me if the crows had left the nest.  I was mortified! Anyway, the first punchline on the list was ‘I tried it on, of course/but no.’ I don’t know the original source of the quote, but it was a give away for this true story. Here’s the poem:

 

Hair

Mine
an explosion of black
Afro unruly
filling the house like a mattress
butting jokes about crows and nests
untameable
making school photos manic.

Kathleen Kilsby’s
blonde
smooth as snow on the piste
silver silk
spinning down her back
weaving me jealous.

Years later
Westgate House Department Store
hair pieces, extensions
toupés and full wigs, then
the complete blonde Kilsby,
the hair she crushed me behind the door for
when hair was given out.

I felt it, smelt it, drooled over it,
tried it on, of course,

but
no.

Rachel Davies
March 2019

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