This week I learned what it is to have submitted your PhD thesis and be free to do other stuff. Mostly it feels good, like being released from house arrest, even though my brain is suffering from some sort of post-PhD mush: I can’t string a sentence together at the moment—for instance, I told a friend I’d had a side saddle with my pasta for tea! It’s nice, though, not to have to turn a blind eye to mundane stuff because you have to draft/redraft/edit the same section you drafted/redrafted/edited last month and the month before that. So I’ve been doing some of that mundane stuff this week. And poetry; I’ve been doing poetry.
I’ve started on the big spring-clean I promised myself when the thesis was handed in. I’ve made a start on clearing out kitchen cupboards. Bill and I came together late in life, so we joined two well-established lives—and all the flotsam of those lives. This week I decided if it hasn’t been used for a couple of years we probably don’t need it, so I’ve decimated the kitchen equipment. I threw out a couple of chipped pasta dishes, but mostly I put aside dishes, plates, glasses, weird gadgets and quirky tools to take to a local charity shop. I have so much to take they’ll probably have to build an annexe; or donate the excess to another charity shop? My dining table is covered, but I think I’ve reached the end; just have to get it all there somehow now. For days the house smelled of ground cloves because I chucked out-of-date herbs and spices: I emptied jars into the bin so I could recycle the bottles and the scent permeated the house. I’m nearly done, just a couple of cupboards left to organise, I’ll be attacking them later today.
On Tuesday I had to go for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid gland. Doc thinks I have an underactive thyroid, probably aggravated by the steroids I have to take for Polymyalgia Rheumatica, this nasty autoimmune disease. I don’t have any hypothyroid symptoms; at least the symptoms are probably similar to PMR and the effects of Prednisolone use, so I’d hardly notice. I’ve a mental picture of my underactive thyroid reclining on a sofa with a bucket of popcorn and a beer, bingeing on Netflix box-sets: that’s what I do when I’m being underactive! And that must be what the scan showed because I got a letter on Thursday asking me to make ‘a non-urgent’ appointment to see the doctor re the results of my recent scan. So that probably means another pill to swallow.
On Tuesday evening it was the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. This month we wrote to prompts that members brought along to the meeting. There were two apologies due to illness, and one from a member who’s cycling the Dordoigne; so four of us met this time: we’re a Stanza on the endangered list but we keep on struggling to survive. It was a good session, despite our reduced numbers. We all contributed a prompt; we redacted passages of prose to find poems hidden inside; we edited long published poems to find our own shorter poem; we wrote from one-line starters; we wrote from the prompt to join a concrete object with an abstract: ‘the boot of disgust’, ‘the cloak of shame’ etc. There was nothing heavy about it, and we all found some new poems. Linda Goulden brought her newly published pamphlet, Speaking Parts,which is gorgeous and will be released this week. Hilary and I will be reading with Linda at ‘Writers in the Bath’ in Sheffield on June 11th; there’s an open-mic as well, so come along if you live nearby. Here is info from their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/2690454774302429/
Wednesday, more kitchen cupboards; and I went to the Black Ladd to edit the menus for my daughter, Amie. Thursday, more cupboards and Tesco shopping; Friday more cupboards and into Manchester for lunch; and out with my friend Joan in the evening. It’s Joan’s birthday next week so we had a celebratory meal in the Istanbul Grill in Prestwich. Saturday more cupboards and European Champions League final. Ordinary stuff, stuff I’m doing because I want to, not because there are deadlines. Boring stuff, happy stuff, fun stuff. I could get used to this post-PhD ordinary life!
So, a poem. Friday was the birthday of a woman I knew when I was a child, a friend of my mother’s. I guess there are times we all think we’re born into the wrong family and I used to wish Meg was my mum. She lived in a little cottage in the woods, no mod cons: her toilet was a little hut up the garden path, she decorated it with photos of exotic places she’d have liked to visit. She had no mains water, just spring water on tap; no washing machine or television; she raised four children in that little cottage, and she welcomed her children’s friends like members of her own family. She was a lovely, fun-loving woman with a dark secret: she wasn’t as happy as she let us all believe. I wrote this ‘alternative mother’ poem inspired by Meg; it was first published in the anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying(ed Isabelle Kenyon, 2018), an anthology to raise funds for the mental health charity ‘Mind’. The anthology is available to buy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Please-Hear-What-Not-Saying/dp/1984006649
The poem is a modern sonnet, a turn at line 9. It’s written in syllabics: ten syllables to a line, until that’s disrupted in the last line, the place where Meg’s life is disrupted.
Sixty years on, I still remember Meg every year on her birthday.
Alternative Mother #16
Teach me to build a den down by the beck,
how to pond-dip water snails, sticklebacks;
teach me to pick kindling sticks to build
a campfire, how to mount a stone surround
to keep me safe; teach me how to light it,
let it burn to embers before baking sour-
dough bread on willow sticks; teach me how
to live without the essentials: running water,
flushing toilet. You. Teach me how to forgive
a lover who doesn’t deserve me, how
to raise a family alone. But don’t teach me
how some days feel so dark you won’t ever
see daylight again; and please don’t teach me
how a bridge over the M1 is the only way out.