Post-PhD, pre-viva angst therapy

Five weeks post-submission counted down. I keep checking my emails for news of the Viva, but nothing yet. It’s the worst kind of waiting game. I’ve been filling it with the big spring clean; and with poetry. There’s been lots of poetry this week.

I’ll start with the poetry, because it’s made the week wonderful. On Monday I drove Hilary and myself to Whitchurch for a poetry reading. Hilary’s grand-daughter, Megan, who is over from her home near Geneva for a few days, came with us, which was above and beyond the duties of a grand-daughter. Megan is planning to do a degree in photography and art when she leaves school in a couple of year’s time, and she brought her camera to Whitchurch to take some photos of the reading.

The main thing I learned on Monday was where Whitchurch actually is. A couple of weeks ago, when I was at the very summit of post-PhD brain fail, I posted on FaceBook that we were reading in Whitby! I knew we weren’t reading in the North East, it was just a naming mistake; we were reading in Cheshire. I learned on Monday that Whitchurch is actually through Cheshire and into Shropshire. Thank goodness for satnav! It took us about two hours to get there, thanks to some very dense traffic on the M56. Whitchurch is a lovely looking town, although we didn’t see much of it. We found the Black Bear, the venue for the reading, and went in for a very nice meal. The reading included an open mic session for members of the host group, so it was a varied evening. We read from Some Mothers…, Ian, the host for the evening, read a couple of Tonia Bevins’ poems from the book; we also read other, more recent poems. We had lovely feedback and sold some books. My voice just about held out despite the resurgence of the summer head-cold that was sinking to my chest. It was a lovely night.

On Thursday we ran a writing workshop for Langley Writers in Rochdale. They were an enthusiastic group of amateur writers, although some had had work published. Our poetry writing workshop was entitled ‘My family and other curiosities’ and we’d found some cracking good prompt poems from wonderful poets: Sharon Olds’ ‘Going Back to 1937’; Michael Laskey’s ‘Permission to Breathe’; Kim Moore’s ‘My People’ were some personal favourites. The writers produced interesting work from the prompts: lots of personal involvement. We posed for a group photo afterwards and they want to invite us back, which is the best kind of feedback. And there were jaffa cakes to round off a good afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon we ran the workshop again in Didsbury, as part of Didsbury Arts Festival. We went to Didsbury on the tram from Derker to save looking for parking when we got there. Unfortunately we got off at the wrong tram stop and had a bit of a schlepp to find the library. We called at a lovely Italian restaurant, next door to the library, for a coffee before going into the library to set up for the workshop. It was the best weather-day of the week and we took our coffee al fresco. We went back to the same Italian restaurant for lunch after we’d set up; we had a kind of Italian meze of four dishes we shared. Ladybarn Primay School steel band was playing outside the library when we finished lunch, and oh my, they were good. The workshop was small but beautifully formed: we had an enthusiastic group who entered into the spirit of the thing very well. They were mostly more experienced writers than the group on Monday and they fed back some lovely work at in the sharing session at the end. One member was fairly new to writing: she showed real potential for becoming a good poet. We went for a brew after, at a café en route to the tram stop we should have used when we arrived. We called at the Expo Lounge to sus out the venue for the reading we have there on Monday evening coming: it transpires it’s one of the ‘Lounge’ chain of restaurants. We passed a couple of lovely but closed charity shops en route to the tramstop—there was a particular tunic in view that I’m interested in—so food and poetry, and charity shops, to do again on Monday.

In between all this poetry, I’ve continued the big spring clean. I’ve been clearing out my study, and more than anywhere else, this has been real post PhD catharsis. I’ve shredded all my old copies of the thesis, just have the finished, bound version and the computer files left now. It has to be said that the computer versions include every saved change I ever made up to approx. mk 3050! So the real catharsis will come when I feel able to delete those from the system; but not yet. Meanwhile I shredded the printed versions. I shredded pages from old notebooks, stored all my old and new notebooks together in one cupboard. I have more notebooks than WHSmith. I made a resolution not to buy any more until I have used all of these. It’s not a resolution I expect to keep. I organised my bookshelves too: all my poetry books are shelved in alphabetical order, author’s surname. I’ve separated my signed and unsigned copies. I have nearly two shelves of signed collections: I’ve met some wonderful poets in my time! I organised my PhD books in the same way. I know I can get rid now, and I will. One day. When I really can feel confident I don’t need them any more. Meanwhile they have their own bookcase, organised alphabetically, sorted, stored. I think I’ve done with study now the PhD is complete; I’ll know for sure I’m done with it when I can remove these books from my shelves. Meanwhile, they stay, presided over by the lovely soft toy Freud, bought at the Freud museum in London at the start of this PhD marathon.

IMG_0850
Sigmund Freud doll, from the Freud Museum, London

That’s it then; another week of post-PhD, pre-viva anxiety made bearable by poetry and the physical therapy of the big spring clean. It was my daughter Amie’s birthday this week. She’s impossible to buy for: a few years ago when I asked her if there was anything she wanted for her birthday she answered with the predictable ‘no’. She asked me to write a poem for her instead. So I wrote this poem. I’m pretty sure I’ve posted it in some form here before, but every year I tweak it slightly. It’s a poem inspired by the night I gave birth to her, my first child. It includes a reference to a woman in the post-natal ward, a woman I remember every year on Amie’s birthday. Forgive me for posting it again. I tend to bring it out every year on Amie’s birthday, which was a one of the truly momentous days in my life.

Just Because

…all my life I wanted to meet you and because you were
late by three weeks and the cocktail I drank while I waited,
nervous, for you to arrive slid down my throat like orange
frogspawn while I gagged over the stainless sink and

because when you did come you chose the secret hours
for our bonding and because you came with a name
so I felt as if I’d known you all my life and because
meeting you made me feel I had achieved something,

like the first woman ever to do it so that I was too high
to sleep after and because back in the ward in the
next bed was a woman more aware than me of the way
the sand runs quickly and because I noticed her empty
crib, grieved her empty womb, I just wanted to say…

Rachel Davies

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