I’ve got a date! September 6th, my viva date. So, at last the uncertainty is over. Now I can enjoy the summer without that particular Sword of Damocles. We usually go away early September, so I’ve had to change the habits of a retirement lifetime—as an ex-teacher, I like holidays with no children—and think holidays imminently. On Tuesday we booked a ten-night stay on Corfu. I intend to eat meze, drink Mythos and the local wines and read stuff that doesn’t require my brain. This will be the first holiday for the longest time that I haven’t taken my academic work away with me. Bliss. It was only after I’d booked the holiday I realised how impetuous that was: I hadn’t made provision for my lovely cats, who are house-cats. I have a friend who comes to feed them, change the litter, spend social time with them—no really! Thankfully she could do that at short notice. Airport parking booked, insurance bought; yes, set to go.
This has been a good week for poetry. On Monday Hilary and I went to Didsbury to read for the Arts Festival. I called at the charity shop to buy the tunic I’d seen on the Saturday before, but the shop was closed. We could see the woman at the back of the shop cashing up the tills, but we couldn’t attract her attention. The tunic was still there, on a hanger close to the window. I couldn’t buy it! Our reading venue was the Expo Lounge, so we ate before we read. The DAF committee had organised microphones and speakers and we were good to go at 7.30. We had an appreciative audience, and some diners turned their chairs around to join in. We only had one open-mic reader, but he was good. His work was rhymed in an unforced way, entertaining. We both read sets on either side of the break and open-mic. We sold some books, and had lovely feedback from the audience, and from the hard-working staff, who continued to work around us. It was a lovely, rewarding evening.
Hilary (left) and me, duetting her poem ‘A Tree In The Wood’
Didsbury, June 2019
Tuesday it was the Stanza at the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge. This month we read the work of Raymond Antrobus, mostly his Forward nominated collection, The Perseverence (Penned in the Margins; 2018). Antrobus has a presence on YouTube, so I took my iPad, so he came to our Stanza as well. We listened first to him talking about his poetry, his deafness, his refusal to be excluded by his hearing loss. We read and discussed his poetry, and the issue of being a crafter of language in a silent world. I was particularly fascinated by Antrobus’s poem ‘Deaf School by Ted Hughes’, in which he has completely redacted the Hughes poem, leaving only the title. Of course, I had to know what in the Hughes poem was so antagonistic; so I found it on the internet: http://www.raymondantrobus.com/essays/2018/9/7/deaf-school-by-ted-hughesThis link shows the redactions, allowing the original poem to be read; in The Perseverance all Hughes’ words, apart from the title, are completely blocked out in black. This is poetry in a real sense; a redressing. Other poems in the collection are tender recollections of his early relationship with his father, and reflections on deafness and attitudes to it. There are poems about the personal challenge of deafness and how he was determined, against all the negative attitude of his schooling, to overcome this and use language as his medium; which he does very well. To a far lesser degree, I can relate to this. When I was nine, I fell of a scooter—one of those you put one foot on and push yourself along with the other foot. I was being pushed along by a friend who let go the handlebars and I fell and hit my head on the road. I was knocked out. I was bleeding from my right ear. I went to hospital where x-rays revealed a fractured skull. I spent five days in hospital, having head-injury monitoring. It wasn’t until seven years later that I was diagnosed with only 40% hearing in that ear. The three little bones in the inner ear had been knocked out of sync in the impact with the road. I had gone through five years of grammar school with no-one noticing that my hearing was impaired. So Tuesday’s session on the work of Raymond Antrobus was interesting, fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable. Antrobus is coming to read for us at Poets&Players in the autumn: details to follow when dates etc. are finalised.
Also this week, I heard there’s to be another Beautiful Dragons anthology: Water, Dam It with poems about springs, wells, dams, all the ways human activity has used and abused the water supply on the planet. I’ve opted to write about the Whittlesey Washes, an area close to where I grew up. The Washes were formed when the fens were drained in the seventeenth century, and are still important defences against flooding in the area. The deadline for submissions for the anthology is August 31st, so I have plenty of time for research.
Amongst all this holiday prep and poetry, I’ve continued with the Big Spring Clean. My study is now organised and sorted. The cats are confused: some of their favourite hidey holes were in the study; they’re having to acclimatise. But it’s done now and I love it. It took longer than I imagined, and I still have to sort out my personal filing cabinet, but that can wait until I have a spare afternoon. Is there even such a thing as a spare afternoon? Anyway, the completion of the study represents the entire upper floor having been spring-cleaned and organised since the submission of the thesis. I’m really enjoying this: who knew housework could be so calming and so cathartic? It’s just the physical project I needed after four/five years of PhD. I took lots more bags of stuff—books, notebooks, stationery etc.—to the charity shop this week; and several bags of shredding, card, defunct electrical waste to the town tip. So satisfying!
My lovely, organised study
On Friday Bill and I went to Didsbury: I was determined to have one last go at buying the tunic I’d seen in the charity shop. It was still there, on its hanger by the window. The shop was open: I bought it. Yes, I love it when plans come to fruition. We had lunch in the Expo Lounge and the waitress recognised ‘the poetry lady’ from the reading on Monday evening. Small things…
Here’s a poem. It tells the story of my falling off the scooter and losing the hearing in my right ear. Ann Cowling, bless her: she’s still eleven in my mind! I wrote this poem in one of Carola Luther’s workshops in St Ives in April. The task was to take an image, in this poem the python, build and rebuild the image throughout the poem. I think I may have posted it soon after I came home; but here it is again. It seems apposite after reading Raymond Antrobus on Tuesday. Enjoy.
The road snakes away, a python
slithering from the village to Brownlow’s corner.
Red, or rust really, its skin
leaks molten tar on hot days.
The hedgerows are wild, untamed—
also python, their skins shedding regularly
from brown through green, white with May,
the red spots of autumn’s bounty.
Fact: Ann Cowling can run. Her legs
are python too, long and strong.
On that day I was tuned out from sound
she pushed me on the scooter until
her feet ran away with her,
her hands let go the handlebars.
I know the feeling of a scooter’s wobble,
the panic just before the fall. I know
the weird sense of being at my own front door
unsure how I got there. I know the pain of a skull
being crushed by a giant constricting snake.