All Quiet on the PhD front

I’ve had a quiet week by my standards. I’ve had no news on the ‘minor revisions’: is ‘no news good news’? I’m becoming obsessive about checking my emails just in case. I tell myself the email will come when it gets sent, but it’s hard waiting. Is my brainchild mature enough to stand on her own two feet and go out and claim a place in the world?

I spent Sunday morning putting poems from Saturday’s Poetry Business workshop onto the MacBook. I did a bit of tweaking: form, stanza length, line length etc. I’m quite pleased with them.  Two of the poems I wrote up are based on pieces of art work, I seem to be getting a lot of poems from art lately, which is unusual for me. There’s a whole rich harvest there, perhaps. So far my ekphrastic poems are close responses to the art work: I admire people who go beyond the art work to make a world of their own, build personalities for the men and women in the pictures etc, write the harvest for that piece of fruit in the still life. I’m not there yet. But I’m pleased with what I wrote on Sunday morning. I might take my notebook to the Gallery for the day soon, see what I come back with; a day of trying out ekphrasis, with lunch in the middle.

Tuesday I had to take Rosie Parker to the vet again for a post-op check. We actually got her there on time for her appointment. The veterinary nurse was pleased with her progress, her gums are healing well. I have to keep giving her the meds and take her back next Tuesday. Aaagh! I hoped this would be the end of it. Oh my word, the trauma of the pet carrier: my trauma, not hers! And she’s costing me a fortune in cream to hide her meds in. She’s worth it though.

When I got home from the vets, and Rosie had hidden herself for protection under the futon in my study, I decided to do some work around submitting. I ordered a desk calendar pad for 2020. I write in the deadlines for submission call-outs, with notes of the various submission guidelines. Then if I miss a deadline I’ve only myself to blame. I looked for some submission opportunities that are open at the moment. I found a string of opportunities for all genres in Mxlexia: https://mslexia.co.uk/submit-your-work/  Mslexia is a magazine for women, redressing the historic side-lining of women writers in history. I realise some male writers get upset by Mslexia, but having studied this side-lining a little in my PhD, and having found anthologies which contain more male poets called ‘Thomas’ than women poets altogether, I see where Mslexia is coming from. Anyway, I sent one of my poems from Saturday’s art gallery workshop to their ‘love poetry’ call out. It’s a very tongue in cheek poem about growing older. It’s really too young to be out on it’s own, but who knows—many times your children surprise you, don’t they? Anyway, it’s gone. On Tuesday afternoon I met my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson in Café Abaco in Uppermill for a catch-up before going across the road for a hair appointment that I had to rearrange to accommodate Rosie’s visit to the vet. That’s how much I love her!

Wednesday was flu jab day. We go to the Well Pharmacy in Uppermill. Mr Johnson, the pharmacist, is really the kindest, most gentle man; and no appointment necessary, just an NHS form to fill in. We were in and out in five minutes, and next door to Abaco for coffee.

Thursday was the most productive day for poetry this week. Firstly, my copies of Well, Dam!: poems for parched times (Beautiful Dragons Press, 2019) arrived in the post. My Whittlesey Wash poem, the one I wrote about on this blog in the summer, is in the anthology, along with a hundred other very good poems, all about various ways in which humans have exploited—used and abused—the waters of the planet. Added to that, I had an email from 4word publishers telling me I’ve been shortlisted in their poetry pamphlet submission call-out. I found out about it when Hilary asked me if I’d had an email from them; because, guess what, my poetry twin is also on the shortlist. 4word only publish four pamphlets a year, so it’s good to be on the shortlist, although I don’t know how many poets altogether are on there. But Hilary and I are on there. I spent Saturday putting together the thirty or so poems that will comprise my pamphlet if it is chosen as one of the four. Hilary and I are planning to get together to look over each other’s pamphlets prior to sending them off: we still have to drink the bottle of champagne we won in the Nantwich poetry quiz, so this will be a good excuse to do that. We have a couple of weeks to get the pamphlets in to the publishers. Wish us both well.

On Friday I went to Peterborough with my daughter, Amie to meet up with son Richard and friends. We had a lovely day, as we always do when we get together. Richard made me a set of ‘memoji’ as my iPhone and iPad are too old and incapable of making their own. Mine are enormous, but I love them:

IMG_2378

In other news, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to Handmaid’s Tale this week. The Testaments (London: Vintage Books 2019) is a wonderful sequel. It took me about five chapters to realise how she is writing it: a multiple-voiced account of the collapse of Gilead. I want to go back and read it again now I’ve finished it, to see if I missed anything while I was working it out. It really is a good read, a worthy follow-up to the masterpiece that is Handmaid’s Tale, which was an iconic feminist text long before the TV adaptation. Earlier this week, Atwood was announced as joint Booker Prize winner for The Testaments, along with Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other (London: Penguin, 2019). Later today I’ll be going with Hilary, her sister and some friends to see Margaret Atwood ‘in conversation’ at the Lowry Theatre in Salford. Unfortunately, there won’t be a book signing, but there will be Margaret Atwood, and that’s enough for anyone. I can’t wait.

I’m going to leave you with my Whittlesey Wash poem, as it appears in Well, Dam! If you want a copy of the anthology, let me know, or contact the publisher, Rebecca Bilkau: beautifuldragons@icloud.com

Pollarded Willows On Whittlesey Wash Road                     

I’m a child riding in dad’s car along the B1040
Whittlesey Wash road from Thorney,
past the Dog in a Doublet where dad says
he was born in an upstairs room.
His birth story lessens the anxiety I always feel
riding along the B1040, where the land is too vast,
seeming to stretch forever across flat wetlands
grid-patterned with dykes, drains, fenland droves.
The knotty willows—I think they own this road—
shake their arthritic fists at me for the trespass.
I don’t want to provoke them, won’t look,
keep my eyes on the back of dad’s head,

I’m an adult driving the B1040 from Thorney
to Whittlesey, past the Dog in a Doublet where
I imagine Grandma upstairs pushing out my Dad.
The meadows are not as extensive as I remember,
I’ve grown into their vastness. They glisten
under a skin of water from last week’s rain, showing
who really owns this road is not the belligerent willows
but the North Sea; it was stolen from her and she
can reclaim it on a whim.
A file of pylons marching confidently across the landscape
must have been here when I was a child but the wind turbines
are new, harvesting the east wind that sweeps
from the Urals across Northern Europe’s flat landscape.

The curmudgeonly willows have grown dreadlocks,
become rastatrees, reggae tributes—the lifestyle change
is too much for some, they’re falling under the weight
of foliage; some are already wrecks on the sea bed.
As I pass, the ones still standing nod a dour greeting,
extend twiggy fists like paupers, reminding me
of the half-crown Aunt Mary would tuck into my hand,
the sweet tea she served in grown up cups and saucers,
blue as a clear sky and willow patterned.

Rachel Davies
August 2019

 

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