Monthly Archives: November 2019

Tick boxes and paper nautiluses

On Sunday, November 10th 2019 I resubmitted my ‘signed off’ thesis to the University. The ETHoS form proved problematic: the tick-boxes on the form wouldn’t accept ticks electronically. I printed it off, ticked it, signed it, took a photo on my iPad and submitted it with the exit form and the thesis. I also had to submit a copy of the title page and abstract separately, which took time to prepare in line with the University’s preferred style and saved in PDF. Done. My certificate will be with me in weeks. I’d thought to share the morning with some of the final paperwork from the Black Ladd, but it took me all morning to submit the thesis and it’s extras, so the paperwork went on the back burner until Monday. After all, I have all the time in the world now.

On Monday evening I went into Manchester with Hilary Robinson for the latest—the sixth—in the series of People’s Poetry Lectures at the Principal. Moira Egan’s lecture on Marianne Moore was as good as the rest: interesting and engaging. Egan, an American poet who went to the same college as Moore had attended, drew parallels between her life and Moore’s. The lecture was entitled ‘Marianne Moore: not so timorous wee beasties’. Ex-laureate Carol Ann Duffy introduced the evening and she admitted that she had read Moore several times, but never quite understood her; so I felt better then. I don’t know Moore’s work well but she is difficult to get a handle on; except one poem that I love and which Egan included in her lecture: ‘The Paper Nautilus’, which is a wonderful description of a type of octopus and its beautiful egg case . You can find a copy of the poem here:

https://poets.org/poem/paper-nautilus

and here’s a photo I found on wiki-images of the shell, the egg case, of the nautilus:

images
the paper nautilus, egg case.
The human hand is an indicator of size

It was a lovely evening, although the weather was foul: heavy rain and flooding across the Pennines had kept several people away; and being a Monday evening, perhaps, it wasn’t as well attended as some of the previous lectures. But we met up with several poetry friends, and I’m glad I went. I have the complete set of lecture notes for the series; and CAD announced another proposed series in the near future, so that’s good. I’ll keep you posted when I hear anything definite.

The best thing that happened on Tuesday was that Rosie Parker was discharged from the vets after her recent dental treatment—hurray! She has to go back every four months to make sure her teeth continue to resist the autoimmune attack. ‘Would Rosie let you brush her teeth?’ the dental nurse asked me. Ha! There are days Rosie is disdainful even of a loving stroke! The chances of me getting close to the inside of her mouth with a toothbrush are slim-to-none. So I’m to keep giving her the dental formula biscuits and we’ll keep a close watch on developments.

On Wednesday I heard from Deborah at MMU that the photographed ETHoS form wasn’t acceptable, could I resubmit online? And the title page and abstract needed to be in two separate documents, not the one I’d prepared and submitted. Aaargh! Is there on end to it? But at 3.00 a.m. on Thursday I had an idea of how I could insert ticks into the tick-boxes on the ETHoS form; so I got my MacBook out there and then and tried. Behold! It worked. Actually, it worked better than I expected. My idea was to delete the tick-box wingding and insert an asterisk to denote my tick. But when I deleted the tick-box, an asterisk appeared automatically. So I spent some time making two discrete docs of the title page and abstract and sent it all off again before breakfast. My certificate could be with me by the end of November, I’ve been told.

Yesterday, Saturday, I met Hilary at the Metrolink tramstop at Derker in Oldham and we went into Manchester for the Poetry Business Writing Day at the Manchester Art Gallery. I love these writing days with Peter Sansom, he’s such a lovely man, and possibly ‘the best teacher of creative writing in the country’ according to Sian Hughes in the Gaurdian. He’s certainly one of them: engaging, and well prepared, in a chaotic sort of way. He brings excellent poems as prompts, and he brings biscuits: lots of biscuits! We wrote to prompts in a room disrupted by repairs to the fabric of the building, so we competed with loud drilling and hammering noise; and we were sent out into the gallery to find poems among the works of art. That’s my favourite part of these writing days, which has surprised me, because I’ve always shied away from ekphrasis as a stimulation for poems; but I have several poems in my thesis collection that came from works of art, and I wrote another one yesterday, which I’m quite excited about. I came home with about four poems that might make something of themselves eventually.

I’m cutting it a bit short this week because I have to go into Manchester again later this morning for a meeting of the Poets & Players organising committee at the Whitworth Art Gallery, so I’d better get a schlepp on, as my friend Joan would say. I’ll leave you with an alternative mother poem, I think. She’s one of four ‘alternative mothers’ included this month in the online journal, Writers’ Café: Masks edition. You can read them all, and other poems obviously, here: https://thewriterscafemagazine.wordpress.com/2019/11/09/the-writers-cafe-magazine-issue-17-masks/

The world, meet Cynthia:

Alternative Mother #7
Cynthia

 There are days she doesn’t even leave her bed
except to go to the bathroom.

Last week she binge-watched all eleven series
of Vampire Diaries until she could taste blood.
She looked at me like I was a roast beef dinner
cooked rare.

If she does make it downstairs
she lounges in her D&G leopard-skin onesie
in the Barker and Stonehouse leather recliner
paid for by the sugar daddy. She’s never worked,

thinks she’s Kim Kardashian, the world comes to her.
And the world wouldn’t want to offend her:
she wears a grudge like a body-con.

I don’t remember her ever actually using
the Bugatti touch-sense kettle or the electric Aga
in the kitchen. We mostly eat Domino’s,
McDonalds, take-out from The Great Wall.
She flirts outrageously with the Deliveroo man
who pretends he can’t speak English.

My friends never visit.                    I don’t invite them.

Rachel Davies
2018

A Metaphor For Endings

Later today, I’ll be making the final submission of my thesis to the University, with all the attendant proformas completed. So I can truly say, using that old cliché, that tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of my life. It’s strange how that has simultaneously become the situation in another area of my life too: Amie successfully sold her business at the Black Ladd this week, in order to buy a fish and chip shop in partnership with her sister-in-law. So the volunteering job I’ve had for more than twelve years, doing her books for her, is now redundant. What will I do with all my extra free time?

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            contemplating future goals

Really, this week has been taken over by the hand-over of the business to the new proprietors. I’ve been passing on my (very limited) knowledge of ‘doing the books’; seeking out invoices and other relevant information to help them get started with suppliers; handing over the several Excel spreadsheets I’ve designed to help me with VAT, casual wages etc.; passing on complements slips, gift vouchers etc. that are only relevant to the Black Ladd business. I’ll be sad, but strangely relieved, not to be needing these things again. It’s been a hugely successful business, started just before the turmoil of the 2008 financial crash. When restaurants and pubs were forced to the wall in their droves, Amie’s vision of good home cooking and simple hospitality ensured her survival. She’s also survived the personal trauma of serious illness thanks to the wonderfully supportive team she’d built up and so now the time is right to take on a business which will, hopefully be less demanding, with a partner who’s also a close friend. Obviously, I wish them huge good luck and continuing good health. Yesterday, Bill and I spent the day at the Black Ladd, clearing Amie out of the office to make room for the new regime. We had four shredders on the go, dispatching old invoices etc. A shredder is a metaphor for endings; but also, I think, for new beginnings.

In other news, this week I finished reading Katie Hale’s debut novel My name is Monster (Canongate, 2019). I met Katie a few years ago at one of Kim Moore’s writing weekends in Cumbria, and know her as a very good young poet: last year she was shortlisted in the  prestigious Manchester Poetry Prize. So when I heard she’d published a novel I was hooked and wanted to read it. I won’t give any spoiler alerts, but I will say it’s a dystopian novel about the last human survivor of Armageddon: there has been nuclear war and ‘the sickness’, which is hinted at as the result of bacterial warfare that has killed the world’s population. The book begins with one woman, christened Monster by her father, as the sole survivor. Her given name brings to mind Frankenstein’s ‘creature’ in Mary Shelley’s astounding and wonderful book, that part where he’s wandering the world to escape from Frankenstein who wants to destroy him. I must admit, when I began reading Katie Hale’s novel I did wonder how she would make a whole novel of one woman’s survival, but she does and it’s a really good read. In terms of the plot, there are probably huge loopholes and ambiguities for a scientist reading it; but I’m not a scientist. I read for entertainment; and I was entertained. And having recently finished Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, I was enthralled and disturbed by a different version of a frightening dystopia. I need to find something a little less frightening, a little more uplifting to read I think. I’ve started to read a William Boyd novel now, Waiting for Sunrise (Bloomsbury Press, 2012). I’ve never been disappointed by William Boyd, so I have high hopes for this one, set in Vienna at the start of the First World War. I’ll keep you posted.

Knowing there will be official forms to complete, I’ve been keeping a close eye on my MMU emails this week for news of the system for resubmission of the thesis. On Tuesday I logged in only to be told I needed to change my password. This is an annual event but this year it seemed spurious as I’m so close to the end of my need for the password. None-the-less, I didn’t want to be locked out of my account at this crucial stage, so I obliged. I stayed with the Apple generated password as I knew I wouldn’t need it for long and my MacBook would remember it for me. Unfortunately, when I tried to log on again with my new password, MMU wasn’t having any of it. I couldn’t get in! I clicked on the ‘forgotten your password’ link hoping to be able to change the password to something I would remember for myself; but on clicking the link I was advised to contact the student hub. Aaaagh! computers and digital technology are wonderful when they work for you, but when it all goes pear-shaped… On Thursday I was going into Manchester anyway, so I decided to go earlier than planned so that I could visit the student hub at All Saints campus, Geoffrey Manton building. I successfully changed my password with the hub staff’s help, and now have a password I can remember without any help from my petulant MacBook. The email about re-submission eventually came through on Friday, with me wondering how I was ever going to find time to resubmit amidst all the turmoil of the business handover. I decided I need to concentrate on the pressing nature of the handover. I did take time to read through the thesis to make sure there aren’t any typos etc—I found a couple—and it’s good to go later this morning.

I was really in Manchester on Thursday for the People’s Poetry Lecture. I met up with my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson, in the Refuge Bar at the Principal. The lectures are in an upstairs room. This is a brilliant series of lectures to appeal to poets and non-poets alike; and they have been really high quality events, contemporary poets presenting poets who have inspired them on personal and professional levels. On Thursday the lecture was presented by Jean Sprackland; her subject was Elizabeth Bishop, a favourite poet of mine as well. The theme of Jean’s lecture was Bishop’s feeling of ‘unbelonging’ following a traumatic childhood in which her father died, her mother was incarcerated in a mental hospital where she subsequently died, all happening when Bishop was a young girl.  She never saw her mother again after the incarceration and as a result Bishop was uprooted from a home and family where she felt loved and secure to relocate with her father’s family, where she wasn’t happy. Jean gave a convincing account of how this traumatic phase of her life gave rise to the feeling of not belonging anywhere, a recurring theme in Bishop’s poetry and personal letters. It was another excellent lecture; and it was good to see Jean and lots of other poetry friends there. Hilary and I shared the lift with Carol Ann Duffy, who joked she was sharing the lift with ‘the PhD people’. I pointed out that she was sharing the lift with ex-PhD people and she called me Dr Davies. It’s the little things…There’s another ‘people’s lecture’ tomorrow evening, if you want to give it a go; Moira Egan on Marianne Moore: http://www.manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/events/the-peoples-poetry-lectures-moira-egan-on-marianne-moore

I can’t wait.

So that’s it, another week with lots going on. We’ve had fireworks night this week, which this year feels like a metaphor for the state of the political climate. One week into an election campaign marked by lies, damn lies and (misinterpreted) statistics; scurrilous misinformation; cruel and insensitive posturing; and already I’m wondering when Guido Fawkes is going to resurrect himself and come back to save the day? So I’m going to leave you with a ‘remember, remember’ poem about the only fireworks party we were ever allowed in my childhood. I think I was about nine on this particular November 5th:

 

All The Excuse You Needed

You tell us horror stories from your life as a nurse
but we grind you down slowly until at last you give in.
We go with dad to Ken Harker’s, choose our legal bombs.
We waited years for the velvety darkness of this Fenland night.

Excited, we tie Guy Fawkes to the stake then
light the bonfire we’ve been building for weeks,
chuck scrubbed potatoes into the flames, hold mugs
of piping hot soup in gloved hands. Our eyes soar

into a universe reformed by a super-cluster of new galaxies
from that first rocket. But of course, dad knows better
than the Fireworks Code,  spurns the tight lidded biscuit tin,
cuts the safe distance from the blaze, lights blue touch-papers

without retiring. Do you actually see that fire imp jump
the short arc from blaze to fireworks box?  Our fireworks all
go up together, the spectacular display a symphony
of terrifying booms and whistles and we miss it all,

that constellation of colour, its spinning wheels, its horizontal
rockets, its jumping jacks because we turn our backs,
run for our lives. From this day forward, we’ll wonder
what those fireworks might have looked like  because

this is all the excuse you needed.

 

Rachel Davies
2016

A Puck of a week…

The best news first: on Friday I heard from Dr Hurley that my revisions have been accepted and the thesis has been signed off. I am officially Dr Davies, fully and without the reservation of the revisions, and the award will be backdated to the date of the viva: 6th September. I have to resubmit the revised thesis as soon as the examiners have informed MMU of the decision, then my certificate will arrive. The graduation next July is an opportunity for the university to congratulate me. Woo hoo! PhD is behind me, a thing of the past, an ex-worry! Bill and I shared bubbles to celebrate.

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In other news, last Sunday I went with Hilary and friends to see Margaret Atwood at the Lowry theatre. She was ‘in conversation’ with the Turkish writer, Elif Shafak. It was a splendid event: Atwood is days away from her 80th birthday, with a mind as sharp as pins; she has lost none of her political fight. The first half of the event involved her talking about the relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale and Testaments to modern society. Shafak talked of how women writers are repressed in her native Turkey, and so the books resonated with her. You only have to keep up to date with right-wing news in the USA or the UK to see how close we live to Gilead. I read of an American woman charged with manslaughter because she was shot in the stomach and her unborn baby died. She should have taken steps to protect the child. Her attacker wasn’t charged: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48789836

Or ‘pro-life’ politicians who make spurious claims about rape and abortion: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/idaho-lawmaker-still-thinks-rape-cant-result-pregnancy-and-its-2016/

The right-wing in the UK is not better; Gilead, Atwood’s dystopia, is just around the next corner. After an interval there was a question and answer session with tweeted questions from the audience. The most memorable response in this session was Atwood’s claim that people get complacent as they get older, that the elderly sit back and leave protesting to the young. We mustn’t; if we disagree with something, we should speak out, she said: if we feel something’s wrong we shouldn’t just ignore it, put up with it. I’m sharing even more anti-Brexit stuff on social media now; and doing my best to challenge right-wing propaganda wherever I find it in the lead-up to the December election. We live in a frightening world: who knows where we’re heading?

A final word about the theatre event: why do audiences not know how to behave any more? People were coming and going during the two sessions, talking among themselves, rustling huge bags of sweets and popcorn. Phones were switched off, but vibrations for texts were answered so that screens lit up, detracting attention from the stage. Why can’t folk just sit down and shut up for the hour or so of a performance?

On Tuesday it was Stanza at the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge. We had an anonymous workshop this month: members send me poems they would appreciate feedback on; I put them all into one document, standard font and format, and send them out prior to the meeting for people to read and comment. We had six members in attendance, including one new member, and three apologies, so I think we’re off the endangered list. It was a very good meeting with some cracking poems. I took a poem I wrote at Peter Sansom’s workshop in Manchester Art Gallery a couple of Saturdays ago. I received good feedback, they liked the poem. I’ve since turned it into an alternative mother. One poem addressed the 39 Vietnamese migrants who died in the refrigerated container lorry. It was a very good treatment of the subject, from the angle of ‘hidden things’. We advised her to send it to the Morning Star for consideration. They publish political poetry. I wonder if she will?

On Wednesday I spent the morning putting a pamphlet together of some of my PhD poems. I heard at the end of the previous week that Hilary and I have both been shortlisted in the 4word pamphlet call-out. We had to send six poems initially; the email informing us of the shortlist requested 29-32 poems, so quite a substantial pamphlet. I decided which poems to include: 12 alternative mothers and twenty others. I printed them all out and spread them across the study floor to arrange and rearrange their order in the collection. I took out a couple and replaced them with other poems that seemed to fit better. It’s a long and precise process: if you want your pamphlet to be one of the ones that gets noticed you have to try your best to make it stand-out. I put them all together in a binder, and in a document on the MacBook, and left them for a day, then emailed the pamphlet file to Hilary. We’d agreed to meet on Friday in Caffé Abaco in Uppermill to feedback to each other on our pamphlets. Of course, we know each other’s poems fairly well from all the readings we do together; but it was interesting to see the poems as a collection, it raised issues that aren’t issues when they are individual poems: phrases repeated  across a couple of poems, for instance, are not an issue while they’re individual poems but are noticeable when the poems are relatively close to each other in a collection. It was a useful session. On Saturday, after watching the Rugby World Cup Final, I came up to my study and revisited the poems in line with Hilary’s feedback and then I pressed ‘send’ on the email. They’ve gone now for better or worse. I really hope they demand the editors’ attention. Good luck to us both.

On Wednesday evening Bill and I went to the Printworks in Manchester for the live screening of National Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Nicholas Hytner. Oh. My. Word. How brilliant was that? I love the play anyway, but this production was the stand-out one for me. The play was broadcast from the Bridge Theatre in London. It was performed in the round, but more than that, it was immersive theatre, so the audience was an integral part of the show, drawn-in in all sorts of ways. Puck in particular had a good rapport with the audience. The actor who played Puck, David Moorst, was brilliant. The fairies in the play ‘flew’ on fabric trapezes. They were all acrobats as well as actors, and the effect was stunning. Puck was a contortionist I think, getting himself into all kinds of surprising shapes in his trapeze. I loved it. Hytner had transposed aspects of the roles of Titania (Gwendoline Christie) and Oberon (Oliver Chris) in his play, so that it was Oberon, king of the fairies who received the love potion from Titania the fairy queen; so that proud Oberon fell in love with Bottom the weaver, transformed into a donkey. The gender reversal in Macbeth a couple of weeks ago really didn’t work for me, but here it was brilliant; it brought a new dimension to the play, added to the comedy, and brought proud Oberon, and his human counterpart, Duke Theseus, down a peg or two. Oh my, it was a wonderful way to spend an evening. I just wish I could go to London to see the play in the theatre now; but a live screening is definitely the next best thing.

And there you have it: my week in words: a wonderful and rewarding week overall. I can stop stressing now about PhD, thesis, revisions and just put it all behind me. Of course, I intend to keep celebrating for as long as it takes, but that’s the good part. The stress and angst are things of the past. I’ll leave you with the poem I took to Stanza. I don’t see me sending it out to journals as an individual poem, and submission to pamphlets allows for previously published poems, so I can post it here. I think it’s self-evident who it’s about and it deals with the way women have been hidden by their history in a world belonging to men. Enjoy.

Alternative Mother #1
Naamah, daughter of Lamech

you trim the timbers       soak them
bend them over boulders
dry them       in the sun
hammer and hammer       a row boat
a racing yacht       an ocean going ship

he says you need to       says why don’t you
says if you did it like this       says it’ll never
says more tar more tar       says what’s for tea

You keep trimming       shaping       planing
sanding       hammering       tarring       trimming
on and on

he says it won’t      says that zoo can’t
says the big cats will eat the
says but the elephants       says the rhinos might
says what if the snakes

You build steps       a ramp       channel your inner
farmhand       herd the animals       in pairs

he puts the finishing touches to the paintwork
paints on his own trademark in letters two cubits high

and we all forget your name

Rachel Davies
October 2019