Knitted Surrealism

It’s official: on Thursday I had a letter attached to an email from MMU, addressed to Dr Rachel Davies, congratulating me on my achievement. I’ve been awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. A hard copy of the letter is in the post. There, it’s in writing, it’s done; just the award ceremony to look forward to next July. I feel as if I want to show everyone the letter. I’ll definitely frame a copy for my study. Thursday was also the day I collected my personal copy of the completed thesis from the printers, published in black buckram, gold lettering, the MMU logo heading the cover. Thursday was a good day, a day of tying up loose ends.

Tuesday it was Stanza at the Buffet Bar, Stalybridge. I met Linda Boyles from Tameside before the meeting to discuss the group’s needs. She’s doing a research project into the development needs of arts groups in Tameside. I said we need some new members, otherwise we were doing quite well. She’s put me in touch with Jonathan King, who deals with Stalybridge and Mossley groups and will be my contact. Apparently, there are funding streams to be tapped. It would be good to have funds to invite visiting speakers, poets to run workshops etc; but public funds mean treasurers and committees and then it all gets a bit serious. I’ve been invited to ‘network’ with other groups in the area, so we’ll see what comes of that. We might get more members out of it. Anyway, Lin stayed to the group, joined in and had such a good time, she said she’ll come to our next meeting as a member in January. So already the express aim of increasing membership has been fulfilled.

We had a lovely meeting; and there were six of us there, with two apologies. We had a writing session this month. Three members had prepared writing prompts and we wrote to those prompts. My poetry twin, Hilary, had prepared one of the prompts; but she had also sent apologies, she has this nasty chesty virus that’s doing the rounds at the mo. I called at her house on the way to Stalybridge to collect her writing prompt to put to the group. She whispered her way through the instructions, no productive voice at all.

So, the writing prompts, if you want to give them a go:

Pat had brought lots of small samples of Fairisle knitting. She’s been working out the patterns for a jumper she wants to knit. So she’d attached these knitted pieces to paper, three or four in each sample. We had to use the samples to write: it could be about the samples themselves, about something the samples brought to mind, about knitting, the colours, the rhythm of knit one purl one. I had four small squares of patterns in various colours and I imagined them being tabards for tiny medieval knights. It’s a bit surreal, but I think I can work on it. I can’t tell you how nice it is to write something that doesn’t involve mothers and daughters.

Fokkina brought an activity that concentrated on the long poem. She’d recently been for a week at the Garsdale Retreat in the Yorkshire Dales where Andrew McMIllan had used a long poem of Louise Gluck’s to inspire writing. This was the activity that Fokkina brought to Stanza: you cut a short section from a long poem, then cut a second section from the poem a bit further along. The sections each only need to be three or four lines long. Then write the gap between the two sections into a poem of your own making. It’s better not to read the entire original poem, I’m guessing, because you are not trying to reconstruct the published poem, but to use the pieces to inspire a longer poem of your own. It was hard, but worthwhile. We all produced work that was worth a read. I’ll definitely try the activity again on my own. How about a long poem of the romantic era, for instance The Ballad of the Ancient Mariner or The Lady of Shalott? Choose a poem you don’t know well, though, because remember you’re not trying to rewrite the original but to use it to inspire work of your own.

The third activity was Hilary’s, which I presented to the group. Hilary had cut up an old Codeword book, the puzzles completed. We took two puzzles each and wrote down four words from each grid onto pieces of paper. These lists included easyish words like ‘simple’ or ‘apple’. But there were more challenging words like ‘sasquatch’ or ‘bivouac’. The lists were folded up and placed in the bag. Then a pack of picture cards: pick a card, any card. We dipped into the bag for two sets of words to work with, and these formed an eight-line poem inspired by the picture card. Each line must contain one of the words. It was very random, and made for surprising, surreal poems. I’m including my attempt at this activity at the end of the blog: only because I wrote it up the next day to thank Hilary for the activity, to tell her how much we enjoyed it, and to cheer her up in her laryngitis.

On Friday I drove to Somerset to see my younger son, Michael. It’s his birthday on Monday, so Amie, Angus, the Cockerpoos, Richard, Bill and I all came to celebrate his birthday with him. I’ve never visited his home in Somerset, and I have this anxiety thing where I need to be able to visualise my children in their homes. They feel closer that way. If all I can manage is picturing them ‘somewhere out there’ it doesn’t quite feel real. So now I can picture him ‘somewhere real’ when he’s in Somerset and I’m in Saddleworth. It took about six hours to drive here: it’s a four-and-a-quarter hour journey according to Google maps; but that doesn’t allow for the M6-M5 intersection; and we did stop for about forty-five minutes for lunch en route. I think Amie and Richard are going home today, but I might stay for another night so I can spend some of his birthday with him. The December night he was born was thick, thick Fenland fog. I think it’ll be a bit brighter but considerably colder this year.

Anyway, here’s my ‘poem’ from Hilary’s surreal activity. I think it might be nominated for some prestigious poetry prize in 2020, what do you think? Best individual poem at the Forwards? Anyway, this is the photo card I picked at random from the pack:

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The two lists of words I picked from the bag contained  ‘oxen, amok, identical, bivouac, adieu, yelps, retch and toupee’. Here’s my eight-line poem using the picture and words as stimuli:

Puppet

I was formed from the horns of oxen.
The carpenter ran amok with the sander,
each limb identical to its mirror. This velvet chair
is my bivouac. Alopecia is a burden.
I’ve watched the barber retch to shampoo
the toupee that slips from my cranial dome.
And so I cry adieu cruel world, my voice
a prairie dog’s yelps.

Rachel Davies
November 2019

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