My week started in Cumbria, at Rydal Hall, day three of the Poetry Carousel. After breakfast I went to Kim Moore’s workshop. It addressed the ‘between us’ in poetry: who is talking to whom. It was fascinating and I wrote three fairly workable poems, so a productive day. After lunch Hilary and I wrote our poems onto our MacBooks. I began editing straight away. We went for a walk to the coffee shop without the stroll around the grounds as a precursor. The weather was foul: even wetter and windier than yesterday. After a coffee, we went back to our room and carried on with some work.
At dinner we sat with several poetry friends, including Kim, her husband and baby Ally. I got to talking to Kim about the PhD: she was asking me serious questions about my main argument. I explained in broad terms about ‘the potential toxicity of the mother-daughter relationship’ and she asked if she could read my thesis. I remembered how important it was for me to read other theses when I was struggling with the language for writing- up so I promised to email it to her later in the evening. After dinner we went to a wonderful reading by David Tait and Clare Shaw: different styles, but both engaging writers. Afterwards one of the course participants, Caroline, gave an impromptu ‘concert’ in the foyer, singing to guitar a song she’d written herself in praise of the older woman. It was funny and entertaining. Being full of a head-cold, which was threatening to sink to my chest—I was developing a nasty rasping cough—I took myself to bed afterwards. Unfortunately I forgot to email the thesis to Kim. But it was OK because at 3.00 a.m. I woke up with two things on my mind: I emailed the thesis to Kim and I had an idea for developing one of the poems I’d written in her workshop, writing the conversation in a modern vernacular. I was quite pleased with it when I’d done.
At breakfast I asked Kim if she’d received my email and she said yes, she’d already read the abstract and commented how ‘grown up’ it sounded. ‘It’s in real academic language,’ she said, which made me laugh, because if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how hard I found it to write in acadamese. I read several books about writing academic papers, struggled for a long time. It was nice that Kim wanted to read it, in prep for writing her own PhD thesis. After breakfast we went to a workshop run by Clare Shaw, our last ride on the carousel. Clare’s workshop addressed ‘love’ in poetry, and she took an interesting route to writing love poetry through landscape as metaphor. We also wrote love poems to an animal, each of us given a random animal by another course member. I was given a zebra to address in my poem. One writer was given an echidna, and had to have it explained to him before he could start. If you don’t know, it’s a kind of ‘weird Australian hedgehog’ with a long nose. He wrote a stonking poem in the end. Clare had a unique method of getting course members to read out their work. We read like a Mexican wave, taking it in turns around the table without stopping for comment and feedback; so it was like being part of writing a very long poem and it took out the angst some poets feel that their work is being scrutinised: we had no time to scrutinise and feedback, just to enjoy.
We had lunch in the coffee shop: plenty of it because the organisation went a bit awry, and because some people had trains to catch and couldn’t stay for lunch. So we had soup, a sandwich, as many chocolate mousses and/or alcoholic jellies as we could eat. Hilary and I went into Grasmere before we drove home, to buy Grasmere Gingerbread and to look in the lovely little bookshop there. It was about 5.00 p.m. by the time we got home to Saddleworth.
On Tuesday morning I was itching to get some poetry done. I spent the morning in my study writing up carousel poems to the MacBook and revisiting poems I’d already written up. I looked for submission opportunities as well. A lot of publications are closed for submissions until after Christmas, most have windows that aren’t open at the moment. The North is an exception: its submission window is open until New Year’s Day, so I thought ‘why not?’ It’s been a long-held ambition of mine to get a poem into The North. I’ve had a couple of articles published in there, and been shortlisted with poems in the past, but I’ve never made the final cut. I prepared five poems to send off and on Thursday I put them in the post. Fingers crossed.
On Wednesday Hilary, her husband David, Bill and I went for our annual Christmas lunch at Greens, Simon Rimmer’s restaurant in East Didsbury. ‘Greens, terrifying carnivores since 1990: http://www.greensdidsbury.co.uk Oh my, how good is this vegetarian restaurant? We had a lovely lunch, and the best thing is, we got there on the tram without any changes, arrived in Didsbury—Burton Rd stop—within a two-minute walk to the restaurant. I always think of the poetry carousel as the starter to Christmas, but our annual Christmas lunch at Greens feels like Christmas is well and truly up and running.
That lovely celebratory feeling was well and truly dashed on Thursday. We went shopping, I posted my sub to The North. We called at Tesco for the weekly food shop. On the way into Tesco I made a donation to the homeless man who sits outside: it was freezing cold and he was well wrapped in sleeping bag and blanket. On my way out of Tesco I gave him a box of mince pies and I thought, ‘from tomorrow, life will get better for you, when we get a compassionate Labour Government committed to ending austere hardship.’ Because how could anyone vote for another Tory Government with so much homelessness and suffering, a direct result of their uncaring conservatism? I’d put my cross in the box and sat up to watch the results come in. The first blow came with the exit polls, predicting a large Conservative majority. What? That must be wrong, mustn’t it? As the night rolled on it became apparent that the exit polls were spot on. Great swathes of ‘Labour heartland’ constituencies had defected to the conservative vote, heeding the Tory mantra of ‘Get Brexit Done’. Oh my, how harsh is this: a Conservative majority of nearly eighty seats, carte blanche to do what they like in—and with—Government. The very people most affected by austerity, areas of deprivation in the north and midlands, had voted Conservative; ex-mining communities, destroyed by Thatcher in the eighties, had voted Conservative. We have another five years of Conservative Government under the least trust-worthy Prime Minister ever, because his campaign team, because Dominic Cummings, recognised the importance of that simple mantra ‘Get Brexit Done’; and with that mantra they’d swept up all the disaffected ‘leave’ voters in historically Labour areas, who saw our failure to secure Brexit as the cause of their misery. Well, now we ‘take back control’ of the UK from Europe; but we hand control to a self-serving Conservative Government, the meanest and most brutal in history, who have been the real cause of their deprivation. I thought I felt bad after the EU referendum in 2016, but Friday morning saw a whole new depth of low. It looks as if I’ll be giving to the homeless for a few years to come yet. I’d better keep my charity pocket well topped up with cash. I’d like to apologise to everyone—the homeless, the sick, the disabled, those forced to apply to foodbanks in order to feed their families, those in inferior housing—who will suffer under this uncaring regime, and tell them it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it. But anger won’t cut it will it? it is what it is. Desperate people voted for what they perceive is a way to make their lives better. I feel that leaving the EU under a Conservative Government will make their lives immeasurably worse. Of course, I could be wrong but I remain to be convinced.
A little light in the darkness: on Thursday my PhD certificate arrived in the post. It proves I can afford a PhD course so austerity and deprivation shouldn’t bother me should it? I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder, after all, that’s the zeitgeist of the age we live in.
Later today I’m going to Peterborough with Amie to have lunch with Richard and friends. It’ll help heal the desperation I’ve felt since the election. It’ll be a moving on. But I’ll make sure I have cash in my right hand pocket, to give to the many homeless people we’re going to pass walking through the City Centre. What cruel times we live in.
I’ll sign off with a very small poem I wrote in Kim’s workshop. I’ve tried to remember the prompt poem but I can’t: it had to do with names, with interaction between named people in a poem. So I wrote this, about that annoying habit of Starbucks baristas of asking for your name when you order a coffee. Some clever marketing course has decided it’s a way of sounding friendly and welcoming. It isn’t, it’s deeply annoying and patronising. If you want to be friendly, Starbucks, start paying some of the tax you owe in order to make life better for people who will never be able to afford your coffee in the self-serving climate of conservatism the western world is stuck in at the moment. If you voted conservative on Thursday, and my little rant has offended you: sorry, not sorry. Here’s my poem, which sounds remarkably affable after my rant:
Have a nice day
Anglo Saxons believed to hold a name
was to hold power over the named person
so when the barista in Starbucks asks my name
to write on the side of my tall decaf cappuccino
I tell her Millie or Sue; Hetty, Simone, Hildegarde
any name but my own because Starbucks
has power over half the known universe already.