Living my best life

Another storm is lashing outside my window. The neighbour’s security lights came on in the force of it and I can see the rain being driven horizontally, up from the south-west. This worries me, because this week we’ve had the Velux window in the study replaced. The old window, on that face of the house taking the brunt of this weather, took to leaking all over my desk. Paperwork ruined, buckets to catch the flow, rain streaks down the walls: these are not conducive to productive work. My ‘desk’ calendar-pad took to hiding under the desk and could only be coaxed out when I was in there to make sure it was safe and dry. I had to completely clear that end of the study to give room for Dave the Roofer, to work. Dave left on Friday, so I spent yesterday morning restoring my workspace. Well, this morning’s lashing rain will be the test: having replaced the desk calendar-pad to the desktop, will it still be dry? I’m hoping so, or it might mean more extensive work to the roof. So my fingers are crossed that the leak is resolved, despite this foul weather buffeting that side of the roof this morning.

On Tuesday this week, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to miss an event I’d been really looking forward to. My friend, and fellow East Manchester Stanza poet, Fokkina McDonnell, launched her second collection of poetry at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Cambridge Street, Manchester. Nothing serious, nothing dangerous is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Here’s a photograph of Fokkina, beside the painting ‘Departure’, by the late Graham Kingsley Brown, which became the book’s cover. The photograph was taken by the granddaughter of the artist.

Fokkina_McDonnell_Poetry_Launch_3March2020_with_GKB_Painting (002)
Copyright Sophie J Brown, 2020.

You can read a selection of the poems from the collection here: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/fokkina-mcdonnell/4594743254 , along with purchasing details if you’d like a copy: and why wouldn’t you?—Fokkina is an accomplished poet. I’ll be getting my signed copy of Nothing serious…when we meet at the Buffet Bar for the March Stanza.

On Wednesday morning I met up with my poetry twin, Hilary Robinson, for coffee, to continue planning for our annual Line Break. This year we’re tagging it onto the end of Kendal Poetry festival: https://www.kendalpoetryfestival.co.uk  We’ve bought weekend passes to the festival, so we’re planning to attend lots of writing workshops; a good deal of the week following the festival will be spent working on poems from the workshops. We’re at the stage of looking for suitable accommodation within driving distance of Kendal: the north-east coast or the northern lakes. Hilary is the best person I know for offering feedback on poems: she read and sent constructive criticism on my PhD thesis at a crucial time, just prior to the final submission. And this week she was commissioned by me again. We both submitted poems to an upcoming anthology, Bloody Amazing, addressing menstruation and the menopause. Profits from sales of the anthology will go towards period poverty charities, so I was happy and excited to be involved in the project. Hilary was accepted for publication unconditionally; one of my poems was provisionally accepted, pending revision. The editors, Rebecca Bilkau and Gill Lambert, felt my poem was trying hard to be a prose poem, so I asked Hilary if she’d take a look when I’d reworked it. I’m no expert on the prose poem, but it has its own controversies: when does a poem become a microfiction? And does it matter anyway? I re-read Carrie Etter’s essay on the prose poem in The Craft (ed. Rishi Dastidar; Nine Arches Press 2019) and thought about internal sounds: alliteration, assonance etc. and the importance of an impactful last line. So on Thursday morning, while Dave the Roofer was labouring away in my study, I took my MacBook to the conservatory. Thursday was a beautiful spring day and it was lovely working in there, in warm sunshine for a change. I spent a couple of happy hours reworking my poem as a prose poem around the metaphor of a moonwalk. I wrote two versions, one in first person, one in third person and sent them both off to Hilary for feedback. She preferred the first-person version, more immediate, more ‘I was there as witness’. Her feedback was helpful; early on Friday morning I resubmitted the first-person version to Rebecca and Gill. I was delighted to receive a positive reply later in the morning: my prose poem, ‘Moon Landing: the last’ has made the cut and will be in the anthology—Yay!—later in the year. I’ll keep you posted of launch dates etc.

Last night Bill and I went to Manchester Cathedral for a piano recital by the amazing Warren Mailley-Smith. The hook for me was two Beethoven piano sonatas, including the wonderful ‘Moonlight’ which was the opener. Mailley-Smith told us that Beethoven wrote the sonata for the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, one of his aristocratic pupils he’d fallen in love with. Apparently she was singularly unimpressed, the Phillistine! Well I can tell you, if he’d written it for me, I’d have been his forever. Ho hum, such is unrequited love. The recital included a second Beethoven sonata, works by Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninov; it ended with Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, adapted for the piano by the composer. Just wow! It was such a lovely evening, the gorgeous Yamaha piano positioned on a plinth beneath the organ pipes of the cathedral, which look like giant candle flames when the light catches them:

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The most amazing thing, though, is that Mailley-Smith works from memory: he doesn’t use sheet music at all during his performances. Fancy being able to play all that—holding all that music in your head. The artist’s biog in the programme tells us that ‘he is the first British pianist to perform Chopin’s complete works from memory’. How truly astounding is that? It was a wonderful evening. You’ll find a list of up-coming performances here: https://www.warrenmailley-smith.com/calendar/   If you love the piano, you must catch some of these.

I love a live classical concert; but oh my, the protocols! I can never understand how folk can keep so still while listening to music. Listening to a Beethoven symphony or a Mozart concerto is a visceral experience for me. I wrote this poem after a visit to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester to see/hear ‘Mozart by Candlelight’ a few years back. I had to sit on my hands to control them! C’mon, music is physical! Live it!

Listening at the Bridgewater
‘When music strays too far from dance
It atrophies…’ Ezra Pound

A cough, then silence.
A finger on a string, breath over a reed,

lips on a mouthpiece, a hammer on skin.
That’s how it starts, with the body. The air

ripples with it, your tympanic membrane
vibrates with it, your ossicles pick it up,

chase it to your muscles which ache to move
as they do at home when you listen on the stereo.

But here in this seat it’s all cultured politeness,
you mustn’t let on you’re moved by it, keep

your muscles taut, your fingers and toes,
which itch to keep the beat, frozen. Sit on your

hands, knit your feet under the seat in front, close
your eyes, move only on the mind’s dance floor.

Remember how, at home, the music fills you,
blows you away, how you move and sway,

conduct that imaginary orchestra in the hifi,
how your muscles hear it first, before your ears,

how you’re carried somewhere by it, swimming in it,
soaring and surfing on a wave of sound. Then

come back to the Bridgewater as the last strain dies,
open your eyes to polite applause. A cough. Silence.

Rachel Davies

2014

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