All posts by grandavies

About grandavies

In 2003 I took early retirement from my life as a primary school headteacher. After retirement I undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University's Writing School under the tutelage of Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Jeffrey Wainwright and Michael Symmons Roberts. I am currently working towards a PhD at MMU, researching the mother-daughter relationship in the poetry of Selima Hill, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop and Jackie Kay. Work toward this PhD is the main focus of my weekly blog; that and how my poetry life determinedly carries on in parallel. I am on the organising committee of the Manchester based group, Poets and Players whose mission is to bring Arts Council funded, high quality poetry and music events to audiences, free of charge, at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. I am also the co-ordinator of the Poetry Society East Manchester and Tameside Stanza that meets on the last Tuesday of every month at the Buffet Bar, Staybridge Station. We have a dedicated FaceBook page: you can link to it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/ I am a published poet, my work has appeared in Obsessed With Pipework, The New Writer, Envoi, The North among other poetry magazines. In 2013 I was a winner in the Fermoy Poetry Competition and in 2014 I won the Wells Competition. I was placed third in the 2015 Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition. My work has appeared in several anthologies, most recently in My Dear Watson (Beautiful Dragons Press 2015).

Poetry and the Watch List

This week has been poetry.
I slapped poetry between two slices of buttered bread,
washed that butty down with the wine of poetry.
I bathed in poetry, poetry was the sponge and the loofah
I washed my back with.
I dived into the stream of poetry,
swam with the tide of poetry
Poetry has been my sleeping, my dreaming
my waking up.
My road has been walked to the beat of poetry’s feet.

So as you can imagine, there hasn’t been much time for anything else; and in fact, my head has been so much in poetry’s space, it’s been in the wrong place for other stuff, including PhD work. I’ve heard the expression ‘I need to give my head a wobble’: this week I understood exactly what that meant. My head will be duly wobbled now that poetry has been cut down to manageable size.

Tuesday was the Saddleworth launch of Some Mothers Do…at Amie’s pub, the Black Ladd. I went for my fortnightly haircut in the morning, but the hairdresser’s wasn’t open when I arrived—first appointment—so I popped into the clothes shop next door for a browse while I waited. I accidentally bought a gorgeous, dark green velvet dress for the poetry event in the evening. It was wrapped and in my bag before I realised what was happening! It’s the hairdresser’s fault for not being open.

We went to the Black Ladd at about 5.00 p.m. Amie closed the restaurant to the public, although the bar remained open. We met up with Hilary and her husband and son; and Angi Holden and Angela Topping, who again read for their friend, Tonia Bevins, our dragon triplet. Richard drove up with our friend, Maria, from Peterborough after work, arrived about 5.30; gradually the audience started to arrive. We were unsure how many would make it: Saddleworth is on the rural edge of Oldham, public transport is non-existent after about 6.00 p.m. so a car is a must: the pub began to fill with friends, neighbours, stanza members. It was lovely that so many people came to help us celebrate the book. We started the poetry reading at 7.15,  had readings from the book in the first half, called an interval to refill glasses about 8.00.  Amie had said she would put on ‘some nibbles’; in the event she filled a table with lovely finger buffet stuff, quiches, samosas, bhajis, macaroons and all manner of ‘nibbles’. it was a lovely surprise. The second half was given over to an open-mic; three of my Stanza members signed up, and Angi and Angela took five minutes each to read their own work. Hilary and I finished off with a couple more poems each from the book. A lovely evening, as they say, was had by all. Thank you so much to Amie for hosting the evening, and to Mo and Jill who helped her; and to all the wonderful people who gave up their time to come. I expected to be so buzzed up I wouldn’t sleep after; but in fact, the excitement of two launches in one week along with wine mixing with residual co-codamol for the shoulder thing and I was out like a light soon after we got home, slept like a baby.

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Hilary and I reading at the Saddleworth Launch of Some Mothers Do… at the Black Ladd

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Bill being a very attentive member of the audience

Wednesday was spent preparing to come away on Thursday. I’m writing this from my bed in Silverdale in the South Lake District, where I’m staying with Hilary and Linda, another poet friend. Hilary and I travelled up together on Thursday for yet another poetry book launch, this time for the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie, launched at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. It’s an anthology with poems by 70+ poets all inspired by birds on the Watch List of endangered species. Yes there are rare-ish birds on the list: the red backed shrike, the dottrel; but more worrying, there are everyday garden birds like sparrow, song thrush, starling. A recent report by the WWF points out that the world has lost 60% of its animal populations in the last forty years! That’s a staggering and shameful figure. Human activity, modern farming practices, habitat destruction, climate change all contribute to ensuring our wildlife is critically endangered. Watch the Birdie recognises the threat and has attempted to do a small thing to redress the balance. John F Kennedy said, ‘One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.’ This anthology is poetry’s way of trying to make a difference. The book launch was at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and the book will be sold in the gift shops at several RSPB reserves in the North West, all profits going to support the preservation work of the RSPB. The launch was another lovely evening, a gathering of about fifty poets, old dragons and new, old friends and new; about thirty read their poems. Beautiful Dragons is the brain-child of Rebecca Bilkau, the editor, and it’s lovely that so many poets sign up to the various anthologies she dreams up. Friday’s launch had a real reunion feel: good poetry, wine, wonderful cheeses and cake, and a silly folk song about humans flying in a ‘flour sack cape’ from Rebecca’s husband, Michael: that’s what I call a brilliant night. On Saturday morning we went back to the reserve for a guided walk, which was lovely. We saw a bittern, which in the world of twitchers—bird watchers—is quite a coup apparently: they wait with binoculars raised for years to see one; we just turned up and there it was!  We saw squillions of different varieties of duck; we saw a large white egret; we saw a pair of cormorants fishing for food; we learned of the bearded tit, which isn’t a tit at all really, and which changes its diet in the autumn and winter from the abundance of insect life in the spring and summer to the seeds of the reed beds, but needs to eat grit to store in its crop to use as a mill to grind the seeds to a pulp so that they can be more easily digested. Evolution, eh! Survival of the most imaginative! After the walk around the reserve, Hilary, Linda and I all joined the RSPB, making a small contribution to the wonderful conservation work they do.

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The cover of the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie

I’m going to include my Birdie poem this week. I chose the fieldfare to write about, because I remember it from my growing up in the Cambridgeshire fens. It’s a member of the thrush family, a winter visitor from Scandinavia. It arrives, and lives, in large flocks, returning to Scandinavia in the spring to breed. In the fens its name is pronounced ‘felfer’, and research revealed it has several dialect names, both here and in its native Scandinavia. The poem is an acrostic, a form that takes the name of the bird and uses its letters as the first letter of the lines, so that the bird—in this case FIELDFARE—is spelt down the page. I tried to disguise the acrostic by allowing the lines to run on, limiting the end stops. I hope I’ve been successful. WordPress doesn’t like the formatting of poetry: alternate lines in this poem should be tabbed in once; I’ll leave you to work it out. 😦

 

Fieldfare

Feature of the fenland fields
in winter, you arrive
in large flocks, flying overhead
to your migrant shelters.
Egregious thrush-cousin of song, mistle,
blackbird: you never joined their choir.
Large and several, you bring a little of Scandinavia
to snow-covered hills and woodlands.
Daring aeronauts, take off, soar, show us
your red capes, grey rumps, black tails.
Felfer, fallowfarer—I see a nickname
as an expression of affection
and you are indeed well-loved—
felfit, felfire, feldifire.
Remember, though, where you found succour
in this theatre of ice and snow:
eat well, entertain us with your tuneless soliloquy
then exit stage right,  pursued by the spring.

Rachel Davies
November 2018
[Watch the Birdie;Beautiful Dragons Press 2018]

Dragon Sisters

This has been a good week. To coin one of Trump’s favourite hyperboles, this has been the best week in the history of weeks!

On Sunday I was working on my thesis. I have cut and pasted a lot, which is painful but necessary. I’ve put all the cuts into an out-takes file for future use if I need them. I put some into a rather long footnote about the historical male domination of poetry publication. I’m showing how difficult it was for women to be anything but domestic slaves. No wonder post-natal depression happened, when women could completely lose their personhood in wifedom and motherhood. Anyway, I’m chipping away at the thesis again, like a word sculptor, giving it the correct shape, honing it. And re-reading Carol Ann Duffy for the poems I’ll add into the mix. She writes so well on having/being a mother.

On Monday my daughter asked if I’d like to go to Peterborough on Tuesday to visit a friend who’s having a hard time at the moment. Of course I would, so that took one of my working days, but it was worth it. I made up the slacking by working Monday evening, sorting out my reading sets for Wednesday’s launch of Some Mothers Do…I settled on a mix of poems from the book and poems that fit the theme of the book. On Tuesday, I was awake at 3.00 a.m. I had a poem going through my head, a message to insert into the ‘thank you’ card for Rebecca Bilkau, editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. I lay in bed trying to form it into a cinquaine, a five-line syllabic form; that’s the kind of creative insomniac I am. Eventually, I sat up and wrote that poem down. By then it was too late to go back to sleep. I emailed it to Hilary Robinson for feedback, then I got up and got ready for Peterborough. Amie was collecting me just after mid-day, so I had the morning to practise my two reading sets for Wednesday. I had two ten-minute slots, so that’s about five poems in each half. I like to stick to timing as closely as I can, it’s the professional thing to do. Poets shouldn’t need to ask, ‘how much longer have I got?’ or ‘do I have time for another one?’ If you prepared properly, you should know the answers to those questions. So I practised the readings to a stop watch. The timings include any introductions you want to give for the poems, so I drafted a few notes to keep intros to a concise minimum. Both sets were just about ten minutes each. My voice was fading by the end, a sign of the nerves I always experience before readings. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy to stand up in front of a room full of people and read poetry, it isn’t. It’s painfully self-revealing and full of ‘what-ifs’: what if they don’t like this poem, what if they question why they came in the first place, what if they have tomatoes and cabbages hidden about their persons and they start throwing? But a poet friend, Clare Shaw once told me, if you don’t believe in your poems how can you expect the audience to believe in them? So that’s why I practise so conscientiously: I need to read them like they’re the best poems in the history of poems—sorry, it’s becoming a habit—while making eye contact with the audience to keep them engaged.

We got to Peterborough about 3.30 p.m. in time for our friend coming home from work. We sat in her house amongst boxes of belongings—she’s moving at the weekend—and ate Chinese take-away out of the containers because she only has one plate that isn’t packed, and we chatted a lot. I hope we helped to cheer her up a little. Relationship breakdown is a hard thing to survive; and I know from personal experience that it helps to have the love and support of friends. It was nearly midnight when we got home.

Wednesday was up there among the best days of my life. I was awake early again, couldn’t sleep for the excitement—like a child at Christmas. I made a little nest for the hatching dragon I found in Wales, a gift for Rebecca. I heard back from Hilary about my cinquaine: she liked it, so I wrote it into a thank-you note and put it into the dragon’s nest with the egg. I practised my reading sets again, edited the intros to make them even more concise. I took some pampering time getting ready for the launch, changed shoes about six times before making a decision, then went out to meet Hilary and her family. Hilary was carrying a big, flat bag she’d made to transport the cake she’d baked for the launch: photo later. We went to Bunderbust to eat, which was lovely because it was Diwali, so a lovely party atmosphere. After the meal we went to the Portico library for the launch. Oh my, what a lovely room, full of old books and knowledge, an awe-inspiring room. My friend Joan, an avid Manchester United fan, had chosen the launch over the match against Juventus—greater love hath no woman! My ex-Reception teacher, Shirley Johnson was there with her lovely husband, which was a wonderful surprise: so many friends and poets in the audience, and all there for we dragon triplets. I gave Rebecca my dragon egg gift, which she loved; and when she read my little poem there were tears in her eyes. The readings went well; Hilary and I opened the event with a joint reading of one of my poems, a ‘coupling’ which takes some factual lines on a subject and intersperses them with poetic responses. Hilary read the factual bits, I read the poetry bits. It was a good opening. I read my first set, followed by Hilary; then Angi Holden and Angela Topping read on behalf of our dragon triplet and their friend, Tonia Bevins who sadly died in the summer before she could see this project completed. Her friends did her proud.

We took a break to replenish glasses and finally eat the lovely cake Hilary had brought. After the interval we had a second round of readings; Hilary and I signed books then some of us retired to the pub downstairs for a celebratory drink. Such lovely people, poets; so supportive as a community. While we were in the pub, Mark Pajak, the poet who organises the Royal Exchange series of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends poetry events, asked me if I’d like to read at the January 14thevent, to promote the book. He can only accommodate one reader in the timeframe, and Hilary read there quite recently. Well, we thought that over for a full two seconds before agreeing. The only barrier was, we were booked to read in Halifax on the same night. Hilary got in touch with the organiser of that event to request a rethink and he’s agreed to find us an alternative date. So, CAD & Friends it is then. Bring it on. I’ll read some poems from all three dragon siblings at the event. Details of the excellent CAD & F series here: https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/carol-ann-duffy-friends-2018

Here are a few photos of the launch at the Portico Library:

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Some Mothers Do…

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Rebecca Bilkau, editor at Beautiful Dragons Press, and our Dragon Mother.

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Still life with Hilary and Cake.

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Me, looking much more serious than I felt on the night.

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Angi Holden (R) and Angela Topping reading on behalf of Tonia Bevins.

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Manchester United fan, Joan, missing the Juventus match to be at the launch.

On Saturday, Hilary came to my house and we worked out how to use the headphone mic and small blue-tooth amplifier Amie bought us for the Saddleworth launch on Tuesday: 7.00 p.m. 13thNovember at the Black Ladd on Buckstones Road—OL1 4ST if you feel like setting your satnavs and joining us for the evening. The bar will be open, there’ll be nibbles, and a roaring fire in the grate; so come along and help to make it a good night. We worked out how the mic works. We set up the amp on a shelf in the lounge and sent Bill downstairs to the garage with the mic and we heard him clear as a bell, even at that distance. Fantastic. Having sorted that out, we signed some books for people who have requested copies but couldn’t make the launch. We feel like real poets, with book signings and everything! We went for coffee and a bite at Albion Farm in Delph, which is getting ready for its Christmas Festival. Yup, the Christmas market is open in Manchester and Albion Farm is getting festive. Deck the halls…

Finally, here’s the poem I wrote for Rebecca. it’s a cinquaine: a syllabic five-line poem, 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllables respectively. Our book is the first in a planned series of DragonSpawn pamphlets for poets who have written for Beautiful Dragons anthologies but haven’t yet had a full publication of their own. It’s Rebecca’s way of giving new poets a leg-up in the publication race. This poem recognises our appreciation and awe at being the first-spawn of the Dragon Mother. I told Hilary that Rebecca had tears in her eyes when she read the poem and Hilary said, ‘why? It wasn’t that bad, was it?’ And that’s why I love my dragon sister so much.

DragonSpawn

Breathe, and
from that fluent
glittery stream draw steam,
fireball choir of hatchling firstspawn
dragons.

 

‘…fluent, glittery stream…’ of poetry, from Carol Ann Duffy’s
‘Invisible Ink’ (The BeesPicador 2011)

Rachel Davies
November 2018

On Sincerity and shameless self-promotion

When I was a teacher, that didn’t feel like work at all; as headteacher, more responsibility, more walking a treadmill but still disbelief that I was being paid to do something I loved. Now I’m retired, the best job I’ve ever had. But reading Carol Ann Duffy for my PhD work? Behave yourself, that’s not work at all! I spent Sunday morning going through all my CAD collections to find poems exploring her roles as mother and daughter. It’s a strand of the thesis: that mothers have also been daughters, can, like female Januses, see the relationship from both directions. I scoured the contents pages of all my CAD books, read and made note of any poem that seemed relevant. On Saturday I read her new collection, Sincerity (Picador 2018) her last as Poet Laureate, from cover to cover. Oh my what a collection, a fitting end to an unorthodox laureateship with a huge nod to her ‘fluent, glittery stream’ of poetry—from her poem ‘Invisible Ink’ (The Bees Picador 2011). The intertextual references to poets of the past are subtle—sometimes as subtle as a brick—but astounding. Spellcheck just offered ‘intersexual’ as an alternative to ‘intertextual’, which it doesn’t recognise; and given that Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, Shakespeare, Auden, Plath, Elizabeth Bishop are just some of the poets she celebrates in her poem ‘Auden Comes Through At The Séance’, I suppose ‘intersexual’ serves just as well! So that was a good morning; but it definitely wasn’t work, I enjoyed it too much. I’ve been blessed in my life that my work has always been rewarding, hobby-like, not like work: mostly the PhD is hard graft; this week it wasn’t work at all.

On Sunday afternoon I was back at my desk, taking the red pen—or rather, the shocking pink marker—to the thesis, seeing how I could rearrange it to cut out some bulk and to eliminate repetition. 20,000 words seems like a lot when you start writing, but I left that particular way-marker behind some miles past and I need to find my way back to it. It was interesting to read it as a whole piece again; and to read some appreciative comments from my Director of Studies: a little positivity goes a long way. By the end of the day I was half way through, building a good idea of where I wanted to go with it. Some of the stuff I’ll cut is important to me so I’ll probably make very long footnotes, as footnotes are not included in the word count! I finished that job on Tuesday. At the moment a radical redraft seems like a mammoth task, so I’ve given it some thinking time, to bring it down to size.

On Tuesday evening it was our Poetry Society Stanza meeting at Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. Our numbers have reduced to critical levels in the recent past, so it was good to have five members attending on Tuesday with apologies from two more regulars. I think we are off the red list! This week we read and discussed the poems that won or were shortlisted for Forward poetry prizes recently. Details of winning/shortlisted poets can be found on the Forward website: http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/forward-prizes-for-poetry/forward-prizes-for-poetry-2018/so I won’t list them again here, but we loved poems by Vahni Capildeo, Fiona Benson, Jorie Graham. Favourite poet of the night, though, was Liz Berry, whose poem ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ won the prize for best single poem. I cheated a bit and read a second poem, ‘Horse Heart’, from her pamphlet The Republic of Motherhood, which wasn’t included among the prizes but could well have been. It’s one of those poems that gives me gooseflesh every time I read it. Liz Berry is our headline reader at Poets&Players on 17thNovember, an event I’m sadly going to miss for other commitments; she’s running a workshop for us in the morning as well. A fellow stanza member is taking my copy of her pamphlet to get it signed. If you’re interested, and in the Manchester area, why not come along to the Whitworth: you won’t be disappointed; details here: https://poetsandplayers.co

We almost have our hands on our joint collection, Some Mothers Do…The launch is at the Portico Library on Wednesday this week, and Hilary and I have been undertaking some shameless self-promotion. Hilary managed to get us into the local newspaper, Saddleworth Independent; and we have been sending email invitations to all and sundry. I think we’ll have an audience befitting such a worthy venue; but there’s always room for more, even if we have to sit on each others’ knees, so come along if you can: Portico Library, Manchester; 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday 7thNovember. We will welcome you with open arms—and a complementary glass of wine—and Hilary is making a cake with an iced topping featuring the book’s cover. Janet Rogerson, the Chairperson at Poets&Players, has also circulated the event on our behalf under the P&P logo, which is very considerate of her, so hopefully some of our regular P&P audience will come along. I’m as excited as a child at Christmas!

In other news, I had an ultrasound scan on my left shoulder this week. I didn’t find out anything, have to wait for the results to be with my GP in about a week and discuss it with my own doctor. It was strange to take a stroll around my own shoulder joint and glimpse its inner workings, though. I heard the word ‘ossification’ more than once so I’m guessing the diagnosis will be ‘significant osteo-arthritis’. Hopefully the physiotherapy will restore a full range of movement. I had to move my arm to all sorts of positions it didn’t like going, so I bought Co-codamol at the Lloyd’s Pharmacy attached to the Integrated Care Centre on the way out. A question: why would a box with the warning not to take for more than three days for risk of addiction, then pack four day’s supply of Co-codamol in the box? Seems counter-productive to me. Anyway, I’ve been taking it for about two weeks now, so I think I’m probably doomed! I don’t feel addicted, but it definitely knocks the shoulder pain into some sort of bearable level, so I’ll keep taking it as long as necessary. I gave the shoulder some hot water bottle therapy when I got home and Bill cooked tea.

I went for a haircut on Tuesday. When I got back to the car, my key wouldn’t work! I tried a couple of times, then tried it in the lock: it didn’t fit the lock. Oh my, I was stranded: how would I get home if I couldn’t get in my car. I was about to ring Bill to come and get me, when I realised I was trying to break into the wrong car. This was a Honda, mine is a Vauxhall Mokka. I’d actually walked past my own car to get to this one. Thankfully it didn’t have an activated alarm, or I would have been one very embarrassed woman. I think I need a holiday!

A poem:  a sonnet to celebrate Halloween, which happened in the week. I didn’t know either of my grandmothers. I didn’t know I missed them until I became a grandmother myself; so I have invented them. This one is my favourite: a bit edgy, a bit feisty, knows how to deal with a dysfunctional family. I didn’t meet my grandmothers, but I hope at least one of them was a bit like this:

Grandma was a white one

…flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:
heated seat and pillion, power assisted
bristles. Her coven wasn’t impressed though,
snubbed her at the crossroads,
black-balled her. Jealousy’s the new ducking stool,
she laughed, helping herself from the cauldron
without so much as a couplet.

She didn’t waste the old hubble-bubble, just
threw in a word or two, a wow phrase,
a strong verb, the merest pinch of adjective.
She spelled each stanza as if it was her last.
Fly where you’re not wanted, that’s
what she taught me. Land in your own mess
of family. Spell and respell them.

Rachel Davies
October 2016

Of Friesian cows and pilchards

Yesterday we had a cow in our back garden; a lovely, healthy young Friesian cow, chewing on our border plants. Well, you don’t see that everyday. The joys of living in the countryside, eh? Bill asked around the neighbours and we found the cow’s owner and the story ended well. It’s been that kind of week: different, but on the whole, ending well.

I got the results of the shoulder x-ray this week: wear and tear in the joint—no surprise there then—and some signs of ‘shoulder impingement’, which if I understand it correctly, means the rotator cuff tendon is being trapped by the bones, restricting movement and causing pain in shoulders, arms and hands. My GP is sending me for an ultrasound scan this week to determine if there’s damage to the soft tissue of the shoulder before I present for physiotherapy at the end of November. Meanwhile, I keep taking the co-codamol, which helps. I suppose a hundred years ago it would have been diagnosed as ‘rheumatism’ and put down to ageing; that is if I could have afforded to consult a doctor a hundred years ago. Our NHS is wonderful. We should be fighting to protect it.

Our lovely poetry collection, Some Mothers Do…, has gone to print; yes, it’s being printed as I write. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! The author interview by Hilary and me was posted on the Ink Pantry website this week. It includes a touching tribute to the late Tonia Bevins, our Dragon Spawn triplet, by her friends Angi Holden and Angela Topping, who have been acting on her behalf in the editing process and will be reading her work at the launches. You can read the Ink Pantry piece here: http://www.inkpantry.com/inky-interview-exclusive-hilary-robinson-rachel-davies-a-loving-tribute-to-tonia-bevins/ Hilary also sent details of the Black Ladd launch of Some Mothers Do…to the local magazine, Saddleworth Life, and that’s available on their website. You can see it, with details of both launch events, here: http://www.saddleworthlife.com/exciting-times-for-newly-published-poets/ The Saddleworth Life article has already brought an invitation for us to be included in the Saddleworth Literature Festival on April 6thand 7thnext year; however we’re travelling to St. Ives on April 7thfor Kim Moore’s wonderful poetry week—with Amanda Dalton—at Treloyan Manor, so we don’t know if we’ll be available to fit in with the organisers plans. Details of Kim’s course are here: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/residential-poetry-courses/st-ives-residential-poetry-course/ A second invitation, to read for a local community group, Love Lydgate, will be easier to negotiate for suitable dates. I love my poet’s life, and it’s getting more exciting by the day!

But this blog is about ‘Poetry, PhD and Life’, so what of the ‘PhD’ bit? Well, I had my team meeting this week, on Wednesday. I dragged my aching body along Oxford Road to All Saints campus to discuss my latest draft of the thesis. It was such a positive meeting, I came away with a spring in my step, skipped my aching body all the way to a Costa close to the tram stop at St. Peter’s Square and treated myself to a bite to eat and a cappuccino. I still have a deal of work to do on the thesis, but feedback was positive and I feel, if not exactly on the home straight, at least as if I’m coming round the final bend. Antony was talking of early submission; I’m not convinced that’s on the cards. However, I do have another annotated version to work on, which, having read it, seems doable: I need to develop the introduction and conclusion, which I knew already; and they’ve suggested I develop a short input I’ve made about Carol Ann Duffy’s poems concerning mother/daughterhood. This won’t be a hardship: our Poet Laureate has been a poetry hero of mine since I discovered her work when I was doing an OU degree at the turn of this century. She was one of the reasons I chose MMU for my MA: imagine having a personal hero as a poetry tutor! I was already way over the 20,000 word count; so I’ve been advised to cut some bulk that strays away from the mother/daughter theme, and really focus the writing.

Yesterday was my first chance to sit down and work on it. I’ve cut huge passages, which I’ve saved in an ‘out-takes’ file: I never bin anything. I may use parts of it to emphasise/illustrate points. I’ve printed a copy so that I can give it the red-pen treatment to show where I need to pinpoint the mother/daughter focus. I’ve organised a plan of action for analysing Carol Ann Duffy’s poems relating to the mother/daughter theme; and I’ve sorted out all the relevant books I need. I spent ten or fifteen minutes searching my shelves for Duffy’s Selected Poems yesterday and couldn’t find it. I thought perhaps I’d been mistaken and hadn’t bought a copy at all. But when I looked at the pile beside my bed last night, there it was in the middle of the pile! It must have been in my hand all the time I was searching! Seriously, I need to take a holiday!

On Wednesday evening we went to Manchester Cathedral: Hilary, me and our partners. We had an early meal in Salvi’s on Exchange Square—their Gorgonzola cheese is the best in the whole wide world!—then took our seats in the Cathedral for a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Antic Disposition are touring it around several Cathedrals, details here: https://www.anticdisposition.co.uk/henry-v-2018.html If it’s coming to a Cathedral near you, I recommend it. The performances are a commemoration of the centenary of the end of WW1. Henry V is performed as a ‘play within a play’: it’s set in a field hospital behind the Western Front, where the recovering inmates are putting on the play to entertain themselves. There are subtle places in the play where the Western Front insinuates itself into the play. It is a beautiful concept, very well performed. What a lovely evening. If you have chance to see it, don’t miss it. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

Lastly, I need to tell you that my son Michael rang me for a chat in the week; and on Friday I met my friend Joan for our monthly catch-up over dinner. I’m telling you this only because they both value a mention!

I’m giving you a poem this week that’s included in Some Mothers Do…I wrote it on Kim Moore’s poetry residential in St. Ives in 2014. While I was there, my daughter was undergoing surgery for the removal of the melanoma on her right shin. It was a worrying time, as you can surmise from this poem. The weather was lovely the week of the course, unseasonably warm for the time of year. On the Thursday, a couple of days before Halloween, Kim sent course members out—on the only wet day of the week—to find a poem in the town—‘and don’t come back till you’ve found one’. This is the poem I ‘found’. I’ve always loved it, because I love St. Ives; and because I know the story behind the poem. I’m glad it’s going to find its space in the book.

 

To St Ives a Love Poem
Halloween 2014

 Even though November is a black dog sitting at your feet
and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of mist

and your shoreline roars at the passing of summer
and your white horses rise on their hind legs

till your fishing boats get seasick; even though your trees
shed tears like baubles and your shops drip gifts like rain

and your cobbled streets and narrow alleys wind
around me like a clock and your posters announce

Fair Wednesday as if all other days are cheats
and your bistros display fish with eyes wide as heaven

scared as hell, and your railway bridge yells
do what makes you happy and it feels like a tall order;

even though your choughs are impatient for pilchard
your huers won’t see today from the Baulking House

still you open your arms and kiss my cheeks in welcome.

Rachel Davies
October 2014

Render unto Caesar…

PhD requires a huge commitment in terms of time, work, self-denial; holidays are forfeited to PhD work, down-time is a thing of the past; PhD is a cruel taskmaster that will have its pound of flesh—along with surrounding blood, bone and soft tissue. It is relentless. It is hard. So it’s only when you have a few days respite from it that you realise just how demanding it is.

I sent my thesis off to my study support team a couple of weeks ago—I meet with them to discuss it on Wednesday of this week. I have worked on some of the poems in that time, but on the whole I’ve left it alone, I’ve been in recession from PhD. I’ve managed to sort out my study: it’s ready to face the next round of relentless work after Wednesday’s meeting. I’ve shredded a small copse of trees, returned poetry and academic books to some kind of order on the shelves; I have a desk I can see the surface of for the first time in months. I’ve been out for lunch with my partner, Bill, without feeling too guilty about the time I’m not working; I’ve met Hilary for coffee—about which, more later; I’ve taken a couple of days to spend with friends and family; in short, I’ve had a foretaste of what my life will become when the PhD is done and submitted and I get my life back. But, render unto Caesar…after Wednesday the PhD shall have me back with a vengeance.

There is a lot of book launch preparation going on at the moment. The launch of the Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch the Birdie…will take place at Leighton Moss RSPB bird reserve on Friday November 16th, 7.00 p.m. Come along if you can: there’ll be some good poetry reading. Hilary and I are sharing a cottage for the weekend with a poet friend and fellow Stanza member, Linda Goulden. We all have poems in the anthology. We’re taking the cottage from Thursday to Sunday to give us time for some writing while we’re there. Yes, I’ll be taking PhD work and giving it a couple of hours before breakfast as is my wont on holidays. It won’t be ignored. Then the launch of the first DragonSpawn pamphlet, with poems by Hilary Robinson, the late Tonia Bevins and myself, is happening on November 7th, 6.30 p.m. at the Portico Library in Manchester with a subsidiary launch in Saddleworth at the Black Ladd, Amie’s pub/restaurant, on November 13th, 7.00 p.m. We’ve adapted the flyer for the Portico to produce a flyer for the Black Ladd event: later today I’ll be printing off several copies and distributing them around my local area. We’re having an open mic for other local poets at the Black Ladd event, so if you live in the area and fancy either event, do come along.

On Tuesday I met up with Hilary to discuss a poets’ interview we have been asked to give. Hilary met Deborah Edgeley, editor at Ink Pantry Publishing, when she went to the Nantwich Words and Music Festival in September. Deborah asked if she could do an author interview with Hilary and me concerning our shared pamphlet. We met on Wednesday this week to discuss our response to the questions, some of which invited a joint response, some of which needed individual responses from us. We put together our joint responses over coffee and nibbles, then wrote our individual responses—about our own contributions to the pamphlet—and finished the ‘interview’ by email in the afternoon. The interview will be published on the Ink Pantry website: http://www.inkpantry.com

I came across an advert for an Antic Disposition’s production of Henry V: https://www.anticdisposition.co.uk It’s touring the country in commemoration of the ending of the first world war, visiting several Cathedrals around the country during the tour. I have booked to see it at Manchester Cathedral on Wednesday of the coming week; we’re going with Hilary and her husband, David. It sounds like an interesting production, about which more next week. Wednesday is my last day of recession from PhD: I’ll be back to work with a vengeance after Thursday, so this is a little pool of respite before taskmaster returns.

Enough. Here’s a poem, very much in first draft. I wrote it at Sean O’Brien’s Poets&Players workshop a couple of week’s ago so it’s still a bit raw. It is ‘a novel in thirty lines or less’, the theme of the workshop. It was inspired by the painting ‘A Game of Patience’ by the artist Meredith Frampton: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-game-of-patience-78276 and by the Demeter and Persephone myth. It needs some more work to earn its place in the PhD portfolio, but here it is in its raw first draft:

The Patience of Persephone

She waits for six months in a year
then waits again for six.
She can’t have what she most desires,
that lost part of herself. Listen!
That’s her rummaging upstairs,
another fruitless search in the loft.

I sense the black king’s impatient
for his alabaster maiden, his ice queen.
From reaping to sowing he thinks he can thaw me
with his red hot pomegranate flesh,
his spiked wine.
He blows on my neck with his sulphurous breath
but I won’t melt.
So he waits all over again, from sowing to reaping.

I know it’s time to decide.
The corn’s threshed, the straw’s stacked.
But I will finish my game.
This card says go—you owe him.
That card says stay—you owe her.
It’s all one to me—it seems like
nothing’s owed to me.
But, sod it,
my patience wears thin!

Rachel Davies
October 2018

Boondoggling

Yesterday I learned a new word. It’s a word that sits well on the tongue, tastes good. I learned the word from my son, Richard, who is an historian. I said I’d been in Manchester on Friday and saw a bloke sweeping up leaves outside a pub, a Sisyphean task in the high winds we were having in the wake of Storm Callum. ‘Boondoggling’, he said. He explained it, but I couldn’t remember the word five minutes later because it was unfamiliar. I kept thinking ‘cornswaggling’, another tasty word. I’d never heard of boondoggling. He texted the word to me and I googled it when I got home. It was first used by the boy scouts in the 1930s, apparently, to name plaited leather strips that were awarded as uniform decoration: a special kind of scout badge. Later it was coined to describe projects that were set up to employ the jobless during the Great Depression in America, jobs like making these Boy Scout boondoggles. It gained more general usage to describe any job that was deemed unnecessary, but kept the unemployed poor off the streets, e.g. greeting people off trains at the railway station; or sweeping up leaves in high winds. To boondoggle is to ‘spend money or time on unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects…While cost overruns are a common factor in declaring a project a boondoggle, that does not necessarily mean the project has no benefit. Overruns are common, even with successful projects…’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boondoggle
I’ve been thinking about my PhD. It has costs, both monetary and personal; quite high costs that will never be recouped in any related employment. It has over-run in the sense that I have undertaken part-time study in this last year to allow me more time to complete. It could be ‘fraudulent’: I have certainly suffered imposter syndrome most of the time I’ve been doing it. But it may yet be a ‘successful project’. Is my PhD a boondoggle then? I hope so, I like it even more now!

I haven’t been boondoggling this week though: the PhD is on the back burner until I’ve met with my team on Wednesday, the 24th. I’ve taken the opportunity to tidy my study now that the first redraft is complete and sent. It needed doing. Books piled on the desk, piled on the floor beside the desk; print-outs needing shredding—I filled a black bag and have some more to do today; and small stuff my feline P.A., Rosie Parker, persistently knocks onto the floor needed picking up and putting back where it belongs. I’ve seen a FaceBook meme that says ‘If the earth really were flat, cats would have knocked everything off it by now.’ That’s Rosie Parker, a flat earth adherent. We call her Eartha Kitty at times like that—you have to be a certain age to get the reference, perhaps. So, my study is recognizable as a workspace again, all ready for the next round of redrafting and editing. I’m running out of bookshelf space. I have my poetry books all alphabetically stored: signed copies on the top two shelves, unsigned ones, still alphabetically arranged, on the shelves below. I now have poetry books piled on the shelves in front of this system, waiting for room to be ‘systemised’. When I finish the PhD I can do something with my academic books—store them in the loft, sell them off, give them away; have a bonfire—to free up my other bookcase, and the poetry books can overspill into two bookcases. I’m drowning in poetry.

The week has involved preparation for our book launch on November 7th, 6.30 p.m. at the Portico Library in Manchester. I have tried several times to reproduce the book cover into my blog, but WordPress isn’t having any of it. However, Hilary has set up an event on FaceBook so if you’re a Facebooker you can click this link to see the flyer for yourselves: https://www.facebook.com/events/1742866915825614/
We also have a Saddleworth mini-launch on November 13th. It’s a Tuesday evening, and Amie has arranged to close the Black Ladd for the evening for our use. The restaurant will be closed after last orders at 5.00 p.m. on that day and we will host a reading from 7.00 onwards. The bar will be open and there will be snacks; so if you live in the area, or know anyone who does, or feel like a Saddleworth visit, spread the word. We want to fill the bar area with poetry lovers, and there are lots in the surrounding area. I’ll design a flyer for the event—in Word—that I will be able to copy into next week’s blog.

After Saturday’s Poets&Players event at the Whitworth I took the opportunity this week of a lull in the PhD work to update my evaluation spreadsheet. I spent a day and a half bringing it up to date and copying comments into my files. We have loads of wonderful and positive feedback which is great, but doesn’t show the way to development; so we ask as well for ways in which our events could be improved. Comments about sound reproduction, the mix of poets, sight-lines etc. are helpful in improving the experience. One respondent had asked for a tram-link to connect Piccadilly Station to the Whitworth so s/he could come more often. I hope it was tongue in cheek—we’re influential, but not that influential! I sent my evaluation analyses off to Janet Rogerson, our Chairperson, who is already preparing the Arts Council bid for next year’s funding.

Two highlights this week: yesterday Richard and two friends came to visit and we went out for lunch with Amie, Angus and the Cockerpoos. We walked into Uppermill along the canal: thankfully it had stopped raining by the afternoon. The stepping stones were a no-no though. They’ve been standing proud of the river all through this gorgeous summer we’ve had but yesterday, after Storm Callum, the river was a torrent and the stones were under water. We had a lovely meal in Muse then walked to Grandpa Green’s in Diggle for coffee. We arrived just as they were closing so we went to Amie’s for coffee instead. It’s always good to spend time with family; and yesterday I learned my new word.

The second highlight? Tesco are selling large tubes of orange Smarties for £1.00 a tube. Orange ones are my favourites, I can pick them out of a mixed pack with my eyes closed. So I treated myself to two packs—ashamed to say I’ve eaten them both, although I did give Bill a small handful. I’ll have to stockpile some for Christmas if they’re still there next shopping day. Well, I could be addicted to much worse substances.

A poem. It’s not a ‘mother’ poem: I do write other kinds! I sent two poems to the Stanza ‘Traditions’ competition. This is one I wrote some years ago and it involves cricket between England and Australia. That’s quite a tradition. We were in Sydney Cricket Ground when Glenn McGrath bowled his last ball for Australia. The atmosphere was electric, the noise unbelievable. And, icing on his cake, he took a wicket. I know, cos I was there!

Stumps
(McGrath’s Last Ball for Australia: SCG 02.02.07)

In these dying moments of the match
as you bend to a setsquare buffing the ball,
does your brain replay your international career:

the thousand or so leg befores,
catches behind, in the slips, in the deep,
all those middle pegs somersaulting to Gilchrist,
the dogged run chases wagging the tail?

Or do sixty thousand feet tracing your paces
on grandstand floors, hands drumming your beat
on chair-backs, voices rising in a tsunami of sound,
flush all thought before it?
A deafening noise, a roar of Thor

covers the ground, darkens the sky, places
a thunderbolt in your hand, lightning in your stride so,
as if in glorious slo-mo, you run up, plant your feet,
deliver the ball—it is, after all, just a ball.
It bounces short of a length.

Nixon thinks he’ll steal your thunder,
lofts it high over extra cover
where it seems to hover.
English voices join the noise

but on the boundary, buoyed by the tide,
Hodge stretches, hand open
and Nixon c Hodge b McGrath.

Rachel Davies
2007 (or later 😉

The Picture of Decrepitude

October happened this week: my brain is still in August and it was a shock when my sister sent me her usual ‘pinch punch’ FaceBook message for the first day of the month. October! We alter the clocks in three weeks time and we’ll be officially in winter. If I had a superpower, it would be to slow down time in the summer: summer should be at least three quarters of the year, in my opinion, and the other quarter, spring.

Having submitted my thesis to the scrutiny of my study support team last week I’ve relaxed on the PhD work this week. I’ve had a week of poetry instead. The proofs of our joint pamphlet, Some Mothers Do… arrived in my inbox at the weekend. On Tuesday I got round to reading them and sending my feedback to Rebecca Bilkau, the editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. An interesting issue arose. In one poem, ‘San Martino di Griante’, I’d used a quote from David Constantine’s poem ‘Bad Dream’: the line ‘a sheer fall right, a sheer wall left’ reminded me of a walk I took in Italy to the church built precariously on the mountainside above Lake Como. That walk to the church is the subject of my own poem. In my poem, I’d italicised the line to suggest I had ‘borrowed it’; but Rebecca had italicised the whole poem to give it a conversational feel: the speaker of the poem directly addresses the reader throughout. Of course this effectively buried my italicisation of the line I had borrowed from Constantine. I pointed this out to Rebecca to enable a proper acknowledgement in the book. The worst crime a poet can commit in her art is to plagiarise another poet’s work; there have been one or two high-profile cases recently and I didn’t want to be ostracised as a plagiarist in my first publication. As Carol Ann Duffy says, all poets dip their pens into the same ‘fluent glittery stream’ of poetry: there are only so many words to use, after all; if you do take a significant line and use it, that’s not a problem as long as you thank the original source. Without coming across that line in ‘Bad Dream’ I probably wouldn’t have remembered my walk up the mountain and written my poem. Funny story: I read the poem, ‘San Martino di Griante’, at a reading in Manchester once. A fellow poet came up to me afterwards and said ‘I loved that line a sheer fall right, a sheer wall left.’ Wonderful. Of all my own lines of poetry she heard that night, she loved the one line by David Constantine! Good poetry will out every time!

Hilary and I have been inviting everyone we know to our pamphlet launch in November. Hopefully, we will show the Portico Library the respect it deserves by the number of guests we receive on the night. If you can come it would be wonderful to see you there: Wednesday November 7th, 6.30 Portico Library 57 Mosley Street Manchester.

Saturday was a poetryful day too. It was the Manchester Literary Festival collaboration with Poets&Players, bringing the poets Deryn Rees-Jones and Sean O’Brien to Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. The day started with a workshop by Sean O’Brien. Sean had us considering the stories we tell in our poems. Using the stimulus of the painting ‘A Game of Patience’ by Meredith Frampton, we wrote ‘a novel in thirty lines or less’. This is a link to the painting: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-game-of-patience-78276
I wrote a potted version of the Persephone myth that might make it to the PhD portfolio with a little editing. After a lovely lunch in the Whitworth restaurant, the readings were in the afternoon. First, music by the Basilisk Duo, saxophonists Freya Chambers and Simeon Evans from RNCM. Freya also played a bass clarinet, which was like the beautiful progeny of a saxophone and a clarinet. After music, Deryn and Sean both read from their various collections of poetry. It was a lovely afternoon in the South Gallery, overlooking the park where squirrels were rummaging for food and chasing each other in territorial claims. The music was upliftingly jazz and the poetry was inspiring—and humorous sometimes. The next Poets&Players event is on November 17th, featuring Liz Berry. I have to miss it as I have a prior commitment at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve, launching the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology Watch theBirdie: definitely one of those occasions when I wish I could be in two places at once. The proofs of that anthology—commemorating birds on the endangered list—landed in my inbox when I got home so I read through them in bed last night. All good for my poem, ‘Fieldfare’.

Alongside all this wonderful poetry, I’ve been getting to the bottom of the post-Prednisolone health thing. I saw a rheumatologist, Dr. Devakumar, on Wednesday this week. He agrees with his nurse that the issue probably arises from a shoulder injury masked by the continuing use of Prednisolone for PMR/GCA. He had a good examination of the left shoulder, used words like ‘restricted movement’, ‘crepitus’, ‘significant osteo-arthritis’, all of which made me feel like the very picture of decrepitude. He sent me for a shoulder x-ray to assess the damage and is referring me to physiotherapy before considering steroid injections into the joint. In my head, I’m still 36, so the mechanical issues that come with age aren’t really on my radar. There’s an old adage, you’re as old as you feel. Well, that makes me about 93 at the moment then. Hopefully a round of physio will sort out the shoulder and I can get back to being comfortably 71, at least.

So that’s it really; my body creaks, it objects to my doing too much exercise, it lets me down at silly times. I went for my x-ray on Thursday morning and had to ask a complete stranger to help me on with my coat: my arm won’t go behind my back any more. But at least there’s poetry and that is better than any drug on the market. As long as I can ‘do’ poetry, I’ll be OK.

The results for the Poetry Society Stanza Competition were revealed on National Poetry Day—what a poet friend, Cheryl Pearson, called ‘like Christmas, but just for poets.’ I was pleased to see poet-friends Janet Lancaster and Julie Corbett among the commended poets. I’ll post my competiton entry here: it’s called ‘Pickling Walnuts’. My mum used to pickle her own when I was a girl: it gave me a taste for pickled walnuts that has stayed with me all my life.

Pickled Walnuts

You notice the tree as we drive past,
see its branches overhanging the lane
from Mary Loder’s front garden
that first spring in our new house.
You call it Juglans Regia—the English walnut.

Its leaves are fresh green fingers spread
in pleading—cherish me, cherish my fruit
they whisper. An hermaphrodite tree, its drab flowers
have no need to show off. The males dance in the wind
like uncropped lambs’ tails, the females’ rabbit-ear stigmas
stand proud to receive their sperm.

You watch week by week as her flowers swell to fruit,
hang in heavy pairs, ripe green testicles. You make friends
with Mary Loder. Each year she gives you bags of walnuts,
semi-ripe, perfect for pickling. You carry them home
precious as treasure, a smile lighting your face,
your eyes on some lost childhood you never share with me.

We stick darning needles and bodkins
deep into the walnuts’ flesh, testing for shell.
We don’t want any shell, you tell me. Our fingers,
stained like sixty-a-day smokers from oil in the skins,
drop the pricked walnuts into a baby bath filled with brine.
We leave them to soak for days.

You lay them out in the autumn sun to dry, weeks later
bottle them in kilner jars filled with spiced vinegar.
I often creep into the cellar to watch them turning black:
eggs of coal, but raggy, as if they’re shedding their coats
in the heat. Days pass. Weeks become months.

And on Christmas morning, there they are
decanted onto plates of ham for the festive breakfast.
Oh my, the sweetness—I couldn’t describe the taste
without using superlatives. Charles Dickens knew, said
he was very fond of pickled walnuts, gentlemen—
just ask Samuel Pickwick.

And your grandchildren are fond of them too.
Pickled walnuts still come to our Christmas table,
bottled by Opie now though—they’re our first taste
of peace on Earth, goodwill to all.

Rachel Davies
August 2018

A fortnight in seven days…

Even by my standards, this has been a busy week. Poetry, PhD and Life have all been large. I worked on the thesis on Sunday and on Tuesday, continuing the redraft and editing jobs. I separated the thesis and the poems: I found on Wiki images a great picture of teeth hanging on string, perfect for my title Dreaming of Pulling Teeth, so I copied that—no credit asked—as my cover pic. However, WordPress won’t allow me to reproduce it here. I prepared a list of contents and checked out every reference to the poems in my thesis—what a good idea it was to write them in red in the first place, knowing the page numbers would change radically in the edit and I’d need to locate them easily. Finally, on Tuesday, I sent the thesis and the collection off to my team. Because I’d done a lot of cut-and-pasting on the thesis, I deleted the annotations as I went along, so I also sent the previous annotated version—thank goodness I’d saved it when I started work on it—with my responses showing how I’d addressed my team’s advice. Sending it off was like letting out your corsets—I can relax a bit now. But I’m already thinking of other poems I can write to include in the collection.

The portfolio of poems includes a section on ‘alternative mothers’ and the next one will be dedicated to Polly Myalgia. It reared its ugly head again this week. This is a painful auto-immune disease I’ve been suffering for about four and a half years. It’s been treated with the cortico-steroid, Prednisolone. At the end of April, I had a little ceremony when I took my final Pred tablet, so pleased was I to be off it. By the time I saw my rheumatologist in mid-May, the tops of my arms were already a bit stiff and I suspected it was returning; but blood tests for anti-inflammatory markers were only slightly raised, so I stuck with ibuprofen rather than returning to the steroids. By August the stiffness was a nuisance, so I requested a repeat blood test: normal result. I continued to take painkillers and ibuprofen morning and night with no real benefit. A feature of Polymyalgia is that it’s at its worst first thing in the morning and improves throughout the day, and this was happening. This week the pain and stiffness were so bad I contacted the rheumatology clinic again: I had an appointment booked for December but didn’t feel I could wait for two more months. More blood tests and a thorough medical examination and I was diagnosed not with Polymyalgia again, but a ‘spinal issue’ involving trapped nerves, dating back to the fractured fourth thoracic vertebra in 2016. The thought is that the Prednisolone was masking the problem while I was taking it and it’s only since I stopped taking it that the pain has been given permission to make a nuisance of itself. Mostly the problem is in my left shoulder, which has very restricted movement, the right one less of a problem. This all makes sense because when I suffered the fracture, the pain and bruising was predominantly over the left shoulder blade; for more than a year I couldn’t lie on my left side in bed. I’m to see a consultant, probably in the coming week; it’ll probably involve steroid injections directly into the shoulder joints. Ask me how much I’m looking forward to that!

Thankfully, there were other good things on the poetry front this week. On Tuesday evening it was our Stanza meeting. We had a writing session: Hilary, Pat and I took writing prompts for members to write poems, and we shared the poems at the end of the evening. My activity involved writing acrostics but disguising them so they didn’t seem like acrostics. Hilary gave me a lovely book for my birthday, Lost Words, containing some of the words that were removed from the Oxford Children’s Dictionary to make room for modern technology and social media related words. The words are surprising in their commonness: conker, fern, blackbird, bluebell to name just four. The poet has written acrostics for each word and the book is beautifully illustrated. I used that as stimulus for my activity. Hilary brought a prompt where we had to invent a set of rules for old women to live by: as we were all ‘old women’ at the meeting, that was a good fun activity which brought some lovely poems. Pat’s activity involved photos as stimulus. Pat had been to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset during the summer and brought lovely photos of fossils she’d seen ‘lying around’.

Also concerning poetry, the final proofs of our joint pamphlet Some Mothers Do… arrived from Rebecca Bilkau, the editor at Beautiful Dragons Press. The cover is indeed beautiful: I’ve been trying to get a copy to include in my blog but it all came as PDF and I can’t seem to copy it to my photos. Hilary sent me .docx versions she’d made, but I’m in a hotel room in London this morning and the wifi is limited so I can’t access my email except by G4 on my phone, which isn’t very helpful under the circumstances. Perhaps I’ll be able to do it from the train on the way home. Perhaps. Fingers crossed. There’s a flyer based on the front cover, with details of the launch: here are details of the launch and as soon as I can, I’ll bring you the front and back covers and the flyer in glorious technicolour.

The Launch of Some Mothers Do…
6.30pm Wednesday 7 November 2018
The Portico Library 57 Mosley Street Manchester M2 3FF
Be there, or we’ll tell your ma…

The Portico Library, though, with all the gravitas our poems deserve, obviously! Please come, if you can. There’ll be wine and nibbles, poetry, entertainment and everything. What’s not to like?

And finally, here I am in London. We travelled down on the train early yesterday morning, taxied to our hotel to drop off our overnight bag—I don’t feel up to being jostled on the underground yet—and walked the short distance to the Duke of York’s theatre for the matinée performance of King Lear, with Sir Ian McKellan in the title role. We stopped for lunch at a lovely café, La Roche, opposite the theatre and were in our seats for the 13.30 start. Oh. My. Word. It was wonderful; and McKellan by far the best Lear I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few in my time. He was wonderful. I was sobbing by the end, as he carried the dead Cordelia in on his back. Sinead Cusack was brilliant as Kent, Danny Webb as Gloucester; and if you read this blog regularly you’ll know my fascination with TV detective series. Two of my favourite sergeants were in the cast: Claire Price—from Rebus—as Goneril; and Anthony Howell—from Foyle’s War—as Albany. It was such a treat, a birthday treat from my three children. Every year I say ‘that was the best birthday ever’; but this was by far the best birthday ever, ever. I am blessed.

Finally, a poem I wrote in that year of anxiety when my daughter was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma from a mole on her shin. The mole was removed, biopsied, identified as malignant and four years of treatment and ongoing monitoring began. I’d been reading Jane Yeh’s The Ninjas and I had that music in my brain when I wrote this. The rhyme scheme and rhythm gives it an illusion of humour, but it becomes sinister, unlike malignant melanoma which is just sinister. I’ve included it in my portfolio with a set of poems inspired by being the mother of a daughter. Here it is:

 The Moles

Their moleskin pants are designed by Molinari.
They buy their Rayban shades at Sunglass Hut.

They mine the soil in nice suburban gardens
to use it raising hills on grass well cut.

They use white sticks in subterranean tunnels,
in daylight, leave them in the brolly stand.

They carry a brace of useful on-board shovels
so they’re ready for retirement castles in the sand.

They give their name to tide-breaks, whistle-blowers
and pigment patches that could be beauty spots

except sometimes the patches turn psychotic.
They grow and grow like porridge in magic pots,

they grow and grow till molehills seem like mountains:
big bad-ass moles make ugly beauty spots.

They ride down shinbones like a sledge on snowdrift,
a game psychotic moles dig more than soil,

then when they’re bored, they turn to Hammer Horror.
Using Ultra-S-F-X to summon ghouls

they spook the likes of leukocytes and lymph nodes,
blow raspberries on the blades of surgeons’ knives.

They know they’re marked so you should see them party!
High on shots of morphine, they live their lives

like a dance macabre under theatre lights.
Moles won’t give up the dance without a fight.

 

Rachel Davies
2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dream of Pulling Teeth

I had to re-register for my final year of the PhD this week. I tried to do it from home, but I needed my password; and of course, MacBook remembers the password for me so I don’t have to. This is an example of ‘pharmakon’: the thing that contains in it both benefit and harm. In remembering the password for me, MacBook allows me to forget it. Which is wonderful until I need to remember it, then it’s a bummer. I tried to change the password so I could re-register, but no could do. So on Tuesday, when I went into MMU library I called at the student hub for assistance. They changed the password to something easy so I could access my account and when I got in and registered for next year, I changed the password to something I could remember. MacBook remembered it. I’ve forgotten it already!

It’s been a long week. I’ve got lots done. I’ve been so, so tired! On Sunday I finished the job of editing my thesis. I finished the ‘red pen’ reading and then edited the errors out on screen. It took all day. One thing I noticed, a nit-picking thing, was my inconsistency in inserting footnotes: the number should come after punctuation in the text. So many times I’d put in the number before the full stop. Talk about needles and haystacks! I noticed some more yesterday after the editing was complete: the Forth Road Bridge of edits.

I was back doing the books at the Black Ladd on Monday. Holidays are wonderful but there’s no-one to do your work for you while you’re away, so I had three week’s worth of invoices to process. Amie pays them all when I’m on holiday but they still have to be input into the Sage software. It took all day to do everything, and still the bank statements to reconcile. I left them for next week. By 6.00 my brain was fried.

On Tuesday I went to the MMU library. I returned all the books I took on holiday and checked a couple of references I hadn’t made a complete note of. And I found the Jacques Derrida book I needed. Oh my! Philosophy eh? Once upon a time, I used to love grappling with pure thought, but I think the brain isn’t as agile as it used to be. He’s slightly more accessible than Jacques Lacan, but it’s a contest! I was there to check out ‘pharmakon’: see the first paragraph, above. I think I get the gist. I’m glad I didn’t have to read the book from cover to cover; one chapter was plenty. While I was in the library I completed my registration for next year. Registration required the completion of a questionnaire: personal details etc., but also details of support for employment. I don’t want employment, I’m very happy in my retirement, and in being a full-time poet. After the sixth slightly different question about the kind of job I saw myself doing post-study I simply wrote ‘I’ll be lying on a sunbed reading rubbish; it will probably involve wine.’ After answering ‘retired’ in the first question, shouldn’t there have been an option to go straight to question 32? Bureaucracy! But I am registered for the final year. That sounds so good I’m going to write it again, in upper case: THE FINAL YEAR! By May, all this pain will be over. I’ll miss it when it’s done, I’ve learned so much about the nature of study, about myself, about mothers and daughters—about the ‘pharmakon’, obviously. But it’s been, as it should be, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ll be glad when it’s behind me. Sun beds, rubbish reading, wine and poetry beckons.

On Wednesday I went with Amie to Peterborough to visit a friend. We went for lunch in Carluccio’s. We hoped to meet up with Richard as well while we were there, but he had a parents’ evening at school so he was working late. I’d better mention Michael or I’ll get an earful of sibling rivalry when he reads this! He doesn’t live anywhere near Peterborough so unfortunately meeting him wasn’t an option. We called to see my sister in Stamford on the way home. She retired in May having worked for a couple of years beyond retirement age. She looks well and happy. She’s enjoying retirement so much she wishes she’d done it years ago! I always say retirement’s the best job I’ve ever had. We’re both fortunate in decent pensions though, that helps.

Thursday we had to take the cat to the vet for his annual health check and vaccinations. Cats are canny creatures: as soon as he saw the pet carrier he hid himself away. As long as he was contained in the lounge it wasn’t too bad: behind the settee, under the side tables, nothing too daunting there; although how he managed to squeeze himself between those two magazine racks on the bookshelf is a mystery. But as soon as the door was opened he made good his escape and hid behind the desk in the study, in the loft space under some shelves. That was clever: he needed serious coaxing to get him out of there. We tried putting him in forwards, backwards, any way imaginable; but he’s such a strong cat: 10kg of pure muscle and he beat us. I was just about to ring the vet to cancel when Jimbo gave up and walked in under his own steam. When we got back from the vet I put a scratching board with catnip in the carrier and left it in the lounge as a cat cave. He’s spent most of the weekend in there. I wonder if it’ll be easier to get him in next time I need to take him to the vet?

Saturday I was back at my desk again. I went through the thesis print-out seeing where I could lose some words. So far I have 22400 of the 20000 I need for completion. Given that I still have to write a conclusion, you can see my problem. So I’m looking for economies, as they say in business when they want to sack someone. I’m looking for words to lose. Précis isn’t going to cut it, so I’m going to be looking for passages of text that are surplus to requirements today. That’s hard. It’s all there because it fits the bill. I’ll have to be the axe-woman. I’ll have to have a psychopathic ruthlessness and cut, cut, cut. By the end of the day I want to send what I have to The Team for discussion. There might be a glass of wine in it tonight, if I achieve what I’m hoping to.

On the poetry front, we have a preview of the cover of our joint pamphlet, Some Mothers Do…It’s lovely, a bit of edgy, modern art on a stunning blue-green background. I heard from Kim Moore with the jacket blurb early in the week; it’s very positive and uplifting; thank you Kim. It’s there on the back cover along with Helen Mort’s blurb for Hilary and space for Tonia’s, which isn’t in yet. This is getting real, and exciting. We are planning our launch now. We will probably be launching in Manchester at the beginning of November; there could be a Cheshire launch in Chester; and Amie has kindly offered the Black Ladd for a local Saddleworth launch so that’ll be good. I still need to discuss this with the other poets involved.

So, a poem: this is a poem I wrote some time ago to a writing exercise. It’s an ekphrastic poem; that is to say it took its stimulus from three separate paintings. I can’t remember what they were, I have a visual memory of the paintings, but can’t remember artists or titles, I’m afraid. But the poem is so whacky I don’t think it matters. The last line is a reference to Freud’s dream analysis: he linked a woman’s dream of pulling her teeth out with giving birth, particularly to boy children, I believe. I know, don’t ask! I’ve decided to use that last line as a title for the collection: ‘A Dream of Pulling Teeth’. What do you think? I’m rubbish at titles so I’m open to changing my mind.

Exposed

The goat herd, brought here
by the old nanny, found me.

He said I floated downstream for days
with only the black mouser always ready
to jump ship, Time crawling in our wake.

An ancient prophecy says leave your girls
without protection or breast, a daughter
will be the death of a mother.

Still
I like to think she lay awake nights
wondering where I washed up

but really I suppose she slept happily
dreaming of pulling all her teeth out.

 

Rachel Davies
2016

Home again, jiggety jig…

So that’s it, the holiday’s over. The family went home last Sunday, and although they’d only been with us since Friday evening, the cottage felt empty without them. It was nearly lunchtime by the time they all left. I should have known I wasn’t in the frame of mind to watch Goodnight Mr Tom on the telly in the afternoon: it’s always a weepie, but on Sunday there seemed so many more scenes to reach for a Kleenex.

I kept up my two hours a day of working before breakfast this week. I was checking my reading notes and writing them into relevant sections of the thesis. I panicked at one stage because I wanted to check out a quote I’d written from an Elizabeth Grosz book: p. 39, I’d written in my notes. I found the book, skimmed p. 39, couldn’t find the quote; read p.39 from beginning to end, couldn’t find the quote; checked the key word from the quote in the index and checked out all the references in the book and still couldn’t find the quote. It was only then I realised I’m looking in the wrong book: I had two Elizabeth Grosz books and sure enough, there it was on p. 39 of the right one! Durrh! That wasted a half hour of study time; but it was worth checking. The rest of my working time was productive enough and I was pleased with the progress I made. Yesterday, my first day at home, I printed the thesis off to read it properly. I can’t read it closely enough on screen, I miss simple typos that are easier (for me) to pick up on paper. I wanted to do a red-pen editing job, find mistakes and places for further development, see how it hangs together as a piece after all the cut-and-pasting I’ve done. Here’s a photo of my personal assistant, Rosie Parker, keeping a watchful eye on the printer from the relative security of the waste paper recycling basket!

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The rest of the week we did touristy things. We had a day in Cardigan on Monday, visiting the Castle. It’s not a big castle, just a few remaining stones and parts of castle walls and towers that haven’t been plundered for local building projects. The castle itself was finally destroyed by the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, so there’s not much to see, but the walk around the grounds is pleasant, and the views of Cardigan from the castle walls are lovely. An eighteenth century manor house was built in the castle grounds, which I believe became the official residence of the Lords Lieutenant of the county of Ceredigion, and which fell into disrepair on the death of the last owner. The manor house was purchased by the council late in the nineties, and is now home to an exhibition about the castle and its restoration. The most impressive exhibit is a giant cardigan, knitted in parts by local townsfolk and assembled at the castle. It tells the story of Cardigan: cable knit is a key feature, reflecting the town’s maritime history, the twists of the cable stitch representing the rope used in rigging on the ships. Cardigan Castle boasts the birthplace of the Eisteddfod, and a giant poet’s chair stands in the grounds, a perfect photo opportunity for a visiting poet:

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Tuesday was a Very Wet Day. We decided to hunker down indoors and have a reading day, so I used it as a day for even more PhD work. On Wednesday we visited the gardens of Sculptureheaven at Rhydlewis. This is a privately owned garden, no entry charge. It is very new age, mystical stuff. We had a go at water divining. The ‘sculptures’ are mostly plaster moulded artefacts, but there are some lovely wood carvings. The history of the site is interesting. It was bought by a couple from Bristol who developed it from rural desolation into the beautiful gardens and grounds you see today. We had tea and small sample cakes in the tea rooms, still no charge, but a donation requested for the mine clearance charity, The Halo Trust. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours.

On Thursday we went to Llandovery to see the feeding of the red kites. One morning last week we had a pair of red kites swooping over our holiday cottage, looking for food: I felt very privileged to see them. So when I discovered a red kite feeding centre in an internet search we just had to go. We spent a couple of hours in Llandovery, which was plenty, then drove down seriously narrow and underused lanes to the feeding station. We took our places in the hide. The ‘show’ began at 3.00 p.m. but the kites, and the local buzzards, used to this daily ritual, began circling about ten minutes before. The man entered the small field with his bucket of flesh and started to hurl it around the field. He left to get a second bucket and then the kites started to come in for the feast: about fifty kites all swooping and diving for meat. One or two stayed on the ground devouring their ‘catch’ but mostly they swooped and dived, flew off clutching gobbets of meat in their talons. There were red kites and buzzards providing a fantastic aerial display, joined by  cheeky magpies and carrion crows, in it for a free lunch. It cost us just £3.00 each, the best value we had all week. It was a tremendous experience. Red kites were down to endangered numbers, only five breeding pairs left in Wales, until the conservation project saved them. There are now about 2000 breeding pairs in Wales, we were told. How successful is that?

On the poetry front, I sent my set of poems for the three-poet Dragon Spawn pamphlet to Kim Moore this week for her ‘couple of sentences’ for the jacket blurb. Poor Kim was poorly on her recent holiday, and then run off her feet with the Kendal Poetry Festival, which I was sorry to miss because I was in Wales. It’s a great festival if you can fit it in next year. So I waited until Monday to e-post the set to her. I’m waiting to hear from her about the blurb; but I did hear from Rebecca Bilkau, the Beautiful Dragons editor who is compiling the pamphlet, Some mothers do... She wanted to e-discuss the poem ‘Boudicca’; she felt I’d over-used ‘anger’ in the poem and suggested some possible alternatives, one of which was ‘ire’. For some reason I can’t rationalise, ‘ire’ is one of those words that make me laugh out loud. It sounds too tame a word for the kind of fury it purports to describe, and I told Rebecca as much. We agreed on ‘rage’ as an alternative. Later in the day I had another email from her questioning something I’d put in my poem about the fieldfare for the next Beautiful Dragons anthology, Watch the Birdie. She said she was reluctant to suggest alternatives after suggesting ‘ire’: she wrote ‘ire, ire, pants on fire’,which made me laugh out loud again. I think we’ve reached agreement on the fieldfare too.

On Friday I drove home from the Welsh coast, in pouring rain most of the way. There was a serious road closure at Machynlleth, and I had to confuse Tim Satnav by redirecting us via Dolgellau and Bala. It took Tim a while to catch up but he got the gist eventually. And coming home via Bala, we had an opportunity for lunch at that lovely little roadside café beside the lake. It was glorious despite the rain that didn’t put off the canoeists and wind surfers we watched as we ate.

So that’s it, holiday season over for another year. The next time I take a serious holiday my PhD will be a thing of the past, for good or ill. I have eight months left to complete and submit. Head down and work, work, work…

I’m including a poem I wrote on a Greek holiday a few years back. We went to Kefalonia and on a day visit to the fishing village of Fiscado the heavens opened and rain poured down the streets. We were in a taverna where Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 3 was playing, a surprising change from the ubiquitous bouzouki music. The sight of our young tour rep cadging a black bin liner to wear as a mackintosh will stay with me for a long time; as will our aging coach companions stripping down to their underwear in an attempt to dry out: some things you just can’t unsee!  Enjoy.

 

Vivace Maestoso

 Boats rock on harbour waves
and the taverna serves horiatiki
and village wine al fresco, when
the sun gives up and hides its face
and the sea chops around yachts
trying and failing to hang on.

Then rain.  Great water bombs of drops
exploding on pavements, evaporating
as they touch the ground. Rain.
Gathering its forces, organising itself,
falling to earth like rocks, breaking. Rain.
A wall of water, vertical, solid, grouping

on the path, turning street to river.
Rain pouring from the taps of clouds,
hissing, fierce. Rain, lightning,
spontaneous applause of thunder.
And you, wearing a black bin liner.
And Beethoven taking shelter in the bar.

Rachel Davies