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A post about Christmas spirit…

I’ll be a bit later posting this this week: I’m writing this morning from Kent’s Bank, Grange over Sands, and the hotel wifi in my bedroom is temperamental. I might have to wait until I get downstairs to get sufficient signal to get online. I’m here on Kim Moore’s Poetry Carousel. It’s a different kind of poetry residential. Kim invites three other tutors to be involved. Participants are divided into four groups of seven or eight poets and each group has one workshop with a tutor each day. The tutors on this group are Hilda Sheehan, Steve Ely, David Morley as well as Kim. It’s a wonderful idea, and the ‘rides’ are as exhilarating as the Big One in Blackpool. So far I’ve had sessions with Kim (Friday evening) and Hilda (yesterday); later today I’ll be in a workshop with Steve and tomorrow morning, David. The Tutors are all different in their various approaches to stimulating poetry. Kim took the theme of ‘veiling the narrative’ and encouraged us to recount someone else’s story in our work; or just to lie! Hilda used surrealism and absurdist approaches, which I was wary of at first because I’m very much a literal thinker; but it was wonderful! She gave us strategies for developing surreal poetry and I wrote a half-decent, though weird, poem. But I did learn new approaches to building poems and I’ll be using those at home to reach out in my portfolio poems. What a great way to spend a weekend! The next carousel is in December 2018, and I’ve already put my deposit down for that one. Sketchy details at this stage, but keep in touch with Kim’s blog for further details in the coming months:

We were concerned we might not get here for the Friday start. We had snow on Saddleworth; not so much it would keep us at home, but if it was snowy at home, we thought it would be a hindrance in Cumbria. I watched for the weather reports on BBC Breakfast and, one of those modern miracles, the snow was thick in Scotland, had blown down the western edge of the UK, scuppering the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Merseyside and Cheshire, but left Cumbria and Lancs alone! We saw no snow on our journey after Saddleworth; and the motorway traffic wasn’t too bad either. So we arrived in Grange in time to have lunch in the Hazelmere café; and even managed to legally park in the street right outside the café window. The travel angels were on our side on Friday. We’re expecting snow later today, but it should be fine to travel home tomorrow, fingers crossed. Here’s a photo from my bedroom window, looking out over Morcambe Bay: a room with a view!


In other news, I’ve been quite productive this week, on the critical and the creative aspects of the PhD. I have started to write the Pascale Petit section of the thesis at last. Having planned it out last week, I settled to the writing of it on Sunday, and I managed about a thousand words with academic references etc. So I was pleased with that. I knew it would be difficult to find time for the critical work beyond Sunday this week because of other stuff in my life, but I used the time I had well. I also wrote two new poems for the portfolio, both of them for the sequence about women who might have been my mother. These are examples of ‘veiled narratives’: the trick is to make the lie ring true. I have so many ideas for this one: women I have known personally, but also historical figures like Mary, Queen of Scots; or women from literature like The Snow Queen or Jayne Eyre. I can have fun with it, while making serious points about the mother-daughter relationship. And following on from Hilda’s surrealist/absurdist workshop and my reading of Pascale Petit’s work, how about a lioness or a centipede or an anaconda as my mother? There is no limit to the fun I can have.

On Monday morning I did my ironing, knowing I needed to pack a weekend bag for coming away; I also did some laundry to put together a rucksack for the ‘Rucksack for the Homeless’ project in Stockport: There are similar projects in other towns, so keep your eyes peeled. The rucksack project is where my Christmas gift spending has gone this year. I’m ashamed of my country when I see so many people forced to sleep in the street. This is the sixth richest country in the world and when you go to our big cities—even to smaller towns these days—you pass a rough sleeper every fifty yards or so. It makes me angry, ashamed; I can’t spend money on the rubbish we are tempted to buy at this time of year, knowing so many others won’t know the difference between Christmas and Not-Christmas. I see people in Tesco buying A Yard of Jaffa Cakes, or ten tins of Quality Street, or other manifestations of gluttony and I can’t subscribe to it. So my money has gone to the homeless this year; although it’s like peeing in the sea. But I have done a little bit; added my drop to the ocean. Bill and I made up two rucksacks: one for a man and one for a woman. You are asked to put in a sleeping bag, underwear, socks, a fleece or warm jumper, a toothbrush, a spoon with tins of beans, soup, a flask; we also put in personal items and a Snickers bar. We packed the rucksacks on Thursday, ready for delivery. It wasn’t easy to get everything in, but we did it with a bit of brute force. It’ll be grim for the homeless this Christmas, but some at least will know they are thought about. Whisky, gin, rum: these are NOT the spirit of Christmas; helping someone less fortunate than yourself is. I’m not religious, I’m a non-believer, but I am a human being and I agree with the phrase ‘there but for the Grace of God…’ Spare a thought for someone struggling this Christmas, please. Bill delivered the rucksacks yesterday. He was impressed by the set-up in Stockport; and by the number of rucksacks that were being collected. There are good people in the world.

On Monday evening it was The Group at Leaf on Portland Street in Manchester. I took one of my ‘women who could have been my mother’ poems. It is about Hilary’s mother, whom I never met, but I went to her funeral as an emotional support for Hilary, and this poem is based in Hilary’s eulogy for her mother, who sounded like a wonderful woman. After the funeral I asked Hilary if I could be her sister because her mother sounded like an fantastic mum: her response was, ‘you already are my sister!’ How kind is that? So in a sense this is about a woman who was my mother in some—only slightly—parallel universe. I love this poem. It was well received at The Group too. I won’t post it, but I will post the second poem I wrote: it still needs some work, but it’s a different kettle of fish altogether, a bit of fun prompted by a woman my sister used to work with back in the 1960s. She was a ‘formidable woman’, as the cliché goes. Being her daughter wouldn’t have been a silver spoon.

Tuesday I went for lunch with Hilary, her husband David and my partner Bill. We went to a vegetarian restaurant, Green’s in Didsbury. It was lovely. I’ll definitely be taking my vegan son, Richard next time he visits ‘up north’. Also on Tuesday, Hilary and I were invited to read in York in February: this was a case of ‘third time lucky’: we haven’t been able to accept the previous two invites. We also received our copies of Noble Dissent, the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology. My poem ‘Candidate’ is in there, a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem, ‘Girl’. Hilary’s poem in there is inspired by the suffragettes. There are some cracking pieces of work in this collection. Noble Dissent isn’t on their website yet, but it will be soon. We are reading at the launch in Lancaster on March 17th next. We were also invited to the York launch on 29th January; so Tuesday was a good day for poetry related stuff. Perhaps we’ll see some of you at these events?

So, that’s come full circle. I have arrived at Friday, where I started this blog. I’m looking forward to the rest of my weekend in Grange, and I’ll leave you with the poem I talked about earlier. It was a bit of fun; Mary B was a down-to-earth woman who liked a drink—she wasn’t alcoholic, I don’t think. She had a few memorable sayings, some of which I have alluded to in the poem. She talked of her ‘bronchial chest’ and her ‘gastric stomach’, not realising these were pointless adjectives. She also used to say ‘better late in this life than early in the next’; I think of her every time I am harassed by aggressive drivers in my rear-view mirror, or overtaken on blind bends, for instance. Any way, here’s what I think life would have been like if Mary B had been my mother; it still needs some work but I’m fairly happy with where it’s going:

Mary B

You’re always complaining
about your bronchial chest
or your gastric stomach.

You say your chest’s
like a bit o’ raw beef
but that doesn’t stop you

lighting up a Park Drive,
sucking its toxins
deep into your lungs;

and the ulcer doesn’t stay
your daily visits
to the Hare and Hounds

where you down whiskeys
like doses of medicine,
leaving me in the pushchair

out on the pavement
with a bottle of coke
and a bag of ready salted.

Rachel Davies
December 2017



It’s December, so Christmas is allowed now.

Oops, I’m a bit late this week. I got lost in working on a new poem this morning. Poets, eh?

I’ve had a good week this week: productive for work, lots of poetry, time with friends. Last week, my younger son, Michael, complained that the blog was a bit boring: it was all poetry and no social life! I think he was joking, but just in case, I’ve been a bit more of a social animal this week, Mike.

I took the day off work on Sunday. The head-cold I had a couple of weeks ago has been threatening, but not quite managing, to come back all week, so I gave myself a day off work and bummed the day away. But bumming won’t get me a PhD, so on Monday I gave myself a good talking to and I was at my desk by 9.00 a.m. I prepared the ‘anonymous poems’ document for Stanza. I realized I didn’t have a poem to include so I wrote one from the notes I took at the James Sheard workshop a couple of weeks ago: a poem about Lillingstone Dayrell churchyard for the sequence about my brother’s death. It was very first draft, but that’s OK, that’s what a critiquing workshop’s for. I sent the poems out to Stanza members in time for them to have a read before the meeting on Tuesday.

When all that was out of the way I got down to the critical aspect of the PhD. I cut-and-pasted into a single document the Pascale Petit poems from Mama Amazonica that had references to masks or mirrors, in whatever guise. I re-read the poems and my analyses and inserted notes and academic references in contrasting colours. By the end of the day’s work I had completed Mama Amazonica and was ready to begin the process again for The Huntress. That was Tuesday’s job sorted. Two really productive days at the critical work, with a new portfolio poem written as well: I felt really satisfied with what I’d achieved.

Tuesday evening it was our monthly Stanza meeting, the first one since the Stanza reps meeting in York on Saturday. There were five of us there. We discussed the way forward for our group: how could we increase membership, which has dropped off since we moved to Mossley in the summer. We decided to try a move back to Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar for the next meeting in January. It seems easier for folk to get to than Mossley, so perhaps lapsed poets will return to the fold. The business out of the way, we settled to reading and discussing the poems. It was a good night: lots of variety in the poems and good discussion. Surprisingly, my poem about the churchyard was really well received; I got good advice on pruning it a bit to make it tighter, but considering I wrote it very quickly on Monday morning, I was pleased with the feedback, not what I expected at all.

On Wednesday Hilary and I went to the Bad Language poetry reading at Gulliver’s Bar in Oldham Street, Manchester. Helen Mort should have been the headline act; Hilary had an open-mic slot. But Helen was taken poorly and had to send her apologies for the event, so that opened up extra open-mic slots, one of which I managed to get. It’s not often you get to say you were a stand-in for Helen Mort; perhaps I should include it in my poet’s biog? No, perhaps you’re right.

Thursday was a day dominated by microwave ovens. Ours has been on the blink for weeks, we kept threatening to replace it but hadn’t got around to it. It was fitted into the kitchen units and we weren’t sure what a replacement would look like. However, the situation became critical when it failed to notice when its own door was closed, so on Thursday we visited Appliances Direct and looked for a new one. Bill had measured the space and we found a combi-microwave—which I didn’t particularly want but it filled all the size and colour requirements—and we bought it. In the afternoon we took the old microwave out of its housing and prepared to fit the new one in the space. Unfortunately, Bill hadn’t taken a ‘depth’ measurement, and combo-microwaves have a very ample hip measurement: a kind of bustle at the back to house the element or something technical like that. It was a good 5cm. too deep for the space so we had to take it back and change it. We bought a little Daewoo instead. It fitted: it looked lost in the space in fact. Bill considered all kinds of complicated solutions to the problem. I just moved it slightly off-centre, placed four cookery books beside it and a pretty dish on top. It works. Lesson: always look for the easy solution!

Friday was the most sociable day of the week, Mike. I met up with Hilary Robinson and Polly Atkinson at the Manchester Art Gallery. We had lunch and began to plan our next poetry week away in the spring. We used to call these our ‘bitch weeks’, but two of the bitches have moved on, so we decided to rename them our ‘Line Breaks’: clever, eh? We’re hoping to go to the west midlands next year to take in the Wenlock Festival if possible: the website says there will be a festival next year, but no details yet. We’ll all look for cottages with different providers and when we have dates for the festival and three cottages each we fancy, we’ll meet up again to book the cottage and festival events.

We went from the Gallery to Albert Square for a cursory look at the Christmas Markets: really we were looking for a mug of gluwein. Hilary and I fancied the Santa mugs they were serving hot chocolate in; but they wouldn’t serve the gluwein in the white mugs because the measure was wrong. We were told by the girl behind the bar that if we had a gluwein in a black mug  she’d change the black mug for one of the Santa mugs when we finished our drinks. Here’s a pic of my white Santa mug from Manchester Christmas market, 2017; nice, eh?

IMG_1299     IMG_1298

It was back to work on Saturday. I planned to carry on with the Pascale Petit analysis. But I was sidetracked by the Aurora Leigh reference Rachel Mann sent me last week. I just meant to read Book One to find the reference she recommended, but I was enjoying reading it so much, I went onto the Kindle shop and bought the book. I spent the morning reading it and didn’t get any further with my work. It will be useful, honest. I promise to get back to Petit later today. Saturday was also the day that the December issue of Riggwelter online journal was published, with poems by Hilary and me included; link here:

Friday was also the day we learned that Kim Moore, our lovely Cumbrian poetry friend, has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for her first collection, The Art of Falling. Very well deserved, too. Details here:

I’ll be at Kim’s carousel poetry weekend from next Friday. I think it could involve bubbles; well, it will involve bubbles, even if Kim doesn’t want them!

Yesterday was Mike’s birthday, so we had a telephone chat. He was having a good day including watching Manchester United versus Arsenal on the telly. I’m pleased to say our beloved Utd beat Arsenal at the Emirates: 1:3 final result, a nice birthday present. Come on you reds!

I’m posting the poem I sent to Stanza this week. I haven’t worked on it since the feedback, so you get to read the raw first draft. At the Sheard workshop we made notes of a place we visit regularly in our poems: either real visits or visits in our heads. I made lots of notes of the geography of the churchyard. The final couplet popped into my head unbidden while I was making my notes. It was a total surprise to me; and as Robert Frost said: ‘no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’, so I hope it surprises you too. It has a working title: the original title was too silly to retain. I could tell you what it was, but then I’d have to kill you.

Dayrell Churchyard

 The church stands in the middle of a field,
a parish church with no discernible parish, just
a few houses like loose teeth in a broken denture.

The giant yew trees bring a foreboding of darkness,
The church squats beneath them playing hide-and-seek:
it’s been counting to a hundred since Norman times.

The thick oak door wears its iron furniture like a threat,
but it’s never locked. Go inside, feel the cold discomfort,
see the simple altar, smell the decay of damp prayer books.

It’s not warmed by the needlepoint kneelers from the WI
or the bright posters advertising Christingle, or Lent, or
Epiphany depending on your visit. There’s no stained glass.

Now I’m out in the graveyard beside a gravestone
that reads loving wife and mother, loving husband
and father, beloved son and brother.

 I remember the day they first opened that grave,
placed you in it carefully, like the treasure you were,
threw that first spade of soil onto your oak bed.

That was the day I came face to face with God
and turned my back.

Rachel Davies
November 2017

The unpalatable secret of eternal youth.

Sometimes working for PhD doesn’t feel like work at all, so this week I feel as if I’ve been slacking; but I really haven’t. It’s just that the work I have done hasn’t been behind a desk. It’s been one of those weeks it’s been difficult to fit in desk-time.

On Sunday I did lock myself in the study for the morning. I filled in an RD9 record of my support team meeting. It’s all done on ‘Skillsforge’, the university’s on-line recording system. It’s a bit of a chore filling them in, but they are a necessary record, and it helps to remember what a positive experience the meeting was. I also sent out my Stanza mailing: it’s our next Stanza on Tuesday this week. I can’t believe a month has gone since Pat and I dressed as witches and read spooky poems to each other. I know for a fact there will be more members there this week. Details of what we’re doing can be found here, so if you feel like joining us, you’ll be most welcome:

All the admin out of the way, I settled to the serious and pressing stuff. I looked for instances of ‘masks and mirrors’ in my poem analyses of Pascale Petit’s work. What a wonderful thing is a search engine. I used the ‘search in this document’ facility and found more references to those things even than I expected, especially when I typed in ‘make-up’, ‘disguise’, ‘reflections’, etc: variations on the theme. So I narrowed down the number of poems I’ll be using for my critical piece on Petit’s poetry. I re-read the poems as well: not a chore at all. I felt I’d had a good morning’s work by the time I stopped for lunch. Pressing housework was my prevarication for the afternoon.

On Monday evening I went to the workshop at Leaf on Portland Street. The group, after a vote of its members, is now officially called ‘The Group’, which I don’t think will change much, do you? It’s a fairly unambiguous title, don’t you think. Anyway, I picked Hilary up to catch Metrolink into Manchester. It’s the first time I’ve seen her since she came back from her globe-trotting holiday, so it was particularly lovely to spend time with her. We made space for coffee and chat before The Group started. There were six of us there, and some lovely writing shared. I took a recent poem from the sequence I mentioned last week and got some useful feedback. They felt that when I get into writing the sequence, I could even have more than one poem from that one piece. They also said—wonderful idea—that as it’s a sequence I could have a narrator/chorus to fill in the narrative blanks that a series of poems written in the voices of different characters necessarily threatens for the reader. So I came away feeling fired up to get on with some more of it. If you are serious about writing—poetry or prose—and you live in the Manchester area, you should try to come along. Amy McCauley and Rosie Garland are members and they in particular are seriously spot-on with critiquing work, they get right to the meat of issues. We meet here: every second Monday, 6.00p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

On Tuesday I went into Manchester again, to meet up with Rachel Mann. She has just completed—and achieved—her PhD. We met when we started our MA in Creative Writing at MMU in 2007, so I have known her for ten years now. We met over tea and toast in Proper Tea. I wanted to pick her brains about masks and mirrors in the poetry of, particularly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, two poets she studied in depth for her PhD. She didn’t disappoint: she gave me lots of references in ‘Aurora Leigh’; and an article by Pascale Petit asking if women write differently to men. When she emailed all this to me she threw in a chapter in Elisabeth Bronfen’s Over Her Dead Body, and Rossetti’s ‘In An Artist’s Studio’; how generous is this of her time and knowledge. I say again: the community of poets…

On Friday I drove south to visit my sister in Stamford, Lincs. We haven’t seen each other since May so it was good to catch up. She made us a lovely lunch too: overload on Stilton cheese and trifle—not on the same plate, obviously—and lots of chat. We drove home via Holmfirth and the first snow of the winter proved a challenge driving over Saddleworth Moor, although it disappeared as we descended into Greenfield. I cursed the decision not to stay with the A1 and M62 route then, but it was snowing in Denshaw when we got home as well, so I think the route down from the motorway to the village would have been as hazardous. I really don’t like winter: I was born in one of the hottest summers of the last century and I’m definitely a summer person. Roll on Spring, I say.

It snowed again overnight, there was about two inches of lying snow when we got up on Saturday and it was still coming down. I was due to go to York for the Poetry Society Stanza Reps meeting on Saturday, so I cursed the snow all over again, thinking I’d have to cry off. But by 9.30, when Bill took me to Stalybridge to catch the train, the roads were passable so I did manage to get my train. Interestingly, there was no snow at all on the other side of the Pennines; it was a lovely crisp, sunny, cold winter’s morning, but no snow. I was in York before mid-day. The Christmas markets were on, so it meant queuing for everything, even a cup of coffee in the many cafés along the street into the town centre. But I eventually got a cup of coffee to take out and I sat in a courtyard by a church and ate my packed lunch and drank my coffee and felt generally at peace. My meeting started at 2.00 p.m. It was good to meet up with old poetry friends: Paul McGrane, Bernie Cullen, Simon Currie; but also good to meet new people. It was a lovely meeting, so many different approaches to running a stanza, and all valid. I learned a lot about reviving our dwindling fortunes at the East Manchester and Tameside Stanza: we’ll be discussing some new ideas on Tuesday.

I’ll leave you with a poem that couldn’t be any newer if it tried: I just finished it this morning. It’s part of the same sequence; and I apologize: yes, it is a double nonet. I have this rhythm in my head and I must break it, but this one tells thoughts about death I’ve held for a long time. I often think of my brother, how we lost a brother, our children lost an uncle. But when I think of him, he’s always seventeen. Laurence Binyon wrote ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old’, and here I am, his younger sister being old enough to be his Grandma. So it’s these thoughts in this week’s poem. I promise I’ll never write another nonet, ever. Although…


The Secret of Eternal Youth

You were seventeen when you found it.
I was fourteen. Now I’m older
than Grandma was then and you’re
still seventeen. There’s
no portrait in
the attic,
no foul
no fresh clear
water springing
from the summit of
Mount Olympus. You found
the lost key to eternal
youth and it’s the simplest truth:
you died. You’re seventeen for ever.


Rachel Davies
November 2017

Travelling that divergent path…

Yesterday I met some poet friends who started their PhD at the same time as me: we were on the same induction programme two years ago. It was good to see them, because PhD can be a lonely journey: you plough your own furrow and the more you plough, the bigger the field seems to get. You work away on your own research, and it takes you where it will: there are productive routes and there are interesting but diverting side paths. And then, suddenly and surprisingly, you reach a place where ‘two roads diverge’, as Robert Frost said, and you decide to take ‘the road less travelled’, because that is the requirement of PhD: an ‘original contribution to knowledge’. That sounds such a daunting phrase at the outset: if it is an original contribution, how will you discover it among all the existing knowledge you’re researching. But the phrase needs bringing down to size: you aren’t looking for a new knowledge system, just a new slant on an already huge body of human experience. For me, the lightbulb moment came in reading Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica in the summer. That’s when I found my ‘road less travelled by/and that has made all the difference.’ It was reassuring to hear that the experience of friends mirrors my own: we are all searching for our own way out of those woods.

This week I had a meeting with my support team for the critical aspect, so I concentrated on the creative aspect of the PhD at the start of the week. This is my favourite kind of work; it constitutes about 75% of the thesis and yet it gets the smaller share of my time while I knock the 25% that is the critical aspect into submission. So it was good to spend time on just writing poetry. I prepared plans for three short sequences of poems; one is a single event viewed from multiple perspectives. My intention for that one is to give a voice to everyone involved in the event, even the dog. I also prepared a plan for a series of poems about women who might have been my mother: thank you to Kim Moore for that idea; and one directly related to mirror theory, about all the mirrors held up to me as a child to provide opportunities for me to become ‘me’; or, conversely, to allow me to develop the masks that became the multiple faces of me that enabled me to negotiate my place in the world. I even wrote a couple of poems for the first sequence, one of them fulfilling the ‘syllabics’ framework I talked about with Jean. Unfortunately, it’s another nonet, about which more later. I must get beyond this little nine-line wonder, but I do find nonets very satisfying to write.

On Tuesday I went to MMU to meet Antony and Angelica, my support team for the critical aspect, to discuss my ideas for a ‘masks and mirrors’ focus on the work. I had sent them a piece to whet their appetites a couple of weeks ago, explaining that it was just to show them where my thoughts were leading, that there was an authoritative theoretical base for said focus. None-the-less, they were concerned that I was getting bogged down in the theory, and that, with only 20,000 words to play with I needed to get straight in with the analysis of the poetry and bring the theory into that rather than dedicate space to the theory on its own. I’m happy with that. They also asked, was I changing direction from the ‘mother-daughter’ theme into something completely different at this late stage: that wouldn’t be acceptable. Good God, no! Absolutely not; I’m planning to examine the mother-daughter theme through a focus on masks and mirrors. They were happy with that and thought the focus could be a good idea, a good way to bring a huge body of work down to manageable size. Yes, that’s what I’d hoped for. I’d also sent them the review I wrote for The North as a taster of where I was going with the Petit analysis. Interestingly, one of the parts they liked most about it was the inter-textual bit about Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’: Antony thought I could have developed that idea in much more depth. This was one of the ‘academic’ bits I toned down in the review, on the request of the editors! Different strokes for different folks! Antony asked me to send him the sections on the sonnet and the Selima Hill analysis that I’d revisited following our last meeting in the summer; I sent it, on the understanding that the Hill section would be redrafted now to some extent in the light of the ‘masks and mirrors’ focus. There is lots of useful stuff in ‘My Sister’s Sister’, on masks in particular; redrafting it won’t be a huge problem. So, altogether it was a productive meeting and I came away feeling good about my work and I actually felt as if the end might be in sight.

After the meeting Antony sent me an example of a creative-critical PhD thesis that might give me some insight into the process of writing it. It was, he said, nothing like my own work, but the style of the writing might be helpful for me. I read it in bed on Tuesday night. It was a PhD from Edgehill University, so it had a heavy emphasis on poetics, which is an Edgehill creative writing interest: I know this because a friend has just completed her MA in Creative Writing from Edgehill. So the thesis was quite avant garde in it’s approach; but it was a useful read, because a large part of it wasn’t really prose at all, but a fairly staccato series of reflections, a list in single sentences. It was food for thought, though, that the thesis can be what you want it to be, that it doesn’t have to follow academic rules. This is reassuring to one who has struggled to become fluent in acadamese.

On Saturday it was the Poets & Players event at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. James Sheard ran a poetry workshop in the morning: it was interesting because we didn’t actually do much writing, but we did a great deal of discussing ideas. The theme of the discussion was ‘the territory of the poem’: territory in terms of ‘place’ but also the psychological territory explored in poetry. I found this useful. The piece of writing we were asked to do as a culmination of the disucussion was focussed on a particular place we visit regularly in our poems; we had to make notes on the place in terms of its concrete elements that make it real. I chose Lillingstone Dayrell churchyard, where my brother is buried. My brother’s death was a huge event for me when I was fourteen; he was just seventeen. I began by thinking about the churchyard, the yew trees, the gravestones, the situation of the church surrounded by fields, the church itself, its Norman origins, its huge wooden door which is never locked, the cold discomfort of it. And then the thought popped up that it was here ‘I came face to face with God and I turned my back’. Wow. It’s true, this was when I became an atheist; at my brother’s funeral, when they put his coffin in the ground and threw soil onto it. How could a beneficent god allow that? There is the skeleton of a poem in that thought alone. So it was a productive morning all round.

The afternoon event involved music from students of Chetham’s School in Manchester: so young, but so much talent. There were two string quartets, one played to start the event, the second opened after the break. They were wonderful. The poetry readings were by Rebecca Hurst, Kayo Chingonyi and James Sheard. As usual it was a wonderfully uplifting event: poetry and music in the south gallery; and the green parakeets in the trees of Whitworth Park through the huge windows. Fantastic.

It’s been a productive and positive week. Oh yes!

I’ll leave you with another nonet: I promise I’ll break the habit soon. This is a response to a longer poem, ‘Not good enough for sainthood’, that I wrote from another perspective, the sister’s, on the same event. It is part of the sequence of multiple viewpoints for the same event, the untimely death of a young man, my brother. This nonet is written in his voice; it doesn’t stand alone particularly well, perhaps, but it works in the context of the sequence, I think.


I didn’t ask for sainthood

 …truth is, it hijacked me that summer
out in the fields, helping strong men
harvest hay; gut wrenching pain,
theatre, surgeons, counting
to ten backwards then
the eternal dream.
I much preferred

Rachel Davies
November 2017


The 3 Pees: PhD, Poetry and Parking Fine

Hard to believe, but this is the first time since I left school that I’ve been registered as a full-time student. I decided on full-time because six years seemed like forever when I started this PhD: I knew I would be 71 when I finished, even if I registered full-time, and that seemed old enough for anyone to be studying in this depth. So I registered for the three year, full-time option; and even then, three years seemed like a long time. Now, I’m well into the third year, the sand is running out. I recently paid my first of the final year instalments; only two more to pay!

But I keep chipping away at it like a word sculptor, making it take shape. I’m beginning to see the finished piece. Sunday last saw me at my desk after breakfast. I decided to make a start on putting my theoretical reading into something. I had thought not to write anything until after my meeting with my supervisory team: we’re meeting on Tuesday this coming week to discuss my ideas about masks and mirrors in self development. But it seemed like a good idea to have something to show them where I intend to go with it, so I started writing my piece on Sunday. I realised in writing it that it was heavy on mirrors with less on masks, so another library search found a good academic article on multiple identities in adolescents: multiple identities is an aspect of masking, so that was really useful.

So Sunday was a good day’s work. I picked it up again on Tuesday. More library searching and I found another article on Winnicott’s theory of the True and False self. I have read Winnicott, but this was a useful article, and it put me in the direction of a Winnicott book I haven’t found yet. They have a copy in MMU library, so I’ll be seeking it out on Tuesday. I drafted my own writing onto the recent review I wrote on Pascale Petit’s poetry: it’s that I’m going to develop for the Petit chapter of the thesis. I ‘red-penned’ places to be developed and notes to self on where to go next; and it was at this stage when I sent it off to Antony and Angelica as a discussion document, with the proviso that it is a very early draft discussion document, not an academic piece needing assessment.

I also heard from Jean Sprackland on Tuesday. She reminded me we haven’t met for ages and perhaps we should set up a meeting soon. It is indeed some time since we met: it must be last May when we last had a discussion around the creative aspect of the PhD. We talked then about concentrating on form and syllabics. Although I have new poems for the portfolio since then, I’ve written very little within those form perameters. So I got back to her asking if we could meet in December: I’ve been concentrating too much on the critical side—as usual—and the creative has been back-burnered somewhat. December would give me time to compose some poems for discussion. Her reply was we could leave it till January if that helps; so agreed on January as a deadline and I wished her Merry Christmas, despite it being early November. I’m a ‘keep Christmas for December’ person: as a recent FaceBook meme said, ‘There are twelve days of Christmas and none of them are in November’. So it seemed strange giving out Christmas wishes in November; but not as strange as the house I saw the other day, all decorated up for the season. Please!

As a result of that email from Jean, and in light of the critical piece having gone off for discussion, I did concentrate on the creative aspect on Saturday. I spent the day in my cat’s favourite chair—he wasn’t impressed—in the study, notebook and pencil in hand and worked on a new poem in a syllabic format. I’ll include the early draft at the end of this blog. It’s only a short poem, a nonet; but it took a big bite out of the morning. I think I’m pleased with it, but I need to put it away for a week or two and come back to it with fresh eyes to know for sure if it’s repaying the time and effort. I also wrote a second poem based in the ‘timeline’ idea from Mark Pajak’s workshop in Nantwich last month. I chose the wrong poem for my starting pistol, I think, and my own poem doesn’t work. It’ll be deleted from my MacBook later today. Sometimes you know immediately they don’t work; not even worth working on. It happens. I’ve learned that to write that kind of poem, you need a starter with a distinct story, an ‘event’ poem. I tried to work from one of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica poems, to tie it in with the critical aspect. It didn’t work, not enough happening as a story. I decided I need more direction in my creative work so I devised a plan for a series of poems to follow a story, multiple characters and voices all focussed on the same event. I’ll be working on that later today.

In other news: Poetry and Life. In ‘Poetry’, my copies of Magma: The Deaf Issue and PN Review dropped on my mat this week. Good to see poets I know personally and some who are only known to me through their words in there along with poets who are new to me. I’ll enjoy reading these two lovely magazines in my tea-breaks this week. I also paid the balance on the Poetry Carousel that Kim Moore is running in Grange-over-Sands in December. I’m really looking forward to that one: a round of poetry workshops with David Morley, Hilda Sheehan and Steve Ely as well as Kim. It’s been an expensive couple of weeks; but worth every penny.

In ‘Life’, Bill had an appointment at the hospital on Thursday. It took ages to find a parking space: all the hospital car parks were full with several cars looking for spaces. I tried the local streets but they all have ‘Permit Only’ signs, so no joy there. After about fifteen minutes of driving around looking, I came across a car park at the back of the hospital I didn’t even know existed until Thursday. I found a space and was so excited to have parked the car and be just about in time for his appointment—if we could find the location of the clinic—that I forgot to pay. Yup, I had a little packet behind the windscreen wiper when we returned to the car later. I handed it to Bill to take care of. Two parking tickets in one month? Seemed fair to share this one! Then on Friday, I met my friend Joan for dinner. We meet once a month. Joan has recently joined a reading group and they have been reading the poetry of Ruth Padel, which reminded me of her Radio 4 programme ‘Poetry Workshop’ that my Poetry Society Stanza was involved in in 2012. We had a lovely afternoon working with her; she is a gracious and generous woman. Joan was pleased to know I had met her.

So, to my latest poem: so new the ink’s barely dry. I was thinking how it’s easy to hold grudges against the ones who reared us. My own children have this on-going banter about how hard-done-to they were as children. But when I reflected on my relationship with my own mother, which wasn’t an easy one, I realised that life was hard for her, that she had to give up so many of her own aspirations in being a wife and mother. She was born too soon, should have had a career as well as a domestic role. She was too intelligent, gave too much to being a wife and mother. I think it hurt her in ways we weren’t aware of as children, but which I appreciate now, as an adult looking back. That is what this is about, if it’s about anything.


Molly 2

Why did we expect her to give like
some dumb altruistic martyr
beguiled by an after-life?
We were the stakes of her
endless slow-burning
woodpile, turned our
deaf ears to
her mute


Rachel Davies







Remember, Remember…


Years ago, when I was a class teacher in Peterborough, the headteacher I worked for read a poem in assembly one day. It was this time of year, the start of November. The poem was a long list of ‘no’—no light, no sun, no leaves on the trees, etc—and its last line was ‘November’. I think of that poem every year; but I can’t remember any more of it than that, and I can’t remember who wrote it, either. I’ve tried Google, but I don’t know enough of it to be useful. Do you know the poem, the poet, where I can find it? I’d love to hear from you if you do. It’s 5.30 a.m. and November is happening right now outside my window. The rain is lashing, the wind fighting the trees; these are the only sounds I can hear. Perhaps I should be writing my own ‘November’ poem.

Oh my, I’ve had a good week; except Sunday, which was a day of good intentions, paving the road to hell. I meant to do some work. I needed to do some work. I didn’t do any work. I prevaricated so long, had one more pot of tea, watched Andrew Marr, stayed out of Bill’s way while he repaired the under-cupboard lighting in the kitchen, stroked the cat—all those really important things you have to do before you can get down to work. Then I looked at the clock on the telly screen and it was nearly lunchtime already. Oops. When I went into the kitchen to make lunch I realised the telly clock was still showing BST; I didn’t realise it required a manual change over. I altered the clock; finally I gave up on work.

But it wasn’t a disaster, because I dedicated Monday to work instead: the best, most productive day I’ve had for some time, one of those days when you can see the wood among all those trees. I had agreed with Amie that I would dog-sit her two Cockerpoos, Cooper and Sonny on Monday, along with her sister-in-law’s Lassa Apso, Bella. I went to her house on Monday morning, early, with a bag full of books and technology, determined to work all day. Amie and Angus went to a family funeral in Thirsk. The dogs were a bit excitable at first but they soon calmed down. Bella, who is nearly as old as me in dog-years, was a bit nervous being left with a stranger and two boisterous young dogs, kept leaving little puddles on the kitchen flags, bless her. I took the boisterous ones out for a walk just before lunch: they pulled me up the lane, then pulled me back down again. It was exhilarating! The rest of the day I worked. I did so much systematic reading, real preparation for the theoretical framework for the next chapter of the thesis. I re-read Lacan on mirror-stage theory; I read Winnicott and Bowlby; I re-read Benjamin. I took copious notes; I even made a note of books I needed to find in the MMU library. I worked for about five hours all together, and felt really satisfied when I finished.

On Tuesday I packed a healthy lunch and headed for Manchester to MMU library. The problem with going into the library, it’s a big expenditure of time for little reward. It takes a couple of hours of travelling to get there and back, and I’d rather spend that time working. That’s why I prefer to buy my books; but the Winnicott book I wanted was £20 second-hand from Amazon, so the library it was.

I found the books I was looking for and had another morning reading: Winnicott Playing and Reality; I read the chapters I needed in the library and although I didn’t feel I had achieved anything I didn’t know already from reading about his theory in Benjamin, at least now I had a first-hand reference, always a Brownie point in a PhD bibliography. I ate my lunch in the social space beside the library: it wasn’t a day for picnics; then I went back to search for a couple of other books, and although I found them, I didn’t feel they contributed anything to my work. I went home.

On Tuesday evening it was our Poetry Society Stanza. We had agreed to dress up for Halloween and read ghostly, witchy poems for the occasion. I don’t really like Halloween. In the religious calendar it’s the eve of All Saints Day, ‘the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed’ (Wikipaedia). But it has become a capitalist money-making machine and ‘celebrations’ bear no resemblance to this religious remembrance. Not that I’m religious at all; I’m really not. But I’m no capitalist either. So normally I leave Halloween to those who don’t mind being given one more opportunity to be ripped off by billionaires. But this year we agreed to dress in our Halloween costumes and read scary poems. So I borrowed a witch’s dress from Hilary, who was away in the Antipodes and couldn’t be with us, and bought my own witch’s hat and headed for Mossley. In the event, there were only two members present. Several members had been laid low by microbes and sent last minute apologies. Just Pat and me, then. Pat, who is an artist, had made a most glorious witch’s cloak with papier maché skulls and all sorts hanging from it. She won the fancy dress prize for sure. But although there were only two of us, we had a lovely evening reading the poems we’d brought: the witch’s speech from Macbeth, obviously; Jane Yeh’s ‘The Ghosts’; I took along an anthology of poems about the Pendle Witch Trials from a project I was involved in with Clitheroe Stanza in 2012 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the infamous trials and I read a couple from that. Luckily we both took lots of poems and our readings and discussions lasted all evening. It’s always good to have time to enjoy poetry.

On Wednesday it was my usual day doing the books at the Black Ladd. After lunch I picked up the post from the shelf where the staff leave it and there was a parcel with my name on. Often, when I buy online, I have parcels delivered to the pub because I don’t have to worry about missing the delivery: there’s always someone there to receive the post. But I couldn’t remember ordering anything online recently. So I took a sneaky look inside. It was a pair of Ugg gloves. I rang Amie. Yes they were for me. When I was dog-sitting on Monday, I’d left my old Ugg gloves at her house when I went home. One of the gloves has a hole in the forefinger. I’ve repaired one of the fingers, but this is a wide hole, big enough to need a patch. I’ve been meaning to replace them this year when the winter stock is in the Ugg shop, but haven’t got round to it yet. Amie had been going to send me flowers for to say ‘thank you’ for dog-sitting, but seeing the state of my gloves she’d decided to replace them for me. ‘It’s only like three bunches of flowers,’ she said. Bless her heart. So now I’ll try to repair the unrepairable gloves and donate them to a homeless woman next time I’m in Manchester.

On Friday I had a message from Hilary, who is currently enjoying a holiday in Tasmania. Lemn Sissay is coming to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham in January, did I fancy it? We both saw Lemn at Wenlock Poetry Festival a couple of years ago: he is such an entertaining reader. I first heard him read some years ago at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. He was recording ‘Why I Don’t Hate White People’ for Radio 4. It was fantastic. At the Coliseum in January he will be presenting his one-man play, ‘Something Dark’. So of course I fancy it; I bought five tickets: for Hilary and me and our respective partners and for Hilary’s sister Cath. It should brighten a cold January day.

Yesterday I completed the systematic reading I’ve been working away at all week. So later today I’ll be at my desk again, writing it all into the chapter on ‘masks and mirrors’ for the thesis. I’m looking forward to getting down to writing: it always feels good to have something productive to show for your efforts.

So, it’s November 5th, the night we all remember Guy Fawkes and his friends who tried to blow up Parliament while it was in session in 1605. We light bonfires topped with his effigy, we ignite fireworks to simulate the gunpowder he planned to use. Of course, he wasn’t successful; so what we really ‘celebrate’ is the disembowelling of a group of terrorists. We are a strange bunch. Here’s a memory of bonfire night from my childhood. We didn’t ‘do’ fireworks: my mum was a nurse and knew only too well the damage fireworks can do. But one year she gave into pressure and let us have fireworks. It didn’t end well!


All The Excuse You Needed

you told us horror stories from your life as a nurse

but we ground you down slowly for years until you gave in

so we all went with Dad to Ken Harker’s to choose legal bombs

how we waited for the velvet darkness of that fenland night

how we tied Guy Fawkes to the stake

how at last we lit the bonfire we’d been building for weeks
chucked scrubbed potatoes into the flames,
held mugs of piping hot soup in gloved hands

how our eyes soared into a universe reformed by a super-cluster
of new galaxies from that first launched rocket

how he knew better than the Fireworks Code
spurned the tight lidded biscuit tin, shortened the safe distance
from the blaze, lit blue touch-papers and didn’t retire

how an athletic fire imp jumped the short arc
from blazing fire to fireworks box

how the fireworks all ignited together, a spectacular display
we only heard, a symphony of terrifying booms and whistles

how we saw nothing at all of that constellation of colour,
its spinning wheels, its horizontal rockets, its jumping jacks

how we all turned our backs and ran for our lives

how for years we had to make do with imagining
what that display might have looked like

because this was all the excuse you needed


Rachel Davies
November 2017

Family, microbes and the occasional witch.

Some weeks you have to push hard to get any PhD work in. This has been one such. It has been a week with family; and a week of fighting off the microbes. But I have managed some constructive work too.

On Sunday I continued to concentrate on the creative side of the work. I did some more submitting of poems. I sent to The Interpreters House; and I bit the bullet and took Michael Symmons Roberts’s advice and sent some of my ‘mother’ poems to Rialto. I don’t hold out much hope: it’s a serious publication; but they’ve gone and I haven’t had an immediate rejection, so I’ll take that as a positive. However, they do say on the website that it could take three months to make a decision, so I’ll just forget about them now and wait. Unfortunately I heard very quickly from TIH: almost return of e-mail. I had sent the poems as separate Word docs; the website specifically asks for poems to be sent in a single document, so I was asked to resubmit following the submission guidelines. I’m very grateful to be given the chance to resubmit. I administer online entries to our Poets&Players annual competition and I get really annoyed with people who ignore the submission guidelines. So I was very embarrassed to have done that myself: I apologized profusely, resubmitted as per the guidelines and made a mental note to be less irritated when P&P is open for entries next year!

On Monday I had lunch with Amie and Richard. Richard is a teacher and it is his half-term break so he came up to the miserably moor-grimed north and we went out for lunch. We took a lovely walk into Uppermill from Delph along the route of the old Delph Donkey railway line. Signs of autumn everywhere, obviously, which included some stunning bracket fungi similar to this one, only darker, like an Oreo biscuit. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate in Muse in Uppermill: they allowed us to take Amie’s dogs inside, which was lovely of them.

On Monday evening, after Richard had returned to the Flatlands, Bill and I went into Manchester for the first of the latest season of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends readings at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It was lovely to meet up with several poet friends. These are lovely events: CAD hosts the readings and reads a couple of her poems followed by MA students of the MMU Writing School; then the evening completes with a poet of national/international standing giving a reading. At this event Keith Hutson, MA student, presented a radio play he has written about the stormy relationship between the fifties/sixties comedians Hilda Baker and Jimmy Jewel. It is a short two-character play and it was very good. Keith writes a lot about iconic music hall performers, he’s a bit of an expert; the play is an extension of this poetry interest. The national/international poet this time was Andrew McMillan, who joined the Writing School as a lecturer this term. I love Andrew’s poetry, so sensual, physical. You can read about his work here:

On Tuesday I had a head-cold brewing. I did some PhD work. The two don’t necessarily mix well. I decided to stay with the creative aspect until I’ve had a chance to discuss my ideas for the critical aspect with the team. So I got out the ‘how-to’ books for ideas for poetry. I went to one of the books a friend had sent for my birthday: John Redmond’s How To Write A Poem. It is a book about looking at different emphases in poetry: multiple voices, point of view, who is being addressed, scale and vista etc. Each chapter is short, with examples of well—and lesser—known poets; and each chapter includes a writing prompt. I read a couple of chapters, but didn’t get around to using the prompts. I kept dozing off over the reading, so I gave up at lunchtime and pampered myself on the sofa with some old episodes of crime dramas: Morse and Vera. There’s nothing like a good crime drama for a bit of escapism when you’re feeling below par, I find. My younger son, Mike, rang for a chat, so that was nice. He called me Nurse Ratchett for my unsympathetic treatment of Bill’s knee injury in my blog last week, which made me laugh. Apart from a ‘clonking’ Bill can feel when he walks, said knee is on the mend. He managed the walk into Uppermill quite well on Monday anyway, although I did have to collect him in the car for the return journey.

On Wednesday and Thursday the cold really made its presence felt. I went about my usual routines, but I was glad to get back to putting my feet up. On Wednesday I had an email from Antony, my Director of Studies, asking if we could meet on November 14th as next week is ‘employability week’ at MMU, whatever that means. Then on Thursday I had an email from The North asking the ‘prose writers’ for a short biography to accompany the pieces we had written. I had submitted a revised version of my Pascale Petit review more than a week ago; so I hope the request for a biography means they have accepted it, although I’ve had nothing to say so. I asked the question when I sent my biography off, but still not heard officially. What do you think?

Friday morning was taken up with a visit to Oldham Royal Hospital. Bill was given an appointment for the fracture clinic last week when he presented to A&E following the injury to his knee; although there was no fracture, the A&E doctor pointed out that it was really an ‘acute orthopaedic’ clinic and she wanted to be sure from an expert that there was no lasting damage. We arrived with plenty of time, were seen early and were on the road again before the actual time of his appointment, so that was good. Unfortunately the doctor we saw was a hand expert and couldn’t really tell Bill much about his knee that we didn’t know already: arthritis was present. So he advised contacting his GP and getting referral to a knee specialist. Who knew there were specialists for every joint in the human body? So the drama of the knee injury, like all the best soaps, is to be continued. And no, I’m no more sympathetic than I was last week, Mike. I think it’s probably an ex-nurse thing.

Yesterday I decided I would work a bit more on the critical side of the PhD to see if I could put together enough of a chapter to send to Antony and Angelica prior to the meeting in a couple of weeks. I’m very aware of the time constraints of this, my final year. So I went back to my theoretical reading: re-read the Lacan bit about the mirror stage (I understand the concept, but his writing is really inaccessible) and I did a library search, so now I need to visit the MMU library to borrow a couple of books. I checked them out on Amazon, but they were about £20 each; so I’ll borrow first and buy if they are indispensible. I started to re-read Jessica Benjamin The Bonds of Love too, which has a good chapter on mutual recognition, which is really what Lacan’s mirror stage theory is about, I think. So, a good morning’s work, by which time the head-cold was making itself felt again. I called it a day, stopped for lunch and watched Man U beat Spurs 1-0 to secure their second place in the Premiership table.

That’s it, then: another week done. I really need to knock on, so this week I’ll have to defeat the microbes or learn to live with them. Sympathy? No, I don’t want sympathy. I want to be microbe free: we all know what the common cold did to the Martians in War of the Worlds: they can be tricksy little buggers.

On Tuesday this week it’s Halloween, so I’ll leave you with a poem about my Grandma: not a real one, I didn’t know the real ones, but the one I wish I’d had. I invented her to fill the grandma gap. I hope she did exist, I quite like her. And it’s a sonnet, one for the portfolio.


Grandma was a white one

She flew a turbo charged Fazerblazer:
heated seat and pillion, power assisted
bristles. Her coven wasn’t impressed though,
snubbed her at the crossroads, turned their backs,
cast her out. Jealousy’s the new ducking stool
she said, helping herself to anything she fancied
from life’s cauldron without so much as a couplet.

She didn’t chant the old hubble-bubble, just
threw in a word or two, a wow phrase, a strong verb,
the merest pinch of an adjective.
She wrote each stanza as if it was her last.
Fly where you’re not wanted, that’s
what she taught me. Come down in a mess
of family, reinvent them like you mean it.


Rachel Davies

Cake, cider and Paperchase; oh, and Poetry.

This has been one of my favourite kinds of weeks, when poetry takes the driving seat.

On Sunday I was at my desk straight after breakfast, revisiting the review of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica and The Huntress. I took out the more academic passages, included a couple of the (shorter) poems and précis-ed other passages to keep within the advised word-count. I sent it off just before a late lunch, advising the editor, Suzannah, that I haven’t sought permissions from the publisher, Bloodaxe, to use the poems. I haven’t heard anything since, so I’m hoping no news is good news and they are seeking said permissions prior to publication; although I’m a terminal optimist, so what do I know? Anyway, fingers crossed.

On Tuesday, I was at my desk early again. I decided to work on the review to turn it into a PhD thesis chapter. I spent most of the morning doing lots of reading about mirrors, how we learn who we are in the mirror of others’ reactions to us. Obviously lots of stuff in Lacan—which I can almost understand—and in Bowlby, which is much more reader friendly. But in other theorists too; so I got carried away with the index searches and reading—that’s so easy—and didn’t get any writing done all morning.  In the week I came across this blog-spot that outlines the difficulty of actually starting academic writing, a difficulty I can relate too: it spoke to me entirely:

I had a break for lunch then back to my desk for the afternoon.I decided to grasp the nettle and start writing. By the end of the day I had a page and a half re-written with academic references. I think I’m pleased with it; but then it occurred to me that it’s a minor change of direction and may need to involve the Hill chapter as well so I sent an email to The Team to set up a meeting to discuss it. I won’t be sending them anything, because I don’t think I’ve done enough to warrant them reading it yet, but I do feel I need to talk to them. I’m waiting to hear.

On Thursday Bill slipped on some wet leaves on the steps outside our front door and twisted his knee. He didn’t seem in too much pain, thankfully. In the afternoon I sent off five of my ‘mother’ poems to an online journal, Riggwelter. This is a journal with editorial links to Three Drops in a Couldron, so I was hoping I would be successful. I’d heard they have a fast turn-around but even so I was pleasantly surprised to hear within two hours that they had taken ‘Her Hands’ for publication in the December edition.

When I came home from Slimming World in the evening, it was raining for Noah in the wake of ex-hurricane Ophelia. I opened the front door and a big fat frog flopped into the foyer out of the rain, then realising it had got itself into an alien situation it didn’t like much, it flopped out of sight under a chest I keep by the front door. I called Bill to help; his knee was beginning to stiffen up and it was ‘clunking’ when he walked. He limped downstairs but managed to get down on his hands and knees to coax the frog out from its hiding place so I could coax it into the wet outdoors again. Bill said he thought he should take himself to A&E. I wasn’t so sure. I hate giving four or five hours of my life to waiting in A&E unless I’m certain we have an emergency on our hands and I didn’t feel he had done sufficient damage to call on the time of the already overstretched resources of the NHS. But I’m notoriously unsympathetic of illness and injury so what do I know? We agreed that mid-evening probably isn’t the best time to go—waiting times are ridiculous— and decided to get up early and go in the morning if it wasn’t any better. So, Friday saw us getting up at 6.00 a.m. and heading off to Oldham Royal for a check up. Really, our NHS is wonderful and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. We were seen very quickly by the triage nurse, and quite quickly by a doctor who didn’t think any huge damage had been done but would order an x-ray just in case. It transpires there is no fracture but a good deal of arthritis, which we knew already as Bill is currently on a physio course for that very thing. However, he was referred to the acute orthopaedic clinic in a week to get a final check. We were two hours there altogether; two hours I couldn’t really afford, if I’m selfishly honest. So when he asked me to drive him to Werneth so he could call into said physio clinic to explain why he wouldn’t be there today I gave him a firm ‘no’: the telephone has been invented for just such a conversation and I had places to be.

I went to the Black Ladd to do the tills after I dropped him off at home. Then I wrapped the Apple watch 18th birthday present we (Amie, Richard, Michael and I) had bought for her stepson, Ben. I left it on the desk for Amie. Our cars crossed at the gates as I was leaving and she was arriving for work. I went home to drop the car off, and realised I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I made some quick toast before leaving the house and the Walking Wounded and catching the bus to Oldham Mumps to pick up the tram to Manchester. I left the car at home, because Hilary and I have devised a new ‘thing’: a cider, cake and Paperchase day. We met up at about mid-day. We had a lovely day starting with coffee and cake to warm us up; then Paperchase: one of our favourite shops. There are three floors of Paperchase in Manchester. We started at the top and worked our way down methodically. We saw everything: beautiful stuff, quirky stuff, stuff I want to own whether I need it or not. But we didn’t buy much in the end, we just looked. We didn’t want too much shopping to carry around with us. We each came out with a notebook and that’s it; but we’ll be going back soon for more, I don’t doubt. We moved onto the cider part of the day: into the Slug and Lettuce on Deansgate for a pint, then to afternoon tea in Patisserie Valerie. We called into the other Slug and Lettuce on Albert Square for another cider. Despite the wintry weather we sat outside. It was here we met up with David and Bill—yes he’d limped his way into Manchester on bus and tram to meet up with us for the evening event. We had tickets for the Michael Symmons Roberts reading at the Central Library. This was a Manchester LItfest event—more good stuff here:

Michael was reading from his latest collection, Mancunia. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. The day before the reading, it was announced that it’s on the shortlist for the T S Eliot prize: I’m guessing that won’t be its only accolade this year. The reading was wonderful, only minimally interrupted by a crying infant and much worse, her mother constantly rummaging loudly in a paper carrier bag to find something to placate the child. As well as Michael reading, there was input from Cesare Taurasi, a cast member from the recent TV screening of Michael’s Men Who Sleep In Cars. He read one of the poems; and another was incorporated into a film of old Manchester, with Michael’s voiceover. It was a wonderful night, and a perfect finish to a (mostly) good day. Of course, I bought Mancunia and got Michael to sign it.

Saturday I gave over almost entirely to the creative element of the PhD: as I’m waiting to discuss the critical side with my Director of Studies it didn’t seem a good idea to work any more on that. I spent the whole day revisiting my portfolio of poems to polish some of them for a pamphlet. By the end of the day I had sent off 30 pages of poems to the Indigo Dreams pamphlet competition. I’m quite pleased with them; but when I hit the ‘send’ button, I can always think of something I should have done differently to improve at least one the poems; but that’s just submission for you. There, they’ve gone and there’s nothing more I can do for them until the results are announced. Fingers crossed for them then.

Saturday evening it was Ben’s 18th birthday meal at Fresca in Delph. Oh, my! 18! How quickly time flies. I have known him since he was two: a lovely, kind, shy boy and here he is learning to be a man. Amie had organised a birthday cake in the shape of a VW camper van: Angus and Ben often go away in their own camper van, so it was a lovely cake to choose. After the candles had been blown out Ben, this lovely shy young man, got up to make a speech to say how happy he was that his family had come along to make his birthday special. We were all so proud of him. Happy birthday Ben.

Here’s a poem about a sloth that I wrote at the Mark Pajak workshop in Nantwich last week. We had to write down everything we knew about a sloth, a kind of brainstorm. And then write the poem without using any of the things we had written down, which liberates (or forces?) you to invent new ways to say what you want to say. Anyway, here it is, my poem ‘Sloth’.


 I could love one who lost
two toes in evolution,
couldn’t see the point of a full set.

I could love one who views the world
hanging from the branch of a tall tree,
the undershrub his ceiling
the sky his forest floor.

I could love one who is a philosopher,
ponders the energy of predator and prey
and arrives at the ergo of leaves.

I could love one who is no couch potato:
downtime is a vocation, sleep
a full-time job.

I could love one who is named
for a human failing
yet smiles at the irony of it.

Rachel Davies
October 2017



Poetry. PhD. Life.

This week has had a bit of everything in magnificent balance.

Sunday was spent mostly travelling back from Swindon. We had an open return ticket so we didn’t have booked seats; we thought it wouldn’t be a problem on a Sunday; and it wasn’t, on the train we caught from Swindon just before 12.00. We had seats together around a table. But this leg of the journey was only short. The train from Cheltenham Spa to Manchester was ram-packed: we eventually found seats beside each other, but they were on either side of an aisle. We were only able to move to seats together after Birmingham. We arrived in Macclesfield without incident. And there we stayed for an hour and a half: there had been a death on the line in Levenshulme and so no trains were being allowed into Piccadilly until the incident was cleared. I was reflecting on the sadness of someone being so desperate that the railway line was the answer. A fellow passenger thought only of the inconvenience to herself: surely there was more than one line into Piccadilly she said. We are human, but some of us have little humanity! We crossed the road from the station for a pint and waited for the next train to Manchester.

Tuesday I gave entirely to the PhD. I copied my Pascale Petit review into a second document and investigated how I can use it to form the beginning of a chapter of my thesis. Obviously it needed to be more in depth, more academic authority, more theory, more analysis of more poems. It needed to be ‘more’. I also reread the Selima Hill sequence ‘My Sister’s Sister’ to see if there was evidence of masks and mirrors in her work to make that an over-riding theme of the thesis. Obviously, ‘masks’ would be eminently arguable, because I see her ‘sister’ as a version of herself in this sequence; so the whole piece is ‘masked’ by the identity of the sister. I need to discuss this idea with my support team: I must set up a meeting soon. I also trawled the index of several of the main theoretical authorities I have been reading for references to masks or mirror; and found a surprisingly satisfying range. This could be a rewarding aspect of the work, I think.

Interestingly, later in the day I had an email from the reviews editor at The North, a response to my Pascale Petit review submission. ‘It’s an interesting piece and reads very well,’ she said, but the editorial team felt ‘it was more of an academic essay than a review.’ Given the issues I have had with academic language, this made me laugh out loud. I wondered what my Director of Studies would say about it if I were to send it to him as it stands: not academic enough, I suspect. However, Suzannah at The North suggested some edits to make it more acceptable for publication, and that’s what I’ll be doing later today. If I can get it back to them by tomorrow, and it is more in the house style, I think it will be in the next issue. Watch this space (again).

On Tuesday evening we went into Manchester for the live screening of the National Theatre’s (Benedict Cumberbatch’s) Hamlet. Oh my, how good was that? It was by far the best version of Hamlet I have seen in my entire life. He was brilliant, the production and direction was brilliant. Hamlet’s soliloquys were delivered with other actors on the stage: the lighting put Hamlet in the foreground, the other actors in the background, acting in slow motion as if time had stopped while we were given access to Hamlet’s thought processes. It was just wonderful; except for Gertrude’s announcement of Ophelia’s death. I love the first line of that speech: One woe doth tread upon another’s heels, so fast they follow. But when she goes on to describe how Ophelia died it all becomes too melodramatic; and I wonder, if someone observed all that dying, why didn’t they take action to pull her out of the water. But that’s just me, perhaps, being a literal thinker. There will be another live screening at the Printworks in Manchester this Tuesday coming; if you are in the area, I do heartily recommend it, you won’t regret it. It was an iconic performance.

On Wednesday, the prizewinning poems, including my ‘Chiggy Pig’, were up on the Battered Moons website:

On Thursday I received my first Christmas present of the year. Yes, I know it’s only October; but I help at a Slimming World group on Thursday evenings and it was the Christmas launch this week with offers on the purchase of a twelve week ‘Countdown’, a prepaid twelve week session of commitment; and that twelve weeks takes us right up to Christmas Eve. Our Slimming World consultant gave all her helpers a Christmas card and present to get us in the spirit. I won’t open it until Christmas though. Probably not. Maybe. My own ‘weight loss journey’ this week was a disaster, after last week’s jaunts to London and Swindon, so I have my work cut out to do better this week. And that particular commitment was blown out of the water straight away on Friday when I met my friend Joan and we went out to eat in a new restaurant in Prestwich. Oh well; still the rest of the week to work on weight loss. Except on Saturday I went to a Thai restaurant in Nantwich with Hilary, had a lovely Thai curry lunch; and then scones with jam and cream for tea. Probably not a good Slimming World week then.

We were in Nantwich for the Words and Music Festival, organised by our friend Helen Kay, among others. A workshop in the morning, led by the brilliant young poet Mark Pajak was absolutely fantastic. He gave us a way of looking at poems of violence as timelines; which gave us an opportunity for backstory, or ‘what happened next’ poems of our own. He will be running an online course for the poetry school along similar lines in the spring I think; but there is nothing for 2018 on the Poetry School website yet. I really enjoyed it; and as a little light relief, we had an activity involving a sloth—nothing violent involved in this activity—and I wrote what could become a passable poem. In the afternoon we went to a reading by Carol Ann Duffy, and she was at her brilliant best. She read from The World’s Wife and Bees, poems I’ve heard several times; but she also read from Rapture. I haven’t heard her read from this collection so it was a new experience. And she called the sonnet ‘the little black dress of poetry’; which quote I must get into my chapter on the sonnet: it’s too good a quote to waste!

In the evening it was an open mic session of (mostly local) poets reading their own work. Hilary and I both had a five minute slot and I read some of my mother poems as well as the poem I wrote at the Poetry Business writing day, about being seventy: I included it in my blog ‘Masks and Mirrors’ on October 1st. I love open mic sessions, because poets of all abilities get an audience; and it is so good to reflect on the buzz people get from writing creatively. Any creativity is definitely good for the soul.

So, wow, another wonderful week. Is there any other kind?

Here is one of the new ‘mother’ poems I read yesterday. I don’t know if it’s about my mother, or about her daughter; but I really like it, whatever. It came from a prompt in one of the many books I took away with me to Zakinthos in September.



She came from a long line of Amazons
who could catch a flying fuck
and make a poem of it.

She came from the bloodline of Boudicca
her hair the flames that would ignite Rome.

She came from the flatlands
where the North sea is a lament
calling itself back through cuts and dykes.
She turns with the tide.

She came from the soil, grew
wild as bulrushes, untamed
as the brambling hedgerows, fruitful
as a codling orchard.

She came from the confluence of love and hate,

She came to you as gift. Unwrap her slowly.


Rachel Davies
September 2017

Trains, Chiggy Pigs and Celebrity Spotting

Such a week I’ve had this week. This blog began two years ago at the start of my PhD, as a reflection on how a PhD will push its way into an already busy life, and grow alongside all the other busy-ness of a retired workaholic. Well, the simple answer this week is: it hasn’t. PhD has had its nose well and truly disjointed by other aspects of my life. It’s strange, isn’t it, that I go on holiday and pack PhD to come with me, work for two hours a day while I’m away, get loads of work done; and yet on a week when I’m at home and should be able to work on it for hours I haven’t been able to fit it in anywhere, except the small amount of reading I’ve managed in bed. So, apologies to PhD, I’ve been slacking; but oh my, what a brilliant week I’ve had!

On Sunday last week I joined the anti-Brexit march in Manchester, where the Tory Party was holding its annual conference at what used to be GMex. We marched past the back of GMex, but weren’t allowed within a shout of the front for security reasons: understandable, but annoying non-the-less. So hats off to Simon Brodkin, the P45 delivery man, for breaking the security barrier! On Sunday an estimated 35,000 of us walked through the streets of Manchester, from All Saints Park to Piccadilly Gardens, with trumpets, banners, flags and slogans, letting the world know what we thought of the pig’s ear that is Brexit (I still hate that word, even if it has made it into the OED). ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ was my favourite shout of the day: there is something liberating about being able to shout a slogan within a huge crowd that you wouldn’t dream of shouting in your normal walks around the city streets on your own. This was my second ever demo and I loved it.

Monday I tried and failed to do the domestic thing and bring the ironing up to date. Ironing is the one thing that still annoys the 4th thoracic vertebra, and I had a seriously sore back after only a few items. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I bought a new ironing board cover and couldn’t work out how it fitted: that ‘asbestos’ plate that the iron rests on wouldn’t fit back into its space. So I spent thirty minutes working that out before I even started ironing; and when I had eventually beaten it into submission and succeeded in reassembling the ironing board, the back was sore already. So I ironed a couple of things and then gave up and let the hot water bottle hug the pain away. I was fit enough for the aerobics session on Monday afternoon, but I left before the weights and floor work of the second half.

On Tuesday, I had an appointment with the rheumatologist about my evil auto-immune triplets: polymyalgia rheumatica, Giant Cell Arteritis and osteopenia. It was all good news though. I wanted to reduce the cortico-steroids in a bid to come off them altogether. Dr Klimiuk checked the blood results: all pleasantly normal. He asked about symptoms: nothing to report. So he has given me permission to reduce by 1mg a month until I’m off the Prednisolone altogether by next summer. If the symptoms return at all, I can increase again (being terminally optimistic, I’m ignoring this last as an irrelevance!) This reduction is a huge positive, as anyone who has taken this drug for any length of time will appreciate. I’ve been taking Prednisolone since December 2012. It does a wonderful job on the pain levels; but it comes with other issues, not least of which for me has been the shakes: you don’t want to be sitting next to me when I’m eating soup! So, that appointment took up most of Tuesday morning. I decided to go into Manchester after it to pick up the train tickets for our trip to Swindon at the weekend.

Wednesday morning, more NHS. I had an appointment with my GP for the subcutaneous abdominal injection of Denusomab, a drug to assist the assimilation of Vit D and calcium to protect the bones in osteopenic/osteoporotic patients. In a past life—six months ago—that would have been done by the nurse specialist at the same time as the appointment with my rheumatologist. But, presumably in a cost-cutting efficiency exercise, that part of the treatment has reverted to GP surgeries, so now, instead of one visit, it takes up three mornings and the time of three busy professionals instead. The injection itself doesn’t take long, but it takes up a disproportionate amount of time in the process. Firstly, some weeks back, I had to order the prescription for the drug, take it to the pharmacy who informed me it would be sent back to the surgery to be stored in their fridge. Then, last week, I had to have the blood tests to evaluate how successful it was being in assimilating the said Vit D/calcium into my body; then I had to go again to the surgery for the actual injection. All this on top of the appointment with the rheumatologist. This very convoluted process replaces the original one visit/all done at the rheumatology clinic. How is this improving efficiency? Answers on a postcard, please.

The rest of Wednesday was taken up with bringing the restaurant books up to date after my recent holiday.

Thursday was a big work no-no; I went with Amie to London. This was my Mothers Day present: yes I know Mothers Day was in March, but we were going to the theatre in the evening, and the tickets were my gift from Amie and Richard. We travelled first class on the train to Euston, which was an experience. I don’t agree with the classist attitude of ‘first class and plebs’ that exists on our railways; but it was nice to avail ourselves of it when the price sank into our price-range. When we arrived in London we took the tube to Covent Garden then did the touristy thing, walking around Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Regent Street. We seemed to walk for miles so we got the underground back to Covent Garden—Sky News’s Adam Bolton shared a lift with us—and had an early evening meal at a lovely bistro there before taking the underground to Hammersmith to meet up with Richard. We went to see Ricky Gervais in his show, ‘Humanity’. I know Ricky Gervais is a ‘Marmite’ act: you either love him or hate him. We love him. He was at his controversially satirical best in this show. He was supported by Doc Brown, who, I found out later, is the brother of the novelist Zadie Smith: a talented family. The two comedians were brilliant; but oh my, the audience was appalling. People were in and out of their seats throughout the performances, coming in late, going off to the bar to refill their glasses; and not quietly either. Is there some new trend that says you don’t have to consider the performers any more when you visit the theatre? I thought you got to your seat in time for the start and you stayed there until the interval; and you stayed there again after the interval until the end of the show. Some of the audience on Wednesday had missed that part of their upbringing, then. Piers Morgan was in the audience, and he was one of the nicest people there: it shows how bad some of them were!

We took the train back to Peterborough from Kings Cross and stayed over at Richard’s house before coming back to Manchester on Friday. Then on Saturday I was on the train again, with Bill this time, to come to Swindon for the Battered Moons competition celebration event. We changed trains at Cheltenham Spa, spotted Tom Daley and Tristram Hunt on the platform: this has been a big week for celeb spotting. The competition readings were last night: I’m writing this blog from my hotel bed. I met up with some old poetry friends: ‘Quiet Compare’ Sarah Dixon was there volunteering at the Poetry Swindon festival, of which this event was a part; Rachael Clyne, whom I met at a poetry week in St Ives earlier this year; and Julia Webb, a poet friend from Norwich, whom I met in York at the Stanza Reps meeting about four years ago. And there were new friends to meet as well, like Christina Newton, the wonderful woman who organised the competition and the reading event; and Malika Booker who was the competition judge and whom I missed when she read for us at Poets&Players a couple of weeks ago, so it was lovely to hear her read and now, of course, I must buy her collection; and Dalgit Nagra, whom I sat next to all evening and who is one of the loveliest men I know. I introduced myself and told him he short-listed a poem of mine in the Ilkley competition about four years ago. At that Ilkley celebration event—I got two free tickets for being on the shortlist—he introduced his Ramayana to the world; he had an Indian dancer there to interpret the words in dance, it was wonderful. Ramayana is still my favourite Dalgit Nagra work, I love it. To cap a wonderful evening, I had lots of lovely feedback from audience members on my commended poem, ‘Chiggy Pig’; and to ice the cake, I think I may have been invited to read at next year’s Cheltenham Festival: watch this space! I was high as a kite after the event when we came back to our hotel for a big glass of wine and ate the remains of our train picnic because we hadn’t had time to fit a meal into our day!

So that’s it; a wonderful week but the PhD is sulking because I shut it out. Don’t worry, I’ll be working that particular treadmill again this week: it won’t be ignored for two weeks running. I think I’ve said more than enough. I won’t leave you with a poem this week, but instead I’ll leave you with a link to the Battered Moons website, where you will be able to read all the winning poems, including ‘Chiggy Pig’, when the website is updated. This was a well-run competition, and a lovely event to celebrate the winners. If you like to write poetry, you should consider an entry next year.