On not reacting too quickly

Sunday was Mothers’ Day. I had cards from all my lovely children, including the cats. I had gifts that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: theatre vouchers, flowers, a Blue Tooth beanie with built in headphones and a designer belt for getting back to my running. The most poetic gift though, was toilet paper with Donald Trump’s face on every sheet. A perfect franchise idea, in my opinion.

After last week’s blog, I had lovely feedback from friends who are also doing PhD or have recently completed. Offers of coffee and chat; reminders that it is my PhD and I can present it pretty much as I want; recommendations of relevant books to support that take; and this, which sums up very nicely how I was feeling last week:


So on Sunday I thought a lot about what I should do with Angelica’s advice re the ‘too autobiographical’ feedback. I decided to do nothing until I’d read a book recommended by Angi Holden PhD: Practice as Research in the Arts (ed Robin Nelson). I downloaded it to my Kindle. But I took Sunday off in honour of the day. Prevarication again!

On Monday I genuinely meant to go running again; I’ve let it slide, what with the foul weather and being away, but I decided to pick up a bit behind where I left off. Unfortunately it was lashing with rain and blowing a hooley when I got up so I postponed the pain. Yes, I’m a lightweight! Instead, though, I did settle to work. I wrote another ‘alternative mother’ poem so I had something new to take to The Group in the evening. Amie called in for a brew in the afternoon to make up for having had to work on Mothers’ Day. When she left I went into Manchester to meet Hilary for food in Bundobust before going on to The Group at Chapter One Books. Hilary has just got her MA results: MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from MMU. I gave her a card I bought when Bill and I went to Glasgow a few weeks back. I was always confident she’d get a distinction: she’s a very good poet.

The Group was lovely, as ever. Seven very good writers sharing work for feedback. The ink was barely dry on my ‘alternative mother’ poem. I got useful feedback: I had used ‘white’ too many times, could I find other ways to say what I was saying? Could I form it more regularly—it’s a poem about OCD? It shows how important it is to take new work to  workshops: you don’t take time to tidy it up, so don’t notice things. I’ll be working on it again in the light of their feedback.

On Tuesday I had to go into Uppermill for two appointments. I parked at the Newbank nursery at Dobcross and walked in along the canal. I ran the canal path on the way back to my car. It hurt. When I got home I dedicated the day to reading Practice as Research… I’m so pleased I did, it helped to get the feedback I had from my supervisor into some kind of perspective. Practice in the arts can be research, be it performance, composition—or creative writing; it needs rigorous planning and focus, obviously, but it should be recognised as such. I realised while I was reading that it will be hard for me not to be autobiographical when I’m reflecting on my own poetry: a good deal of it is grounded in my life. I can be objective and detached talking about Selima’s work, or Pascale’s, but I’m too close to my own poetry to detach myself from it and see it only as text. I’ll finish reading the book before I do anything rash, I decided.

Wednesday was a bit of a nightmare: the Sage software wouldn’t load on the Black Ladd laptop to allow me to do the books. I contacted the accountant: I had the software from them. I was getting an error message about ‘permission to use it on this machine’. Grrr! I had permission last week, so why not now. I didn’t get a very helpful response from the accountant: no response at all in fact. So when I’d done all I had to do without the software I decided to try a system recovery. I reasoned that the software wasn’t working now, so what was the worst that could happen? It transpired that Windows 10 had updated itself in my absence to a later version which didn’t recognise Sage. When I effected a system recovery, restoring an earlier version of Windows 10, Sage loaded with no problems. So I was quite proud of myself because I know very little about the anatomy of IT, just how to do what I do. Of course, that took most of the morning to resolve, so I was behind in the work. It was late afternoon before I got home. Bill had put jacket potatoes in the oven, which was good because I was out again at 5.30 to go to an MMU event at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation: a talk and poetry reading around the theme of the body and ‘selfies’. Dr Ann Burns gave a talk about the selfie, specifically the ‘duck-face selfie’ and its negative reaction on social media. This was the focus of her PhD—no really, you can get a PhD about ‘duck-face’! And it was fascinating stuff. Judgemental trolls attack women for posting selfies, apparently, a manifestation of women being only what men think they should be. I felt duty bound to flood social media with my own ‘duck-face’ selfies, even though I think they are ridiculous. Why shouldn’t women post duck faced pouts if that’s what moves them. Andrew Macmillan read his wonderful poetry: what an asset to the Writing School he is; and Nicholae Duffy gave a talk about Andy Warhol’s exhibition of ‘stillies’: full-face videos of people sitting and doing very little. It was a fantastic night. Hilary and I posted a ‘double duck-face’ on the MMU Writing School FB page while we waited for the tram at St Peter’s Square. Childish? I know. But also a valid and very intellectual reaction to the evening (insert smiley faced emoji).

On Thursday I had a Poets & Players lunchtime planning meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road. This is where we hold our poetry and music events through the year. The next one is this Saturday. If you can come, you will be very welcome: high quality music and poetry for free. Yes, FREE! So do come if you can. Details here: https://poetsandplayers.co We are slowly getting our year’s events together; some exciting stuff to come, so keep in touch with the website for news.

On Saturday it was the launch of the latest Beautiful Dragons anthology Noble Dissent. This collaborative anthology was conceived in 2016 as a reaction to the election in that year of the Trump and the (in my opinion) disastrous vote to leave the EU. It is a wonderful collection, a celebration of ‘dissenters’ through history. Hilary and I both have poems in the anthology and we braved the Saddleworth snow to drive to Lancaster for the launch. The ‘minibeast from the east’ was doing its worst when we left home, but we were pleased that there was no snow beyond Oldham. There were a couple of light snow showers in Lancaster, but nothing (un)settling. We spent the whole day in the library soaking up the poetry day of the Lancaster Litfest. Readings from Rebecca Bilkau, Rhiannon Hooson, Kate Fox and Hannah Hodgson were my highlights. We only left the room to look for coffee during a break at lunchtime. We had taken an all-day picnic, so we didn’t have to search for food. Just a day of good poetry. Lovely.

The drive home wasn’t so pleasant as the drive there, though. The minibeast exposed its sting from Bolton onwards: blizzard conditions and drifting snow: and windscreen washers frozen over! So we were particularly pleased to reach home. Hilary did the driving and she was brilliant. If you’re thinking of swapping your car any time soon, I can recommend a Mazda: it handled beautifully in the snow even though it doesn’t have 4WD. It took us about an hour longer to get home than to get there, but we did get home. Bill had lit the fire and the slow-cooker casserole I’d prepared before I went was warm and delicious smelling. It was good to be home. I have no idea what the weather is doing at the moment because the windows are all blocked with blown snow. I am on the third floor of our house at the moment, so I’m guessing we’re not buried in a snow-drift; but you never know. I can hear the wind roaring. I can hear a hot brew calling me too. So here’s the poem I wrote on Monday, unedited, not yet redrafted, a poem in its raw, first draft state. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Perhaps I’ll post it again next week when I’ve worked on it some more.

Alternative Mothers #15


 whenever I see—
a girl’s model police car with a red light on the roof
or colouring-in that seeps out of the lines
or a boy’s drawing of his mum with arms growing from her ears
or a story that ends then I woke up
or the misplaced apostrophe in Fish and Chip’s…

whenever I see—
odd socks with running shoes—one white one striped
or Adidas gym tights with a Reebok top
or white stilettos with thick black tights
or the wrong pocket in a dress from Pause a Second
or one blue button sewn among the right ones on a white blouse…

whenever I see—
a five leafed clover
or an albino hedgehog
or  snow turned mushy
or a green chrysanthemum
or a blackbird’s white tail feather
or an extra chromosome in a child’s make-up
or bottle-bottom lenses, hearing aids, a wheelchair…

I think of that Christmas and you
throwing away two dozen mince pies hot from the oven
because mincemeat juice has bubbled out
from the geometrically measured hole in your
precision-placed lids.


Rachel Davies
March 12th 2018

Best friends with Macbeth

On Monday evening, I went to the inaugural lecture, ‘Green Noise and Gravestones’, of Professor Jean Sprackland at Manchester Metropolitan University. There were lots of MMU/poet friends there supporting her. There were drinks and nibbles followed by Jean reading from her two new books, due to be published later this year: Green Noise, a collection of poetry, and These Silent Mansions, a collection of essays about graveyards. There was a wonderfully poetic essay about a slow-worm, with a fantastic, shimmering bronze photo, that she’d seen in a graveyard. I know about the slow-worm but I’ve never actually seen one. Jean writes beautifully about nature. One of my favourite poems of hers is ‘The Birkdale Nightingale’, a poem actually about the Natterjack toad. I heard a fantastic and memorable line from one of her new poems: ‘the strong life of the inert’. It was in a poem about her brother growing crystals, but it describes perfectly the objects I remember my mother by in some of my poems: spoons, churns, egg cleaning tools. Jean gave me permission to use the line, properly referenced obviously, in my thesis. It was a wonderful evening.

On Tuesday I was at my desk all day. I still hadn’t heard from Angelica about the writing I’d sent for feedback so I was reluctant to work any more on the thesis until I’d heard from her. I concentrated on the creative side of the work instead: my favourite aspect. I looked for the next poems I want to use in the thesis and did a fair amount of editing on them. Some were poems written specifically for anthologies, for instance ‘Like Penelope’, which I wrote for the Beautiful Dragons anthology Not a Drop inspired by the Ionian Sea. I took out the direct references to the Odyssey and placed it more squarely in the domestic: it was about my mother after all. I like editing poems I wrote some time ago: it’s a bit like a potter refining a piece of clay work, moulding and polishing it until it’s almost perfect. I also wrote a new poem, ‘Test Card’, about watching telly when we were kids and how Mum always fell asleep in front of the telly. Oh my, I am becoming my mother. I’m a part-time insomniac, but I always manage to doze when the telly’s on, even if it’s something I really want to see. I’ve taken to sky-plussing programmes I really want to watch these days, just so I don’t miss it. I’ll post the poem at the end of this blog: I don’t think it’s a poem that will earn its keep on its own, but it might fit into a collection or pamphlet.

On Wednesday it was my day at the Black Ladd. Although the snow has left most places on Saddleworth, apart from the lee of walls and shaded places, on Buckstones Road it is still piled high beside the road where the snow-ploughs left it; great banks of snow all grey and dirty and speckled with bits of tree that blew off in the high winds. Although snow is beautiful when it first falls in its soft whiteness, there is something really sad about dirty snow, as if it is totally uncared for and deserves a good bath and a new set of clothing. There is a saying up here that standing snow is ‘waiting for some more to join it’. I hope that isn’t true. I’m waiting for the heat wave we always get after a hard winter: always the optimist.

I had my feedback from Angelica while I was working at the Black Ladd. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for. She made it clear that she really liked my poems that I’d included, but didn’t understand why I’d made the thesis so autobiographical. It seemed like a new direction to her. I needed to use the poems to describe the mother-daughter relationship, in conjunction with the poetry of Hill and Petit and the work I’d already done on their poetry; but not to write it autobiographically. I was feeling thoroughly depressed when I went home, wondering where to go from here; wondering if I’d ever strike the right notes. How easily I fall into that ‘I’m worthless’ frame of mind. I felt like Macbeth: “I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Dramatic, yes; but apposite. I have to finish this thing because I’ve come too far; although on Wednesday night I felt like ditching the whole idea. I didn’t sleep on Wednesday night worrying about it. I spent the entire night going over it in my mind, planning what I could retain and what get rid of: I never considered deleting, just cutting and saving the autobiographical bits to use possibly in an introduction. On Saturday I was back at my desk re-planning, taking myself out of the work, planning to write it from a non-autobiographical distance. If I ever get this thesis written to anyone’s satisfaction you will hear the cheer go up from Saddleworth; wherever you’re living in the world. I re-read Coventry Patmore’s ‘Angel in the House’ to get me back on track. I know, it’s awful. Virginia Woolf said that ‘Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer’ and I needed to get to know my victim!

On Tuesday the postal entries to the Poets & Players competition arrived at my door. Viv, a colleague on the committee, had been administering them. So on Tuesday afternoon I went out to buy brown paper and a thank you card for Pascale, and an ink cartridge to replace the one emptied by printing off hundreds of competition poems. On Thursday I wrapped all the poems in cling film against the damp weather and then parcelled them up in brown paper and Sellotape with the thank you card for Pascale. I tied the parcel with string; and I took them to Oldham Post Office to send them on their way to Pascale’s home in Cornwall. A woman in the car park started singing ‘A few of my favourite things’ when she saw my ‘brown paper packages tied up with string’. It cost less than I thought it would for the postage. This was just about two reams of paper altogether, so a heavy parcel. It cost just over £17; when I sent the poems to Paul Muldoon in New York a couple of years ago it cost £80+; so I was happy with £17. I heard from Pascale that the poems arrived safely on Friday; so if you entered, rest assured that your poem is probably being read by Pascale as we speak. Thank you for your entry and good luck.

Here’s the poem ‘Test Card’, that I wrote on Tuesday this week. Not the best poem I ever wrote, but it does what I want it to do for its place in the thesis. Although, obviously, it isn’t about me. It’s just a poem.

Test Card

ITV’s been a thing for three years
by the time Dad buys the television.
Suddenly the wireless is passé

and we’re watching George Dixon
evenin’ all; we’re rocking
with Pete Murray, high-kicking

with the Tillers, falling for
Digger Dawson, hearing the call
to nursing.

Sitting in your chair by the fire,
head cocked to catch the words,
you’re asleep before DSI Lockhart

has even buttoned his gabardine.
Head nodding, mouth ajar,
soft snoring. We’re keeping quiet.
It’s way past our bedtime.


Rachel Davies
March 2018

The Beast from the East and other stuff

This week has been all about the weather and the processing of Poets & Players poetry competition entries. On Sunday sons Richard and Michael left early for home, always sad to see them go. I got down to work after breakfast, processing and printing entries. By lunchtime I had them all up to date. I expected a tidal surge of entries on this, the last weekend before the deadline, but it didn’t really happen; just a steady trickle all day. On Monday I really did mean to go running, to pick up where I left off; but it was flurrying with snow when I got up and very, very cold. The Beast from the East was close enough for us to feel its cold breath. I know, I could have gone to run on the treadmill, but I didn’t, I’m a bad person. I made porridge and stayed in in the warm.

I redeemed myself somewhat by coming up to my study and working on the thesis. As all writers know, writing is a process of writing something, deleting it, starting again, deleting again. The product rarely matches our expectation of it. On Monday I read what I had written already, cut about half of it. Yes, I did say ‘cut’; not quite the same as ‘delete’ is it? I cut it and pasted it into a separate document of ‘out-takes’—in case I need it in the future. I worked on the half I had retained, polishing it, improving it—I hope. It’s slow progress when you take two steps forward and one step back: when will that ever get me to the finish line? I read through what I had left that I was happy with. Then I started with the usual on-board censorship: what if it isn’t what’s needed? What if I’m way off the mark? What if I get the 16000 words drafted to send to Antony in the summer and it isn’t at all what it should be? The British life position, I learned when I was an aspiring head-teacher, is ‘You’re alright, I’m not alright’, that everyone else knows exactly what they are doing and you are the only one in the dark. That is certainly my default setting: the product of an abusive grammar school education. I decided to send what I’ve written to Angelica to ask if it is worth pursuing. If it isn’t good enough, I’d rather know sooner than later. So I emailed it off when I finished work on Monday. I asked for minimal feedback, nothing too involved. I just need to know if it’s worth carrying on or if I need to change tack. I will hear from Angelica this week; so fingers crossed I can carry on.

My cat had run out of her prescription dental biscuits by Monday. I’m telling you this because on Monday afternoon we went to Tesco for cat food and we called at Briar Dawn Vets in Shaw on the way home to pick some biscuits up. This turned out to be a very good move. Because on Tuesday morning the Beast began to growl. It was snowing enough to need to dig out of the drive. Thankfully, the car I bought last April has four wheel drive, so a bit of snow is less of a challenge. On Tuesday morning there was about 2cm of snow when we got up. It didn’t keep me in: I had a hair appointment in Uppermill at 9.00 and I did get there. I parked on the main road when I got home.

I spent the morning processing entries to the competition: they were coming in a bit faster than the weekend, but I kept up to date with processing. In between doing that job, I read Ocean Vuong’s collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It recently won the T S Eliot prize, and has won the Forward Prize for best first collection and numerous other prestigious awards. Believe me, it was a worthy winner. I was blown away by his writing: innovative, moving, tender and frightening. Ocean was a refugee from the Vietnam war: they used to be referred to as ‘boat people’ because they risked their lives in unworthy craft to take the ocean way out:

Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.

The collection is bejewelled with wonderful words, well worth all its many accolades.

Read it!

I was reading it in preparation for Stanza on Tuesday evening. We had to cancel. By teatime the Beast was outside our door, panting for blood. I consulted the group and consensus was to leave it for this month, so I rang the Buffet Bar and cancelled the room. It’s a shame, because I was really looking forward to discussing Ocean’s work; but now I have a whole month extra to keep reading. We have deferred the discussion until the next meeting at the end of March.

Wednesday was a joyous day because it was the last day of February. I hate February, it comes at the end of a long, cold winter and I am a summer bird. I was born in one of the hottest summers of the last century and summer is my natural home. If I could, I would hibernate from January to March. Snow defined the last day of February this year: in like a lamb, out like a lion this year: it can’t even get that right, can it? My day at the Black Ladd was cancelled: Amie had shut up shop due to the weather, so I stayed in and used my buckshee day to process more entries. They did indeed come in thick and fast all day. I had them all up to date one minute, the next minute another dozen or so to process. They were up to date by the time I stopped work for the day; by the midnight deadline I had another 180 poets to process. So thank you to everyone who entered: we really do appreciate it. Last year I remember having a bit of a rant on here about people who don’t follow the rules: this year was much better. A few poems over 40 lines, but on the whole the rules were observed and entries are now processed and printed, ready to send to Pascale Petit next week for the judging. I always feel inordinately excited to hear who has won. We should know by the end of March.

Outside, the Beast continued to growl. The snow fell thick and fast, the wind howled. Thursday was the climax: I use the term in the way you might discuss a fever. This was like a fever, raging and raging, slightly hallucinatory, no sign of breaking. Sitting by my fire, I could hear the Beast roaring outside, winds up to 50 mph, gusts up to 90 mph. Snow was being blown horizontally to the west: roofs were bare of snow even as it fell. I imagined Liverpool, the last bastion of civilization on the mainland, being buried under all the snow that was blowing west. And that wasn’t far from the truth. The M62, only a couple of miles north of here, was completely snow-blocked for two days. Hearing the weather raging outside, I felt as if I’d been beamed up to some inhospitable planet and would never get home again. The winds dropped slightly by Friday as the Beast slinked away. By Saturday we could risk the journey to Tesco to stock up on rations. No milk. No bread. Hardly any eggs. Sparse shelves, and people still panic/manic-buying as if their very existence depended on it. It doesn’t: get a grip. While most people were, like me, sitting it out in front of the fire, rough sleepers were still having to find refuge outside. Shopping always winds me up, but yesterday was an eye opener. One woman with a large shopping trolley mounded with a dozen or more bulging carrier bags; the man in front of us spending £203. Put some of the bread back you snapped up ‘just in case’; share the milk; and calm down, really, you won’t starve.

When I wasn’t being wound up by Tesco shoppers, I was working on the creative aspect of the PhD. I looked over some of my poems and did some editing. I also put together twelve ‘alternative mother’ poems to send out to a pamphlet call, deadline midnight on Monday. I immediately see where a poem can be so much better after I’ve sent it out into the world to earn its bread. Hey ho, that’s writing for you.

I’m posting a different poem this week, not a portfolio poem at all; but it does describe that default position of not quite cutting it, not being ‘alright’. Writers are expansive in their inspirations, but highly strung and anxious about their poems. We must have perfection we can never attain; it’s not enough to just be the best you can be. We should learn to let that suffice.

The Best Poem I Haven’t Written Yet

I’d bet everything I’ve got in my pocket
some loose change, a torn tissue
a humbug leaking from its wrapper
a Metrolink ticket, a till receipt
a smart phone, a notebook and pencil
an original thought, a stupid question,
a lifetime of memories, and ones I’ve forgotten
a straight or a slant rhyme,
a strong rhythm, five feet, an end-stop
or enjambments, caesuras, white space,
a study in form, some stanzas and images,
a world lingua franca

to find, balled with the fluff in its unexplored corners,
the last of my three wishes: that one poem…

Rachel Davies

The euphoria of ‘poemy brain’

Some weeks, life drives me, so the PhD has to ride in the back seat. This has been one of those weeks. Poetry has been all this week. I’ve dived into it, swum in it from Monday to Friday. My brain, as Hilda Sheehan recently remarked, is all poemy.

On Sunday Hilary and I were still at the Birmingham Verve festival. After breakfast we took the short walk from the hotel to Waterstones for a 10.00 a.m. workshop—‘writing the wild’—with Pascale Petit. I really enjoyed that: she kicked us off with a game of metaphors. We were given a folded paper with a noun on and we were asked to write a word or phrase that said something about it: for instance ‘a chrysalis—is a swaddled infant’. We tore off the phrase and passed it by the left, keeping the original noun; I received the phrase ‘is a six-footed tap dancer’. We read around with our original word and our new phrase. They didn’t all work well, but sometimes there was a gem that showed how approaching metaphor differently can give you a surprising line to kick-start a poem. After the two-hour workshop I asked Pascale to sign the poetry collections I had taken with me. She recognised my name as the author of the recent piece about Mama Amazonica published in The North, which was amazing: lovely to think she’d actually read it. Hilary and I went to Costa: a toasted tea-cake and coffee for lunch before being back at the desk at 3.00 for another workshop, led by the Dudley poet, Liz Berry. What a fantastic poet; what a lovely woman. Her workshop addressed writing tenderness without sentimentality. We brainstormed ‘tender’, read tender poems; my favourite was the Sharon Olds poem ‘Looking at Them Asleep’, a poem inspired by her sleeping children, which averts the danger of being even a bit sloppy.

There was just time for a cup of tea in the Waterstones café before going to the final reading of the festival: Nick Makoha, Nuar Alsadir and Liz Berry. Although only about five feet tall, Liz Berry was a poet head and shoulders above the other two readers–in my opinion. Her poetry uses Black Country dialect in surprising ways, and her delivery is mesmerising. I was shocked by her poems addressing post-natal depression. She is always such a pleasant, generous woman: it showed how mental illness can afflict us all. Nick Makoha read poems about internal political conflict in his native Uganda; and Nuar Alsadir, a scientist-poet, read from her book Fourth Person Singular. At the end of the evening, the conclusion to the festival, our heads were waterlogged with poetry. At 8.00 we went to eat in a local Thai restaurant; they asked us to leave at 9.00 because they were closing early. We weren’t told this when we booked the table. Have you tried bolting a Thai curry in double-quick time? All those red chillies–our poor alimentary canals!

Monday morning, after packing our suitcases and taking breakfast, we walked the short walk to the Cathedral to see the Burne Jones stained glass windows there. It was a grey, mizzly day, but even so, the colours were astounding. We joined a small group being guided by one of the Canons: apparently the artist was only paid £200 for the first commission: when it was done, he said the fee wasn’t enough. Until he came to the ‘inauguration’, or whatever you call it when a stained glass window is presented to the congregation. The sun was shining, and we when he saw his halos glowing in the light from the sun, he was bowled over and agreed to do three more for the same price. They are magnificent, and well worth calling in for a gleg if you’re ever in Birmingham.

The train journey to Manchester was uneventful, and we were home soon after three o’clock. What a wonderful festival Verve is: we’ll definitely subscribe next year.

On Tuesday I had planned to visit my grand-daughter in Telford, but the visit had to be called off at the last minute, so I had a day I didn’t know I had to do some pressing jobs on the poetry front. I spent the day processing entries for the Poets & Players competition. Deadline is Wednesday, only four more days to get your entries in: https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2018-closing-date-28-february-2018/

I also prepared for the reading I was giving in York on Thursday: I sorted out my set of poems, practised reading them, timed myself for the fifteen minute slot.


Joanne Stryka reading at York Explore

We travelled to York on Thursday afternoon for the reading at York Explore library, for the ‘Finding the Words’ event. How well organised was that. There were three readers: Hilary and me and Joanne Stryka, who recently launched her Cinnamon Press pamphlet After, which she read from on Thursday, a ‘heart-breaking account of the aftermath of a suicide’, that of her daughter, in which she manages to ‘sing the unsayable music of pain’ (Don McKay from the Cinnamon Press website). You can order the pamphlet from Cinnamon Press: https://www.cinnamonpress.com/index.php/hikashop-menu-for-products-listing/poetry/product/321-after-joanne-stryker

Hilary read poems from her recent MA portfolio; and I read several of my ‘alternative mother’ poems alongside other poems from my portfolio. Hil and I had hand-stitched a pamphlet of our previously published poems, and we sold eleven on the night. We both had lovely feedback from the audience, and Will Kemp, who is part of the organising of the event, took us all for a drink in the Lion and Lamb inn after the reading. It was such a good night and I was too poemed up to sleep after.

On Friday my son Michael came to visit after a horrendous journey on the M6—is there any other kind? We went to Amie’s for the evening: she cooked her delicious cheese and onion pie. On Saturday, Richard joined us for an overnighter. We went to the Black Ladd, Amie’s restaurant, for lunch on Saturday because Amie had to work and it was the only way Richard would get to see her. In the evening he and Mike went to Leeds to a Morrisey concert. I’ll be sad later today when they both go back to their real lives.

On Saturday I did some more work toward administering the P&P competition: did I tell you you only have until Wednesday to get your entries in? I brought the spreadsheet up to date, and printed off about half of the entries. Still a fair amount to do there then: and the entries usually come in thick and fast on these last few days. I also wrote another ‘alternative mother’ poem, so the PhD wasn’t entirely side-lined. This one was an ‘own back’ poem for someone my son used to be bullied by. Enough said.

And here we are, Sunday again. Have a good week.

I’m including my poem ‘Meg’, which was recently published in the anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, to raise funds for the mental health charity Mind. You can buy a copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Please-Hear-What-Not-Saying/dp/1984006649/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517601752&sr=1-2&keywords=please+hear+what+im+not+saying

The poem is inspired by a friend from my childhood who took her own life in the end. She was such a jolly, out-going person, fun to be around. You can never know the pain a person is feeling inside: how we mask what we’re really going through. Here’s ‘Meg’, a modern sonnet. The early lines are ten syllables in length to give it pace and rhythm, until the turn at line 9, when the syllabics are disrupted, as her life was..

Alternative Mother #4


 Teach me to build a den down by the beck,
how to pond-dip water snails, sticklebacks;
teach me the kindling sticks to pick to build
a campfire, how to mount a stone surround
to keep me safe; teach me how to light it,
let it burn to embers before baking sour-
dough bread on willow sticks; teach me how
to live without the essentials: running water,

flushing toilet. You. Teach me how to forgive
a lover who doesn’t deserve me, how
to raise a family alone. But don’t teach me
how bleach can’t clean everything.
Don’t teach me how a bridge over the M1
is the only way out.

Rachel Davies
December 2018

Trains and Golden Shovels

It’s 6.00 a.m. and I’m writing this from a hotel room in Birmingham. I’m here for the Verve Poetry Festival. It’s the end of a very good week. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even fitted in a run this week. I haven’t given up on the NY resolution though, just too much else going on.

On Sunday it was dog-sitting day again: a couple of long, snowy walks. By the time we went home at 9.00 p.m. there was much snow on Saddleworth roads and a hair-raising drive home. This was worrying because on Monday we were due to travel to Glasgow and it looked as if we might be snowed in. But there was no extra snow overnight and we were taken to the station in a 4×4 car, so apart from a short delay at Piccadilly we were OK. We were in Glasgow by 1.00 p.m. We went to the Museum of Modern Art, walked to George Square, where the striking ship-workers had raised the red flag in the early twenties and had afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, the décor designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The chairs are designed for aesthetics, but not so much for comfort:


Yes, that is the tops of heads you can see: the chairs are very tall and double as screens to afford some privacy to customers. We had five hours in Glasgow, so only time for a taster; we are definitely up for a weekend break at some time in the future. I had bought first class tickets on the train for Bill’s birthday: it wasn’t a first-class journey. The heating failed in our carriage—it was ‘toasty warm’ in the other carriages apparently—and we rode home togged up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves!

On Tuesday I met Hilary for coffee. We discussed the hand-stitched pamphlets we’re preparing for our reading in York on Feb 22nd. In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours processing entries for the Poets & Players competition:
https://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2018-closing-date-28-february-2018/ As you can see, there are still ten days to get your entries in, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday evening, Hilary and I went to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester for ‘A Body of Words’, a talk/reading around food and the body. Kelsie Silverstone read some poems and talked about her fund-raising commitment to ‘Beat’, an eating disorder charity. She is planning a sponsored head-shave: if you would like to support Kelsie, her Just Giving page can be found through this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kelsie-silverstone
Dr Angelica Michelis gave a talk about “the relationship between eating/non-eating bodies and how food, its consumption, digestion and rejection tell us stories about desire, abjection, fear and pleasure, in short – stories about our selves/ourselves.” (ref IABF website). Malika Booker read her wonderful poetry, a modern Carribbean take on Bible stories. It was an interesting and thought provoking evening.

Wednesday daytime was taken up with the accounts at the Black Ladd. Of course, it was Valentines Day. I don’t subscribe, seeing it as yet another way for consumerism to put my money into the pockets of people who don’t need it as much as I do. However, we did go out to eat, prior to seeing the live screening of RSC’s Twelfth Night at the Odeon in Oldham. Oh my, it was good. Ade Edmondson played the pompous and down-fallen Malvolio. He was impressive; but my favourite performer was Beruce Khan playing Feste. If you get chance to see it, don’t miss it, either live in Stratford or live screened to a cinema near you.

Thursday was taken up with stuff that must be done before I could come away on Friday: ironing, packing, processing competition entries, printing poems for the judge, hand-stitching pamphlets: there aren’t enough hours in a day. On Friday, Hilary and I travelled to Birmingham for Verve. On Friday evening there were fantastic poetry readings by Mir Mahfuz Ali, Sasha Dugdale and Karen McCarthy Woolf. Very different poets, but all good. The evening was chaired very efficiently, and with humour, by Jo Bell. I bought, and got signed, Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka a very challenging collection of poetry remembering Bangladesh’s bloody independence from Pakistan in 1971. I was particularly interested by this collection, because when I was a primary school head-teacher—1993 to 2003—my school served the Bangladeshi community in Hyde. Of course, I knew the history; but the harrowing human element, the extreme suffering of that history, is addressed in this collection.

Saturday was a full-on day. We had breakfast at the hotel then took the fifteen minute walk to Waterstones for a day of poetry at the festival. It started with a poetry breakfast, which didn’t include a second breakfast, but it did involve poetry. It was an introduction to the weekend. I had to leave after half an hour because I had a workshop booked with Karen McCarthy Woolf. This was about form, especially little known poetry forms: who has heard of the ‘gramofand’ for instance? Not me. It’s a form that makes near-anagrams of the title of a poem in the end words of its lines—I think. There is an example in McCarthy Woolf’s first collection An Aviary of Small Birds. ‘Emotions’ plays with that title throughout the poem. But mostly we were exploring the ‘golden shovel’, a form where you take a striking line from a published poem and use the words of that line as end-words of the lines of your own poem. I’ve experimented with this form before, but we studied it in more detail yesterday. We even heard a wonderful recording of Gwendolyn Brooks reading ‘The Pool Players’, the short poem that inspired Terrance Hayes to invent the form in the first place: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55678/the-golden-shovel

I had an afternoon free after the workshop so I walked around The Bullring, a mass of humanity on a Saturday afternoon, then walked back to the hotel for a brew and a glass of wine in the bar before returning to Waterstones for the evening readings by Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and Sandeep Parmar. Pascale read from Mama Amazonica, which was a real treat for me; Hannah Lowe impressed: she is funny and entertaining and her poetry is brilliant. She reminded me a lot of Kim Moore. I bought her collection Chan, which she signed for me. Sandeep read from her collection Eidolon, a modern retelling of the Helen of Troy myth, questioning the patriarchal interpretations of history. The Q&A session after the readings was interesting. After a short break there was another event, the Out-Spoken Press showcase, with interesting readings by ‘performance’ poets. My favourite was Bridget Minamore’s reading from her collection Titanic, reliving the breakdown of a love affair. It wasn’t all broken hearts and teardrops though; it was funny and poignant and her delivery was thoroughly entertaining. I might buy her collection today. Carribean food was served during the interval as well, compliments of the festival organisers. Well, even poets need to eat. The vegetable curry was lovely. We were so buzzed-up by poetry that it was well after midnight before we were ready for sleep.

And here I am, awake at 6.00 a.m. writing all about it. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned PhD once in this blog post. That’s because I haven’t been able to fit it in anywhere, except inside my head. It is a constant psychological presence, and the notes I took from last night’s Q&A session, particularly Pascale Petit’s responses, were all with that in mind. I promise it will feature more next week, by hook or crook.

Here’s a poem, a ‘golden shovel’ I wrote for Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo last April—she’s planning another event for this April if you’re a poet and you’re on Facebook and you fancy it. My ‘shovel’ takes that famous opening line from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Morning Song’ and uses the words of that line as the end words of the lines of my poem ‘Making Cakes’. After yesterday’s workshop, it would probably be a different poem, but it was my first ‘golden shovel’. I’ll try harder in future, I promise.


Making Cakes
after Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’

When I think of you baking, it’s about love—
the way you lay out your ingredients, set
out bowls and spoons before you begin. You
work in your own way, no recipe, say going
to a recipe book is a waste of time—shortcuts like
weighing eggs, then equal measures of butter, sugar, flour: a
perfect Victoria sponge, this is your way. Your cakes are fat
monuments to Demeter, spread with jam and that gold
impersonator, buttercream. I’ll just pull up a chair to watch.


Rachel Davies
April 2017

Birthdays and Bigotry

Life, PhD and poetry: that’s what this blog aims to explore, and this week all three have had a piece of me.

It was Bill’s birthday on Monday. On Sunday we went into Oldham to see ‘Darkest Hour’ and then went for a meal after the film. Gary Oldman was indeed wonderful as Churchill. The great man wasn’t a favourite of mine: too many disastrous political decisions in his career; but he was the man for the job when Great Britain lived under the Nazi threat. And oh my, the power of words. His speeches brought tears to my eyes. A film to see for sure; and we saw it in the very room where Churchill was first chosen to represent Oldham as an MP, back in 1900. The old Town Hall is now a multiscreen Odeon cinema.

I know, I said Bill’s birthday was on Monday and we celebrated on Sunday. That’s because Monday was taken up with ‘other stuff’. I saw him for about an hour in the morning and not again until 9.00 at night. I went out for my run on Monday morning; except I didn’t run. It was sleeting quite hard so I settled for the treadmill at the gym. But it took me half an hour to drive about four miles, still only half way to the gym. The traffic was awful for some reason: perhaps there had been an incident on the M62 or something. Anyway, I got to the roundabout in Shaw, about halfway to the gym, drove all the way around the roundabout and went home again; no running. Because I had to be at Amie’s for 10.00 for a morning’s dog-sitting. I spent the morning submitting some poems to various venues. After a long dog-walk up the fairly steep lane behind Amie’s house, I left at 12.30 to collect Hilary. We were meeting Polly Atkinson in Propertea in Manchester to plan a poetry break in May.

There used to be five of us planning these poetry breaks once; but two members of the group fell away for various reasons, so now just the three of us. We eventually agreed on a holiday cottage along the east coast between Filey and Scarborough. It’s booked. We are going in May, immediately after the Poets and Players competition celebration event: we didn’t want to miss Pascale Petit. One to look forward to, then, with close access to York, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay: there’s no end to the inspiration we can find.

After the planning meeting, Hilary and I went for afternoon tea at Patisserie Valerie to use the Groupon we couldn’t use a couple of weeks ago, then we walked to Chapter One Books in the Northern Quarter for The Group. There were six of us at The Group this week, with some wonderful writing to discuss. I took ‘Alysoun’, my alternative mother poem about the Wife of Bath. It was well received. There were some brilliant poems discussed; and a further instalment of the teacher meeting her teacher in a pub. It was a good evening discussing writing with very pleasant and like-minded people.

We took the tram home to Oldham. A homeless man approached us on the platform at Victoria and asked for some change for a cup of tea. We both gave him some. I didn’t expect thanks for this, but he was very grateful. He said mental health issues had caused him to lose his home and he just wanted to be warm: it was indeed a very cold night. What I also didn’t expect, from a woman who was also waiting for the tram, was a lecture on why we shouldn’t give to ‘them’ because ‘they all’ get together at the end of the day to share the takings and then go home to their comfortable houses. Patronisingly, she suggested we were targeted because we look like a soft touch, two grey-haired old ladies who daren’t say ‘no’. I think we were targeted because he could smell the prejudice of other people there, perhaps. I tried to engage her in a conversation about charity, but bigots are difficult to reason with. So I was silently seething on the tram. It was 9.00 before I got home, and I could at last celebrate Bill’s birthday with him. I took him the cakes we didn’t eat at our afternoon tea; and a bottle of Chablis to toast his unbelievable age! Oh, and did I tell you, I’ve booked train tickets to Glasgow for Monday; with afternoon tea in the Willow Tea Rooms on Buchanan Street. The tea rooms were designed by one of his architect heroes, Charles Rennie Macintosh, so we’ll have Monday together, albeit a week late!

On Tuesday I was back at Amie’s for dog-sitting duties. Her partner, Angus, is in Canada on a snow-boarding holiday with brothers and friends; the dogs are missing him, so I’m helping out while Amie is at work. Oh my, they are gorgeous; and energetic. I took my work with me and had a productive day on the thesis. I have doubled the word count this week. I’m still not happy with it, but I’m working on it and that’s what matters. After a long dog-walk at lunchtime, I thought again about that woman at Victoria and I got my revenge in a poem. She became the latest ‘alternative mother’ in my sequence. That poem was very cathartic: I’ll post it at the end of this blog. That kind of prejudice needs calling out.

On Wednesday morning I did go out to run. It was a lovely, bright morning, and it was light enough to go out at 7.30. But, oh my, it was cold. It was -6*C on Saddleworth. I ran along the track of the Delph Donkey again. All the puddles had thick ice on them, so at least I didn’t get muddy. But I could have had dental surgery without anaesthetic: by the time I got back to my car my face was numb, my tongue was numb; and my chest was wheezy from breathing in the cold air. I am an historical sufferer of asthma: I haven’t needed an inhaler for years; I could have done with one on Wednesday morning. But I ran; and I ran two lots of 5 minutes and one 8 minute slot. When I think of that New Year run when I felt as if I was dying after running spurts of 1 minute, I can see how the stamina is building. It feels good, as if I’m achieving something I didn’t think I could do. On Friday I ran again, but on the treadmill this time. It was sleeting quite hard when I went out to run, and after the downpour for most of Thursday I didn’t think the Donkey track was a good idea. The good news is, I ran for two spurts of 8 minutes each. I surprise myself every time I go!

On Thursday, my copy of the ‘Mind’ anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying arrived in the post. It has some brilliant poems addressing mental health issues and is on sale to raise funds for mental health charities. You can get a copy here, if you would like to buy in order to contribute:


If you do buy, make sure you get the latest (2018) anthology though; there is also a 2011 copy of the same name on sale as well.

Saturday was another PhD day. I worked some more on the thesis on Saturday. I’m still not happy with it; I need to take time to really think out what it is I’m wanting to say; what point am I trying to make? At the moment it feels too much like a poetry review and not an academic piece; not academic enough, anyway. I’ll keep chipping away and eventually it will be what I want it to be. It’s a hard task-master, this PhD thing. Its whip is soft but relentless!

Anyway, here is the poem I wrote about the woman at Victoria. I hate bigotry in all its manifestations. She had a willing audience in another man who was on the periphery of the group waiting for the tram. He was agreeing with her, giving her permission to be a bigot, so she aired her views loud and clear. There was no reasoning with her; and I resent the assumption that because I have grey hair I need someone ‘sensible’ like her to warn me. What use is money unless you can do some good with it? Any one of us could be reduced to the need to ask for a brew; thankfully up to now, I haven’t had to: but I will be sympathetic to anyone who asks a cup of tea of me. Here’s my ‘own back’:


Alternative Mothers no. 13

That Woman Waiting For The Rochdale Tram At Victoria

The poor only have themselves to blame,
you say. Workshy. Scroungers.
It’s true, you say.
But what about the homeless, I ask.

They’re not homeless, you say, they’re immigrants
coming over here taking our jobs.
After Brexit there won’t be any immigrants

 you say. Farage and Johnson’ll send ‘em all home.
They’re good blokes, you say, they’re one of us.
I say, they’re not one of us, Ma, well
they’re not one of me. I say

Q: How do you know when a Leave campaigner’s lying,
A: Their lips are moving.
You don’t laugh.
You cuff my ear instead.

A homeless man on the platform tells me
he has mental health issues,
asks for the price of a brew—
he doesn’t read the tabloids Ma, I say, he wraps
his body in them to keep himself warm,
he wipes his arse on the Mail.

I just want to be warm, he says. I give him some cash
but you say all the Manchester ‘’homeless’’—
you actually manage to pronounce the quotation marks—
they all get together at the end of the day to share the takings
then go home to their comfortable houses.
You’ve seen them on the tram, going home, you say.

But what about charity, I ask.
Charity begins at home, you say.
But what if you’re homeless, I ask.
I start singing there’s a hole in my bucket.
You pick up today’s copy of the Daily Mail.

Rachel Davies
February 2018



I’m Fine With February…

…well, I’m not, actually: I hate it. But I’m using a psychological approach to it this year to find the positives. Mostly so far, they involve the fact that the days are getting longer, and that can’t be bad. Spring is on the way, I keep telling myself.

On Sunday last I meant to do some work, but when I sat down to have breakfast, the first ball was being served in the men’s final at the Australian Open. How could I not watch Roger Federer in a record-breaking 20th grand slam final, his 6th Australian Open? Marin Cilic looked a bit of a push-over in the first set, but he learned how to fight back and it went to the full five sets. I was so pleased to see Federer win in the end, he’s such an elegant player; and his emotional acceptance speech shows how much it still means to him. I’ve loved watching him play for twenty years. And he’s not done yet. He has earned the nick-name The Goat (the Greatest Of All Time) apparently, and you can’t argue with that. I did make a start on my thesis while I was watching: I decided on three poems that will form the start of it, so I wasn’t entirely work-shy. I never did get down to it in any serious way though. I’m a bad person!

On Monday I went with Hilary to York for the launch of the Beautiful Dragons Press anthology Noble Dissent. We each have poems in there. It’s a collaborative response to Brexit, to Trump’s inauguration and to yet more Tory austerity. Hilary’s poem is about Annie Kenny, an Oldham suffragette; mine is a pastiche of Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem ‘Girl’; it depicts a political agent coaching a candidate in ‘successful’—for ‘successful’ read ‘dodgy’—practice. The train to York was delayed by the wrong kind of freight train on the line; but we reached York in time for tea at Betty’s before the event. It was a small meeting, but vibrant; seven of us there reading our own poems and the poems of absent friends. We had time to discuss the politics behind the poems and it was a good evening all round.

Tuesday I got down to some serious work. I actually started the writing of my thesis. It begins with the three poems I chose on Sunday, with reflections on them and on the whole mother-daughter relationship thing. It all feels too personal at the moment, but there, I’ve done it, I’ve started writing. I can edit later. At about 11.00 Hilary came round to help me record my poem ‘Meg’ for Andy Nicholson’s podcast for the launch of Please Listen To What I’m Not Saying, an anthology of poems to raise funds for mental health charities. I’ll post details on here when I have them in a couple of weeks. We recorded three or four other poems as well, for future podcasts. I was grateful for Hilary’s help. The recordings got to Andy OK too; and I had a listen in to the copies Hilary sent to me. I hate the sound of my own voice. I don’t think I sound like that at all.

After lunch I spent time preparing for the Stanza meeting in the evening. It was a writing session this week and I had to step in at the last moment when a friend sent apologies for illness. I came up with an activity from one of the prompt books I bought last year. This week we went back to our old haunt, the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar. It felt good to be back. We had three very different writing activities producing some interesting writing: another good evening of poetry.

Wednesday I had a meeting with the accountant to check the VAT at Amie’s restaurant. There was snow on the ground when I left home. It was that kind of snow that’s like tiny snowballs stinging your face when they hit; but it was very local snow, because when I got to The Black Ladd—less than a mile away—there was none. Anyway, I’ve been having trouble with online banking for a couple of weeks so we rang Natwest to sort it out. Turns out they’re having trouble with Safari and Google Chrome and if I download Firefox it’ll be fine. Am I, or are they, missing the point here? If they know there’s a problem—where there has never been a problem in the past—shouldn’t they be sorting it out? I don’t want to download Firefox, I want it to work with Safari again, as it always has until a couple of weeks ago. I did manage to get it to work on Explorer, on the laptop I use for the accounts, so that’ll have to do for the time being. All that used up time I don’t have, so it was well past 5.00 when I left for home, about three hours later than usual. Bill cooked tea—jacket potatoes, nothing too demanding—I needed a bit of pampering.

On Thursday I was doggy-sitting for Amie’s two Cockerpoos. I took my work with me. I had a very productive morning working on my thesis and I was quite pleased with what I achieved. I revisited the writing I did on Tuesday, reorganised it a bit and added to it, made it less personal, so now I have more than a thousand words I’m quite pleased with: it’s probably still a bit too personal, but I can work on it. The thing is, I’ve made a substantial start and that’s important. It’s going to get easier now. I took the dogs out for a longish walk just before lunchtime; or they took me? How can two closely related Cockerpoos be so different in temperament? Sonny, the younger one, is energetic, excitable; Cooper, the older brother, is sedate and organised. Sonny looks up to him and copies everything he does: if Cooper sniffs a spot, Sonny has to sniff the exact same spot; if Cooper explores under a bramble, in goes Sonny. It was a lovely walk, blew some cobwebs away. After lunch I did some online research into ‘The Wife of Bath’ for a poem I’m planning for my ‘alternative mothers’ series. I’m rereading Chaucer’s prologue and tale, in Victorian translation, not the middle English original of course. She’s a feisty old bird, I took lots of useful notes.

Saturday, more work. I updated my Poets & Players competition spreadsheet. Entries are coming in thick and fast. You have until the end of the month to get your poems in, so come on, give me some work to do: https://poetsandplayers.co
I did some reading around presence, absence, absence in presence etc. for the thesis. All very confusing, but it’s a thread I’ve made for myself. There is no end to this research thing, always another path to slink down. After lunch I was back at my desk, drafting my ‘Wife of Bath’ poem. I’ve called it ‘Alysoun’, after her Christian name in the prologue. I know, she appears to be childless in the prologue. But she was married at 12 to an old man; so I have imagined her having a secret baby in a convent prior to being married off. Poetic licence? Well, Geoffrey doesn’t actually say she didn’t have children, so it’s plausible. And she definitely enjoys a full-on sexual experience. I had thought I’d have real fun writing this, a feisty daughter for a feisty mother. But it has actually written itself as a very dark piece, a poem full of resentment. I love it. I’ll be taking it to The Group on Monday for feedback.

So, another week on the road to PhD. I heard this week that my end date now is 21st May 2019. So I have a year and a bit to complete it, a bit more breathing space. But I must learn to knuckle down and not be waylaid by the likes of Roger Federer. He might be good to look at, but he is not the path to success. Prevarication is the thief of time; or something.

I’ll leave you with a little poem I wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s surreal ride on the poetry carousel in December. It sort of sums up how PhD can take over your life to the detriment of other stuff. It was literally a series of random thoughts; although it was obviously dredged from the unconscious, because it was only when I re-read it this morning that I saw the connections: the slut’s wool, the words ‘defying their right to be constrained in ink’, feeling trapped behind my own eyes. I hope this PhD angst is all worth it in the end.


Random Thoughts

slut’s wool under the brain’s bed
words defy their right to be constrained in ink
each new day a wiped board
my eyes the windows I stand behind watching others being free
the train’s hooter a clarion to unexplored spaces
in an ideal world every day would be followed by Saturday


Rachel Davies
December 2017

Achievements. And a lovely rejection.

I’ve been reading Ruth Padel’s Silent Letters of the Alphabet this week. I came across it in the PhD thesis a friend lent me and it sounded like a good read so I ordered a copy from Amazon: £2.60 including postage. It said it was in ‘very good condition’, and it was. What it didn’t say was that it was a signed copy; so that was a surprise, and a real bargain. It contains a series of three lectures Ruth gave at Newcastle University, on what poetry is and how to improve the making of it. I recommend it as highly readable if you like to read or write poetry.

So that’s part of how I started my week this week, reading Ruth Padel. I also spent some time thinking how I was going to record my ‘Mind’ poem, ‘Meg’, for the podcast. I hoped to piggy-back on Hilary’s recording session, but she had completed it before I had chance to ask her! Her son’s a bit of a techie and he helped her. Andy Nicholson, who is making the podcast—do you ‘make’ a podcast?—has stayed in touch and I can record it via Skype or Facetime, so all is not hopeless.

Monday was the first run of the week, and it was raining a bit, but not enough to stop me running outdoors. It was my first 3mins spurts of running and I was dreading it; by the end of the week I was managing 5mins spurts and feeling very positive about personal achievement. I’m proud to say, I am beginning to enjoy it. Who’d have thought? Anyway, when I got home, I spent a couple of hours revisiting some early portfolio poems then got ready for my meeting with Jean Sprackland. We met at No. 70, the MMU site on Oxford Road. We had a lovely discussion about my decision to convert to part-time for my remaining PhD time—a decision I have heard has been ratified. We talked about the change of format of my thesis, and I found that very useful because I’ve done a lot of thinking about it for a couple of weeks. I’m thinking a thematic approach based on the themes of my poems: relationships, roles, mirrors; and what Jean calls ‘thingy’ poems, poems in which I write about my mother through the things she used: a churn, spoons, knives cutting beans, her hands cleaning eggs. I had a much clearer idea of where I want to go after talking with Jean. And the best part of the meeting, she really liked the ‘alternative mother’ poems I sent her. I had numbered them: she felt they would be better with a title to give the reader a context and I agree, especially after the feedback I had about ‘Pope Joan’ from The Group. I fairly skipped along Oxford Road after the meeting. I met up with Hilary in Bundobust, an Indian street food restaurant off Piccadilly Gardens. We had a lovely banquet of vegetarian dishes and were thoroughly ‘bundobusted’ when we left for the short walk to Chapter One and The Group. We think we have found our new home. We were given a ‘fenced off’ part of the café to meet and discuss our writing. Great tea/coffee, monumental cakes and poetry: what’s not to like? I took my Boudicca poem; Rosie Garland took a poem about the venerable Bede; Hilary took a surreal poem she wrote for Hilda Sheehan’s workshop at the carousel in Grange in December; and Melissa took a section of a story about a young woman meeting her old teacher in a pub. There were just the four of us, but oh my! the writing was good. I was so buzzed up with poetry, and the positive meeting with Jean, I couldn’t sleep on Monday night. Poetry does that to you: it’s a drug.

Tuesday was a brilliant day. Back in October, Hilary and I invented CCP days: Cider, Cake and Paperchase. Tuesday was the second in the series. We got into Manchester about 2.30: Bill took me to the tram stop as the day involved cider. We went to the new Gino di Campo bar above Next for coffee. It’s a nice space: we sat in a window seat which deserves a better vista than the National Football Museum, whose glass and steel structure always looks completely out of place in that red-brick area of Manchester. Since Next’s refurbishment last year, there is now a Paperchase section in there: we visited that to whet our appetites before going on to the big store on Market Street after our first cider of the day in the Oyster Bar. We bought some paper in the sale for covers for a pamphlet of our poems we are preparing in time for a reading we have scheduled in York in February. I also bought a new travel pass wallet—a watermelon—and a set of emoji page markers. We went from there to Patisserie Valerie for a ‘groupon’ afternoon tea; but they were out of afternoon teas—how is that possible? We were told we could ‘choose any sandwich and cake from the counter’: not the same thing at all! So we saved our ‘groupon’ for another day and went to Wagamama to eat instead. They didn’t sell cider so we had to improvise with a beer.

Wednesday a treadmill run: the rain was lashing down like knives. It was my day doing the books at Amie’s restaurant. While I was there I had an email from Atrium to say they were taking my poem ‘Mary R’, one of my ‘alternative mother’ poems. It will be on the webzine in May; so that was wonderful news. That’s the third of them that’s been accepted for publication so far.

On Thursday evening we met up with Hilary and David at Stocco for an Italian meal before going to the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham where we met Hilary’s sister, Cath. We went to see Lemn Sissay reading his one-voice verse drama Something Dark inspired by his early life in foster-care and children’s homes; and his search for his birth family. It was funny and sad; I was appalled to learn his foster father had been a teacher: so little compassion! It was a great night: Lemn is always really entertaining, his ad lib humour is brilliant. By the end though, I wanted to go on stage and give him a hug! The show ended with a Q&A session.

Friday, the last run of the week: it was a beautiful, bright morning. If all winter days were like this one, I could just about bear it; but we seem to live under a permanent pall of cloud on Saddleworth from September to June! Friday was one of those winter days when you feel spring is not far away. I ran the donkey track and had a smug feeling of personal achievement all day. I had a dental appointment at 10.20 to discuss my options re the root canal. The infection is cleared up; so it seemed weird to be discussing the next step when I don’t seem to need a next step. But the dentist said the infection will come back, soon or two years down the line and we need to consider future treatments. He outlined the options, none of which sounded appealing. I told him I would think about it and discuss it again at my routine appointment in May. That’s one to look forward to, then! It was such a lovely day I decided to have my car mini-valeted. I left it with the car wash while we went to Oldham for lunch; it looked lovely when I picked it up two hours later. The sun was shining on its brown paint, really showing up the gorgeous red glittery bits; the inside was spotless; and all for a tenner. In the evening I went out for a meal with Joan. We went to Glamorous, lovely Chinesemeal; and there was a baby at the next table who looked very like Joan’s granddaughter; so she was happy.

Yesterday I began to plan my thesis in detail following the discussions with Jean. I need to bite the bullet and start writing really; but I can’t seem to get going. I literally don’t know where to start. But as Chairman Mao said, ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’, and sooner or later I’m going to have to take that step. But it feels like one giant step for womankind, so I planned. I think this journey will probably start with some poems: one day soon I’ll take that step and there’ll be no stopping me. I also had a lovely rejection email from the Breakwater Review. Oh, I know a rejection is never lovely really; but they said very positive things about the two poems I sent them, just they’re not right for them. They encouraged me to send the poems to other publications and asked me to send more work to them in future. So that’s a lovely as a rejection slip gets.

Here’s one of the poems I reworked this week. It was inspired by the family ritual of making butter. It was a whole family affair: dad milked the cows, we siblings churned the cream, mum made the butter pats attractive for market.


See the churn, a pot-bellied pig on wood block feet
scrubbed, sterilized, the iron handle fixed to paddles.

It has the sicky smell of breast fed babies. Now,
hear the cream shushing like the tide as the handle

turns the paddles. Enthusiasm becomes effort
in the sweat and ache of cream thickening.

Pass the handle to the next sibling in line, up to Big Sis
the alchemist who churns base cream into gold.

Watch the ceremonial handing over of butter to mother
to knock into shape with wooden pats on a cold board,

see the magic of that emerging image of yellow, rolled, ridged
its wheatsheaf or thistle print, its bold statement of luxury.


Rachel Davies
January 2018

Press release

This is a press release for Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, the anthology of poems/short stories in support of mental health charities. My poem ‘Meg’, along with poems by several friends, is in the anthology which is edited by Isabelle Kenyon. It would be good if you felt you could support the charities, which do sterling work for mental health in this country, either by visiting  https://www.amazon.co.uk after the release date (8.02.18) or by clicking the link to  Fly on the Wall publishing at the end of the press release.



Isabelle Kenyon, isabellekenyon@hotmail.co.uk

For immediate release

Guildford resident set to publish book to raise money for mental health

Local resident, Isabelle Kenyon from Guildford is set to publish poetry book, ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’, in aid of mental health charities.

Isabelle, who is a theatre marketing assistant for G Live, Guildford, hopes that with the support of her colleagues, friends and family, and the 116 poets involved in the anthology, she will raise an incredible amount for UK mental health charities, providing support and advice for anyone experiencing mental health problems.

Isabelle said, “I am thrilled to be editing this anthology to raise money for charity. This is one of the toughest, yet most thrilling project of my life. Knowing the money we raise will be used to improve the lives of people living with mental health problems throughout the UK is amazing. The money raised will fund vital work such as helplines, advice services and the campaigning.

The book will be released on February 8th through Amazon, and will be available to buy both in paperback and Kindle formats, worldwide.

To support Isabelle’s charity book release, please visit www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk to find out more about the project.




Amoxicillin, aliens and an anthology

This week I’ve been in that default ‘I can’t do this’ state of self-doubt. The advised redirection of the thesis by the team at last week’s meeting had me thinking ‘what does this mean for me; how can I approach this?’ And then, the community of poets; where would I be without them? A poet friend sent me a thesis she had been recommended to read. It is exactly what I needed: a reflection on the writer’s own poetry backed by theoretical research. I only meant to skim-read it for a taste of what it offered, but it was so good I couldn’t put it down. The first half of the week was fogged by amoxicillin and paracetemol as my body fought a root canal infection, so it was good to be able to read, tucked up in front of the fire. I’m happy to report the amoxicillin has gone and with it, the toothache; for now at least.

I began pondering how this revised approach to the thesis might work for me. If I can come up with something similar I will be a very satisfied woman. I spent the week thinking and rethinking. I always do a lot of thinking before I commit anything to paper; even my poems are half constructed in my head before I write them down. I developed some ideas based on a thematic approach to the work. By the end of the week I had started to act on those ideas, even though they aren’t fully formed yet. At the beginning of the week I revisited some of the early portfolio poems. I edited, even redrafted, some of them and made some notes in red on the process involved in writing/redrafting them. But as I thought more about the thesis I realised I needed to do more than redraft, I needed to sort them into ‘sorts’ of poems: poems about things as aide memoirs, poems about masks, mirrors, roles and relationships, poems about death. It took me a whole day to do that sorting out, re-filing them on the computer. Of course some poems fit more than one category and it’ll be up to me how I use them when the time comes to start writing. But I’m on my way, I think. I need to revisit the theory now, to see how that will back up what I’m reflecting on.

I also sent some of my poems out to earn their space in the world. I’ve sent individual poems to be considered for publication; and I sent a pamphlet-sized collection to the Iota Shots competition. I always take the view that I’m financing the competitions rather than hoping to win: I’m not someone whose default position is confident of positive outcomes; then if I do win, and I have on a few occasions, it is a surprise and a bonus. So fingers crossed. Of course, I filled in my triple-tracking submissions system. So far, so good.

On Friday I had a lunch-time Poets & Players meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. It was a lovely, positive meeting because we just heard recently that we have been awarded Arts Council funding for another year. So we met to begin planning in earnest our events for 2018-19. We have some exciting plans in place if all the poets we invite return acceptances. Keep an eye on the P&P website for updates: https://poetsandplayers.co The next event is on February 17th at the Whitworth, details are on the website, just follow the link. Details of the P&P annual competition are also on the website, so check it out and get your entries in. You have until the end of February to enter. Pascale Petit is our judge this year so it will be good to meet her at the celebration event in May. I’ve enjoyed reading her poetry so much for the PhD, it’ll be good to get my copies of her books signed. My son Michael’s friend has been reading Mama Amazonica as a result of reading my blog, so I’ve promised to get an extra copy signed too. It would be lovely if they could come to Manchester for the event, to meet Pascale in person.

In other poetry news, the anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, supporting the mental health charity ‘Mind’, is due for publication in February: details here: www.flyonthewallpoetry.co.uk   A poet friend is putting together a podcast https://spokenlabel.bandcamp.com/ and he has asked me to read my anthology poem, ‘Meg’, for the podcast. We’ll be working on that this coming week. And lastly, our next Stanza meeting is on January 30th. We are going back to the Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar for this one. If you fancy it, check out our FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/264023166946510/

My other resolution, to complete the ‘Couch to 5K’ challenge, has continued. Despite toothache and foul weather, I went to run on Monday. It Was Raining!!! It poured, so I think that was really above and beyond—and showed real commitment. On Wednesday the rain had turned to snow and I reached the limits of my commitment. I turned to the gym and ran on the treadmill for Wednesday’s and Friday’s sortie. But I did it and I’m still on track. I’m hoping the weather might have improved for tomorrow’s run: I much prefer running outdoors. Treadmill running can be quite boring to be honest; and you don’t get a nice little map of your run. Mike rang me last night. I told him about the challenge and that I was running three minute spurts now. He joked they wouldn’t have me in the army on that level of fitness: but I don’t suppose they want a seventy-year old grandmother in the army; and I don’t want to be a soldier anyway, so that’s OK!

I’m including a poem I came across when I reorganised my computer files yesterday. It says a lot about the mother-daughter relationship, I think, that mix of wonder and strangeness. We expect our daughters to be known to us, but they are their own people, and that makes them strangers sometimes. This is an extreme example and not written about any daughter of mine, Amie; but I can relate to it. I wrote it as part of the mother-daughter drama-in-verse I experimented with twelve months ago. It’s good to find a surprise in your writing. As Robert Frost said, ‘No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader’. He meant, I think, that if the writer isn’t surprised by what she writes, the writing won’t surprise the reader either. So, here it is. Prepare to be surprised:



I’m looking at her but I don’t know who she is.

My real daughter was stolen from the maternity ward
I’m telling you. Aliens lifted her from her crib,
left this mysterious doppelganger that I can’t know.

Remember that school photo, the one
where she’s sitting bolt upright, smiling at the camera
but her eyes are staring at the lens like lasers?

I tell people she’s my love child with Ming the Merciless.


Rachel Davies