Sunday Poet – Rachel Davies

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Evening everybody.  I’ve been VERY quiet on facebook, twitter and this blog this week.  I don’t really know why, except to say that I’ve been in a bit of a bad mood all week.  On Monday, I went to a critiquing group and the talk turned to people who don’t speak correctly – the example given was the habit of putting ‘like’ at the end of every sentence.  The term slovenly language was used.  I felt myself getting more and more annoyed – but I also knew my level of annoyance was completely out of proportion to what was being said.  I said that there were worse things to be annoyed about than the way people speak – and anyway, I don’t think that degrades the language – I don’t think language is being degraded, I think it is enriched all the time.  I am also happy to disagree with people who don’t think this – I know a lot of very good friends, including some who were at the critiquing group who didn’t agree.  I’d also just come from a long day at work with children who have a lot of problems, the way they speak being the least of them.  So maybe I was grouchy because of that.

I have lost a lot of my Leicester accent now – I remember being self-conscious of the way that I spoke when I joined the Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra age 17.  I remember being gently teased about the way I spoke – the other brass players came from a middle-class background and spoke differently.  It wasn’t bullying – I was never afraid, but I did feel self-conscious.  Even now, I find it very difficult to pronounce words beginning with ‘th’ correctly.  My natural instinct is to say ‘f’, as in ‘free’ instead of ‘three’ .  I try very hard not to, but this is the way the people I grow up with speak, or at least I assume it is, I must have picked it up from somewhere!

Anyway, I moved to Leeds for three years, then Birmingham for a year, then up to Cumbria and I seem to be like a verbal magpie – I pick up the ‘tune’ of accents and somewhere on the way, I feel that I’ve lost my own.  I hear this most strongly when I go back to Leicester and I’m back in with my family, who speak with very broad Leicester accents and I do feel sad about this.

The people at the critiquing group weren’t really talking about accents – they were talking about slang and abbreviations which is slightly different but to me they are intimately related. This is an unfair blog in a way, because I am only voicing my opinion but this is all this can be – and its been playing on my mind all week.  Someone at the group, when I said I thought there were bigger things to be worried about said that they thought language was the most important thing and we should get upset about it.

And I think language is the most important thing as well – but it is not a god-given thing – it is not something we are born with.  We acquire language through socialization and education, and some of us are lucky enough to have a better education than others, some of us will be taught how to speak properly, some of us will change and pick up things as best we can to try and fit into the social situation we are in.  In Barrow, the children often say I speak ‘posh’ and I laugh, because where I’m from, its not posh at all.  I guess what I’m trying to say, very disjointedly is yes, language is important.  But perhaps more important is the confidence to speak.

The Sunday poem today is  a brilliant fit to all this because it is about the loss of language.  Rachel wrote this whilst on the residential at Abbot Hall.  I’ve been meaning to ask Rachel for a poem for ages, so when I heard her read this straight after writing it I nabbed it.  Rachel was a year or two above me on the MA at Manchester Metropolitan University.  She is unfailingly enthusiastic about poetry and writing and is a lovely lady to be around.  Rachel runs the East Manchester and Tameside Poetry Stanza and has recently had a review published in The North.  Apart from this she is busy co-running a poetry project at Manchester Cathedral – but I first got to know Rachel better last year when she came on some of the workshops I ran for the MA students as part of my pedagogy project.

Then I organised a retreat at Cove Park in Scotland.  It was very cheap, and the idea was that we all took it in turns to run a workshop.  It was a lovely poetry holiday and Rachel came along to that – along with wonderful poets like Holly Hopkins, Martin Malone, Martin Kratz, David Borrott, David Tait and Matt Bryden – most but not all of these poets have been on the blog as a Sunday poet already  ( just haven’t got round to the others yet!)

Anyway, apart from Monday when I got grumpy, I did a lovely reading at Maulds Meaburn Village Institute alongside guitarist David Ashworth.  I sold four pamphlets, which takes the grand total of pamphlets actually exchanged for cash to 259.  I’m going to shut up about sales of it now though until I get to 300, when I will make a big fuss.

This week it has been hard to find my way back to poetry through the rush of work.  The South Cumbria Music Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks – it is a big competition and I’ve entered my Monday band (Barrow Shipyard Junior Band), my Thursday ‘Brasstastic’ Band, a brass group from Holy Family Primary School and seven soloists.  I’ll also be playing with St Pius School Orchestra in the competition to help them out.  That’s on the Sunday – the following Wednesday I’ll be taking Year 3, 4 and 5 from St Pius, along with their class teacher Mr Mills to the festival for the ‘Class Music-making competition’.  I enjoy doing the festival, but am starting to have the creeping fear that I may have taken too much on this term with entering quite so many groups.  So maybe that is why I’m grumpy – I often am when my energy is spread unevenly between poetry and music.

Other news – I’ve been asked to read at another festival – don’t know if I’m allowed to say which one yet so I’ll keep quiet.  The editor at Artemis is very happy with my article, so that will be coming out in the next issue.  Today I went to see my best poetry friend David Tait before he flies off to emigrate to China on Wednesday.  I am sad to see him go, but also excited for him and the hubby and I are already planning our trip to see him on the way to Australia, hopefully next year if we start saving.  I also am babysitting his poetry books!  This makes me very happy and they have fitted nicely onto my shelves with his initials in the front cover so he can be reunited with them when he returns.

Anyway – enough of this talk! This is what happens when I’m quiet all week you see… Here is Rachel’s lovely poem which describes the process of a loved one losing language so beautifully.  I think this poem is wonderfully poised and tender – for me it doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Loss – Rachel Davies

The doctor called it a cerebro vascular accident
but we all knew it was a broken heart

and when you came home to that empty house
your speech had also slipped away or

not completely lost, it was holed up there
in the language centre of your brain,

perfectly formed within your own hearing
so you couldn’t understand why we didn’t get

your simplest request: tea, drink, a few more chips
were cryptic clues undecipherable to us

and you, hearing what you couldn’t articulate,
hit out at the fools who couldn’t crack the code.

I nursed you every day while I carried
your grandson like a speech-mark in my womb

so I had time to pick up some of your language,
learn your words for Horlicks, toilet, tablets,  granddad.

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5 responses »

  1. Great to see/read Rachel’s poem here, Kim.
    ‘your grandson like a speech-mark…’ – my favourite.line.

    Re accents/spoken language, I remember inwardly fuming at my fellow student teachers and tutor in Bedford laughing at the Lincoln accent (mine) on training films. I was made to feel distinctly ‘northern,’ if you know what I mean.

  2. I think the way that we speak is fundamental to our identity – maybe this is why it hurts so much/is so infuriating when people pick up on it. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem Jayne.

  3. Interesting post. I don’t blame you for your annoyance. I find that in countries such as the UK, people are judged a good deal on the basis of their accent and all the class factors that it apparently implies. Which could also extend to “speaking correctly.” I don’t like hideous grammar but I agree it’s not the most important thing.

    As a Canadian living in the UK, I do get tired of being asked about my accent (though there’s no point in being offended if people think I’m American – but I do get offended if they insist “you can’t be Canadian! Your accent is SO AMERICAN!”. Er, are you familiar with the word “rude”?) I have a much better understanding now of why my Finnish mum, who married my Canadian dad and has now lived in Canada most of her life, often gets so annoyed about accent-related questions. (I told her that sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m Canadian, and she reminded me of all the times people in Canada insisted that she must be Dutch and didn’t believe she’s a Finn.)

    I may be paranoid, but I do feel sometimes that I’ve been put into certain boxes because of my accent. I have had the impression that some English people find me amusing, but don’t take me seriously.

  4. Well done Kim for taking on the poetry snobs.
    They piss me off too!!

    For some years I worked with young recovering addicts using poetry to help them get in touch with who they really were. Some of them were barely literate but they were nonetheless capable of producing heart-felt, powerful poetry.
    That to me is what poetry is all about – getting in touch with the heart.
    I would much rather read their poems than some of the poetry I hear nowadays which may be grammatically correct but says nothing!!

    As your friend and mine David Tait has been known to say – “there is too much poetry written nowadays about f**k all.”

    Best wishes

    David

  5. “Speaking correctly” – hmmm… who decides? Language is a medium of communication. The acid test is: did it work? But then, I suppose you have to ask: work how? And for who, or should I say “whom”? (Well – should I?) For a poetic view I refer you to Tom Leonard’s The Six O’Clock News.

    I agree about the Rachel Davies poem.

    Good luck with all the music.

    Ross.

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