I’ve been training since the summer to take part in the Lancaster half marathon and Sunday is one of the days I do a long run. Today I did 20 kilometres with a group of friends, not particularly fast, but for the first time I didn’t notice when we went past 12k. Usually at this point my mind starts telling me to stop, and my body starts aching, but this didn’t happen today, so I’m quite pleased- in fact I forgot to look at my watch until we’d ran 15k. The half marathon is in two weeks time and I’m hoping to run under 1 hour 45 minutes, and hopefully by then, I will have shaken off this cold which is still hanging on a little.
Apart from slowly getting back into running this week, I’ve spent a lot of time reading. I’m reading as much as I can in preparation for filling out an RD1 form as part of my PhD, which is basically a three-year plan of what I’m going to be doing. A few people have asked me if I like reading the critical stuff and I have to say, I absolutely love it. My problem is that I keep going off on a tangent. One tangent that I’m really enjoying is reading Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics from the 70’s. I feel like I need to read these huge feminist texts before I can strike off on my own. I’ve just got to a chapter where she talks about a Thomas Hardy novel and it is taking all my willpower to not go off and read the Thomas Hardy novel.
I’m trying to narrow down to two or three poets that I want to concentrate on for the critical part of the PhD but I’m finding this quite difficult. I keep falling in love with poets. In fact, two weeks ago, I taught a session at MMU where the group got a number of poems and they had to decide the gender of the author and the publication date of the poem, and one of the poems that was included was the one that starts ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’.
This poem has haunted me for the last two weeks – yet when I read it for the first time, I was completely unmoved. I hadn’t read a lot of Emily Dickinson’s work before this – although I’ve always loved “Hope” is the thing with feathers – and it has been disconcerting this week to become completely obsessed with it. I’m starting to realise that although I want to write poems about everyday sexism, and coping mechanisms, and ways of negotiating it without going mad, it is hard to find other women writers that are tackling it directly. I think it is going to be much more interesting to look at how female poets negotiate their way around a patriarchal system. I’m starting to become fascinated by the choices Dickinson made – to hardly leave her room – but then to write such a disturbing poem as ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’. To feel like a loaded gun, to be full of energy and power,that you cannot use without someone else to assist you. To understand that you are both powerful, and powerless.
Emily Dickinson may of course, be another tangent, and maybe too much has been written about her already for me to add anything new. But I am enjoying reading about her.
On Monday there was an Induction Event at uni and all the new English PhD students were invited to come along and meet each other and talk for one minute about their PhD. As I was walking from the train station, I started to mildly panic about this, and then to laugh at the ridiculousness of panicking about speaking for one minute about something I’ve spent the last year at least thinking about and talking about with other people. Anyway, panic aside, I did manage to talk about the PhD and it was interesting to hear what the other PhD students are doing as well.
I had a moment of sadness about leaving trumpet teaching this week as well. I think I was standing at the photocopier before starting my workshop on Metre and Rhythm at uni, and it hit me how much I’ve learnt from being a brass teacher for 13 years. Not least how to operate any photocopier under the sun. I think it’s taken this long to realise how much it has given me. Maybe up to now, I’ve been in recovery, recovering from how much I gave of myself to the job – and as a teacher you do have to give of yourself. But this week, I realised how much I’ve learnt, how transferable it is and maybe the sadness was from realising how long it has taken to get to this point.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Alan Buckley, who I met in July this year at Ledbury Poetry Festival. Alan’s pamphlet The Long Haul had just come out with HappenStance so I took the opportunity to get a copy from him. The pamphlet is full of beautiful poems – I knew I was going to like it right from the first poem ‘Flame’, inspired by an instruction on the front of a matchbox (Use matches sparingly). This poem starts ‘Not meanness or thrift/but wisdom; respect/for each small torch/that’s kept in there.’ I love that this poem comes from a line written on a matchbox, and each four line stanza of the poem is set out like a small box.
Alan Buckley is originally from Merseyside, but moved to Oxford in the 1980’s to study English Literature and has lived there ever since. His first pamphlet Shiver was published by tall-lighthouse and was the PBS pamphlet choice in 2009. The Long Haul is his second pamphlet, and you can obtain a copy for a mere £5 from the wonderful publisher HappenStance. You will also find the poem ‘Flame’ that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you follow the link to HappenStance
The poem I’ve chosen for this week ‘Pastoral’ is that most elusive of poems – an original and compelling poem about roadkill. There are lots of excellent poems about hitting an animal whilst driving – but this poem takes as its central concern an animal that has already been hit, that is already dead, and which is glimpsed only for ‘a second or two.’
Pastoral – Alan Buckley Glimpsed for no more than a second or two
(I was pushing eighty-five near Stokenchurch Gap)
but enough for a thought to surface: the possibility
that the heft of snout and fur by the central barrier
belonged to a creature that was deaf and asleep,
having nodded off in the morning sun as it looked
for a chance to cross; and this was why it lay there,
oblivious to the cars and lorries bouldering past.
Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither
of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams,
in which it was busy reliving the night just gone,
when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass
beneath an avuncular moon. And beyond the black,
hard river that carves its way down Aston Hill
a hole in the earth was waiting – a small darkness,
ready to fall back behind this animal’s tail, like
the heavy curtain at the entrance to a private room,
shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.
We can infer as the poem progresses that the creature is a badger – the main clue comes halfway through the poem when we read ‘Deaf and asleep, its belly filled with a slither/of worms as it dreamed its brockish dreams’. The words ‘deaf and asleep’ come twice – once in the second stanza, when the speaker imagines it has ‘nodded off in the morning sun as it looked/for a chance to cross’ and then again in the third stanza, when we read about the ‘slither of worms’ and the speaker imagines that the badger is ‘reliving the night just gone.’ The description of this night is wonderfully lyric as well – lines that when I read them, I wished I’d written: ‘when it scuttled through fields of silvery grass/beneath an avuncular moon.’
This poem seems to be balanced between different extremes to me. The difference between life and death, between sleeping and waking, between movement and speed and complete stillness. The poem allows us to feel a connection with the animal, but then by the end of the poem, makes us aware that feeling connected with another creature is ultimately doomed to failure, that another being is always unknowable. We’re left with the image of the badger re-entering its hole, and the darkness ‘shielding from view a silent, untouchable space.’
I hope you enjoy the poem – please feel free to comment – I do love reading the comments, and am endeavouring to make sure I remember to reply, rather than just smiling and reading them, and I know the poets that I feature here are always very appreciative of having readers that engage with their work.