I’m writing today’s blog post from my twin sister’s house in Egremont. I might have mentioned before that she is the Manager of Animal Concern. The house is surrounded by green fields, although it’s not as peaceful as it sounds, with her three and my two terriers running round the house, and the barking of the rescue dogs in the distance.
I had a fairly quiet Christmas this year – Chris and I went down to my parents in Leicester. We tried to get out and do a walk every day at least and I saw my two older sisters and some of my nieces and nephews. I loved spending time with my mum and dad without having to rush off anywhere. I even managed to meet up with the poet Roy Marshall for a quick drink and a bit of poetry gossip.
I’ve been working really hard on my RD1 form which has involved lots of reading of various feminist literary theories. I’ve been reading Toril Moi’s ‘Sexual/Textual Politics’ which is really interesting, and readable and explains a lot of the main theories in a relatively clear and concise way. I managed over Christmas to ‘finish’ all of the sections of the form. I’ve sent it to a few friends who kindly said they would have a look through it for me, so while I’m waiting for them to get back to me, I’ve been cracking on with my marking for my university teaching. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but this is the first time in 13 years of teaching that I’ve actually had to do any written marking. One of the advantages of being an instrumental teacher compared to a classroom teacher! So I’ve actually found myself quite enjoying it. Then again, I’m not even half way through yet, so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it once the novelty has worn off!
I realised a while ago that I am terrified of showing anybody my RD1 which is a bit of a problem! I would much rather show people a bunch of poems and let them get the hatchet out. It has made me realise how much poetry is a mask I can hide behind – whereas writing my ideas down on a form feels much more personal. I’ve obviously got to get over this, and I think sending it out to my kindly friends is definitely a start. One of them has already got back to me with some really useful feedback. I guess I have to train myself to think of my ideas in the same way as I think of poems – i.e open to criticism, feedback and change. And a PhD, after all, shouldn’t be easy.
On Friday we drove over to Hebden Bridge for Clare Shaw’s birthday. Clare is one of my favourite poets and people, and it was even more exciting as Clare’s partner had decided to organise a surprise party for Clare. I wish I’d had my camera to hand to take a photograph of Clare’s completely surprised face as she walked in the door, but alas, I’m not that forward thinking. We stayed over and then went for a quick cup of tea with another poet, Keith Hutson who has an adorable but rather sharp toothed puppy called Eric, who with the speed and sneakiness of some kind of blonde assassin, managed to chew through my bootlace without me noticing until I stood up and my boot nearly fell off my foot!
We drove back on Saturday to Cumbria and got back mid-afternoon. I was determined to go for a run – I’m completely focused now on getting my fitness back but had nobody to go running with, and I hate going on my own! Nevertheless, I dragged myself out for just over 5 kilometres, and although it was fairly difficult going – I felt knackered and sluggish, I’m really glad I did it. I’ve resigned myself at the minute to every run feeling difficult and I think I just have to get on with it.
So today’s Sunday Poem is by Becky Cherriman, who has been waiting patiently for quite a while now! The poem comes from Becky’s first collection Empires of Clay which was published by Cinnamon Press in 2016. Becky is a writer, workshop leader and performer based in Leeds. She has had poems published in lots of magazines, including Mslexia, New Walk, Envoi, Well Versed and in Poets for Corbyn. She was resident poet for Morley Literature Festival in 2013 and lead artist for Altofts Festival In A Day 2016. Becky is a co-writer and performer of Haunt, a site-specific theatre commission for Imove, a project about homelessness. She is currently working on her one woman show, Corseted. Her first poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books.
Although at first glance, this poem seems like a simple love poem – we know that the speaker is addressing another person from the very first line, and we assume they are lovers because of these first two lines in particular ‘You reeled me in on your tongue/till heaven stirred in my lap’. However, the image of the speaker of the poem with her ‘arms around your neck like a child’ draws attention to the power dynamic in the relationship. In the first line this is hinted at with the speaker being ‘reeled’ in.
The first stanza is talking about the past but by Stanza 2 we are in the present and another hint that all is not secure. We learn that there have been false starts, and some of the things that the speaker and the addressee did together. The sunset and the picnic are fairly ordinary images to sum up a romantic relationship – more unusual is the ‘shoulder ride’ in line 3 of the second stanza – again, this feels almost childlike, and interesting as later on in Stanza 4, the speaker says ‘Let’s not ruin it/with the things we did not do:’ and one of the things is ‘the ditch you did not carry me over’. So the ‘you’ figure did carry the speaker around a living room, but not over a ditch.
There is something really interesting going on under the surface of this poem about growing up and maturity and responsibility. Through most of the poem, it feels like the speaker wants to be the childlike one, or at least the one that is looked after by the other. But then at the end of the poem, the speaker calls the you ‘My bloody Peter Pan’ – Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up.
The other interesting thing about this poem is although it is spoken in the present tense, and there is no conclusion. We don’t know if the relationship is ruined, but it feels like it will be,maybe because of that last word ‘please’ which finishes the poem which gives it an air of hopelessness. But even before this, the listing of things that shouldn’t ruin things, the naming of them, hints that they have already ruined it.
If you would like to find out more about Becky, you can go to her website www.beckycherriman.com. If you’d like to order her book, you can get it from Cinnamon Press and support an excellent independent publisher.
Happy New Year to you all and good wishes for 2017.
Ditch – Becky Cherriman
You reeled me in on your tongue
till heaven stirred in my lap
and there I saw the sea and you –
a fisherman, your back to the storm,
my arms around your neck like a child.
Let’s not ruin this with any more false starts.
We have the sunset over Fewston,
that shoulder ride around my living room,
we have the twilight picnic in Canal Gardens,
Gorecki and all his lovely sorrow.
Come on, we have our meander
to the house poetry built where we kissed
in thoughts of Lady Lazarus and her sticky pearls.
We have lovemaking
D.H. Lawrence would have approved of.
Let’s not ruin it
with the things we did not do:
that Christmas in St Petersburg,
the ditch you did not carry me over,
the stockings I would not wear.
My bloody Peter Pan,
my almost fisherman –