Tag Archives: PhD in poetry

Sunday Poem – Kate Fox

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It has been a strange week for me – the #metoo hashtag on social media has made me sad and angry and hopeful in an exhausting cycle..  Amongst all of this, I’ve had to get on with doing stuff as well of course.  I had a meeting with my  PhD supervisors about the next stage of the PhD, the RD2 form.  I’d sent them some writing, which was far too personal to use, but I wanted to try and get straight in my head what I’m trying to do with the PhD.  I’ve got to make it much more ‘academic’, less personal etc etc.  I’ve had a go this week and have almost finished the ‘Abstract’ part of the RD2, in what I hope is a more academic voice.  It feels like putting on another head.  I wonder if everybody feels like this or if it’s just me.

I’ve also started reading feminst theorist bell hooks this week, and absolutely loving her work.  She writes about feminism, racism and class.  I could only find one of her books in the library, ‘talking back’, published in 1989 but it feels like it could have been published last week.  As those of you who have read my past few blogs will know, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am addressing with my poetry, and also about responses to the poems I’m writing.  When I read the following, I felt elated, that someone had articulated what I’ve been struggling with for different reasons:

When I first began to talk publicly about my work, I would be disappointed when audiences were provoked and challenged but seemed to disapprove. Not only was my desire for approval naive (I have since come to understand that it is silly to think that one can challenge and also have approval), it was dangerous precisely because such a longing can undermine radical commitment, compelling a change in voice so as to gain regard

Reading this made me realise that feeling discomfort is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, when I read bell hooks, I feel discomfort because I know, as a white woman, I’m not the main, intended audience of bell hooks.  That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t read her, and learn from her.  Maybe discomfort marks the potential for change, when the sense of self and where we fit in the world is shifted, however incrementally.

I went to see Lemn Sissay at the Brewery with a friend this week – what a great performer he is.  Watching him is basically a masterclass in how to hold the attention of an audience.  And the story of ‘Something Dark’, his play, is absolutely heartbreaking.

I also had a meeting with Pauline about Kendal Poetry Festival – we sat at Pauline’s kitchen table for another four hours.  We’ve heard back from all of our poets and we now have the full line up confirmed.  I’m so excited about this year’s poets.  We’re meeting again on Tuesday to try and finish the form off, and having the line up confirmed, subject to funding, will hopefully provide us with the motivation to finish the endless paperwork.

I also had an exciting meeting this week regarding a new anthology of Cumbrian poetry which I’ll be co-editing.  I can’t say much more than that at the moment, but watch this space, because there’ll be an official announcement soon.

There was a Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then Brewery Poets on Friday night.  I took a specular (mirror poem) that I’d written. I’ve always wanted to write one since reading Julia Copus’s ‘In the Back Seat of My Mother’s Car’.

Yesterday I ran Barrow Poetry Workshop – nine people from all over Cumbria and one new young poet who I was very pleased to see.  I met him a few years ago when I did the readings for the NCS summer school sessions in Ambleside, and then he appeared at the workshop, so that was a nice day, as well as the usual friendly faces being there of course.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Kate Fox.  Kate sent this to me a couple of weeks ago after reading my post around ‘mode of address‘ and who we are talking to as poets. I like the directness of this poem, and felt like, as a woman, it was talking to me.  Does that mean it can’t be read by men because it is talking about maternal lineage? I hope not – I hope the poem just shifts the ground underneath male readers by looking past them to the women standing next to them.

I also love the humour in this poem – ‘somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrier/ and your mum’s not said anything mean about your hair’.  I think the humour makes sure that the poem does not become sentimental.  That phrase/motto ‘you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends’ is kind of buried in the poem in the middle ‘you’re waiting for someone/to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you/your husband, your friends’.  I like that the poem acknowledges that there are different ways of living a feminist life,

These women who are not on an official record,
who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,
but who managed to steer their own course
through the things they were told they couldn’t do,
shouldn’t do.

This idea of women who are not on an official record came up yesterday in the workshop – poet Katie Hale is researching her family history and came upon a census where the man’s name is written and the women listed as ‘female relative’ with their age.

Kate Fox has made a living as a stand-up poet for ten years.She has nearly finished her PhD about class, gender and Northern humour). She has appeared on Radio 4.  She is currently making #Lass War on the man-heavy Northern Powerhouse.

Her second Radio 4 comedy series aired this summer. In the shows she talked about why she doesn’t want: children, a big white wedding, to be middle class or have a Hollywood body! (First series on iPlayer here: The Price of Happiness). She is one of the 17 poets for the BBC/Hull 2017 Contains Strong Language Poetry Festival (Great film about her commission here: Women of Words film). Her books include Chronotopia, just out from Burning Eye Books (ORDER IT HERE! Chronotopia) and Fox Populi from Smokestack Books. She has been poet in residence for the Great North Run, Saturday Live on Radio 4 and the Glastonbury Festival.

Oh- also, she recently invented a new word for when humour and seriousness combine: Humitas. Check it out here: The Conversation article 

Thanks to Kate for letting me use her poem this week.  Kate came and read at the Lakes Alive festival a couple of weeks ago, along with Mark Pajak, and they were both brilliant, putting up with gale force winds, torrential rain and an outdoor reading to a small and soggy audience.  They handled everything that was thrown at them with grace, humour and energy and left me congratulating myself at my own genius for booking them.  If you hear of Kate performing anywhere near you – go and see her.  She is funny, but her poetry will make you think as well.  She’s a great performer, but as you can see below, her poems have depth and layers and work on the page as well.

Spinning a Yarn – Kate Fox 
9
Imagine
you’re holding a thread
which is held by your mother,
then her mother,
then her mother,
double, treble, quadruple twisted ties,
back, back in a long line that stretches further than you can see.
Maybe you’re all in a field.
Somehow it’s not chaos,
somehow your nan’s not distracted by the Yorkshire terrier
and your mum’s not said anything mean about your hair
though mostly every alternate woman in my chain
would get on better with each other
than the one right next to her.
Anyway, you’re holding the end,
the thread’s vibrating 
but it’s just this frozen moment,
as if you’re waiting for someone, 
to snap the lens shutter so you can go back to people who suit you,
your husband, your friends,
this is sort of an obligation, sort of a privilege,
this moment,
making the chain, of women you’ll still mostly never name,
as they stretch into the horizon’s edge
and you’re all worried it will rain,
but you’re hearing fragments of chatter.
Trekking from the city centre during the blitz
for just one good night’s sleep,
how that Auntie started a driving school,
the realisation that your brows all wrinkle in the same place
when you laugh because you’re nervous.
These women who are not on an official record,
who didn’t chuck themselves under a horse,
but who managed to steer their own course
through the things they were told they couldn’t do,
shouldn’t do. They made it work.
They weren’t allowed strategies, 
they couldn’t shuffle soldiers 
across maps, piece up and rearrange continents,
but they all had tactics, 
making the best of what they had,
the day-to-day resistances and choices,
and even though we can’t see their faces
or hear their voices,
you hold that thread that they’ve all spun,
and still the looms are clacking on,
the threads are criss-crossing with other chains,
from women written out of history,
with ones who shouted loudly.
The more twists a thread is given,
the stronger it becomes.
Black threads, white threads,
ones that got lost and trampled in the dirt for years, 
but at this moment it’s making a double helix
down your maternal line,
then springs back,
echoes of thunderous looms,
the shuttle’s clack,
you’re holding it, just this one thread
in the great weave of history.
Will you keep to the old pattern
or start a new one?
Lose the weft, keep the warp?
Find new materials,
a different yarn to spin? 
Can you drop that thread altogether,
take up ones from another kin?
These choices
which are not completely yours
and not completely not.
Take this moment
while you can
to throw a nod of recognition
to the thread holders down the line,
then it’s yours. Begin. 
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PhD Musings: The Imperfect Victim/Imperfect Perpetrator

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As the stories have come out and are coming out about Harvey Weinstein and more and more women are speaking out, I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling sick, with feelings of nerves and anxiety.  I haven’t quite been able to work out why – I felt like I was over-identifying with the victims – I’ve never met Harvey Weinstein of course, and I’m unlikely ever to meet him.  It’s taken a few days to admit to myself that I’ve  met men like him my whole life, have learnt to deal/not deal with them, ignore them, laugh along, keep out of their way, or endured them.

In an article by Stephanie Boland she talks about the concept of the ‘imperfect victim’

You can read the whole article here
http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/harvey-weinstein-comment

Stephanie Boland writes:

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I was first groped. I only know it was on a minibus and that it was an older boy who rubbed the side of my breast by sticking his arm between my seat and the window. A group of them had teased me the whole journey — it was a camping trip and a long drive — and I’d played along. I’m good at playing along: good at mimicking the register of the banter, always quick with a comeback, able to suss out someone’s personality fast and get their mates laughing. Maybe you are, too. As I got off the bus, our chaperone asked if I was okay and I said yes, carsick, a little, and avoided the boy all weekend.

The concept of the imperfect victim is probably one that many women can identify with.  Throughout the course of my PhD, I’ve been looking back and examining my own life for experiences of sexism, but maybe a better way of describing them would be experiences of being the ‘imperfect victim’, and experiences of men who are ‘imperfect perpetrators’.  Men who are friends and continue to be so afterwards.  Men who are colleagues and continue to be so afterwards.  Men who are tutors, but just be sure to avoid them if they’ve had a drink.
//
One of the many reasons it can be difficult for women to speak out is our own ideas of what the p perfect victim is (dressed modestly, not drunk, not walking home late at night alone) and how we match up to it, but also of what the ‘perfect’ perpetrator should be like (a stranger, violent, and only extreme assault ‘counting’).
/
//
Over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting some poems around this theme.  The following poem is from a sequence I’m working on called ‘All The Men I Never Married’.
//
//
Things I didn’t know before writing this poem:
//
1) That something that happened to me when I was 17 had haunted me
2) That something almost happening can stay with you
3) That something happened
4) That my body did not let me down
5) That truth can be broken, and fragmented and this can make it more true
6) That I am both angry/not angry about it
//
One of the men in this poem, one of the boys  that this poem concerns sent me a Facebook friend request years later.  I accepted.  The act of doing this stirred up that near miss, that thing that almost but didn’t quite happen.  I wrote the poem. Afterwards,  I unfriended him without explanation.  The act of writing the poem helped me to realise what happened, what didn’t happen.
//
The idea of the ‘imperfect victim’ (drunk, at a party, wearing a skirt, going upstairs at a party, being alone, being alone with men, talking to men, being friends with a man) runs through this poem, as do ideas around imperfect perpetrators (a friend, a best friend, just having a laugh, boys will be boys, drunk).
//
What happens afterwards? After the near/almost/notquite incident? Or after the poem? What do women carry with them? What did I/do I carry with me? Writing about these incidents might be a way of finding out.  This poem is full of air, and space, and silence, and things not said, not thought. What happens to conceptions of assault and what it is when I put a poem around it?
//
This poem was published in the most recent issue of The Rialto, along with three more from the sequence ‘All The Men I Never Married’.    You can get a copy of the magazine from The Rialto website https://www.therialto.co.uk/pages/
rialto

All The Men I Never Married No.19

your dad handing out shots
////////////////bright green
/////////////////////////liquid sloshing
over the rim
//////////////onto my wrist
//////////////////////////steam on the windows
of the kitchen
////////////////and the living room
///////////////////////////////full of bodies
////////////////sitting in a circle
/////////////////////////////////your mother nowhere
get em down
/////////////you zulu warrior      
////////////////////////////get em down
you zulu chief chief chief
///////////////follows me
the singing
///////////////the dull thump of a bass
////////////////////////////////the staircase bending
and swaying
////////////////faraway bathroom
///////////////////////////////my hand on the bannister
to keep myself here
///////////////inside my body
///////////////////////////////inside this house
///////////////there’s darkness to my left
there you are///////////////////////////on a bed
//////////////in the dark
///////////////////////////////rolling a joint
////////////////////////////////////////////////hey babe you said
I liked/////////////////////that word on your lips
your friend
///////////////at the open window
//////////////////////////////letting smoke
slip out into the night
////////////////////////////////////////////////////it was good
to sit down
////////////////next to you
//////////////////////////////////////////////////////my bestfriend
first I was there
//////////////////////////////now I’m here
on the bed
////////////////on my back
//////////////////////////////////a naked woman
blu-tacked  and glossy///on the ceiling
/////////////////stares down at me from above
and the weight of you
/////////////////////////////////on top of me
and at first it’s funny
/////////////////as I try to get up
your knees////////////////////////////on my wrists
your hands///////////////////////////on my shoulders
that panic/////////////////////////////in my belly
I’ll remember it///////////////////as long as I live

your friend coming towards me
/////////////////////////////////his hand
on my breast
laughing///////////////////////////////both of you laughing

my knee    up   into your groin
////////you topple
/////////////////////like a small tree

and I’m up and out of the room
and into the night
where there are only stars
and the dark asks why
////////////////were you there in the dark
and the wind asks what
////////////////were you doing upstairs
and the moon asks why
////////////////were you wearing that skirt
but my body
////////////////my body asks nothing
just whispers
/////////////////////////////see
I did not let you down I did not
let you down I did not let you down

 

 

Sunday Poem – John Mills

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Sunday Poem – John Mills

Another week with no medical disaster, trauma or mishap so I think I am out of the woods.  Before my operation, I would work until at least midnight, writing or catching up with admin.  Since the hospital though, I’ve been going to bed at the latest by 10pm and getting up at about 8am.  I’m used to functioning on 6-7 hours sleep a night, so it feels very strange to be needing 10 hours sleep, just to get by on the minimal activities I’m doing at the minute.  I’m trying to accept it as part of the healing process.  I keep telling myself my body is still getting back to normal, readjusting after the shock of being cut open, poked,prodded and stitched back together again, and the rational part of my mind knows and understands this.  But the non-rational part of my mind is having a panic attack about all of the stuff that I’m not getting done on time.  People have been very understanding so far though, so I know I need to chill out a little bit.

Next Thursday 15th December I’m giving a lecture at the final Kava Poetry series.  I read for Kava earlier on this year with a terrible cold – in fact I didn’t read very much because I started coughing terribly, and in the end my friend Keith had to do the reading for me.  Kava is unique because as well as having a poet who reads their own work, there is also another invited poet who is asked to give a lecture on a topic of their choosing.  The series is run by Anthony Costello, and next week is the final one, which is sad, but I’m also looking forward to being there at the final Kava and seeing Anthony get some appreciation and recognition from the regular audience members.

This was one of my deadlines that went whizzing past – Anthony prints the guest poet’s lecture in a small pamphlet, and understandably asked for the lecture to be sent to him by the week before.  I was a day late – eventually sending it on Friday afternoon.  Anthony was very understanding but I did feel bad, as it can’t be easy organising an event, and printing a booklet out each time as well!

As most of you will know, the only thing I’ve had in my head for the past three months is my PhD, and feminism and poetry, so I decided to write my lecture around this.  I actually really enjoyed writing it and I’m looking forward to Thursday – not feeling too nervous at the minute.

This week I’ve also had a committee meeting for A Poem and a Pint and I have a list of poets to invite to Cumbria in 2017.  This is one of my outstanding jobs that I didn’t manage to get on with this week.  I also managed to make it to Manchester on Tuesday to meet two fellow PhD students, both at differing stages of the PhD.  It was both reassuring and inspiring to hear their thoughts and advice.  Rachel Davies writes a blog about her experience of the PhD – in fact, reading her blog was one of the main reasons why I decided to apply – it helped me to realise that doing a PhD could be for ‘people like me’ as well.  If you are thinking of doing a PhD, I would recommend reading Rachel’s blog – it’s really fascinating.  Rachel Mann, the other student that I met, is coming towards the end of her PhD.  Rachel is pretty amazing at being able to pull academic theories out of the air to illustrate a point – my ambition is to be able to talk like that about my PhD in three years time!

Seeing other people do things first is very important for me.  When I look back at all the big decisions I’ve made, they’ve always been foreshadowed by someone close to me making the leap first.  David Tait winning the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition made me determined to have a go the next year.  My friend J left her job with the music service to take up a new position elsewhere, and my sister left her job with the music service to go and be the manager at Animal Concern in Egremont.  Seeing them both go and do something they believed in gave me the confidence to go part time as a teacher the year after.  Rachel Davies doing a PhD – I read her blog for a year and finally worked up the courage to have a go.  I’m not sure if this is creepy, or just well thought out! Maybe my next ambition should be to do something without anyone doing it first – to inspire myself to make a leap into new territory.  Or maybe this is the way that everybody moves on, and if I asked all of those people, a chain of other people that they have learnt from and been inspired by would unfold, further and further back into time.

This week I’ve also managed to get along to two poetry groups – Barrow Writers and Brewery Poets, and I even had two different poems to take along to be critiqued.  I’m supposed to be concentrating on the RD1 and not worrying too much about writing poetry this term, but I can’t seem to stop.  It’s because I’m reading a lot – even reading academic books seems to make me write.  I’m not complaining though!

Last Wednesday I ran what is probably going to be a bi-monthly event at Natterjacks, a late night cafe in Ulverston.  It was a wonderful event – I think we had 19 on the open mic, but everybody was well behaved and didn’t read for too long, so we managed to finish at a reasonable hour.  In the second half, it’s time for ‘Hunger Games Open Mic’ which if you haven’t experienced it before, it is my invention to get over the natural humbleness and deference of some poets.  Basically, who ever gets up and gets to the front first reads a poem and then sits down and somebody else charges up.  It’s great fun – and we have even evolved a system of ‘runners’ for those who don’t feel able to leap up and fight their way through to the front.

My other meeting this week was with Pauline Yarwood to hash out the finer details about Kendal Poetry Festival.  I’m getting so excited about the festival already – last year I think I just felt stressed about the amount of work – this year, I know what the reward will be for the stress, which more than makes up for the hours spent applying for funding and carrying out admin.  We’re meeting next week to start our Arts Council bid so wish us luck!

Today’s Sunday Poem is by John Mills, who I met at Swindon Poetry Festival a few months ago.  John came to one of my workshops, then read a poem on the Open Mic that made me cry.  I’ve just finished reading his pamphlet Scarred which I’ve really enjoyed.  He writes about a wide range of subjects – running, depression, illness, war, family and the poems cycle through a range of emotions.  Some of them made me smile or laugh out loud, and some were very poignant.

John was born in Stoke in 1952 and spent his working life teaching English and playing sport and music.  He is very modest, and didn’t say much more than that about himself, but he has some lovely quotes on the back of his pamphlet – Helen Mort says his poetry is ‘Compassionate, bold and generous’ and Roger Elkin says that his poetry is ‘what all good poetry should aspire to!’ So there you go!

I’ve chosen ‘Anno Domini’ to feature from John’s pamphlet.  This is the last poem in the pamphlet.  I had to google Anno Domini of course, having no Latin at all.  Google tells me it means ‘advancing age’.  This poem is clearly written by someone who loves language and playing around with words.  I really like the ‘shilly shallying’ on the second line! I think it’s the first time I’ve read a poem with those words in.  I like that this poem seems to be about finding out what you really want to do – instead of what you think you ought to, or what is easiest – a subject close to my own heart!

The poem has a lovely, passing reference to the poem ‘Warning‘ by Jenny Joseph, with it’s famous first line ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’, in the second stanza with its ‘Let’s see./I have worn a purple shirt’ lines.  Although this poem isn’t about quite the same thing – the speaker in ‘Warning’ wants to do what she wants, to be outrageous, to not care what people think.  The speaker of this poem is tired of the middle road, of neither ‘being one thing or the other.’

The character of the speaker is wonderfully captured in these lines – I love how his thinking gradually unfolds.  It was this stanza which made me laugh out loud – it was the line ‘having been a boy’ that did it.  There is also something poignant and uncomfortable though about having to wait for advancing age until you can do what you want – although the poem is funny, there is an undercurrent of uneasiness for me when I read it.  It forces the reader to take a look at their own life, and their own desires, but it does this without preaching or hectoring – it has a very light touch.

I also really love the punchline at the end – the spending of the ‘inheritance’, which with one deft touch brings in the extra characters of the children, and again made me laugh with the surprise of it.

If you would like to order John’s pamphlet, you can find him on Facebook – send him a message, and he will post a signed copy out for the princely copy of £4 which is a bargain – the pamphlet really is a good read.

Thanks to John for letting me use his poem this week!

 

Anno Domini – John Mills

I am through with this
ambivalent shilly shallying,
this messy abrogation of responsibility
and settlement, for what I neither like
nor hate.
No more of this
piggy in the middle,
jolly sailing through life without
being one thing or the other.

It is time to step out!
To be my own man!
Let’s see.
I have worn a purple shirt
and having been a boy,
I am a very competent spitter.
So far so good.

I can do better than this.
I shall refuse to be the milch cow.
I’ll move away and see
the views I want to see.
Shatter the shackles of responsibility,
shun the pills given to combat
the bones and marrows of outrageous mis-fortune
and ease the cork out of a potion of my own
as I work my way through their inheritance.