Tag Archives: phdlife

Poetry and Everyday Sexism

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The first two paragraphs of the introduction to my thesis

Evening all! It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged. I’ve been busy revising for my PhD viva – or more accurately, panicking about my PhD viva.

Lots of people kept telling me that I should enjoy my viva, as it’s the only time I will get to talk to people who have read my whole PhD and are interested in my work.

I can see the sense in this, and the truth in it, but the rebellious part of me started to wonder why this is accepted as fact. Why is it the norm that a PhD thesis will not be read by anybody except a few other academics interested in the same topic? I could, I suppose, approach an academic conference of some kind to present my work – or at least, I could have done this before lockdown.

And I have done a few events where I have combined my creative and critical research. However, the thing that I often got frustrated about was that one of the things I enjoyed the most about writing the thesis, and the thing that unlocked the PhD as a whole was structuring it as a ‘reader-directed’ text. This means that there are options embedded in the thesis, and readers have to choose what they would like to read, and look at next.

So I have decided to do an online reading of some of the thesis which will feature online polls so that the audience can decide what they would like to listen to next! This is something that would just be impossible or very unwieldy to make work at a live event, so I’m really excited about the possibility of trying it out over Zoom.

This is an experimental reading – there will be a mix of prose and poems and I have no idea if it will work. I will share as much of what I’m reading as I can on screen, so that people with hearing issues can read along as well. Some of the content may be upsetting and deals with sexual harassment, violence and trauma.

The format of the thesis was partly inspired by my love of ‘Choose your own adventure’ books as a child. I will never forget the sense of power those books gave me, and the sense that language holds possibilities, and that writers wield those possibilities. I really hope some of you can join me on what feels like an adventure into a new way of meeting creative-critical research.

And last thing is – tickets went up this morning on FB and Twitter, and somehow have already managed to sell 50% of the tickets – there is a limit, despite the event being online, due to Zoom capacity. So if you’d like to come, please follow the Eventbrite link below to book a ticket.

If you would like to come, but can’t afford to, for whatever reason, please get in touch. I have three free tickets which have been kindly donated by fellow writers and would really like them to go to a good home. You don’t have to explain personal circumstances or anything – just let me know you’d like one.

The Passing of a Year

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I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I optimistically posted that I would still be blogging, but just not as frequently. Such a lot has happened in that year – I now have a fourteen month old Ally, who has completely changed my life, and we are all living through a global pandemic.

I clicked on my blog today looking for something else, and felt really sad that it was gathering dust and not active anymore – it was a place where I made so many lovely connections with people, and I would like to resurrect it.

I would like to use this blog to tell you all that I handed in my PhD thesis the day before lockdown officially began! When I found out I was pregnant, I was about to start the third year of my PhD. I remember googling ‘can you finish a PhD with a baby’, frantically searching for women that had managed it, trying to squash my rising level of panic. And that was before the severe morning sickness started…

I know it is useless in a way to say that yes, you can finish a PhD whilst having a six month old baby, because everybody’s circumstances are different, but I also want to say it is possible, because I did it. Although it was also hard, and put a strain on my finances. But if there is someone out there quietly panicking, I want to tell them it could be ok, and if you can make a human, of course you can make a PhD.

I wrote 80% of my PhD between the hours of 8pm and midnight, once Ally had gone to sleep. I was relatively lucky in that in that period, she WAS sleeping.

I made myself a chart and coloured a box in every time I wrote a hundred words. This was a great motivator for me – and it is really the only way I work. It is how I saved up £1800 to buy my first trumpet when I was 17. It is how I get anything done.

I was lucky in that my husband is self-employed, and he basically spent his time either working or looking after the baby. I spent my time looking after the baby or writing my PhD, and also fitting in a few bits of freelance writing work. Well actually, quite a lot of freelance writing work, because finances. We did put Ally into nursery when she was about nine months old so that I could get a bit more time to write.

I am lucky in that I have a supportive partner, unlucky in that I don’t have family nearby to help, lucky that I had enough money to put Ally into nursery for two half-days, unlucky that I couldn’t afford more and alleviate the stress a little. Somehow we muddled through, and I wrote a thesis which is probably the thing (apart from Ally) that I am most proud of.

I was talking to a friend about how hard it is to let the good things in, how it is easy to let negative things seep inside you, but the good things often bounce off me as I spin around looking for the next thing to achieve. But finishing this thesis is one of the things I let myself feel. I can still feel it now – I hope it will always be a warm glow inside me.

I now have the viva to do which is in mid-august. Strangely enough, I’m kind of looking forward to it. I want to get my PhD, and this is the last hurdle I have to get through. I am hoping I will be blogging here a little bit more, but this time I’m not making any promises.

I’ll leave you with a poem that was commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival called ‘For My Daughter’.

https://www.poetry-festival.co.uk/lockdown-poems/for-my-daughter-by-kim-moore/

For my daughter

And later, when she asks, I’ll say
some parts of it were beautiful –
how in their brightness
and sudden opening
the faces of the neighbours
began to look like flowers.
I’ll tell her how we began
to look back at photos
of our younger selves
with our arms around a stranger
or leaning on the shoulders
of friends, and saw that touch
had always been a kind of holiness,
a type of worship we were promised.
I’ll tell her that in some ways
our days shrunk to nothing,
being both as long as a year
and as quick as the turning of a page.
I’ll tell her how she learned to crawl
in those days, in those times
when we could not leave,
when bodies were carried
from homes and were not counted,
that she began to say her first word
while death waited in the streets,
that though I was afraid,
I never saw fear in her eyes.

35 Weeks and counting and poetry updates

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It’s been a while since I blogged again but I’ve been busy getting more and more pregnant and trying to get as much of my PhD done as possible before the baby arrives.  I’m now 35 weeks pregnant and officially on maternity leave from my PhD, which feels strange. I can’t quite let go of it at the moment still – it’s become a habit I can’t put down.

My maternity leave started on the 1st May and I decided to set myself a rather arbitrary target of getting up to 20,000 words of my critical thesis.  I say arbitrary because it was a self-imposed target, but I find I work best if I’ve got a goal to work towards.  Overall, the thesis has to be between 30,000 and 40,000 so I thought if I had 20,000 under my belt before my maternity leave started, I would feel a bit more confident that I would finish it.  The creative part of the PhD, my next collection I’m happy to let tick along at the side – it’s not finished yet, but I’m confident that I can finish it.  The critical part is harder to predict.

So the last couple of weeks have been kind of intense – I’ve been writing pretty much non-stop around the last few freelance commitments I’ve had.  I’ve had really productive meetings with two of my supervisors in the last few weeks as well on both the creative and the critical side – I know what I need to do next, and I’ve decided to slowly keep plugging away at it whilst I’ve still got the urge but just at a less frantic pace than I’ve been doing.

I also can’t believe that the baby will be here in five weeks.  It seems both that it’s gone really fast, and that I’ve been pregnant for years! It’s been a complete rollercoaster, which I know is a cliché, but it really has.  I’m now starting to feel excited instead of scared, and looking forward to the baby arriving, massively helped by attending a hypnobirthing course a few weekends ago.  I would highly recommend it to anyone feeling anxious/nervous/stressed about pregnancy or birth – it was full of really practical information about pregnancy but also lots of meditations to practice at home.  I was sceptical at first, but listening to a meditation on my phone the first night after the course helped me sleep straight through the night for probably the first time in about three or four months.  I listen to them every night now and I’ve gone from getting up four times a night because I’m so uncomfortable to just getting up once a night which I can just about cope with!

I have a few poetry updates for those that are interested.  The Poetry Carousel is happening again this December, although we’ve moved venue to Rydal Hall in Ambleside.  The course runs from the 6th-9th December 2020 costs £385 to share a room with a friend, £400 for a standard room or £415 for a superior room.  This cost includes workshops, accommodation, evening readings and breakfast, lunch and evening meals.

The Poetry Carousel is a residential course with a difference – four very different workshops with four very different tutors, all crammed into one weekend.  Each participant will be put into a group of between 8 and 10 to take part in a morning workshop with one of four tutors.  Afternoons are free for reading and writing, and in the evening, there are poetry readings in the Great Hall at the hotel.  Tutors confirmed so far are myself, Clare Shaw and David Tait with a fourth tutor to be confirmed.  If you’d like to book, you need to ring the hotel direct on 015394 32050 but any questions about the course, you can contact me directly on here or via email.

I’ve just got back from running my St Ives residential poetry course which was a brilliant week with possibly the best weather I’ve experienced since I started running the courses down there.  Kind of frustrating as I couldn’t get out and run or even walk very far but lovely for the participants!  St Ives will be running again next year, this time from the 27th April to the 2nd May 2020 and I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with the fabulous poet and writer Fiona Sampson as my guest tutor this year.  This course runs more like a traditional residential, with a maximum of 16 participants.  The cost of the week is £595 and this includes breakfast, three course evening meals, workshops, a tutorial with one of the tutors and readings in the evenings.  To book a place, please ring the hotel direct on 01736 796240.

A few other exciting poetry happenings in Cumbria – I’m on the organising committee of ‘A Poem and a Pint’ and our next event is happening on the 29th June with the fabulous poet Ilya Kaminsky.  The venue is Greenodd Village Hall and we will have some limited open mic spots available.  This is a really exciting opportunity to see one of the most brilliant poets writing today so get the date in your diary!

After the success of last year’s poetry competition, A Poem and a Pint are running a competition again this year, this time with the fantastic Carrie Etter as our judge.  First prize is £150, 2nd prize is £100 and 3rd prize is £50 with a special prize for a Cumbrian poet of £25.   The closing date of the competition is the 15th July 2019 and it’s a relatively fast turnaround – winners will be contacted by the 7th September and we will be having a prize giving event on the 21st September with Carrie Etter as our guest reader.  You can find more information about the competition here

If you need any information about any of the events listed here, please get in touch, and if you know anyone who might be interested in the residential courses, please feel free to share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a few

Sunday Poem – Chrissie Gittins

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Sunday Poem – Chrissie Gittins

Going out for a run – procrastination.  Playing on addictive computer game involving hatching dragons from eggs in a completely pointless exercise – procrastination.  Ringing my mum for a chat – procrastination.  Ringing my twin sister for a chat – procrastination.  Checking Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – procrastination.  Sending stupid Snapchat video to Hilda Sheehan – procrastination.   Everything that isn’t my PhD feels like procrastinating at the minute, like a distraction.  I realise that thinking of life in general as a distraction is probably not healthy in the long term.

I need to run otherwise I think I will lose the plot.  I try to limit myself to computer game when I’ve done a good couple of hours work on the PhD.  I ring my mum and my sister whilst I’m out walking the dogs.  I spend less time on social media – mainly because of my addiction to aforementioned dragon hatching game.  I practice saying no in the mirror but still say yes too often.  This blog could really be called procrastination, I suppose, which is maybe why I have slowed down with it a little recently, why the posts are a bit more sporadic.  But I feel connected to a wider poetry community when I write it – and I still like hunting out poems to post here.

Today I have ran 10 miles, and read and re-read a fantastic manuscript by Hannah Hodgson, nne of my Dove Cottage Young Poets.  This manuscript is her first pamphlet collection and is about to be published very soon by Wayleave Press.  I’ve written a blurb for the back, and sent it to Mike Barlow, her publisher.  I’ve also answered as many emails as I could get through, and am hoping I haven’t missed any.  I’ve read and re-read the feedback on my 6000 word report, or RD2 as it’s commonly known at MMU on my PhD progress so far.  I’ve started to respond to some of their feedback, just in bullet points at the moment.  Next Monday I will have a ‘mock viva’ where I will discuss my PhD, and their feedback with the scrutineers.

My usual psychological process is to panic or get anxious about anything like this in the lead up to it.  I spend copious amounts of energy worrying,and usually, it all ends up ok.  So I’m trying to just ignore this part of me that works itself up into a frenzy.  Or maybe not ignore, but not let it run the show.

I did this recently with a thing I did with BBC Radio Cumbria.  I did an interview and a recording of my poem ‘Suffragette’ as part of the celebrations to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote to some women and working class men.  I spent the next three days afterwards worrying I’d said something awful and made myself sound stupid.  When the interview was played and I eventually got the courage up to listen, I realised it sounded fine.  I was even quite proud of myself for doing it, again a new feeling for me! You can listen to the interview and recording here for the next 22 days: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05vm48h

So in the spirit of learning from previous experiences, I’m trying hard not to let my nerves or anxiety get the better of me.  Part of me is looking forward to discussing what I’m doing – my scrutineers are writers and poets I really admire, so I’m hoping it will genuinely be helpful and interesting, and thought provoking.  My stomach still does a flip flop when I think about it, but it feels under control.

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote.  Last night we had A Poem and a Pint.  Sadly, Joanne Limburg, our guest poet was taken ill at the last minute.  The wonderful John Foggin agreed to stand in at very late notice and made a 250 mile round trip to come and read.  It was a brilliant reading – John’s poetry was thought-provoking and moving and funny.  I was really pleased to see the audience loved him as much as I do and bought lots of his books – you can read his account of the evening over at his blog The Great Fogginzo’s Cobweb.  

The night before, Friday, I was reading at Lancaster Spotlight, which was a fundraising night to help them raise money to continue their good work whilst they apply for Arts Council funding.  They had a huge turnout and I got to read with another one of my Dove Cottage Young Poets, Matthew, who was then asked back to do a longer set at Spotlight later in the year.  I found this almost as exciting as the first time I read there, and was invited back to read.

On Tuesday of this week I got back from being away for about six nights.  I read in London on the Monday night at an event at the British Library for the Royal Society of Literature alongside the brilliant Malika Booker and Nick Makoha.  It was a really lovely night and I got to spend some time with a few friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

I travelled down to London from Ty Newydd, where I’d been for five nights, running a residential course with my co-tutor Hilda Sheehan, who is also one of my closest friends.  Being with Hilda always fills me with joy and giddiness so it was great to spend time with her.  Our students were a fantastic group from a school in Manchester who were an absolute delight to teach.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow because I get to spend three days with my other best friend David Tait! He is over visiting from China.  Tomorrow we will be hanging out in Bowness and Grasmere and going for a walk with the dogs, and talking all things poetry.  So no time really to get nervous about the viva.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Chrissie Gittins, who I met quite a few years ago at Stanza Poetry Festival.  Chrissie was kind enough to send me a copy of her pamphlet, Professor Heger’s Daughter, and I asked her if I could share the title poem here.

I found a great interview with Chrissie where she talks about writing this poem, which I thought was a really interesting description of the process, and the lengths we go to as poets here which is really worth a read.  She writes

I first read about Charlotte Brontë’s letters to Constantin Heger in the Saturday Guardian early in 2012. They were mentioned in an article by Lucasta Miller about a recently discovered fable which Charlotte had written. After her aunt died Charlotte returned home to Haworth from Brussels, where she’d been studying, and wrote a series of passionate letters to her teacher. Professor Heger tore them up on receipt and threw them in the wastepaper basket; the only reason they survive is because his wife rescued them, stuck and stitched them together, and kept them safely in her jewellery box. The letters are now part of the extensive collection of Brontë literary manuscripts held at the British Library.  

I think one of the many lovely things about this is the utter chance of it – that Chrissie read about the letters in the Guardian, presumably minding her own business reading the newspaper and not expecting a poem to pounce on her. Maybe this is what being a poet is – being ready for these chance encounters or meetings which might lead on to a poem or a pamphlet.

The poem is in the voice of one of Professor Heger’s daughters, and uses the arrival of Charlotte Bronte’s letters as its structure.  I love how each letter is tied to a particular month, and the physical descriptions of the letters – the pieces ‘like islands floating on the green chenille’ and ‘river tears’ and the ‘shadow words’.

I also really like how Chrissie has threaded some of the actual letters through the poem.  The poem is a poem of contrasts – the close description of the fragments of letters contrast with the wider view of the outside world with its ‘canopy of leaves’ and later the ‘leaves crusted with rust’.  There is a wonderful telescoping effect as the eye of the poem closes in and then widens out again.

The first time we hear the daughter speak is in the last but one stanza, when she asks the father “Did you love her? Did you ever love her?”.  I like how the subject, the ‘her’ is left a mystery.  She could be talking about her mother, his wife, or Charlotte Bronte, and this mystery isn’t resolved by the father’s action of throwing the letters into the fire.

You can buy Chrissie Gittin’s pamphlet Professor Heger’s Daughter from Paekakariki Press for £10.  This is a limited edition letterpress pamphlet – it really is a beautiful object.

She was was born in Lancashire and lives in Forest Hill in South London. She studied at Newcastle University and St Martin’s School of Art, and worked as an artist and a teacher before becoming a freelance poet/writer. She writes poetry, radio drama, short stories, and poetry for children.  Professor Heger’s Daughter was published in 2013 and she’s been busy since then, publishing a short story collection Between Here and Knitwear with Unthank Books in 2015 and a children’s poetry collection Adder, Bluebell, Lobster in 2016 with Otter-Barry Books.  You can find out more information about Chrissie over at her website http://www.chrissiegittins.co.uk/ 

Chrissie is also heading up north soon to give a poetry reading for adults at Settle Sessions in North Yorkshire on June 8th.  On June 9th – she’ll also be running a 1 hour poetry workshop for children followed by a short poetry reading – more information over at the website of Settle Sessions.
Thanks to Chrissie for letting me use her poem here.

Professor Heger’s Daughter – Chrissie Gittins 

The first came in July when the canopy of leaves
cooled the garden in the afternoon,
she laid the pieces on the table
like islands floating on the green chenille.
Taking paper strips she strapped the words together.
I shall see you again one day…it must happen since I long
00for it.
A coral blush rose in her cheeks.

Mother found the second in October,
leaves were crusted then with rust.
She pulled the river tears together with feather stitch,
white cotton whiter than the page,
the thin paper showing Charlotte’s
shadow words behind.
my sisters are keeping well but my brother is always ill.

In January, when threads of silver birch were
stained with plum my mother found nine pieces
nestled next to last year’s invitations.
If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely
I shall be absolutely without hope –

Another in November, leaves rotting in the rain.
I lost my appetite and my sleep – I pine away.
This was the last.
I know what it is to love a man and not be loved.
But to see my mother’s eyes remember pain?

When my father lay on his deathbed,
his skin wax, his hands clammy and limp,
I flung the letters in his face.
“Did you love her? Did you ever love her?”
He screwed his strength enough to toss them
in the fire.

He found his peace in death.
I keep the letters locked beneath my bed
in a polished leather case.
It’s only in the spring I take pleasure in the trees,
I stroke the buds and stems and will the curling leaves
to unfurl into sunlight, to bring a fragrant ease.