Daffodil Hunting

Daffodil with students

I had the nicest dream this morning, just before I woke up. I dreamed that someone wanted to publish my novel. In fact – they had already published it, and I held it in my hands. I have actually dreamed this before, more than once. But never before was the dream accompanied by such a feeling of bright sweetness, which did not fade with the day. One day, maybe.

It was probably because I have been reading blog posts about other people’s books being published. And also because last night, for the first time, I piled up all the sections of my thesis, and held the wad of paper in my hands. And hugged it. It is scruffy and covered in notes. But it is a hellova lot of paper! This is exciting but also slightly daunting – all that will need checking, and some of it needs rewriting. But mostly it is exciting. It seems faintly ridiculous – I can’t believe that I have come this far and am actually going to achieve this thing! I will try to keep this feeling of sweet wonder alive, and tap into it when I need encouraging.

Today in my class we discussed Breton lais. The students seemed to like them. I didn’t ride my bike in due to the wind (70kph, says the weatherpixie). Walking home, through swirling eddies of rubbish and the frizzled remains of autumn leaves, I was glad. The wind roared like a low aeroplane. The trees staggered like drunks. I’ll be catching the bus to my dance class.

Daffodils and teapots

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I like weekends

Even when I spend most of them working on my thesis. Because I don’t feel guilty about going to yoga on Saturday morning, or the gym on Sunday afternoon. Because watching the thesis grow makes me happy. Because Sunday evenings are sweeter when you’re managing your own time on Monday, no matter how much there is to do. Because Leeds is not so bad.

I like zooming around on my bike, despite the buses and the potholes. I like the other English post-grads. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to really feel at home here with these people, who are wonderful. Approaching the end of my thesis, I see so many others in the same boat – uncertain about the future, but passionate and hopeful. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. Even if things don’t work out the way we hope they will, it will still have been worth it.

These are the nice things I have done in the past few weeks: experienced (this is the right verb) the last night of the York pantomime; learned yoga and how to dance; washed dishes at my friend’s disability conference, in exchange for dinner and wine; talked to my loved one on skype; taught Anglo-saxon poetry and Icelandic sagas; sat in pubs discussing poetry and general silliness; walked in the Dales in the sunshine and snow; listened to papers on radios and medieval animals; and, last night, watched a ballet production of Hamlet. This list isn’t exhaustive. Combing though poems in order to complete my last chapter has been pretty nice too.

Every time I arrive back in Leeds it hurts. Transitions are not easy. Sometimes I wish I had all my life in one place. But I guess there are advantages to this set-up. Only three more weeks of teaching, and then it’s off to Norway for the Easter break. I wonder what spring will have in store for me.

I’ve run out of photos. Maybe I need to go daffodil hunting.

A walk in the park

For two days this week the park by uni was covered in snow, or more precisely, frozen fog. It was beautiful.

Now it has warmed up again but the wind has come back. It shakes my window panes and keeps blowing out the pilot light in our water heater. I have been analysing poems all day and my brain feels as hazy as the sky. But it is nice – to hold the poems lightly in your hands and hear them talk to each other, to coax them out of hiding.

Winter sunlight

A dear friend of mine once wrote: ‘you don’t need a big backyard for sun: a deckchair and a lemon tree, its pockets bulging’. Well, I didn’t even have a lemon tree, but that didn’t stop the sun from warming the kitchen wall all afternoon. I had the house to myself all weekend, and on Sunday I worked in the kitchen, in the sun, next to the heater. Part of me wished I was in the frosty, sparkly dales (it was freezing but bright), but it was good to work on my chapter in calm and quiet.

In the evening I braved the cold and watched the sky blaze tropical, as the streetlights vied with the sunset.

And this was a good week

I met with my supervisors on Wednesday, and they liked my chapter!!! This is my last chapter. It was pretty tough to write and I was worried they’d tear it apart. Instead they said all kinds of nice things like I’m streaming ahead on my own now, they’re happy to sit back and watch! It just needs a little stretching and tidying, no more than ten days work. They reckon if I put my mind to it I could be done in September! So. I’m putting my mind to it. Most of what needs doing is adding in more close analysis of poems, which is my favourite bit anyway.

I taught Beowulf this week. It was so much fun reading it again – apart from reveling in the shiny, heavy language, I kept making all sort of new connections. (New for me, anyway.) I thought it was so interesting the way fratricide is emphasised in the narrative, and how Grendel’s descent from Cain (specifically, from Cain’s murder of Abel) is played against this. He is a monster – an enemy of God, and of the people of the story, but the people of the story commit the same sin which made him a monster in the first place. One of my students asked if this was another example of the Christian author of the poem distancing the Christian audience from the pagan practices of the past. An interesting thought…

I also asked them to read Tolkien’s ‘The Monsters and the Critics’, but I told them it was optional – a mistake I will not be making again (none of them read it). I enjoyed rereading that, though, too. When I was an undergraduate, I missed out on the Early Middle Ages module, but I made a point of reading Beowulf and that essay. Beowulf didn’t do a lot for me the first time I read it, but the essay made me shiver with delight. The way he talks about dragons! (I have a fondness for dragons.) This time I couldn’t help noticing how both universalism and nationalism frame his interpretation of the poem. He says it is a poem about man confronting the darkness of impending doom and inevitable death. He says this quite poetically. But – it’s not just that. The poem isn’t just about universal ‘man’. It is about a very specific society, which it goes to great pains to construct. The monsters don’t threaten humanity, but the Scandinavians. Hence my theory about Grendel, which I outlined above…

Anyway. The students weren’t quite as excited about it as I was, but it is a difficult poem and I think they did pretty well. Next week, the sagas….

Today was a good day

I wasn’t there, but I read about it, here and here and here.

And I had a pretty funny conversation with my supervisors about it. Supervisor 2, who’s one of those brilliant, old school lecturer types who wears a tie everyday and gave an awesome lecture on vikings yesterday wearing a plastic viking helmet (got to keep the punters entertained), said:
‘What do you say to an old fascist like me who asks – why don’t we get Norway to apologise for invading us all those years ago?’

Supervisor 1 (postcolonialist with a focus on Australia and New Zealand): ‘Well, for a start, and I know this doesn’t apply to you, I’d say that fascists usually aren’t very clever. And then I’d say, you need to learn about modernity.’

Ah. And now I was going to give you a nuanced and considered paragraph of my own thoughts on the matter, but it’s late and I have a headache after writing about poetry all evening. (Not the poetry’s fault, I’m sure.) Anyway, apart from the posts I linked above, here’s the best thing I read about the issue:

Why is the word ‘sorry’ important as part of the apology?
The word ‘sorry’ holds special meaning in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. In many Aboriginal communities, sorry is an adapted English word used to describe the rituals surrounding death (Sorry Business). Sorry, in these contexts, is also often used to express empathy or sympathy rather than responsibility.
During the 2007 election campaign, then Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd also recognised the significance of the word sorry:
“… simply saying that you’re sorry is such a powerful symbol. Powerful not because it represents some expiation of guilt. Powerful not because it represents any form of legal requirement. But powerful simply because it restores respect.”

Quoted from here. I was talking to a friend about it, who wonders if it will change anything. I wonder too. But I think this claim that it restores respect is more than just empty words.

Pen-y-Ghent

We dashed off to the dales again yesterday, and oh my goodness it was lovely! Warm sun on our faces and hardly any wind. All the snow had melted, save for a few pockets in the shadows of the stone walls. We climbed Pen-y-Ghent, another of the three peaks, and did a loop walk of about 20k. The photos don’t capture it at all. The first year I was in England I badly missed the sea, but being out in open spaces like this turned out to be just as good. The burnished hills and plains are like the sea in some ways, with the tufts of grass and heather. Oh and did I mention mud? Managed to put my foot through an invisible hole filled with water. I love seeing the dales in all moods – the clouds and snow and grey-greens are lovely too. I think my favourite are the clear, cold winter days when the whole landscape sparkles with frost. Yesterday the land was a great platter for the sun, and we stayed out until the sky dimmed and the cool slither of moon rose above the fields.

Spring?

You’ve been wooing me for days,
invisibly, with the most delicate of whispers.
With a fragrant smell despite the clouds,
with sunlight on my bathroom floor,
with snowdrops crowding the tombstones
of the old church.
I’m pretending not to notice,
knowing (rightly) that winter will crush me again,
hammer me with black weight,
and I am so tired.

How can I trust what weighs less than my breathing
and vanishes when I turn around?

But look, winter’s worn himself out with gravity
and there’s nothing to do
but breathe again, and float upwards.
I had read of the lightness of spring
but never felt it –
this quiet buoyancy – how strange!
O fickle lover, I know you won’t stay.
Now it’s birdcalls in the mornings,
and minute gifts of extra daylight,
and everything will rise again without trying,
impossibly.

I won’t speak of you yet, too loudly –
I might scare you away.

Yes, cold may come again,
with the wind and the hail,
but maybe I like you,
maybe I trust you,
maybe I’ll walk with you, now.

Poems and pancakes

Teaching went much better this week. In fact it was fun. I found a table in the corner of the room, moved it to the centre of the room, and we all squeezed round it. That was part of the problem last time – no table. It’s much easier to relax around a table (for the students as well as me). We discussed a very old poem based on a very old bible story, which included a feisty lady and some serious head-chopping action. So no surprise, really, that it held everyone’s attention!

I’ve been going Eastern this term in an attempt at a more active lifestyle. Bollywood dancing and yoga. Heh. I’m pretty uncoordinated at the dancing, and yoga has left me with seriously sore shoulders, but also energy and focus and confidence. It’s quite amazing. I’ll keep it up.

This little creature has been guarding our doorstep. Looking much happier today in the sunshine than she has for a while. I wish I could kidnap her. (In reference to a previous discussion, yes, she’s a she!)

I’ve been revising the first chapter I wrote for my thesis, on Francis Webb. His poems are pretty tough, so it’s not surprising that I had trouble with it to begin with. It’s so much easier now to see where I went wrong, and how I can transform the chapter into something quite exciting. So. That’s good too.

The worst thing about being so far from home is missing out on things. The first two members of a new generation of my family arrived the day after I left Adelaide. And an invitation to my cousin’s wedding arrived this week. I would have loved to be there.

My brain’s a bit funny tonight. Must be all the exercise. The only other thing of note this week is pancakes. Tuesday was pancake day. We ate pancakes with mushrooms and spinach and feta, pancakes with warm cherries and greek yoghurt and hot chocolate sauce, and, best of all, pancakes with lemon and sugar. No photos, we were too busy gobbling.

It snowed in Halden, too

I woke on Saturday morning to snowflakes dusting the wibble-tree and the cars outside, patterning my cobbled street. Not enough to be spectacular. But the strange loveliness of the snowflakes’ quick-feathered dance made me hold my breath. They swirled and twisted, weightless. And it snowed in Halden, too. I think they should put the whole town on top of a Christmas cake.

The Yorkshire Dales

Here’s the viaduct near Ribbleshead, part of the Settle-Carlisle railway (we caught the train across from Leeds). It was built in 1870. I think it’s great. It was threatened with closure in the 1980s, but after much campaigning it was restored in 1991. At the Ribbleshead train station, there was a little museum about the railway line, into which we retreated yesterday to escape the cold. The Spanish students who were with us were quite dismissive of the whole thing, and incredulous that anyone had made such a fuss. But I think it is a thing of beauty.

From the viaduct, you can see the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire dales. Above is the view of Ingleborough, with slightly better visibility than when I climbed it last year. If you’re a bit mad you can climb all three peaks in a day (in summer), including walking between them. We did it once in ten and a half hours, and could barely move afterwards.

Yesterday, we got to the top of the ridge of Whernside, but turned back due to the slippery ice and the extreme wind. It was quite difficult to stand upright. It doesn’t matter. I love this place.