Feline Confused

So, anyone else been inordinately broody since the EU referendum results rolled in to ruin our lives? Just me? Weird, I assumed recurring dreams of pregnancy and babies would be totally normal in a time of massive political crisis and uncertainty about the future…

our babies
A few baby designs we’re toying with

However, since I’m not planning any babies until I’ve given birth to a completed PhD, we’ll move on. ISN’T THIS EU STUFF A RIGHT BLOODY MESS? Honestly, it was so initially all-consuming I had to ask my beloved to put daytime blocks on all social media and news sites because I was getting n.o.t.h.i.n.g. done. Still got the blocks on and while I don’t advocate burying your head in the sand when it comes to issues as important as these, it has served to calm some of my anxieties and means I can work without feeling the need to trawl Twitter for pro-Tory tweets to get angry with.

But enough of that nonsense. This week I went to see Cats (the musical based on TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, not just emphatic felines) as part of my “different approaches to research” attempts (and also I bloody love a good musical). Growing up Cats was the show my mum didn’t want to take us to, and that always puzzled me. I knew she didn’t really like cats as animals (like, if one came in the garden she would wing a potato at it with all the speed, but thankfully none of the accuracy, of James Anderson) But now…I understand.

Cats is clearly the product of a cocaine-fuelled weekend at Lloyd-Webber Towers; Andy and Tim (Rice) in lycra reciting children’s poetry to one another then having a serendipitous lightbulb moment when they realise this is the 80s, everyone is just as high as they are and they can definitely net a few mil if they add some lights and a funky beat to the proceedings. And hey, for extra fun, let’s make it three and a half hours long with only a very vague storyline to keep the whole thing plodding along.

Maybe it was because we were boiling hot in the Playhouse, hemmed into the tiny balcony seats and distracted by the fact our legs were slowly dying through lack of movement, but by the time the interval rolled around, we both had to clarify that we hadn’t missed some vital piece of the story that was the key to unlocking this trippy, cat-infested ballet-come-opera. But nay, this really is just TS Eliot’s poems set to music that’s fast enough to convince you you’re having a total blast.

I exaggerate. There IS a worm of a story stringing things together. The Jellicle Cats are having a get together under the Jellicle moon where Old Deuteronomy (read: representative of the patriarchy) will choose a Jellicle cat to be reborn into a new Jellicle life. Oh, and if you don’t know what a Jellicle cat is, go see Cats – I assure you it won’t be long before that’s the ONLY Jellicle thing you know.

Before any sort of rebirthing plans are made, we meet a number of cats, including Grizabella (read: representative of women, particularly older women, in society), a former “glamour cat”…make of that what you will, but I think it’s meant to imply she’s a washed-up porn star/prostitute?? Bear in mind, Grizabella was never part of Eliot’s poetry, but no doubt he’d be totally fine with the misogynistic handling of an older female character. Anyway, Grizabella is the obvious choice to be reborn but, UH OH all the other cats hate her and refuse to go near her. So downtrodden is she that she’s forced to sing the heart-wrenching ballad Memory, a song about Elaine Paige’s rise to fame and fortune and a regular show on BBC Radio 2. Eventually the patriarchy takes pity on her and she flies off into the rafters never to be seen again until the curtain call where she gets the biggest WOO of the night for singing the one song that everybody knows.

What annoyed me the most about this pseudo-storyline was that it was probably Old Deuteronomy who told the other cats to treat her like shit in the first place only to have a change of heart and let her be part of the gang again. THIS MUCH-LAUDED MALE CAT IS A SEXIST BULLY. As are all the other cats. Great sense of pitch and rhythm, but bullies nonetheless. Who are they to judge Grizabella’s glamourous past? Whether they set out to or not, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice have perfectly captured the treatment of older women in society through anthropomorphism (see, I told you it was about my research).

Ugh. I’ve spent so long getting worked up about sexism I haven’t left myself to discuss The Rum Tum Tugger, who, at one point crip walked on stage playing hip hop bagpipes (‘_’) Or the resonating racism in Growltiger’s Last Stand (despite recent changes to the lyrics), which really ought to be completely rewritten or cut from the show at this point.

I’ve also been quite negative about the show overall, which isn’t entirely fair. It was alright. Like 5/10? There was a 15 minute dance number just before the interval which really threatened to stick the knife in for me, but Scrimbleshanks The Railway Cat managed to save it. To give Cats its due, it’s brought a bunch of kids poems from the 30s to life for a modern audience and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, which is pretty cool I suppose. I also want to reiterate, I love musicals, so I’m not just being a Debbie Downer here.

Take home message? Dogs are better than cats:


A Week Off


Just a wee post to share a drawing what I done during my post-second-year-review-hand-in-week-off. Decided to try out something new so I gots me a black page notepad and some Posca pens and went mad for it. I’ve completely fallen in love with Posca pens now and we are to be wed this coming September (seriously, did you know that people CAN actually fall in love with objects? Thanks BBC’s Casualty, season 30, episode 3, “Objectum Sexuality” for bringing this to our attention.)

Anyway yeah, here’s my latest project.

Mariannes Black Pattern.jpg

Mazza OUT!

Thoughts on Zootropolis

As Popeye might say after a very busy period of work, “Ug ug ug ug ug ug ug! I’ve been so busy lately, it has been really mad”, and I’d like to mirror those sentiments exactly as an explanation for why I haven’t written a blog in so long. I had my second year review deadline a couple of weeks ago and I also (perhaps foolishly, only time will tell) signed up to teach next year so have been doing some prep stuff for that, all the while cracking on with some hot talking animal/poetry research. Earlier in the week I was feeling a bit BLAH about the whole PhD situation, though I’m assured that’s just the general vibe of second year. Anyway, I decided to take some time way from my desk and approach my research from a slightly different angle…

…yesterday I went to see Disney’s latest offering, Zootropolis, set in a world where anthropomorphic animals rule with not a human in sight. Guyyyyyyyyys! It was really great. So I figured, since I’m passing this little cinema sojourn off as research I’d better share some of my thoughts on the film in the context of my PhD (for those of you who have forgotten/just don’t know, I’m studying talking animals in poetry). I’m aiming to keep spoilers to an abso minimum, but apologies if there are any – will flag ’em. Also the accompanying pictures are actual stills from the film that Disney sent me because they knew I was writing this blog.

The general story of Zootropolis goes: animals have evolved to a point where prey and predators live in complete harmony, within human-type cities, where they drive cars, wear clothes and speak perfect American-English. We follow the story of Judy Hopps, a bunny from the country who wants to be the first rabbit police officer, but LOL bunnies can’t be cops, can they?! (SPOILER) Well, as we see during the course of a handy training school montage, yes. they. can.

So while all the animals pretend that they’re bffs, there’s still some very clear animosity towards foxes, who are characterised as sneaky, treacherous, mean and violent, and apparently, out of all the other predators (including but not limited to, tigers, lions and wolves), are the most likely to break the sacred bond of trust made with prey animals in order to guzzle down a lamb or two. So OF COURSE Juddy Hopps is going to have to befriend a fox in order to succeed in her adventure. Enter Nick P. Wilde, a smooth talking hustler perfectly voiced by Jason Bateman.

zootropolis 1

This raw deal for foxes seems to hark back to the medieval bestiaries, where foxes are portrayed as devious lad pals of Satan who pretended to be dead in order to lure birds into their mouths – a trope that has been handed down through fables and fairy tales and is still fairly pertinent today. BUT what’s nice about this film is the shattering of these dull illusions to show that foxes ARE a-okay and deserve respect, just like all the other animals. Really, that seems to be the take home message of the whole film – be kind to others and treat everyone the same. GOOD WORK, DISNEY, making us all reevaluate our treatment of any number of political issues including but not limited to race, gender and religion by forcing us to see ourselves in these little animal dudes!

So yeah, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the “sympathetic imagination” and the ways animals can be used to activate this facet to provoke empathy and compassion in humans. I will (poorly) elaborate on this in the following few lines: The fact that there are zero humans in this film is great, because it means the audience has to put themselves in the position of the animal, therefore subconsciously eliciting more respect for animals and their feelings as living beings. At the same time the sympathetic imagination allows us to overlay the message behind the movie onto other aspects of our lives – if we follow Judy Hopps’s example of positive attitude plus helpful demeanor everything will work out in our favour (that’s kind of a spoiler, but this is Disney, I’m sure you saw it coming so no complaints).


Interestingly there were no domestic animals featured in this film, i.e. cats and dogs, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe because IRL pets (cats and dogs in particks) bridge the gap between humans and animals so we don’t want to see them in predator/prey situations? Or maybe the idea of dogs and cats fending for themselves (without our benevolent intervention) isn’t quite so appealing as a rabbit and a fox getting shit done and makin’ it work?

Anyway, this is now really long and even though I have 2 more pages of notes, I’ll stop. If anyone else has seen this movie and would like to discuss it, I am MORE than willing to go into way too much detail (I had a whole section on the self-referential nature of Disney, but I’ll save that for another day.) Oh also, if you like Disney in general, be sure to check out Me3 Comedy’s podcast It Disney Matter (It Does) by clicking here (basically me and my comedy/life partner Richard Hanrahan discussing Disney movies with a comedy edge).

Here’s a brief run down of life since last I blogged:

  • Poetry – Oh yeah I won a thing! The Grierson Verse Prize…so that was nice and surprising.
  • Drawing – Bought myself some Posca pens and a black page notebook and have been doing stuff, will post images soon.
  • PhD – Counted up and already have 40-50 poems, which means only like 30 more to have the amount necessary. Slowly getting back into research too…as I explained above. Currently reading The Animated Bestiary by Paul Wells and The Lives of Animals  by J.M. Coetzee.
  • Puppy – Chumbo turned 1 in March! He’s so grown up these days and ridiculously well behaved (most of the time). Here he is being undeniably adorable:

chumbo age1



Readings and Risings

It’s been another alarmingly snappy week over here at Marianne Towers, so much so that I am apt to wonder if someone is playing a trick on me – pretty sure none of the clocks in the flat are correct, at least, none of them show the same time and often I’ll settle down for LITERALLY ONE GAME of Candy Crush and all of a sudden three hours have passed and I’m still not a published poet.

Did I say we bought a sunrise alarm clock? Well, we bought a sunrise alarm clock and it’s actually pretty cool. You set the time you want to wake up, then half an hour before the light comes on and gently brightens as though t’were a crisp spring daybreak and you feel like a little bird ready to wake up and sing. I genuinely didn’t think it would work for me, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to say that it does. I usually wake properly about 15 minutes before the alarm goes (you can have a beeper, just to make sure you get up) and get Chumbo up on the bed for a morning cuddle (we held off for months and months before we let him on the bed and now I can’t imagine why!) So yeah, my advice if you hate getting out of bed in the morning, and let’s face it, literally everyone does and if you say you don’t you’re lying to yourself and to us, then I highly recommend investing.

poetry swag
Poetry Swag

Saying that, I had a lie-in this morning because I woke up at 4am after I heard a ghost playing marbles in the empty flat upstairs, and then couldn’t get back to sleep for about a hundred years (1 hour). Also I was out last night at the Shore Poets Quiet Slam, where I took 2nd place, yay! My good pal, Russell Jones won overall with some top notch poems from his new book The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping (buy it here << an imperative). Thanks to Shore Poets for having me along – really enjoyed listening to some fantastic poets and being allowed to get up and read for them in return.

Me and Russell, along with 3 other super duper writers – Lauren Pope, Aileen Ballantyne and Jonathan Bay (we’re collectively and affectionately known as Poetry Gang) – will also be reading at Wash Bar on The Mound this Thursday (4th Feb), so do come along if you’re free! It’ll be really relaxed and fun, and best of all it’s freeeeeee. We’re all Edinburgh University PhD-ers – Aileen and Russell have both graduated into official Doctors and are, I think, running a small GP (General Poetry) practice just outside of Glasgow, while we three others are slogging away in second year.

Reading Deets (poster designed by Richard Hanrahan)

I’ve been doing quite a lot of editing this week, in preparation for said readings/sending things away to magazines because ain’t nobody gonna come knocking on my door with a publishing deal amiright? I’ve mentioned before that I am ridiculously lazy/nervous/picky about putting my work out there and I think it’s because of this editing process. Sometimes I discover old poems that I wrote years ago and filed under “Fucking Dire Never Read Again” and realise they’re not actually that bad after a few tweaks, but most of the time I wind up editing myself into a corner clutching words like “darkness” and “blood” and “eggs” and insisting I can squeeze them into every single poem if I just keep cutting and pasting. It becomes very boring very quickly and I only have myself to blame. I’m really working on an objective point of view for editing but it’s haaaaaard.

I am, however, finding it so useful to workshop pretty much everything I write with Poetry Gang (did I mention we’re doing a reading this week? Click here for more info). We meet just about every week and share thoughts on one another’s work. Having four voices of reason critiquing my writing in a friendly environment definitely helps to put stuff in perspective – you may have gathered, I can get really surreal really quickly if I’m not kept in check.

Anyway, I’ve spent bloody ages intermittently writing this, singing along to the Les Misérables soundtrack and refreshing my hot water bottle so I should really get back to some actual work. Here’s a round-up of my week:

PhD: Still reading Thinking With Animals and enjoying it. Need to go get the Medieval Bestiary back from the library since it was usurped before Christmas.

Poetry: Turns out I hate Shelley, but I really like Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. I think I’m gonna sub Percy out for Tony Harrison and tap into my Yorkshire upbringing. Elsewhere, I wrote TWO sonnets. Well one and a half…but I’m counting it.

Exercise: Nice dose of swimmer’s ear means no swimming this week, sad faces all round. Loads of walking and yoga instead though.

Puppy: Still super cute and virtually a real dog now, so will probably stop having to call him a puppy. Read something about a dog who died and cried loads and hugged him for about an hour.

Drawing: Errrrm, still not back to this yet. But I did start a new painting at the weekend, so that’s fun. Oh also, I know it’s not a drawing, but me and Hitch had a pottery lesson a couple of weeks ago and went back to glaze them. Super fun and shall share pictures eventually.

Comedy: Brand new It Disney Matter podcast for your listening pleasure! Check it out here

Enough now.

The Days Tick By

Apparently it’s Monday again already, so time for another blog. As usual, I feel like I haven’t done that much this week, but when I look back through my notes I realise I’ve actually read quite a lot so that’s good!

One of my resolutions this year (yeah, I know I wasn’t going to tell you,
butIMG_0300 it’s relevant now) was to date the pages of my notebook and write down literally any “interesting” thought I might have throughout the day. A sort of pseudo diary, I suppose, because I’m not really recording events as such, just images and musings. So yes, I’m using “pseudo” to mean both “sham” and “pretentious” here…hmm, well done me? Not a particularly novel idea, but I’m finding it quite helpful; I’m certainly getting plenty of creative writing done now anyhow. I’m also toeing the water in terms of research too. Currently reading Daston & Mitman’s Thinking With Animals, which is pretty darn relevant/interesting thus far.

Just got back from the library, which was, as always, oven-like in its ability to cook me slowly from the inside out. I picked up the complete works of Shelley, Dickinson and Rossetti. Not my usual bag, but I spoke to my supervisor last week who suggested choosing three poets and ONLY READING THEM FOR A WHOLE MONTH. Initially a year was suggested and we was like whaaaaaat?! But we agreed that that’s an inordinate amount of time to only read three poets, particularly when I have a thesis to write about three entirely different poets. It was also suggested that I might like to read some more “traditional” works, since I’m a postmodern, free verse kinda gal and find the very idea of rhyme and metre utterly nauseating. That’s not necessarily to say I don’t like it when other people do it, I just cannot bear it when I try to do it myself.

So these are the three I pick because…you know, I heard they’re quite good. Right now I find the idea of this task utterly arduous, so I’m throwing in John Ashbery as well otherwise I think I’ll go mad. I’m also listening to James Schuyler’s Hymn to Life LOADS because it’s bloody great and ain’t nobody gon’ stop me!

me and john ashbery

I’ll keep you posted on how long I last with this. (NB, yeah, I know I probably should have read all of these poets in more detail than I have thus far, but I planted my roots in linguistics, not literature, so gimme a GD break, would ya?)

Burns Nicht today, obvi, so off for some haggis and poetry reading with pals this evening. This time last year I was taking part in the NLS Burns Night Slam which is worth popping along to if you’re in Edinburgh and at a loose end – lots of great performers taking part in a welcoming environment. I’m sad I’m not doing it again!

Right, back to the grind. JK I’m gonna eat a piece of toast first, and then get back to it. Here’s a rundown of the rest of my week:

  • Poetry – two poems finished, one of which needs major work, the other…is okay for now.
  • PhD – See above, I guess.
  • Exercise – 25 lengths at the pool and an earful of water, which is making me feel a bit sickish tbh.
  • Drawings – Pretty much forgot that this was one of the things I was doing…I’ll pick that back up at some point soon, I’m sure.
  • Comedy – We recorded a podcast yesterday! It Disney Matter (It Does) is officially baaaaack! I’ll get a link up at some point, because I know you’re all dying to listen.
  • Puppy – Got bathed this weekend, looking extremely dapper! Wasn’t going to post a picture of him this week, but he’s just too cute, so I’m sharing: IMG_0295

See you next week, dolls.

Back in Black (I’m wearing white)

Really struggling to figure out how to open this blog so let’s start with a short hello: hi! How have you been? That’s great. I’m alright as well, just hacking away at my little block, trying to make something meaningful out of it.

SO, PALS! I’m officially “back” after a short break from pretty much everything. In September I decided to take some time away from my PhD; a tough decision that wasn’t made lightly, but has been, I think, for the best. Basically I just wasn’t producing poetry because I was dealing with lots of mad life issues (see here for a very brief insight into that). I decided I was ready to work again in the new year, so properly started second year about a week ago.

Current reading pile

Slowly getting back into a normal flow and trying my very best to stick to a rigorous schedule of research + creative writing every day. Completed one whole poem last week, so how’s that for prolific?! (Bear in mind I challenged myself to write 40 poems in 40 days a few years ago and succeeded…a poem a week be slowwwww, man!) I’m also trying to push my research in a slightly different direction now, but I’m not certain enough of it to form coherent sentences…watch this space though!

I’m also trying to get back to sending my work to magazines/journals, which I’ve never been the best at because I never feel like anything is good/finished enough for the eyes of others. Aaaaand the swiftness with which everything has been rejected lately only serves to reinforce that, but life is in the trying as no successful person ever said.

I took a break from Facebook because I was spending far too much time worrying about what my life wasn’t in comparison with everyone else’s instead of concentrating on what it is, which is not that bad overall. I don’t miss Facebook itself but I do miss out on certain events etc. though I’m undecided on whether or not that bothers me. Hey, what can I say? I’m a massive flake and I never go to anything anyway 🙂

I took a big break from swimming, which I definitely regretted come the new year when all the excellent muscles I’d been honing had shrunk away to nothing and I struggled to do EIGHT lengths, in comparison with the 30 I’d built myself up to previously. Persevering though and up to 20 lengths already, so I can officially tell M People that’s what I’ve done today to make me feel proud.

I took a break from Britain in November and went to Boston to visit one of my besties who just had a divine baby who taught me it’s okay to soil yourself and cry about it. It was also our 10 year friendiversary last year so it was great to be able to actually hang out in person instead of on WhatApp (Boston is just about too far to walk).

Boston pics
A few wee highlights

Obviously being on holiday meant leaving Chumbo behind, which was SO much harder than I thought it would be! I cuddled him and wept for about an hour the night before we were due to fly. Seeing him again when we got home definitely took the sting out of leaving the US. (Oh yeah, so obviously we kept Chumbo! As you might remember a few months ago we were having a lot of problems with him, but he’s had a major turn around and is basically a dream dog now. More posts about him in the future, I’m sure.)

Me3 Comedy took a break from comedy, although we did perform our very first live gig back in October! It was really good fun and I think people enjoyed it…I certainly laughed on stage when I wasn’t meant to, so I suppose at least one thing must have been funny. Here we are with Norris & Parker and Planet Caramel:

hot bed
Comedy creatures

We’ll be back to podcasting as of next week and (fingers crossed) will be filming a brand new sketch the following week, which I’m quite excited about.

I think that’s all my breaks so here’s a very quick round up of literally everything else I did in the last three and a half months:

  • Re-watched all of Grey’s Anatomy like a total LEGEND (loser)
  • Got really into ironing?
  • Rediscovered Shrinkles
  • Got shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and didn’t win
  • Developed a taste for coffee
  • Gave up sugar
  • Started eating sugar
  • Gave up sugar again
  • Chilled the flip out

So dat’s it. I was meant to write a blog last week to talk about all my new year’s resolutions, but it’s too late baby now it’s too late, though we really did try to make it, so they’ll just have to stay between me and my conscience.

Peace and love x


Giving Away Juice Like it’s Going Outta Fashion

Lads, lads, lads. I missed a blog innit. Actually I missed two. I don’t think anyone besides be noticed or was disappointed by it, so I could probably get away with not drawing attention to it. HOWEVER, Catholic guilt forces me to acknowledge the error of my ways and to apologise profusely for it.

The main reason I didn’t write any blogs for two weeks is because, while there’s been lots going on, I don’t really have a lot to say about any of it in particular. Still don’t, but if I leave it any longer, I may implode. So here’s a really quick run down of some (but not all) things that have happened in the last two weeks:

  1. I made crème brulee. Literally about ten minutes ago, which is why I’m mentioning it. It’s still fresh; haven’t even cracked its lid yet, mates. (Took a quick brulee break from writing thing and smashed that sugar in good and proper. Let’s just say Mary and Paul would have been less than impressed with the texture, but would have awarded medium marks for taste.)
  2. I swam quite a lot. I very much loathe to admit that exercise is good for the soul, but admit it I must. I went in the Commonwealth pool last week when it was 50m long and 2m deep. If you don’t know me, bear in mind I’m quite afraid of water, so this was an intermediate Big Deal. I did ten whole lengths and managed to not drown. Just rackin’ up them aspirations and knockin’ ’em outta the park. (Haters, quit worrying about my low level of achievement here; I went and did 25 at my normal pool this morning (normal pool = half the size << for all you maths wizards))
  3. We built two new wardrobes, a set of drawers and a shoe cabinet. There’s always something about flatpack furniture that taps into my inner carpenter. I believe this is the legacy that Jesus left us when he died for our sins; that one day we would all be able to successfully place each distinctly labelled screw into its corresponding hole with ease, so that even if couples argue throughout the entire buying, building and positioning process, they can look upon their shoe cabinet when they’re finished and be glad.
  4. My bestie came for a visit with her beau, proving, as always it doesn’t matter how long we’re away from one another, we can still do a really fucking GREAT Back Street Boys sing-a-long.
  5. I started reading Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please. Very nearly finished it and can say it’s been as funny and great as I expected it to be.

And now, please don your aprons, for beans are about to get spilled…

“Marianne, you haven’t mentioned anything even vaguely work related, despite your previous, exquisitely written blog post about all the fun stuff you’re researching as a PhD student!” I hear you cry…

Guyyyyyys, I’ve had to take an interruption of study for a wee while. UGH, I know. I shall explain things in really basic terms, a) because the details make me sad and b) because the details aren’t something most people would wanna read over lunch.

My brother, David, died about 16 years ago in a really unpleasant way, the knock on effects of which have spoiled most good things in life up to this point. Right now it’s all getting hashed up and relived and “sorted out” by various bodies (not sure how much I’m allowed to say in a public forum and I’m too lazy to go downstairs and ask my mum. BTW, I’m back in Yorkshire right now. My whippet says hi). It reached a point about 10 days ago where my concentration had completely evaporated and I couldn’t read or write more than about three words on any given page before giving up to go and stare wistfully out the window – this is not conducive to good research or poetry practices. So I took time off. It was hard to admit that I would have to and I’m still not really happy about doing it – I feel like I’m missing out on EVERYTHING already. But at the same time, it’s nice to be able to breathe in and out without fear of disintegrating under the enormous pressure of Too Many Things.

And guys, while we’re redecorating the kitchen with these giant beans I’m gonna go right ahead and tell you about my other brother, Robert, who also died 7 years ago. In comparison that happened in much more peaceful and acceptable circumstances, but it was still extremely sad and didn’t help with all the aforementioned “knock on effects”.

FYI, I am NOT good at talking about this in face-to-face situations. Also, this is not a cry for help or sympathy, just a passing on of information that I generally keep private…but apparently it’s not healthy to internalise feelings of despair and grief?? Who knew? Largely friends know about 1 or neither of my brothers, depending when we became friends. But now everybody knows about them both because my blog is really popular and widely read.

Right, I’m going to go and cuddle a really cute baby now! (DW, I know the parents; I’m not mentally disturbed enough to just pick up any old baby off the floor!)

What I Go To School For

Has it really been a week since last I blogged? What’s the deal with Time these days? Have the Tories made cuts to that too? I’m feeling kind of like the ol’ Prof from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the moment. Or, at least I’m feeling how I imagine he feels; confused, slow and desperate to get back to Narnia.

Magical wardrobe. you say?
              Magical wardrobe. you say?

As is usual for this time of year, I have some kind of sinus issue that has been building for a good few weeks. This involves pain across my nose, cheeks, eyes and forehead, aka all the places everyone loves having constant pain. Went to the doctor and got a sweet steroid nasal spray. This is the same doctor, by the way, who was inordinately excited the first time he looked down my throat because apparently I have a perfectly visible epiglottis, the likes of which he had never seen. So there you go. But less about the inner workings of this sanctum I call “body”. I think I promised some chit chat about my research this week, which I know you’re all really excited about, so I shall deny you no longer.

For those of you who have never asked, i.e. all of you, I’m writing a collection of poetry featuring animals with voices and researching talking animals in other people’s poetry at the same time. The research is complementary to the poetry, y’see? I’m interested in why a poet might use an otherwise non-speaking, non-human animal to express difficult, human emotions. Speaking purely from my own experience, it’s just a darn sight easier to have a charming, cartoonish bear spouting about the pressures of life’s loneliness than to allow the reader to see the inner workings of your soul.

But I’m fairly sure there are other reasons to give animals voices besides personal masking. Comic effect, perhaps? The idea of a pelican reading a sermon for instance, is (subjectively) funny. Pelicans can’t read, let alone become priests – I mean, where on earth would you find vestments made to fit a pelican in the first place? It’s ridiculous. And would, in my humble opinion, make a good set up for a poem that has the potential to entertain an audience. The question of what’s in the sermon, and whether or not I would be attempting to make a discreet observation about religion comes back to masking I suppose, but the overall effect would be a humorous one and so we could say the pelican speaks to elicit amusement.

Father O'Pelecanidae
                   Father O’Pelecanidae

Over the last decade or so there has been some discussion about whether or not it’s entirely moral to force an animal to speak against its will as it were, with an underlying insinuation that animals who speak in literature and human culture in general are mere puppets of our anthropocentric society, and portraying them in this way makes them ridiculous and therefore easier to exploit and/or kill. Say whaaaaat? Part of me thinks this is verging on absurd, but then I wonder if I’ve just been conditioned by the Judaeo-Christian structures and scriptures that are (somehow) alive and well across the world to believe that humans should be allowed to use animals however we want to because we are (according to God and Father O’Pelecanidae) the smartest animals of all. (The other side of this coin is the argument that portraying “soft” versions of wild animals has led more people to the conclusion that it’s totally okay to go into the woods and try to cuddle a grizzly bear, because Winnie the Pooh is an amiable little tub of fun. Not the case, folks, don’t do it.)

So maybe that’s another reason a writer would use an animal speaker in their work, i.e. because they think they have every right to force words out of a beak or a snout just like they apparently have every right to slice a chicken into bite-sized bits for use in a stir-fry or a family fun fajita filler. I’m not here to judge. I mean, I’m literally having chicken fajitas for dinner later…and also writing loads of poems with animal speakers/characters.

BUT…part of me would like to believe I’m doing it in an attempt to get closer to animals in general, to try and see life from their perspective. Okay, I realise turning a pelican into a priest isn’t exactly seeing the world from the actual point of view of a pelican, but I do write serious poems about animals and the challenges they face. Of course they will never properly portray the feelings or thoughts of an animal (guys, I promise I’m human, stop asking), but poems like these can show a level of empathy for the other creatures that share the earth, highlighting one of the things that actually distinguishes us from animals in the first place.

And then I think, is it empathy or guilt? Have I written a poem about a roadkill fox because I’m trying to empathise and understand how shitty it would feel to be pancaked across a motorway, or have I written it because I feel guilty about the way large swathes of humanity have no regard for anything besides themselves? I don’t really have any answers beyond my own opinions and there’s not likely to be a definitive answer on this topic until animals get their fingers out and learn to speak for real. Aaaaand yet this is my life for the next two years.

This has been a lot longer and more rambling than I originally intended and actually not about Debra Hassig’s Medieval Bestiaries as I promised last week – sorry to anyone who was despo to hear my views on it, I’ll try and sort out some one-to-one sessions for y’all in the future. Anyway I think it’s been good for me to hash out a few ideas into an incoherent, self-indulgent mess #soundslikemysexlife/How was it for you? Answers on a postcard.

Here’s the rest of my week.

  • PhD Stuff

I just told you, stop asking me!

  • Poetry

Poem about the plight of a stag in the works. I know you’re all desperate to read it, but you’ll just have to wait…probably forever.

  • Comedy

We were oot watching Gein’s Family Giftshop on Wednesday night so slightly behind on the ol’ Bake Off – podcast should be up here today though. Yet to watch Fantasia so It Disney Matter will have to wait.

  • Drawings

Haven’t quite finished this week’s drawing, it’s been a busy time at home with visitors and shows and puppy woes so not had much time to myself.

  • Exercise

Fuck it, I decided to just get fat and be happy. JK! Sinus infection kept me from the pool again this week, but should be raring to go Monday morning, yay!

  • Puppy

There’s been no noticeable improvement with St Chumbo’s Fire as yet. We’re pretty much at the end of our super long tethers. Choices are: A) pay lots of money for a behaviourist to see if she can help with the aggression (both bitten lots again this week), B) rehome him and be utterly broken-hearted forever, or C) continue as we are, until the day he unexpectedly bites a child and we have to have him put down. Watch this space, folks. (I will literally die of crying if it’s B or C.)

Adventures in Dog

Well, what a jumbled week it’s been. Very nearly decided to can writing a blog since I wasn’t sure I had that much to say, but then the ghost of Marianne Moore haunted me, waving myriad personal essays in my face and I was thusly compelled to take up my keyboard and type for my life.

me and mazza moore
               JUDGEMENT IS SERVED.

We got our puppy neutered this week. In all honesty, he’s been a bit of a shit towards us of late. The growly, barky, bitey kind of shit that you really don’t want to be around. You really come to see yourself as ridiculous when you have your head in a dog cage, growling loudly in order to take back a sock from the jaws of a tiny animal that’s baying for your blood. What’s a girl to do? Cut his balls off, apparently. Not sure at this point how much of a difference it’s made.

I’d say about 85% of the time, owning a puppy is as joyful as everyone is led to believe. In the morning, for example, seeing your tiny puppy’s face pop up at the side of the bed, tail a-wagging and more excited to see you than your mother ever has been, that’s really great. When you hold out your hand to him and he puts his little paw in your palm? Yes, you feel your heart break because you know you’ll never be that cute. But when your puppy comes to you, seemingly seeking affection, which you duly offer only to be snarled at? Not so hot.

Guys, I know what you’re thinking. I’d like to point out that we haven’t just allowed him rule the roost. Our vet told us golden-coloured cocker spaniels can be temperamental and aggressive (Chumbo is a cockapoo, but may as well be a spaniel – see picture). She advised us to keep him off the furniture, serve our meals first and speak to him the way we would if he was a naughty toddler.

The unconvincing terror.
                The unconvincing terror.

So we are trying super hard to assert dominance. Remember? Me? Head in a cage? Growling? It’s hard for two completely non-aggressive wimps to have to morph into alpha-males in order to control a puppy who thinks he’s in charge. But like I said, we’re trying. Chumbo is now on a strict schedule of short walks followed by play and training sessions with plenty of sleep and alone time thrown in. If he so much as curls his lip at us these days, we use our newly acquired “tough” voices, all privileges are swiftly whipped away and he’s in time out until he calms down.

I’d also like to point out, he is NOT like this with other people. We’ve had friends look after him who say he’s the best behaved dog they’ve encountered. So maybe he just gets bored of our company. Or he’s turning into a teenager. Or he knows we’re his pack and he wants to be the leader, which is almost endearing considering how much larger we in comparison. Almost.

Basically what I think I’m trying to say is, he’s certainly no Cujo, but we’ve been slightly taken aback by these instances of bad attitude. I thought that by 5 months he’d be speaking fluent English and able to tell us exactly what he requires, but nay. Instead, it seems we’ve had to learn to speak dog. Might be useful for my research; I’ll keep you posted. (Any suggestions, are, of course, very welcome!)

Besides dog days, here’s a rundown of my week:

• PhD Stuff
Investigations into taxidermy. Not a big fan of the practice, but it’s extremely interesting to read about and has led to a number of new ideas. Also started reading Debra Hassig’s Medieval Bestiaries. V. interesting so far, hopefully more on this next week.
• Poetry
Started 1 new poem and tweaked a couple of older ones. Finally bought stamps. Two envelopes now in transit.
• Comedy
Episode 2 of the Great British Bitch off available here. Episode 2 of the Disney podcast is still being edited – small technical disaster has delayed its release. Hang tight, folks, we’ll be right with you.
• Drawings
Did this guy and have another one I’m finishing up.
• Exercise
Swimming buddy is currently knee deep in the Fringe. Could have gone myself but didn’t because I’m scared of facing the world alone. Lots(ish) of walking instead.
• Puppy
See above.

(I also want to quickly say I’m dealing with some big life stuff at the moment, which is another story for another time, but if I’ve blown you off or made you feel like I’m ignoring you this week, I’m not, I’m just not really myself right now. Peace pals, peace x)

Forever Starts and Ends Here

Another drawing I drew a while back and just finished this weekend. As we enter week 2 of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I imagine most of the performers already, or will inevitably, feel like this within a matter of days. (Click it and it gets big.)

Forever Starts and End Here final