6 minutes reading time (1293 words)

Po-rating processing

I spent a long time yesterday collating the different ratings of a poetry pamphlet from the 20 or so HappenStance reviewers who returned them. I made a nice table and then messed about cheerfully with statistics and averages, and sent off emails to those who hadn't returned their ratings because the pamphlet either hadn't arrived or had got buried.

Sometimes almost all poetry judgements seem to me to be totally subjective. It reassures me, in a rating exercise like this one, that despite the fact that some opinions do vary fairly radically, the majority come inside a very similar band.

I spent a long time yesterday collating the different ratings of a poetry pamphlet from the 20 or so HappenStance reviewers who returned them. I made a nice table and then messed about cheerfully with statistics and averages, and sent off emails to those who hadn't returned their ratings because the pamphlet either hadn't arrived or had got buried.

Sometimes almost all poetry judgements seem to me to be totally subjective. It reassures me, in a rating exercise like this one, that despite the fact that some opinions do vary fairly radically, the majority come inside a very similar band.

I've been reading Don Paterson's lecture about 'trope and domain theory'. I like this very much, complex as it is, but particularly the bit about the contract between reader and poet, the idea that poetry is a way of reading, rather than a way of writing, the 'deal' being that 'poetry' is meant to yield up richer levels of meaning than ordinary text. It concurs with one of my own theories  in a less academic article that I've never published, but may yet . . . . It's called A Demand and a Promise. Where was I?

Yes, the po-rating. How you judge what is going on. Actually no amount of trope and domain theory quite explains the judgement process, nor the absolute fact that different readers come with radically different expectations to text. But we're in an age of Judgements. We rate all sorts of stuff. We (apparently) thrive on The X Factor and Britain (or America or Holland or wherever)'s got Talent. How I hate these shows! What I loathe most is the bit where contestants wait for verdicts and the camera zooms in on their expectant, tense faces. Even in PoetryWorld we've started to simulate this. Poets attend ceremonies where winners are announced, where tense expectation is meant to be part of the fun. It seems to be assumed that no-one would go to the event without an element of Surprise.

Years ago I discovered how to undermine this silly process on a local level. It was a poetry competition in Fife and I had entered. They sent a circular letter to all entrants shortlisted, inviting them to come to the award ceremony where winners would be announced. Their shortlist was very long and actually I believe it consisted of nearly all (if not all) entrants. I returned the slip saying I wouldn't be there.

I got a phone call two days later from an council official who said they were very sorry to hear I wasn't coming, in fact they were concerned that I wasn't coming, was there any way I could possibly manage to be there? It didn't take much to work out that I must be a prize-winner. So I went, and the result of the competition was less of a surprise to me than to all the other audience members.

A couple of years later in a similar situation I deliberately didn't return the slip to say whether or not I'd be there. This time I was not surprised when the phone call came. The same trick worked for a significantly bigger event in London ten years later but I won't say what. Mustn't let too many cats out of bags. I refuse to be part of a climate of false intensity. There's enough in life to be scared about without that.

On Woman's Hour this week, there was a feature on PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome). Now that is one scary subject. It took me back. Once I was interviewed for a BBC radio programme myself on this very subject, though the feature wasn't as good as this one and I seem to remember feeling cross when I heard the broadcast. This time they interviewed someone who had a hysterectomy to sort out her problem -- a drastic step if ever there was one. She recounted some of the experiences she had had . . . and it all came back.

PMS (which I used to call PMT) changed the course of my life. It affected me radically for at least two and a half weeks out of my menstrual cycle from the age of 16 to 32.  I was a wreck for a lot of the time. During one phase of extreme desperation, I saw an elderly Irish locum at my general practice. I must have been 22. In those days, doctors could (and did) smoke cigarettes during a consultation. He took a drag on his cigarette and asked me if I had a boyfriend.

I was tearful.  'Yes,' I said.

He thought for a little while. 'Does he touch you . . .  down there?' he said.

I can't remember what I said, only how surprised I was by the question, and how profoundly embarrassed.

He went on to suggest that regular sexual intercourse would stimulate my hormones and solve the problem. I saw a lot of other people over the years who suggested equally stupid things. One was African: he told me that in his country, unlike the UK, women were used to bearing pain and accepted it as a natural part of life (he missed the point that pain was not the problem). Another (a psychiatrist) said the symptoms were "too omnipresent" to constitute premenstrual syndrome. A third said maybe it was just the way I was -- I had to learn to live with it.

Then I read Premenstrual Syndrome - the Curse that Can Be Cured by Michael Brush and Judy Lever.  I wrote to Brush (who was then in practice at St Thomas's Hospital in London) to say 'Oh no, it can't be cured. I'm the proof.'

He wrote back. He suggested my GP do a referral and he would see me, which is what happened. Such a kind man. The first person who talked to me as though I was intelligent; the first person who said there would be something that would help.

I was lucky with the first thing we tried (he said if it didn't work, there were other options). High doses of Vitamin B6 and Evening Primrose Oil transformed my life. I had tried B6 before but low doses had no effect  (one gynaecologist told me that if low dose B6 had no effect, there was absolutely no point in increasing the dose: he was wrong). With these supplements, I still had symptoms but nothing I couldn't live with. Over years, I got better and better.

Now I'm so very much older - 56 - and no longer menstruate, I am fine all the time. It's completely amazing. But because I lost so much time when I was younger, I have been running to keep up ever since. One of the things this taught me is the sheer miracle of being all right. It is almost worth having been through it, just to know the difference. Sometimes I forget what a miracle it is, and then something reminds me. Look at the garden, the sun, the clouds in the sky, the miracle of being all right. Whether or not you believe in God, you can't help silently shouting, Thank you.

What makes a good poetry pamphlet publisher?
Preparing for the 8th funeral
 

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Thursday, 09 July 2020

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