02 April 2021
Posted by Ella Frears
I’d never heard of REF until I was approached by Southampton University to write about it.
REF (research excellence framework) is a system by which universities are ranked. From what I can understand, it is a complex system - a system that weighs various outputs (across every department) and attempts to consolidate and quantify their impact.
When I was told about it, I imagined a Lady Justice-type figure placing a painting of a farmhouse on one side of the scales, and a report about tooth decay on on the other.
In reality it is years of gathering impact reports and data, analysis, reading, rereading… and a submission that runs to 5,000 A4 pages or there about.
A big deadline.
I’m someone who likes deadlines. I won’t (or can’t) finish a poem without one.
For the last six years(ish) I have hopped from residency to residency enjoying both the shifts in subject matter, and the structure of a set timeframe. I like to engage with different people, spaces, ideas, and I like to look at my calendar and know that by *that* date, I will have made something.
I’m also someone who comes undone over deadlines. Tears, insomnia, hair tugging, endless cups of tea.
Once I hit submit/send the email/perform the finished poem however, the pain fades. And I’m almost instantly, gleefully setting up the next project - the next deadline.
Talking to Nicky Marsh, Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise (and brilliant academic) about REF, the sense I got was that it was a huge undertaking, a huge achievement - and that they were relieved it was over. I recognised that particular joy, the kind that comes after deadline-induced madness.
With this in mind, and immersed in the (fascinating) research titles from their REF submission, I wrote this poem.
began with a folder of images: EMBRYO;
INFLAMED ELBOW; GALLBLADDER DISEASE.
I was on the sofa, blanketed, digesting
the heavy carb of a report.
An official body sent us a meme of a mother cat, carrying
her kitten by the scruff of its neck, before dropping it
into the wastepaper bin.
Cat or the kitten?
With the NOSTALGIA playlist on repeat,
I’d rubbed my forehead shiny, like the statue of a saint.
ANTIMICROBIAL COPPER; AIRCRAFT DESIGN;
WOMEN IN FILM.
It is the morning of the 25th of October and to my cornflakes
I whisper, once more unto the breach, dear friends.
In the fridge, a bag of carrots, far gone in their unnecessary plastic.
I bite the edge, carry them swinging from my teeth to the bin.
I let them fall and thud.
I AM THE MOTHER CAT.
I must not waste another carrot.
WINE CRITICS; THE MUSCLE HEALTH OF ASTRONAUTS;
LONG-DISTANCE LIGHT COMMUNICATION.
My long-distance grandfather, poorly lit, offers
the top of his head only to the camera.
Hello? He says. Hello. I say back. What? he asks.
At 4am I send Peter Staniczenko an empty message,
the subject line reads: HOW LONG DO WE LIVE?
A more functional question, I decide, than WHY?
GENOCIDE, INDETERMINATE PRISON SENTENCE,
EXTREME SEA LEVEL.
I stare into my dirty bathwater and think IMPACT.
Dear Gem, I write, please find attached – my worn-out face,
degraded self-esteem, a monograph on IMPERIAL ROME.
RARE EYE DISEASE, PENILE COMPRESSION CLAMP;
THE BENEFITS OF DANCE.
Dear Gem, I write, today I ate a banana and felt good
about my choices. The suitcases at the airport really are
moving more efficiently than before.
GUILT AND SHAME; SKIN HEALTH.
Spring came through today like a can of diet-summer,
I squinted as I sipped it. Yes.
Peter! Gem! How much we know!
I AM THE MOTHER CAT.