As regular readers will know, the Pitshanger Poets met for most of their existence in their namesake Manor house, even after it was bought by the Borough in 1902 and converted into Ealing Library. However, these days the librarians have been exiled into the Broadway Mall, an altogether more ordinary setting, and the Manor does service as an art venue between restorations. Therefore, the Poets, although still Pitshanger in name, are now Questors in actuality.
The move turned out not nearly as upsetting as was feared, for meeting in a bustling theatre with its literary thespians and colourful patrons has proved most inspirational, not to mention the award-winning Grapevine Bar with its exceptionally-reasonably-priced real ales. Better yet, once or twice a month the theatre gets on with the business of staging a play, and this week it is the turn of Shadowlands, concerning the philosophical and romantic life of C.S. Lewis.
What is not often realised about the author of the Narnia series and the Screwtape Letters is that he also dabbled in poetry. Indeed, back in Oxford he was an active member of the Inklings literary group through the 1930s and 40s, along with fellow don J.R.R. Tolkien. If you ask some of the more senior Pitshangers, maybe after a post-poesy pint or two in the Grapevine, then they might retort that Inklings was but an upstart imitator to our own Ancient and Honourable, and a trawl of the archives does reveal something of a rivalry between the two.
But the most interesting remarks concern the visit made by both ‘Jack’ Lewis and ‘Johnny’ Tolkien one miserable winter’s evening, owing to a combination of a flooded-out Great Western Mainline and a detestation of automobiles. Following a pleasant afternoon at the matinee of their mutual acquaintance Wally ‘Walter’ Farquhar in his stage debut at the youthful Questors Theatre, they found themselves unable to return to their dreaming spires and were forced to book themselves in to the Drayton Court Hotel. Looking for some means of passing the evening, they were tipped off about the bards in the library, and went to investigate.
Alas, it appears their reception was not the warm welcome we strive for today, and the poems they attempted to read were somewhat jeered at. Johnny Tolkien was ridiculed for his heroic verse set in fantastical realms, along with his habit of inventing some convenient place-name for the express purpose of providing a convenient rhyme. But worse scorn was heaped upon poor Jack Lewis, whose nuanced and lively apologetics were dismissed as boring and wishy-washy. “Don’t you ever write about anything else ?” one of them complained, and another sneered that “all the allegory gets in the way of the subtext.”
I’m delighted to report that this week’s meeting was a much friendlier affair. John Hurley had some conciliatory words for the newly jilted, and David Hovatter watched explored an underwater forest. Meanwhile, Daphne Gloag has revised an earlier piece on music and longing into a shorter version she hopes to enter into a competition – a single edit, if you will, of the longer album version she brought previously. Owen Gallagher followed with a tragic victim of office politics and the economic downturn, while Caroline Am Bergris recalled two visits to Venice forty years apart. Rounding us off was Martin Choules, taking his new responsibilities as a godparent seriously.
And what of our less-happy visitors ? Dejected, the professors caught the first train to Oxford next morning and buried themselves in academia, never daring again to show their own efforts to the wider world, and never published as much as a pamphlet between them…
…Or at least, that is how the Pitshanger archivist recorded the events. I suspect the old rivalry is at play here. No other visit is mentioned, but some of the ledgers from this period have gone missing, so who knows ? One day, we really must organise the records in our vault properly. Most of them are crammed into tea chests and extraordinary-looking dressers that we acquired from Sir John Soane’s rare and uncanny collection of furniture, notorious for their fiendish locks and missing keys. Could there be a cache of papers hidden in that old, brooding wardrobe over in the corner..?