Welcome to the Pitshanger Poets Workshop Blog.
We hold a weekly workshop at the Questor’s Theatre in Ealing to read and discuss our work; you are welcome to join us. This blog will keep you updated with news from the workshop, poetry events and examples from our membership, old and new.
We meet every Tuesday night from 8pm in The Library, Questor’s Theatre, Mattock Lane, Ealing, London. Bring a poem, bring copies and be ready to discuss it in a friendly, enthusiastic group.
As one of Ealing’s most celebrated devotees of the art of facial hair, I take the responsibilities of November (or Movember, if you prefer) extremely seriously. I firmly believe that, as I tour the Borough in the old two-seater, it is my solemn duty to shout out words of encouragement and succour to the owners of any exuberant moustaches I happen to see. Typically, these comments are taken in good heart by the wearer and I am gratified to see that the traditional salute of the moustachioed, (a gesture intended to denote encouragement of moustache growth) – being two fingers formed into a V-formation and rapidly thrust into the air – has well and truly caught on amongst the chaps I speak to.
Perhaps it was a good thing that moustaches were absent from tonight’s Workshop. Marilyn Keenan kicked things off with an impression of the entirely clean-shaven Scream by Munch. John Hurley movingly remembered a lost love. Owen Gallagher read a concentrated Marxist memoir. Alan Chambers drew parallels between nurturing children and composing music in his piece. Daphne Gloag has been finding rhymes for light. Martin Choules has given Molly Malone a voice and words in this week’s poem. Caroline Maldonado remembered Passolini in a sharp, unambiguous meditation. Finally Nick Barth partially remembered a friend devoted to recreational pharmaceuticals.
I am rarely without my copy of ‘Poets Ranked by Moustache Weight’ in November and I would thoroughly recommend it for its mathematical accuracy and many lustrous full-colour plates. This year I felt it would be a bit of a wheeze to cross-reference notable moustachioed poets with commentary culled from their visits to Workshops past. For example, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s moustache was described by the chairman as ‘burnished,’ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s as ‘wandering’, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s moustache was ‘wan’, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘peremptory’, Hugh MacDairmid’s as ‘inexplicable’ and Michael Rosen’s ‘obscure’. Thankfully the days of the truly fulsome beard and moustache combination is long past. The Pitshanger Manor leafed dining table was notorious for its ability to entrap the wayward beard, and a pair of silver shears was hung permanently from a hook by the mantelpiece following the protracted and painful visit of Algernon Charles Swinburne (‘more straggly than strictly necessary’). If you have been, thank you for reading.
Two Minute Silence
Ordered by social convention into inaction,
I sit at my desk and abstain -
I keep my head down and stare at my pen till I hear
The murmur of morning again.
Like most, I start on my shutdown at ten-fifty-eight,
And end at eleven-oh-four,
To cover the randomly-synchronised watches of colleagues -
And never mind minding the store.
Across the room, someone is typing. (Is that still allowed ?)
Their rat-a-tat keystokes clatter.
A phone rings out the alarm, which nobody answers,
Till voicemail settles the matter.
I ought to be thinking, I know, of tommies and trenches,
Of birdsong, bombardments and screams -
Instead, I just notice this shuffling silence-by-rote -
My thoughts are deserters, it seems.
Silence. Yes, I know, silence sprang to the top of my cognitive heap only two scant blogs ago (do scroll down, do), but here I am, beating that furrow and returning to the bosom of a fecund concept once again. I am not discouraged by your waning enthusiasm, because at this time of year, one is bound to find silence is all around us. Take this morning. As the clock on the mantelpiece struck eleven I was standing to attention in remembrance of our glorious dead, or rather my man was, as my sciatica has been playing up again. So, propped up to attention on a quantity of cushions, I found myself wondering what a completely silent Pitshanger Poets Workshop would be like. As soon as I had been winched back into the more usual vertical alignment I donned my patent-leather roller-blades and rushed off to the PP archive for a little research.
This weeks’ Workshop was quiet, but invigorating (and where were you?). Owen Gallagher recalled those characters who no-one dared frisk on the way into nightclubs. Nick Barth revised a piece concerning sealing a pact with sorrow. Alan Chambers read from his new pamphlet As The Year Spins, which is sold in support of Questors Theatre. Caroline Maldonado read us a short, enigmatic piece hinting at the beginning of a film noir. Martin Choules also observed a two-minute silence but could not help his mind wandering. Finally Daphne Gloag put the whole Addlestrop thing to bed with a reading of her own entry into the Poetry Comp from earlier this year.
Some time with the great ledgers of record confirmed my suspicion. The Workshop of Tuesday the 11th of November 1952 was an extraordinary affair, a unique poetry reading in which local poets were invited not to read poems to a small audience who agreed not to listen, while apposite musical accompaniment was provided by a non-pianist playing variations on a theme of Mr John Cage. A delightful evening was reported by all. If you have been, thank you for reading.
As a significant poet, bon viveur and man-about-town I’ve never been too bothered about having a career. You meet people with careers all the time though, don’t you? I must say it’s beginning to get on my wick. There’s not a soiree that I go to but some young hot-shot isn’t button-holing me and telling me how they are re-imagining the digital customer journey by leveraging cloud-based Big Data pattern analysis to extrapolate realisable product upsell opportunities within an omnichannel bricks and clicks ecosystem, which sounds suspiciously to me like sitting on a beanbag while idly poking an Apple Macintosh. I have long since lost any ambition to go into the commercial world and be saddled with what might loosely be termed ‘a job’. There was that time Daddy offered to make me Chief Financial Officer of Tesco, but luckily it did not work out. Can you imagine what a mess I would have made of that?
Tonight’s workshop certainly did work out. John Hurley raised his profile with a piece of self-introspection, which was as amusing as it was revealing. Christine Shirley brought rare and atmospheric piece about the classroom. Michael Anderson did not need a second chance to make a great first impression with a soliloquy on Bankok. Daphne Gloag painted a picture with words with an observation of Ariadne. Alan Chambers added another section to his CV with a sharp observation of the transformation of a harbour. Owen Gallagher enhanced his prospects with a call for a decent poetic suit. Nick Barth belied his lack of recognised qualifications with a poem concerning a note he left for his future self. Finally we asked Daphne to read the whole of her poem Lost Voices now that it is complete.
Of course very few poets pursue what might be termed a career, and almost all have had to support themselves by other means. Ted Hughes studied to be a taxidermist, while Robert Conquest ran a Cold War Think Tank and Tie-Dye T-shirt Shop from his house in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. Philip Larkin maintained a successful side-line as children’s entertainer Larkin’ About during the Fifties. The remarkable William Morris designed and manufactured wallpaper, fabrics and a range of popular motor-cars in an extraordinarily long and productive life. Closer to home, while she was invited many times to read at Pitshanger Poets, Vita Sackville-West always claimed to be too busy running Sissinghurst’s only Fancy-Dress-Shop-cum-Garden Centre to attend. Dedication indeed. If you have been, thank you for reading.
I don’t know about you but I require utter silence before the muse will even hint at a suggestion of an audience. I am not a poet who can knock you up a sonnet while conducting a conversation about kitchen flooring with a pal in a branch of the local branded coffee chain. The merest suggestion of the recent output of a popular rhythm combo or the sound of artisans at work serve to shatter the mood. My man is given strict instructions to secure all pins, hats, hat-pins and anything else that can be dropped while I am composing lest a well-turned phrase dissolve into the ether or an intricate rhyme scheme become dross. Which is why, especially at this time of year, one’s heartfelt admiration goes out to the great War Poets. Not only did they maintain Copperplate in the most trying of circs, they were also able to pull off effortless half-rhyme, enjambment, simile and metaphor while the most fearful ordinance-based racket was going on just outside the hut.
Silence rained in the Library (or is that Committee Room) at Questors while we held this week’s workshop. Daphne Gloag had us mulling over a part-finished poem on the loss of voices. Clare Chitan was working hard to reassure her audience of the value of life. Caroline Maldonado cut an attractive figure stretched full length on a divan, admiring a Baroque ceiling in Rome. Nick Barth is feeling oppressed by HR. Alan Chambers brought us a Christening prayer for agnostics.
As you may know we occasionally hold guest readings at Pitshanger Poets. More than a few years ago the request went out that as we approached November we should attract an appropriate writer for a somber evening of poems of remembrance. Not for the fist time was the PP secretary’s hearing, eye-glass prescription and even sanity called into question when the author of Brideshead Revisited was found in the ante room of Pitshanger Manor, protesting against his appropriateness for the gig in hand on the grounds that, while he was honoured to be asked, he was not strictly a poet, let alone an Evening War Poet, whatever that might be.
If you have been, thank you for reading.
Opposite the Questors Theatre, the council have been busy all year with recreating Walpole Park back to its pre-Walpole appearance. This includes Sir John Soane’s fishpond, where according to the Pitshanger archives he was often seen dangling his rod, despite its less-than olympian proportions. Indeed, some scholars believe it was in reference to this pond that Wordsworth quipped “I’ve measured it from side to side: / ’Tis three feet long, by two feet wide”. Surely Sir John couldn’t have cast off too many times before he had emptied it of fish entirely. Unless this was his intention – perhaps he hated fish and wanted rid of them. Or maybe he was just a spectacularly bad angler.
No such limp lines from this week’s workshop. Clare Chitan was first to cast off, musing on the many jobs to which we put our words, for good or ill. John Hurley followed with a wry account of his new piscivore houseguest, and we had a rather lonely and enigmatic piece from Daphne Gloag about, among other things, feeding the birds. Owen Gallagher imagined an enterprising tenement fairy, while Alan Chamber’s subconscious has been musing on beggars and seasons, somewhat to the surprise of Alan himself. Finally, a pair of poems from Martin Choules, the first declaiming an abominable winter squash, and the second praising the most cost-effective of all civil servants.
The archives also note that Sir John would often invite his ‘good friend Bill Turner Esquire of Twickenham’ to join him. This was undoubtedly the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, already making a name for himself with his fuzzy, proto-impressionistic style. But was this genius, or perhaps as our records suggest, the result of consuming too much absinthe with the poets on a Tuesday evening ? Could it have blurred his vision to such an extent that a toy boat upon Sir John’s fishpond was transformed into a shipwreck ?
As a noted wordsmith and representative of West London’s premier poetry workshop, I am often to be witnessed rubbing shoulders with the more hard-nosed Circuit poets. I am sure you are aware of the cadre. These talented wielders of the ‘with best wishes’ autograph Sharpie are the dedicated life-blood of the country’s Poetry Scene, always ready with an observational piece in case ‘Loose Ends’ or ‘The Culture Show’ should come a-knocking whilst ensuring they maintain a steady stream of festival appearances to keep their dedicated fans, er, dedicated. More often than not I am button-holed by one of these talents (and I won’t be dragged into name-dropping) and asked when, if ever, Pitshanger Poets are going to hold a Poetry Competition, whether I might be regarded as the chairman of the judges should such a comp take place, and if that’s an empty glass in my hand then what’s my poison?
Not that tonight’s workshop would not give the Poetry Tour a run for their bar money. Owen Gallagher, a Grand Slam poet by any reckoning kicked things off with a revision of his piece about life in the saw-mills. John Hurley, a man who has seen his own share of live appearances dug deep with a piece about autumn. Martin Choules, who writes effectively on any surface has been celebrating the many Hipsters he has seen around town recently. Nick Barth who frequently rallies from the base line read a piece about escape. Clare Chitan has been on tour herself and is in love with the sea. Daphne Gloag is idolised by the Circuit Poets and read us a piece about sailing the universe in a bath. Alan Chambers, deserving a Master’s on his own account is collecting twelve poems in aid of Questors, tonight giving us July. Caroline Am Bergris could not be with us tonight and deserves her own Big Gold Dish. Best wishes, Caroline.
The truth behind the Pitshanger Poetry Competition is that a few years ago it foundered on its own complexity. The group, inspired by the shower of glittery awards lobbed at mere actors, attempted to spruce up the prize-giving with a series of much more exciting awards than the somewhat meat-and-potatoes ‘Best Poem’. We had awards for Best Trochee, Best Anapest, Best Use of Anthropomorphism in a Poem about Cats, Best Use of Anthropomorphism in a Poem Not About Cats, Most Amusing Use of Pathos, Most Unamusing Use of Bathos, Best Use of
Enjambement, Least Irritating Haiku and Most Well-Hidden Neologism, among others. The debates over judging criteria lasted long into the night, but ultimately the competition collapsed for one simple reason. The complex wording of the classifications served to ensure that the ancient engraver at the Ealing Broadway Heel Bar refused point-blank to title the Prize Trophies for anything like a reasonable fee. If you have been, thank you for reading.