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.
Spectacles. Essential poetic accoutrements. Just try to imagine the bank manager-ness of T S Eliot without his classic horn-rims, or Librarian Larkin without a pair of half-moons to peer over. Of course, they don’t work for everybody – Dylan Thomas’ carefully crafted wildman image was one of unbespectabiliy which would have suffers had he sported a set of swotty specs, and punks like John Cooper Clarke made sure that their face-furniture was shaded and inscrutable. But in general, our glasses are the windows to the windows to our souls.
This week’s workshop was typically clear-eyed. Martin Choules had a gleam in his eye as he compared Hounslow’s present doldrums with its glorious past, followed by Marilyn Keenan musing on the daily crepuscular transition, complete with arabesque and salty lighthouse. Notions of evil and its effect on us were being eyed-over by Clare Chitan, and Owen Gallagher gave some career advice to a pair of enterprising young tearaways. Finally, Alan Chambers cast his mind’s eye to a songful morning on the water.
According to the Pitshanger archives, a good pair of lenses were in much need the night Lewis Carroll visited in 1870. He had a new poem he was keen to present, but alas he had forgotten his pince-nez. Struggling with his cramped handwriting, he was clearly stumbling over his words as he garbled them into ‘brillig’, ‘mimsy’ and ‘borogoves’. It of course made his meaning into complete nonsense, but one wonders what he might have meant to say.
“The hoi polloi” – possibly the most damning phrase ever to be uttered, after “I’ll have a glass of the house red.” As even my man knows, ‘hoi’ is Greek for ‘the’, so the unfortunate utterer is actually making a sort of cross-lingual stutter, condemning himself to the very class he is trying to distinguish himself from.
Habits of the polloi are incredibly contagious, and must be guarded against. When I gave my man a day off last year, I found myself putting on my Crockett and Jones black lace-ups without a shoe horn. When my man heard of this such was his sense of personal failure that he made me vow to never give him a day off again. I felt honour-bound to aid him in his quest for betterment.
Betterment was Casanova’s reason for visiting London in the summer of 1763 – he had just been accused of trying to defraud a fifty-two year old Marquise of her fortune to pay his mounting debts, and wanted a chance to start afresh as well as avoid jail. Used to the squalid conditions of Venice in the summer, he found London a balm. “English flies even kiss with more gentleness,” he commented, in the first known example of hormonal entomology. The Pitshanger Poet archives note a visit he made to us during that August, wanting advice on how to write a love poem to convince the Soho-based courtesan Marianne de Charpillon to sleep with him – money was not enough of an inducement. A rare woman indeed. It seems the recommendations given to him were ineffectual, and, as punishment, he vowed to never mention his visit in his Histoire de ma vie.
We were surprisingly not short of summer visitors in tonight’s meeting, a tribute to the writers’ work ethic and nothing to do with a love of the cheap alcohol in the bar afterwards. John Hurley kicked things off with a gripping poem about a deathbed confession. Then David Hovatter read a meditative piece on a seventeenth century Dutch painting depicting a dead tree, followed by Caroline Am Bergris confronting a volcanic mirror. Sandeep Sharma pleaded for lessons to be learnt from the witnessing of terrible events, while Clare Glynn Chitan imagined the lessons a green-eyed cat was giving her. Owen Gallagher brilliantly described the Scottish Diaspora, and Daphne Gloag evoked memories of shared games of love. Helen Baker offered an unusual commemoration of the beginning of World War I, and Alan Chambers dreamily described a boat passing through a lock. Finally, Martin Choules told us about an epic rainstorm.
A rainstorm had threatened to spoil this evening but decided against it, and we were able to go home dry in some ways, if not others. Should you get caught out in the rain, my man recommends the Shoreditch 2 Modern Herringbone Fulton umbrella. If you have been, thank you for reading.
George Szirtes, one of the leading living poets writing in English, is to judge a poetry competition on the theme of Constellations as part of the Ealing Autumn Festival 2014. The Festival is inspired by the 450th anniversary of the birth of Galileo, the star-gazer and astronomer.
George Szirtes is an experienced judge and is himself the recipient of many major awards including the prestigious T S Eliot Prize for Poetry.
The competition is open to anyone with cash prizes totalling £500 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize-winners. There are two categories including a special category for 18 years and under. The winning poems will be published on the Ealing Autumn Festival website.
Gillian Spragg, Artistic Director of Ealing Autumn Festival said: “we are obviously excited to be able to announce the Festival’s first poetry competition but even more delighted that such an eminent and well-loved poet should have accepted our invitation to judge it.
Constellations is an inspiring theme: looking at the stars always sparks something special in the imagination and we are looking forward to receiving both interesting and outstanding writing.”
George Szirtes will announce the winners and present the prizes on Tuesday 21 October when he will be taking the stage at the Ealing Autumn Festival with an event entitled George Szirtes and a family in artistic collaboration. Competition winners will also be invited to read their poems at this event.
Closing date for entries for the poetry competition is 5pm, Monday 8th September 2014.
020 8567 7623
The Ealing Autumn Festival is organized by West London Arts Scene Limited, a not-for-profit company promoting arts, culture, heritage, science and educational activites.
West London Arts Scene Limited, 76 Milton Road, London W7 1LE.
We do not call a register at our workshops, nor do we tut with a disapproving glance over our spectacles when a regular reappears after a week or two’s absence. We fully realise how Dame Poetry will lead her adherents on ever stranger quests in search of her muse, or indeed how Real Life has a habit of interfering with even the best-laid plans of mice and men.
Our numbers fluctuate from one session to the next, but rarely do we have too few to reach a corum and the meeting to proceed. (And to those who insist that it should infact be quorum, feel free to drop in and tell us about it. We’re very pedant-friendly.)
This week’s assembly was opened by Clare Chitan’s recent experiences in her namesake County Clare, complete wheat of gold and silver sand, while Owen Gallagher returned with memories of his late father’s shoes being worn by the wrong feet. Marilyn Keenan brought us some summer passion and the coolness and stones, and Martin Choules enjoyed the couplings of ants on the wing. Meanwhile, Daphne Gloag opened her door onto a darkness punctuated by comets – but for how much longer ?
Grounded wood doves and flies in rented cages greeted us in David Hovatter’s poem, all dedicated to a noted painter of landscapes, and Alan Chambers became equally aware of his surroundings as he navigated a dusky watercourse.
This being summer, we can expect more absences in the coming weeks, not least those of our regular diarist. The archives reveal that it was ever thus. Members would disappear for months at a time only to resurface with some blistering verses inspired by their sabbatical. For instance, John Betjeman was always popping off to visit some out-of-the-way lady-chapel or oast-house, only to wax lyrical on its charms upon his return, and the Mary Shelley who returned from her grand tour of 1816 was certainly not the wide-eyed ingénue who had frequented Sir John’s gatherings just a few months earlier.
I am almost completely certain that this will be the last entry in this august blog which refers to the new reformed Walpole Park, but forgive me, every time I trundle down Mattock Lane in the old two-seater and glimpse the jolly lawns and neatly-trimmed ducks my heart swells with pride. Frequently I determine to return to my own back yard, roll up my sleeves, ready my tools, find my seeds and draw up a list of instructions for my man to follow in the garden. Of course I never do, and why? I believe the answer is gardening porn.
Gardening Porn, like any other porn, e.g. and to whit, food porn or car porn is a method by which the lackadaisical individual e.g. and to whit, yours truly can experience life vicariously through the experience of others. Do viewers of Gardner’s World have gardens, or do they simply covet Monty Don’s tidy plot?
This week there was a good deal of poetry porn going on as we experienced the wit of our fellow poets. Martin Choules brought the Portuguese Man o’ War to the room in all its deadly glory. Marilyn Keenan wrote about a tortured love affair against the skyline of New York. Gerry Goddin played his guitar pass and gave us a song about a yo-yo with a broken string. David Hovatter brought us a new one (and where were you?) about a walk in a thunderstorm. Nick Barth also evoked a thunderstorm but lacked sleep. New attendee Ali Chaudhry brought us a poem about commitment, promises and suffering. Another new member, Christine Egan brought us a piece about the journey of a boy in the Iraq war. Finally John Hurley wrote a polemic, which was not a polemic, on lawns.
Gardening porn came to mind as leafing through the Pitshanger Poets archive I was reminded of the irregular visits of DH Lawrence to the workshops before the First World War. Lawrence counted himself as a poetic sparring partner of Ezra Pound and journeyed to London on a number of occasions, however the PP Archivist seemed very agitated, in that once Lawrence arrived at the manor he then became difficult to locate. On one occasion Lawrence was found in deep conversation with the Pitshanger Gardner, a Chelsea football club devotee by the name of David Mellor. It appears Lawrence was a huge fan of gardening and ardent on gathering tips for obtaining a nice firm courgette. Whether this experience had any influence on his future work is not not recorded. If you have been, thank you for reading.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a lad learning poetry by rote was really the thing. I would think nothing of a daily course of some stanzas from ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ for breakfast, a few hundred lines of ‘Don Juan’ for lunch followed by a recital of ‘Beowulf’ in the Anglo-Saxon before bed. I had a well-thumbed copy of RL Stephenson’s Children’s Garden of Verse, which I would dip into as a kind of sorbet between courses to cleanse the palate, and you would have had to prise the thing from my cold, dead hands should you have wanted a read of it. Fortunately for my future reputation the habit wore off as soon as I pitched up fresh-faced and declamatory at the dear old school. Here I was taken to one side by the nearest Tough for some friendly, if forceful advice on the subject of being a smart-arse.
Given his background and evident ‘hullo sky, hullo clouds’ demeanour I am surprised that our now Ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove did not receive a dose of the same character-forming medicine. As you are no doubt aware, Michael was a big fan of forcing innocent children to memorise poems. We hope his successor completes his sterling work and that many generations of Britons leave school fully-equipped for the modern world by having Pilgrim’s Progress or To His Coy Mistress rattling around in their heads. It’s always useful to have a few poems up there should the Walkman decide to chew up your cassette of Rick Astley’s Greatest Hits on the 8:30 to Waterloo.
The poems in this week’s workshop are really too shiny and new to be consigned to memory just yet, but history alone will tell. Clare Chitan was struck by a corner of the world that was almost heaven. John Hurley was impressed by the concentration of a watch maker. Caroline Am Bergris was also able to perceive a little piece of grace amongst the privations of an inner-city estate. Nick Barth lost a ring, but doubts in a quantum sense if anything ever disappears. David Hovatter brought us a poem from the archive, catching the face of an ex-girlfriend in the audience at Questors. Anne Furneaux continued the ‘Addlestrop’ theme with her contribution. Finally, Martin Choules has also written for a competition, this one down by the sea.
The former Ealing Poetry Festival, as sponsored by this august organisation between the wars brought many famous poems to a live, receptive audience. The poetry aficionados of Ealing would crowd into Walpole Park to hear the stars of the day such as Yeats, Auden, or Betjeman reprising their greatest works, and often it would just need a cue from the poet, such as; ‘I will arise now and go where? I can’t hear you Ealing!’ or ‘how are we gonna stop that dog from barking, Ealing?’ or ‘finish this one for me Ealing! Miss J Hunter Dunn, furnished and burnished by what?’ for the crowd to rise with one voice and round the piece off in a rousing fashion to the obvious delight of the author. If you have been, thank you for singing along.
Ealing is a feverish wasp’s nest of activity this week as chaps in hard hats scurry around in their miniaturised earth movers desperately attempting to shove enough of Walpole Park from here to there to complete the refurbishment and enable the hosting of the Ealing Festivals. Not that Mr Eavis or his delightful daughter need fear for their livelihoods but Ealing’s series of big tent events are the jewel in the crown of the Queen of the Suburbs and it maketh the hearts of all residents glad to know they can experience a little entertainment, have a few pints of Bishop Blougram’s Silent Apology and enjoy the walk home without needing to pitch a tent, don wellingtons or contract Trench Foot.
It’s at this time of year that we Pitshanger Poets like to acknowledge Ealing’s dept to our venerable org, for it was in the 1920’s, when the Tin Hut was but a glint in The Questors’ eyes that Walpole Park played host to the first ‘Festival of Poetry and Music’ as this Veritable Eisteddfod of West London was termed. In those inter-war days, men were men, life was cheap and poets were nervous. However this was long before the age of Everybody Wins and All Shall Have Prizes, when poetry was still an Olympic Sport and there was no dope testing to speak of.
Certainly everyone in tonight’s Workshop (and where were you?) should have won prizes. Alan Chambers revived an older poem about various ways to term a greeting card, even if one cannot write. Marilyn Keenan saw her child growing up and meeting her only on the landing. Clare Glynn-Chitan asked us to count our blessings. Owen Gallagher wrote about a fearsomely handsome priest, perhaps not a priest for long. Lastly, John Hurley brought us a prayer for peace, and giving it a chance.
Not many Ealing residents know that the great Edith Sitwell used the stage of the Ealing Poetry Festival to preview her poetry cycle ‘Facade’, in the hope of winning the prize. She employed a small orchestra, got that nice Bill Walton to write the tunes and designed the costumes for a poetry cycle that lasted over an hour. While the impression given to the judges was stunning, after a short deliberation they nevertheless awarded first prize to a young Irish poet, one William Butler Yeats who had worked up a few lines inspired by the bunting hung from the tents. Embroidered cloths, don’cha know. If you have been, thank you for reading.