Welcome to the Pitshanger Poets

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.

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Workshop 16th September 2014

As you may be aware, I am a fairly well recognised chap in and around ‘The Queen of the Suburbs’ as Ealing is referred to and I am constantly being asked the secret of my success. Many of the people I meet as I potter about the delightful boutiques and delicatessens of W5 appear to be deeply interested in my career trajectory, almost as if my body of work could not possibly be surpassed and I should quit while I am ahead. Many times I have been asked if now is not the opportune moment to retire and disappear off to some far diaspora where I may rest my evident genius.

This obsession with the personality of the poet has become a recent fascination of mine, and peering beyond the veil by means of the Pitshanger Poets Archive is very revealing. Were you aware, for example, that Stephen Spender kept carp? Or that Laurie Lee was allergic to cider? That Louis MacNeice owned a stuffed owl called Oswald, even before this was the fashion?

Perhaps this is why I am in such demand; every week I have the honour of rubbing shoulders with the talented band of declaimers known as the Pitshanger Poets. Tonight, for example, Daphne Gloag conjured a magician and the worlds he creates for his audience. Martin Choules investigated the personality of the narcissist in a highly entertaining poem. Owen Gallagher brought us a way to instantly be transported back to a simpler, more wholesome existence. Nick Barth found something closer to home and more than a little discomfiting. Finally Helen Baker wrote about the kinds of misdemeanours that people commit and seem not to mind owning up to.

You will recall that I was also a little obsessed as a child with a poet; the great Robert Louis Stevenson, and I often delve into the notes to learn more about his occasional visits to the Manor. For example, Stevenson caught the attention of the PP Secretary for portraying both introvert and extrovert traits during Workshops. Sometimes he would barrack fellow poets mercilessly while they were reading, while at other times he would crouch under the famous dining table and present his work from there. On several occasions the Secretary confronted Stevenson, requesting that he cease his ‘Heckle and Hide’ behaviour, but it is not noted if this had any effect on the young writer. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 9th of September 2014

I must apologise for the lateness of the delivery of this blog. If I am disciplined enough to leave the Questor’s Bar at booting-out time I can have it composed, written out in longhand, translated into Italian, translated back into English by my friend Mario the wine waiter, spoken out loud onto a wax cylinder by a retired news reader, transcribed by my Man onto my classic Apple MacIntosh 128k from 1985, woven into a fine fabric by my collection of sentient silk worms and finally injected directly into the internet using a 56kb Modem I bought from Tim Berners-Lee, and all before bedtime in the wee hours. In this way I aim to have all trace of triviality, unintended humour or irony squeezed from the text before it is entrusted to bits and bytes.   And people accuse me of being a man of leisure! This evening, I regrettably got involved in a violent debate over the use of the semi-colon and this delayed my departure from the bar until until eleven o-five. Quel dommage.

I know how important the Pitshanger Blog is to the future stability of Western Culture because of the concern so many of you have for my well-being. Several times a week I am asked by correspondents to take a break, to hand the reins of responsibility over to a younger, less circumlocutious (whatever that means) cove but I decline their entreaties to dress more warmly, or ‘wrap up’ as certain individuals will have it, and am committed to ploughing on.

It is for evenings such as this that I am so committed. To my left, Caroline Am Bergris clearly believes that happiness can be found in unexpected places. Owen Gallagher tried out a new one describing the post-clearance Highlands.  To my right, Gerry Goddin slipped in a song about not having sex. In the corner, Alan Chambers remembered in a few spare lines an artist, trapped by sound. Marilyn Keenan wrote about a love unfinished. Daphne Gloag read her entry to the Ealing Autumn Poetry Festival to the theme ‘Constellations’ (and where were you?), followed by Nick Barth who insisted on reading out his own contribution to this contest. Finally Martin Choules wrote about God and what he cannot possibly know.

All of this was achieved with perfect, crisp clarity, all our poets arriving with neatly typed, printed or photo-copied imprints of their verses, ready for perusal and discussion. However, as creatures of the Spoken Word we metropolitans are accustomed to deciphering English as spoken in a bewilderingly wide array of accents and vernaculars. Contrast this with the late 1930’s when poets of the calibre of Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and TS Eliot were regularly to be seen around the Dining Table of Pitshanger Manor. Should a ‘provincial’ poet be expected, such as, for example, the young Scots poet Norman McCaig in 1938, the archivist would be sent to the local hostelries in search of an ‘ex-pat’ to translate. In this way the peculiar terms used by McCaig such as ‘wee’, ‘bairn’, ‘ken’ or ‘awa ye havering neeps an bile yer heids!’ were made transparent to the group. Thank goodness Scots-English relations have come so far in the last seventy years. I cannot imagine the powerful or influential leadership figures of London having any trouble understanding the feelings of the Scots today, can you? If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 2nd September 2014

I have been in a bit of a lather today. While stopping for a cuppa at the Recalcitrant Herbalist at the bracing hour of 8:30 (I always have a pot of her hemp pick-me-up on the way to Tai Chi on The Strand On The Green), I heard that nice Mr Naughtie on the radio saying that registration for voting for the Scottish Independence Referendum was due today. I raced home as fast as the two-seater would carry me, which is rarely close to the legal limit even in street-lit areas, to ensure that the appropriate forms had been acquired and processed, so that I may place my ‘X’ in the preferred box on the day of the long-anticipated plebiscite.

Imagine my devastation upon arriving at the abode to be calmly informed by my man that the decision is to be made solely by the bekilted populace North of the Border. Now, I am no expert in divorce, but I always assumed that both parties were at least tacitly involved in any decision. I am not planning to reveal which way I would have voted, but my choice had much to do with the prospects of enjoying another Home Wimbledon Champion, bearing in mind the tepid performance of England’s players in recent memory.

Such matters of international import could be played as a Let in comparison with the mastery of the form of tonight’s Poets. Louise Nicholls returned to us from the far Antipodes to describe an impromptu concert in a Boston Subway Station. Nick Barth has been standing in the sun and looking at planes for far too long. James Priestman made a welcome return to read a Triptych from the Wilderness. John Hurley gave us a thumbnail sketch of a neighbour from the Old Country. Caroline Am Bergris wrote to us from a moment spent by the fire in a cave in Spain. Marilyn Keenan wrote a very strong piece from the Eastern Front. Helen Baker has been to Sir John’s other pad and a friend of hers fell in love with a sarcophagus. Finally Alan Cambers has been to the Southern Cross, at least that is where he suspects he might have been.

Leafing through the PP archives the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by an entry mentioning Scottish Nationalism from 1934. In that year the group took it up one themselves to invite the eminent Scottish Poet and Nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid to their midst to relate some of his most notorious poems, including ‘A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle’. The great man seemed reluctant at first, only gathering enthusiasm when he learned that Pitshanger Manor was also the Ealing Public Library. On arriving at the Workshop, MacDiarmid is described as being a trifle distracted. According to the Archivist, he would only be persuaded to read once he had secured a book concerning the architecture of Westminster Abbey and had ascertained from the group where he could borrow a heavy trolley and a fast car. According to the archivist, MacDiarmid seemed obsessed with the various subjects of ‘Stones’ and bizarrely, ‘Scones’. Why the crazy-haired Nationalist thought he would obtain a Cream Tea or a bottle of Ginger Wine in Westminster Abbey on a Tuesday night is beyond comprehension and historians are stumped about the affair to this day. If you have a clue as to what MacDiarmid was planning in 1934, do write in and if you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 26th August 2014

Comfort zones. My man is exceedingly good at keeping me in mine, or at least in one of them. Upon my return home from a hard day at the coalface, he is always on hand to apply balm to my furrowed brow (metaphorical and literal), or to re-align my stress-smitten moustache. I should never forget to count my blessings. Occasionally however, I am wont to become restless, and at the moment, I can feel the growing hold of such a state of mind. After all, poets have always been travellers, whether in the mind or in the physical world. Maybe I shall have to content myself, for the time being at least, with a little excursion into the largely unexplored archives of the Pitshanger Poets. After all, who knows what such a foray may reveal? I can feel a little excitement taking hold… but more of that anon.

The members of the Pitshanger Poets do not forever hanker after comfort zones however, and this week’s meeting provided excellent illustrations of this, not least because Louise Nicholas joined us from Down Under, part of her annual visit to these shores, and courtesy of Malaysian Airlines. (If that’s not stepping out of one’s comfort zone, I don’t know what is, especially in view of the disaster that befell MH17). Owen Gallagher kicked us off, with a social worker and his charge zooming away from the normal parameters of safeguarding in a precarious lift. Louise Nicholas’ poem was, rather appropriately, entitled MH17, setting out a skilful questioning of what might have happened, contrasted with what did happen. Daphne Gloag wrote about a little tulip, planted in a trough, away from its natural desert-like habitat. Helen Baker speculated upon a depressive individual being able to leave his particular familiar terrain. Finally, Alan Chambers astounded us all by departing the solace of his usual style.

All very exciting yes, but readers who know me well will be aware that once I have the bit between my teeth….I’m off to delve in the dusty archives. After all, it is not inconceivable that a true great such as Pablo Neruda visited the Pitshanger Poets. There is no reason why Paris should all so often be the chosen destination, especially with such a wealth of poetry and poetry-heritage at Pitshanger. Neruda made it to Paris, travelled all over Europe, and to India, China and Russia, so why not Ealing? And still on the subject, it has been reported that some of our number occasionally leave the relative comfort of the Poets to ply their art at an open mic session at a local hostelry. We wait to hear more.

Yours as I hasten to the archives, and if you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 19th August 2014

On occasion, my man is liable to be a little uppity. Even more worryingly, I have observed that when he is in such a frame of mind, he becomes hell-bent on overreaching his allotted station in life. Recently, I was subjected to a particularly perturbing example of such behaviour. Upon my return from the last meeting of the Pitshanger Poets, my man came rushing up to me to announce that he too was writing poetry. He then proceeded to inform me that he had been goggling avidly, and in the process discovered that quite a few poets were able to self-publish. He blurted out that even famous poets of relative antiquity such as Walt Whitman had brought a major work to the public, without the aid of publisher. He was going to take a leaf out of my book, he said. As the reader may well imagine, I maintained my usual calm demeanour throughout and I most certainly did not draw attention to any malapropisms. After all, ignorance is bliss.

Mulling over all this later, I realised that I would have to restrict my man’s access to the internet. Heaven only knows what he might come across otherwise. I shall have to make sure that he is limited to his beloved goggle box, at least until technological developments mean that this is no longer possible. But I have at least a little while to resolve this one, I hope. I did however work out for myself the process by which my man had lit upon this idea. He has recently become very friendly with a lady who is in the same line of work as himself. Her mistress is a well-known romantic novelist, who is about to publish her new blockbuster for herself, having just won a court case against her publisher. No wonder my man is somewhat buoyed up.

At least at the Poets, we do not need to be conscious of our station – in life, or anywhere else for that matter. We do not even sit in the same place each week, nor does the table take the same form. This week there were nine of us: I would say around the table, but it is basically rectangular. One must be precise after all, without affording the Platonists too much satisfaction. John Hurley read first today, his poem about a visit to the island of Guernsey as a haven of present peace, but with allusions to her role in the Second World War. Clare Glynn Chitan was on a longer journey through life with all its many players. Caroline Am Bergris debated the possibility of re-moulding an ex, with more than a nod to the Platonists. Martin Choules pondered the demise of the horse and by analogy the possible eternal presence of the human race. Gerry Goddin’s contribution was more in the twentieth century, about a supersonic poet with more than superhuman powers. David Hovatter’s poem was also about a former quasi-contractual relationship, some of whose clauses were still in place. Daphne Gloag brought the final section of her poem in the form of play-like dialogue inspired by matters astronomical. Helen Baker had written some observations of the audience at a recent Prom, and finally Owen Gallagner’s poem was also astronomical and musical, with its oblique references to the trouser role in those pioneering starry days before Mozart.

I remain concerned about my man’s state of mind. Now that he has the bit between his teeth, I shall have to rein him in, and if he discovers that Walt Whitman made it over to these shores (let alone to a meeting of the Pitshanger Poets), why then, I am undone.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 12th August 2014

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.

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Workshop 5th August 2014

“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.

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