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 21st October 2014

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 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 ?

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Workshop 14th October 2014

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.

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Workshop 7th October 2014

Hello all. I must begin by apologising for the lack of a Blog this week. Due to circs not entirely beyond my control, there will be no Blog. I advise any of my loyal readership who believe themselves to be reading the PP Blog at this moment to fetch themselves off to their local head doctor and have themselves checked over for hallucinations. The fact is, I am all of a ferment, having just wasted a day attempting to get into Westminster Abbey to visit Poets Corner. I would have made it too, except that my Poetic License lapsed last Thursday and my new one is, according to Mr Alan Bennett, who is running the whole Poetic Verbiage Licensing Administration, ‘in the post’. He tells me that he is far too busy dealing with a huge uptick in slam poets applying for licenses following the Kate Tempest effect. It seems that Hipsters want not only beards and short hair, tweed jackets, Doc Marten’s and a punch in the mouth but also Poetic Licenses, and demand has exceeded supply. Of course I could have spent eighteen sponds like the next gullible tourist but I believe that spending money to enter a House of God is the Thin End of The Wedge and will be followed by the gradual, creeping privatisation of religion.

It’s a shame there is no Blog this week because last night’s Workshop was one of the best. Only three poets turned up (and where were you?) but this gave us plenty of time in the calm and refined atmosphere of Questor’s elegant, MDF-panelled Library to mull over the works on offer. Alan Chambers brought an old piece about a Blue Crane (lifting apparatus, not bird) which will be highly presentable once it’s had a good going over with the grease gun. Owen Gallagher wrote a sharp, authentic piece about the saw mill where once worked in Glasgow, which featured just enough death. Finally Nick Barth brought us a slightly acid poem about the value of Human Resources (the department, not the song by the ice-pixy Bjork), which featured just enough ducks.

Talking of licenses, I read in this week’s copy of ‘The Estate Agent’s Hyperbole’, which I take for the knitting patterns, that Blue Plaques are being dished out this week. Specifically, one is being pinned to the rather nice detached residence in South London where the hard-boiled crime writer Raymond Chandler lived during is education at Dulwich College. It is not widely known, but Chandler was a regular at Pitshanger Poets for a short period before the Great War and his return to America. The young writer was clearly still to find his voice, attracting such comments as ‘Mr Chandler needs more similes like the King needs more brandy’, and ‘Mr Chandler belongs in the world of poetry like a pickled onion belongs in a banana split’. The Pitshanger Poets secretary at the time notes that Chandler was unable to answer when asked whether he had a fountain pen in his pocket or was simply glad to have met her. Of course you have not been reading, but if you imagine you have been, thank you.

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Workshop 30th September 2014

As a lynchpin of the British Poetry Scene, I am terribly careful to keep a close eye on my health. I have already mentioned the Tai-Chi classes I take – the ‘Drinking Crane’ exercise is particularly supportive of the writing muscles – I add to this regimen the wide variety of herbal teas, smoothies, balms and restoratives formulated by my Man, some of which go to lifting my mien, some quench the thirst of the aspidistra by the umbrella stand, with only one formulation being in my humble opinion too experimental for carbon-based lifeforms but which benefitted the old two-seater’s triple Strombergs no end.

Whether this diet of exercise, distressed vegetation and pallid ditch water does me any good is another question. On the bright side, our outdoor Tai-Chi classes are highly popular and attract many shouts of encouragement, mainly from passing white van-equipped tradesmen, I am bemused to say, while my high-fibre diet does at least give me an excuse to lock myself away in the smallest room with a notepad for extended periods while I wait for inspiration.

Inspiration was in no short supply at tonight’s meeting. Gerry Goddin kicked things off with a deep and soulful ballad on the charm of words. Alan Chambers watched a couple find each other at Bollawall Barrow. John Hurley feels he is enjoying a late spin on life’s bicycle. Daphne Gloag is looking forward to the transformative effects of snow. Helen Baker is taking advice on her own vintage. Louise Nicholas ended this year’s sojourn with PP by describing the coat she will wear into old age. Ann Furneaux brought a vivid, account of a day in Wensleydale. Nick Barth wonders what is wrong with Duchamp’s Rotary Demisphere. Owen Gallagher is imagining the moment of his own mortality and is somewhat misty-eyed. Finally Martin Choules has met a person who just loves spiders.

The poetry world is full of larger-than-lunch characters who have made a career of pushing the boat out at both ends, les Grande Fromages who keep their dieticians on danger money, but there are some who plough a different tack. The Australian Poet, Novelist and vegan John Kinsella is mentioned in the annals of the Pitshanger Poets. Kinsella was apparently invited to join a Tuesday Workshop in a garbled telephone call from the famous Australian wit, cultural icon and bon veneer, Sir Les Patterson. The young Kinsella managed to gather the price of the fare and ‘bummed’ a couple of nights on the floor of a pal in Earl’s Court. He arrived at the Workshop in good time for the eight o’clock start but unfortunately he was overcome by jet lag and fell into a deep slumber from which he could not be revived until after the end of the meeting. Kinsella is then said to have refreshed himself with a pint of mint tea and hit the vegetarian cafés of Hammersmith, raving through the night on a frenzy of lentils and beansprouts before gathering up his rucksack and boarding his flight home. A copy of his unread poem was found under the Dining Room table at the Manor and pasted into the archive. A pity, it had been a strong piece, too. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Troubadour Poetry Prize – submissions by 20 Oct

Latest News: New £5,000 first prize for Troubadour Poetry Prize 2014 sponsored by Cegin Productions
Coffee-House Poetry are delighted to announce that long-standing poetry supporters Cegin Productions are now sponsoring a top
prize of £5,000 for the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2014. Second & third prizes have also been increased as have
the 20 additional prizes. (For 2013 winners and details see below, for 2013 and all previous years’ winners and winning poems see our Poems page.)
Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2014
Sponsored by Cegin Productions
judged by amy wack & neil astley with both judges reading all poems prizes: 1st £5,000, 2nd £1,000, 3rd £500
plus 20 prizes of £25 each
plus a spring 2015 coffee-house-poetry season-ticket
plus a prize-winners’ coffee-house poetry reading
with amy wack & neil astley
on mon 1st dec 2014
…for all prize-winning poets
submissions, via e-mail or post, by mon 20th oct 2014

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Workshop 24th September 2014

Poets are not easy coves to buy presents for (just ask any reigning monarch with a Poet Laureate to keep in hock) and if you ask me, it’s all down to technology. Most of the popular pursuits the great mass use to sponge up time, from strumming a few chords on a guitar to knocking a small white ball over some grass with the intention of missing a hole, involve an increasingly sophisticated array of equipment, gadgets, gew-gaws, bags, cases and for some, tiny bite-sized squares of computer software my Man insists on calling ‘Apps’. The trouble with having a poet as a bosom pal is that once you have dropped a quantity of lucre on a few leather-bound notebooks, a pencil, sharpener and rubber, that’s just about it for a birthday gift. Come the following Anniversary one finds oneself scraping the barrel with a lucky Gonk and an amusing Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary.

I suppose we should be grateful that Technology has not yet found a way to invade our gentle art in the way it has muscled in on just about everything else worth doing the hard way. There are no ‘apps’ that can do for poetry what the Drum Machine did for Disco Handclap Artistes, or that can attempt to jazz up a dull metaphor the way my Tablet Computer can spruce up my Aunt Agatha’s dull and shaky holiday snaps. However, perhaps the problem is deeper. Poets are just not given to trusting the Modern World.

Perhaps this is a bit of a sweeping statement. Here at the Pitshanger Poets we embrace all forms of the declamatory arts, modern as well as traditional. In a packed program tonight (and where were you?), Marylyn Keenan kicked things off with a disturbing evocation of a trapped dragonfly. Clare Glynn Chitan has been earwigging the great and the good in her local hostelry. Daphne Gloag recalled a cactus flower that glowed with its own special, transitory light. Caroline Am Bergris presented us with a captured moment from the evacuation of London during the Blitz. Louise Nicholas wrote about a memory from Israel in 1972, when she became immune to many things, including peeling onions. Helen Baker remembered the decline of a once-sharp old gentleman. Nick Barth presented a businessman, frozen in time in New York. Martin Choules wrote a sharp, funny piece about assumed knowledge. Owen Gallagher gave us an economically written short story about visiting an art gallery with a nefarious friend and finally Gerry Godin sang us his version of ‘Let’s Do It’ with great aplomb.

My own in-depth study of the lives of the Pitshanger Poets has revealed just how exposed many of them have felt to the ordeals of the Modern World. In the early Nineteenth Century poets found themselves beholden to a vast, shadowy organisation called ‘The Post Office’. They had to acclimatise to the concept of trusting an envelope containing their most precious work to a dark slot, in the vague hope it would reach a faraway publisher or editor. Poets committed their life and soul to this new invention, for The Post Office came with no backup facility and no undo button.  Privacy was a concern frequently voiced in those early days of Her Majesty’s Postal Service, as information in transit could be vulnerable. For example, when a frenzied Poetry Fanatic took it upon himself to break into a Pillar Box with a large axe in order to intercept a small parcel just posted by Mrs Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and when it was later revealed that the package contained a number of racy cameos intended for her husband who was away in Cumbria, the Press had a field day in what became enigmatically known as ‘The Hacking Scandal’.

When some decades later a Post Office Engineer was able to catch Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the Ball Room of Pitshanger Manor following a Tuesday Workshop and requested that he recite ‘The Charge of The Light Brigade into the then newly-fangled recording apparatus, Tennyson was unimpressed by the intrusion but keen to reach a new audience. He was even less impressed to learn that the portable deep fat fryer and merrily cooking basket of chips was a vital component of the sound recording process, a practice, by the way that was not done away with until the nineteen-fifties.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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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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