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 December 2014

Though the evening was dark and damp, the by-ways and highways of Ealing were clogged with increasingly desperate coves, laser-focused in their desire to find the perfect item for sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or pal, yet was I ere able to pilot the two-seater with the sort of calm insouciance that would have had observers considering that it was to a Sunday picnic I was bound, rather than up my own private Congo and into the Heart of Darkness. A quiet smile flickered around lips that normally would have been baring teeth of assertive rage; the two-seater’s long-suffering throttle pedal was barely caressed by the supple shoe-leather, the string-back gloves remained distant from the horn-push. The two-seater’s precocious main beams were not flashed and a more-than reasonable distance was allowed between YT and the heavily laden multi-purpose vehicle in front.

Those of you currently undergoing the stresses and strains of this season of affluenza will be wondering why I am not a querulous wreck, a nervy, pale, drawn shadow of myself, having undertaken pitched battle with the dread hordes of Ealing Broadway. The answer is that I have discovered a new way to shop. I simply decide what it is I want to buy and in the calm and reflective atmosphere of my cosy study sit before the keyboard and enter the crucial details. Once I have done this I then hand the list to my man who takes a trip on the Central Line to to Westfield Shopping Centre and purchases the items. I tell you, this ‘on-line’ shopping as we call it is the wave of the future and I heartily recommend it to you all.

The upshot of this calm progress to Mattock Lane was a more than usually reflective approach to the Workshop and a fine time was had by all (and where were you?) John Hurley captured the events and atmos of The Nativity to a fine level of detail. Gerry Goddin brought us a song which outlined in a series of tableaux the direction Fate would appear to be pointing. Owen Gallagher returned with his piece on the essential permanence of the worker in the transient capitalist world. Ann Furneaux revised her atmospheric piece on winter in Wensleydale. Nick Barth has been remembering the fireflies he saw in the summer. Finally Martin Choules brought us a newly-minted Advent Calendar for a more agnostic age.

This will be the last Blog entry for 2014 and with The Season almost upon us, I thought it would be apposite to delve into the Archive to ascertain the influence Christmas has had on the workshops throughout the Nineteenth Century. Unfortunately, details are sketchy. Whether this was to do with the large intakes of Fine Oak-Aged Laudanum popular at the time can only be guessed, but we can be sure of a number of things. Firstly, the Pitshanger Poets used to meet every Tuesday throughout the period, even on Christmas Day itself. Secondly, it is suggested that a Father Christmas costume would be donned by the most hirsute poet then in attendance. Thirdly, as has been noted, a quantity of Christmas Cheer was consumed by all in attendance.

However, whether Christina Rosetti was ever bounced upon a male poet’s knee, asked whether she had been a good girl and what she would like for Christmas and whether this enquiry ever evoked the forthright response: “For Christmas I would like to write a poem evoking the joyful innocence of a Carol while containing the somewhat doleful and exclusive elements of a solitary attendant to the traditional Nativity scene. I wish to accomplish this in a style which is never mawkish or overly simplistic, offering an authentic and sincere expression of what is essentially the solitary feminine episode in the entire Christian canon. I plan to contrast the joy of the central scene with the bleakness of the mid-winter in which it is set, now please move your hand” would be the purest speculation on my part. Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and if you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 9th December 2014

As a responsible individual, tuned to the very warp and wooft of society, I am sure that you know as well as I do that there is no such thing as Fashionably Late, whatever your local dowager duchess will have you believe. At Pitshanger Poets we generally gather at around eight pee-em on a Tuesday eve, at which point a certain amount of furniture rearrangement is necessary for The Library is normally used for read-throughs by The Questor’s younger thespians who, don’t you know it, just will leave the tables and chairs piled up to represent the battlements of Elsinore, the poop deck of the Hesperus or a street scene in pre-war Manila.

As a result there is a window for the commencement of proceedings and we do not look askance if members choose to arrive at a quarter past, for they are welcome in our midst and we would not be without their contribution. However, I must bow down before you, my audience, rending the very hem of my garment in admission that I was most terribly late for the Workshop this evening. I could put my tardiness down to the lack of laser-printer-compatible vellum to be had in Ealing, for which a certain Mr William Henry Smith should be castigated, or for the sorry mischance that caused the faithful two-seater to foul her plugs during her normally crisis-free ninety minute warm-up cycle. However, both of these set-backs were smoothly handled by my Man, who firstly had some lengths of pale mushroom Alcantara put aside for the cockpit of his Cessna , and secondly was willing to push the recalcitrant barchetta into town at a rate of knots which rivalled its normal cruising velocity.

Consequently I arrived to chair the Workshop sang chaud and a mite less shevelled than I would like, only for the group to come through with a session worthy of legend. John Hurley kicked things off with a finely-tuned observation of a gentleman of the road to be seen in his neighbourhood. This was followed by Daphne Gloag, who read an allegorical piece on the subject of air. Then came Nick Barth, who appears to be suffering from an early bout of Christmas. Caroline Maldonado read next, a sensuous piece on the theme of a painter and his model, with oranges. Finally Martin Choules brought us a lyric for a stomp (not a stamp) about Boston (not the port in Massachusetts), which was highly diverting.

My laggardly behaviour reminded me of a series of curious references in the PP Workshop Archive to the poet Coleridge or the late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as the friends of Sir John Soane knew him. According to the Archive, Coleridge presented ever more fantastical and outlandish excuses for his less-than-punctual arrivals on Tuesday evening. At his first workshop he explained that he was returned from London where he had just managed to obtain an Eolian Harp. Subsequent excuses for lateness included being trapped under a lime-tree, of having a scalded foot, of having difficulty disposing of large sea birds and problems obtaining honey-dew (or similar substances) in the area. Most seriously he was roundly taken to task by Sir John after arriving 24 hours in arrears one Wednesday evening, in a state of thorough inebriation, complaining of having to wait in for a certain ‘Person of Porlock’ who failed to turn up. As you may know, Coleridge’s challenges with time-management worsened as his fame grew. Several of his most famous pieces were never completed and one of his poems was added to the National Curriculum and made required reading by Education Secretary Michael Gove despite never having even been started.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 2nd December 2014

Once again, it is my sad duty to inform our loyal readership that our regular diarist is unable to provide us with his usual sparkling bons mots.  As one, we Pitshanger archivists live in dread of the arrival of his man bearing the familiar green ink on his monogrammed Basildon Bond.  With no meandering preamble to fill the page, we always have to do more work in our research when his two-seater fails to arrive.  We pray that normal service is resumed by next week, but in the meanwhile we shall return to an old favourite that is close at hand and very well thumbed: Sir John Soane’s tenure as chairman and convenor of our august and ancient Tuesday nights.

One of his regular visitors was the overly serious William Blake, never a man to reach for a double entendre when an obscure metaphysical homily was there for the preaching.  This was often alloyed with his many conspiracy theories, which included his conviction that barefooted foreigners were sullying England’s pristine pastures with their sweaty feet.

No such paranoia at tonight’s gathering, where Daphne Gloag brought us a fine brace of poems concerning pigeon coos and buttercups both dead and alive alive-oh.  Nick Barth has reworked his memories of his cocksure youth, while Martin Choules salvaged a regrettable experience through verse, even if it is the most expensive verse he’s ever written.  Finally, we had John Hurley come to a compromise with an oversized copper beech.

Bill Blake was finally persuaded to stop attending and “concentrate on his painting” after he once too often accosted somebody referred to in the archives cryptically as “Mister M”.  This is probably Sir John’s gardener, a large raven-haired gentleman about whom the Bard of Broad Street was convinced “had a look about him”.  Apparently, the horticulturalist did not take kindly to Blake constantly referring to him as “Dark Satanic Mills”.

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Workshop 25th November 2014

As you know, it is my delight, nay duty, to keep my readership on the razor’s edge of the cultural zeitgeist in every respect. A glance at any past Pitshanger Poets Blog entry reveals a level of sagacious insight, pin-sharp observation and determined perspicacity unavailable anywhere else in the Blogosphere. It is with this grasp of the very fabric of twenty-first century global culture that I am able to inform my audience of a vital and salient fact: It’s nearly Christmas.

Now is the traditional time for Cultural Observers such as myself to decry the over-commercialisation of Christmas and to scowl whenever Mr J Lewis or Mssrs Sainsbury choose to present one of their feature-length documentaries on subjects as various as Penguins or The First World War. Such is the length of these productions that one does rather feel that the hard-pressed creatives at ITV have wasted an awful lot of money going to the trouble of making programmes such as Downton Abbey when a few advertisements would fill the time quite adequately. However, I say no, do not pour scorn, for without commercialisation many of our favourite poems just would not exist.

Several poems on their way to becoming favourites were in evidence at tonight’s Workshop. Caroline Maldonado has been watching the construction of a tower block, unable to forget what was there before. Alan Chambers has been measuring his time by the trees. Martin Choules refuses to see conspiracies at every turn. John Hurley has been sweeping away fallen leaves but doubts whether anyone will notice. Daphne Gloag has been seeing things from the point of view of a runner Bean. Finally Nick Barth has been warned about discussing politics too loudly in pubs.

The Pitshanger Poet’s Workshop Archive reveals the commercial basis of many of our most famous poems. Alfred, Lord Tennyson revealed during an early reading that The Charge of the Light Brigade had only been made possible due to the kind support of Alfred A. League’s Hoof Oil. T S Eliot’s Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock was originally written in conjunction with Lyon’s Corner Houses (surviving embroidered ‘Lyon’s Tea and Toast’ Serviettes are rare and highly sought-after). Most surprisingly, Philip Larkin admitted to a PP Workshop that his ‘Church Visiting’ was written with the fiscal and moral encouragement of Ecclesiastical Demolition Services Ltd, proprietor The Archbishop of Canterbury. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Caroline Maldonado – What They Say in Avenale

We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate new Pitshanger Poet Caroline Maldonado on the publication of her latest pamphlet ‘What They Say in Avenale’.

Caroline divides her time between London and Le Merche, Italy and it is her experience in Italy that has informed this new collection of poems.

Please take a look at the publishers blurb-site, which will give you the opportunity to purchase said work:

http://www.indigodreamsbookshop.com/#/caroline-maldonado/4587309899

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 18th November 2014

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.

 

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Two Minute Silence – Martin Choules

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.

Martin Choules

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