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 22nd July 2014

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.

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Workshop 15th July 2014

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.

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Workshop 1st July 2014

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.

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Workshop 24th June 2014

Summer has well and truly arrived in Ealing. The lighter evenings mean that the short drive up to Mattock Lane can be accomplished without risk to myself or passers-by, the headlamps on the old two-seater being specifically designed to offer only a feeble glow in order not to alarm horse-drawn traffic. I can also drive with the top down, minimising the risk of asphyxiation from the leaky exhaust manifold and excitable dashboard electrical components. I managed to park the old girl, stop the engine, spin through the bar and reach the calm bosom of the Library just before the clock on the wall ticked to eight o’clock and was therefore able to spend a few moments gathering my thoughts, sipping my pink gin and savouring the delicate aroma of unburnt hydrocarbons wafting through the open window from the car park while awaiting the arrival of my fellow declaimers.

I found myself meditating on the timing of our meetings. You know of course that the Pitshanger Poets’ Tuesday Workshop has always started at eight o’clock and we aim to have the whole thing wrapped up by ten. Blame the complexities of Sir John Soane’s Household for this schedule. The first workshops were held in the Drawing Room, which this being a Georgian House, would have to first be converted from whatever organised activity had been taking place in it during the day, whether that be the Ealing Ladies Posset Press, Puttee Weaving for the East India Company or Owl Training on behalf of His Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy. Workshops always ended at ten sharp, to allow the attendees enough time to gallop home through the crowds of footpads to houses which might be as far away as Gunnersbury or Boston Manor.

Of course if we have a popular Workshop, as was tonight’s, timing is crucial in order to give everyone sufficient time to read and mull over the gems at hand. Martin Choules read us a piece encouraging us to love the ‘other’ tracks, the ones that are not necessarily our Greatest Hits.   Gerry Goddin brought in his guitar to sing his poem, about regret, but with no regrets. Marilyn Keenan remembered a childhood experience by the sea in her powerful, hypnotic poem. Owen Gallagher discussed the power and influence of the horse during the Troubles in Ireland.   Clare Chitan advocated a new approach to peace, giving it a chance. Daphne Gloag read a fine poem she had written for the Addlestrop Competition, which we all agreed stood very well as a piece in its own right.   Caroline Am Bergris gave us some circular advice on not pre-judging or over-thinking relationships. Nick Barth has revised his piece about the use of poetry as a propaganda tool. Finally Alan Chambers recovered a lost poem from his computer’s possessive hard drive, a short piece on not quite seeing gannets on Bass Rock.

Two hours was an ideal amount of time for tonight’s Workshop, but this has not always been so. As the relative liberality of Sir John’s Georgian Workshops gave way to the more formal Victorian Workshops of the straight-backed Perceval sisters’ tenure it became the norm for each reader to be formally announced by the butler, along with any titles possessed by the poet and a summary of the their most popular works. As the Workshop grew in stature and reputation these formal introductions occupied an increasing and alarming amount of the time available. On the occasion of Alfred Lord Tennysson’s visit in 1869 the butler’s long-winded formal introduction with its respectful, slow delivery allowed only enough time for the ennobled poet to read his ‘Flower in a Crannied Wall’, a piece of six lines, before the formal end of the meeting. The opinions of the other poets on the Peer’s illustrious contribution were not recorded, however, we do know that a veritable stampede by the assembled company to the bar at the Red Lion was executed by the time the Drawing Room clock had reached its tenth chime. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 17th June 2014

This month, the weekly workshops may suffer a hit in attendance as our members have to choose between airing their latest sonnet to thoughtful critique and cheering on the Solomon Islands in their tough fixture against Pomerania in the World Festival of Cups in the deepest Amazon. It is not the first time our fellows have faced such a choice: back in white hot ’66, the archives note that Tuesday 19th July was a toss-up between feeding the muse of watching Italy take on the inscrutable North Koreans live from Ayresome Park.

With an Italian victory a foregone conclusion, a handful of attendees preferred the word over the chant, including John Betjeman (a long-time Gunners fan), Philip Larkin (Hull City, naturally), and the new wonder-kid graduating into the first team, Seamus Heaney (who despite being a proud Ulsterman supported Manchester United, because, well, everybody else did).

This week’s team managed to avoid distraction to score six beauties before the final whistle. Up front was Clare Chitan, sparing a thought for the many babies denied a place of rest, and Anne Furneaux procrastinated when she should have been writing her will.  Martin Choules in midfield pondered on all the music yet to be written, while Alan Chambers rummaged through some bric-a-brac and pulled out a plum. Gerry Goddin, complete with guitar, sang us his new song about people not wanting who they are, (which will surely soon be heard from every terrace,) and keeping the goal safe was Owen Gallagher, sharply dressed in his poetic suit, because these days Guinness black isn’t just for referees.

Back in 1966, the ongoing tournament was clearly affecting each of the readers, who presented football-related works: first up was Johnny Betjeman reading Death in Leamington, his well-known ode to a non-league side being knocked out of the FA Cup. In support was Phil “Larky” Larkin with Whitsun Weddings, influenced by his many train journeys when watching the Tigers play away. Finally, Shammo Heaney pulled on his boots to read Digging, his brutally honest account of the tough life of his background growing up in Ireland, and how it inspired him to dream of Wembley glory. Fortunately for us, his school career’s officer recommended young Heaney junior have a fallback should his footwork ever prove less than fancy, and perhaps he should consider a nice steady reliable trade like poetry instead.

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Workshop 10th June 2014

You know, one of the phrases I think is most over-used in common vernacular today is ‘Rock Star’.  Time was a Rock Star only qualified as such by wearing a live lizard-skin waist coat and inhaling neat charisma from the fretboard of a Gibson Les Paul that had caught fire from the exhaust of a crashing Harley-Davidson.  Nowadays any Sales Executive who manages to improve their run rate by a month-on-month average of no less than 0.5% is hailed as a Rock Star by a bunch of besuited nonentities at a charity dinner.  We in Ealing know our Rock Stars.  Imagine the scene; a week last Wednesday I am desirous of a pick-me-up and drop into one of the new independent cafes in Ealing Broadway.  I have to admit to ear-wigging a couple of very nice ladies who were clearly looking forward to the new Star Wars film.  Visions of an intelligent, fan-soaked discussion crowded in and I almost butted into their conversation with the old one-liner about why Chewbacca was not subtitled.  However, I held back when the pair rapidly turned to a discussion of JJ Abrams and what sort of a director he might turn out to be.  These were clearly not mere fans but Film Folk, readying themselves for a number of months on set at Pinewood, and I was about to tread all over their discussion of the Director of the next Star Wars film – an Ealing Rock Star if ever there was one.

This put me in mind of the many charismatic attendees to the Pitshanger Poetry Workshops over the years.  Many have been poets and Rock Stars in their own right, but in 1838 only one name was on the lips of the denizens of Ealing; Isambard Kingdom Brunel. What is not commonly know is that having completed the Station at Ealing Broadway, Brunel took the time to visit a Workshop or two at the Manor.

Charisma was not in short supply at this evening’s Workshop.  Martin Choules kicked off proceedings with a poem about his father – who turned out, disappointingly, not to be a failure.  Then it was Owen Gallagher’s turn to talk about the wearing of a tie and how it can compensate for a other shortcomings.  Gerry Goddin chimed in next with a song lyric (nice) based upon ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ but with a satirical Edge.  Nick Barth read next, with a poem based on a very curiously-named cafe in Northfields.  Alan Chambers brought us an enigmatic piece about rejection and accuracy.  Daphne Gloag has written a heart-felt piece about her late cousin.  Finally John Hurley wrote a story about a man who was not what he seemed to be.

Brunel was surely a Rock Star of his age and was rarely backwards about being forwards no matter what circles he found himself in.  Upon that fateful Tuesday in 1838, he found himself listening to an early work by Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The Pitzhanger Archivist relates once Tennyson had completed his reading the other attendees of the Workshop metaphorically hung back, waiting to hear what the great Engineer would say.  ‘Alfred,’ said the pioneer railwayman, lighting a sizeable cigar; ‘it’s not ba-ba-ba-dum enough.  It needs to be more ba-ba-ba-dum.  Let me take you out on one of my locomotives and you’ll see what I mean.  More ba-ba-ba-dum.’

Whether or not the young Alfred took up Brunel’s offer of a ride on the footplate has not been consigned to the record of history.  What we do know is that the great Tennyson never forgot the constructive advice of one of this Nation’s greatest Rock Stars, and that from then on his poems rarely lacked a distinctive ba-ba-ba-dum.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 3rd June 2014

Those of you with a taste for the wider newspaper will have noticed Pitzhanger Manor in the news. It was announced today that our alma mata will be in receipt of the fat end of four and a half million quids worth of Lottery Windfall in a grand up-spiffing exercise. As you would expect, I’ve known about this boondoggle for simply weeks and it’s been the devil’s own job to keep schtum about it, but schtum I kept, if only to maintain the high professional standards of my old friends Tom Jestico and John Whiles who will be overseeing the Grand Design.

I’ve known Tom and John since they first came to me for my opinion on some Ionic Volutes and it was a joy to be able to give them some pointers on The Manor culled from our very own Archives. The high concept is to restore Sir John’s Ealing pad to the status of ‘Party House’ as enjoyed in the early nineteenth century, and as Jeremy Paxman will tell you, nothing gets a party going like a Poetry Workshop.

This week’s Workshop was a little sparse for once which gave us more time to talk about the lovely things we had brought. John Hurley brought a yacht, as bought by his cousin against better judgement. Helen Baker brought an apple, offered far too quickly and very hard core. Alan Chambers brought us a bus, two bus routes and a final curtain. Finally Nick Barth brought us a glass of single malt whisky, with all the undercurrents that this implies. We had a fine Workshop, but where were you?

Returning to the Manor I was glad to take time out of my busy schedule to advise Tom and John of the essential items of decor and objets d’art favoured in this halcyon era. One of Sir John’s Tuesday Poetry Workshops would not be complete without the following; a hand-painted Byronic footstool, Keats’ Grecian Spittoon, Shelley’s ‘thing of things’, a good newspaper from Ghent (or Aix), Coleridge’s stuffed albatross (…and cries of ‘albatross!’), a firkin of laudanum with tap and spile and a loud piano to drown out all the poetry.

I also advised Tom and John that they might stumble across Tennyson’s Robe of Samite, a pile of Kipling’s worn out tools and perhaps some of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ Sprung Rhythms. These should be placed carefully in a skip. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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