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 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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Ealing Autumn Festival Poetry Competition 2014

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.

Further information:



 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.


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Workshop 29th July 2014

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.

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