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 3rd March 2015

The passing of Leonard Nimoy last week inspired tribunes of tributes, many mentioning in passing at his passing that he had a sideline in poetry. He is not the first star to have a more aesthetical private life – Jimmy Stewart, Stephen Fry and Britney Spears have all dabbled with the quill. The poetry world is usually very contemptuous over such ‘hobbyists’, although one suspects an underlying envy that they do not get invited to these polymaths’ parties.

Here at the Pitshanger Poets, we have a proud tradition of welcoming the branching-out celebrity, and never sneering at their first tentative steps into the vicarious varieties of verse – if there are any ill-feelings among the regulars at the ease with which such neophytes are able to be published, it is respectfully kept on the down-low. For whether footballer or weathergirl, poetry is an equal-opportunities muse.

This week’s celebrated non-celebs started with John Hurley being beset with political canvassers and moved on to Caroline Maldonado being haunted by a witch and some miners. A lack of sleep was no worry for Ben Lawrence, whereas Olwyn Grimshaw ventured deep into the realm of Somnus in her own translating of Ovid. Nayna Kumari brought a sobering change of tone with a powerful piece about sibling abuse, followed and contrasted by Andrei Russell-Gebbett’s parody of Robert Browning and an important reminder on health & safety in the laboratory. New member Djivan Souren was next up with memories of beaches and hedges, while Christine Shirley memories were full of tall houses and wyvern-painted sails.   Nuptual lepidopterans were consuming Martin Choules’s thoughts, if not the local vegetation, while Owen Gallagher was taken aim at his regrets with his blowgun. All told, an evening of high drama, if low notoriety.

The revamped Pitshanger Archives reveal that Mr Nimoy himself dropped in one Tuesday evening back in the 1980s (we haven’t worked out how to get the precise ‘year’ function to work yet on our new DOS-based filing system). He was in London for a Star Trek convention, but stepped out to feed his soul in the glory of language and to be freed from the tyranny of the split infinitive. His poem about the intricacies of pebble collecting was well received, although one or two commenters did express disappointment that it was not written in Klingon. Leonard is reported to have bridled at the impossibility of not only being forever associated with his character, but then not even having said character correctly remembered – Mr Spock would have written in Vulcan, in fact. He was quickly calmed by the next reader, however, as Molly Sugden shared her beautiful reflections on the ineffable wonders of the cosmos.

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Workshop 24th February 2015

Loyal readers of this column will be aware of this author’s forward looking attitude towards new technology. I regard myself as the very epitome of the ‘early adopter’ and I am always on the lookout for some gadget, gew-gaw or twerligger to smooth the passage of this trammelled existence and de-fetter the slow accretion of previous actions, as my Zen Master would have it. Why, only last week I stopped by my local Garagist and had the two-seater fitted with a set of those new-fangled ‘radial’ tyres. My Apple MacIntosh is now sporting a voluminous 512k of memory and using this and an Apple LaserWriter it takes my man a mere three hours on average to print out my daily emails ready to be handed to me with the morning reviver.

Of course, this passionate desire to remain at the very vertex of the zeitgeist has forced me to become bosom pals with the Maître ‘ds of the internet, to wit, the Log-In prompts of the many Stores, Clouds, Social Networks and Portals one is forced to frequent these days. This has exposed a somewhat devastating chink in my armour, my flat inability to remember passwords. So, to eliminate the obligation to have my Man at my shoulder whenever I am on-line, ready with the mot juste, (or is that pass?) I have arrived at a most remarkable ruse, a sparklingly original idea that I will pass on to you now. It goes like this; I have written short poetical sequence containing all the usernames, passwords and answers to the myriad footling ‘security questions’ that web sites insist one has to hold at the top of one’s bean, encrypted in such a way that is obvious only to me. When required to enter my password, I simply flip to the poem in question and decrypt the vital info. I have to say, while this idea is proving almost fool proof, my Publisher is baulking somewhat at the titles I have submitted for my next slim volume, although I feel that ‘Clouds, My First Pet, My First Car’, ‘Taking Account of Numbers’ and ‘Pass Strong Word for Book Face’ are rather enigmatic, don’t you?

Poetry is always enigmatic, but this evening was standing room only and there was scant time to pause and reflect.   John Hurley set sail with a braid-encrusted Admiral and his bouncing cheques. Daphne Gloag is looking up the road in order to live in the moment. Ben Lawrence was stuck by the sight of a blind mime wrestling with the welfare state. Olwyn Grimshaw offered sage advice for aspiring politicians to keep their traps shut. Marissa Sepas watched while her motherland swallowed up her brothers. Gillian Spragg cannot do a thing with her twenty-five year old son, though he is only three.   Caroline Maldonado wonders what colour Vladimir Putin would advise her Ukrainian handyman to paint her kitchen. Nick Barth should not have been watching the crowds of people he was watching and in any case has no idea what they were doing. Owen Gallagher has strong hair, thanks to his father. Finally Martin Choules is planning his own version of ‘Antarctica Watch’ even though there are only two native plant species to discuss.

Thinking of on-line security, I was reminded of a potential breach of National Security at a PP Workshop long past.   These were the days of politician poets and while some MPs would argue that poetry is at the heart of every speech they utter, we need to look to the Nineteenth Century to find MPs who were truly ‘outed’ poets. The Victorians were highly enamoured with poets, not least those doughty Victorians the Perceval sisters, daughters of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval and latterly owners of Pitshanger Manor, who continued the Tuesday Poetry Workshop with gusto, even when subject to the unwelcome intrusions of the gutter press. The archive relates that William Henry Hyatt, Whig MP and Poet was reading his extended Heroic Ballad ‘The Countless Benefits Bestow’d Upon The People Of India By Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, And The Great Aid To The Subsistence Of Members Of Parliament Proffered By The East India Company In Return For Pertinent Enquiries’ when a loud coughing sound alerted the company to the presence of a Manchester Guardian journalist with a notepad, pencil and Davy Lamp discreetly suffocating while attempting to hide in the Ottoman. The hack was ejected from proceedings and his notes retrieved and burned and thankfully lasting damage to the fabric of the British Empire by the exposure of the inner workings of the Parliamentary system was avoided. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 17th February 2015

Ah haikus, the tweets of the poetry world. And yes, that is haikus with an s. There are many snobs who will tell the unwary of how in Japanese the singular and plural utilise the same word, which is jolly useful advice the next time we are speaking Japanese. Meanwhile, when adapted to the gently rolling and sometimes rainy landscape of the English Language, they must necessarily adapt themselves with suitable hiking boots and umbrella.

But even when fully naturalised into every culture around the globe, these far-Eastern immigrants will always bare the distinct trait of their origin: their length. These telegrams of condensed wordsmithery are a crash-course in concision and a byword for brevity. Nobody ever complained that a haiku was dragging-on. The downside to such packets of pithiness, of course, is that they’re over before they’ve really started. Just as our ear is getting attuned to the reader’s accent and cadence and we start to pay attention, the seventeenth syllable has been and gone and we’re wallowing in the reflective silence that inevitably follows.

There were plenty of words to be chewed over at this week’s workshop. Martin Choules cast off with a bit of a rant against the bloody Tudors, followed by Caroline Am Bergris charlestoning to the simple pleasures of the flapper. Olwyn Grimshaw made a welcome return to the group with a potent piece about one who the war has left behind, and we had a small yet perfectly-formed bon mot from new member Andrei Russell-Gebbett concerning bedders and shellfish. Next, we were lied to, denied and evaded by Nayna Kumari, or rather her poem, and on a similar theme John Hurley has been mulling on politics, for ill and good. Our second newcomer of the night, Ben Lawrence, brought a meditation on invalidity and appetite which might be called purple prose, but only on account of his choice of stationery. Finally, Daphne Gloag recounted magic apples and the now of Now in a verse that was as cryptic as it was brief, and Marissa Sepas mused on lust and love and invted us with her eyes into her secret abyss.

Here at the Pitshanger Poets there have been occasions when several attendees have between them brought fewer lines of verse than would fill a sonnet. Here in the recently expanded Archives, our state-of-the-art punch-card filing system reveals that following Ezra Pound’s introduction of the oriental form into English in 1913, they became all the rage. In some weeks, the poets would be in the Red Lion saloon bar by twenty-past eight. John Betjeman, surprisingly, took to the form with gusto, although he did bridle at the stricture never to continue on to a second stanza. Ah, what might have been…well, actually the Archive gives us a glimpse throught this early draft he presented: Oh come friendly bombs / And fall on Slough, it isn’t / Fit for humans now.

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Workshop 10th February 2015

Rivals, rivals. You may have heard on the grapevine that the Pitshanger Poets have been putting themselves about a bit. Through no fault of our own we were graciously invited to read at ‘The Story So Far’, a pixelated event that took place throughout the breadth and length of this fair Borough. On Saturday the 31st I rolled back the hood and released the dickey to cart a small gang of poets to the Southall Library, while on the dot of sometime in the early afternoon last Saturday we were to be found ready for action at Acton Library/Swimming baths (a wonderful municipal combination only made possible by the invention of the laminated book) to bring welcome declamation to the huddled, dripping masses. Warm thanks go to Daphne Gloag, Caroline Maldonado, Owen Gallagher, Caroline Am Bergris, Martin Choules and Nick Barth for donning their cagoules and packing their flasks, meat paste sandwiches and penguins to make the trip.

Both events were made all the more enjoyable by the presence of fellow poets in the audience. Perhaps to draw parallels with the duelling banjos scene in ‘Deliverance’ is to stretch the truth a little, but there’s nothing that raises a Poetry Workshop’s hackles more than knowing there’s another Poetry Workshop in the room just itching to jump on a protracted trochee or flaccid metaphor. Fortunately the Acton Poets were delightful company and there was no call for the Lord Byron signature extra-heavy Sovereign rings that I keep handy in the poetry satchel ‘in case of trouble’.

There was no sign of trouble at the week’s Workshop and a peaceful time was had by all. Nick Barth kicked things off with a rueful exploration of life in an unjust world. Alan Chambers made a welcome return to the happy throng with a similarly rueful exploration of infirmity. Christine Shirley brought a rare jewel of a piece reflecting the threads of light and colour that Rembrandt wove into his self-portraits.  Marissa Sepas made her debut with something of a tour de force concerning the deeply remembered sound of war from her native Afghanistan. Daphne Gloag brought a revision of her poem wandering into and through a rarely-straightforward past. Finally Martin Choules brought up the rear with a Valentine’s Day themed Love Song for a misanthrope.

Regular readers of this column may be under the impression that Pitshanger Manor held something of a monopoly position for an honest working poet knocking around circa the 17th or 18th centuries, but little could be further from the truth. Other poets watched the rich camaraderie and gay banter of the Manor’s Dining Room with envious eyes and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us (or am I thinking of the Martians?). Some say it was the over-tall lectern provided to Alexander Pope on his first visit to Pitshanger Poets that inspired him to make his fortune by publishing a translation of Homer, secure a fine house in Twickenham, discover a spring flowing into the River Thames, construct a Grotto over that spring and establish his own Tuesday night Workshop in brazen competition. Whatever the truth of it, the dark and damp conditions of Pope’s Grotto were not at all conducive to the recitation of poetry written on long scrolls of paper with water-based inks, and despite considerable investment in guerrilla marketing with street urchins paid to accost wan young gentlemen scribbling with quill pens in country bowers, the Twickenham Poets was a flop. To this day however, a poet from Ealing never feels entirely safe on a Tuesday in Twickenham and is strongly advised never to adopt a contemplative pose, toy with a writing implement or gaze cogitatively at nature’s wonders as the early evening approaches, just in case, just in case. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 3rd February 2015

Pavanmuktasana. This was the name of the lady that one of my old chums from Eton offered to set me up with last year, saying she would be perfect for me. He is the son of a Maharajah and I was quite surprised when he offered to act as matchmaker, given that I had bullied him quite dreadfully at school because of his rhotacism. His r’s were as absent as my man’s requests for time off. We used to force a headband with rabbit ears onto his head and then chase him, shouting “Wun, Wabbit Wun!”

The moment I mentioned this lady’s moniker to my man, he blanched. “Your friend from school may be playing some sort of joke on you, sir,” he uttered hesitantly, well knowing how preposterous a notion this was. I am never the recipient of a joke, only the jokemaster himself. Sometimes, even I do not realise the vast extent of my humour. Whilst passing a Soho piercing emporium, on direct route to my members’ club, you understand, a passing comment I made about my “Prince Albert velvet slippers” had the whole of the establishment in tears of laughter. To this day I do not know why. Perhaps we few select mortals are just naturally gifted. Others are clearly more well versed in the fundamentals of gentlemanly culture than I had previously realised, even if they do have green hair spikes and large quantities of tool box materials in their tongues.

“You see, sir, “ he continued, “ I am very familiar with Pavanmuktasana myself.” This was slightly disconcerting. Surely this lady was not moving in the same circles as my man, laudable though he is?

He said, “You know how I do Yoga as part of my maintenance regime?” Of course I knew, I had suggested it myself, he is getting older, and it is important that he remains in good enough shape to look after me as I age. Was Pavanmuktasana perhaps the yoga teacher? It would be a new thing, having dinner with someone in trade.

“Well, Pavanmuktasana is the name of one of the poses.” I looked at him, perplexed, and asked which one. “Er, the wind ejector pose, sir. It gets rid of, in an often noisy fashion, hot air.”

It was a windy night tonight at the Pitshanger Poets meeting, and weather warnings had been issued. It was the same the evening Mahatma Gandhi visited the Pitshanger Poets on the 22nd March 1931, when he was after some light diversion after the second of three meetings to discuss the future constitution of India. Why, the wind almost blew his dhoti off. Luckily, there were no ladies present. He apparently led the group in some deep breathing exercises involving nostril jiggery pokery, and caused one esteemed member of the group, Walthus Maymore, to strain his left adductor muscle whilst trying to sit cross-legged. The creases in his striped spongebag trousers were never the same afterwards.

Martin Choules kicked off proceedings with his legs very much uncrossed, directly addressing his past dreams in a lovelorn fashion. Daphne Gloag then mused about the nature of the past itself, bringing us the first part of a new, long sequence of verse. Caroline Am Bergris also talked of the past, of a literal and metaphorical Berlin Wall, followed by John Hurley lyrically reminiscing about the 1950’s. A newcomer to our group, Nayna Kumari, wrote pithily and strikingly about a man who was rumbled and Caroline Maldonado wrote about a mysterious woman caught in the wind as she was being chased. Finally, Alan Chambers wrote beautifully about what a convalescent could see as he watched the snow melt outside.

Thank goodness there was no snow tonight when I made my way home, as I had not brought my flatweave gabardine overcoat or pointed captoe Oxford shoes, a gentleman’s first ports of call when the whiteness of winter hits. I never would have lived it down. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 27th January 2015

Firstly, allow me to apologies for the late arrival of this blog post.  In defence, it has been a very busy week here in the Pitshanger archives – we are about to open the new Theophilus Marzials Wing, complete with an anechoic lecture theatre where no background hum can interrupt the power of the word, and a Library of Congrats where we file all of our positive reviews.  However, there will be no space therein for the weekly ledgers recounting the proceedings and doings of our loyal society, for those are kept in the extensive vaults beneath the Manor House itself.  Built by Sir John Soane during his tenure as Chief Surveyor of the Bank of England, they are every bit as impregnable and labyrinthine as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street and equally home to bits of paper whose value is purely a social construct, namely poems.

With Sir John’s catacombs creating such a maze of underground caverns, it is perhaps no surprise that they caught the attention on Anlgophile and polymath Jorge Luis Borges.  Though it is unknown if he ever visited the land of his grandmother, he was fluent in English and often wrote letters to the Secretary of the Pitshanger Poets.  Unfortunately, the post was filled at the time by a gentleman of less-than-stellar awareness, who confused the Argentinian short-story writer with the Danish comedy pianist Victor Borge, and never wrote back.

No such lallygagging among tonight’s attendees, which saw Daphne Gloag taking a detour around an Old English word that really is the end, and Gerry Goddin singing about oversized prizes and souls covered in ink, which make sense when he tells it.  Owen Gallagher recalled a visit to a Glaswegian pub with nearly as many notable visitors as our own venerable club, while Martin Choules made lemonade from another visit of writer’s block.  Finally, Alan Chambers found himself washes on the shores of a dream, only to discover he was still on a boat.

Anyway, enough excuses !  However, tardy reporting is something of a theme among poets.  After all, Alfred Tennyson may have dashed off his famous Charge of the Light Brigade upon reading the Times over breakfast, but the event it eulogises was already six weeks old.  And Thomas Macaulay’s recount of Horatius in the Lays of Ancient Rome was nearly two-and-a-half millennia late.

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Address to the Haggis in England – With apologies to Robert Burns – by Nick Barth

Address to the Haggis in England

Fair priced, your honest jolly face,
Great symbol of the Scottish race,
When first I saw you take your place
In the deli-cabinet’s glittering selection
Well, you are worthy of space
Said I; in my home’s refrigeration!

The groaning trolley there you fill
A generous portion like a distant hill,
Despite a Sassenach I have the will
To start a tradition; call it a need
To gather a party with water of life distilled
And these ancient lines to read.

With knife; (I hope I’m doing this right)
I’ll cut you up into pieces slight,
My guests look wary of the gushing entrails bright;
Shining like mud in a ditch.
We hope that this is Robbie’s glorious sight
How’d he put it? Warm-reekin’, rich?

Fork by slim, reluctant forkful they strive
To peck; ‘To keep my dream of a flat stomach alive’
And sip; ‘The devil take your Single Malt, I have to drive!’
‘More? My tum is stretched taut like a drum!’
And so excuse, by cautious excuse contrive
To imply my Scottish specialities hum.

Is there one who would not prefer a French ragout,
Or a cassoulet or Hungarian stew?
A fricassee would not make them spew;
And yet they’re already sconner’d
Refusing neeps and tatties with disdainful view
Of such a voluminous dinner.

Poor devils! Must it go for trash?
As if Burns Night parties are all so rash.
It’s an evening out and we’re low on cash;
But when it comes down to it
My guests all homeward early dash
The pudding chieftain is not so fit.

They fear the stereotype, the haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
The broken veins, the hairless head;
The bronchial whistle
Of Scotsmen marked as early dead,
The irony of the hardened thistle.

You powers that make the tastes of Waitrose your care
And dish us up our weekly shop; beware!
Middle England merely feigns to like your oaty fare.
For no matter how trendy a Burns night is
Faced with an invite, they mouth a silent prayer;
Please don’t present me with the Haggis!

Nick Barth ©2015

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