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, 19th May 2015

As local readers of this blog may remember, Pitzhanger Manor was for many years also the Ealing Library. This caused some consternation in the Archives, having to share our space with less forms of literature, and sometimes having our first editions leant out to any old rates payer with a library card and string bag. Some of our precious collections of verse came back with most trite and spidery marginalia: from correcting the spelling of Blake’s The Tyiger to answering Browning’s eternal question …or what’s a heaven for ? with the answer “Bingo nights and harp repairs”.

Tonight’s workshop was quite unblemished with such matters: Daphne Gloag addressed a peon to Time that needed no footnotes, and Marilyn Keenan imagined loneliness in the arms of an uncaring man with, with a few corrections all her own. This was followed by interrupting thoughts from Gillian Spragg which might well elicit a few lightly-pressed graphite ticks of agreement, and Alan Chambers’ quality time spent with a blackbird may well encourage a later reader to provide the score. As ever, Peter Francis had an ear for the mythical atop Mercian hills that would only be diminished by indignant HB question marks, and a pencil pedant would surely have taken Martin Choules to task for his metaphysical musings on consciousness.

The worst incident to befall the group was one Tuesday in late 1910 when Rudyard Kipling was in attendance. He had neglected to bring a poem, but remembered he had recently gifted us a copy of his newly-published Rewards and Fairies. Could he borrow it back a little while to read from ? Naturally, the duty archivist was summoned to source the tome, but alas he neglected to first apply a rubber to the pages, much to Kipling’s horror. The Way Through the Woods was critiqued by a drawing of some male genitalia, Cold Iron had every ‘o’ filled in, A St Helena Lullaby has a declarative “wrong!” after each verse and ends with “if anyone actually enjoys this rot, then you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din!”. Most egregious of all was the anonymous scribbler who noted beside If— that “I have developed a truly marvellous rebuttal of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

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Workshop 12th May 2015

It’s never clear how far to draw back the veil of privacy when crafting a blog.  On the one hand, relating intimate details of one’s existence, such as my man’s penchant for throwing darts at a portrait of Ian McMillan he has pinned to the board at the Fox and Ferret or describing the Michael Rosen glove puppet I carry with me everywhere in case I need to halt a stampeding horse may endear one to one’s readership, while on the other may simply raise unpleasant questions on the decline of the beautiful game on his part or accusations of animal cruelty on mine.  Dash it all, veil or no, you might as well hear it from me; next week I am going on holiday.

I am by habit a light traveller and the two-seater will be hardly encumbered by my small suitcase, leather satchel with my notebooks, fresh pencils and a small hip flask of cough mixture with which to while away the evenings on my Grand Tour of the Cotswolds.  However, I am greatly in debt to my man and his faithful Thames Van which will be loaded to the gunwales with all the other tools of a jobbing poet; the full variety of Grecian urns, nightingales, mice, churchyards (in component form), ladies’ portraits, haggises, skylarks, ravens, daffodils, statues, busts, armour and ancient ruins I might desire to include in a poem, elegy or ode as inspiration strikes while we are away.  It certainly helps carrying these items with us instead of having to seek them out as poets used to be obliged to do. We can pull to the side of the road in some quiet spot and I can be up and composing in mere moments with a little help from my man and his quarter-tonne sack trolley.

None of the above items figured in tonight’s Workshop, which I felt was somewhat of a missed opportunity.  Peter Francis described the process of writing, or not writing, by candle-light (disappointingly with no mention of a sconce).  Marilyn Keenan brought depth and grace to her poem about bird song at night (while side-stepping the subject of nightingales altogether).  Christine Shirley revised her polychromatic piece on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (without recourse to heroic ballad form).  Olwyn Grimshaw remembers VE Day and the lack of bananas (but we could hardly call this Ode to a Banana, oh no).  Alan Chambers brought us a highly amusing poem of indeterminate age about a fish and the King of Spain (with no mention of his beard, burnt or otherwise).  Daphne Gloag has written a short piece about taking a few hours somewhere nice and quiet where they will not be disturbed (ornamental sun dials were regrettably absent).  Gillian Spragg remembered her mother’s declining years with amusement and a light touch (but no sestinas).  Martin Choules is thinking about our new leader and how he might need a shave with the razor of satire (trying to keep it sharp, but just getting into a strop).  Finally Nick Barth wonders how long it is before robots demand equal rights (but with no mention of feet or mills, dark or satanic).

Speaking of holidays, I was fascinated to stumble across mentions of Grand Tours past in the Pitshanger Poets Archive recently.  Not to detain you much further, for the pubs must be open by now, It is clear that our poets were in the vanguard of the transformation of Spain into the hugely popular tourist destination it is today.  As far back as the nineteen-thirties a number of our alumni journeyed South of the Pyrenees for a well-deserved break on the peninsula, no doubt making the most of an unspoilt coastline and what must have been almost-deserted historical city centres such as Madrid, Barcelona, Seville or Guernica.  Still, it is clear that life for these pioneers of the package holiday was not all sangria and skittles.  Louis MacNiece seems especially bitter about the Spain he describes in his Autumn Journal, completely omitting to mention that he must have been able to benefit from very favourable rates by booking his stay outside the school holidays.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 5th May 2015

Many a polititian has been a poet in secret, and some, particularly those who were journalists in their previous lives, have made a stab at novels as well. But more often than not, it is their fame as a minister that sells their paperbacks, not the other way round. One acclaimed novelist who went on to the first among equals was Benjamin Disraeli. His poetry is little spoken of, but his politically-laced romances have often been described as ‘the memoirs he never wrote’.

With polling day descending upon us like a finals exam we always knew was coming yet forgot to revise for, there was no lack of a national vision at tonight’s meeting. Olwyn Grimshaw was first to throw her hat in the ring with a determination to raise her opposition to Time, and Christine Shirley commended to the house her impressions of Gaudi’s masterwork. Alan Chambers reached out for the youth vote with his charming address to Polly, which lead to a vote of confidence in Nayna Kumari short, sharp demand for respect. From the speaker’s chair, Martin Choules stressed the importance of taking part on polling day, while Gillian Spragg paid a moving tribute to one of the silent majority, and Peter Francis won the ayes to the left in his retrospective of a political outsider. Finally, Daphne Gloag raised many a ‘hear hear’ in her bill concerning beaches and footprints.

It is interesting to note in the archive that ‘Dizzy’ was at times a Tuesday night guest of the Percival sisters – themselves the daughters of a former prime minister, even if that  appellation was distasteful to any proper gentleman. One incident is recorded during the month-long polling day of late 1868, where Disraeli’s caretaker premiership faced its first real test. After spending all week touring his Buckinghamshire constituency, he preferred to unwind listening to Bobby Browning’s latest blockbuster, or arguing the finer points of the poor law with Georgie Eliot. Perhaps this preference for elitist poesy to the rhetoric of the hustings is what cost him the election to William ‘Gladys’ Gladstone, very much a plain-speaking man of prose.

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Workshop 28th April 2015

We British have no more than a nodding acquaintance with Bank Holidays.  Where it would shame a Frenchman to work a single Monday in May, we knotted-handkerchief children of the tailback see the month bookended by a mere pair of high days following on, of course, from the shifting calendrical disaster our revered friends of the cloth refer to, in all seriousness, as ‘Easter’.  I was reliably informed by an old friend of mine who made his fortune supplying foot powder to the Cabinet Office that this parlous state of affairs came about as a result of a celebratory night out enjoyed by the elected heads of Europe in Strasbourg.  The grandees were celebrating the historic accession of several new member states to the Common Market back in the heady days of 1973, the all night sesh being something of an initiation ceremony. Following a fine dinner, brandies and cigars and a rake around the back of the drinks cabinet for the class of liquor not normally safe for human consumption known as digestifs, the attendant Leaders of Men embarked upon a poker game.  Prime Minister Edward Heath, forcefully protesting that he preferred Cribbage (Pitt the Younger Rules, no throat-holds) was nevertheless cajoled into playing.  The result was a disaster for this country.  Heath lost three Bank Holidays, the ability to maintain a successful car industry and two future Eurovision Song Contests to French President George Pompidou and spent the following day with a headache large enough to stop a rhinoceros and in full damage limitation mode.  An Australian go-getter by the name of Rupert Murdoch was persuaded to keep the affair out of his newly acquired Sun newspaper, establishing a pact with the devil which dogs politicians of all colours to this day. This evening’s sojourn was kicked off by Nayna Kumari’s poem about a little girl doing a brave thing.  We then went back in time, sixty years, to a man Alan Chambers met who was good with his hands.  Next, we visited Gillian Spragg’s kitchen, which in which she has been feeling a little elsewhere.  Peter Francis took us to Coram’s Field and an unwanted birth.  Djivan Soren invited us to look at his Blackmore fish, while Nick Barth remembered when we had faith in IBM.  Marilyn Keenan remembered a golden time and the dangerous men she knew.  Daphne Gloag wondered what a sun dial gets up to at night and finally we now know which candidate John Hurley dislikes the most. I was mulling over where to urge the old two-seater towards this May Bank holiday when memories of the Pitshanger Poets Charabanc were swiftly called to mind.  Back in days of yore, when the Leyland Leopard was seen as the ne plus ultra of road transportation, PP would organise Poet Spotting tours to the four corners of these Isles.  Public Holiday pedants (and there are a few; I’ve attended the Conventions) will tell you that the Bank Holiday at the beginning of May has only existed since 1978; however our members have long considered May Day an appropriate time to view great poets in their natural habitat.  Taking up their flasks of tea, packets of sandwiches and copies of Ian Allan’s I Spy Book of Great British Poets, our members would scour the literary landscape.  Sightings noted in the Archive included ‘John Betjeman, in full cry, steaming into St Pancras’, ‘WH Auden, posting a letter at night, Gretna Green’, ‘Frances Cornford, seen in a field, presence of gloves unknown’. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Alpha-Better Lovers – Gillian Spragg

Alpha-Better Lovers

Aching for the consummation
Between luxurious smooth-pressed sheets,
Seething, roused in expectation,
Deepening wild delight comes, greets
Eternal love and cosmic bliss, so
Effervescent, sighing, squeezing
Genius for that one last kiss, though
Aitch-shaped, happy motifs teasing
Eiderdown with damask touch,
Jade and turquoise décor spell, how
Came the lady quite so much.
Elusive though betimes she seems,
Embraces in four-poster style,
End coyness, fling the door ajar,
Open wide to welcome virile
Peen – no, no, that goes too far! –
Cutely up-turned, says enough,
Ardent, burning perfumed oils and
Essences to do the stuff.
Teeny mattress, lumpy bunk,
You head for trouble – going for red hot
Venal acts in these beds or not
Double, you go all awry,
Exclaim in whingeing, childish fashion:
‘Why won’t you?’ Tartly, she’ll reply:
‘Zed-beds just don’t move a girl to passion.’
Gillian Spragg

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Workshop 21st April 2015

Ealing, it would appear, is at war.  The streets around the Broadway are thronged with coves in variously coloured rosettes handing out leaflets and levitating small children with bundles of balloons.  I for one have become particularly adept at spotting the various affiliations without even needing to spy the rosette.  A flash of strained brass blazer button indicates the Tories are at hand.  An Ancient Mariner-style Glittering Eye indicates that it is UKIP wishing to stoppeth thee.   A person sporting the dusty patina of an unearthed radish is a Green giveaway.  Anyone displaying the missionary zeal of an over-caffeinated insomniac warns that Labour are careening through in their Chariot of Fire.  Of the SNP and Plaid Cymru we see very little which is a puzzle; they are surely in with a decent shout in these parts.

As a result my progress around the hallowed Borough lacks its usual ‘Hullo Clouds, Hullo Birds’ bonhomie and I find myself skulking rather than striding from restaurant to cafe, lest I be buttonholed and forced to accept the shilling of one lot or the other.  For reasons I explained last week I am siding with Mr Russell Brand in deploring the entire democratic process.  I plan to despoil my Ballot Paper with some Bad Poetry, which I shall laboriously copy out by hand.  I’m considering ‘Sensitive Plant’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley which, running to a lengthy 311 lines will allow me to occupy one of those little booths for an absolute age.  I have prepared a brace of quills and a small bottle to facilitate this single (inky) handed act of anarchy and strike a blow for freedom.

This evening’s Workshop was a blow for freedom if ever there was one.  Nick Barth commenced discussion with a rumination on a time-traveller dreaming of trams.  Daphne Gloag then took up the cudgels with a perfect poem imagining the possibility of smashing time.  Alan Chambers countered with a new poem concerning a traveller reflecting on braver days.  Owen Gallagher lifted the pace with a series of snapshots of the Rosary.  Olwyn Grimshaw is saving the planet by dispensing with housework and gardening.  John Hurley asked us to imagine a time and place where we can all shed our preconceptions.  Marilyn Keenan remembered, none too fondly, her neighbour Jean.  Martin Choules offered some words with which to stick up for the weasel.  Finally Gillian Spragg delivered a phonetic discussion of the uses of beds from A to Zed.

My earlier democratic avoidance stratagems had me wondering about the involvement of the Pitshanger Poets in Elections Past.  Sir John Soane, long associated with the Pitt family and having just begun work on the remodelled Pitshanger Manor could well be expected to use the new venue to involve himself in the General Election of 1802.  Accordingly, Soane organised a hustings in front of the Manor gates and asked the Pitshanger Poets to speak on behalf of the candidates.  William Wordsworth, just returned from revolutionary France and visiting Soane on his long journey to the Lakes, spoke fervently and passionately for the liberal cause.  He was countered by the firebrand and satirist William Gifford who delivered a scathing attack on the Whigs.  Unfortunately Wordsworth lost the day; Gifford drove the crowd to a baying frenzy and the poll a few days later was a whitewash.  All four of the registered electors in the Ealing Constituency voted Tory.  If you have been, thank you for reading.


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Workshop 14th April 2015

Like the vast majority of qualified poets I take the obligations of being a Loyal Subject of Her Majesty’s Constitutional Monarchy (TM) most seriously.  Not only am I guaranteed to hie myself off to the local Polling Station on the designated Thursday with a freshly-sharpened pencil, rubber (in case of mistakes) and WH Auden’s Longer Poems (in case of long queues), I also read each Party Manifesto as it is published so that you, dear reader, in the words of Flash Bathroom Cleaner, don’t have to.  And what a read!  Having consumed all of them I feel refreshed and invigorated, in the way that only a man who has decided to stop pounding his forehead on a brick wall can feel refreshed and invigorated.  Fascinating though each and every glossy page was, I could not have completed the task without my man on hand to administer Adrenaline, Diazepam, a sympathetic shoulder to cry on or the Heimlich Manoeuvre, depending upon the Party and the specific commitment I happened to be reading.

This week’s Workshop required none of these aids, though as always, a little lubrication from the very reasonably-priced Grapevine Bar could not hurt.  Proceedings were initiated by Martin Choules (conversational) who spoke movingly in the subject of what he would have been like with a different name.  Peter Francis (laborious) was then permitted a heart-felt lengthy intervention on the subject of a massacre in Eastern Europe.  Owen Gallager, member for The Gorballs delivered a short appeal for free whisky for tenement dwellers.  John Hurley (social) told us all how he is feeling today.  Gillian Spragg (green, with a floral print) proposed that we examine intimations of mortality.  Alan Chambers, (Father of the House), gave us a second reading of his description of events upon a causeway.  Nayna Kumari related disturbing events from her constituency in a powerful piece.  Daphne Gloag appealed for more time in her beautifully crafted short poem.  Finally, Deputy Speaker Nick Barth directed our attention to the high cost of war.

So where, I hear you ask, should I as a qualified poet be aiming the trembling pencil come Election Day?  What’s in it for poetry?  I have to say I am disappointed.  Despite many hours on my part dictating personally-addressed letters to the Party Leaders in My Man’s best handwriting, my deep investigation of their policies has revealed that once again the powerful Poetry Lobby has been ignored.  Chief amongst my do have a number of ideas but chief amongst them is demarcation. To my mind the skilled writing labour market needs a complete shake-up.  There are far too many novelists, playwrights, stand-up comedians, musicians and meteorologists writing poetry, stealing the bread from our tables, as it were, with their celebrity, entertaining writing and annoying ability to get their books displayed near the entrance at Waterstone’s.  It just won’t do, and unless something is done about it we, the Poetry Community will be forced to take action.  I just wonder how long the so-called establishment thinks the country will last without a ready supply of Slim Volume and Poetry Magazine material.  Ha! I say, soon, brothers and sisters we will see Dave Cameroon, Nick Leg, Steve Miller Band, Nigel Mirage and Nicola’s sturgeon beating a path to our door and acceding to our demands.  One out, all out and mind your backs!  See you by the braziers on the picket Lines with a nice jacket potato or two and a copy of Griff Rhys Jones’ ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Verse’ to raise our spirits.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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