Halloween is a time for dark evenings and ghost stories around the hearth. But we can attest here in the Archive that ghost poems just do not work – a regular meter plays havoc with any attempt to create some tension, while rhymes are no friend of the surprise revelation. But the group has seen many an All Saints’ Eve in its time, and the ghosts of halloweens past continue to haunt the memory.
For, alas, there have been several attempts over the years to encourage a little masquerade spirit, but ‘dress as your favourite poet’ parties have always been a let-down: Bald, beard, codpiece ? Sigh, yet another Shakespeare. Bald, glasses, library book ? Put him with the other Larkins. And for the ladies, crinoline, shawl and centre-parting could be either Dickenson or a Bronte with no way to tell them apart. And the ‘come as your favourite character from a poem’ nights were no better: two giant shins with nothing on top ? That’ll be Ozymandias again. But what’s this character ? It looks like a very good rendition of a sad, virginal bank teller ? Is it perhaps J Alfred Prufrock ? Oh, I see, you’re not actually wearing a costume.
At least this week’s workshop had no such dress-code, and even the apple tree in John Hurley’s opener was doing an Autumnal striptease, while Alan Chamber’s beggar is spending the Fall by dreaming of Spring (whether he wants to or not). Christine Shirley has been taking a walk back in time to take tea with the ghosts of the past, while Daphne Gloag has been finding a modern rom-com in an ancient Greek myth. For Anne Furneaux, breakfast is something to be lingered over, while Michael Harris thinks that the cosy relationship between church and state has been lingering on for too long. Martin Choules has been busy keeping the natural in the super-natural, and Pat Francis has been keeping an eye on the twinkling granite – but can she believe what she sees ? Peter Francis has been freely translating a well-known French song into his well-honed free verse, while a seasonal Doig Simmonds has been gently preparing for the grave without wanting to make a fuss.
Halloween was no threat to a carefree atheist like Bysshy Shelley, who would happily spend the haunted night in St Mary’s graveyard just to make a point. Which would have been fine if he’d toddled off after the workshop wound down, and especially if Georgie Byron could then sneak up behind him with a sheet over his head, but it just wasn’t on when he would insist that the entire workshop take place amid the headstones. In a foretaste of the famous Lake Geneva ghost-writing competition, he wanted all present to pen a story of gothic chills and subliminal sublime, with father of the house Willy Blake to judge the best. In short, they all had to try and put the willies up Willy.
Georgie ‘Brian’ Byron went first with his creepy tale of a reanimated corpse of a once-fair Liverpool lass who now only stalks in Bootle and strikes at night. Sammy Coleridge rattled off his latest fever-dream set at the battle of Waterloo, where a ‘booby man’ terrorised the camp washer-women in his lust for ‘pleasure domes’. But the bays were taken by the ingénue Molly Wollstonecraft who, knowing the judge to be a keen animal lover, described a dark forbidding mansion where a young hero discovers such unspeakable horrors as a bird in a cage, a hungry dog at its master’s gate, and a wanton boy killing a fly. It was indeed a terrible, twisted tale, witnessing such cynical cheating in one so young.