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 February 2016

Sometimes it feels like there are more people writing poetry than reading it.  How many of us can honestly say that we have bought a slim volume in the last year of a poet who isn’t also a friend and the one who sold it to us?  Of course, some poets do go out of their way to be obscure, and very few deliberately these days write for mass-market appeal.  And then there are the gatekeepers, those small handful of editors to the well-regarded literary journals upon whose sacred pages a poet must appear if they are ever to acquire an agent and their own slim volume (that is, one with a genuine ISBN number).

Or at least, that was how it was twenty years ago, maybe even ten.  But nowadays, any poet with a blog and a Twitter account can promote no matter how much the gatekeepers may sniff at or ignore them.  Naturally, here in the Archives we have an excellent library of slim volumes, but also our new Tweet index, where suitably poetic utterings that are brought to our attention via pigeon post are transcribed for posterity using our trusty Dymo label maker.  And our expanding video collection also preserves any modern poets promoting themselves via YouTube by asking one of our unpaid interns to play said videos on their mobile telephonic device and re-filming it on our state-of-the-art Super-8 camera.  Alas, it cannot capture any sound, but it does allow us to concentrate on the importance of body language in oratory.

Of course, a great place to encounter new poetry is at a workshop such as that which takes place every Tuesday at the Questors Theatre.  This week Christine Shirley gave us a picture of a beach and a couple, which hopefully penetrated Alan Chambers’ declining senses as he described them.  New member Doig Simmonds brought us a bush fire with a snappy rhythm and a spiritual cleansing, while Daphne Gloag revisited a ruined cottage and peered through its remaining window.  The perils of parental expectation in naming a child were of interest to Martin Choules, while Peter Francis brought a concise and simple evocation of old age and memory, which was all the better for jettisoning its middle verses on its way to us.  Finally, Owen Gallagher imagined a boy in a tower block swimming to freedom each night, or did he…?

The woes of official publication are not new, and the Archives reveal are full of the gripes and mutterings of James Joyce whenever he popped in on his visits to London.  Although it is an urban myth that he had to resort to self-publication, he did have many run-in and rejections from would-be printers.  Rumours persist that he would recite passages of his latest post-modern epic into a dictaphone, but that he had a habit of breaking off into rants intended to be transcribed via letter to his latest editor in response to their insistance of changes made to his sacred text.  Sometimes, so the story goes, the cylinders would get mixed up, which might go some way to explaining the stranger passages of his novels.

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Workshop, 26th January 2016

This week’s journal concerning the Proceedings of the August and Ancient Pitshanger Versification Society will by necessity be brief. Indeed, our intern was only able to capture the final minutes of the workshop, having been unavoidably detailed in a discussion concerning whether ‘borogroves’ had by consistent public misremembering now become the correct interpretation. Arriving to catch the final stanza of the final reader, there was little to do but apologise and insist that everyone reread their poems in double-time while he furiously scribbled notes into his Moleskine. So, without further delay, here is his breathless rundown:

Caroline Am Bergris: Irises – Tyrian luxury – “damn those eyes of Heaven”…
Alan Chambers: Inner court – Chosen form – “Passioned plea our true-sworn ear”…
Owen Gallagher: Tape-recorder – Eavesdropping – “Exorcise the demon screaming ‘yes!’”…
Peter Francis: Island of metaphor – Fall of the apple – “Water green as cold”…
Daphne Gloag: Compulsory entertainment – Never leave my sight – “Do you always wear such fancy gear?”…
Martin Choules: Coventry – Starling – “kenned such tenderness”…

The Archived reveal that late-coming is not a new phenomenon of our frantic age – back in Sir John’s day, sometimes a poet would arrive a whole day late, to find the host enjoying a quiet night in with Mrs Conduitt and the cat. Or the time that Walter de la Mare and Alfred Noyes finally arrived at 3AM, pounding on the moonlit door: “Is there anyone there” they demanded, but all was locked and barred.

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Workshop, 19th January 2016

January is of course the time of resolutions and regrets.  Just as gymnasiums see a spike in membership (and a spike in pedants insisting that they are gymnasia), so do literary journals see their submission pile tower to Babellian heights.  Here in the Pitshanger Archive, we see that year after year the attendance at the weekly workshops has buoyed and bubbled in Januaries immemorial.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Surely we have all at some time awoken from the hedonism of midwinter to belatedly realise that the calendar needs changing, and in the cold light of a frosty dawn been forced to ask ourselves “what did I do last year that made the world a more poetic place ?”

This week’s self-improvers were led out by Martin Choules and his celebration of the recent upgrades to the Periodic Table of the Elements, followed by Daphne Gloag’s orbits of a different kind, as she saw time in a comet.  Alan Chambers has been disturbed by the roar of high machines, and Peter Francis shared his personal reminiscences of the Great War, despite not actually being there.  John Hurley has been considering both his state of mind and literary output, and making lemonade, while Owen Gallagher has been staring not into the mirror or his soul but the pawnbroker’s window.

Even the best of us have doubts and January jitters.  A perambulation through the Archive soon turns up the time Alfie Housman fretting over his self-published venture A Shropshire Lad: “Do the public really want 63 poems about blue hills, starlit fences and earth-stopped ears ?”  Indeed, his song-cycle is full of such new-year dread, from the dangers of over-exercise leading to athletes dying young, to the over-indulgence of the one-and-twenty-year-olds, to the folly of vanity when the name dies before the man.  Also recorded in the Archives is the time one January when Dorothy Parker was lamenting how her myopia directly led to her lack of gentlemen admires – indeed, it appears she made quite a spectacle of herself.

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Workshop, 12th January 2016

If, like me, you have been called to poetry as keenly as a politician in a pair of green wellington boots is called to a newly-reported flood, you will understand what it is to reinvent this thing we call Culture on a frequent and regular basis.  For me, January is when the process starts.  This is the time of year when the dice are cast, the rule book is purchased and then torn up, the cards are shuffled, cut, dealt and thrown out of the window. I make decisions in January whose momentous vibrations will be felt all year.  What will I write?  Where will I write?  Which strictures of the over-trammelled framework of post-modern written composition will I choose to revolutionise?  Will I wear brogues or the new slippers I got for Christmas?

More importantly, which of my many poetry personas will I adopt to be the Avatar through which the next year’s work will be channelled?  Will I become Strident Tone, the protest poet?  Dirty Mark the scatalogist, or Cobbler Bob (‘there’s a hole in my soul’) the Shoe Pastry Chef?  I could transmute into Tim Buktoo the Vaudeville Performer, Serge Green the anti-war poet or merely spend time as Ian Macmillan the Professional Northerner.

When I have returned from the Dressing Up Shop (there is an excellent place just off Festive Road) with a suitable costume I pick a sharpened pencil from the crocodile-skin case, slide a new vellum notebook from the shelf and have my man unwrap a three and a half inch floppy from the diminishing pile. Whether dressed in baggy blue zoot-suit or fake lion-skin strongman leotard I am now prepared for reinvention; creativity flows.

Creativity certainly flowed at tonight’s workshop.  James Priestman opened with a re-imaging of the Garden of Eden tale, with a fateful twist.  Nick Barth followed on with a piece about heaven turning to hell and burning down the house.  Peter Francis imagined life for someone falling under the eye of her seigneur.  Nayna Kumari has completed the poetry required for her planned book, with a tight, precise final piece on the need to freeze the heart.  John Hurley is thinking about January and rising flood waters.  Alan Chambers brought us a study of a preacher.  Finally Martin Choules remembered a rock god named for a frontiersman.

We are an eclectic bunch at Pitshanger Poets and always have been.  We frequently welcome musicians as well as poets and occasionally an enigmatic character will simply pop out of an afternoon idly leafing through the Archive.  Such was the case when I read of a young beatnik of slight build turning up at a Tuesday Workshop some time in 1966.  According to the archivist the young chap was seen working with scissors and tape cutting up lines of scribbled words to form the lyric to a song which he then performed for the group.  The Workshop thought his singing style overly-reminiscent of Anthony Newley and the subject matter – a gnome – bemusingly odd.  What a strange fellow; I wonder what ever happened to him?

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 5th January 2016

Well, New Year came and went, the world didn’t end, the Archive didn’t suffer any Y2K+XVI problems, and best of all the BBC have begun a new costume drama after everyone has returned to work, presumably because they couldn’t squeeze in any more corsets and quivering into their festive schedules.  Yes, it’s the new adaptation of War & Peace, where they endeavour to squeeze over one thousand pages into 6 hours, at arate of nearly three pages per minute.  But since by the old Orthodox calendar we are still in the full throng of the season, perhaps the Beeb are simply being ‘meta’ about the whole thing.

But what of its inspiration ?  Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy came to London just the once, for two brief weeks in March 1861.  Next to nothing is known of his activities here beyond his taking out a temporary membership of the Athenaeum Club – but then he was still largely unknown outside of Mother Russia (and indeed would remain so – the first English translation of any of his work did not come until 1878), but he did have a letter of introduction to Matthew Arnold, presumably to discuss their shared interest in education for the masses.

Such ambiguity was much in evidence at this week’s workshop.  John Hurley has been observing a hijabed and headphoned passenger on the Brighton Belle, and Caroline Am Bergris has been charting brownfield love in abandoned lots and poor soil.  Daphne Gloag has been counting redwings in winters, past and present, while Olwyn Grimshaw has been playing a losing hand of bridge against Death and Time.  Alan Chambers, meanwhile, is surprised to learn the colour of his tryst’s hair, let alone why there are owls in his library, and Caroline Maldonado has been met from a wintery train by a disappointing collection of shadowy figures (but at least the platform is well swept of snow).  More carefree was the young girl in Christine Shirley’s folk song, heading for London Town and a meeting with her beau, while Martin Choules’ own experience with country & western have left him rather black and bluegrass.

It has never been clear if Leo and Matt ever actually met, but some tantalising evidence has recently turned up in the Archive.  On a Tuesday in March 1861, Mr Arnold was in attendance along with a mysterious foreign gentleman with somewhat broken English and an impressive beard.  Upon arrival at Ealing station, this guest had shown much interest in the broad-gauge 4-2-2 locomotive Iron Duke with its eight-foot driving wheels that had hauled them from Paddington.  However, he had been less impressed with the W H Smith’s newsstand, which only sold flimsy pamphlets and broadsheets.  Whereas these might be acceptable on the short distances of the British railway system, he observed, they were far too short to satisfy the vast distances of his homeland.  What was needed was something…longer.

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Workshop, 22nd December 2015

Firstly, an item of housekeeping: there will be no workshop next week, as even poets need respite from the demands of the Muse to re-commune with Bacchus.  Secondly, an item of housekeeping: The Pitzhanger Manor Bingo Society has decided to continue its activities despite the sad death of its last surviving member.  And thirdly, an item of housekeeping: the local council have alas rejected our call for the ongoing refurbishments to include a statue of Sir John Soane’s domestic servant Mrs Conduitt.

So, at the final workshop of 2015, a small and still sober assortment assembled to see out the old year in revelrous ribalditry.  Martin Choules opened the party with a celebration of Saturnalia, while John Hurley recalled the market-square philosophers of his boyhood and Daphne Gloag was awed by an Italian conjurer’s metaphorical solar system of coloured balls.  James Priestman has been dreaming of a Christmas soirée where the crew of Apollo 11 exchange canapés with the Magi, and John Hurley (again) recounts the gift of computers to the elder generation.  Also present this week were U A Fanthorpe, Ogden Nash and Edmund ‘Evoe’ Knox, albeit by proxy as the second half of the meeting was taken over by readings from some of the poetry volumes in the Archives.

Talking of the Archives, it seems that missing-out the meeting between Christmas and New Year is nothing new.  Indeed, there is a rumour that way back in the late Seventeenth Century, Isaac Newton arrived in Ealing Green one Tuesday only to find the Manor deserted.  Despite having to let himself in through an ajar window, he still expected to find a room full of poets rather than leftovers and drooping paper chains.  Undaunted, he took out his latest work (The theory of Gravity in Rhyming Couplets) and proceeded to recite to an empty room.

Well, not quite empty…the Manor at that time had a cat problem.  They usually hid in the skirting, detectable only by their scratching and mewing, though sometimes they could be found sleeping in the chandliers or seen skittering across the tiles chasing the beam of light from a prism.  Incensed by their constant purring, at one point Sir Isaac grabbed one and made to throw it out the front door.  Alas, said door was still locked, leading to a swift demonstration of his laws of motion between his boot and the woodwork, causing the wormy door to crack just enough for a feline to slink through.  Had he just invented the cat flap ?  There are those who doubt, but surely nothing was impossible for the undisputed creator of calculus.

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Workshop 15th December 2015

I am sure that I have bored you, the dear reader, to tears with the only slightly speculative observation that Sir John Soane was loopy about poetry.  Many critics eulogise (if that is the correct term for ceaselessly banging on about, although it sounds a little funereal to me), as I say, eulogise, Sir John for his contribution to the appreciation and understanding of Classical Architecture, but if they are referring to Pitshanger Manor, they are missing the point.  Sir John’s own drawings indicate that building was constructed as a paean in stone, brick, mortar and subtle shades of eggshell paint to the declamatory arts.  Thus any guest of Sir John who felt the sudden urge to dine, draw, spend a morning, smoke, go to bed, be still, dance the fandango, wash his neck, shoot himself or borrow a dicky could do so in the sure and certain knowledge that each and every room in the house had been designed to nourish and enhance the inherent acoustic of the spoken word.  On Tuesday afternoons of yore, as the various romantic souls washed up on the front steps of the Manor for the evening’s workshop they would be ushered off to some corner of the house or other where they could prepare themselves with the poison of their choice, whether that be alcohol, laudanum, tobacco, Indian ink, throat pastilles or simple rowdy self-castigation.  Sir John clearly loved to observe poets in the wild.

Speaking of observing poets, we observed a fascinating and somewhat tinsel-tinged workshop this week.  Ann Furneaux brought us a wry prayer to peace, followed by a longer celebration of commercialism from her husband William.  Caroline Am Bergris took an opportunity to describe her own Midnight Mass, drunken revelers included.  Nick Barth told us about a pair of mysterious beggars who bring their own interpretation of Christmas cheer to Ealing.  Peter Francis introduced another chapter in his own family history, remembering the not-so-high church of his childhood.  John Hurley only just avoided indulging in a rant following a similar theme, the remembered church of his younger years.  Owen Gallagher revised his piece concerning the owner of a sinister beard observed riding on a tube train.  Daphne Gloag gave us something from another workshop, an interpretation of Ariadne by Titian.  Finally, Martin Choules weighed in with two poems on Christmas Themes, one concerning ringing-in and another pointing out that this time of year has always been about money.

It will not have escaped the owner of even the cheapest of Chinese Take-Away Wall Calendars that there is but one more Tuesday before the Christmas debacle.  Please be aware that as per our habit, we will be welcoming your favourite published poems from other authors as well as your own work on what will surely be the last Workshop of the year.

I was mulling on the architecture of Pitshanger Manor for a purpose, as I am sure you will have guessed by now.  As I observed during my daily pootle up Mattock Lane in the faithful two-seater, the latest phase in the rehabilitation of Walpole Park is well underway and the front of the house is now entirely obscured with constructor’s hoardings.  Happily, the ‘players’ of Her Majesty’s National Lottery are now ensuring that the house will be restored to a state that Sir John would recognize.  But, I ask, what will this mean to the Borough’s poets?  Indeed, I had the opportunity to collar the very horse’s mouth in the shape of esteemed local MP Rupa Huq in Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre last weekend.  After I had harangued her for certainly not more than forty-five minutes on the pavement next to the pungent German Sausage stall, the gracious representative of our national democracy went to some pains to assure me that, yes she would ensure that the Council entirely realised my vision to return the Manor to its former position as a sort of Temple to Poetry and would it be alright if I just let her get on with her shopping now as it was quite cold outdoors and she was no longer enjoying the smell of cooking wurstchen?  Mission accomplished, I let her and her shivering children return to their Sunday afternoon.    If you have been, thank you for reading.

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