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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Love Birds – Martin Choules

February, when the end of Winter
Greets the start of the start of Spring –
And what better time for ravens to be mating,
For early-birds to be doing their thing ?
Valentine ravens, tender and dear –
Mating-for-life for year after year.

Coming out of the edges of the wilderness,
From the Northern moors to the middle-class downs –
Now nobody frowns on their loving anymore,
So they do it in the open and they do it in the towns.
Valentine ravens, cawing their love –
A far better symbol than a teddy-bear or dove.

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Workshop, Tuesday 13th February 2018

One of the joys of residing in London’s greenest suburb is the experience of rubbing cheek by whiskered jowl with Mother Nature and in particular, her furry, hairy and feathered progeny.  I have always been a demon for the great outdoors and given a following wind and a good head of steam I can be riding down the lift and skipping past the doorman by the crack of eleven, almost any day of the week.  Now, I am no wildlife expert, but my interest has been piqued, and when my interest is piqued very little holds me back.  To this end, my Man has created a handy, portable spotting notebook, designed to complement my innate sensitivity to the natural world.  I take it out of the hall dresser at this time of year when visibility begins to exceed 18 inches, or 45 centimetres, as the French are wont to say, and animals and birds become apparent through the gloom.  I pocket the thing and make a note in it with the faithful stubby HB when I identify some exotic or rare creature.  So far this year I have spotted 112 LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), 67 OSJs (Orange Splodge Jobs), 43 HBDJs (Huge Beaky Dark Jobs), 145 FRWW (Footless Rats With Wings) and 1,593 breeding pairs of Psittacula Krameri manillensis, the swarming parakeets which were descended from Humphrey and Katey, the only birds which did not attend the post-wrap barbecue for filming of The African Queen at Isleworth Studios.

So it was with a raised eyebrow that I wandered into Mattock Lane this Tuesday evening in anticipation of an enervating workshop, and also with the germ of an idea, about which more later.  James Priestman had his copies all lined up in front of him, so he took the lead, with the imagined scene of Moses’ thoughts at the moment of his death.  Pat Francis had us sucking our pencils with her intriguing two-stanza enigma about a messenger.  Owen Gallagher stepped up with an illumination on the process of being a Catholic and joining the scouts in sectarian Scotland.  John Hurley paced out another of his didactic pieces, on the subject of Valentine, he of the Day himself.  Nick Barth has turned back to science fiction, and to grass.  Peter Francis has been out and about in London, in a suburb a long way from Twickenham, and he was surprised at what he saw there.  Daphne Gloag brought back one of her more speculative poems, concerning the astronomer Melchior.  Finally, Martin Choules has been thinking of love, and of ravens, and of ravens in love.

It is apparent to me that many of the seasoned poets who have attended Pitshanger Poets down the years use the Workshop as a deadline to their working week.  A poet is no different from any other form of sentient life and has hobbies, tasks, duties and honour-bound obligations to attend to.  Some poets fall upon their work with relish and an explosion of ink, others hang back in dire trepidation of the effect their words may have on the world.  As a result, some poems are long in the gestation, wrought with care and years of preparation, while others are dashed off on the bus on the way to the meeting.  How many, I wondered, were inspired by the animals they saw from the top deck of that omnibus, Clapham or otherwise?  Clearly some statistical analysis was in order, so I contacted Parsonage via secretive methods unknown to the MI5, FBI, FSB or PPI Recovery Agencies and asked him to crank up the Pegasus, the ancient, terrifyingly intelligent, valve-based, computer, dedicated to the analysis of all things Pitshanger.

As you might expect by now, Parsonage’s work yielded results so fascinating as to be barely credible.  Poets who used the 67 bus to travel to Pitshanger Manor were twice as likely to write about foxes, thought or other wise, as poets on other routes.  Poets writing about pigeons were strongly associated with the E2 bus from Greenford, while poets eulogising about nightingales processed almost exclusively on the E3 emanating from Chiswick.  Those travelling by the N11, being a night bus had slept in a hedge and arrived raving about darkling thrushes.  Poets traveling on the 607 from Dormer’s Wells wrote exclusively about cats, though this was a very small sample.  Those arriving at the manor in large-framed bicycles with baskets on the front claimed to be delivering an order of sausages to Miss Perceval but took part in the workshop in any case. When asked about Parakeets, poetry and bus routes to Ealing, however, the Pegasus printed out a row of zeroes and shut itself down.  So, having helped me find one of the few great undiscovered themes in literature today, I thanked Parsonage and repaired to my writing-den.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Native Wine – Doig Simmons

A glass of native wine to drink.
Opened my eyes and made me think

I saw the future and the past.
The distance between them truly vast

That dark void – the linking chain
Echoed briefly with my name

I saw things I ought not see
But which were clearly naked me

It cleared my sight, I saw her plain
The eternal ‘she’ who has no name

I looked into those deep green eyes
There, to my great surprise, –

Was love.

Doig. Ealing. 2018

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Workshop, January 30th 2018

For some the dank, gloomy months at the beginning of the year are a chance to take stock, to jot a few idle lines on the futility of horticulture, to review ones’ Port collection and to find a combination of armchair and cushion that makes sense in our increasingly globalised economy.  For others this is a period of frenetic activity as they butter-up performers, juggle running-orders, organise hospitality, ensure sufficient pulled-pork sandwich, haloumi and gassy beer provision and recruit needle-workers skilled in yurt repair.  I am of course talking about Festival Organisers.

As I write the dining-room table is strewn with brochures and invites from the best and brightest of Europe’s many music, arts, food, drink, drama and haberdashery festivals.  And so it falls to your humble correspondent to sort the wheat from the gluten-free and select which festivals would most benefit from the presence of the Pitshanger Poets.  At one end of the scale there is the poetry tent at Glastonbury – perhaps the biggest event of its kind but not to be tackled without keen preparation for mud, typically requiring a diving suit and full breathing apparatus.  Roskilde in Denmark makes much of its Viking roots but should not be attended by anyone unwilling to wield an axe or set fire to a village in order to obtain a beer.  At the other end of the scale some of the UK’s smaller festivals take boutiquery to an obsessive extreme, for example Festival Number 6 takes place entirely in one scaled down Tuscan fisherman’s cottage in Port Merion in North Wales.  I am told that when busy the queue for the toilet can stretch all the way to the main stage, which is not surprising as it is just outside the back door, but at least you can answer the needs of biology while not missing any of your favourite performance.

While we piece together the Pitshanger Poet’s next wildly successful European Tour, it is time to review this week’s Workshop.  A special Questors Event in the Library had us ejected from our usual haunt and roughing it in the Theatre Office, which is always a risk.  The last time we were there we carelessly left a number of copies in the Producers’ Inbox and within a week a random set of PP Workshop poems had been re-worked into a three-act verse play set on a trawler in the Irish Sea with the motifs of a tricky banoffee pie and the unrequited love of the Captain for the First Mate, while time ran mysteriously in reverse.  Luckily, we managed to clear things up before much work had been done on the set.

While the cosy office environment does lead to a more intimate meeting, removal from their usual rendezvous is something the poets do not take lightly.  John Hurley paused the photocopier to read his description of the last time we were locked out of the office; only John’s Irish brogue is licensed to rhyme ‘choir’ with ‘foyer’.  Pat Francis adjusted her office chair to the right height before giving us two traveling cats, one in time and one in space.  Doig Simmons, next to the water-cooler, has been drinking wine and thinking of love, surely he is not the first to do this.  Owen Gallagher, partially obscured by the filing cabinet remembered when he was taken Nessie-hunting by his father but found a teenage awakening.  Martin Choules worked up a thought-experiment about trams into a tirade against automation, as only he can.  Nick Barth was dissuaded from leaning back and resting his walking boots on the desk opposite before reading his impressions of Death Valley.  Finally, Peter Francis noticed that the calendar still read December 2017 before launching into his rumination on a visit to a Holyrood Hotel in Ireland.

The debate continues – any contributions to festival planning are gratefully received.  In the meantime, thank you for reading.

 

 

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Eating Out – Daphne Gloag

A meal in that nice vegetarian restaurant
in Hampstead High Street – our first meal out.
We had mixed bean stew.

He said he’d been longing for this and hoped it would be
the first of many, contemplating
the bean on his fork.

Longing for what? Many more mixed bean stews?
Well, certainly I liked that stew – after all
I ordered it.

But many more? Could he have meant
the start of a relationship? Surely not!
And did I want it?

It would be safer to stick with the idea
of many mixed bean stews.
But really…

Even as the words formed in my mind
I saw a bean beginning to sprout.
It grew up and up

and up and up until an infant universe
sprang off the top. Its big bang
was violent,

and expanding briefly at near the speed of light
it broke through the restaurant walls. Was this
to be our relationship?

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Workshop, 23rd January 2018

There are plenty of authors who, despite being born in Not England, have nevertheless overcome their deficiency of not speaking the Mother of Tongues to write some of the most memorable novels in English !  From Joseph Conrad to Jung Chang via Jack Kerouac (Quebecois, since you ask).  By the way, Vladimir Nabakov and Kazuo Ishiguro don’t count, as they were already fluent while still in short trousers.

But poets ?  There are a few in our current times, though one wonders if writing in the modish free verse might make things a little easier for them.  However, if searching for evidence of mastery of weather-obsessive rhythm and warm-beer rhyme, then one need look no further than the pop charts, where the likes of Abba, Neneh Cherry, and super-producer Max Martin have dominated the discoteques of Albion for decades.  Hmm…come to think of it, is it only the Swedes who are so good at English ?  Well, there’s always Björk, though who knows what on earth she’s going on about…?

Anyway, this week’s workshop was a monolingual affair, but none the worst for it.  John Hurley spun a yarn about childhood friends ending up on opposite sides of a bank balance, and Pat Francis told us about a very precise woman watching the slapdashing children.  A stowaway’s dreams crashing down was recounted by Peter Francis, while Alan Chambers has been shouting about the waterfall that wants to drown him out.  Owen Gallagher has been pondering the source of the Latin flair in an Irish village, while Michael Harris has been seduced and  consoled, but has he been resolved ?  Perhaps Daphne Gloag could tell him, although she does seem rather preoccupied by her lunch, and Anne Furneaux is imagining the Top Brass in the RAF having less of moral dilemma than we might wish for.  Finally, Martin Choules is determined not to let an irrational fear get in the way of his phobia.

Oh course, back in Sir John’s day, a respectable gentleman was expected to be proficient in French, Italian, ancient Greek, and maybe even a smattering of German.  The Royal Navy may have been busy exporting the Common Tongue to all nooks of the empire, but once a grand tourist had disembarked from the packet boat at Calais, then it was as much use as a teapot in a vineyard.  It wasn’t as if the locals of Geneva or Venice were hoping to write the next crowd-pleaser to sweep the music halls of Hackney.  Byron’s witty epigram about catching cold while swimming the Hellespont would be quite lost on the Hellespontese.  But English’s day would come…and then it would go, and one supposes in future centuries the lyrically gifted of these wet and windy islands shall have to turn their fine novels and couplets in Arabic or Mandarin, or maybe even Swahili or Tagalog.

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Above love – Michael Harris

He said he thought
I was above all that
sex and love
and relationship stuff,
the messy business
of life.

I know he meant it
in a generous way,
that he saw me
as a spiritual being
on a higher plane,
but his words

cut to the quick
and exposed
the distance I’d placed
between myself
and the cut thrust
heartache.

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