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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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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Workshop 7th April 2015

Firstly, here is the official apology for the for the lack of a blog posting last week.  Unfortunately, the brand-new poem-storage facility in our remodelled Archive has suffered a chronic shortage of paperclips, and the file backup system has been corrupted by woodworm.  Woe is us, indeed.  We are franticly trying to memorise as many verses as possible so that they may be transported to our off-site facility in the back room of the Red Lion where they are read aloud while our unpaid interns desperately scribble them down in barely-legible copperplate.

The upshot of this is that no official recorder was able to attend last Tuesday’s workshop, and any august visitors or anecdotal incidents have been lost to posterity.  Dancing bears, spontaneous combustion, a perfect triolet…anything could have happened – but without an official record it is nothing more than a pleasant evening in fine company.  Now do you see how important we bureaucrats are ?

However, there was no such oversight this week, as our duty secretary sat unobtrusively in the corner to witness a thoroughly enjoyable session conducted in the afterglow of the post-Easter chocolate high.  Olwyn Grimshaw led proceedings with a cautionary tale of how poetry can lead one astray from the mundane necessities of life, followed by Owen Gallagher’s dispatch from the cold war, as seen through the eyes of a pre-pubescent secret agent.  Alan Chambers then followed a pilgrims’ trail along a causeway, but only so far before wisely turning back, and Daphne Gloag painted a picture of winter in words and redwings.  A drunken misadventure in San Francisco Bay was regaled by Djivan Souren, while Martin Choules told of a young Kent girl’s first crush with her next-door neighbour and John Hurley told of love across the class divide, at least for a while.  Finally, Nayna Kumari addressed the heavy topic of domestic violence with a firm hand and a light touch.

Alas, last week was not the first time in our centuries of poeticising that events have gone unrecorded, surviving only as rumour and legend.  For instance, there was the occasion in Sir John’s time when, so it is alleged, Mr William “Daffodil” Wordsworth challenged Lord George “Brian” Byron to a duel over the meaning of the word ‘winsome’.  The gentleman from Cumberland claimed it described an object likely to cause one to draw back in pain, whereas the ennobled balladeer held that it referred to a lucky streak at cards.  But did it actually happen?  We shall never be sure.

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Workshop 23rd March 2015

I have do admit to a slightly strained relationship with my local bookshop, or more specifically, the Self-Help section of my local bookshop. I am a demon for a bit of self-improvement, and as soon as I catch sight of a title such as How to Eat, How to Whistle, The Gaffer Tape Book of Automotive Maintenance, A Survivor’s Guide to Employment Tribunals, Create Your Own Personality Cult in Five Days or Endovascular Neurosurgery for Dummies, I am in for the duration, and it takes a fire alarm or the Store Manager threatening me with a bucket of cold water to shift me from my wing-backed leather reading stool and eject me blinking into the streets.

Which is by way of an apology, for to my knowledge, in the centuries of this blog’s existence, back into the mists to times immemorially past, when this bulletin existed merely as set of hastily-scribbled notes wound around the legs of a ramshackle flock of carrier pigeons, ready to be hoist to Pitshanger Poetry devotees who-knows-where, I do not believe we have ever thought to give any advice on how to actually write poetry. This is a lapse upon the scale of the San Andreas Lapse in California or the Sunda MegaLapse in the Indian Ocean and will be addressed by means of a simple tip or two every week, building to a polychromatic panoply of poetry tips which will compliment the interior of any domestic downstairs water closet.

It’s not like the Pitshanger Poets don’t know a thing or two about the technique of writing poetry, as tonight’s Workshop ably demonstrated. Djivan Souren kicked things off with a tightly-argued appraisal of the urban well-heeled’s invasion of the countryside. John Hurley showed us all a thing or two about strong rhythm and imaginative rhyme in his political satire built upon a walk up Horsenden Hill. Owen Gallagher brought sardonic humour to a piece about ensuring one’s coat has big pockets when shopping in Glasgow. Daphne Gloag taught us all about space and time in a poem illustrating a meeting between Haydn and Herschel. Martin Choules brought another concentrated tour-de-force concerning the real miracle of Richard III. Gillian Spragg can teach you all you need to know about the beauty of the long line, as demonstrated by her piece on a past Lunar Eclipse. Olwyn Grimshaw brought us a deftly-turned debate about whether it can be regarded as safe to eat anything at all. Marissa Sepas brought us a shocking poem concerning the killing of a young woman in Afghanistan which contained an entirely justified use of the word ‘fuck’, as ought to be obvious to all. Finally, Nick Barth asked us to speculate on whether we will need to believe in God in the miracle of a Multiverse.

Which brings me to my initial top tip in what will undoubtedly become an increasingly intermittent series. As a poet or poetry devotee, you will know that rhythm is crucial to an effective poem. While I would agree that meter is important and would never denigrate those who would toy with a trochee or seek to become intimate with an iamb, when approached by the novice eager for the inside track I always point to the more subtle concept of timing for anyone aspiring to make it big in the glittering poetry biz.  Just as in comedy, effective timing is vital in a poet and split-second delivery can mean the difference between a flop and a Poetry Please hit. To give an example, let’s say you intend to attend a reputable poetry workshop to discuss your work at eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening. It would be extremely poor timing to arrive on the Monday, printouts trembling in eager hand. Equally, it would show disastrous timing to arrive on Wednesday at the same time, a full twenty-four hours after the workshop was billed to start, to find the room still, cold and bereft of poets in that slightly musty way only a room bereft of poets can be.  Good timing is a valuable a skill every poet should seek to develop. Happily it is one that can be honed by attempting to catch a specific bus or train based on timetable alone, or listening to Radio Four while avoiding exposure to the execrable ‘Archers’. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 17th March 2015

This Friday sees a consolation-prize eclipse descend over Britain. Not a proper eclipse, of course, but if we try really hard we can pretend that it’s still pretty good. But there was no need for disappointment on Tuesday 22nd April 1715 (by the Julian Calendar) when Ealing witnessed over 3 minutes of totality just after 9 ayem.

Naturally, the cosmic coincidence was much discussed that evening at Pitzhanger Manor, and our new Dewey Decimal archive has a full report. Daniel Defoe presented an allegorical essay likening the sudden darkness over breakfast to the struggle of the new Union, while Alexander Pope read his new dialogue of epistles between the sun and the moon. Matthew Prior, as Father of the House, chaired the meeting and introduced the guest speaker: Edmond ‘Comet’ Halley. Alas, his past success had rather gone to his head, and he spent his allotted time boasting at his predictive powers: “You see”, the archive records “I said it would go dark…and it did!”

No such boorish behaviour at tonight’s session. Olwyn Grimshaw made first contact with a fruitless search for the island of lost youth, while Alan Chambers felt adrift amid dotty colours and memory mazes. Next into the penumbra was Martin Choules, eulogising the creator of a very different planet but a very familiar world. John Hurley brought us back to the real topic in hand, telling us all about St Patrick’s fear of snakes and tedium of pigs, while Daphne Gloag dreamt of the moon not occultating but shining onto an old Ford. It fell to Owen Gallagher to remember the importance of the shamrock in the head of a creamy pint, while at last contact Anne Furneaux was remembering how she had forgotten to keep her resolutions.

Jonathan Swift was also in Ealing that Tuesday night. There has been much speculation over the subsequent 300 years if the good doctor’s performance was to resurface some years later in the flying island of Laputa as encountered by Mr Gulliver. Still, perhaps the last laugh will be Professor Halley’s: in these days of dwindling oil and rising tides, the time may have finally come for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers.

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Workshop 10th March 2015

You know, I take my role as the lynch-pin of the declamatory arts in this great land of ours very seriously and there’s barely a week that goes by when I don’t find myself meditating on the current state of this thing called Poetry.   I can be minding my own business, engaged in one of my many Herculean Labours when I am struck between the ears by some devastating or if I am lucky, merely profound thought. Why, only last week I was busy swinging my little club on the putting green when I suddenly found myself wondering; ‘which font does Carol Ann Duffy use?’ Then, approaching the ninth hole; ‘is that John Kinsella’s natural hair colour?’ Followed by ‘Does Glyn Maxwell have a conservatory?’ Then (and this is a poser), ‘does David Crystal ever get fed up with being confused with David Crystal, or David Crystal get fed up with being confused with him?’

By the time I got to my Life Class later that afternoon (taken at the Town Hall by the perpetually grumpy Pharrell Williams, no relation), my mind was a mass of search questions and inter-leaved analyses, such as; ‘does Ian Macmillan get free toilet paper?’ ‘Would Michael Rosen be able to recommend a good orthodontist?’ ‘What is Jo Shapcott’s favourite Fleetwood Mac album?’ and ‘Does Gillian Clarke have loft insulation, and if not, why not?’ Now some might tell you that poetry is all about the words on the page, but I say no, for if I don’t know whether John Szirtes prefers Darjeeling or Earl Grey, then how do I know which tea to sip while taking a shimmy through his wonderful ‘Reel’?

This hunger for detail must emerge from my weekly exposure to poetry in the raw at Pitshanger Poets. We have been attracting a varied and eclectic group of late and I am keeping a note of font and paper choices in case those details come in useful in future. Olwyn Grimshaw (Times New Roman) kicked things off with an examination on her own abilities as a poet. John Hurley (Calibri, though I’m willing to be corrected) is torn between lost love and lost romance. Martin Choules (I would hazard a guess at Goudy Old Style, but you never know with Martin) then poured out a sympathetic treatise to the Blobfish, which no one has seen alive. Nayna Kumari (Times New Roman, but in blue, nice touch) wrote about a lost opportunity to tell her father the last thing he would want to hear. Gerry Goddin flourished a new tune for us (Arial Bold, guitar strings by D’Addario, my ear is as acute as ever) concerning a woman he knows who lives under a neon sign. Andrei Russel-Gebbett (Times New Roman on one third of a piece of A4, thinking of the planet) brought a poignant jewel of a poem concerning the loss of a parent.  Djivan Souren (Avenir Book and pointed hand-written amendments in biro) brought a pixelated race through the outskirts of the city. Owen Gallagher (Cambria, though I wish he would try a non-serif font) brought us a dimly-illuminated West of Scotland. Finally, Nick Barth (set as ever on Calibri) is clearly preparing for an open-mic gig.

Perhaps it’s possible to know too much about some poets, and while the Pitshanger Poetry Archive is replete with detail some of it is decidedly unsavoury to our eyes. For example, in the Sixties when smoking was still de rigeur for the jobbing poet, the variety and quantity of pipe tobacco consumed was commonly listed in the margin next to the Workshop running order. On one notable evening in 1966 the redoubtable Al Alvarez pitched up from the Red Lion with a veritable crowd of the New Poets shanghaied from his seminal anthology. By the mid-point of the meeting the clouds of deep blue ready-rubbed had become so replete and visibility so poor that the Secretary was forced to interrupt the meeting and call for miner’s helmets and lamps to be brought from the maintenance cupboard, where they were kept for just such an eventuality. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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