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 July 2016

But what, you probably have been asking yourselves, does Brexit mean for the Archives ?  Will the Great Microfiche Project lose its funding ?  Will a new philistine attitude set in which will leave the entire 350 years of poetic records redundant ?  Or perhaps an unravelling of red tape will allay such fears that the EU were about to ban the use of philistine on grounds of racism.

Well, Britain going it alone is nothing new.  Indeed, the difficulty of travelling abroad during the Napoleonic Wars brought the grand tours to an end and very much encouraged a holiday-at-home vibe which led to the Romantics waxing lyrical over the Lake Windermere as opposed to Lake Garda, and Ivanhoe instead of Homer.  Billy ‘Mallord’ Turner may have painted a few Italian landscapes in his time, but of all his masterpieces, who on earth remembers those ?  And Johnny ‘Hay Wain’ Constable was more than content to paint his rainbows over England’s pleasant pastures.

So, glorious isolation is nothing to worry about, right ?  After all, it hardly did Japan any harm.  But it hardly did any favours for Iceland, whose great sagas were composed when it was an integral part of the great Norse union, and which was then invisible for centuries until it re-entered the world stage in the 1980s, surely thanks in part to Ronnie Regan and Micky Gorbachev, although Bobbie Fischer had blazed an unlikely trail a decade before.  And can we really hope that a great artistic flourishing is right now taking place in North Korea ?

This week’s workshop was one we can all vote for: we were got underway by the ghost of Mrs Francis, as it were, via her husband Peter reading another of her works about how much effort is needed to make a garden look natural.  (Surely Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown would approve, though why somebody named Lancelot needed a nickname is more of a mystery).  Alan Chambers has reworked his poem about what happens to and old sailor when he becomes a land-lubber, and John Hurley has been sharing a pint with his memories of his favourite 1956 boozer.  James Priestman has been meditating on the tribulations of Job and gives the Devil his due, while Anne Furneaux’s very young self has been missing her nanny.  After several redrafts, Daphne Gloag has finely polished her poem about spilt milk and burning stairs into a just the right ten lines, while Doig Simmonds has been arguing with an unapologetic Time, and Martin Choules has been wandering through a market in Georgian London hearing everything twice.  Finally, having been Mrs Francis’s stand-in, or rather sit-in (though hopefully we can meet the poetess herself one Tuesday in the not-too-distant), he then brought us full-circle with an observation of just how intricate a job it is to wash ones feet.

The conflict ended just in time for Geordie ‘Lord’ Byron and the Shelleys to sojourn in Switzerland in 1816, leaving one to wonder if failure at Waterloo might have meant no Frankenstein, no Vampyre, no Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and no Don Juan.  But then again, 1816 was the Year Without a Summer, where cold and rain kept them indoors, so perhaps it was less Wellington and more Tambora.  So much for the perpetual sunshine they were promised for being in Europe !

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Workshop, 12th July 2016

What, the true-blooded British versifier may be wondering, will Brexit mean for poetry ? Lots of lamentations to a lost brotherhood ? Oodles of odes to the sudden lack of Grecian-style Chinese-made urns ? Rousing recitations of Henry V and Rule Britannia ? We shall have to wait and see, for poetry rarely steps up in the moment and usually casts its retrospective eyes on yesterday. For every Charge of the Light Brigade, we have a hundred Lays of Ancient Rome.

A select few met for this week’s workshop, the others presumably enjoying a pleasant evening of West London sunshine. Anne Furneaux got us underway with remembrance of her childhood fantasies, complete with listening cups, self-walking furniture and a cameo from Peter Pan. Daphne Gloag has been leafing through a book on Emperor Hadrian, and encountered a familiar figure who still makes his presence felt, while John Hurley has been writing a load of rubbish and is worried about how to recycle it. Finally, Martin Choules has some advice for all teenage scribblers, his past-self included. And inbetween, there were many discussions and tangents about the elephant in the referendum:

Only a fool would deny that recent events were entirely centred around immigration, which is surprising when one considers that the practice has been going on since Homo sapiens first came out of Africa much to the chagrin of their new neighbours the Neanderthals. Britain has been constantly ‘invaded’ by ever more-interesting people since the last ice-sheets receded, and this result will provide this other Eden with a moat against the envy of less happier lands – after all, without the foreigners around, who else can we blame when we lose at football ?

All of which brings up some uncomfortable memories from the Archive. A long-standing member and avid poet was Enoch Powell, who alas is remembered today for his 1968 speech on the subject of immigration – yes, that speech. He read out a draft a few days before, to the applause of Philip Larkin and the gasps of Paul McCartney. All others present remained silent. Mr Powell did go on to explain that his mention of “the River Tiber foaming with much blood” was an allusion to Virgil’s Aeneid, and that he was merely raising legitimate concerns about what may happen, not what should happen, but he did himself no favours by favourably quoting a constituent claiming that “in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Surely a politician of all people must understand that impressions are hares and minutiae are tortoises, only the hare doesn’t bother catching forty winks and has taken the tape before the tortoise has done up his laces.

And yet, there was another speech of his nine years earlier, the sort of speech that should be career- and history-defining in the right way: on the floor of the House, he responded to the killing of 11 Mau-Maus at Hola Camp in Kenya, blasting many of those present who would dismiss the victims as ‘sub-human’ and that ‘things are different down there’. In light of the Rivers of Blood that would later torrent, it is a pity he did not heed his own words of how unacceptable it was to claim that “because the victim was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow.”

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Workshop, 5th July 2016

I used to enjoy browsing the newspapers.  Following the initial cup of needful at the crack of nine my Man returns with the egg and soldiers and a selection of freshly-ironed national dailies.  I normally allow a mere hour or two of browsing while toying with an odd morsel of toast and marmalade before preparing myself for the onslaught of the day.  The most enjoyable part of observing this country’s Fourth Estate is to see just how far Journalists are willing to go to induce a condition of sheer terror in their unsuspecting readership.  Ah, happy days!  My mornings are not so jolly any more.  With the recent momentous series of momentous events, one thinks back on warnings of the break out of a new killer epidemic, news of a terrifying and unforeseen effect of global warming or confirmed observations of a huge meteor on a direct collision path with the Earth with a sort of misty-eyed nostalgia.

It is thus a relief to escape to the Pitshanger Poetry Workshop once a week.  John Hurley filled the kettle for tea with the story of a politician rocking the boat.  Olwyn Grimshaw set about lighting the grill with her observation of a scuffle amongst Magpies.  Alan Chambers started slicing the bread for toast with the story of a diversion.  Owen Gallagher warmed the pot with a boy’s dream of swimming.  Christine Shirley made sure the butter and marmalade were on the table in time for her piece on a gathering for friends.  Peter Francis brought in another poem from his wife, Mrs Francis who crisped the bacon with a poem about the life of the mind in an attic.  Doig Simmons made the tea and poured the milk with a piece about the face of his daughter.  Nick Barth fetched the orange juice from the fridge with a meditation on seizing the morning.  Finally Martin Choules kept an eye on the toaster to make sure nothing burned because the knob does not really work any more with his recipe for Gall Ink.

Another source of relief has been the recent goings-on at my Club, the British East-Asian Opium Eater and Retired Schoolmaster’s Club.  As you will recall, this is the organisation which does such a lot of good for retired schoolmasters here at home and also for the hard-working poppy farmers of the world.  The Opium-Eating wing of the club has always welcomed members from like-minded clubs around the world with the result that Retired Schoolmasters were submitting complaints to the Chairman that all the most comfortable wing-backed leather armchairs were occupied by somnambulant Opium-Eaters from Afghanistan, China, Russia and who knows where just at the time when the Schoolmasters dropped in for a whisky and soda.  Matters came to a head and the Retired Schoolmasters proposed that foreign Opium Eaters be barred from the club.  The Opium Eaters countered that without strong relations with overseas opium enthusiasts there would be no more opium and in an attempt to resolve the situation the Chairman called a vote of unity, which he then lost.  As a result, we are now voting for a new Chairman who will resolve once and for all the relationship between the Club and the International opium culture which we have done so much to create.

Everyone at the club had been expecting a straight fight between Boris Brummel, a descendant of the notorious ‘Beau’ Brummel and the ex-master of Squeers’ New, Free And Open Academy for Pedantry, Mr Wackford Given.  However, Brummel had to withdraw from the contest having suffered a severe injury to his back and two surprise candidates have entered the fray from the School Ma’am section, Ms Angela Lansbury and Ms Theresa Wont.  Ms Wont appears to have a clear lead with the Retired School Masters, partly, it is said due to her large collection of antique walking canes, an interest I have never shared but which has the Retired School Masters queueing down the corridors when she brings them in to the Club for a private viewing.    We are promised a lively contest when the ballot is held in a few weeks’ time and it certainly offers some respite from the momentous period of momentous events we currently find ourselves in.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 28th June 2016

You know, when a chap walks down the street, strolls into the lounge bar of his local hostelry or lowers his newspaper in the club and just happens to catch the eye of another chap, it helps if the party of the first part is broadly aware of the what is going on in the bean of the party of the second.  Up until the momentous events of what we shall call the last few momentous days there was a good chance that a shirt, arm band or button badge would be enough to give the game way.  Even though both sides utilise the trad. colours of red, white and blue it was still possible to ascertain the allegiance of the other cove at a glance.  Care could then be taken with any subsequent conversation not to cross a line, raise a hackle or prod at a sore and harmony would be maintained.  However, since the momentous events of the last few momentous days, recognisable identifiers have been cast aside.  What is more, it’s not as if they look appreciably different from us.  However, before one becomes despondent, contemplating the burden the last few decades in Europe have imposed on this country of ours and the many more years of pain we are likely to experience, it is worth remembering that it’s only a game and that it’s nice to see a tiny country like Iceland doing so well.

It was also nice to experience such a rich and varied collection of poems as this week’s workshop.  Olwyn Grimshaw was first off the spot when the whistle blew, pointing out the inconsistencies in allowing Mr Mark Carney to print his own money when a few creative hours playing idly with a decent colour laser printer can put you or me into jail.  Owen Gallagher then sped off down the left wing with a concentrated piece on the modern face of the Highland Clearances.  Martin Choules just avoided a high tackle with a tightly argued poem about the reluctance of young people to vote.  Daphne Gloag maintained possession with two versions of a recent poem concerning the light of now.  John Hurley did well to stay on side as he covered Brexit, BoJo, MiGo, NiFar, DaCam and WhatNow?  Nick Barth chose to boot it up the park with a hazily-remembered road movie to Berlin.  Peter Francis maintained formation with a solemn poem about a lost love.  Alan Chambers perplexed the back four with his memories of JS Graham.  Finally, Ariadne created a solid finish with a revision of her story about Georgia being late for school.

What with the momentous events of the last few momentous days it has been my solace and indeed happy privilege to spend time among the recent archaeological discoveries at Pitshanger Manor.  Items that have, no doubt, been carefully and painstakingly revealed by the precise fall of a size nine steel toe-capped boot or careful swing of a five-kilo sledgehammer are now emerging thick and fast from the priceless clouds of Georgian dust.  Once again I cannot go into too many details, however, suffice it to say that we believe we have come across another copy of the very document that must have inspired the all-too-serious Ealing Comedy, Passport to Pimlico.  The document is now with a team of crack, highly-offensive combat lawyers and while I cannot reveal the name of the London Borough that we believe is no longer (and, indeed has never been) a part of the United Kingdom, it will be fascinating to see how much a pint of London Pride will cost in Euros in the Grapevine Bar here at Questor’s once the dust settles.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 21st June 2016

You know, as I stroll around the clean and airy streets of this fair borough, by chance catching the eye of an acquaintance, offering a cheery wave and perhaps interrupting their progress down the Queens Highway for a brief chat, I believe everyone agrees with me that there is only one subject worthy of consideration:  What does the EU referendum mean for Poetry?

In the Leave Camp, parallels with Switzerland are high on the agenda.  If Britain so to offer more of an arm’s-length relationship with the EU, as does the home of cuckoo-clocks, triangular chocolate and well-stocked nuclear shelters, then we should look to the way they do things.  The Swiss we are told, cite the British as having created their Tourist Industry, the key event being a notorious Chalet Holiday on Lake Geneva in 1816.  So imprinted on the collective consciousness was this near-legendary trip that for many years it was impossible to take a Thomas Cook Coach Holiday to any Alpine resort without being offered a thick volume of Gothic Fiction and a quart of Laudanum on departure from Dover.  The implications are clear; leave the EU and Britain will naturally open itself up to coach parties of hallucinogen-swilling Romantics in Empire-line frocks and velvet suits, disturbing the peace with their rambling nocturnal declamations and assertions of post-apocalyptic societies populated by monosyllabic human salmagundi roaming the countryside and frightening the peasants.  In the words of Messrs Hall and Oates, I can’t vote for that.

Something I can vote for is the success of tonight’s workshop.  John Hurley launched us into memories of an abandoned Hotel near his birthplace in Ireland.  Owen Gallagher brought back a poem about TVs (Transvestites, that is) in the RC (Church, that is).  Alan Chambers has been working up an older piece revolving around five words of conventional greeting.  Peter Francis brought another poem by Mrs Francis, who could not be with us, on the subject of Gaudairenca.  Nick Barth brought us something of a polemic on the Balkanization of, well, the Balkans.  Martin Choules has written a collage poem containing lines from The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker.  The form he used (in which each stanza’s last line is the next line from the quoted poem) has a name and I have the Ferranti Pegasus working on finding the specific term for it.  Daphne brought back the opening poem from her ‘Time’ sequence, presenting us with Past, Present and Future.  Finally Ariadne brought us her greatly enjoyable children’s poem – the tale of Lucie Lu and the Pumpkin Pirates.

Back to the referendum if you can stand it; I know how much I am asking of you.

The Remain camp has, I am afraid to say adopted fear as a weapon by spreading concern among my fellow creatives as to what precisely will happen to the Poetic License if we go it alone.  Under first the Lisbon Agreement and then the Maastricht Treaty the rights of poets have been enshrined in EU Law.  Current Legislation protects the poet’s right to use such such techniques as beginning a sentence with a preposition; mixing a metaphor; combining feet or rhythms (for example combining an Amphibrach with an Anapaest and a clipped line ending); starting a line with a lower-case letter; certain forms of assonance and half-rhyme; enjambment; protection of both the Petrarchan and our very own Shakespearian Sonnet forms, and so on.  In fact, there is an enormous amount of detail I could go into here.  It is likely that at least two thirds of the EU legislation Nigel Farage rails against on the British Statute is specifically applicable to poetry and prosody.  If only this was better understood by the British public, perhaps we might have obtained the vital de-prioritisation of subsidies for the Iambic Hexameter at Maastricht, a measure which only benefits French poets and a handful of strolling Basque Troubadours, who by the way gave up strolling years ago because they can afford to drive Mercedes-Benzes.  I recall the frustration at the time; John Major was clearly not interested in pressing the issue and hard-working British poets lost out as a result.

The great concern we should all have is that Michael Gove is in the Leave Camp.  Should EU Poetry protections be removed my guess is that he will not be able to keep his hands off the Poetic License and a decade of mandated A-B rhyme schemes and tum-ti-tum metrics will follow.  A poetic brain-drain is inevitable and the best and brightest will leave the country to join prestigious Poetry Workshops in English language-friendly cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.  There, the opportunity to work on highly paid projects such as Eurovision Song Contest entry lyrics will make it all but impossible to attract our best poets back to the UK any time soon, and a generation of fine writers will be lost.

You know what to do.  Vote early, vote often and if you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 14th June 2016

This week saw the Pitshanger Archives summer outing to that hotbed of poetry that is St Ives.  Not, alas, the one reached along a road littered with bigamous cat-dealers, but rather the one on the toenail of the trotter of Great Britain. (Whoever would have thought that there were two saints named Ive ?)  Well, in truth the jury’s still out on which ancient market town was meant, and since the nursery rhyme first appeared in print in 1730, it’s fair to assume that the jury probably won’t ever be coming back in.  Although the original version actually featured nines rather than sevens, so the entourage was even bigger, but it suffered the old ‘borogroves’ subconscious editing trick where rhythm wins out over truth.  Rumours persist that another holiday favourite Day Trip to Bangor was originally about Rhyl, but was changed for the sake of the scan, despite Bangor having no beach.  Ah well, perhaps they meant County Down instead.

Anyway, back at the Workshop: Alan Chambers has been feeling under the weather, yet the padded clouds just left him in ecstasy, while John Hurley remembered an old friend whose social climbing from porridge to peerage was almost perfect, yet she still liked to sometimes slum it in bare feet back with the lads.  Ariadne Kazantzis has been revising her tale of a go-getting princess and a jeté-ing prince, and an admiral attitude to dragons that St George could certainly learn from, neatly leading into Martin Choules’ plea not to demonise the great immigrant community of Canada geese, now as much a part of the British landscape as the horse chestnut and the grey squirrel.

The Romantics were always swanning off to some inspiring landscape or rugged panorama, but then as none of them ever needed to do a day’s work, they were effectively on permanent holiday.  Georgie ‘Brian’ Byron’s only visit to the House of Lord’s was to denounce the Frame Act that proposed making the smashing of mills a capital offence, but his delicate hands surely never shuttled a bobbin.  Billy Blake would not have been so sure that his sword would not sleep in his hand had he ever actually had to wield it.  And how could Johnnie Keats ever have admired the nightingale if he’d had to get up at lark-rise to load sixteen tons ?

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Workshop, 7th June 2016

Pity the poor person on business from Porlock, forever blamed for causing an opium-head to lose his thread.  Much muttering was levelled against the village at the workshops, with Sammy Coleridge much disparaging against Somersetshire, Exmoor and any businessman in general.  Willy Blake in turn was upset at such an attitude towards the very place where he believed Joseph of Arimathea had landed with the boy Jesus, one presumes for their summer hols.  “In Porlock Bay did Jesus Christ a vivid poppy-dream decree”, perhaps ?

The Archives reveal how Robbie Southey and Bill Wordsworth further stirred the pot by suggesting that the stranger from Porlock was Jesus himself, keen to draw Coleridge away from the celebration of the idolatrous Khan, or possibly the devil, bringing both the dream and the frustration.

This week’s workshop was neither pent up nor spaced out: John Hurley is being constantly interrupted by coverage of the upcoming referendum, but that doesn’t stop him from finishing his poem, and Daphne Gloag on honey-dew hath fed as she counts redwings bringing winter.  Ariadne Kazantzis, quite unlike Coleridge, has been reworking her superhero story, feeling no need to be permanently stuck with a first draft, while Peter Francis has been down to a sunless sea and brought back a poem from his youth about love on the surf.  Matters were concluded by Martin Choules’ meditation on place-names – had he included Xanadu, he would probably have prosaically pointed out that it simply means ‘upper capital’ in Mandarin.

Speaking of place names, nobody seems to have noticed that the word ‘Porlock’ has such a nice, poetical sound to it, and that the legend would never have caught on so keenly had he been disturbed by a woman on errands from Minehead.

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