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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No workshops for forseeable future

It is a sad state of affairs when a miniscule, unthinking scrap of life should be our harshest critic, but while the current situation continues we will not be convening at The Questors, nor even at The Grapevine.

But that does not mean that all literary endeavour need be at an end – apart from this being a suitable time to finally get down to writing that novel, an attempt will be made to share our poems by email for friendly critiquing and to generally keep the old grey matter ticking over.  Keep an eye on your inboxes, and if you hear nothing then leave a comment below.

Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands for twenty seconds, and here are a few suggestions of short poems to recite while you scrub to help you keep time: W B Yeats’ poignant He Wishes for the Cloth’s of Heaven, William Wordsworth gloomy The Sick Rose, Emily Dickinson’s optimistic Hope is a Thing with Feathers, or even Robert Frost’s apocalyptic Fire & Ice.

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Workshop, 10th March 2020

The busy archivist can often find herself exhausted after a long day of measuring the length of Emily Dickinson’s hyphens, the precise tension in Gerry Manley Hopkins’ rhythmic springs, or comparing colour swatches to find the precise shade of red daubed upon the wheelbarrow, and is in want of a good brisk constitutional round Walpole Park – especially now that the golden-hosts-to-be of daffodils are breaking cover.  The trees are alive with rose-ringed parakeets, the paths are a carpet of pigeons and herring gulls, the grey squirrels are busy digging up their nuts are the chatter of a dozen tongues gently combines with the drone of low-flying airliners.

But when the pressure of all that ink becomes really too much, stronger measures are needed and I make my way to the Ealing & North Circular branch of the Allied Cataloguers, Indexers & Alphabetisers Union social club, tucked away between the Polski Sklep and the Barnes & Pikle Rare and Unnecessary Goods Emporium.  Where better to unwind with a Times crossword to erase with the blunt end of a pencil or a quick game of Esperanto Scrabble with a retired geography master ?   But best of all are the cocktails, where each ingredient is served in its own glass – arranged in alphabetical order, of course.

Anyway, enough downtime daydreaming, back to the business at hand and this week’s workshop – a more select affair than usual but none the worst for allowing time for the odd tangent or two (and the tangents can become very odd indeed).  First upto the invisible microphone was Roger Beckett telling us how hard it is to tell our friends about that indescribable something, making way for a rapping Peter Francis laying down some truth about a busker and a windfall in a new style.  John Hurley then got to musing about what might have been with the stranger a few doors down, while Pat Francis spun us a tale of her grandfather’s unusual profession and his ghost in her hands, before Martin Choules spoke us a folk song without music about some floridly-named sisters who came into bloom throughout the year.

My most proximal visit to the social was alas marred by a regrettable incident involving some magnetic poetry and a tin of alphabetti spaghetti has reminded me of the many poems written to the demon drink, not least the one of Georgie Byron’s that he claimed to be a ‘found’ poem, having been inscribed on a drinking mug made out of a skull.  Everyone assumed he was joking, but the next week he turned up with said tankard and solemnly passed it round to show that yes indeed, the very verse was (rather hastily) written upon the braincase, whose otherwise crisp whiteness suggested an uncomfortably recent change of use.

The object was passed along hurriedly, no-one wishing to handle it for long, until at last it reached Sir John.  “Where on earth did you dig up such a thing ?”  he enquired, completely missing his own pun.  “I took it from the shoulders of a blackguard who dared challenge me to a duel !” his lordship replied.  But a cynical Humph Davy commented that he would have loved to have been his second that day, just to see the spectacle of Byron doing battle with a terrier – “for it is undoubtedly formed from a canine cranium.”  “Hogswallop !” Byron retorted “he may have been a midget, but definitely of a human variety.”  “I fancy” Davy countered “that you must have been fair in your cups already that night, to confuse the two.  But take heart, you can proudly hold your trophy aloft and declare ‘Alas, poor Yorkie’ !”

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Workshop, 25th February 2020

The Archives are of late more keyed up than a locksmiths as we anticipate the Poetry Event of the Season, hosted by our erstwhile landlords the Questors Theatre on Monday 9th March.  Now, London being the cosmopolitan and fully literate city that it is, poetry is not an unknown occurrence in its many tea bars and coffee palaces, but rumour has it that this one will be extra special, and who are we to doubt the honesty of rumour ?  The theme of the evening is how the fairer sexx (with two x-chromosomes) has been depicted at the nib of the quill, both through the eyes of gazing males and emancipated maidens.  Should be interesting, thoughtful, and definitely not a lecture.

But while we wait for that, we had a wonderful workshop to be getting on with, set off by Alan Chambers giving us a knee-trembler – was it all a crock ?  Well really, monsieur !    John Hurley, now that’s he’s found the caps lock key, has been in a philosophic mood while riding his bicycle through the lower levels of limbo, and Peter Francis has been soaking up the low Winter Sun while the Spring flowers were doing their thing.  Meanwhile Doig Simmonds has been looking to employ a very particular type of nurse, leading onto Rosemary Hodi’s fantastical stars in two alternative versions, almost like parallel universes.  Roger Beckett then screened an unaired episode of a popular espionage drama where the spies decide to take the day off, while in a shaped-on-the-page poem from Pat Francis, we explored creation in full sound and vision, and quite literally had a ball, enabling Martin Choules to be the fat lady as he sang out his praises to the dreaded plastic.

Theatres have often played host to the airiest of the artforms, and even Shakespeare knew well enough to end his speeches with a rhyming couplet to wake up the audience.  By the time that the Pitshanger Poets were a thing, Johnny Dryden would often preview passages of his latest comedy to the workshop, always unceasingly rhymed for page after page, to such an extent that Andy Marvell is recorded to mutter “I wish he would write about a silver Prince of Orange atop a purple plinth.”

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Workshop, 18th February 2020

Endless talk of Brexit has focussed on the divorce with no thought given to the prior years of unhappy union.  It was always rather a marriage of convenience – if not exactly shotgun, what with having had our proposal twice rebuffed – but definitely more of a political marriage than deep-seated love affair, one intended to boost our prospects and form a truce.  Alas, nobody was thinking of the children, those citizens who must grow up listening to the constant arguments, points scoring and behind-the-back name calling, not to mention the barely-hidden goings on with our mistress from across the pond.

Here at the Pitshanger Archives we have always been proud employers of EU migrants, forming as they do some of the most enthusiastic and cheap labour available, young and healthy avoiding any need to waste money on health insurance or first aid kits, and without any kids that they have to leave early for to pick up from school.  Because they live five-to-a room we don’t have to pay them much money for rent, and because they don’t belong to a trade union we don’t have to pay them much money full stop.  But of course there are down sides – attending a grandparent’s funeral can take a week, and they do have a habit of suddenly pretending to not understand English when we ask them to rank the Twentieth-Century poets by full-stop usage.

Anyway, this week’s workshop was its usual welcoming self, ready to hear from anyone from anywhere.  First we heard from Roger Beckett’s uncle, whose life and death were both too fast, and Nick Barth’s grid-like precision at turning random triplets into inferred meaning.  John Hurley has been recounting an unsuccessful liaison from his past, while Martin Choules has been describing a young girl’s intense relationship with pasta.  Doig Simmonds meantime has been looking for a ghost in one of the grimmest places, and new member Rob Connors has been following a spiral of thought about wheels within wheels.  Alan Chambers them riddled-us-ree with a flood of clues and Rithika Nadipalli has been haiku-ing about haikus as stepping-stones to sonnets, before Christine Shirley told us all about a plastic man.

This isn’t the first time that relations have become strained with the rest of the continent.  Following the rise of Napoleon, Britons had to get used to holidaying at home, discovering in the process the Highlands and the Prince Regent’s quaint little seaside fishing village of Brighthelmstone.  Willy Wordsworth, once a keen Francophile describing it as ‘very heaven’, later exchanged Parisian cafes for Lake District tea shops, while George Byron took the opposite approach, abandoning the White Cliffs for life abroad, mooching round the Med while complaining about their inability to make proper bangers and mash.

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Workshop, 11th February 2020

As you might expect, I have mixed feelings about the significance of January the 31st and the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.  On the one hand, the mood at the Golf Club has been nothing short of jubilant since our own blond bombast came to power, with the committee quickly passing a motion to name the Seventh Hole (the See-Saw Bridge with the tricky final putt through the clown’s legs) after our glorious leader, and as a result it will be known as the ‘Boris Bridge’ in perpetuity.  On the other hand, one is still somewhat rankled, riled and irritated that the impact of Brexit on International Poetry has been barely mentioned.

Things were very different when we were trying to join the European Community.  I’m sure we all remember Jacques Prevert’s infamous ‘non merci, si ça ne vous dérange pas’ when faced with the prospect of British poets coming to Europe and despoiling his beloved Parisian Café culture with readings in English.  How times have changed.  Poets across Europe now enjoy writing and declaiming in English, and while we have enjoyed hearing these talented writers on many occasions, there is the slightly creepy suspicion that some of them (especially the precocious Dutch) may be better at writing poetry in English than we are.

We do occasionally hear poetry in other languages at the Pitshanger Poets, but sadly not this evening.  Pat Francis got us started on a decidedly British subject of the ordinary, common-or garden Nineteenth Century Explorer.  Rithika Nadipalli has been thinking about dolphins, bringing us an acrostic for the occasion.  Nick Barth brought back an old villanelle concerning the pact humanity has signed with the automobile.  This week Roger Beckett described the broken line back to his grandfather, a man he never met, who was killed during World War One.  Daphne Gloag had clearly been on a journey with her poem describing an absent man who used to feed the birds, but has she returned from that place?  Martin Choules gave us a Valentine’s poem, questioning the validity of comparing any emotion to hulking great celestial bodies.  John Hurley has also been feeling some romance while he walks along an English strand, but lets us down with a satisfying bump at the end.  Michael Harris has also been troubled by feelings of the heart, but we cannot be sure whether his heart attack is genuine or an intricate metaphor for a recent Irish election.  Doig Simmons brought us a poem reflecting on the defence of Leningrad, while Peter Francis rounded us off by touching on the result of another aspect of World War Two and Coventry Cathedral.

We are assured that now we are out of the EU, British Poetry fans will be better able to indulge in works from many other parts of the world.  Tariff-free poetry from the United States is promised, though I observe that American Poets do process their work differently, clipping the odd letter out of some words to fit more of them on to a line, and spelling some words differently in order to use up more of the letter ‘z’, which otherwise gets under-used, and can lead to that key on the keyboard becoming dangerously atrophied.  Of course, as a friendly, open-minded country, the United Kingdom does not mind who listens to our poetry and what means they use to experience it.  I am particularly in admiration of the Chinese, who, according to my computer expert associate, Parsonage, have included listening devices in every piece of equipment that they have sold to major British Mobile Phone network operators.  What an enlightened age this is when an entire country of over a billion people can improve their English language skills in such an unintrusive manner.  ‘Oh, Brave New World that has such people in it’, as I am sure Donald Trump is often heard to say.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Live Poetry at The Questors Theatre

Feeling a little bereft of ballads, short of sonnets or lacking in Limericks ?  Do your need help with a philosophical outlook that is both witty and profound that just cannot be found in the pages of the Metro or the sages on Thought of the Day ?  It sounds to me that you need a fix or poetry !  And what luck, but not one, not three, but two such events are upcoming at The Questors Theatre in Ealing, the Queen of the Suburbs –

Firstly, on Thursday 20th February in The Studio, we have Off the Chest, promising a potpourri of Performance Poets to pique the percipience – but best of all the evening also offers any fearless souls an Open Mic, just waiting to be breathed into, stroked and serenaded, and generally given a good talking to (but please, keep all mic-dropping to the strictly metaphorical).  If this is chiming your couplets, then make your way to The Studio by 7PM to sign up to take part, or if you would rather just sit back and enjoy the show then make sure you take your seats by 7:30.

And secondly, we have Women in Poetry on Monday 9th March, again in The Studio.  Oh, how those bearded and trousered men love to expend oceans of ink on the subject of the fairer sex, ever since the face of Helen launched a thousand rainy day women who walk in beauty like a red red rose? Well, it turns out that rouged and crinolined females are equally enamoured by the daughters of Eve – but with rather different results.

Join us at 7:45 as some of The Questors’ finest actors read an assortment of raptures, curses and befuddlements by the likes of Lord Byron, Rudyard Kipling, Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker – all with a light touch and even hand, determined to celebrate not castigate, be they addressed to coy mistresses or ladies lazarus. Indeed, it will be a perfectly cordial evening of masculine rhymes and feminine endings.


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Workshop, 4th February 2020

The Archives are always busy, and no amount of Winter nor lurgy nor Brexit will stop our onward march to more busyness.  There is always something to be done, from indexing the combined indices to cataloguing the Oxford commas – we have no time to stop and stare, we sons of Martha, we riders from Ghent to Aix, when there are sonnets to be sorted and Limericks to censor, when inspiration can strike at any time and fire off yet another slim volume for us to notify, classify, and occasionally even read.

So it was a rare treat to take a night off recently and pop our heads above ground and attend an evening’s recreation at the Questors Theatre and their production of that bonnets and brooding classic, Pride & Prejudice.  Here was a tale as far removed from our own hectic lives as were the lives of the Bennets were from the Retreat from Moscow happening at the same time – a gentleman whose only occupation is stewarding his estate and his daughters, but who must give up the latter to keep the former.  Theirs is a world of balls and social sensibility, of nuance and matchmaking, whereas ours is of whitewashing the washrooms and dusting the dust-jackets – and yet we are brought together by a love of literature.  And I think Lizzy Bennet would recognise much in the rumours and manoeuvrings of the Grapevine bar.

But away from such Regency bubbles at this week’s Workshop, we had a dose of hard work and the honour therein by Owen Gallagher, and a kitten finding itself caught up in the work of others by Daphne Gloag, followed by Doig Simmonds instilled in us the importance of writing things down, and John Hurley told the tale of an old sailor having to chose between his work and his drinking.  Pat Francis then catalogued the life of a man who’s work was his collecting, and Peter Francis remembered the men whose work was revolution, and Roger Beckett read back his shorthand on the secretary who took dictation from her spouse.  For Michael Harris, interpreting his own dreams is becoming a full time occupation, and Caroline Am Bergris has been plying her trade by mixing up her cremations with her barbeques and made a meal of it.  Alan Chambers meanwhile has been watching the trees before reminding himself to get back to work, and Martin Choules has done quite the job on a medical condition for the sake of a quick rhyme.

Notoriously reticent to leave the confined of her immediate family, it was something of a surprise to discover that Jane Austen had made a few trips to the Pitshanger Poets while visiting friends in London.  Perhaps her encounters with young, intense Mary Wollstonecraft planted the seeds for Miss Bennet, and brooding Georgie Byron had ‘Darcy’ written all over him.  Sir John was always keen to encourage not only poets, and invited Jane to read passages from her manuscript, but the Archive notes that the comments she received were not always positive.  ‘Where is Napoleon in all this ?’ came up alot, as did ‘where are the servants ?’

But it seems the last straw was the week when Percy Shelley laid into her for ignoring the rising tensions in the countryside – “Done out of work by spinning Jennies, herded into dark satanic mills, and yet to the Bennets they would be a swarming, mindless mass of humanity, stumbling towards them with arms outstretching and lowly mumbling.  If I may say so, Miss Austen, your proposed title is too short – Pride and Prejudice and…some bizarre undying horde or other.  Well, just a thought.  Oh dear, it looks like Byron has been frolicking in Sir John’s ornamental fountain again…”

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