Those of you with a keen nose for literary style, word selection, rhythm, use of syntax, sentence length and the many other tools of the Eng. Lit trade will have realised long ago that the precious task of writing this essential poetry blog has been consigned to more than one human being. The founders of the Pitshanger Poets long ago recognised that the weighty responsibilities of chairing the weekly workshops, managing the archives, ordering the biscuits, making sure there are enough chairs, ensuring no-one is sleeping rough in the Questor’s Library before each meeting, crafting a weekly almost-but-not-quite amusing and illuminating blog and fulfilling the many, many sacred duties of the workshop could not fall on the shoulders of one man or woman, however erudite, charming, elegantly dressed and witty that person might be. Besides, as the conversation in the Golf Club Bar went, I don’t know, how many years ago was it? Surely, the shadowy interviewer said, you have other activities to occupy your time, Mr Ffinch-Whistler? A job, a business, hobbies, international travel, socialising, entertaining? We could not prevail upon you to devote yourself to the Pitshanger Poets full time could we? I must have looked a little blank at this point. My companion started talking about heritage, legacy, low-hanging fruit, the importance of being a team player, running it up the flagpole, throwing mud at the wall to see how much of it would stick, the corridors of power, the doors of perception and drinking the cool aid before I shot him a look and ordered two more whisky-and-sodas. I was not interested in being interviewed for a mere job, the Pitshanger Poets is a calling, and I answered.
Soon after that seminal evening in my mildly glittering personal history I was introduced to the oddly disconcerting Ms Felicity Challiss, for it is she, being the lynch-pin, the very fulcrum, the GKN roller-bearing of the Pitshanger Poetry Archive. A few moments later Parsonage, the sublimely-skilled Post-Office Engineer who had long ago been kidnapped by Ealing Council in order to live a solitary existence running and maintaining the Ferranti Pegasus mainframe computer pottered by, and we quickly learned that he was not comfortable without a digital mug of tea, steaming soldering iron or hot multi-meter in hand and a distinct smell of fresh ozone about him. Ms Chalice subsequently earned my ever-lasting fear and respect by defeating me soundly over eighteen holes, six innings and a straight flush, then diagnosing a worn valve guide simply by the smell of the two-seater’s exhaust on the lapel of my tweed jacket.
I invite you to wallow in this washing-up bowl of nostalgia as sleight of hand, a distraction, hoping against hope that my kind readership and indeed the shadowy management hierarchy of the PP will fail to notice the lack of a Blog last week. The fact is, one’s current Zoom-based existence is becoming somewhat of a blur, with one day even more than usual resembling the next. You understand that I have never greatly differentiated weekends from those days ‘hard-working families’ devote to labour, but I did at least have the Miniature Golf Club, Against-The-Clock Speed Croquet, Mixed Three-Legged Salsa, Blindfolded Life Classes, Silent Choir Practice, Victoria Sponge Marquetry, Oven-Glove Origami and Unarmed Feng Shui to weave a regular rhythm through this veil of sorrows. Recently in these august pages Ms Chalice has ably described this Workshop’s digital awakenings as we virtualise our meetings. Will we ever get together in one room again? To be frank, one might as well ask Her Majesty’s youngest son whether he fancies popping into Woking for a pizza.
The fact is that the Ferranti Pegasus is still an invaluable tool for calculating the cosine of a poem’s feet, finding the integral of a trochee and converting an iambic pentameter to hexadecimal. Parsonage has used it to calculate the temperature (and colour) of Burnt Norton, the value today of an Irish Sixpence, the minimum and maximum number of daffodils in a crowd and even the size of these feet which did tread upon England’s Green and Pleasant Land. Using Bayesian theory, it has been used to estimate whether there was honey still for tea and the eventual lateness of the train following its unscheduled stop at Adlestrop. This remarkable intelligence is both a boon and a curse for the old Pegasus. On the one hand there are few secrets in the world of prosody and literature that it cannot reveal. On the other, it is now forbidden to connect the machine to the internet. A few years ago Parsonage did fabricate the appropriate ethernet hardware and plug the Pegasus into the Pitshanger Manor’s humble router. However, within seconds the Pegasus had successfully predicted the next Men’s Champion at Wimbledon and laid a bet with Paddy Power, issued an instruction to have all the cones removed from the M6 motorway, and deduced both the Prime Minister’s nuclear codes and the true rationale behind Brexit. When the Ferranti Pegasus challenged Dominic Cummings to a game of 4D Chess – and won – the authorities came down hard and the dear machine was disconnected. You can appreciate what such an awesome piece of hardware would achieve with Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, Tic-Toc, Instagram and the rest of our social medias and outlets. Why, nothing less than truth, happiness, rational thought and mutual trust among all peoples. Truly, what a horrendous prospect.
Our reborn workshops on Zoom could never be described as a horrendous prospect. In many ways the ability to share poems by email ahead of the meeting has changed the cadence and rhythm of the sessions. Some of our number have suffered the odd hardware glitch (sometimes, one suspects the piece of hardware controlling the mouse and keyboard), but in the main the meetings closely resemble the in-person experience. Over the last two weeks we have heard from Roger Beckett with a poignant if slightly inscrutable poem concerning the disposal of cats. Rithika Nadipalli took a spiritual tack as she told us about the mountain of The Buddha. John Hurley, ever inspired and inspiring gave us the story of a last night on Loch Ree, and this week, impressions of a local Man of the Road. Martin Choules made a fine job of a villanelle concerning those in public office with loose tongues and this week took us to Poundbury to meet that Model Town’s last leftie. Finally, Nick Barth was inspired to write about the end of summer (traditionally poetry’s least-favourite season) and the arrival of autumn. He then went on to uncover a ten-year-old poem about the scent, texture and flavour of a break-up.
Which ribald proceedings brought two weeks of remote appreciation to a close. We look forward to another fine workshop next week. Why not join us? You are most welcome, please get in touch.
If you have been, thank you for reading.