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 September 2017

The Questors is gearing up for another season of thespicular theatricals and actorial ejaculations.  Crowns are being polished, humps are being stuffed and limps are being hammed as the place is braced for another onslaught of butterflies.  It is almost as if the eggs are implanted at the first read-through of the script, and hatch out in the stomachs of the troupe during rehearsals.  Mostly unnoticed, except for the odd twinge when the director suddenly decides to do the whole play in Russian accents, they have pupated by the latter rehearsals and the actors start to feel relaxed and confident.  But, as any gardener will tell you, pupas don’t remain pupas forever: once the cast first start rehearsing on the stage proper, beneath those hot lights, they begin to stir…

Except of course that no actual parasite could survive long in the high acidity of the stomach.  Oh, tapeworm eggs can pass through unscathed, but they don’t hatch out until safely suckered onto the intestine wall.  No, a far better metaphor is not butterflies in the stomach, but wasp larvas in the head.  (And yes, that’s larvas with an ‘s’, because once you are having your brains selectively eaten away by a zombie-creating parasite, one of the first things to go is any consideration for the finer details of archaic plural forms.)

Day by day, the grub chomps through a few more ganglias of the cortex, but in very precise locations that cause the cursèd host to be overcome with an extraordinary desire to stand up public in well-lit, slightly-raised spaces, and exclaim to all that they come not to praise Caesar but to know him Horatio.  And it is at this point that the now-fully-adult but microscopic wasps fly out with the projected voice to reach the very back wall of the auditorium, and to be inhaled upon the collective gasp of the audience to begin its life-cycle over once again.

Of course, the above entomological parasitography goes some way to explaining how it is so often a trip to the theatre as a young, defenceless child that first implants the idea in us of throwing off all thought of pursuing a sensible career as a firefighter or train driver, and instead yearning to tread the wormy, rotten boards of the plague-pit that is show-business.  And, not wishing to alarm any potential audience, but alas both stage venues at the Questors have been known for years to be a hive of waspish stings and unfounded confidence.  A plague on both its houses, indeed…

But there were no flies on the poets at this week’s workshop.  Pat Francis was infected by an earworm, but it didn’t affect her perhaps as much as it should, while Daphne Gloag has been giving her poem about time and silence a checkup, and has now shaken off any malingering doubts.  Peter Francis has been conducting a detailed study of the cross-generational health benefits of dancing in a small Irish community, followed by an intense investigation into the trauma of birth upon a foetus from Doig Simmonds.  A bespectacled Martin Choules has completed his analysis on the use of personal adaptive optics in the betterment of vision, and finally Nick Barth, in suitably appalling handwriting, has released a previous composition of his from quarantine now that it is redrafted and bug-free.

Many was the time in the old days that the numbers attending the weekly Tuesday were low on account of the latest lurgy, as attested to by the Archives in robust and unnecessary detail.  But one poet who would never let feeling down get him down was Billy Blake.  All of God’s nature to him was wonderful, even the ticks, flukes, maggots and bedbugs.  Indeed, when in 1803 he brought an early version of Auguries of Innocence, it contained many extra couplets that did not make the final cut:

A louse plucked from a child’s hair
Shall cause this world to grow less fair,
A guinea worm dug from an eye
Shall leave behind a greater stye,
A flea disturbed before she dines
Is desecration of the shrines –
A special place in Hell for he
Who cures amoebic dysentery.

Alas, then only copy of his manuscript which includes these also appears to bear a large yellow-green stain across the page which obscures the rest of it.

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Workshop, 12th September 2017

Ah, my dear Uncle Archie.  I may not have mentioned my multi-billionaire commodity-trading relative in these columns before, perhaps the blog has never adequately intersected with his ever-eventful life.   Suffice it to say, Archie is one of the most callous, vicious, reprehensible, cut-throat, sell-your-own-grandmother Captains of British Industry you will ever come across, and as result he has always been enormously popular down at the club.

Our paths would normally rarely cross, being limited to the annual Christmas family food fight, if it were not for a strange course of events.  To tell the tale:  In return for a little service I was able to provide for the Chairman of The Old Actonians, I am lucky enough to be have been given free rein to use the nets and whack a few past the boundary any time I please.  My stroll to the grounds takes me past number 37 Gunnersbury Avenue, which is strangely enough, the home from peaceful home of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.  One sunny morning as I was passing number 37 I just happened to bump into a genial gentleman pruning the roses, and as roses are a passion of mine, we got talking.

Whenever I strolled past the Embassy in my pads on my way to the nets, the gentleman was there and I came to look forward to stopping and hearing his tales of life in the golden land North of the 38th Parallel.  As my readers know, I insist on adopting a strictly neutral stance upon all things political and tend to look down my nose at any form of philosophical extremity.  However, over the course of a few happenstance meetings the kindly gentleman made me aware that despite being a Socialist Worker’s Paradise where every man was his brother’s equal, the democratic people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were not without plight.  Central to this plight was the shortage of medical supplies caused by unfair treatment from the International Community.  The genial gentleman was always insistent that he could not burden me with this plight, but I pressed him for more gen.  He told me that countless medical conditions, such as the broken bones suffered by both democratic people and the democratic peoples’ beloved pets were going undiagnosed, since despite having many modern, shiny X-Ray machines in the clean, well-equipped hospitals and veterinary surgeries with which the country is blessed, they are so many shiny, useless pieces of furniture due to the chronic lack of fresh uranium.

As a victim of the International Community myself, I could sympathise and insisted to the Korean gentleman that as a person in my position there simply must be something I could do.  When pressed he reluctantly suggested that perhaps there was an outside chance that I was aware of a Commodity Trader willing to obtain a few measly tons of fresh uranium and get it shipped to Pyonyang, preferably under the cover of darkness and with no questions asked.  I immediately thought of Uncle Archie.

Turning, as we must to this week’s Workshop, questions were asked, but none of them about uranium.  Martin Choules brought a poem we suspected was from his redraft pile about a poem in his redraft pile.  Peter Francis has been thinking about those who are leaving, specifically leaving Sligo, whether or not they are aiming for the 38th Parallel.  Daphne Gloag brought back a piece concerning the end of time, we felt just in time.  Pat Francis brought us a piece about a violent storm at sea that had us concerned for the plight of the gulls.  Alan Chambers brought back an oldie-but-goodie, recalling the semi-militant squads of Christian Angels who used to patrol our Tube Trains to protect us from violence, much to our disgust.  Nayna Kumari is wondering whether she can bring herself to go to a family wedding.  Owen Gallagher also brought back a classic of his, about a boy who dreams of swimming.  Finally, like Pat, Nick Barth has been thinking about a storm, a tropical hurricane with Mole Poblano thrown in.

Even my most loyal readers must be wondering what possible connection my rambling story of the democratic people’s plight can have to do with the Poets of Pitshanger.   I admit, the events I describe began some years ago.  The genial gentleman still has his roses, the democratic people now have working X-Ray machines and no one can help but be hugely impressed by the hugely impressive parades that the healthy, democratic people are delighted to put on, year after year.  Mysteriously, Uncle Archie has not been seen at his club for some time and appears not to be answering his emails.   My point in telling this rambling story, if you must insist on me having one, is that we are open to all-comers at our Workshop. We are aware that the brother of the democratic people’s glorious leader Kim Jong Un, being the honoured Kim Jong Chull, is a fan of the cultural milieu of London and has taken up residence in its leafy suburbs.  We can but hope that one Tuesday evening in the not too distant future he chooses to start making the short journey from the Embassy on Gunnersbury Avenue to Questor’s Theatre on Mattock Lane to join us in our humble, weekly celebration of the poetic arts.  We may not be able to immediately rise to the high standards expected, nay deserved, by Kim Jong Un’s beloved brother, but in this increasingly perilous world, with its Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Staged Thermonuclear Warheads it will be nice to know that we are attending one of the very safest poetry workshops on the planet.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

 

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September by Martin Choules

Birds are flocking,
Doors are locking,
Autumn’s knocking once again.
Seeds are podding,
Berries nodding,
Workers plodding from the train.
Skies are frowning,
Leaves are browning,
Hats are crowning, coats are on.
Days are cooling,
Rains are pooling,
Kids are schooling –
Summer’s gone.

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Workshop, 5th September 2017

When does Autumn begin ?  September the 1st,  with its implications of back to school, across the yawning bank-holiday-less expanse of the ‘ember’ months ?  Or perhaps September the 22nd, after the equinox, with its hope that perhaps September will still be warm enough for shirtsleeves and sunglasses.  The latter is perhaps the optimist’s view, or should that be the pessimists when we factor in global warming ?  Of course, an Antipodean would tell us that Autumn begins in March, cooling things down ready for the snows of August, but since they’re half the world away, they’ll have to shout it to be heard.

Either way, there’s no escaping that Autumn, if not already here, is texting to say that it’s on the bus and only a couple of stops away.  Not many leaves have fallen yet, but they’re looking less than healthy, and a few acorns and conkers are already crunching underfoot.  It would make an interesting experiment to take such a tree as it gears up to wind down, and transport it to the land of the transportees to see how quickly it works out that it needs to start working out.  One supposes that the reverse would also be true, and that some poor twig could be kept in perpetual slumber, not dead, but definitely not putting any rings down.

No seasonal blues in the Autumn browns at this week’s workshop.  Alan Chambers instead thrust himself and his key deep into the lock of the bleak Midwinter, while Michael Harris brought us a bookmark to sink into, and John Hurley has been penning a chorus of disapproval while listening to the hold music.  For Owen Gallagher, memories of his father are reminders of how few of them he has, while James Priestman has been lurking in an Elsinore graveyard and was surprised to hear a young prince trying out some Biblical metaphors.  Martin Choules, meanwhile, has been eyeing up some modern portraits and found himself wishing that the artists had cracked a joke or two with their sitters, followed by Caroline Am Bergris noticing the signs of age,  not in the mirror, but in the flotsam of daily life, and finally Daphne Gloag has been talking to her bees, who gave her a few sharp retorts in return.

Here in the Archives, every March we undergo a thorough Spring clean, and it must therefore follow that the previous Fall we underwent an Autumn clutter, where dust, litter and tat accumulates in the corners.  A look around the vaults with a season-adapted eye reveals that this process has already started, with for example postcards from the interns’ holidays already taken off the office fridge and moved to the Drawer of Stuff besides the lockless keys and money-off vouchers for services we’ll never use, all the things which one feels cannot be thrown away but which we vaguely hope will evaporate by themselves.

Some poets have described having such a drawer in their minds, where they file away a good title or an interesting rhyming pair, ready to be pulled out in an emergency that never comes.  If only Emily Dickinson had practised such mental tidiness, she may have had the necessary words to hand and not been forced to use yet another placeholder hyphen until such time as they presented themselves.

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Workshop, 29th August 2017

Re-ensconced in their beloved meeting place, the Pitshanger Poets have come home.  The Committee Room is looking as poky as ever, but it is the right sort of pokyness.  Of course, being romantics at heart, the members are more accustomed to refer to the room as the Library, on account of the darkwood cabinets of plays that line the walls.  Through the glass-fronted doors can be seen a different sort of slim volume, collecting scripts by Coward, Stoppard, Chekhov, Shaw and the like, as well as rumoured glimpses of Cardenio, Niobe and A Brilliant Career through the cobwebs and fug of less tobacco-conscious times, but it seems that the keys to the locks are as elusive as a capital letter in a Neil LaBute script.

With these silacious soliloquies and deitic dialogues looking down upon proceedings, this week’s workshop felt like an amphitheatre, but our poets showed no sign of stagefright.  Doig Simmonds gave the prologue as he pondered the size of an angel, and Daphne Gloag conducted the orchestra in a tune which slows down in perfect time with the expansion of the universe.  Next entered John Hurley wise elder, recalling the metaphorical wakes of the old country which accompanied very real departures, and the chorus then recited Alan Chambers’ change of season lamentation.

Then entered the gravedigger, Owen Gallagher, undertaking the herculean task of scrubbing the headstone, followed by the punning wordplay of Michael Harris’ fool, and a short lyrical turn by Peter Francis tempting rain.  Leading lady Pat Francis gave us a classic tragedy, with Guinevere’s betrayal leading to Arthur’s own, and Martin Choules ended with a farce involving a giant antenna and global warming.

So, will the plays in the Library ever again be plays of the stage ?  Will rust or woodworm once again open these scholarly sarcophagi and let the puckish banter tumble out onto the boards ?  A glance through the Archives reveals that drama is not such a stranger to these workshops, as in the time in 1820 when Percy Shelley brought in his monster four-acter Prometheus Unbound.  Intended as a closet drama, it was far too long and wordy to ever be staged, and was intended to be performed only in the theatre of the imagination.  He doled out the parts to those present (giving himself the lead, naturally, with Leigh Hunt as Mercury, Sir John as Ione, his wife Mary as everyone else, and Byron as Jupiter in a classic piece of type-casting) and they got down to wading through the thousands of couplets.

As the evening wore on with Act 1 still a long way from becoming Act 2, and the readers aware that this was eating into their time to present their own verses, so the silly voices started, with Panthea becoming inexplicably Welsh and Second Fury an attempted cockney that could honestly have passed for French without comment.  This clearly annoyed the playwright, whose own delivery became more clenched as the speeches droned on.  Finally, Mrs Conduitt entered with some shaved ice refreshment and an immediate intermission was called.  A somewhat put-out author joined the queue for the chamber pot, and then retook his seat in the for the second half, only to find that not one of his audience had bothered to return after the interval.  He soon tracked them down to the bar of the Red Lion, complaining to each other how turgid the writing had been, how hammy the leading man, and how lacking legroom the armchairs.

Of course, such conversations are unheard of in the Grapevine at Questors, but it just goes to show why many a playsmith may be more than happy for their labours to remain safely behind glass.

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Workshop, 15th August 2017

Alas and Alack! The Pitshanger Poets are without an enclave, a camera, a sanctuary, a niche, vault or lodging to listen to, absorb and digest our declamatory works.  Not since the Perceval Sisters threatened to terminate the Tuesday Workshop in favour of an ill-conceived ‘Steam and Nautical Engineering Soiree’ have the Pitshanger Poets been faced with homelessness.  On that occasion, the daughters of Britain’s only assassinated Prime Minister, having taken a shine to one Isambard Kingdom Brunel and wishing to build their own ocean-going steamship had requested a weekly step-by-step how-to course for themselves and their companions from the great engineer.  Fortunately for the Poets Brunel found Tuesdays inconvenient and the ladies had to settle for Wednesdays.  The resulting ‘HMS Pungent’ in eggshell puce with lime green vine-leaf accents and ruched bulwarks saw long and happy service until it was accidentally sunk when the bung was knocked out one summer afternoon in 1871.

The reason for our parlous state is that the Questors Theatre Building which has been our home for many years finds itself in need of urgent remedial work.  A wall, which a surveyor alleges was fulfilling the vital role of holding up part of the roof was apparently in danger of imminent collapse.  Whether the wall’s fragility was the result of poor construction or its location above the long-rumoured secret tunnel leading from the Town Hall to the undercroft of the building is now the subject of much debate in the Grapevine Bar, which mercifully escaped all danger.  The town hall tunnel was supposedly excavated by unemployed sappers in the 1920’s in order to permit a succession of expressive but bored Mayors to escape turgid Council Meetings and attend rehearsals for the annual panto.  Mayor Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Robertson Kimmitt’s Widow Twankey was by all accounts a tour-de-force.

We are not entirely homeless, of course.  We soldier on and the Workshops continue, albeit in the upstairs Café which is grand, comfortable and spacious, but not entirely without interruptions from other users of the space.  Doig Simmonds helped a latecomer into the auditorium while reading his recollection of a child’s first flight.  Caroline am Bergris managed to deliver a powerful and vehement description of her time in hospital without succumbing to the desire to buy a choc ice from the trolley.  Michael Harris waited until the teas had been served before getting going on his memory of the light from a bright morning window.  Nick Barth did a little Front of House before reprising his mini-epic on the subject of the Balkans.  Farrah Alebik bravely made her debut with the group, reading a powerful work about an old friend in Syria while the crockery was cleared.  John Hurley found a window of peace while the Questor’s Mime Troupe rehearsed and he revealed the hidden depths in the peat of Ireland.  Daphne brought us a new revision of a piece from her Time sequence while the rest of the group discouraged an earnest volunteer to whizz around with the Hoover.  Finally, Martin read a very short piece wondering at the F1 key’s ability to interrupt proceedings while the rest of the group resisted the urge to put chairs on tables.

It is not the purpose of this sorry correspondent’s contemptible discourse to discourage anyone from attending our Workshops and next week we should find a quieter place to meet, such as a corner of the Grapevine Bar.  As always, we will attempt to finish before Nigel calls ‘time’ in his characteristic, urgent manner.  Perhaps you, dear reader, can find a way to work it into a poem, though I cannot think how this might be done.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 8th August 2017

Trouble at t’theatre recently has seen the Pitshanger Poets moved out of their regular room for the spacious, if less cosy, Upper Foyer.  There are numerous rumours flitting the rounds as to why half the building is cordoned off, from an outbreak of ghosts awaiting a dour exorcist to an outbreak of pigeons awaiting a suitable pie.  Some claim that the building is sinking into the Thames, while others insist the cause was a very precise earthquake.  Here in the Archives we have learned the hard way of the dangers when confusing concertina screens with load-bearing walls, but could it be that an over-enthusiastic get-out crew have taken down more than the flats and the curtains ?  (The trick is to remember than retaining walls are so called because they should be retained.)

Anyway, this week’s workshop was quite able to fill the extra space of the foyer.  Michael Harris took centre stage with his poem about shifting shame, but showed no remorse for its brevity, while Doig Simmonds filled the space with an imagined battlefield, and even had enough distance to look back and reflect, followed by John Hurley declaring his love to the furthest corners, and cheering himself up into the bargain.  For Alan Chambers, well used to wide open areas, his triolet reported his unfortunate recent injury three times, but he assured us it had only happened once.

Daphne Gloag meanwhile, freed from the confines of the Committee Room, has been gazing into the vast space around her and wondering if it might all be timeless.  Such an unfamiliar space also suited Owen Gallagher’s poem about returning to one’s childhood haunts and finding them all so changed, leading to Aisha Hassan filling the hall with a wake, complete with a closed casket and a river of milk.  It fell to Martin Choules to test the echo with a tardy thunderstorm and some basic arithmetic.

Relocation has inevitably happened before during the centuries-long society of the Pitshanger Poets, including one time which saw the reverse of our present circumstances: in 1826 it was customary to meet in the main Salon, but one time when the decorators were in, they had to adjourn to the boot room.  It was certainly snug among the dubbin and lasts, and all those newfangled mid-calf Wellesleys.  An aging Bill Blake commented that trying to cram their collected poetic wisdom into such a priesthole was akin to seeing the world in a grain of sand, and grand-tourist Harry Longfellow felt as if the poets were in the place where the squirrels hid their acorns.

But it was a young Joe ‘greenthumbs’ Paxton, just about to quit Chiswick for Chatsworth in the wilds of up-north who summed it up, quoting from the late Jack Keats whose heroine Isabella carries around a pot-plant at all times, containing both a bush of basil and her murdered lover’s head.  “I feel as cramped as the wretched contents of that pot !” he moaned.  “That poor herb’s root system, crowded out by that bloody head !”

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