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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Flowerpots for Africa by Pat Francis

A sunny English summer stirs up
a jumble of feelings now
in our revolving world
 
but the heart still expands
in the warm green of it
settles like a bee on lavender
when shadows sidle
across evening gardens,
we stroll our small terrain
pick up discarded plastic pots
we find under bushes
behind the dustbin.
 
Tomorrow we take them to
a charity that sells plants
to other comfortable gardeners
touched by guilt
at the easy way we help
children under and unflinching sun
who need a bowl of porridge
before they can sit and learn
from random books
we have donated
 
Food    books  flowers
old pleasures
new configuration
 
May they be blessed.
 
Pat Francis

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Workshop, 11th June 2019

As anyone who knows me at all well will tell you, I love a steam train.  We are currently approaching High Season for preserved railway-lines in this sceptred isle of ours, a time when every last tank engine, diesel multiple unit and dusty freight locomotive is pressed into service shuttling grandchildren and grandparents alike up and down the spidery bits on the national map of British Railways.  You know the ones, those baroque, curly fronds growing out of the end of Main Lines, the ones Dr Beeching found so distasteful and had erased, just before colour was reintroduced to the British national dress.

Some people allege that there too many preserved railway lines nowadays and that the valuable resources of the intense and single-minded army of boiler-suited volunteers could be better-employed on fewer, more historically significant restorations, but I disagree.  I am always on the lookout for an obscure stretch of single-tracked railway connecting two locations last heard of in the duller parts of Jude The Obscure.  However, much as I like the journey, my enjoyment is not solely to do with the hot breathless thing chained to the front and doing all the hard work.  I find I have become addicted to the multiple syncopated rhythms associated with train travel, and that with the aid of a seat, some space on the table in front of me not already occupied by melted choc-ice, a notebook and a sharpened pencil, I can get a few vital, searing verses down before the locomotive has to stop at a station mocked up to look like the First World War, to run around to the other end of the train and take me back to where we came from; typically, a station mocked up to look like the Second World War.

No one was there to make a mockery of this week’s world famous poetry workshop, and railway stations with blast tape on their windows were notable by their absence.  Alan Chambers broke cover with a poem about an end to order, sparked by the natural world.  Doig Simonds sketched us an image of marriage in a lock and a key.  Anne Furneaux returned to the world of work with a couple more artisans remembered from her childhood.  Sara B, still a newish member of the PP read a finely-honed piece on the charm of triboluminescence, the longest word in use this week at least.  John Hurley gave us a satirical poem and a wry smile, concerning the story of a stressful marriage and a death on the golf course.  Daphne Gloag rather mischievously tried out a new form on us this week, the Haibun, a sort of cross between a Haiku and a prose poem – this one discussing the tides.  Peter Francis is emerging from out of the mine, fossils in hand.  Roger Beckett brought a brilliantly pithy poem on the power of some pithy poems.  I believe Pat Francis is getting slight charity fatigue, discussing gifting pots for Africa.  Owen Gallagher directed us to the romance of the picket line and everything to breathe for.  Nick Barth has been ruminating on the many words for winds, and whether she cares.  Finally, Martin Choules urged us to observe the light from the nearer stars, just because we can. 

Clearly the preserved railway industry has latched on to the enormous power of nostalgia to attract a riding public, for it is well-known that there is nothing that a young boy of say, five or six years old likes more than to be reminded of a wartime past they cannot possibly remember.  In my humble opinion, even the oldest of codgers one sees piloting said kids around the place are a bit fresh to remember the last one.  Why, it’s almost as if we are becoming nostalgic for an unremembered past, and who would fall for such a blatant subterfuge?  Surely there is more to the romance of the steam train than the tragedy of war? What about the romance of poetry? Which insight gave me the most brilliant notion, one I will propose to the next railway volunteer I come upon, be they busy serving customers at a ticket window or sweating up on the footplate shovelling coal; The Poetry Train.  Who would not want to ride a train redolent with the atmos of a favourite poem?  All one would have to do is conjure a few of the more well-known classics for the riding public.  For example, the train could stop for no apparent reason in a deserted station called Adlestrop (for those of you who are interested, the real Adlestrop is on a main line, and has ceased to exist, I have looked).  Passengers could be herded aboard a dingy mail car and have to sort Cheques from Postal Orders and letters for the rich from letters for the poor to in order for the train leave the station.  At the very least there should be an army of Whitsun newlyweds irritating a stony-faced librarian, or a railway volunteer dressed as a fat lady wandering about in a corn field in gloves.  Perhaps a Betjamannish tennis match in a permanent state of high drama as the train passes?  The possibilities are endless, and accompanied by a bottle of brown ale, a ploughman’s lunch and a short observational quiz for the competitive, the journey would take on an entirely new dimension.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 4th June 2019

Ah June, that first burst of Summer before the mugginess sets in, that step up from the promising but changeable May to still unsullied by the monotonous heat of July.  Dragonflies flit round Sir John’s pond in Walpole Park, potatoes and blackberries put out their surprisingly pretty flowers, bumblebees bumble around looking a bit like regular bees who have let themselves go, and all the world is at peace on an endless Sunday afternoon when the church clock does indeed stand at ten to three.

Alas, this week’s workshop eschewed the prospect of meeting plein air across the road, and so the picnic of poesy was instead spread across the lawn of the Library.  Opening up the hamper was Roger Beckett, who has been thinking of about star-gazing despite it being close to the longest day, while Pat Francis has been handing round the greaseproof-wrapped sandwiches and musing on the driftwood of language in a poem she says she found inside a bottle.  Peter Francis meanwhile poured out the Thermos into plastic beakers as he compared the glorious sunset to stained glass windows, and Doig Simmonds started up a shaggy dog story about the one that got away as he tore open the crisp packet and placed it centrally on the rug for all to dip in.  Alan Chambers passed round the pork pies as he highly recommended a Summer exhibition at the Tate, alas from many years ago but clearly still vivid in his memory, while there has been no Summer slacking from Daphne Gloag as she polishes her prologue of possibility and polishes-off the first of the chocolate fingers.  Owen Gallagher then took a calm workmanlike approach to dividing the Victoria sponge evenly between all present, and took it as a cue to praise the white-van denizens who keep our world painted, oiled, and weeded, before Martin Choules gave a brief ode to a big fish and a finger-wag at a lizard as he gathered in the paper plates.

Of course, Walpole Park used to be the grounds of Pitzhanger Manor, and maintaining it fell to Eliza Soane.  Not literally maintaining it, of course, she barely knew one end of a trowel from a wheelbarrow, but overseeing old man Haverfield the Younger as he pottered about propping up the sunflowers and fluffing up the hydrangeas.  Officially, it was her husband who drew up the grand plans for the plantings in strict accordance with architectural principals, but it fell to Eliza to be his clerk of works to make sure that things got done.

But then, at least in the garden, she could avoid those damnable poets and their mooning around a daffodil by any other name.  She was not such a wilting violet herself to blush at the thought that all of her bower’s pretty blooms were no more than the plants waving their willies in the air, even if she were far too sensible to ever say so, but she did have a natural mistrust for any poet who boldly claimed that their ‘luve’ was like ‘a red red rose’.  Aye, Rabbie, she knew just what you meant.

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Workshop, 28th May 2019

I see our friend Aubrey the regular poet-about-town and contributor to this ongoing ‘blog’ (to use the parlance of the young and unpoetic, for was there ever such an uneuphonic word) has been lately exploring the backstreets of Dormer’s Wells, a suburb to a suburb with a name like a matinee idol.  But there is nothing new in estate agent upspeak, as witnessed across the pond where they insist on calling themselves real-estateers, though whether the adjective is meant to encourage us to think of ‘by royal appointment’ or ‘honest guv, we really do have this bridge to sell you’ is far from clear.  Now, far be it for I to perpetuate the myth of the estate agent as anything other than probably actually jolly nice professionals, but certain of their profession have been known to partake in the marketing department’s grade-A dollop of bovine excrement when it comes to rebranding so-so neighbourhoods, and for most of the last century their chief crime was to refer to Ealing as ‘the Queen of the Suburbs’.

No such hyperbole at this week’s workshop, where Michael Harris kept his wordplay to an almost-anagram and if Niall Cassidy were exaggerating about his father always sitting down, we won’t stand for it.  Daphne Gloag may have been rather fanciful with her flying bath, but she pulled it off with panache, while Alan Chambers looking up at a construction crane while keeping his feet on the ground.  Plain-talking John Hurley has been recalling some of the kisses in his life, all very believable, leading to James Priestman seeking to demystify the opening of Genesis.  Doig Simmonds has been having some weighty but very true thoughts about the holocaust,  leading to a complete contrast from Pat Francis as she swung on the swing of her memory, and who’s to say she didn’t ?  The seven gazes into the mirror of time were then recounted by Peter Francis (haven’t we all been there), and finally Martin Choules gave us a fact-based comparison between the fact-free theories of early astronomers.

So why was Ealing assumed to be a) superior to all other suburbs and b) female ?  One wonders if the occurrence of the world-famous Tuesday workshops had anything to do with it, if by ‘world-famous’ you mean ‘known about equally on every continent by that tiny proportion of the world who read poetry, in English, and went to the right sort of school’.  Or was it a barbed comment on the presence of The Question Amateur Theatricals and Terpsichorean Troop with its attendant the drama queens ?  Tom Eliot was always keen on the moniker, saying that every town should have three names, it’s everyday practical name (“Ealing”), it’s fancified, unique, name (“Queen of the Suburbs”), and then the name that is known only to its residents, who will never tell it.  After much intensive research here in the Archives, we can now exclusively reveal this name to be…“town”, as in “I’m just off to town, want me to pick you up a more interesting name ?”

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Workshop 21st May 2019

I have always been a believer in the care-worn adage that travel broadens the mind.  It was only last week that I was driving the two-seater along to Dormer’s Wells to meet up with an old school friend who is hoping to improve his heroic ballads.  Now you might not think that Dormer’s Wells is such a great distance, but what with the increasingly eccentric mechanical habits that the old jalopy has adopted recently, it’s quite a trek.  These days it’s unwise to go anywhere in it without spare water, oil, petrol and the assistance of a diligent fire crew bringing up the rear.   

Now, of course, Dormer’s Wells does not exist, as such – apologies if you happen to think you live there, but your residence is actually positioned in a kind of no-man’s-land between Hanwell and Southall.  It was cooked up by a cabal of Estate Agents some years ago in order to end a vicious turf war that had broken out between rival Agents.  A Geographers A-Z Map of West London was unfurled on the snooker table at Ealing Golf Club and the various territories were divided up.  The diligent land-grabbers swiftly realised that there was an uninhabited area between leafy Hanwell and desirable Southall.  Some calculations were performed, some money changed hands and a peace treaty was agreed, with the knuckle-dusters and coshes were put back in the sports equipment chest for another year.  With no delay, the bulldozers and cranes rolled in and another community of anthropomorphised furry and feathered creatures were forced to hit the road, belongings tied up in red-spotted handkerchiefs.   Bar a few strong estate-agent terms the whole thing was sorted out to the satisfaction of all, and so much more equitable than the Battle of Ealing Broadway which created the gated community of Ealing Village, from whose bourne no traveller returns, as the bard had it.

When all is said and done, I like to think that my little trip to the very edges of Southall has taught me a little more about The Common Man, his ways and his travails.  I like to think of myself sitting on a park bench enjoying some chips and a fizzy drink with the suntanned gentlemen you see, quenching their thirsts and talking loudly about the burning issues of the day.  I am sure they would welcome a man of the people such as I, and I am confident that a few stanzas from my oeuvre would bring peace to the most troubled brow.

Peace was something we had in reasonable quantities at this week’s workshop.  We had but six poets reading, which is a comparatively small quorum.  Anne Furneaux led off with the first of a two-parter from her childhood, remembering the work people used to do; delivery and working people.  I am sure people still do work, it’s just that there are fewer reasons to get so filthy doing it today.  Daphne Gloag has been thinking about Persephone and that fateful picnic of two Pomegranate seeds which committed her to Hades’ less than welcome time share.  Roger Beckett continues to surprise us with the dry wit of the poetry he tells us he has been writing for quite a while now.  This week he was telling tales of telling tales of sheep.  John Hurley returns, week after week, to get things off his chest, this time his view of critics, which is critical.  Nick Barth brought back an old one inspired by the silence of a volcano and the noise of tinnitus.  Finally, Martin Choules has been puzzling over butterflies, or rather the word ‘butterfly’, whose origins appear lost in the murk of time.

There you have it, a week with very little in the way of travel.  It’s coming up to holiday season, however and poets everywhere will be packing their buckets, spades, notebooks and assorted stationery ready for the moment they can luxuriate in a lounger or deploy a deckchair and write how wonderful they would be feeling if it wasn’t for the (…insert theme here…).  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 14th May 2019

Following the thrill of the greasepaint, things are returning to normal here in the Archive, as far as ‘normal’ goes.  We have a new poet laureate just intime for the new royal sprog, and I for one can’t wait to see Mr Armitage’s fulsome praise over this latest appendix to the civil list.  In  other news, the perpetual dithering over Brexit is making it difficult to recruit new interns in rural Bulgaria and metropolitan Malta, with a natural reluctance on their part to commit to a seven-year indenture when who knows where we’ll all be by then.  Well, we know where they’ll be, down here in the Archive working off their boat fare over, and you’d think that working underground would be a positive plus in a world edging to a new cold war.  And incidentally, before the letters start flooding in (because we don’t currently have the staff to read them), no we are not doing local archivists out of a wage, because the positions are strictly unpaid.

Anyway, moving onto this week’s workshop, we saw a smaller, tighter group this week with only five readers, but plenty of tangents flown off on between poems.  Martin Choules already had his head in the clouds as he bemoaned the lack of really alien aliens, while John Hurley has been breathing the foul air of modern life and gasping out his warning in couplets.  Meanwhile, the blues have befallen Daphne Gloag, which gave her plenty to smile about, while Alan Chambers is losing his five senses but thankfully not his sense of language, and finally Caroline Am Bergris’s lifeforce has given her a good talking to.

The former poet laureate who spent the most time at the workshops must surely be William Wordsworth.  The young firebrand who saw revolution as very heaven was much cooled by his appointment in 1843, and one wonders what his cocky younger self would make of this aged establishment sellout.  And perhaps his wiser older self would reply that Keats, Shelley and Byron were twenty years dead, and likewise his publishing career, with even Sir John passing on to the great workshop in the sky.  But was a little of the old young Northern tyke still about his refusal to write any official verses for the new queen ?  And for her part, why was she so quick to agree that her first appointed could, well, rest on his laurels as a tribute act, packing them in on the salon circuit with his greatest hits ?  Perhaps she was just relieved she wouldn’t have to hear any more about those bloody daffodils !

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Workshop, 7th May 2019

By now I will venture that you, my loyal readership will have appraised yourself of the minor triumph which was the 3PE, or Pitshanger Poets Poetry Evening, either via the life-changing perspicacity of your own attendance of the event, or via notices in the more reputable corners of the literary press.  I never read my own notices of course, preferring to pass that unenviable responsibility to my Man, who can be trusted to provide an interpretation of the review (often using the medium of dance) which has been gently tuned to the sensitivities of his employer.  I am delighted to say that I have never been disappointed by what I have heard, although many critics seem to be fixated on the quality of my neckwear or tailoring rather than my performance or material.  However, I trust my manservant implicitly in these matters.

As for the 3PE, it is my hope that as a result of our little perf, this edition of the PP Blog is fortunate enough to welcome a host of new readers.  I do hope you enjoy these vociferous ramblings and are planning to come along one Tuesday as a result.  I was astounded to learn, via an informal survey carried out by your correspondent in the Grapevine Bar after the show, that not every member of the appreciative audience was a reader of this organ, with some pleading ignorance of the institution which is the Pitshanger Poets itself.  One hopes that the welcome publicity which the 3PE has afforded will ensure its even greater import on the poetry world stage.  It is of course dangerous to over-think this sort of thing, but surely the awarding of a Nobel Prize to a certain Mr Robert Allen Zimmerman last year sets a dangerous precedent.  Here in the PP is an internationally renowned institution, surely doing more for World Peace than any other Tuesday evening poetry workshop.  Dare we suppose that the Committee, even the King of Sweden himself, is even now adding our name to the appropriate shortlist?

Well, they say, a poetry workshop facilitator’s work is never done, and never have those words been more true than today, for hardly had the afterglow of Monday evening faded than it was Tuesday and time for another of our vital gatherings.  Natasha Morganna lead off with a fiendishly metaphorical piece on the theme of lust, or was it?  John Hurley has been darkly reflecting (or is that reflecting darkly? For never has the question of the split infinitive seemed more important than today), on his own mortality in a poem which nevertheless managed to raise a wry smile.  Alan Chambers suffers from colour blindness, a condition which he used to great effect in the points of colour which highlight this week’s monochromatic poem.  Roger Beckett is a new poet to the group, but he tells us he has a large stock of work ready to bring along.  He knows as well as any other poet in the PP that the regular beat of the Tuesday evening workshop can become addictive, spurring the creative on to ever new heights.  This week Roger remembered Adam West, the One True Batman in many peoples’ eyes.  Steve Burchell has also been reflecting on mortality, giving us a dense and satisfyingly cryptic moment in the life of a doula, employed to help the chronically sick in their journey out of this world.  Martin Choules has been thinking about sonnets, and the essential role of the Volta in the same ‘thesis, synthesis, antithesis’ as my philosophy master used to mutter in his sleep.  Nick Barth has also been thinking about death, only he refers to the valley of that name, where life struggles to maintain a foothold.  Pat Francis brought the meeting to a conclusion with a sparkling piece remembering sparking ‘Blakeys’, longed-for steel reinforcements to shoes.  Peter Francis seemed to be holding a good hand, but he folded at the last minute.  Perhaps we will hear his poem next week.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention another triumph, in this, the nation’s foremost poetry blog, and that is the truly-deserved elevation of Simon Armitage to the seat of Poet Laureate.  Of course, we at the PP whole-heartedly congratulate Simon and wish him well penning lines on the various Births, Marriages, Deaths, Bar Mitzvahs, Handing-Ins of the Royal Driving License and other sundry events that the role demands.   Now here at the PP we don’t wish to blow our own cornets, but we have been waiting for this announcement for some time.  The post of Poet Laureate is in the gift of the monarch, but of course the decision is made by the Prime Minister of the day.  Well, what with one thing and another Mrs May has lacked the, what is the terrible modern word?  The bandwidth to make a decision of such import.  She did ask her cabinet but apparently the only member of that esteemed brigade who knew anything about poetry was Mr Michael Gove, and when asked for an opinion the only names of poets he came up with were those long dead, or perhaps they were characters from Game of Thrones, the Cabinet Office appeared unsure.  Now, I’m not going to allege that this highly-reputable institution was in any way responsible for the latest selection of Poet Laureate, but when duty calls, one answers, and does so with all conviction.  I can go no further, save to suggest that mine might be a pint of Sack when you’re next in the Grapevine, Mr Armitage.  As you have been, thank you for writing.

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