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 24th November 2015

The Pitshanger Archives are currently undergoing a revolution in miniaturisation.  The vast quantities of records, accounts and laundry lists are being converted into tiny packets of digital information: to wit, as black and white scans on microfilm.  Finally we can burn all of our old papers, and indeed our recent celebratory bonfire in Walpole Park on Bonfire night was a fitting end to the thousands of trees which had given their branches to our glorious bureaucracy.  We are moving away from paper to celluloid, from dead plants to dead dinosaurs, and it feels great.

We are now halfway through, and we have already cleared enough space on our shelves to fit…well…we’re find something to put in there, we’re sure.  Or maybe we could rent them out ?  And anyway, we now have enough shelf-miles to archive the next six hundred years of the Pitshanger Poets, give or take the odd apocalypse.

Now, there are those who claim that we have chosen a Betamax technology in microfiche instead of microchips, but our reasoning is sound: we are safe from hacking, viruses, incompatible upgrades and ruinous licensing agreements.  After all, what is said at our weekly workshops is sacred and never to be divulged.

Anyway, there was plenty of juicy intrigue at the latest meeting.  Martin Choules returned fresh from Algeria and filed a confidential dispatch on the underground heavy metal scene, while Gillian Spragg has been spying on a different African and recalling those blue-remembered skies.  Alan Chambers then slipped us a quiet word about the hidden voice in the cacophony, and Peter Francis delivered a coded communiqué spun out of a child’s story.  Christine Shirley’s concise cipher came to us on a postcard, longing for turnips and mountain gold, while Daphne Gloag sent her report, about the air, over the air – indeed, she sent it twice.  Finally, we received a full debriefing from John Hurley on his re-acquaintance with an old flame and an old habit.

Storing and securing information has featured before at the Pitshanger Poets.  Indeed, there was the hilarious story involving Sir John Soane and the purple umbrella…but unfortunately we are having trouble locating our records of it at present.  It seems that we may have overlooked the importance of a thorough indexing system, or the need to ensure that our papers were in the right order before they were imaged, but these are mere teething traumas.  It is true that some of the rolls of film read more like a fridge-door-full of magnetic poetry after a visit by James Joyce, while other rolls appear to have had their lens cap left on throughout, but rest assured that normal service will be resumed as soon as everything has been printed out and stapled together.

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Workshop 17th November 2015

Not every visitor to the weekly workshops is a budding poet. Some come rather to listen, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But generally attendees are encourage to join in the discussion if they wish.  The Archives are full of insightful analysis and witty asides, and these days it never gets out of hand.  No more spending forty-five minutes dissecting a haiku or completely failing to get the point of a Limerick.  The group these days isn’t excessively pseudy and is quiet happy to accept that a cigar really is a cigar.

Take this week’s workshop as a case in point in plain-speaking, for instance: kicking off with a metaphysical invocation of trust and self by Caroline Am Bergris, followed by John Hurley’s meditation on the difficulty of mediation.  Gillian Spragg then encouraged us to not settle for the mundane in the face of a good night, and Peter Francis decoded the symbolism in a tapestry’s maidens, dogs and rabbits.  For Owen Gallagher, the dramatic tension lay between reality and the imagination, while Olwyn Grimshaw brought a textual reimagining from the German that posited the Earth and the Moon as radiant lovers.  Alan Chambers presented his thesis on the spacial importance of exploring the reefs and defying the lighthouses, while Martin Choules postulated a synergy between duality and binary, but saw his whole theorem unravel because of a unconscious typo.

In the face of the effluvium of verbiage that too often erupted back in Edwardian times, it was always refreshing to be able to record a member who chose to keep their own council.  For every Ezzy Pound proselytising his manifesto for Imagism, it was a relief to note an Alfie Housman daydreaming of his blue remembered hills again.  And as for Wally de la Mare, he attended for months on end in the quiet of the moonlight with never the least stir.

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Workshop 10th November 2015

Our landlord, the Questors Theatre, is as busy as ever, and the place at the moment has an extra sparkle as trees, tinsel and fairy lights shine out to celebrate Guy Fawkes night and Remembrance Sunday.  One wonders if they will survive as long after the event and still be glistering come Leap Day. Ah well, at least their current production is suitably grim, in a good way: The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

Watching this tale of Puritan intolerance, it is easy to imagine the Seventeenth Century as a humourless time of unrelenting sobriety, but let’s not forget that it also produced Andrew Marvell, John Evelyn, and most of all John Milton.  The Archives reveal that all three attended Richard Slaney’s fledgling Tuesday evenings at Pitzhanger Manor in the 1660s, but they were hardly brash young Turks by then, heady with Restoration licence.  No, they had all provided verse and commentary throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth, and one suspects that the later events in Salem would have horrified them – especially Milton, who famously advocated for free speech even in the face of Cromwell, warts and all.

The speech was certainly free at this week’s workshop as Owen Gallagher gave voice to the theatre of the mind, wherever that is.  And in a welcome return, Caroline Am Bergris both grinned and blanched in a poem was so good that she read it twice.  Meanwhile, Daphne Gloag has been watching birds about to fly and looking for half-rhymes for ‘love’, while John Hurley describes the terrible and mundane sights of dementia.  Martin Choules has been feeling suitably seasonal (as in November-y) and worried that it might all be too good, and Gillian Spragg has been overhearing a one-sided conversation for two.  The sharp realities of a failing love affair have put Peter Francis in a ballad mood, while Alan Chambers has taken an old verse of his and stood it on its head, and it’s such a pretty picture !

‘Jackie’ Milton beta-tested much of Paradise Lost with the nascent group, but it did not always go down well with his fellow poets.  Some found his Satan to be dangerously charismatic, while others thought his God too much of a tyrant.  One even challenged why he didn’t take his thou-shalt-nots across the Atlantic since they obviously didn’t belong in these Restoration times.  But Milton stayed in the Pandæmonium that was London, perhaps preferring to rule the literary world in Hell rather than to serve in the brave new Heaven.

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Workshop 3rd November 2015

Late again !  Apologies and mea culpae to all who expect their weekly diarising of events Pitshanger to be timely.  However, if one may say, punctuality and poetry are rarely bedfellows, if only because poets are often night owls.  Indeed, in past centuries, the very idea of a workshop commencing at eight on the dot was an absurdity when many of the participants had not yet roused from their beds.

Here in the archives we keep a tight schedule, and a time was allocated on Wednesday for writing up the previous night’s proceedings.  Alas, too late was it discovered that we had quite run out of yellow spiral-bound memo pads, and that morning’s paper was rather more interesting than usual and its perusal had lasted quite longer than breakfast.  And perhaps now was the ideal time to undertake a paperclip audit.  Oh, is it lunchtime already…?

No such tardiness at this week’s workshop, kicked off by Martin Choules examined the dole-to-musician pipeline that afflicted many a disadvantaged youth, as expertly demonstrated by Gerry Goddin and his song of a less-than-eager lover.  Daphne Gloag has given her piece on leap seconds and leaping words a final polish to perfection, while John Hurley recalled past industrial relations and the important role played by tea.  Alan Chambers has been wondering what Nora did next after leaving the doll’s house, and Gillian Spragg gave us a brace of holiday companions, moving from a small scene of bliss to that moment when it’s time to say goodbye to our foreign currency – sort of a cameo and a cambio.  Finally, Peter Francis recalled three horses from his youth, (and there’s not many of us can say that.)

Things got particularly bad with the Romantics, promptness-wise, with many a meeting delayed as Sir John (or rather his housekeeper Mrs Conduitt) stood at the front door with a lamp for hours awaiting the princes of poesy.  Perhaps it was Byron who took the bays for laxity – one can imagine his publisher’s frustration as yet another deadline passed and still no sign of his long-promised Don Juan.  Lord B. would respond with a scribbled letter muttering something about it needing more cantos, or how he was still trying to find a rhyme for orange, and would then disappear for months.  But at least he did finish it, unlike Coleridge, whose epic Kubla Khan barely made it to the end of the first page.

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Workshop 27th October 2015

Thanks to the dogged determination of the dear old two-seater to laugh haughtily at the annual Ministry of Transport examination and stick a finger in the eye of its concomitant emissions tests I am rarely required to travel on one of Her Britannic Majesty’s Nationalised Railways (I am right in saying they are still nationalised, am I not?  I cannot imagine any idiot would attempt to privatise them).  As a result, I am rarely forced to suffer the crowding, hardships and privations of train travel, an aspect of life in these islands so many of my friends and acquaintances would complain about If I ever let them get a word in edgeways.

The item in shortest supply on a train, unless one is Robert Johnson strumming out a few chords on his guitar, legs swinging gently out of the open door of his own private box-car as it climbs the Appalachians on a slow-moving South-bound freight, is space.  The ne mot plus ultra of train travel is the double seat, preferably at a table and even more preferably without two dreadful salesman types crouched down behind their laptops and yelling orders at underlings into their iPhones occupying the bench opposite.  Acquiring this much space can be a challenge, but on a recent trip to Edinburgh to pick out a new tartan picnic rug I recalled the advice of my dear old friend and confidant Andrew Motion and made sure to carry some poetry to read.  Such is the philistinism of Cameron’s Britain that a chap reading a bit of Browning, Ezra Pound or WB Yeats on a train is guaranteed to clear the seats around him, particularly if he is reading it out loud.

Reading aloud runs through the very quick of the Pitshanger Poets, and in a packed programme tonight presentation skills were to the fore.  Gillian Spragg made eye contact with her audience as she read the twice-delayed (she, like every other human being on the planet has had trouble with her printer) exploration of a marriage teetering on the edge at the end of the day.  James Priestman sorted his overheads into the right order before launching into a re-telling of the story of Elijah.  Daphne Gloag eliminated her non-words with her exploration of the Standard of Ur.  John Hurley allowed good time for Q and A following his mild rant concerning the visit of a certain Chinese gentleman.  Nayna Kumari made good use of gestures for emphasis in her short, dark piece concerning bullying.  Alan Chambers projected to the back of the room presenting his poem about Tom, which may, or may not be for children.  Peter Francis remembered to leave behind copies of his slides for another instalment in the recollections of a father he barely knew.  Owen Gallagher had his objection-handling well prepared as he brought back his poem about burying his father.  Finally Nick Barth cleaned his glasses and removed the loose change from his pocket before re-reading his poem about a very mysterious café in Ealing.

Naturally it will cause barely a raised eyebrow among my increasingly sceptical readership to be informed that no less a poem as The Night Mail would not have been the success it was without Pitshanger Poets.  The Tuesday Night workshops were regularly invaded by a projector and cinema screen as Auden read the latest incarnation of his iconic poem to the latest rushes from the GPO film unit.  The contributions of Auden’s fellow poets to the process imbued the poem with a ‘rightness’ which still leaps off the page today.  As with so many poets, it is clear from the repeated appearances of ‘Night Mail’ in the PP Archive that Auden could not rest until he had reached perfection.  One Tuesday, he expressed himself finally satisfied with the combination of spoken word and moving image.  He dispatched the final draft to the film unit but tragedy struck; the envelope was lost in the post.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 20th October 2015

I would not want any of the more adventurous, cosmopolitan readers, alighting at here at our virtual Pitshanger Manor on their way from (for example) ‘RC Mojo’, the British Radio Control Blog, and briefly pausing before skittering off to Amdram.net, the social network for amateur theatre, to come away with the impression that Poetry is a hobby.  It is not.  Poetry is not, as Thomas Stearns would have it ‘just one of your holiday games’ (passionate about naming he may have been but I have it on good authority that Eliot used to refer to all of his cats as ‘Tiddles’).  Clear evidence of this assertion can be drawn from the fact that poets are famous for their hobbies – Eliot himself took great pleasure in his long-term idle pass-time of book publishing.  Finally, very few people actually enjoy the act of writing poetry, and I am assured that those that do are kept under close supervision by the mental health authorities.  If one then begins to entertain the notion that vanishingly few people enjoy reading the stuff either, one begins to wonder why we bother leaving the comfort of the fireside on a Tuesday evening, but that way apathy and lassitude leads.

Certainly tonight’s Workshop was no holiday game.  Peter Francis strode out to bat with another episode in a fascinating sequence based on the life and death of his father in far off Shropshire.  Olwyn Grimshaw took up the cudgels and built a fine rubber on the theme that to believe in a sane world is madness, and isn’t it?  Alan Chambers cut the deck and dealt us a scene from the North of France and the last war.  Owen Gallagher has also been thinking about the passing of his father and his story of a home-made coffin chipped him a fine lob down the line.  Daphne Gloag dropped the last red and lined herself up nicely on the black with a rumination on the odd extra second that the powers that be occasionally drop into the calendar.  John Hurley stepped up to the ockey and aimed a triple twenty at those who would fail to make peace.  Martin Choules re-waxed his carvers and took off for the moguls with a tirade against the plane tree.  Finally, Nick Barth hooped his red and lined his mallet up for a roquet off the opponent’s black with a dream he had about returning to the moon.

I have to apologise for the hiatus in the PP Blog for the last two weeks.  The fact is I was hard at work refurbishing one of the finer scuttlebuts in my collection.  The gussets needed a dose of mucilage which I derive from the purest ungulate myself, assuming I can locate a deceased unicorn, of course.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop 6th October 2015

Magna Carta is on the Ealing mental horizon again, thanks to a grand conclusion to the local poetry competition.  Events take place this Sunday in Ealing Library and the Drayton Court public house, including the prize-giving by none other than George Szirtes.  Further details are only a google away, although other search engines are available.

Of course, this won’t be the first eagerly-attended poetry competition that Ealing has seen.  A quick rummage through the Archive’s local news and mutterings section reveals one occasion in 1879 when The Great Western Railway, keen to promote their newly opened Haven Green station, launched a challenge to local residents to celebrate the iron road in verse.  Naturally, the Pitshanger Poets felt especially suited to the task, and for several weeks before the deadline they workshopped and honed their efforts, meticulously polished their iambs, ruthlessly hacked off their final stanzae, and pruned out any superfluous or overwrought adjectives.  Surely this prize was theirs for the losing…

Meanwhile, back in the present, this week’s workshop was a far less competitive affair: Martin Choules was joint-first among equals with his pondering on why the British have so few restriction on what one may name a child, followed by Louise Nicholas bidding us to meet her mother, just because she loves to say it.  Christine Shirley has been envying the birds, and wondering if they might carry her message home, while Gillian Spragg has been imagining a link between loss of hair colour and loss of speech.  Leap-seconds have been springing in Daphne Gloag’s mind, while Owen Gallagher’s burglar’s head is full of the scent of lavender.  John Hurley has been peering into the future and not liked what he’s seen, while Peter Francis has been gazing backwards into his childhood to find a riot in his young head.  And that brought us to Alan Chambers getting stuck into conker season.

Finally, the winners were announced.  Would it be Alfie Tennyson’s peon to the GWR’s new Queen Class of loco, The Lady of Swindon ?  Or perhaps Algy Swinburne’s latest in his trademark style: Great Way Roundel ?  Could Bobby Browning scoop the gold with his reworked How they Brought the Good News from Bristol to Paddington ?  No !  First prize went instead to the eight-year-old grand-daughter of the chairman.  But then again, her Chuff-Chuff Woo-Woo was really rather good.

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