I am delighted to be able to report that the intellectual life of Great Britain, London, but most vitally for the future of poetry, Ealing, is gradually returning to normal. Here in the Queen of the Suburbs we have already experienced the Comedy, Jazz and Blues Festivals (they may not have been precisely in that order, it was all such a blur). Over there in Hanwell, the Hootie was given a slightly-delayed outing down in The Meadow with two stages fielding rock, blues, funk, folk, jazz, blues-rock, classic-rock, punk-rock, jazz-funk, folk-rock, country-rock, blues-folk, jazz-blues-folk, folk-funk-blues, comedy-folk-blues and a frantically busy musical genre helpdesk.
The Hanwell Hootie is a wonderful event, and without in any way wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, for poets the festival comes loaded with a significant caveat. True, it is a mere pleasant stroll down from the very heart of Ealing, but, as has been expressed in this blog before, even with this panoply of music, exotic food, alcoholic food and candy-floss, there is a gap in the presentation armour. I am speaking of poetry, and in particular, amusing poetry. As the Welsh Eisteddfod, Viking Moot or even the works of Homer so ably illustrates, there is nothing so entertaining as listening to a bewildered old man with a long beard telling funny stories and doing all the voices.
The Hootie did feature a musical-comedy-folk-rock stage and a succession of artistes came on with guitars, banjos, harmonicas and laptops to sing their songs and respond in a ribald manner to hecklers, real or imagined. Special mention must go to the talented Ben Norris who encapsulated the genre with his very rude songs. I particularly enjoyed Jack White (‘Jack White, don’t play my guitar’). I took the opportunity to congratulate Ben afterwards and purchased his CD which he was good enough to autograph with an insulting dedication. I will treasure it.
It was while chuckling gently at Ben and his colleagues that it struck me that no one has yet scaled the heights of musical-comedy-folk-ballad quite like Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now, I am not going to pretend that I am old enough to have known the sprung vicar, nor, of course, do any actual recordings of his performances exist. Yet, we have another source, the Pitshanger Poets Archive. Reading a poem of Manley-Hopkins today, one cannot help but be struck by the bucolic awe with which he writes about the world around him. There is a definite ‘hullo clouds, hullo trees’ about him, to quote Nigel Molesworth’s foil, Basil Fotherington-Thomas, but this in itself would not conjure hilarity. What the PP Archive is at pains to point out is that when watching GM-H, it was all about the delivery.
Manley-Hopkins was an excellent musician and he never attended a PP Workshop without his ukulele, guitar, bass drum and a cymbal or two. The Archive reports he had excellent timing, and much of the comedy arose from the needlessly long pauses he would insert between some words and the emphasis he placed on others. I get the impression that William Shatner had nothing on him. Knowing this, the options for making a few lines like:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Imagine hearing, ‘over rim’ (ooh-er missus), ‘roundy wells’ (I bet they were), ‘tucked string’ (that would chafe) ‘finds tongue’ (it’s been said about him) with appropriate eye contact, mooning gawps, motifs on the uke and strident emphasis on inappropriate syllables. Kenneth Williams does not even come close. Manley-Hopkins performances were eagerly anticipated; by all accounts there was not a dry seat in the house.
But speaking of seats in the house, we are delighted to be able to confirm that the Pitshanger poets have returned to their rightful seats in their home at The Questor’s, Mattock Lane. Our first in-person session took place on Tuesday the 14th, in the Library, with the window open to encourage healthful ventilation. While we are of course deeply sad to recall those who are not able to return to the wobbly table; Alan, Anne, Gerry and Bernice, we encourage those of you who are able to brave the outside world to draw close (but not too close) and experience an evening of poetry again.
That is indeed what Nick Barth did on Tuesday, introducing his imagined experience of interrupting a range of thespian activities when opening the door of the Library on any random evening. John Hurley is writing a continuing series about disappearing traditional skills, tonight he remembered the peat cutters. Finally Martin Choules brought to light an obscure but useful writer’s tool, the interrobang, a cross between and exclamation and a question mark. Now he shouted, where could I possibly use one of those!?
If you have been, thank you for reading.