At this week’s workshop, we had ten poets in attendance, and it is as well that they remembered the one proviso to reading their work at our meetings: to bring ten copies of their poem. Of course, readings ones own work is not mandatory, and we often have attendees who are happy just to listen and sometimes comment.
Anyway, it is a shame our modest request for handouts has not always been adhered to, and in one instance in the late 1830s it almost caused a tragedy. It seems that Robert Browning was in attendance, keen to present his newly-written Pied Piper of Hamelin which, despite running to 303 lines, he had diligently written-out ten times by hand. His enthusiasm was such that he was only a little disappointed when just three others showed up on that particular Tuesday, but his sanguineous equanimity was sorely tested when fellow-attendee Leigh Hunt had not bothered to provide any copies to his work Jenny Kiss’d Me, despite being a mere eight lines long.
Our decimal denizens tonight included nine readers, led off by Owen Gallagher’s rewriting of a Downing Street plumber who hears to much, followed by an older and regrettably wiser Caroline Am Bergris who would rather be an automaton. John Hurley viewed a river in two different lights, and wonders if we are angering the ancient god, while Clare Glynn-Chitan found her own little brook in a welcoming forest and Martin Choules was grubbing up myriapods in the undergrowth. For Helen Baker, a daughter in need became a child for one more day, who also brought out a change in style from her mother, while according to Gerry Goddin, the thing that links Mr Bean, Tom Daly and John Major is falling in love. We had a re-tooled post-Christmas retelling of wise men, black holes and empty rooms from Daphne Gloag, and rounding us off was the fifteen-year-old David Hovatter, as channelled through his adult self reading us the first poem he ever wrote, complete with sea-orphaned stones, buckled trousers and slaughtered goats.
As for the young firebrand Robert Browning, so incensed was he over Mr Hunt’s thoughtlessness that he challenged him to a duel, and not even the pleas and protestations of Frederica Perceval (who was chairing the meeting that week) could assuage his honour. It could have ended very nastily, had not ten o’clock come round just in time and the group broke up to reconvene in The Red Lion a few minutes later where all was forgiven over a pint of Landlord Littleboy’s best porter ale.
Mr Browning’s own advice on the subject is apt here: …let you and me be wipers / Of scores out with all men – especially writers!