I don’t know about you, but when I was a lad learning poetry by rote was really the thing. I would think nothing of a daily course of some stanzas from ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ for breakfast, a few hundred lines of ‘Don Juan’ for lunch followed by a recital of ‘Beowulf’ in the Anglo-Saxon before bed. I had a well-thumbed copy of RL Stephenson’s Children’s Garden of Verse, which I would dip into as a kind of sorbet between courses to cleanse the palate, and you would have had to prise the thing from my cold, dead hands should you have wanted a read of it. Fortunately for my future reputation the habit wore off as soon as I pitched up fresh-faced and declamatory at the dear old school. Here I was taken to one side by the nearest Tough for some friendly, if forceful advice on the subject of being a smart-arse.
Given his background and evident ‘hullo sky, hullo clouds’ demeanour I am surprised that our now Ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove did not receive a dose of the same character-forming medicine. As you are no doubt aware, Michael was a big fan of forcing innocent children to memorise poems. We hope his successor completes his sterling work and that many generations of Britons leave school fully-equipped for the modern world by having Pilgrim’s Progress or To His Coy Mistress rattling around in their heads. It’s always useful to have a few poems up there should the Walkman decide to chew up your cassette of Rick Astley’s Greatest Hits on the 8:30 to Waterloo.
The poems in this week’s workshop are really too shiny and new to be consigned to memory just yet, but history alone will tell. Clare Chitan was struck by a corner of the world that was almost heaven. John Hurley was impressed by the concentration of a watch maker. Caroline Am Bergris was also able to perceive a little piece of grace amongst the privations of an inner-city estate. Nick Barth lost a ring, but doubts in a quantum sense if anything ever disappears. David Hovatter brought us a poem from the archive, catching the face of an ex-girlfriend in the audience at Questors. Anne Furneaux continued the ‘Addlestrop’ theme with her contribution. Finally, Martin Choules has also written for a competition, this one down by the sea.
The former Ealing Poetry Festival, as sponsored by this august organisation between the wars brought many famous poems to a live, receptive audience. The poetry aficionados of Ealing would crowd into Walpole Park to hear the stars of the day such as Yeats, Auden, or Betjeman reprising their greatest works, and often it would just need a cue from the poet, such as; ‘I will arise now and go where? I can’t hear you Ealing!’ or ‘how are we gonna stop that dog from barking, Ealing?’ or ‘finish this one for me Ealing! Miss J Hunter Dunn, furnished and burnished by what?’ for the crowd to rise with one voice and round the piece off in a rousing fashion to the obvious delight of the author. If you have been, thank you for singing along.