Workshop 24th September 2014

Poets are not easy coves to buy presents for (just ask any reigning monarch with a Poet Laureate to keep in hock) and if you ask me, it’s all down to technology. Most of the popular pursuits the great mass use to sponge up time, from strumming a few chords on a guitar to knocking a small white ball over some grass with the intention of missing a hole, involve an increasingly sophisticated array of equipment, gadgets, gew-gaws, bags, cases and for some, tiny bite-sized squares of computer software my Man insists on calling ‘Apps’. The trouble with having a poet as a bosom pal is that once you have dropped a quantity of lucre on a few leather-bound notebooks, a pencil, sharpener and rubber, that’s just about it for a birthday gift. Come the following Anniversary one finds oneself scraping the barrel with a lucky Gonk and an amusing Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary.

I suppose we should be grateful that Technology has not yet found a way to invade our gentle art in the way it has muscled in on just about everything else worth doing the hard way. There are no ‘apps’ that can do for poetry what the Drum Machine did for Disco Handclap Artistes, or that can attempt to jazz up a dull metaphor the way my Tablet Computer can spruce up my Aunt Agatha’s dull and shaky holiday snaps. However, perhaps the problem is deeper. Poets are just not given to trusting the Modern World.

Perhaps this is a bit of a sweeping statement. Here at the Pitshanger Poets we embrace all forms of the declamatory arts, modern as well as traditional. In a packed program tonight (and where were you?), Marylyn Keenan kicked things off with a disturbing evocation of a trapped dragonfly. Clare Glynn Chitan has been earwigging the great and the good in her local hostelry. Daphne Gloag recalled a cactus flower that glowed with its own special, transitory light. Caroline Am Bergris presented us with a captured moment from the evacuation of London during the Blitz. Louise Nicholas wrote about a memory from Israel in 1972, when she became immune to many things, including peeling onions. Helen Baker remembered the decline of a once-sharp old gentleman. Nick Barth presented a businessman, frozen in time in New York. Martin Choules wrote a sharp, funny piece about assumed knowledge. Owen Gallagher gave us an economically written short story about visiting an art gallery with a nefarious friend and finally Gerry Godin sang us his version of ‘Let’s Do It’ with great aplomb.

My own in-depth study of the lives of the Pitshanger Poets has revealed just how exposed many of them have felt to the ordeals of the Modern World. In the early Nineteenth Century poets found themselves beholden to a vast, shadowy organisation called ‘The Post Office’. They had to acclimatise to the concept of trusting an envelope containing their most precious work to a dark slot, in the vague hope it would reach a faraway publisher or editor. Poets committed their life and soul to this new invention, for The Post Office came with no backup facility and no undo button.  Privacy was a concern frequently voiced in those early days of Her Majesty’s Postal Service, as information in transit could be vulnerable. For example, when a frenzied Poetry Fanatic took it upon himself to break into a Pillar Box with a large axe in order to intercept a small parcel just posted by Mrs Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and when it was later revealed that the package contained a number of racy cameos intended for her husband who was away in Cumbria, the Press had a field day in what became enigmatically known as ‘The Hacking Scandal’.

When some decades later a Post Office Engineer was able to catch Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the Ball Room of Pitshanger Manor following a Tuesday Workshop and requested that he recite ‘The Charge of The Light Brigade into the then newly-fangled recording apparatus, Tennyson was unimpressed by the intrusion but keen to reach a new audience. He was even less impressed to learn that the portable deep fat fryer and merrily cooking basket of chips was a vital component of the sound recording process, a practice, by the way that was not done away with until the nineteen-fifties.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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