Rivals, rivals. You may have heard on the grapevine that the Pitshanger Poets have been putting themselves about a bit. Through no fault of our own we were graciously invited to read at ‘The Story So Far’, a pixelated event that took place throughout the breadth and length of this fair Borough. On Saturday the 31st I rolled back the hood and released the dickey to cart a small gang of poets to the Southall Library, while on the dot of sometime in the early afternoon last Saturday we were to be found ready for action at Acton Library/Swimming baths (a wonderful municipal combination only made possible by the invention of the laminated book) to bring welcome declamation to the huddled, dripping masses. Warm thanks go to Daphne Gloag, Caroline Maldonado, Owen Gallagher, Caroline Am Bergris, Martin Choules and Nick Barth for donning their cagoules and packing their flasks, meat paste sandwiches and penguins to make the trip.
Both events were made all the more enjoyable by the presence of fellow poets in the audience. Perhaps to draw parallels with the duelling banjos scene in ‘Deliverance’ is to stretch the truth a little, but there’s nothing that raises a Poetry Workshop’s hackles more than knowing there’s another Poetry Workshop in the room just itching to jump on a protracted trochee or flaccid metaphor. Fortunately the Acton Poets were delightful company and there was no call for the Lord Byron signature extra-heavy Sovereign rings that I keep handy in the poetry satchel ‘in case of trouble’.
There was no sign of trouble at the week’s Workshop and a peaceful time was had by all. Nick Barth kicked things off with a rueful exploration of life in an unjust world. Alan Chambers made a welcome return to the happy throng with a similarly rueful exploration of infirmity. Christine Shirley brought a rare jewel of a piece reflecting the threads of light and colour that Rembrandt wove into his self-portraits. Marissa Sepas made her debut with something of a tour de force concerning the deeply remembered sound of war from her native Afghanistan. Daphne Gloag brought a revision of her poem wandering into and through a rarely-straightforward past. Finally Martin Choules brought up the rear with a Valentine’s Day themed Love Song for a misanthrope.
Regular readers of this column may be under the impression that Pitshanger Manor held something of a monopoly position for an honest working poet knocking around circa the 17th or 18th centuries, but little could be further from the truth. Other poets watched the rich camaraderie and gay banter of the Manor’s Dining Room with envious eyes and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us (or am I thinking of the Martians?). Some say it was the over-tall lectern provided to Alexander Pope on his first visit to Pitshanger Poets that inspired him to make his fortune by publishing a translation of Homer, secure a fine house in Twickenham, discover a spring flowing into the River Thames, construct a Grotto over that spring and establish his own Tuesday night Workshop in brazen competition. Whatever the truth of it, the dark and damp conditions of Pope’s Grotto were not at all conducive to the recitation of poetry written on long scrolls of paper with water-based inks, and despite considerable investment in guerrilla marketing with street urchins paid to accost wan young gentlemen scribbling with quill pens in country bowers, the Twickenham Poets was a flop. To this day however, a poet from Ealing never feels entirely safe on a Tuesday in Twickenham and is strongly advised never to adopt a contemplative pose, toy with a writing implement or gaze cogitatively at nature’s wonders as the early evening approaches, just in case, just in case. If you have been, thank you for reading.