Workshop 17th February 2015

Ah haikus, the tweets of the poetry world. And yes, that is haikus with an s. There are many snobs who will tell the unwary of how in Japanese the singular and plural utilise the same word, which is jolly useful advice the next time we are speaking Japanese. Meanwhile, when adapted to the gently rolling and sometimes rainy landscape of the English Language, they must necessarily adapt themselves with suitable hiking boots and umbrella.

But even when fully naturalised into every culture around the globe, these far-Eastern immigrants will always bare the distinct trait of their origin: their length. These telegrams of condensed wordsmithery are a crash-course in concision and a byword for brevity. Nobody ever complained that a haiku was dragging-on. The downside to such packets of pithiness, of course, is that they’re over before they’ve really started. Just as our ear is getting attuned to the reader’s accent and cadence and we start to pay attention, the seventeenth syllable has been and gone and we’re wallowing in the reflective silence that inevitably follows.

There were plenty of words to be chewed over at this week’s workshop. Martin Choules cast off with a bit of a rant against the bloody Tudors, followed by Caroline Am Bergris charlestoning to the simple pleasures of the flapper. Olwyn Grimshaw made a welcome return to the group with a potent piece about one who the war has left behind, and we had a small yet perfectly-formed bon mot from new member Andrei Russell-Gebbett concerning bedders and shellfish. Next, we were lied to, denied and evaded by Nayna Kumari, or rather her poem, and on a similar theme John Hurley has been mulling on politics, for ill and good. Our second newcomer of the night, Ben Lawrence, brought a meditation on invalidity and appetite which might be called purple prose, but only on account of his choice of stationery. Finally, Daphne Gloag recounted magic apples and the now of Now in a verse that was as cryptic as it was brief, and Marissa Sepas mused on lust and love and invted us with her eyes into her secret abyss.

Here at the Pitshanger Poets there have been occasions when several attendees have between them brought fewer lines of verse than would fill a sonnet. Here in the recently expanded Archives, our state-of-the-art punch-card filing system reveals that following Ezra Pound’s introduction of the oriental form into English in 1913, they became all the rage. In some weeks, the poets would be in the Red Lion saloon bar by twenty-past eight. John Betjeman, surprisingly, took to the form with gusto, although he did bridle at the stricture never to continue on to a second stanza. Ah, what might have been…well, actually the Archive gives us a glimpse throught this early draft he presented: Oh come friendly bombs / And fall on Slough, it isn’t / Fit for humans now.

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