Workshop 10th March 2015

You know, I take my role as the lynch-pin of the declamatory arts in this great land of ours very seriously and there’s barely a week that goes by when I don’t find myself meditating on the current state of this thing called Poetry.   I can be minding my own business, engaged in one of my many Herculean Labours when I am struck between the ears by some devastating or if I am lucky, merely profound thought. Why, only last week I was busy swinging my little club on the putting green when I suddenly found myself wondering; ‘which font does Carol Ann Duffy use?’ Then, approaching the ninth hole; ‘is that John Kinsella’s natural hair colour?’ Followed by ‘Does Glyn Maxwell have a conservatory?’ Then (and this is a poser), ‘does David Crystal ever get fed up with being confused with David Crystal, or David Crystal get fed up with being confused with him?’

By the time I got to my Life Class later that afternoon (taken at the Town Hall by the perpetually grumpy Pharrell Williams, no relation), my mind was a mass of search questions and inter-leaved analyses, such as; ‘does Ian Macmillan get free toilet paper?’ ‘Would Michael Rosen be able to recommend a good orthodontist?’ ‘What is Jo Shapcott’s favourite Fleetwood Mac album?’ and ‘Does Gillian Clarke have loft insulation, and if not, why not?’ Now some might tell you that poetry is all about the words on the page, but I say no, for if I don’t know whether John Szirtes prefers Darjeeling or Earl Grey, then how do I know which tea to sip while taking a shimmy through his wonderful ‘Reel’?

This hunger for detail must emerge from my weekly exposure to poetry in the raw at Pitshanger Poets. We have been attracting a varied and eclectic group of late and I am keeping a note of font and paper choices in case those details come in useful in future. Olwyn Grimshaw (Times New Roman) kicked things off with an examination on her own abilities as a poet. John Hurley (Calibri, though I’m willing to be corrected) is torn between lost love and lost romance. Martin Choules (I would hazard a guess at Goudy Old Style, but you never know with Martin) then poured out a sympathetic treatise to the Blobfish, which no one has seen alive. Nayna Kumari (Times New Roman, but in blue, nice touch) wrote about a lost opportunity to tell her father the last thing he would want to hear. Gerry Goddin flourished a new tune for us (Arial Bold, guitar strings by D’Addario, my ear is as acute as ever) concerning a woman he knows who lives under a neon sign. Andrei Russel-Gebbett (Times New Roman on one third of a piece of A4, thinking of the planet) brought a poignant jewel of a poem concerning the loss of a parent.  Djivan Souren (Avenir Book and pointed hand-written amendments in biro) brought a pixelated race through the outskirts of the city. Owen Gallagher (Cambria, though I wish he would try a non-serif font) brought us a dimly-illuminated West of Scotland. Finally, Nick Barth (set as ever on Calibri) is clearly preparing for an open-mic gig.

Perhaps it’s possible to know too much about some poets, and while the Pitshanger Poetry Archive is replete with detail some of it is decidedly unsavoury to our eyes. For example, in the Sixties when smoking was still de rigeur for the jobbing poet, the variety and quantity of pipe tobacco consumed was commonly listed in the margin next to the Workshop running order. On one notable evening in 1966 the redoubtable Al Alvarez pitched up from the Red Lion with a veritable crowd of the New Poets shanghaied from his seminal anthology. By the mid-point of the meeting the clouds of deep blue ready-rubbed had become so replete and visibility so poor that the Secretary was forced to interrupt the meeting and call for miner’s helmets and lamps to be brought from the maintenance cupboard, where they were kept for just such an eventuality. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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