Naturally with an informal group such as the Pitshanger Poets, there is no official membership or waiting list, nor a secret handshake and initiation ritual. Poets belong simply by attending the workshops, and similarly they are free to leave by finding other things to do with their Tuesday evenings. Sometimes such leavings are unannounced, an intention to return the following week collides with real life and ‘way leads on to way’. At other times, such partings are unavoidable as the poet will soon be a continent away. And often it transpires that a goodbye was merely a hiatus, an ‘old pen’ returns after harvesting fresh material from the wider world.
It hasn’t always been so laid back on Mattock Lane. Back in the days of Sir John Soane, there were many who clamoured to attend such illustrious salons such that Mrs Conduitt had to be posted at the gates with strict instructions to only admit those who gave the correct password, which was inevitably in sonnet form. This inevitably caused problems for opiated Romantics whose memories were often not the sharpest when ‘a drowsy numbness pains the sense’. But Mrs Conduitt was a stickler, and one wrong foot or mis-sprung meter was enough to send a wannabe waif back to his garret unheard.
Tonight’s attendees were old friends all, starting with Nayna Kumari’s short, sharp j’accuse to abuse, and Peter Francis’ villanelle to a problem child in a problem society. Marilyn Keenan then recounted how her land-born father had stared out to sea, and Owen Gallagher gave us a bucket list worthy of Oliver Reed or Lord Byron. Next up was Alan Chambers, whose fingers were on his keyboard but whose mind was elsewhere, and Olwyn Grimshaw, who had translated Horace’s ancient ode to the temptress Pyrrha, and then given a new voice to her defence. Martin Choules had an heraldic tale of a knight undone by his inappropriate charge, while the absence of fishing nets and the smell of leather left John Hurley melancholic on revisiting his childhood home and finding it had since gone upmarket. Finally, the final moments of a dying lion in a frozen frieze had stayed with Daphne Gloag for much longer.
To any former regulars reading this, musing on auld acquaintance, remember that you can always find us ‘between red death and radiant desire’, every Tuesday. And to any who already wish to resume old habits, but are prevented by circumstance, well you will be just as welcome next year as next week. Just ask the young John Masefield, who would drop-in when on leave from HMS Conway, before apologising for his upcoming absence with a sheepish smile and an offhand comment that he “must down to the sea again.”