Being an accomplished poet and wordsmith can be a lonely business. Even in the welcoming bosom of my club in town the chaps scratch their heads and crease their brows when I attempt to explain the subtleties of an evening workshop at the Pitshanger Poets. I am a proud member of the British East-Asian Opium Eater and Retired Schoolmaster’s Club, by the way, which was formed in the midst of the last war when a German bomb destroyed the dividing wall between two formerly separate establishments on St James’ Square. Undeterred, the plucky Retired Schoolmasters mucked in with the honoured and largely somnambulant descendants of the veterans of the Opium Wars, and a ramshackle bridge was constructed linking the two respective smoking rooms on the First Floor. The two cadres got on famously, though rather fewer Retired Schoolmasters were up and about early enough in the morning to take breakfast thereafter.
This evening’s Workshop was replete with wordshmithery and accomplishment. Olwyn Grimshaw appears to have been inspired by her subconscious self. Marilyn Keenan has been doing some pruning and has left the blossoms of spring all over the ground. Helena Catherall told us about love, and whether it isn’t all a bit of a jest. Owen Gallagher brought back a poem about a working man reaching the end of the road. We were pleased to meet Fowzi Karim, who normally publishes his poetry in Arabic. Fowzi read us a poem about a bar in Baghdad, a bar which no longer exists, from one of his collections. Christine Shirley then pulled us into the depths of the battles her father has been fighting with two notorious enemies. John Hurley told us he was being selfish, but he’s only looking for love. Martin Choules has been picking through the Magna Carta with his usual eye for detail and has found some surprising clauses in this foundation of democracy. Finally, Nick Barth bumped into a drunk in a supermarket who seemed very together for all that, for all that.
To return to my earlier theme, while there have been several Pitshanger Poets who have been proud Opium Eaters, I wonder if they felt the sense of dislocation and ennui which stems from the inevitably divided self, as the philosophies of the respective Poetry Workshop and Club could not be more different. On the one hand the British East Asian Opium Eater and Retired Schoolmaster’s Club is governed by a comprehensive and robust set of rules, which stretch to twenty volumes and are housed in the Club Library. These rules cover everything from club satchel colour, minimum mortar-board dimensions and thrashing cane tensile strength in the first ten volumes to acceptable purity levels, approved clay pipe manufacturers and effective fire prevention measures in the second ten tomes. The Constitution of the club is proudly displayed on two adjoining boards in the surprisingly airy double-entrance hall of the club. All members understand the stiff sanctions that result from forgetting one’s gym kit, losing one’s prep or dealing uncut skag on the street at a mark-up of less than 400 percent.
In complete contrast, my Club fellows are bewildered when I tell them that the Pitshanger Poets have but a handful of ‘unwritten’ rules, which are as follows; don’t be late (this is never enforced), always bring copies of your poem (assuming the photocopier at the library is working), no reading ahead (though it’s dashed hard to stop the determined read-aheader), no lengthy preambles (there is a blackboard rubber ready to throw for this one) and your first visit to the Poets is free of charge. We have no rules governing membership, workshop preparation or management structure. As I point out time after occasion, poets do not take well to being organised, unlike retired school masters who like a bit of discipline, and the very effective Opium Eaters Supply Chain team, whose organisation provides so much valuable support to independent farmers in Afghanistan, a purely coincidental side benefit of which has been the maintenance of a remarkably healthy Club balance sheet for some years now. If you have been, thank you for reading.