Workshop, 14th July 2015

You know, we poets write about the strangest things. It’s almost as if any idea that can be dashed down in a few lines and offered up to human scrutiny is perfectly legit for a poet.   Where other creative types would be worrying about characterisation and plot, or how to get funding to turn said idea into a movie, or standing in front of the gouache rack at The Hobby Store mulling over just the right shade for the endless sky or melting clock face, a poet needs nothing more than a sharp pencil and the back of an envelope to set a thought free in the world to go where it will.

The recent hullaballoo concerning NASA’s rash decision to harass the innocent Dwarf (really? Shouldn’t that be Midget? Leprechaun?) Planet Pluto yesterday brought to mind a theme that never seems far from the minds of the poet, that of space. Not a Workshop goes by without one of our number reaching out to touch the void and bring big bangs, big crunches, pale blue dots, rocking-horsehead nebulae or the spot on the nose of the man in the moon to the table. Not that I mind, but pretty soon any hope of discussing a poet’s use of metaphor, simile, enjambment, word play, rhyme or rhythm is ejected out of the starboard airlock and we are all channelling Prof. Brian Cox to correct the poet’s wayward use of the word ‘parsec’ or conjure up the definition of a light year in old-school rods and poles, just to show off.

There was a little showing-off in tonight’s Workshop. Lift-off was handled smoothly by Peter Francis who brought one of a series of poems he is developing about the life of a Mill-Girl at New Lanark. Separation of the solid rocket-boosters was carried out by Marilyn Keenen remembering the last holiday she spent with her father. Ann Furneaux ejected the main fuel tank with a wry piece on the power of the Twitterverse to exaggerate events. Nick Barth fired his thrusters to achieve low-Earth orbit with a piece on people who like to colour in maps. Finally Martin Choules docked with the ISS with a compact piece comparing Pluto with Greenland.

I blame Carl Sagan for this obsession with the Cosmos. The great astronomer visited the Manor in 1971 and was good enough to hand out that year’s Pitshanger Poetry Prizes. He got the group all fired up with his description of the phonographic disc that he was campaigning to have attached to the planned Voyager Missions. The Pitshanger Poets, led by the Mars enthusiast, musician and lyricist Jeff Wayne, decided to steal a march on the Americans and a deputation was organised to take a copy of the ‘Best of Pitshanger Poets’ 8-track cartridge that was doing so well in His Master’s Voice at the time directly to Whitehall. It was securely wrapped in tin foil and addressed for the attention of ‘The Chief, British Space Program, Woomera, Australia.’ Within the package the poets thoughtfully secreted an exploded diagram of an 8-track cartridge player, photocopied from an article in The Gramophone Magazine to assist the aliens in replaying the recording. The Pitshanger Poets had complete faith that The British Space Program would see the sense in the exercise and have the cartridge posted aloft on board the Prospero Satellite, being prepared for launch aboard a Black Knight rocket at that time.

Quite what the Martians thought of the poetry, of course no one knows, but as Jeff Wayne used to say frequently; ‘No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.’ We hope that means they liked it. If you have been, thank you for reading.

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