A popular sport of playwrites (that’s right, playwrites) is the imagined meeting: an Irish novelist almost meets a Russian demagogue in neutral Zürich, a professor actually meets an actress in his New York hotel room, and so on. Sometimes, however, the opportunity for the meeting is real, but the road is not taken. Take the example found in the Archives concerning T S Eliot: he came to a workshop in 1920 with a piece written that day after luncheon, and soon to be incorporated into The Wasteland. It describing his meeting with the currant-pocketed Mr Eugenides at the Cannon Street station hotel. It was well received, and Ezra Pound suggested that “the Ritz is the wrong sort of place for a Smyrna merchant to spend the weekend – try sending him to the Metropol instead.” And so the evening moved to a submission by Willie Yeats, and life went on.
But in a parallel universe, history repeats as farce: what if old T.S. had taken a wrong turn on his way back from the gents and stumbled into the inaugural meeting of the British Communist Party taking place in the same hotel (for even revolutionaries enjoy a fine pot of tea, although obviously not Earl Grey). Always something of a small-t Tory, what would he have made of these bowler-hatted bolsheviks ? Outrage at their intension to do away with capital letters on grounds of privilege ? Fascination as they debated whether playground rhymes and skipping chants were the real poems of the people ? Perhaps even admiration at their determination to seize the means of production by setting up workplace rhyme-exchanges and metaphor libraries.
There were no reds lurking under the tables at this week’s workshop. Alan Chambers sparked the revolution with his likening of language with a foreshore, and Doig Simmonds brought his meditation on a battle of love to the Finland Station. Martin Choules rallied the workers to try harder for the brighter tomorrow, while John Hurley found that there was no comfort left in the dreams of the past. Full-bearded Peter Francis inspected the message that his son was receiving in school, while Owen Gallagher stood in solidarity with the memory of the crofters, and Daphne Gloag found that the road to utopia is a wandering way through the woods.
So do we see an echo of this redder ‘Tomasz Stearnsovitch Eliotski’ in our own true-blue version ? Is the wasteland of capitalism-induced angst heaped upon J. Alfred Prufrock a clue ? Is Old Possum an Uncle Joe to the Jellicle Cat Co-operative ? Is Shimbleshanks an allegory for the nationalisation of the railways ? And the observant reader will notice that he never wrote “October is the cruellest month”.