Workshop, 23rd August 2016

Well, that’s it then.  The flame has been quenched, the rings have been dismantled, the races run and shots put.  Goodbye for another four years, except for the Winter games in two years time, except since it’s in the Winter, it’s more like 18 months.  Anyway, now that the distraction has finally left town, maybe we can finally get some work out of our unpaid interns, although that’s looking unlikely now that the new football season has started…

Of course, poetry and sport are not complete strangers.  Many a wordsmith has attempted to pen a witty chant for the terraces, while others have sought gentler pursuits to extol such as cricket and fishing.  And many a sporting hero has been a lover of poesy: here in the Archive we have reports from the early 30s of Fred Perry popping down from his home in Pitshanger Lane to flirt with Virginia Woolf, and thirty years later we read how racing driver Graham Hill loved to drop by in the close season to chat about rowing and rondos with Kingsley Amis.  Meanwhile the young John Betjeman may have disparaged the clerks of Slough who meet in various bogus-Tudor bars to talk of sport and makes of cars, yet he himself was not above fawning over the light verses of fellow attendee C B Fry.  Mr Fry, of course, was a famous all-rounder, as happy at the crease as he was at right back defending the goal, and likewise he was just at home with a villanelle as with an heroic ballad.

Limbering up at this week’s workshop were the first team, led out by Christine Shirley remembering her parents accompanying her to the station, followed by scrum-half James Priestman’s take on an ancient Biblical story as told by one of its players, and Daphne Gloag brought her jolly hockey sticks while walking backward through a wood.  Silly mid-off Martin Choules has been pitying the poor penmanship of pressurised pupils come exam time, while veteran backstop Doig Simmonds recalled the death of an airman in a grassy meadow.  Owen Gallagher told us how he was a trainee jouster in his youth, apprenticed to Camelot, while team-maker John Hurley recounted the cycling seasons of the year and mascot Anne Furneaux has been complaining about complaining about the weather.

When it comes to sportsmen waxing lyrical, though, there is one clear heavyweight: Muhammad Ali.  Always ready with a rhyming quip and boastful bagatelle, what better ambassador could there be for taking verses to the masses ?  Has trash talk ever sounded so elegant ?  In 1974, the Archives reveal, during his preparations for the Rumble in the Jungle, he came to London to appear on Parkinson, and found time to swing by Ealing. Also present was Philip Larkin, preparing what would prove to be his final collection, High Windows.  It seems that his editor had managed to dissuade him from including This Be The Verse on grounds of taste – but one evening with The Greatest and he was Mr Bespectacled Respectable no more.  Who the hell were Faber & Faber anyway ?  Think they could tell him what to publish ?  Time to start stinging like a bee…


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