What a night ! Verses leapt and sonnets soared as poem after beautiful poem was silkily sonorrated into the willing ears of a crowd thirsty for verses. The sighs of contentment that were to be heard between couplets were as mellifluous as the gasps of astonishment. Truly, the words were on fire last Monday night in the Studio, as seven actors brought every element of their craft to the faultless lines of our poets in residence. All in all, it made for a grand night out.
But then, we should not be surprised at the literary ability of the common man, nor the quick wits of the average housewife. Humans use language every day, and use it in extraordinarily inventive ways. Even an inconsequential chat about football during a cigarette break or overheard commuter communing with their mobile phone will be replete with metaphors, similes, puns and new coinages to such an extent that we cease to be aware of how clever we all are. And why wouldn’t it be so, for humans are a talky species, indeed most of the time we simply won’t shut up ! So, as National Poetry Day approaches, the only surprising thing is that we only celebrate the fact for one day.
All of the above was much in evidence at this week’s workshop, where few were the silences and many were the voices. Alan Chambers led us out, reworking his recent poem about foxes by, among other things, increasing their number. Will it be four foxes next week ? Peter Francis was next up, walking the tightrope of how much to reveal to the reader beforehand, and John Hurley left us wondering if his woman in the fishmongers was being picky or choosy. Pat Francis went looking for silence in stars but couldn’t hear it over the throbbing of her heart, while Nayna Kumari has been stepping out alone, and inadvertently stepping on a few toes – but then who do those toes think they are to judge her so ? Michael Harris, meanwhile, has been off to the races but those around him are losing faith, while Martin Choules has been using the wrong title and the wrong rhythm, and Louise Nichols tells us how sharp her mother was with both a sewing machine and penetrating question. The French Revolution has not fulfilled its promise for the subject of Owen Gallagher’s quiet tragedy, while Ariadne Kazantsis is still experimenting with how an alian and a superhero might best save the world.
Of course, public poetry readings are nothing new to the Pitshanger Poets. The Archives reveal one memorable event in 1755 when, after much cajoling by sometime-attendee Thomas Coram, the group agreed to give a reading of their works to raise funds for the Foundling Hospital – after all, where would literature be without its waifs, strays, and assorted orphans ?
Alas, the resulting event was not an unqualified success, not helped by the then-current vogue of publishing anonymously, which saw many readers reciting from behind a heavy curtain. Thomas Gray tried to win the audience back with a rendition of his famous Elergy, but unfortuntely his doomy moping was not much of a feelgood crowd-pleaser. And surely it was a mistake to top the bill with Samual Johnson, reading an extended extract from his latest offering, A Dictionary of the English Language, starting from A and continuing for page after page of abacus, abasement, abbess, abeyance, abide, abode, abolish and abomination (though strangely not aardvark). As George Handel was heard to wearily comment to William Hogarth “wake me up when he gets to zootomy”.