Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, National Poetry Day is over for another year! In many ways Poetry Day is the bane of an otherwise mellow, mild and delightful time of year. Autumn is traditionally the season for poets to don a woolly jumper, venture out to the park, take a few lungfuls of bracing air, gaze at the fluttering leaves in all their myriad colours, find a nice bench with a view of the deepening sky, sharpen a pencil, flip open a notebook and prepare to write something truly depressing about Winter. National Poetry Day ruins the sombre atmos like an ice-cream van cruising for business in a cemetery. I would be delighted to see it annulled and struck from the calendar, or at least moved nearer to the Eurovision Song Contest in May, where it might at least nestle next to something appropriate to its intellectual level. It would be better in May. Everyone knows you cannot churn out a good piece when the sun is shining and there’s a picnic to be organised.
Now, I realise I am coming across all Scrooge-like in the communal good cheer one is told to affect in the face of a National Day for the Support/Celebration/Cherishment/Utter Defeat of Something Dear to The Heart, but writing poetry is not like baking cakes. Poetry will never be exploited as a witty, heartwarming reality TV contest starring a talented but slightly past-it comedy double act as hosts, judged by a glamorous lady poet, permanently ready with the mot juste and a dishy, rakish poet with a touch of the Mr Rochesters about him whose sole purpose seems to be to maintain the female audience of a certain age. I cannot imagine anything more dreadful, and I for one would not countenance being involved in such a disgusting farrago – if farrago is the correct term, which I for one doubt. Not unless I was to be paid a quite obscene amount of money. Wait a moment, does anyone have a phone number for Peter Bazalgette?
Nevertheless, this week’s Workshop was a delicious, heartwarming affair. Peter Francis was first out of the oven with a multi-faceted recollection of his brother. Alan Chambers’ Birth Song delighted us and ought to do well in the public vote. New member Jagdish brought a freshly-decorated autumnal concoction to the group, redolent of Autumn. Angela Arratoon brought out an old recipe with a conversation with a school master, recalled on a train. Louise Nicholas gave us a fresh, slightly salty concoction based on observing office workers at play. Daphne Gloag has been gathering magic apples to bring us a poem about Now. Nick Barth has been baking us something of a Neapolitan flavour, with only four colours. John Hurley has been working on a bit of satire following a brush with an American recipe book. Finally Pat Francis rounded things off with a tender morsel on the subject of Gallipoli.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, Poetry is not a thing for the rank amateur. Now, it is true that we at Pitshanger Poets welcome all to our ranks. We do everything we can within the confines of our weekly, two week workshops to foster and encourage the budding, as well as the sprouting and downright drooping poet to Higher Things. But for us, every day is Poetry Day. The problem with National Poetry day is that bad poets will go and gather in large public spaces for ‘open mic’ sessions. It’s as if one were out one day for a nice stroll and suddenly came upon the Jarrow Marchers, Chartists and Wat Tyler and his mob of peasants in a park and with a shock realised that they had somehow acquired a Public Address system and an addiction to rhyming couplets. Quite apart from anything else, the presence of amplification equipment just makes the whole thing just a little too easy, does it not? Time was, a loud voice was de rigeur for the touring poet. It’s said that Robert Browning could be heard from one end of The Serpentine to the other. AG Swinburne could cause dogs to bark simply by clearing his throat, while Christina Rossetti’s public audiences were advised to position portable soft furnishings within easy reach of any nervous females following the mass faintings experienced at a notorious reading Goblin Market. If you have been, thank you for reading.