I was battling through the crowds swarming around Ealing Broadway the other day, a melee which appears to lose all sense of humanity when in the vicinity of a well-known pants-to-foodstuffs retailer. I believe I know the reason for this phenomenon; stollen. It always seemed sensible to me that of all the aspects of the traditional German Christmas Vickie and Albert brought Blighty, they kept schtum on the subject of stollen, given how dry and dusty the lumps of the stuff posted by Tante Claudia (or Claudia Spells to her friends) always appeared to be. At first we assumed they were a ‘green’ form of packaging used to protect the bizarre wooden knick-knacks sent every year. It took Marks and Sparks to add a little much-needed moisture to create a smackerel which could have conceivably been served with pride and a nice glass of milk of Paradise in Kubla Khan’s Xanadu Tea Rooms.
I took refuge from the M&S scrimmage, reaching Ealing Green and happened upon Pitshanger Manor, still under wraps, mid-way through her restoration. It’s a good place for the poets amongst my readership (if any) to find a corner of a bench, whip out the old pigskin-bound and jot down a few lines for the use of, should inspiration strike. What did strike was the realisation that the new house, being a recreation of the old house is going to be a lot smaller than the old house, which was pulled about a bit to make the new house, which has now been done away with. I hope I have made myself clear. Sir John Soane’s original house did not give the Tuesday Workshop a great deal of space, especially considering the large number of hangers-on the sessions attracted.
Hangers-on are not unknown at today’s workshops, but welcome they are. This week’s meeting was another full one and I am thinking of barring the door at 20:15 to reduce the chair-shuffling which sometimes (Andrew) mars a performance. However, professional is as professional does and we maintained a steady stream of high-quality prosiosity. Olwyn Grimshaw got things off to a cracking start, imagining the thoughts of The Illuminati as they consider the recent series of momentous events which have beset the world. Michael Harris brought his friend Syd to work through some memories of his Granda’ in Ireland. Owen Gallagher remembered his mother and the dark treatment she was given in the name of mental health. John Hurley wrote about a halcyon evening in Ealing. Martin Choules wonders if the Black Dog of depression has a partner in the Grey Rat of paranoia. Nick Barth is launching off on his own Grand Tour with an early memory of driving. David Hovatter brought us a very fresh work, so fresh it was hand written and photocopied. Pat Francis is a historian and has translated a short excerpt from ‘Saver and Spendthrift’ an extended verse written in Middle English. Husband Peter Francis engineered a short, intricate piece without verb or punctuation. Daphne Gloag brought back an older poem written in the light of String Theory and wondering what might be crammed into all those extra dimensions. Finally, Donata Sotnik-Kondycki woke us all up with a rousing song translated from the Polish.
David Hovatter’s handwritten poem reminded me that PP Workshops were much more complex in Sir John’s time than they are now as a result of one of our founding rules – bring copies. Anyone who has attended a poetry workshop featuring doyens of the form (and who hasn’t?) will tell you that though age may not whither them it may make them a touch mutton. From the earliest days of PP, written and spoken word went hand in glove, necessitating the introduction of so-called ‘proto-copiers’, young scribes, usually students, who would do their best to copper-plate the latest drafts before the workshop began. The building was thus crowded with youngsters with pencils, pens and sheaves of paper, ready to copy the work. As Pitshanger Poets Workshop records show, some poets were more legible than others. The late Victorians were particularly bad, whole stretches of Browning being reduced to ‘mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm, de-dum de-dum’ by the rushed scribes. The practice of employing local students to was put under threat when a nervous Christina Rosetti brought an early draft she hoped to enter into a competition for a Christmas Poem in ‘Scribner’s Monthly’. One chap managed to smuggle a copy of her poem out of the building but was informed upon after being overheard boasting about the deed in the Red Lion. We do not know whether the editor of Scribner’s Monthly would have fallen for a young scallywag street-hawking; ‘half a nicker for a simple yet powerful description of winter, featuring a personification of the moaning wind, centred around a touching Nativity Scene revealing the underlying humanity within our mysterious and detached theological doctrine, Squire?’.
If you have been, thank you for reading.