Workshop, 3rd January 2017

Dear reader, I must open this week’s sermon with something of a road to Dagenham experience, by which I mean the kind of change of heart that would persuade one to eschew the Austin Mini and take up with a Ford Cortina.  It occurred this morning when, as I emerged somewhat creakily into the pre-dawn gloom and contemplated another dreach day of scant daylight, when the only comfort glimmering on the horizon is a stale mince pie and a dusty glass of ginger wine, when the warmth seeps out of one’s bones like soup through a blanket, when purposeful pine needles collect under the socks like Velcro, only to eviscerate the foot when the slipper is donned, when the toad ‘work’ is a welcome alternative to the lizard ‘abstinence’, that as a poet this really is my favourite time of year.

Perhaps I have come late to the realisation that now is the time to dig out the somewhat high-fallutin’ terms such as shard, indurate or scintillant, words that one might sensibly avoid in balmier climes.  The poet might try a coruscate or even hint at an evanesce.  Certainly, this is no time to shun desolation or crepuscular.  The daring bard might, who knows, be willing to stretch to a caliginous if the spell-checker will accept it.  Now is the time, while the twinkly-eyed nostalgia of Christmas is safely out of the way and Spring is still an Odysseyan trek across the far horizon to put the poetry editor on danger money and break the seal on the Sesquipedalian Society Thesaurus received for a credible third place  in the Warren G Harding Memorial Pub Quiz.  Poets of the world unite!  We have nothing to lose but our chagrin.

Certainly, there were a few fifty-dollar words cast about in this week’s Workshop.  Doig Simmonds let rip with a poem inspired by archaeology that sported the word oedematous with not a hint of shame.  Nick Barth followed this up with a pilgrimage through the Roman Empire fearlessly brandishing an amorphous.  Daphne Gloag then took up the cudgels with a short trip into the ever-hyphenated realm of space-time.  Alan Chambers has been working on a villanelle that hid within its sparkling clarity the word immensity, but was no less direct for that.  Danuta Sotkin-Kondycki took us back out into the outer reaches of vocabulary with a poem translated from Polish into English preserving a smidgeon of Latin.  Finally, Martin Choules brought the room back to the warmth of the English language with a tightly-argued piece celebrating the absence of gender in the mother tongue.

As always my spiritual journey this month has been guided by poetry.  I was leafing through a doorstep of Thomas Hardy when it fell open at ‘The Darkling Thrush’.  I initially took it to be a Christmas poem, but a quick spin through the PP Workshop Archive shed a little light on the poem’s gestation.  Published to coincide with the new century (the Victorians, being proper people with a need for deferred enjoyment, began the 20th Century on the first of January 1901), it does indeed herald the beginning of the year.  However, Hardy had brought the poem to the group a whole twelve months before, well in time to meet a Christmas deadline for 1899.  As an old hand at these things I instantly realised what had occurred.  The Darkling Thrush was initially written as a Christmas poem but poor Hardy became so caught up in the seasonal chores that he missed his deadline not just one but two years running.  As a result, he did what any sensible poet would do, darkened the tone, added desolate, gaunt and beruffled and re-purposed the piece for the fag-end of the Nineteenth Century, getting it in the post just in time for a poetry magazine desperate for a bit of high-class copy in a desolate January, 1901.  It was another peerless bit of marketing from the master of Gloom-Lit.

Happy New Year, and if you have been, thank you for reading


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