Workshop, 10th January 2017

I have never been one for holidays, keen to live my life by a mantra I learned from a favourite itinerant uncle who always claimed the last British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Zenda.  I remember him berating a woman while we were travelling by train through the Urals; ‘You are a tourist, they are on holiday but I am a traveller’.  The poor lady had only asked him if he wanted something from the trolley.  Nevertheless, I cannot help but be tempted by the glossy brochures which fall so readily from the pages of my favourite monthlies (there’s always a challenging crossword in ‘Men’s Compost’, while the year planner in ‘Christmas Today’ is indispensable).  The technicolour images of vast ships, resembling nothing more than towering Hotels bobbing in the sea should be enough for me to book my passage on a cruise which will take in The Pyramids, Lower Manhattan, The Northern Lights and heart-warming campfire scenes with a group of Sudanese pirates, while enchanted tourists await rescue by the chaps in UN helmets.

Thoughts of summer by the sea were absent this week, with several of our most of us still thinking about the Holiday just past.  Martin Choules has been noticing the scruffy forests that sprout upon the streets on Twelfth Night.  Anne Furneaux brought us a poem to her William who celebrated his eightieth birthday years yesterday.  Dunata Sotnink-Kondyck chimed with Martin and her own thoughts about Christmas trees.  Michael Harris has only recently taken up writing poetry in order to remember his mother when she became ill and this week managed to capture some terse, touching lines on the flight back from her funeral.  Alan Chambers has been thinking about the turn of the year and the comparison between art and nature.  James Priestman retold the story of Jezebel and others.  Christine Shirley and a friend were playing with a balloon in an enigmatic work.  Daphne Gloag has been honing her honeymoon memories, taking place in a dent in time.  Finally, Nick Barth brought back an old one, containing gently rotating boats.

Just in case you were wondering, I am not planning to go on a cruise.  It is a rare poetic talent that could draw anything momentous from two weeks batting quoits at heiresses while waiting for the breakfast sweats to subside.  The true poet has foam in their veins and sinews of hemp, with the occasional cleft hitch.  Their keen eye can spot a pedallo on the horizon through a force nine gale and can stand stock still on the foredeck, notebook in hand, bashing out a jolly ballad of jack-tar lads and derring-do while hardened mariners are below decks, re-acquainting themselves with their dinners.

Such a bard was John Masefield the ocean-enamoured Laureate, who first attended a Pitshanger Poets Workshop such a long time ago it’s a wonder a quinquereme was not missing a cabin boy.  It is perhaps Masefield’s visits to the workshop which inspired a trend for footnotes to poems which survives in our group to this day.  One can imagine the debates that raged over the number of apostrophes appropriate in fo’c’s’le or the lack of them in forrard, and so replete were Masefield’s early works with the vernacular of the sea that they were more footnote than verse.  Regrettably Masefield was glad to give the group the heave-ho when his writing career took off.  It seems the feeling was mutual.  As one un-named regular of the inter-war period put it; ‘Masefield was not the easiest of chaps to sit next to for two hours.  if it wasn’t the interminable maritime jargon or the sodden cable-knit clothing, it was the perennial smell of fish.  I do hope he managed retrieve his footwear’.

If you have been, thank you for reading


1 Comment

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One response to “Workshop, 10th January 2017

  1. Pat Francis

    In these years commemorating 1914-18, worth remembering Masefield served as stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli and war- correspondent in France.
    He wrote a good poem called August 1914: ‘And died, uncouthly most, in foreign lands’. I can get a copy to anyone interested:

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