The trouble with reading poetry is that you only get to read the successes. Look through any of the slim volumes on the 821 shelf of the local library and you will never find anything less than competent. Maybe not to your tastes, but perfectly able to keep a metre or abandon same with obvious purposefulness. No tone deaf hack has ever managed to hoodwink a publisher save William McGonagall, and only he because he was an elaborate joke of Thomas Hardy’s.
But for every Alfred Tennyson there are a hundred would-be versifiers who are every bit in thrall to poesy, but are unable to spread their garret-jottings to the rhythm-hungry world. Sure, some of them would be Vogons, but a good portion must be Van Goghs only able to get a little wallspace in a sympathetic cafe. Taking it further will require somehow getting past the gatekeepers who edit the five or six literary magazines that have any impact on publishers, but alas these days those all-powerful half-dozen are cut from the same mould and woven from the same pod. So impress one, and there are five more births just waiting for your particular brand of brandishment. But find yourself out of fashion or an all-round square peg and only your immediate family or readers of obscure blogs will ever know just what we’re missing.
This week’s workshop alas contained no literary agent on the prowl, but nevertheless held sufficient poetic wisdom to shame even a golden age. Daphne Gloag has been listening to the tick-tock of time and wondering if it even exists, while for Anne Furneaux’s observations on the ward, the beat has come from machines that go ping. Meanwhile a very ordinary day for Michael Harris has been coloured by world politics and personal matters, though not in equal proportions, while Alan Chambers has been watching the boats go by without being able to lend a hand, and Danuta Sotkin-Kondycki has expanded her poem from last week about a busy forensic doctor and her out-of-a-bottle daughter. Then we welcomed two new unsigned balladeers to our weekly jam, starting with Katie Thornton and her guitar-playing muse whose lessons had a big impact and may even one day lead to being able to play, while Carol Thornton has been feeling as safe as a teddy bear. Martin Choules then told us all about an arsenic-coloured pretty dress to die for, and Doig Simmonds hit us with a poignant account of mixed-up attitudes to mixed-race non-conformers.
Looking through the Pitshanger Archives, one cannot help but wonder what these records must look like in a parallel universe, where different attendees caught the editor’s ear. Like the time when the great John Bull read his latest sonnet on wazygeese, or when Jane Doe won her bet with her unicycle, or when Joe Public was heard to comment that undertakers prefer to use both hands. Ah, the gems we’ve lost.