Workshop, 14th February 2017

Well, that’s the compulsory day of singleton-shaming over for another year.  And rest assured that the subject will feature no further in this blog.

Anyway, down in the Pitshanger Archive beneath Walpole Park, we have been inundated by messages, requests, appointments and final demands, so much so that our unpaid interns have been unable to cope with the endless rounds of receiving, reading, cataloguing, composing and launching the necessary pigeons in reply, and we now have such a backlog of correspondence that we have one of the world’s premier stamp collections.

And what are all the Mrs Trellises of North Wales writing to us about ?  Why, poetry !  Or, in the more unpleasant ones, why poetry ?  We get letters asking how best to compose a rondeau, how best to compose a rondel, how best to round out a roundelay and how to redoublé a double entendre.  We get invited to mixed metaphors, rejected from limericks, poison-penned in rhyming couplets, and liked for our similes.  People want to know how to avoid splitting an infinitive, how to avoid people who insist one avoids splitting an infinitive, how to start a career in poetry, how to finish a career in poetry, how to finish last week’s crossword, and how to get a head-start on next week’s.  No wonder our zero-hours archivists are racking up the overtime.

Meanwhile, this week’s workshop was a world-away from such epistolic apocalypse.  John Hurley was first to break out the Basildon Bond with a touching reminiscence of a much-missed loved one, and Michael Harris uncapped his trusty Waterman to comment on the weather.  Alan Chambers has been leaving notes for us requesting some paintings, while the unpensionable Owen Gallagher has been reluctantly collecting prescriptions.  Next up we had Katie Thornton quite unable to verbalise her emotions yet remarkably able to jot them down, then Daphne Gloag using very little ink to say so much about a flying visit, followed by Pat Francis recording an imagined conversation that was never said but is now written.  It then fell on Peter Francis to write an inventory of an old master depicting an unusual love triangle, while Martin Choules has been scribbling a sestina in the supermarket, and Doig Simmonds has been looking for love in a maze and practicing his mirror writing.  And just before pencils down, we had a convalescing Anne Furneaux in a muffled kerfuffle further down the ward.

As mentioned, Pat Francis’ poem this week tells us of a meeting between Billy Blake and Mickey Faraday.  In actual fact, such a meeting did take place at the Pitshanger Poets one Tuesday evening in 1823.  On the surface, they may seem quite opposites, one looking for mystical answers where the other sought the science of the situation, but this pair were both unschooled, self-taught cockney upstarts – apprentices, craftsmen, barrow boys in the market of ideas, each with a personal, unorthodox take on religion.  Where one railed against the dark Satanic mills, the other braced up to the Great Stink.

But a little known fact is that both men were a terror to their respective postmen.  Keeping ones dispatches in timely order has always been one of the more taxing aspects to being a gentleman of letters, and the sight of a bulging sack over the shoulder of a scarlet tailcoat was enough to put all Heaven in a rage.  Blake would hang up a sign at his Broad Street residence declaring ‘beware of the tyger’, while he would hide behind the door making growling noises, while Faraday would go even further and surrounded his rooms at the Royal Institution with a mesh of wires through which he would attach a voltaic battery just as the postman reached for the letterbox.  Thus he proved the principal that his ‘Faraday Cage’ could block the passage of all signals and telegrams.


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