A recent works excursion to the Troubadour public house in the Old Brompton Road and their Coffee House Poetry event led to two observations among the interns: 1) the lack of coffee, and 2) the surfeit of poets. It seems that half of West London is be-mused and verse-iferous in their barditry. Following an evening of readers who used the stage to cover all stages between bracing and whimsy, rhyming and freestyle, we managed to grab a few words with the hostess and all-round orateuse, Anne-Marie Fyfe. It turns out that she runs her own workshop, somewhat like the Pitshanger Poets, but perhaps more of a seminar with a professor than a round-table in the student’s union.
Not that there wasn’t plenty of advice and experience at this week’s workshop, beginning with Nayna Kumari giving a fairytale a jolly good shake up and talking to, and John Hurley’s younger self attending a wake and on his way to a blacksmith’s forge. Pat Francis recalled how messenger pigeons were yet another casualty of the Great War, while Daphne Gloag has been occupying herself with a kaleidoscope. Doig Simmonds has been spending his nights not sleeping but listening, while Nick Barth has been people-watching at the airport and wonders how well they might climb a tree. For Peter Francis, a union of two ends up in secession, while Michael Harris has been getting existential in Soho and Alan Chambers has found new inspiration in an amaryllis. Finally, Martin Choules has been keeping a weather-eye on the glass and his taste buds set to metallic.
The practice of established poets leading a workshop for laymen and shopgirls is not as recent as one may think. Alf Tennyson held a thrice-annual session on how to write long, epic poetry, passing on his tips for making sure your verse runs to at least a thousand lines. He would then set his pupils an exercise, give them a theme, and slip off down the Red Lion for a few hours before returning. Tom Hardy tried his hand at teaching the art of the limerick, but inexplicably could find no takers. And poor Gerald Manley Hopkins longed to share with the world his invention of springing a rhythm, but since he feared the creep of ego and had never published one of his masterpieces, it did make his workshops difficult when he was unable to give any examples.