Researching, composing, editing, type-setting and binding the blog has had to take a bit of a back seat this week as I have had vital poetry campaigning work to attend to. The burning issue is the Hanwell Hootie, an annual music festival based in Ealing’s smaller but no less salubrious neighbour here in green West London. The Hootie has been growing like Topsie over the last few years and now occupies a meadow, a dozen pubs and a Saturday night to a Sunday morning. The issue is that the Hootie appears to have defined itself merely a music event and offers no space to the declamatory arts. We at Pitshanger Poets have been campaigning on this issue by the normally effective means of complaining about it in a loud mutter in the Questor’s Bar but so far no commitment has been received from the Hootie Head Honchos. This week I was forced to take further action and appeal to the Hootie High Head Honcho Himself, I am referring of course to Mr Jools Holland.
You are no doubt eager to hear about the goings-on in this week’s Workshop, where poems of greatness got their first public airing to an appreciative reception. Nick Barth brought in a revision of something he thought of while repairing a computer, reflecting the birth, death and rebirth of the hard drive. John Cheung made a welcome second visit to deal copies of his Poker-inflected poem which had us all on the edge of our plastic seats. Michael Harris brought a tightly-argued and somewhat irrefutable piece on the value of love over narcotics. John Hurley has got himself into a lather over the inhospitality of the part of the world to offer succour and respite to another part, and will this change any time soon? Nayna Kumari brought another accomplished, if shocking picture, this time on the ramifications of violence. Daphne Gloag has been thinking about the word ‘light’ and brought us a villanelle on the very same. Peter Francis would have us believe he has been over-turning sexism in the golf club with this poem. Pat Francis conjured a memory of hearing the bombs falling during the Blitz. Martin Choules has been fretting over Gargoyles and why they are not bigger. Finally Anne Furneaux has been suffering compassion fatigue in the face of the complaints of a woman she met at a party.
The case I set out to make to Mr Holland is that the Hanwell Hootie always was a mixed arts festival. As you might expect from this blog, the origins of the Hanwell Hootie have been lost in the mists of time but what is known is that its success is not unrelated to the support it got from the Jim Marshall Company, manufacturers of amplification to the stars. The Marshall name has a strong association in the mind of the public with popular virtuosos such as Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Mrs Mills, all of whom exploited increasingly huge ‘Marshall Stacks’ in an aural arms race . What is less well-remembered is that in 1965 poetry ‘went electric’ when an exhausted Roger McGough, hoarse and drained at the end of a long tour, picked up a microphone discarded by a departing Beatle and recited a short poetry set to an increasingly fractious and turgid reaction from the audience. Roger carried on his performance, to shouts of ‘Judith’ (Roger later insisted he had never been known as Judith and was puzzled by the reference), little realising that the world had now changed. Before too long the vast majority of live poetry was amplified with poets such as Ted Hughes, Kingsley Amis, Thom Gunn and John Betjeman eager to achieve the now-fashionable Marshall Sound, replete with howling distortion and feedback effects. Live poetry rose to new heights of auditory and visual spectacle during the sixties, a process reaching its peak perhaps, with Allen Ginsberg’s notorious reading at the Isle of Wight Poetry Festival in which he set fire to his text using lighter fluid while reciting ‘America the Beautiful’, provoking near-hysteria from the vast crowd.
I was surprised to find that I was obliged to remind Mr Holland of these aspects of the declamatory arts’ illustrious past and even more surprised by the deathly silence my increasingly strident emails I have been obliged to write to his ‘people’ evinced. Finally, I received a very formal note claiming that Mr Holland had no relationship with any festival taking place in Hanwell and that since I was clearly getting Hootie confused with Hootenanny that I should perhaps like to desist contacting him or legal assistance of a particularly threatening nature would be sought. I think Mr Holland is trying to duck the issue.
If you have been, thank you for reading.