I wonder if you find yourself, like I do, upon retiring to your wing-backed reading chair, lifting the freshly-ironed broadsheet to the altitude of the aquiline nose and screwing up the marble-like blue ones, wondering who the blazes fiddled with the agenda to the extent that the movie reviews are where the news ought to be. The truth is that these days reality resembles nothing so much as the plot-line of one of those horrendous action flicks, save for the notable lack of enhanced beings of a cocky nature flitting in and beating the bad guys to a welcome pulp.
It is against this appalling background of sheer appallingness that we may find some respite by making a return to language, to find a little inspiration in the mind of the poet. Flicking through a snippet of MacNiece, a few verses of Rupert Brooke or even trundling down a length of Tennyson one can find relief in rhythm and wryness in rhyme, such than being blown to pieces by an anarchist with a black sphere marked with the word ‘bomb’ or being cut to the ground by a hail of pungent, synchronised rifle fire from antique weaponry sounds like the very epitome of nostalgia and brings a warm glow to the heart.
We at Pitshanger Poets are glad to continue promote the principles of the open exchange of ideas, freedom, good humour and companionship by gathering together in a slightly stuffy room once a week and reading each other’s fresh produce. As poets we are not afraid to be witty, acerbic, critical, reflective, sympathetic, cruel, kind, conformist, anarchic and bloody-minded, though as I think we have all found by personal experience it’s a tall order to encompass all of the above in a three-act verse play in ballad form without finding a pal who will let you shack up in his house in Tuscany for a month and be happy to lay on the Chianti by the case.
I do not believe there was a pressing need for Chianti as we kicked off this week’s workshop. Daphne Gloag made a stand for freedom by continuing her examination of Time with some musings on the beginning of the stuff. Ann Furneaux fought against totalitarianism with a memory from her husband William of seeing a thousand aircraft sweeping towards Germany to give the Nazis something to think about. Alan Chambers continued his contribution to free expression with part of a new trilogy utilising the power of the sea to evoke the arc of existence. Owen Gallagher made a welcome return to the workshop after an extended trip around Asia with a dark memory of his father in Glasgow. Michael Harris made an appeal to the free movement of people with a piece wondering why he still lives here in dirty old London. Martin Choules cheered us all up with a short piece about tragic deaths in fiction. Aisha Hassan brought us a very liberal, LGBT view of two rivers on two continents. John Hurley has returned to the origins of Western Civilisation for his piece on illuminated manuscripts. Finally, Nick Barth has attempted to work his way into the mind of the insurgent.
The question I find myself returning to is this; can poetry convey action, or is it the recourse of those attempting to describe a state of mind or rhetorical musing? In a world of appalling appallingness, should the poet not focus on describing the bang and thud of events rather than the blue remembered lily pads? Such a contrast occurred to me as I uncovered records of a certain David Herbert Lawrence making the long trip from Croyden to try out some of his early poetry at the Manor. Lawrence was already gaining himself a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man and one can imagine the scene as the young, slightly gauche hothead encountered a much more debonair and accomplished William Butler Yeats one Tuesday evening. The antipathy was clearly mutual and according to the archive at one point they were asked to take their discussion on the relative approaches to language out of the dining room and into the parlour, where a jolly fire was burning. Lawrence had expressed himself appalled at Yeates’ continued adherence to dreamy Pre-Raphaelite tropes and a heated debate developed. When the Workshop finished, the Chairman looked in on the Parlour, intending to invite the two argumentative poets to the Red Lion for a drink and a handshake. Instead he found that the discussion had turned into a full-on brawl, with both men stripped to the waist, writhing on the hearthrug. The Chairman swiftly closed the door and the Pitshanger Poets Archivist later related that she hoped that Lawrence would grow out of his earthier tendencies. I am not sure such a thing would be easy to achieve. If you have been, thank you for reading.