Straight down to business this week, with no time for preamble. We archivists are but teeming termites in a complex warren of labyrinthine mazes far too engrossed in our own particular cog to be able to stand in awe of the awful, awesome machine that is Poetry. From the formulation of modern nursery rhymes for a society without nurseries, through the playgrounds of the ever-evolving clapping chants, passed on from one six-year-old to the next with a little bit of mutation sometimes creeping in, to those long afternoons in double English, where a jaded old master must try to enthuse her class that no Billy, poems don’t have to rhyme. The world of the Word will never stop turning, so neither must we, alas.
It is sometimes quipped that it is an artform with more writers than readers (which would mean that many a versifier does not read even their own efforts, which actually explains a lot.) But such wags are right about one thing – we all of us are poets at heart, stumbling upon a pithy couplet here while trundling down the pasta isle, or a telling turn of phrase there while insisting that no, you really haven’t got any PPI. The human being is a talky animal, indeed it rarely shuts up for long enough to hear the marvellous off-the-cuff bon mot of its neighbour.
And we in the Pitshanger Archive have to keep a record of all of it. Well…all of it that comes into the Pitshanger Poets, anyway, which is a lot more than just the verse our attendees have printed on the page. Like the time when George ‘Don Juan’ Byron overheard Percy ‘Bliss’ Shelley boasting about his latest conquest…
No, dammit, didn’t we just say that we didn’t have time for all that ? Honestly, you can’t trust poets to be brief about anything verbal, and don’t get us started on their famous last words…of course, most of them have them memorised decades in advance…oops, off on a tangent again. So, on with this week’s workshop, which we are in no illusion is the real reason our loyal readership turn up each week, and never mind all that waffle about the time Tommy Eliot’s cat was trapped in Erwie Schrödinger’s suitcase.
First up was an unhurried John Hurley looking wistfully on his past and failing to take the advice of his own title, easing aside to give Aisha Hassan centre stage with her prose poem about her grandfather’s flight from his partitioned homeland and his subsequent wistful looking-back at the cups of tea of his youth. Alan Chambers hove into view, island-hopping the Hebrides, but what lies ahead ? Daphne Gloag then was in no hurry to examine whether there was any such thing as time to enable hurrying in, and Michael Harris has been his lane over the decades, as the trees go up over the decades and come down overnight.
Pat Francis has decided she is not yet finished with her Victorian vignettes about the London poor, and has extended the series with every intension of doing so again, while Peter Francis has time to pity the rich their burden of wealth. For Owen Gallagher, the road less travelled has become so overgrown it is fair to say that there is no way through the woods – which means a longer way home for him, giving time to ponder if it’s worth the effort to re-cut the shortcut. Maybe next year…
Time has also been on Martin Choules’ mind as the Summer Solstice approaches, but he knows he only has to wait and it will soon be Winter, and wait some more and before he knows it, next Summer is here. And finally, proving the virtue of patience, Ariadne Kazantzis has spent the intervening months honing her tale of teenage and alien eco pro-action – for while her superheroes’ mission cannot wait, the telling of their antics certainly can while the perfect metaphor is hunted down.
Well, however languid the readers may be, the Archives must run at their usual OCD-rush, getting the minutes of the workshop written, rewritten, spellchecked, typeset and letrasetted into the Archive’s current copper-bound ledger before being interrupted by the latest Andrew Motion memo on the decline of the comma, or a Michael Rosen round-robin on the many overlooked poems about trousers.
Such busyness did not impress William H Davies when his tramping brought his Ealing-way shortly before the Great War. He joined a Tuesday workshop and read first, with an early draft of his poem Leisure. He then spent the rest of the evening stood beside the French windows, staring straight ahead, unblinking, untwitching and unyielding as the others attempted to conduct themselves under his gimlet gaze. But the longer he watched, the shorter their own attention spans became, and the meeting broke up by nine-fifteen. It seems that while Bill Davies certainly did have time to stand and stare, nobody else had the time to be stared at.