Summer is well and truly here. The air is full of the sounds of the season – catgut on willow, leather on chalk and oil on tarmac. Due to the desire to go bowling down a country lane at upwards of thirty miles an hour I have asked my man to prepare the two-seater for the finer weather by folding the roof (my car has a mechanism developed in the West Midlands specifically for the purpose of removing fingers), removing the fish tin from its space over the exhaust manifold (the attractions of a freshly-poached salmon on arrival being less of a priority once the hunger for a quinoa salad sets in) and ensuring that the Jerry Can on the rear bumper is filled with water. I am sure the owner’s manual boasts of the car being equipped with an internal combustion engine, but strangely the machine creates as much steam as the Coronation Scot breasting the summit at Shap.
Steam of a metaphorical kind was very much in evidence at this week’s popular workshop (and where were you?). Alan Chambers depressed the clutch and turned the starting key with a short, sharp observation on languages foreign or familiar to the ear. Nayna Kumari engaged first and looked over her shoulder with a warning poem about a regretful abuser. Caroline Am Bergris indicated and prepared to proceed with a welcome poem on the power of the sea to glisten. John Hurley got us on our way with a fine reflection on a certain Theresa. Pat Francis took note of the prevailing speed limit with a poem of Haiku on the theme of museums. Michael Harris accelerated smoothly to join the dual carriageway with a poem which indicated he might just be leaving. Owen Gallagher paused at the services for a coffee and a packet of digestives while he reflected over the swift death of a favourite uncle. Nick Barth came close to topping his petrol tank up with diesel while he pictured the art of Hokusai. Doig Simmonds cast aside his atlas to take us to a secret place. Martin Choules found the perfect country lane to head down, and then, while telling us all about the Bible and its secret numbers, found himself stuck behind a tractor. Peter Francis found himself at the perfect balance of speed and economy as he described the Zen-like perfection of a bowl of tea. Finally, Daphne Gloag almost found herself exceeding the speed limit in a built-up area as she pictured a pile of rocks in the past, present and future.
There are few enough poets who have much good to say about motoring. I would welcome a few (civil) suggestions but the vibe on the blogosphere seems to imply that a poet cannot make a good driver and vice-versa. Perhaps it is because part of the charm of driving is that, speaking personally at least, the inner monologue fades to an imperceptible whisper while under way. Until, that is, the milkman attempts to race me to the mini-roundabout at Ealing Green and I find myself going fast enough to overtake Parsonage turning into Mattock Lane on his fully-recumbent, yelling words you never heard in a song by Paul Simon, I can tell you.
It would seem that it is nigh-on impossible to write behind the wheel, and I believe it is the fading inner monologue which is surely responsible. Given the busy life a jobbing poet leads and the lax attitude to responsible driving in times gone by it is not as if multi-tasking, or even the law was a barrier. Many are the descriptions of poets managing to finish a pint of bitter, tamp a pipe of tobacco and castigate a secretary while negotiating the Snake Pass in a barely-roadworthy Humber Super Snipe while the local bobby, smiling, waved them on. Whether Philip Larkin ever dashed off a famous piece while driving is unrecorded, however Martin Amis (who thought all novelists had bad teeth) maps Larkin’s decline as a writer to his growing prowess as a driver and posits that his long poetry drought coincided with his desire to perfect the heel and toe pedal and cross-arm steering techniques of his idol, the Swedish Rally Driver Ove Andersson, while on the daily commute to Hull Library.
If you have been, thank you for reading.