Workshop, 14th November 2017

Finally the books have returned to the Library at Questors and the shelves are once more with purpose.  The cabinets are still locked, though, keeping the scripts therein pristine and unread.  Meanwhile at the Archives, the contents of our own stacks are being actively digitised, as in being pawed over by all manner of greasy hands.  Time to get the microfiche project back on track, but alas these days funding is only available for ‘grand’ projects – for what grant-awarding grandee wants to be known for supporting a minisculisation ?

In other subterranean news, the caverns beneath Walpole Park are feeling the pinch of Autumn as the temperature plunges and the water table rises.  There is now a chill upon our airs, a frost upon our Robert Frost, a rime upon our Ancient Mariner.  The interns of course complain incessantly, but gas fires are out of the question with so much paper and 150° proof absinthe about the place.

But plenty of warmth in this week’s workshop, beginning with John Hurley’s lament on our modern world’s turn to violence, and a back-of-the-envelope masterpiece from Bashir Sakhawarz.  Samir Hazlehurst has been taking three bites of the fruit of knowledge, not exactly forbidden but with definite consequence, while Alan Chambers is listening for meaning in nature and crosswords, and Owen Gallagher has been enjoying his birthday pizza with extra batter.  Two poems about empire next, with Doig Simmonds remembering the fanatical struggle for independence and Martin Choules taking a tour round the pink parts in his childhood atlas.  Pat Francis then began meeting with the various literary conscripts and inmates of Epping Forest and Peter Francis imagined a touching yet rough night scene on the freezing Embankment.

We tell the interns that this cold is good practice for their years of freezing garrets, but grumbling about the cold is nothing new about poets, who love an excuse for a good moan.  Back in Sir John’s day, Mrs Conduitt wasn’t always available to bank up the fire and sometimes they had to meet with nothing but their visible breath to keep the ink from freezing on their quills.  Indeed, local legend has it that this is the real reason why Sammy Coleridge never finished his vision of Xanadu, complete with its caves of ice, dreaming of a sunny pleasure-dome to warm his hands against.  And no wonder Mary Shelley would start and end her New Prometheus in the Arctic wastes, where the stolen fire is spluttering in the long, long night.

But while Blake and Byron shivered, Perce Shelley sat around in his undershift and stockingless, as oblivious to the cold as a two trunkless legs of stone.  “Don’t be so soft” he chastised Bill Wordsworth when the latter asked if they really needed the casement open – “That there is the West Wind, blowing out the chaff and blowing in the change.”  He then proceeded to cajole Johnny Keats to join him skinny dipping in Sir John’s pond, as soon as the ice could be broken through.  In later years, Mary would insist that he never really drowned in the Gulf of Spezia, but had simply swam down the Styx.

In honour of the one the interns call ‘The Bysshe’, we have given them each a Pitshanger Archives-branded string vest and long-shorts to wear as they engrave each microfiche slide by hand using big magnifying glasses and single-bristle brushes.  We hoped it would inspire them, but instead they tend to look upon their work-clothes and despair.


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