Workshop, 9th January 2018

I don’t know anyone who really enjoys January, do you?  I suppose the package holiday people are feeling bright and hopeful that punters are still leafing through the tome-like supplements that fell out of the Christmas Radio Times, sharpening their credit cards to book another slap-up cruise of a lifetime.  The diary and calendar industries are looking for that tell-tale upswing in the early January sales figures that demonstrates beyond doubt that the smart phone and the tablet have at last ceased to ravage their market and the same retro hipsters who are now buying vinyl have all decided to revive the Filofax and the cute kitten calendar for 2018.  I am quite sure that the vast Christmas Tree recycling multi-nationals are enjoying their bumper month and badgering their marketing departments to have another go at re-popularising further varieties of indoor foliage, from the Valentine’s Virginia Pine, Holy Easter Douglas Fir and August Bank Holiday Colorado Spruce, in an almost certainly vain attempt to fill our streets with spiky green corpses all year round.

Clearly, it’s overtime all the way in the country’s salt, zinc and vitamin C mines, but those vast rolling plains of Echinacea in the mid-west have surely already been harvested and safely bundled up into huge nostrum silos ready for distribution through a billion highly reputable emporia by now, even if no-one really knows what it’s supposed to do.

My loyal poetic readership will even now be yelling at their Netscape Navigators that I am ignoring the not inconsiderable Rabbie Burns industry.  Of course, I am aware that many people enjoy the aphrodisiac qualities of lengthy tracts of vernacular verse accompanied by the traditional two-pound Haggis and even now Scotland’s sheeps-stomach-and-barley mills are running at full stretch, while boutiques around the world are laying in such exotic items as Wee Timorous Beastie provocative underwear and Best Laid Plans prophylactics for the night of passion itself.  The local adult specialist, so conveniently located next door to the emergency locksmiths has already got its tartan bunting up.  It’s no wonder so many Scottish people have their birthdays in September, don’t you think?

Perhaps I should be a little less deplored by January.  As a month, it provides few interruptions to the lyrical arts.  It might be a bit dark and dingy, but we are now on a clear run into Spring.  This enthusiasm was shared by this week’s Workshop.  Caroline Am Bergris presented a polished, well-developed poem on the subject of a monster she once lived with.  Ann Furneaux brought a rhetorical work revolving around the orientation of North and South.  Daphne Gloag has also been thinking about a monster, through the eyes of Gilgamesh.  Sometimes a PP Workshop unconsciously produces a theme, as happened this week, with Owen Gallagher remembering a childhood of dragon-slaying in the tenements of Glasgow.  Doig Simmonds calmed us down with a spiritual experience in Africa at a shrine to Sango.  Bashir Sakhawarz drew us to the mountain-walled Afghanistan, and bread.  Alan Chambers took us in a new direction with an old poem recalling the distant sounds of a fairground.  Nick Barth has been thinking about the next spin around the Sun.  Pat Francis settled us down with three scenes from Twickenham and the gentleman’s game which is played there.  Finally, Martin Choules stepped into controversial territory by musing on modern witch-hunts.

At this juncture, I must apologise for the break in the usual service over the Christmas and New Year period.  The truth is, apart from the usual fripperies and folderols I was intensively engaged in an investigation into one of the many filing boxes that has emerged from the cavernous undercrofts of Pitshanger Manor during its restoration.  The team came across a box of index cards which refer to spoken word recordings of poets reading their own works.  As will be familiar to you by now, the Pitshanger Poets have always been early adopters of technology and the Workshop first acquired an Edison Speaking Machine in the 1890’s and continued to capture poets reading their own works for many years.  As is only right and proper, the vulnerable and delicate recordings themselves were long since donated to The British Library Spoken Word Collection, however this one box of orphaned index cards, featuring only the first lines of the recordings featured represent a puzzle that I found myself wrestling with in every waking hour.  For example, there is Robert Browning’s apparently lost poem, read by the man himself, which begins with the enigmatic line, ‘Do I speak into this?’.  Then there is a George Bernard Shaw piece which starts with the pithy; ‘Is this thing on?’.  On what?  Mysteries abound.  I simply cannot find the Thomas Hardy poem which in any way resembles the highly metrical first line; ‘This one for level. One, two, one, two’, and yet here is the card, neatly typed and dated 1919.  I would certainly like to find a printed copy of the Robert Frost poem which commences with the visceral; ‘Drat, I fluffed it, I’ll go again’.  If you can throw any light on these lost works, please drop me a line.

Happy New Year, and if you have been, thank you for reading.



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