Workshop, 1st May 2018

This week’s Blog begins with an apology.  I am writing it even later than usual and I know how many of you are sticklers for reading this week’s Blog before the next week’s meeting.  In case of any confusion, Madame Underzo of Montreille-sur-Mer, I mean you.

The fact is that with the improving weather prospects this week I have been somewhat overdoing it.  We British are a staunch breed, well suited to the wind and the rain, with a hey and a ho, as I seem to remember the Bard put it, but a glimmer from the big bright glowing thing in the sky is wont to put us all athirt.  In my case I saw it as an opportunity to lie on the grass by the water in Walpole Park and delve into some of Auden’s longer poems.  I do remember finding a bank of Soane’s fishing lake where the wild thyme grows, now the landscaper chappies have finished their improvements, and I do remember making a start on A Letter To Lord Byron, but then everything becomes hazy.  I came to face down in the aforesaid bank and had to hie myself off home where my man diagnosed sunstroke and sent me to bed.  I am not certain that I am built for reading longer poetry in the wild.  Writing the Blog had to wait until I got over it, I’m afraid.

Which was a shame because it was a fine meeting (and where were you?).  Peter Francis made a fine start with an examination of the soul.  Alan Chambers personified the moon in a fine piece from the body of his oeuvre.  Daphne Gloag also brought an oldie but a goodie, inspired by Tintoretto’s Adoration of the Magi and with more than a hint of a Christmas theme.  Well, you can never plan for these things too soon, can you?  Martin Choules alerted us to the presence of another foreign invader, a Lady Bird of the Harlequin variety this time.  Nick Barth brought back a metaphorical piece on memory, which could probably do with a bit of a polish.  Finally, Pat Francis gave us a second piece on her memories of the death of her father, and the adults that could not face up to a child.

With Auden and long poems in mind, I caught myself wondering how long is too long for a submission to a long-running, world-renowned poetry workshop?  The current Pitshanger Poetry etiquette has arrived at a rough limit of no more than two sides of A4, though from time to time we do see longer pieces.  The Chair is thankful for a bit of warning in these circumstances.  The question for the archive is who has read the longest poem at our Workshops?  It turns out that Auden is the likely winner of this dubious garland.  To my mind even some of his short poems are quite long.  My research has revealed that only the packaging limits of the international tobacco industry prevented his poems from getting longer.  Auden was famously an epic smoker.  In those far-off days when he visited the Workshop, smoking was not only tolerated, it was actively encouraged, as the fug of a room of closely-packed poets was quite something before better living through chemistry developed effective deodorants.  In addition, Auden’s personal contribution to this atmosphere was legendary, such was his aversion to bathing.  Circumstances conspired therefore to impose a limit on any Auden poem brought to the workshop to read, which was the time it took to smoke one packet of 20 cigarettes of his favoured brand, the East German F6.  Auden was reluctant to carry more than one packet, such was the paucity of supply of this brand anywhere but East Germany.  That packet being finished, he would make his escape to go and fetch another, much to the relief of his fellow poets, no doubt.  I was delighted to uncover this story as yet another boon that the Pitshanger Poets have given to the world – of all the constructive criticisms that are commonly made about poetry, ‘too short’ is very rarely one of them.  If you have been, thank you for reading.


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