My apologies again for the lateness of this weeks’ Pitshanger Poets Blog. The truth is I currently have a guilty pleasure, the fabulous summer of sport we are experiencing. Can my loyal readers guess which major tournament is clamouring most for my attention? Well, it’s the big one. From a sport which I find boring and studiously ignore in the rest of the year, it’s turned into hugely compelling viewing. I don’t mind admitting that I’ve wasted far too many evenings over the last few weeks watching our brave lads battling with the other plucky teams in the group stages. It’s remarkable how subtle national characteristics emerge when battle commences on the field of play, Belgian inventiveness coming up against Japanese discipline, the dogged determination of the Portuguese against the passion of the Spanish and the sheer character displayed by our current team. Now we are at the knockout stages, every match is an event. My only disappointment is that I cannot persuade my man to get involved, as I’m sure he would relish the camaraderie and perhaps a half of bitter. However, whenever I head out to enjoy a match with local fans he stays locked in his room with the television on. How he can shun the Ealing International Crown Green Bowling Finals in favour of the World Cup is beyond me.
Fortunately, none of the gripping matches have clashed with a workshop as yet. Tuesday’s gathering was as engaging a display as you would want from a bunch of talented poets. Alan Chambers was first up to the oche with an inventive stream of consciousness piece presenting repeating light and sound. Anne Furneax took to the wicket with a found poem from St Ives. Daphne Gloag created a beautiful opportunity to score with a new take on worlds and words. John Hurley is still willing to change his game with a cool blank verse look at a garden at nightfall. Fred Burt may be new to the team but he is already demonstrating great agility and awareness of space with this evocative poem imagining a break up. Nick Barth spent some time on the bench mulling over his grandfathers’ love of France. Pat Francis chipped one over the boundary with this evocation of life at the water margin. Peter Francis is silent in his determination to establish a no speaking month. Finally, Martin Choules won through on penalties with a typically brazen tour de force, the vocally transmitted Knotweed.
Public poetry reading has of course improved dramatically as a spectator sport since its inception as a rough-and-tumble free-for-all on the village greens of ancient Greece. Veteran poetry fans will tell you they miss the old terraced arenas, but all-seater readings were inevitable following the Greasborough Social Club Disaster of 1965. A high-pressure event, Al Alvarez had assembled his New Poets, a group of no-nonsense modern declaimers. They were billed to appear against Ginsberg’s Beat Poets, a bruising battle-hardened collective who had learned their cutthroat couplets on the smoky stages of Greenwich village and San Francisco. The resulting grudge match was not pretty. Referees at the time habitually ignored what would today be bookable offences, such as rhetorical heckling, poetical inversion, stretched metaphor and forced rhyme. In the second half the Beat Poets demanded a penalty following an alleged obfuscated vernacular from Norman MacCaig. The New Poets fans rounded on the small coterie of Beat Poets supporters, and in the melee William S Borroughs had a glass of sweet sherry spilled and Philip Larkin’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover became badly creased.
Since then poetry events have become closely-monitored affairs. Even the polite, friendly workshops of the Pitshanger Poets cannot begin until all-comers have surrendered pen knives, steel nibs, sharpened pencils, over-sized notebooks, duelling pistols and loose dental work, just in case tempers run high. If you have been, thank you for reading.