Workshop, 7th August 2018

Life at the Pitshanger Archive is never easy, which is as it should be, and the sooner the unpaid interns learn about the dignity of labour then the happier they will be at the prospect of cross-referencing all of our Limericks by gender, town and smut. The work of the word-hoarder must never cease just because the sun has got his hat on – for a start, we must ask why the sun would even need to wear a hat – as protection from sunshine ? And wouldn’t a hat just serve to dim his output ?

Of course, such a sloppy metaphor as the example above is only to be expected from a mere lyricist. Not to be too snobby about it, but their often leaden rhyme-led couplets don’t have the best reputation, from “and then you’re in the man from Mars / you go out at night eating cars” to “there’s a killer on the road / his mind is squirming like a toad” (not to mention the latter song’s placing the beat on the article in the line “take a long holiday”). But truth to tell, even proper paid-up poets in their desperation to chime are wont to drop a clanger. Take Phil Larkin’s risible “It deepens like a coastal shelf” or Bill Wordsworth’s overly-precise “I measured it from side to side / ’Tis three feet long by two feet wide”.

No such howlers at this week’s workshop, despite its was bursting-at-the-seams, beginning with Christine Shirley eulogising Frida Kahlo, followed by Peter Francis taking the high road to Ireland, Doig Simmonds recalling the death of a soldier and newcomer Michal Svobada reaching us via many paths. James Priestman has been chronicling the last prayer of Moses, and Daphne Gloag contemplated the tide while introducing us to a new form of Japanese poetry. Michael Harris has been getting a philisophical haircut, while Niall Cassidy has been remembering having breakfast with an old friend. For John Hurley, it can be difficult to go on holiday these days, but maybe her could join Pat Francis for a night at the music hall, even if the better sort of lady would disapprove. Owen Gallagher has also been sampling the nightlife, albeit of a rougher sort, while Martin Choules has been weighing up our chances and finding us lacking.

But calling out the odd duff simile is churlish stuff (although the Archive naturally keeps a catalogue of them as a warning to others). If we take the average poem to be twelve lines long, and the average output to be three hundred published works, then that is three thousand six hundred chances of a dud. Best not to dwell on them, when those self-same wordsmiths have hammered out so many classics. And yes, that includes mere lyricists – Bobby Dylan, Johnnie Lennon, Fred Mercury – they’ve all been lauded for their poetic pop, but perhaps the bays should go to Hal David for the sheer ballsiness of “What do you get when you kiss a guy ? / You get enough germs to catch pneumonia / After you do, he’ll never phone yer”.

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