Workshop, 21st August 2018

I am certain that like me, dear reader, you cannot stand fine weather.  Warm conditions are discombobulating and damaging to the thought processes.  Heat prevents clear thought and bright sunlight confuses the eye.  The very notion of leaving the house without donning the usual number of cumbersome outer-layers terrifies me.  It was therefore gratifying to me that not long after I had returned from my satisfying holiday in damp, cool Iceland, this despicable period of hot weather brought itself to a sensible close.

The way I dress is important to me.  It is not that I set myself up as a fashion icon, although I cannot help but notice how the gaze of fellow Ealing residents sometimes lingers on a pair of plus-fours or a Homberg I happen to be wearing.  It’s not that I regard myself as having particularly fine taste, though the number of times I hear the question ‘where did you get that?’ leads me to believe I must have a unique eye for colour and form.   To continue, it’s not that I consciously choose to emulate others, though when I am asked, ‘who did you come as?’, I naturally assume that my outfit must be reminiscent of one of the greats of stage or screen.  Still, my fundamental guide for clothing is that a poet must have presence.  A poet needs to be looked at when entering a Lounge Bar or crossing a street, since a poet should be listened to, now more than ever. How can a mould-breaking, game-changing poet with their finger ready to take the pulse of a wan-looking zeitgeist going to carry any influence with an audience of rioting alt-right proto-fascists in a t-shirt and jeans?  Jeans indeed.

A number of poets ready to impose their views on the creaking edifice which calls itself society attended this week’s workshop.  Anne Furneaux took us back to another grandmother, one slightly more erstwhile than her others, and with disappearing relations.  Christine Shirley reprised her view of Frida Kahlo, with revisions.  Alan Chambers brought us a disconcerting view from an uncertain pier, though it came with welcome blustery winds.  John Hurley did a grand job of encapsulating his relative, ‘Mad Mike’ in a mere three point five verses.  Doig Simmons went on to examine solitude and whether it is possible to appreciate the emotional state.  Owen Gallagher tried out two cuts of his poem celebrating his taciturn father on the workshop, this being just the challenge that we relish.  Niall Cassidy took us back to a dusty schoolroom of his childhood, one occupied by the headmaster, with a twist.  Daphne Gloag reprised a poem bringing us the dilemma of which memory of a friend she should write to.  Finally, Martin Choules has been seeing red, Crimson Lake, to be precise, along with green (Brunswick, Apple) and Malachite, although he was reluctant to associate an emotion with that particular locomotive hue.

Poets of not so long ago would not leave the house unless they were wearing appropriately insulating clothing.  Loius Macniece could not remember Spain without donning fatigues, puttees and a Sam Browne.  Stephen Spender, it is said could not read aloud to an audience large or small unless he was wearing workman’s garb and hob-nailed boots.  C Day Lewis confessed that he found it difficult to lament the fading glory of the England he knew so well in anything less than a tweed suit and waistcoat.  As we know John Betjeman was unable to recall endless summers, balmy days and breathless games of tennis while wearing anything less than a grey suit, black greatcoat and hat.  WH Auden was always a natty dresser and admitted that he found it impossible to write about the vital place love has within an alienating society without a three piece-suit and Argyll socks, even when staying in a villa in Greece.  However, such care in presentation was not without its drawbacks.  Patently a sufficient quantity of well-wrapped poets crammed tightly together in the Dining Room of Pitshanger Manor during the summer months will create a heady fug, and it’s reported by the archivists that an open window and frequent breaks for fresh air were de rigeur procedures for a tolerable PP workshop.  Given the need to avoid over-warmed poets it’s not surprising that no attempt was made to install any kind of heating system at Pitshanger Manor until well into the 1970’s and the arrival of less formal, more practical dressing habits.  Shame, I say.  How can a modern poet take a stand against populism in anything less than an uncomfortable suit with shoulder-pads and a sweat stain the shape of Brazil between their shoulder-blades?  If you have been, thank you for reading.


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