I have never been in love, at least not in the Biblical sense (which description I understand to mean that the person one is having a relationship with is eventually turned to a pillar of salt by God for looking the wrong way at a busy junction). I do remember a pleasant sunny afternoon a few years ago; I was sitting at a table at a very fine Ealing Beer Festival with a half pint of Trumper’s Proper Porter and thought I was in love for a few moments, but it turned out to be wind which dissipated by the time I had consumed a second glass. The reason for me mentioning this is that, in a bombshell of an opinion I will be willing to take to my grave, I would like to state that it is hugely unpleasant to be in the company of a poet in love, and if you ever find yourself in the company of two poets in love my heart goes out to you. Bearing in mind all those sonnets he scribbled out it’s no wonder that Bill Shakespeare was so unpopular with his fellow scribes and had to pretend to be Francis Bacon for long periods. He must have been insufferable to drink a pint of mead with.
We have experienced the abject misery of poets in love at Pitshanger Poets Workshops. Discretion and a poor memory for faces (or names) prevents me from mentioning any of the recent visits by the mutually-obsessed but it is interesting to observe the conclusion slowly dawning on the normally stern, gruff poets that there are a couple of love-birds at the table. We might notice a twinkle in the eye of one of them, or quite unnecessary physical contact between them (it is almost never a requirement to touch a poet, unless of course you have volunteered to do their feet). Then we get to the poetry itself and one realises that all sense of decorum and good taste has flown out of the sash window. There are allusions to happiness, to delight in the company of another human being. Standard metaphors such as bare trees in winter or the fateful call of a crow at dusk are absent, to be replaced with images of long, healthy limbs, or shining skin, work which is much more appropriate in advertising copy for cosmetic products. Under these circumstances it is difficult to know what to do. A loud discussion of cricket or rugby (depending on the season) is usually advisable, sport being a subject which is notorious for its ability to dampen the ardour of even the most rococo human being.
I am delighted to be able to report that none of the poets at this week’s Workshop showed any signs of being in love. Perhaps Daphne Gloag showed some affection for the swifts which strafe the trees in her garden. Alan Chambers shows no love for the fly which prompted him to activity when thinking would not. Christine Shirley clearly appreciates Frida Khalo, in another revision this week. Anne Furneaux discussed the names and nicknames she associated with growing up, but no pet terms were revealed. Michael Harris is looking forward to a gradual change of perspective as he gets older, however one feels this is likely to be a solitary transition. John Hurley admitted being in danger of falling in lust with an elegant someone seen across a crowded room, but love might be taking things a little too far. Martin Choules brought us another clinically clean exposition, this one on the subject of titles of address. Owen Gallagher has shown us his peat door before, this revision captures his Narnia-like portal to the old country with greater power. Nick Barth insists he was obliged to write a sonnet to those in love in this time of screens, but he claimed this is merely advisory and had no implications for himself. Finally, Niall Cassidy came very close to showing genuine love for his children, but his lack of sentimentally means we can let this one pass.
I had our Information Technology specialist Parsonage question the Ferranti Pegasus concerning romance at Pitshanger Workshops past, and a fascinating list of names spewed forth from the venerable daisy-wheel printer, some of which I have posted with my lawyer just in case of trouble, as we say in the trade. However, a stand-out was Muriel Spark, the celebrated novelist and poet who must have been the Editor of the Poetry Review on at least one of the occasions when she visited PP and was probably treated with more than usual reverence by the poets in attendance as a result. Yet these were the late nineteen-forties and dangerous times for anyone of too cheery a disposition. The poets must have recoiled in horror at the behaviour of Spark and her fellow-poet and lover Howard Sergeant as they canoodled under the Georgian architrave. Being gay was against the law in those dark days, and anyone found being gay was at risk of trial, prosecution and even imprisonment. Clearly no one wished to be associated with the happy, the flamboyant, the contented, or in fact anyone who was anything brighter than mildly sanguine. It’s not surprising that Spark was given short shrift (if she received any shrift at all) and the Pitshanger Poets’ subscription to the Poetry Review was cancelled that very week and not renewed since. We much prefer her novels. How did it go? ‘My pupils are the cream of the crop, the top of the heap.’ That was the line. If you have been, thank you for reading.