No sooner had last week’s Proceedings of the Pitshanger Poets been transcribed by quill onto a sheet of finest Basildon Bond, taken to be set into blocks of moveable type and printed, photographed, digitally scanned and finally uploaded through whatever strange alchemy these computers use, than its entire thrust was undermined by events dear boy. It was commenting on the mildness of the modern London Winter, only to find an actual snowstorm falling as this week’s attendees were in the process of attending. But on closer inspection, the thesis still holds good, for it did allow for a smattering of slapdash snowfall that has come and gone before we’ve found where we left our scarves – and sure enough three days later we were (just) into double figures. Will we get an other ? Possibly, but don’t except to break out the sledges.
Of course, aside from ocean currents, what gives Britain its don’t-make-a-scene approach to weather is the fact that it’s on an island – not for us the sweltering Summers and subarctic Winters found in the depths of a continent. Likewise our wildlife is rather less wild, with only three snakes and absolutely no bears, while our rivers are hardly torrents and our mountains are a somewhat on the short side. So does all this mean that we’re a middle-of-the-road, nothing-wrong-with-beige, have-you-seen-my-slippers sort of culture ? Hardly. We’ve got a long and proud history of eccentrics, almost as if we’ve had to put in some extra effort to compensate for our unresounding surroundings, make up for the shortfall in snowfall.
Not in any way delayed for this week’s Workshop were John Hurley with a study of a freelance healer living on the beach, followed by Daphne Gloag thinking about the stars with her fingers in the cookie dough. Natasha Morgan has been eyeing up an old master’s rendition of a doomed lady, a big black block and an itchy snickersnee, while Alan Chambers has been hearing music in his sleep. For Steve Burchell the Autumn comes on slowly, one leaf at a time, while Shuko Mfaume has been breaking her spectacles and broadcasting to aliens, and Martin Choules has been learning his Latin plurals by ignoring them and just adding esses.
One suspects that poets don’t write much in Winter, when even their festive verses are knocked out by October. It is a time for meeting with publishers, correcting galleys, and writing in to newspapers to remind the public that you haven’t died yet (the modern equivalent is appearing on Radio 4). Sensitive creatures that they are, all poets suffer from seasons, perking up in direct correlation to the average temperature. Some might liken this to opening up like a blossom, others to their being cold-blooded. Consequently, the Winter workshops of the past tended to be a time of digging around in the back catalogue, bringing in minutely-changed redrafts, or even risking a verse one suspects is not quite upto par. So it was one cold Winter Tuesday in early 1913 when Ezra Pound once again read out his familiar thirty-liner In a Station of the Metro…but hang on, something had changed. Where were the other twenty-eight lines ? It seemed our Ezzy had been tinkering…