Workshop, 26th February 2019

After the recent extraordinary warm spell for what all of the newspapers insist is still Winter (though surely within a precocious crocus of official Spring), it does raise an interesting question that is increasingly less-theoretical – how will climate change affect poetry ?  Where would Phil Larkin’s newborn lambs be if they learned to walk in a welcome width of warm ?  Did an unexpected mild snap cause Shakespeare to comment that now was the Winter of his discontent made glorious Summer ?  And would Robert Frost have got so much existential mileage if he’d stopped by woods to watch them fill up with sunbeams ?

A sunny set of poets met at this week’s workshop, if not quite dressed in shorts and flip-flops.  Doig Simmonds was first to risk doffing his coat as he told us how his memories kept intruding, and Peter Francis knotted his hankie while recalling a break-up in Holland Park complete with low-flying bats and a seen-it-all owl.  For an elegantly-fanning Daphne Gloag, the Mesopotamian sun god had indeed been in attendance, and John Hurley mopped his brow while he laid out a tale about a mysterious hermit with who knows what hidden past.  Anne Furneaux changed her glasses for her shades as she sang a song to the houseboats in the tidal mud, while Martin Choules brandished his straw hat in his on-urging hand as he called on the spirit of Voltaire.  Sara Cornejo meanwhile erected her deckchair as she meditated on seeds and meditation, and Pat Francis took a long sip from a tall drink before tenderly writing about her un-written family history.

Sir John was an avid thermomitrist, and took daily readings in Ealing every morning, noon and suppertime (or rather Mrs Conduitt did the actual reading).  Even after he left the Queen of the Suburbs, the Archive continues the practise, and sifting the data makes for fascinating reading.  So did the Little Ice Age end in the mid-Nineteenth Century because of the relentless CO2 spewing from those dark Satanic mills ?  Well, if it did, it took its time about it, with heavy snowfalls experienced every Winter until well after the First World War.  But yes, by the 1980s, there was a run of snowless years when in Walpole Park a snowflake was as rare as a rhyming couplet in the verses of the day.

But a curious outlier occurred a hundred years before, in the Winter of 1881-2.  While not especially balmy, it was far more grey than white, with little frost and less snow.  Considering how 1881 had begun with a blizzard, the absence of same a year later was indeed cause for comment as Frederica Percival chaired the weekly workshops.  On one occasion, Oscar ‘Ozzy’ Wilde was pondered if all the time that Winter was showing such a clement attitude, it was keeping its real weather lurking about up in the North Pole – something which intrigued Bob ‘Louis’ Stevenson who wondered how one season could contain two opposing personalities.

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