‘Tis Spring. It’s at this time of year that poets of all hues and opinions emerge from their sleepy burrows, wrapped triumphantly in the drafts of their next sequence or despondently casting aside the quatrains of winter, eager to replace them with the fresh sestinas of the new season. As the bards appear, blinking in the milky sunlight, the high druids of British Poetry will finally establish the date of the moveable feast known as The Great Performance Poetry Debate in the calendar, which, for the sake of an easy life, always coincides with Easter. Good Friday arrives with the condemnation of the reliance on public performance – a noted poet will wash his or her hands of the whole messianic, self-promotional business, insisting that words belong on the page. Saturday is reserved for buying chocolate and sparkling wine to cushion the effect of an extended Bank Holiday, which is convenient as there are usually plenty of these items in the shops. (Easter) Sunday is traditionally spent at home, trying to read vibrant poetry from a truly innovatory, fresh voice while wishing one had not consumed so much lunch. By Monday the hapless poet is desperate to get out of the house and is scouring the internet for an Open Mic, Book Launch, Reading or even a bit of lunchtime jazz and spoken word at a local hostelry, if only to get way from the mournful faces of the rest of the household for a while. As a result, April (or March, depending) is the cruellest month.
The question of the validity of Performance Poetry is one of those Imponderables My Man likes to saddle me with when he sees that I am listless and ill-at-ease. Can poets read their own work out loud? Can actors read poetry out loud? Can Michael Gove read poetry out loud, or at least take some responsibility? Is it rude to view a live performance as a way to catch up on one’s sleep, and if it is, why is it so popular?
In many ways a Pitshanger Poetry Workshop is a performance, and on occasion it can be quite a performance, I can tell you. The evening starts by attempting to erect the folding table in the Library without anyone losing a digit. Then we have to estimate the number of chairs required and scoot off to collect additional seating if required (Parsonage has developed an algorithm to predict likely attendees at a Workshop, based on temperature, rainfall, local traffic conditions, recent events worth writing about and the phases of the moon). Once the readings begin, we get on with the ceremonial handing out copies of our work, for which no reliable algorithm has yet been developed.
If this all seems like rigmarole, that is soon forgotten once the Workshop begins, as it did this week. Michael Harris is usually a man of few words, but this week indulged in a stream of consciousness which spanned two pages, and its horsy references set us up quite nicely for the Grand National. Pat Francis, to whom I apologise for missing out of the blog last week got us thinking about the scientist of hygiene, Sir Joseph Lister, and his wife Agnes, and whether his ideas were really the result of her talents at cleaning up. Alan Chambers knows how to make a poetry workshop think, and this week was no exception, with a purely abstract piece about questions and answers. Simone Nunziata is new to the group, a native Italian studying Romantic Literature, and it is no mystery that he was drawn to the Internationally-renowned Pitshanger Poets. Simone wrote with aplomb about love and the eclipse of affection. Peter Francis is a veteran of poetry readings, whose delivery is never less than engaging. This week he chose sheep as a metaphor for enduring punishment. Doig Simmonds often tackles love in his poetry, but then again, he has been writing almost as long as anyone on the group, so can be forgiven for occasionally mulling over age as well, and just who is that person in the mirror. Martin Choules is not only a talented poet, he also regularly claims the prize for most efficiently handing out his copies. This week he gave us a rip-roaring appraisal of the state of the art of war and what it might be good for. Daphne Gloag is never less than considerate with her copies, tonight bringing us an escape into the winds of time itself. Finally, Nick Barth brought a revised poem; memory of a hurricane in Mexico which sent the tourists flying.
Whatever one’s opinion of Live Poetry, in the raw, the feeling of leaving the hall with the breath of the declaimer still warm on one’s face, we would be remiss if we did not inform our loyal readership that the Pitshanger Poets will be performing Live and In Person at the Questor’s Theatre (Studio) on the evening of May the 6th. Those of you with a yen for poetry or even the sure and certain knowledge that another Bank Holiday will send you to stir if you do not leave the confines of those four walls, make it a date.
If you have been, thank you for reading.