It is a truth not readily recognised by the civilised world that one has to be a sturdy sort of cove to be a poet. Poets of today are tougher, stronger and have greater reserves of resolve and commitment than any of their forebears. It’s a man’s life in today’s poetry, even if you do happen to be a woman (and why not?). By which rambling I mean to say that poets of today are built to last. Now, I know what you will be yelling at your laptops and other devices; I am intimate with the inner minds of my ineffable readership; surely today’s writers live life on easy street. After all, poets of the past had to put up with enormous hardships, from travelling long distances in horse-drawn coaches and sailing ships, to lugging huge manuscripts around the place and living in unsavoury and unhealthy conditions, wearing heavy uncomfortable clothes, wigs and shoes, being forced to consume unfeasible quantities of alcohol and narcotics, living on poor diets and subject to a myriad of terrible at that point uncured diseases. That may be the case, but by and large they were weak, on account of dropping dead the whole time. QED, as my pediatrist might say.
By contrast, todays poets tend to survive to a ripe old age, churning out a well-regarded collection every couple of years, getting themselves to regular readings and book signings, all the while holding down a day job, or at the very least an academic position or two. The professional poets I meet are insistent that life as a home-based toiler of the keyboard is a constant trial – an endless round of dropping the kids off at school, making sure everyone has clean gym kit, being in for the grocery delivery, picking the kids up from school, being ready to cook some brilliantly original creation for the family any given evening, and being ready with shoulder to cry on and a bottle of Pino Grigio for other stay-at-home-spouses who have had one too many run-ins with that harridan who runs the allotments. All this while developing a startlingly original perspective on the value of skilled manufacturing labour in a post-capitalist, post-industrial society inscribed in a wryly anachronistic Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse form.
Of course, it would be arrogant in the extreme to lump any one of the sparkling writers at this week’s workshop into this bracket. John Hurley clearly travels for his art as his piece on Guernsey clearly shows. Peter Francis is no stranger to the harridan who runs the allotments, but would prefer to think of bluebells than prize produce as his wistful poem this week makes clear. David Erdos is new to the Pitshanger Poets, though as an actor he tells us he is no stranger to Questors. His evocative poem saw his late parents through eyes that do not need glasses, though he might need them soon. Michael Harris is no stay-at-home wordsmith – this week’s poem sees him out on the town, just as long as he can return to the castle of his mind. Nick Barth, never one for a startlingly original creation, does at least manage to remember his gym kit, as he brought back a poem about a friend yearning to reach the edge of space. Owen Gallagher’s poem about a father’s inner thoughts at a job interview demonstrates that he understands the pressures of juggling career and day care. Roger Beckett also focused in on parenthood this week, jumping back through a couple of generations to what his father said about his stepfather. Daphne Gloag brought us to a place, or perhaps two places that meant a lot through her childhood. Chrissy Holbrook is also new to the PP, giving us an escapist, metaphysical picture of the sky. Pat Francis is perhaps guilty of spending too much time at home, though it is clear she is even more guilty of spending that time watching sport. Alan Chambers took us on a visit to St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden, with colour, shape and unwanted interruptions creating a vivid atmosphere. Finally, Martin Choules gave us another of the songs created for an unheard musical about the first Transatlantic Cable.
Speaking as a modern poet who finds himself juggling the pressures of countless poetry workshops, car maintenance workshops, non-executive board-memberships, committees, charitable institutions, non-charitable institutions, downright cruel institutions, and a myriad other ways to waste one’s time, I freely admit that my existence would be impossible without the assistance, advice and a modicum of succour of my manservant. Romantic Poets? Pah! They did not know they were born.
If you have been, thank you for reading.