Workshop, 23rd July 2019

I am no expert in current affairs.  Hang me from the chandelier by my braces and threaten to tickle the souls of my feet with red-hot feather dusters if you like, I could not name a member of the cabinet, the shadow cabinet, the war cabinet or the filing cabinet, whether they be minister with portfolio, without portfolio or without portaloo.  Partly this is a deliberate ploy to maintain some semblance of sanity in the midst of the madness we now call politics, and partly this is to ensure that the newspaper that lines the bottom of Bogie the parakeet’s cage is a fresh as possible.  There it goes, untouched by human hands, by bamboo tongs from doormat direct to collection duties and none of the faces that will soon be obscured by faeces are any the wiser.

Which self-proclaimed ignorance makes me wonder why the media luvvies I so often barge out of the way as I attempt to navigate the West End are so insistent that this, the mid to late summer, is the silly season.  What makes this part of the year any more silly than any other?  Now I can see that the blond Nigel Molesworth character in charge has sillier hair than the poor misbegotten Head Mistress who preceded him, that some of the obvious bounders in his cabinet appear to have sillier phizzogs than their undead predecessors (although that insight is obscured as soon as Bogie’s millet has been allowed to pass on through to the other side), I even get the point that now term time is over at the Big House there’s more space and time for silliness.  But paint me blue and call me Gordon the Big Engine, surely nothing is as silly as the daily debating parties they throw in the House, each and every day?

Fortunately, while political discussion is permitted at the Pitshanger Poets, the vast majority of poets would rather discuss poetry – rather like the famous quote; ‘yes, but apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, what did you think of the show?’

Doig Simmons opened proceedings with a particularly Hades-like view of a retirement home – may we all be spared.  Poetry for John Hurley is a cathartic experience, even when he’s talking about the fish counter in his local supermarket (surely more Waitrose than Lidl?).  Peter Francis appeared to be reading my blog from last week and brought us a double poem – two gags in fact – the last one a notorious one concerning an architect, a surgeon and an economist.  Pat Francis has been remembering Chopin and his benefactor Jane Stirling and the questionable way she got her money.  Michael Harris’ poem this week was less of a dark secret than his piece of last week, but is still enigmatic.  Martin Choules produced another well-wrought rhythmic and rhyming piece on the invasion of the invasive plant in June.  Nick Barth brought back a bit of an oldie about the Summer we returned to the moon.  Roger Beckett brought a concentrated story of his Mother’s girlhood, as related to him.  Finally, David Erdos brought another sharp and erudite poem, the toner apparently still wet, on a memorial to his friend Heathcote Williams, which we understand is something of an annual event for him.

As has been mentioned before, we are a friendly workshop at Pitshanger Poets, and always have been.  Perhaps this is a legacy of our birth, some time around the English Civil War, when people of all kinds were split on their loyalty to either Parliament or the King.  As one might expect, virtually all record of these early workshops has been lost in the mists of time, something we are quite grateful for given the hordes of historians who contact the Archive every year looking for some meaty factoids to spiff up their latest volumes.  It is tempting to surmise that of course John Donne (Metaphysical Party) and Sir Richard Famshawe (Cavalier Party) sat opposite each other at the dining table in the hall at the old Pitzhanger Manor at the height of the Civil War.  Given the tensions between the two camps, all reference to the conflict itself, Religion, King, Parliament and Nobility would have been expunged from the conversation, leaving, given the state of written English at the time, rhyme, meter and most importantly, spelling, available for discussion.  The amicable differences of opinion on the most appropriate spelling for a word, given the demands of the poem at hand would surely stretch on late into the night.

It would be more than a hundred years before one Doctor Johnson chose to volunteer himself as the English language’s arbiter, writing our first Dictionary and ending such debates.  What?  A self-appointed Johnson making vital decisions certain to affect the future of English (and these islands) for hundreds of years to come?  Could it happen again?

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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