Workshop, 3rd September 2019

September is rarely welcomed, but always permitted.  Children trudge back to school, workers abandon beach and caravan, birds take to the wing and rain commutes to the ground.  Television starts debuting new shows and offices announce new projects now that the population is back in town and paying attention, and hopefully poets open up a new spiral-bound and get on with their metaphors.  After all, while lucubration may be difficult under the long evenings, once we’re passed the equinox the six o’clock gloom is properly oppressive.

Here in the Archive, we spend the start of Autumn making shelf-space for all of the upcoming news, slim volumes, and tragic cold-snap obituaries that will follow while the Earth hangs around on the wrong side of its orbit.  Journals and papers are ruthlessly swept from the bookstacks and meticulously hand-engraved onto microfiche slides while the originals are stacked up on the furthest corners of our subterranean lair, awaiting their ceremonial cremation throughout the long months as we commit their noble words into heat to keep the icicles at bay.

But the sunshine hadn’t completely left this week’s workshop, where Alan Chambers described the experience of a canal lock raising a boat from gloom into light as the waters swell, and Pat Francis considers the Taoist approach to preferring an uncarved block of marble to whatever a sculpture can release from within.  John Hurley then gave us a touching child’s eye view of a funeral wake, and Christine Shirley passed on a message sent to her by her dear departed friend.  A change of tone next as James Priestman responded to the prophet Isaiah’s brimstone with some rather more measured words of his own, and Daphne Gloag has been admiring an artist who attempts to paint nothing at all.  The desert wind and hunting hawk have been filling Doig Simmonds’ awe, and Anne Furneaux has been hunting for the lost chord of a poetic idea she once had and never wrote down, and rounding us out we had Martin Choules viewing the latest political shenanigans and getting het up about the need to calm down.

Thinking more about Pat Francis’ poem this week, we are reminded of the argument of Nature verses Manufacture, of the qualities of the Chippendale chair against the beauty of the tree which berthed it.  In these more environmentally-conscious times, lauding the simple and low-entropy nature of Nature, but this is a dangerous path to embark upon – for how long will it be before somebody admires the virgin white sheet over the same covered in unsightly verses of carbon-rich ink ?  Surely it was only the destruction of natural trees and blocks of stone containing iron ore that gave ancient Chinese society the wheel and plough that enabled them to stop their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settle down to some hard work ?  And was it now this work that led to surpluses which led to cities which led to captive audiences to which the ancient Taoists could preach to ?

But perhaps that misses the point, perhaps their meaning was that if one intends to break apart an honoured stone, one should make sure that the resulting sculpture is worth it.  Again, the implications for poets about to besmirch a crisp page in one’s Moleskine is daunting.

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