Memory and poetry are inextricably intertwined. For many the simple times-tables and a smattering of poetry were the first things one had to learn by heart at school, and those repetitive numbers and redoubtable phrases will stay with us long after everything else has faded and we struggle to recall what we had for breakfast. It is a common trope that with age, memory fails, but is this truly the case? Sometimes I am sure that my memory is not what it was, but then my memory is so poor how can I be certain? There is of course the possibility that with time one has less of significance to remember; that as one gets older one day will inevitably resemble the next, that one poem will recall the last poem. Reassuringly, one may remember the nice little pocket calculator that one has on one’s phone and the whole nerve-shredding horror of learning your seventeen-and-a-half-times-table (one of Mr Harridan, the Maths Master at my Prep School’s favourites) will fade like a nightmare on waking one bright summer morning.
We don’t expect poetry by rote at the Pitshanger Poets in this day and age. Of course, the Victorians were very hot on the idea and for a few years in the late Nineteenth Century a poet could expect a barracking for consulting their spidery hand-writing, with shouts of ‘reading!’ from the other members of the Workshop. At the time there were cruel souls who claimed that it was no great punishment to send Oscar Wilde to reading gaol, but they had surely got the wrong end of the stick that they were using to beat about the bush. Behaviour of that type never rears its ugly head in today’s enlightened times, for we understand that poetry is both a written as well as an auditory form. As has so often been said, Nicholas Parsons should by rights be our Chairman, for he understands the vagaries of the English better than any man alive. Owen Gallagher has always been economical with the written word and skilful with sound. This week he gave us a revision of his poem playing cowboys and Indians as a young adult with his normally mute father. John Hurley is getting into the spirit of winter with a poem about showers and sodden pavements. Roger Beckett presented something much more enigmatic with his sketch on moving from place to place. Pat Francis brought us a triptych of a poem which served to build hope in the room, while Peter Francis gave us a colder view of Christmases past, when despite being a child, he was never a kid. Nick Barth has been thinking about tattoos and has written about ink from two points of view. Martin Choules clearly sees himself as a victim of fate and finds himself behind his keyboard on a daily basis, ticking the days off. Fortunately, Daphne Gloag was on hand to inject some brightness back in the room with an observation of a welcome, wintery visitation; a fox in her garden.
Keen-eyed readers (and I know many of you are, despite the protestations of my penury-ridden optician) will have noticed that this week’s erudite and entertaining blog is even more delayed than usual. I must lay my cards on the table and admit that I was unavoidably detained over the last few days by a member of Ealing’s Finest. The few clues that I can glean from the detective who came to sit in my best wing-backed armchair and drink tea from my second-best china is that Uncle Archie has been in trouble again. Archie has been uncontactable for the last few months, and it may be that the sleuth knows why, but she remained tight-lipped on the subject. Instead she fired a series of questions at me between mouthfuls of my third-best shortbread, but I denied all accusations. As you, my loyal readership are my witnesses, I am innocent of the various crimes and misdemeanours she was so ready to drop weighty hints about. Besides, the events she referred to are all a frightfully long time ago. As a result, I do not remember meeting Archie or any of his various lady-friends in March 2001, although I do recall the Pizza Hut in Workington on the night in question and the Meat Feast Pizza and Cheesy Garlic Bread I ate there with startling accuracy. As for the statement of the young lady, I am not a man given to perspiration; Let the record show that while seventeen and a half times seventeen and a half is equal to three hundred and six and a quarter, I had all of the sweat beaten out of me by Mr Harridan while at Prep School. So let the case rest, m’Lud.
If you have been, thank you for reading, or is that Reading?