Workshop, 21st January 2020

If you, like me, deplore the idea of wishing one’s time away, you will be delighted that the month of January is nearly over and done with.  However the liberal urban elite like to dress it up with ‘dry January’ and ‘veganuary’, January has scant association with high days and holidays and is the month most likely to be resented, wished away and keenly forgotten, so that we can get on with the proper and serious business of being miserable that it’s still February. But, as I say, I will not be dragged down by those who cannot welcome each new day with a smile and a whistle, however grim and mis that day is certain to be.  What is a up walk up Hanger Hill without a shower blatting at the phizog?  What is a purposeful stride off the kerb without the chance of a passing bus and a brogue full of puddle?  Life without risk is no life at all, as my friend Fred Goodwin used to say right up until he was asked to leave that job he took in Edinburgh all those years ago.

The Pitshanger Poets show by their commitment to the group that they are the sort to seize the day, as long as that day is a Tuesday and there is nothing better to do, like reorganising a sock-drawer.  Martin Choules is always one to carpe his diem, never more so than with this week’s examination of rock song lyrics with obscure drug references.  Nick Barth claims he has been attempting to write a poem about Brexit, while we applaud his passion, we think he should wait until Boris Johnson has finished worrying at that bone.  Roger Becket grasped a moment from his past, when his mother explained how her dog had died.  Alan Chambers brought back a beautiful poem about order and disorder in dark, wild woods.  John Hurley has been delving into his spiritual side, he believes this is not his first go on this planet, though if he is a Pitshanger Poet this time around, what was he before?  Doig Simmons was ploughing a similar furrow this week, thinking back to the last breath of a loved one.  Peter Francis strove for the post-modern this week as he explored the termination of a relationship.  Pat Francis on the other hand wrote about cures promised and delivered, in three movements.

A poet unlikely to let the grass wilt under his feet was Robert Southey.  Southey is, of course hugely famous for being one of the lesser-known Romantics, and thus very handy to have around in one’s noggin come the Poetry Round in your local Pub Quiz.  He had a reputation as one of the more reliable, get-up-and-go poets in the Romantic School.  When the Shelleys trudged downstairs on that fateful morning during the notorious Coach Tour of the Swiss lakes, complaining of having had a disturbed night’s sleep due to a lightning storm, Mary muttering about the ‘wrong brain’, it was Southey who nipped along to the nearest farm for bacon and eggs to get a fry-up going.  But we are getting off on the wrong track.  Years before that most fateful of fateful mornings, Southey found himself in the Breakfast Room of the eponymous Manor, pulling his weight in the finest Poetry Workshop to be held at eight o’clock on a Tuesday Evening in any part of Ealing at that time.  Southey noted that the PP was going through a bit of a lean patch at the time.  The Romantics were so successful a poetry force that many other bards had given up and turned to drink, or honest work, or drink and honest work.  The Romantics were typically stuck up in The Lakes waiting for railways to be invented, and while they did venture south to London for the occasional meeting, would race home as soon as they were out of laudanum.

Southey suggested that the venerable poetry group could do with a little publicity.  He came up with an idea which might have become the world’s first Charity Calendar, with engravings of poets in coquettish poses, peeping out from behind rose bushes and ornamental trees in Sir John’s fine grounds, and daringly for the time, entirely hatless.  He suggested to Sir John that JMW Turner might contribute the artwork, which would give the painter some justification for all the time he spent lounging around the pond catching the architect’s fish.  Southey planned a different poem plus an engraving of the author for each month and even got the ball rolling with his famous ‘Ode to January’.   However, when he tried to shepherd the various fractious scribes into amusing poses for Turner, they rebelled, refusing to look endearing or remove their hats and pointing out that JMW could not draw people for toffee, which even the most ardent proponent of Britain’s greatest impressionist has to admit is not entirely untrue.  The calendar idea was quietly dropped, and Southey, perhaps losing enthusiasm for the stuffy Breakfast Room at Pitshanger Manor, was drawn into Humphry Davy’s Tuesday evening laughing gas workshop by his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who earnestly insisted whenever asked that the whole thing was solely scientific.

If you have been, thank you for reading.


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