Category Archives: Miscellaneous

A rattle-bag of items that could not be placed elsewhere

Workshop, 12th September 2017

Ah, my dear Uncle Archie.  I may not have mentioned my multi-billionaire commodity-trading relative in these columns before, perhaps the blog has never adequately intersected with his ever-eventful life.   Suffice it to say, Archie is one of the most callous, vicious, reprehensible, cut-throat, sell-your-own-grandmother Captains of British Industry you will ever come across, and as result he has always been enormously popular down at the club.

Our paths would normally rarely cross, being limited to the annual Christmas family food fight, if it were not for a strange course of events.  To tell the tale:  In return for a little service I was able to provide for the Chairman of The Old Actonians, I am lucky enough to be have been given free rein to use the nets and whack a few past the boundary any time I please.  My stroll to the grounds takes me past number 37 Gunnersbury Avenue, which is strangely enough, the home from peaceful home of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.  One sunny morning as I was passing number 37 I just happened to bump into a genial gentleman pruning the roses, and as roses are a passion of mine, we got talking.

Whenever I strolled past the Embassy in my pads on my way to the nets, the gentleman was there and I came to look forward to stopping and hearing his tales of life in the golden land North of the 38th Parallel.  As my readers know, I insist on adopting a strictly neutral stance upon all things political and tend to look down my nose at any form of philosophical extremity.  However, over the course of a few happenstance meetings the kindly gentleman made me aware that despite being a Socialist Worker’s Paradise where every man was his brother’s equal, the democratic people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were not without plight.  Central to this plight was the shortage of medical supplies caused by unfair treatment from the International Community.  The genial gentleman was always insistent that he could not burden me with this plight, but I pressed him for more gen.  He told me that countless medical conditions, such as the broken bones suffered by both democratic people and the democratic peoples’ beloved pets were going undiagnosed, since despite having many modern, shiny X-Ray machines in the clean, well-equipped hospitals and veterinary surgeries with which the country is blessed, they are so many shiny, useless pieces of furniture due to the chronic lack of fresh uranium.

As a victim of the International Community myself, I could sympathise and insisted to the Korean gentleman that as a person in my position there simply must be something I could do.  When pressed he reluctantly suggested that perhaps there was an outside chance that I was aware of a Commodity Trader willing to obtain a few measly tons of fresh uranium and get it shipped to Pyonyang, preferably under the cover of darkness and with no questions asked.  I immediately thought of Uncle Archie.

Turning, as we must to this week’s Workshop, questions were asked, but none of them about uranium.  Martin Choules brought a poem we suspected was from his redraft pile about a poem in his redraft pile.  Peter Francis has been thinking about those who are leaving, specifically leaving Sligo, whether or not they are aiming for the 38th Parallel.  Daphne Gloag brought back a piece concerning the end of time, we felt just in time.  Pat Francis brought us a piece about a violent storm at sea that had us concerned for the plight of the gulls.  Alan Chambers brought back an oldie-but-goodie, recalling the semi-militant squads of Christian Angels who used to patrol our Tube Trains to protect us from violence, much to our disgust.  Nayna Kumari is wondering whether she can bring herself to go to a family wedding.  Owen Gallagher also brought back a classic of his, about a boy who dreams of swimming.  Finally, like Pat, Nick Barth has been thinking about a storm, a tropical hurricane with Mole Poblano thrown in.

Even my most loyal readers must be wondering what possible connection my rambling story of the democratic people’s plight can have to do with the Poets of Pitshanger.   I admit, the events I describe began some years ago.  The genial gentleman still has his roses, the democratic people now have working X-Ray machines and no one can help but be hugely impressed by the hugely impressive parades that the healthy, democratic people are delighted to put on, year after year.  Mysteriously, Uncle Archie has not been seen at his club for some time and appears not to be answering his emails.   My point in telling this rambling story, if you must insist on me having one, is that we are open to all-comers at our Workshop. We are aware that the brother of the democratic people’s glorious leader Kim Jong Un, being the honoured Kim Jong Chull, is a fan of the cultural milieu of London and has taken up residence in its leafy suburbs.  We can but hope that one Tuesday evening in the not too distant future he chooses to start making the short journey from the Embassy on Gunnersbury Avenue to Questor’s Theatre on Mattock Lane to join us in our humble, weekly celebration of the poetic arts.  We may not be able to immediately rise to the high standards expected, nay deserved, by Kim Jong Un’s beloved brother, but in this increasingly perilous world, with its Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Staged Thermonuclear Warheads it will be nice to know that we are attending one of the very safest poetry workshops on the planet.

If you have been, thank you for reading.



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Workshop, 22nd November 2106

“Words, words, words”, as the Danish Prince so pithily put it before tearing the Lord Polonius off yet another strip.  Words are our baggage, our currency and our legacy.  The English language is stuffed with words like some sort of alphabetised Chesterfield sofa, while other tongues get by with a narrow Chaise Longue or spindly Mies van der Rohe chair to settle back on when they want things to make sense.  Is it any wonder the world rushes to learn English, considering how many words we have to choose from?  Thank goodness the English no longer own their own language or who knows how we might conspire to ruin it.  Enough! I hear you cry.  Break off this interminable preamble and get to the point.  In which case I will.  It has not escaped my notice that this is the time of year when The Dictionary Industry of the English Speaking World likes to corral an annual crop (is it possible to corral a crop?  What would work better? Harvest a herd?  Wrangle a regiment?) of neologisms.  Now, there’s a word that must have sent ruddy-faced Colonels to their blotters to dash off a flamer to The Times.  Why the devil do we need a word for new words?  Piffle!  Yours, Apoplectic of Andover (Mrs).

Any new words appearing in this week’s Workshop were handled in the traditional and time-honoured way; humanely netted, delicately stunned, they were then pinned to a green baize board alongside a small hand-written paper label.  Daphne Gloag does not always approve of neologisms but is always inventive in her use of words, as in this evening’s Tintorreto-inspired examination of Christmas Journeys.  David Hovatter was not one to discourage new words as he traced the journey from fish hook to sushi.  Jagdish applied a new meaning or two to old words as he told us about a potted plant at prayer.  Pat Francis played with words and form as she contrasted two views of fate.  Alan Chambers returned us to fish, lines and nets with another contrast- this time of two farms in a sea Loch.  Danuta Sotnik-Kondyck is embracing the English language with a poem about wolves she translated from a piece she originally composed in her native Polish.  Peter Francis chose some disturbing words for his imagined evidence to a truth and reconciliation commission.  John Hurley rendered extraordinary ideas to paper as he imagined an Irish President’s introduction to a President Elect. Nick Barth brought us a stranded astronaut, hearing words from the ether.  Martin Choules has not got anything to say, but he chose some great words to say it.  Finally, Ariadne Kazantzis pictured an alien learning English in order to teach young Anthony a few things about our planet.

I am sure you will be familiar with the more headline-grabbing neologisms of 2016.  Brexit has followed the increasingly unfamiliar Grexit and foreshadows the hypothetically water-logged Nexit.  The alt-right have caused many people to become trumpatised following a momentous event of some moment over the pond.  The OED now recognises moobs, whether or not they are scrumdiddlyumptiousSlacktivism is joining clicktivism in replacing activism, or the messy and exhausting process of painting banners and catching agoraphobia in the company of hordes of unruly strangers.  The now over-familiar mamil is being supplanted by the much more attractive spandexual, often on individuals who are beardtastic.

Which rampant hashtaggery brings me to the word which The Pitshanger Poets will strive to bring to popular usage in 2017, if only because we strongly advocate its application in this world of chronocide (the killing of time), via wexting (walking while texting) and linkulitus (the habitual sending of web links to others).  The word is unliterate, meaning a person who knows how to read but staunchly refuses to do so.

If you have been on this occasion, thank you for doing so.

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Workshop, 5th July 2016

I used to enjoy browsing the newspapers.  Following the initial cup of needful at the crack of nine my Man returns with the egg and soldiers and a selection of freshly-ironed national dailies.  I normally allow a mere hour or two of browsing while toying with an odd morsel of toast and marmalade before preparing myself for the onslaught of the day.  The most enjoyable part of observing this country’s Fourth Estate is to see just how far Journalists are willing to go to induce a condition of sheer terror in their unsuspecting readership.  Ah, happy days!  My mornings are not so jolly any more.  With the recent momentous series of momentous events, one thinks back on warnings of the break out of a new killer epidemic, news of a terrifying and unforeseen effect of global warming or confirmed observations of a huge meteor on a direct collision path with the Earth with a sort of misty-eyed nostalgia.

It is thus a relief to escape to the Pitshanger Poetry Workshop once a week.  John Hurley filled the kettle for tea with the story of a politician rocking the boat.  Olwyn Grimshaw set about lighting the grill with her observation of a scuffle amongst Magpies.  Alan Chambers started slicing the bread for toast with the story of a diversion.  Owen Gallagher warmed the pot with a boy’s dream of swimming.  Christine Shirley made sure the butter and marmalade were on the table in time for her piece on a gathering for friends.  Peter Francis brought in another poem from his wife, Mrs Francis who crisped the bacon with a poem about the life of the mind in an attic.  Doig Simmons made the tea and poured the milk with a piece about the face of his daughter.  Nick Barth fetched the orange juice from the fridge with a meditation on seizing the morning.  Finally Martin Choules kept an eye on the toaster to make sure nothing burned because the knob does not really work any more with his recipe for Gall Ink.

Another source of relief has been the recent goings-on at my Club, the British East-Asian Opium Eater and Retired Schoolmaster’s Club.  As you will recall, this is the organisation which does such a lot of good for retired schoolmasters here at home and also for the hard-working poppy farmers of the world.  The Opium-Eating wing of the club has always welcomed members from like-minded clubs around the world with the result that Retired Schoolmasters were submitting complaints to the Chairman that all the most comfortable wing-backed leather armchairs were occupied by somnambulant Opium-Eaters from Afghanistan, China, Russia and who knows where just at the time when the Schoolmasters dropped in for a whisky and soda.  Matters came to a head and the Retired Schoolmasters proposed that foreign Opium Eaters be barred from the club.  The Opium Eaters countered that without strong relations with overseas opium enthusiasts there would be no more opium and in an attempt to resolve the situation the Chairman called a vote of unity, which he then lost.  As a result, we are now voting for a new Chairman who will resolve once and for all the relationship between the Club and the International opium culture which we have done so much to create.

Everyone at the club had been expecting a straight fight between Boris Brummel, a descendant of the notorious ‘Beau’ Brummel and the ex-master of Squeers’ New, Free And Open Academy for Pedantry, Mr Wackford Given.  However, Brummel had to withdraw from the contest having suffered a severe injury to his back and two surprise candidates have entered the fray from the School Ma’am section, Ms Angela Lansbury and Ms Theresa Wont.  Ms Wont appears to have a clear lead with the Retired School Masters, partly, it is said due to her large collection of antique walking canes, an interest I have never shared but which has the Retired School Masters queueing down the corridors when she brings them in to the Club for a private viewing.    We are promised a lively contest when the ballot is held in a few weeks’ time and it certainly offers some respite from the momentous period of momentous events we currently find ourselves in.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 28th June 2016

You know, when a chap walks down the street, strolls into the lounge bar of his local hostelry or lowers his newspaper in the club and just happens to catch the eye of another chap, it helps if the party of the first part is broadly aware of the what is going on in the bean of the party of the second.  Up until the momentous events of what we shall call the last few momentous days there was a good chance that a shirt, arm band or button badge would be enough to give the game way.  Even though both sides utilise the trad. colours of red, white and blue it was still possible to ascertain the allegiance of the other cove at a glance.  Care could then be taken with any subsequent conversation not to cross a line, raise a hackle or prod at a sore and harmony would be maintained.  However, since the momentous events of the last few momentous days, recognisable identifiers have been cast aside.  What is more, it’s not as if they look appreciably different from us.  However, before one becomes despondent, contemplating the burden the last few decades in Europe have imposed on this country of ours and the many more years of pain we are likely to experience, it is worth remembering that it’s only a game and that it’s nice to see a tiny country like Iceland doing so well.

It was also nice to experience such a rich and varied collection of poems as this week’s workshop.  Olwyn Grimshaw was first off the spot when the whistle blew, pointing out the inconsistencies in allowing Mr Mark Carney to print his own money when a few creative hours playing idly with a decent colour laser printer can put you or me into jail.  Owen Gallagher then sped off down the left wing with a concentrated piece on the modern face of the Highland Clearances.  Martin Choules just avoided a high tackle with a tightly argued poem about the reluctance of young people to vote.  Daphne Gloag maintained possession with two versions of a recent poem concerning the light of now.  John Hurley did well to stay on side as he covered Brexit, BoJo, MiGo, NiFar, DaCam and WhatNow?  Nick Barth chose to boot it up the park with a hazily-remembered road movie to Berlin.  Peter Francis maintained formation with a solemn poem about a lost love.  Alan Chambers perplexed the back four with his memories of JS Graham.  Finally, Ariadne created a solid finish with a revision of her story about Georgia being late for school.

What with the momentous events of the last few momentous days it has been my solace and indeed happy privilege to spend time among the recent archaeological discoveries at Pitshanger Manor.  Items that have, no doubt, been carefully and painstakingly revealed by the precise fall of a size nine steel toe-capped boot or careful swing of a five-kilo sledgehammer are now emerging thick and fast from the priceless clouds of Georgian dust.  Once again I cannot go into too many details, however, suffice it to say that we believe we have come across another copy of the very document that must have inspired the all-too-serious Ealing Comedy, Passport to Pimlico.  The document is now with a team of crack, highly-offensive combat lawyers and while I cannot reveal the name of the London Borough that we believe is no longer (and, indeed has never been) a part of the United Kingdom, it will be fascinating to see how much a pint of London Pride will cost in Euros in the Grapevine Bar here at Questor’s once the dust settles.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 21st June 2016

You know, as I stroll around the clean and airy streets of this fair borough, by chance catching the eye of an acquaintance, offering a cheery wave and perhaps interrupting their progress down the Queens Highway for a brief chat, I believe everyone agrees with me that there is only one subject worthy of consideration:  What does the EU referendum mean for Poetry?

In the Leave Camp, parallels with Switzerland are high on the agenda.  If Britain so to offer more of an arm’s-length relationship with the EU, as does the home of cuckoo-clocks, triangular chocolate and well-stocked nuclear shelters, then we should look to the way they do things.  The Swiss we are told, cite the British as having created their Tourist Industry, the key event being a notorious Chalet Holiday on Lake Geneva in 1816.  So imprinted on the collective consciousness was this near-legendary trip that for many years it was impossible to take a Thomas Cook Coach Holiday to any Alpine resort without being offered a thick volume of Gothic Fiction and a quart of Laudanum on departure from Dover.  The implications are clear; leave the EU and Britain will naturally open itself up to coach parties of hallucinogen-swilling Romantics in Empire-line frocks and velvet suits, disturbing the peace with their rambling nocturnal declamations and assertions of post-apocalyptic societies populated by monosyllabic human salmagundi roaming the countryside and frightening the peasants.  In the words of Messrs Hall and Oates, I can’t vote for that.

Something I can vote for is the success of tonight’s workshop.  John Hurley launched us into memories of an abandoned Hotel near his birthplace in Ireland.  Owen Gallagher brought back a poem about TVs (Transvestites, that is) in the RC (Church, that is).  Alan Chambers has been working up an older piece revolving around five words of conventional greeting.  Peter Francis brought another poem by Mrs Francis, who could not be with us, on the subject of Gaudairenca.  Nick Barth brought us something of a polemic on the Balkanization of, well, the Balkans.  Martin Choules has written a collage poem containing lines from The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker.  The form he used (in which each stanza’s last line is the next line from the quoted poem) has a name and I have the Ferranti Pegasus working on finding the specific term for it.  Daphne brought back the opening poem from her ‘Time’ sequence, presenting us with Past, Present and Future.  Finally Ariadne brought us her greatly enjoyable children’s poem – the tale of Lucie Lu and the Pumpkin Pirates.

Back to the referendum if you can stand it; I know how much I am asking of you.

The Remain camp has, I am afraid to say adopted fear as a weapon by spreading concern among my fellow creatives as to what precisely will happen to the Poetic License if we go it alone.  Under first the Lisbon Agreement and then the Maastricht Treaty the rights of poets have been enshrined in EU Law.  Current Legislation protects the poet’s right to use such such techniques as beginning a sentence with a preposition; mixing a metaphor; combining feet or rhythms (for example combining an Amphibrach with an Anapaest and a clipped line ending); starting a line with a lower-case letter; certain forms of assonance and half-rhyme; enjambment; protection of both the Petrarchan and our very own Shakespearian Sonnet forms, and so on.  In fact, there is an enormous amount of detail I could go into here.  It is likely that at least two thirds of the EU legislation Nigel Farage rails against on the British Statute is specifically applicable to poetry and prosody.  If only this was better understood by the British public, perhaps we might have obtained the vital de-prioritisation of subsidies for the Iambic Hexameter at Maastricht, a measure which only benefits French poets and a handful of strolling Basque Troubadours, who by the way gave up strolling years ago because they can afford to drive Mercedes-Benzes.  I recall the frustration at the time; John Major was clearly not interested in pressing the issue and hard-working British poets lost out as a result.

The great concern we should all have is that Michael Gove is in the Leave Camp.  Should EU Poetry protections be removed my guess is that he will not be able to keep his hands off the Poetic License and a decade of mandated A-B rhyme schemes and tum-ti-tum metrics will follow.  A poetic brain-drain is inevitable and the best and brightest will leave the country to join prestigious Poetry Workshops in English language-friendly cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.  There, the opportunity to work on highly paid projects such as Eurovision Song Contest entry lyrics will make it all but impossible to attract our best poets back to the UK any time soon, and a generation of fine writers will be lost.

You know what to do.  Vote early, vote often and if you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 2nd February 2016

Sometimes it feels like there are more people writing poetry than reading it.  How many of us can honestly say that we have bought a slim volume in the last year of a poet who isn’t also a friend and the one who sold it to us?  Of course, some poets do go out of their way to be obscure, and very few deliberately these days write for mass-market appeal.  And then there are the gatekeepers, those small handful of editors to the well-regarded literary journals upon whose sacred pages a poet must appear if they are ever to acquire an agent and their own slim volume (that is, one with a genuine ISBN number).

Or at least, that was how it was twenty years ago, maybe even ten.  But nowadays, any poet with a blog and a Twitter account can promote no matter how much the gatekeepers may sniff at or ignore them.  Naturally, here in the Archives we have an excellent library of slim volumes, but also our new Tweet index, where suitably poetic utterings that are brought to our attention via pigeon post are transcribed for posterity using our trusty Dymo label maker.  And our expanding video collection also preserves any modern poets promoting themselves via YouTube by asking one of our unpaid interns to play said videos on their mobile telephonic device and re-filming it on our state-of-the-art Super-8 camera.  Alas, it cannot capture any sound, but it does allow us to concentrate on the importance of body language in oratory.

Of course, a great place to encounter new poetry is at a workshop such as that which takes place every Tuesday at the Questors Theatre.  This week Christine Shirley gave us a picture of a beach and a couple, which hopefully penetrated Alan Chambers’ declining senses as he described them.  New member Doig Simmonds brought us a bush fire with a snappy rhythm and a spiritual cleansing, while Daphne Gloag revisited a ruined cottage and peered through its remaining window.  The perils of parental expectation in naming a child were of interest to Martin Choules, while Peter Francis brought a concise and simple evocation of old age and memory, which was all the better for jettisoning its middle verses on its way to us.  Finally, Owen Gallagher imagined a boy in a tower block swimming to freedom each night, or did he…?

The woes of official publication are not new, and the Archives reveal are full of the gripes and mutterings of James Joyce whenever he popped in on his visits to London.  Although it is an urban myth that he had to resort to self-publication, he did have many run-in and rejections from would-be printers.  Rumours persist that he would recite passages of his latest post-modern epic into a dictaphone, but that he had a habit of breaking off into rants intended to be transcribed via letter to his latest editor in response to their insistance of changes made to his sacred text.  Sometimes, so the story goes, the cylinders would get mixed up, which might go some way to explaining the stranger passages of his novels.

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Workshop, 5th January 2016

Well, New Year came and went, the world didn’t end, the Archive didn’t suffer any Y2K+XVI problems, and best of all the BBC have begun a new costume drama after everyone has returned to work, presumably because they couldn’t squeeze in any more corsets and quivering into their festive schedules.  Yes, it’s the new adaptation of War & Peace, where they endeavour to squeeze over one thousand pages into 6 hours, at arate of nearly three pages per minute.  But since by the old Orthodox calendar we are still in the full throng of the season, perhaps the Beeb are simply being ‘meta’ about the whole thing.

But what of its inspiration ?  Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy came to London just the once, for two brief weeks in March 1861.  Next to nothing is known of his activities here beyond his taking out a temporary membership of the Athenaeum Club – but then he was still largely unknown outside of Mother Russia (and indeed would remain so – the first English translation of any of his work did not come until 1878), but he did have a letter of introduction to Matthew Arnold, presumably to discuss their shared interest in education for the masses.

Such ambiguity was much in evidence at this week’s workshop.  John Hurley has been observing a hijabed and headphoned passenger on the Brighton Belle, and Caroline Am Bergris has been charting brownfield love in abandoned lots and poor soil.  Daphne Gloag has been counting redwings in winters, past and present, while Olwyn Grimshaw has been playing a losing hand of bridge against Death and Time.  Alan Chambers, meanwhile, is surprised to learn the colour of his tryst’s hair, let alone why there are owls in his library, and Caroline Maldonado has been met from a wintery train by a disappointing collection of shadowy figures (but at least the platform is well swept of snow).  More carefree was the young girl in Christine Shirley’s folk song, heading for London Town and a meeting with her beau, while Martin Choules’ own experience with country & western have left him rather black and bluegrass.

It has never been clear if Leo and Matt ever actually met, but some tantalising evidence has recently turned up in the Archive.  On a Tuesday in March 1861, Mr Arnold was in attendance along with a mysterious foreign gentleman with somewhat broken English and an impressive beard.  Upon arrival at Ealing station, this guest had shown much interest in the broad-gauge 4-2-2 locomotive Iron Duke with its eight-foot driving wheels that had hauled them from Paddington.  However, he had been less impressed with the W H Smith’s newsstand, which only sold flimsy pamphlets and broadsheets.  Whereas these might be acceptable on the short distances of the British railway system, he observed, they were far too short to satisfy the vast distances of his homeland.  What was needed was something…longer.

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