Category Archives: Workshops

Workshop, 10th July 2018

One final push and we can be done with football for at least a month, until the new season starts.  But before then, let us peek into the Archive for another match report from Walpole Park, this time from 1966.  Teddy ‘trout-man’ Hughes keeps the goal safe, while Johnny Betjeman and Wystey Auden stand around in front of it in harrumphing protest, but on the team sheet are down as defenders.  Phil Larkin proves to be surprisingly nimble up the right wing (never the left wing), though doubtless the bicycles helps, while young Seamus ‘Jimmy’ Heaney is a dynamo in midfield, just waiting for his opportunity to break out and come to our notice.  Stevie ‘Stephanie’ Smith leads the attack, relying heavily on the good work of Lizzy Jennings just ahead, who cuts through the opposition before releasing Stevie to slip in a lethal shot under the radar.

So, half-time, and a chance to catch up with this week’s workshop – a smaller affair on a hot summer’s evening.  John Hurley has been people watching in Covent Garden, but who’s watching him ?  Alan Chambers has been spinning a silver yarn for an anniversary, and Anne Furneaux has been writing up her bombing raid for dispatches.  Nick Barth has been trying out his name in different accents, and Martin Choules has been checking some maths and found things don’t quite add up.

So, who were these all-stars playing ?  A team of novelists had been pulled together by Johnny ‘Bilbo’ Tolkien, with what on paper should have been a classic line-up of young Jim Ballard in goal, Les Thomas and Ian ‘my word is my bond’ Fleming shoring up defence, Aggie Christie twisting and turning her way through midfield, Jack Fowles confusing everyone with his antics on the wing and Alli ‘not the spy’ Maclean bringing his big guns to the attack.  These posy poets were theirs for the taking…

Except, when referee Ludo Kennedy blew kick-off, the novelists found their heavyweight style too ponderous, while the coupleteers could change direction on a volta.  As the home side saw their pithy lines fire true, the need for the visitors to spend whole chapters making their point gave the defence plenty of time to dispossess them.  Alas, Aggie was hopeless as a sweeper, refusing to even touch the ball unless to furthered her plot, and poor JB spend all afternoon retrieving free-wheeling verses from the back of his net.  If only they could have had one of those short-sentence Yanks like the Kurt ‘short-track-good’ Vonnegut on the bench…

Strangely, the final score is not recorded, possibly because Ludo lost count, but there was no doubt who the crowd were supporting – after an awkward attempt at mass-chanting the opening chapter of This Sporting Life, they found they much preferred a verse of ‘fatty passed to skinny / skinny passed it back / fatty took a rotten shot / and left the goalie flat’.


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Workshop, 3rd July 2018

Not a lot of time for preamble this week, what with both the heatwave and the football to contend with.  Of course, it would be most unbefitting for a senior archivist to be seen giving two figs for the foreign adventures of the young men chasing the ball around, but we still need to keep our aloof sneers in practice.  As for the unexpectedly season-appropriate weather, we likewise cannot be seen sitting out in Walpole Park dressed in deckchairs and knotted handkerchiefs, and therefore must spend long hours of pointedly being at work while the rest of the nation skives off.

So, on to the amble.  This week’s workshop saw a smaller crowd risk sunstroke and having the score revealed for the sake of the muse.  Pat Francis kicked off with a traipse through the marshes where the land flows into the river, passing to husband Peter who gave us a brief flourish a pre-blind-date assignator.  Alan Chambers has been dribbling the long way round, taking it slow through the garden, soaking up the warmth and in no hurry to turn goal-wards, while old campaigner Doig Simmonds has been contemplating taking the ultimate retirement with a long step down off a short ledge – but don’t worry, the ledge is metaphorical.  John Hurley offered some classic commentary in our ears about a woman still haunted by her lost lover when he was transferred to France in the War, and Martin Choules wondered why we never got to play interplanetary fixtures in a Galactic Cup.

With such lush lawns quite literally on their (back) doorstep, it is to be expected that the Archives contain numerous accounts of football being played at the Manor during Sir John’s time.  This may sound surprising, given the popular image of a poet as a fey, sensitive soul whose only use for exercise is in climbing the six storeys of stairs to their garret, and it is an image that Johnny ‘what, you expect me to kick that thing’ Keats fills well, but Georgie ‘best bloody poet in the whole bloody world’ Byron cuts a rather different figure.  Percy ‘the Bysshe’ Shelley fell somewhere inbetween, able to hold his own in midfield as long as he could have regular sit-downs when the ball was blasted into the pond again.

It should be pointed out here that this was pre the ever-organising Victorians sitting down and drawing up some sensible rules to stop all the silliness like picking up the ball and punching the opposition.  Therefore, these Tuesday games tended to be free-for-alls, with players sometimes switching teams, or forgetting which goal they were supposed to be aiming for.  There were no touchlines, so the game could invade any part of the garden, though woe betide anyone who trampled through the daffodils when Billy ‘I have written other poems as well, you know’ Wordsworth was on the pitch.  Finally, as the sun slipped down behind the privet to announce full-time, the muddy and exhausted players would trudge into the salon and start the post-match analysis about who was supposed to be keeping the goal.

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Workshop, 26th June 2018

My apologies again for the lateness of this weeks’ Pitshanger Poets Blog.  The truth is I currently have a guilty pleasure, the fabulous summer of sport we are experiencing.  Can my loyal readers guess which major tournament is clamouring most for my attention? Well, it’s the big one.  From a sport which I find boring and studiously ignore in the rest of the year, it’s turned into hugely compelling viewing.  I don’t mind admitting that I’ve wasted far too many evenings over the last few weeks watching our brave lads battling with the other plucky teams in the group stages.  It’s remarkable how subtle national characteristics emerge when battle commences on the field of play, Belgian inventiveness coming up against Japanese discipline, the dogged determination of the Portuguese against the passion of the Spanish and the sheer character displayed by our current team.  Now we are at the knockout stages, every match is an event.  My only disappointment is that I cannot persuade my man to get involved, as I’m sure he would relish the camaraderie and perhaps a half of bitter.  However, whenever I head out to enjoy a match with local fans he stays locked in his room with the television on.  How he can shun the Ealing International Crown Green Bowling Finals in favour of the World Cup is beyond me.

Fortunately, none of the gripping matches have clashed with a workshop as yet.  Tuesday’s gathering was as engaging a display as you would want from a bunch of talented poets.  Alan Chambers was first up to the oche with an inventive stream of consciousness piece presenting repeating light and sound.  Anne Furneax took to the wicket with a found poem from St Ives.  Daphne Gloag created a beautiful opportunity to score with a new take on worlds and words.  John Hurley is still willing to change his game with a cool blank verse look at a garden at nightfall.  Fred Burt may be new to the team but he is already demonstrating great agility and awareness of space with this evocative poem imagining a break up.   Nick Barth spent some time on the bench mulling over his grandfathers’ love of France.  Pat Francis chipped one over the boundary with this evocation of life at the water margin.  Peter Francis is silent in his determination to establish a no speaking month.  Finally, Martin Choules won through on penalties with a typically brazen tour de force, the vocally transmitted Knotweed.

Public poetry reading has of course improved dramatically as a spectator sport since its inception as a rough-and-tumble free-for-all on the village greens of ancient Greece.  Veteran poetry fans will tell you they miss the old terraced arenas, but all-seater readings were inevitable following the Greasborough Social Club Disaster of 1965.  A high-pressure event, Al Alvarez had assembled his New Poets, a group of no-nonsense modern declaimers. They were billed to appear against Ginsberg’s Beat Poets, a bruising battle-hardened collective who had learned their cutthroat couplets on the smoky stages of Greenwich village and San Francisco.  The resulting grudge match was not pretty.  Referees at the time habitually ignored what would today be bookable offences, such as rhetorical heckling, poetical inversion, stretched metaphor and forced rhyme.  In the second half the Beat Poets demanded a penalty following an alleged obfuscated vernacular from Norman MacCaig.  The New Poets fans rounded on the small coterie of Beat Poets supporters, and in the melee William S Borroughs had a glass of sweet sherry spilled and Philip Larkin’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover became badly creased.

Since then poetry events have become closely-monitored affairs.  Even the polite, friendly workshops of the Pitshanger Poets cannot begin until all-comers have surrendered pen knives, steel nibs, sharpened pencils, over-sized notebooks, duelling pistols and loose dental work, just in case tempers run high.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 19th June 2018

Once again, it’s my contrite duty to apologise for the lateness of this Blog.  The fact is that last week My Man gave me some tiles to rearrange in an app on the iPad – he says it’s called Mah Jong and tells me that it’s essential I keep them in order at all times.  Well, I think there’s something wrong with my tablet, because whenever I turn it on, there they are all messed up again.  Whatever is going on with the blessed thing, I find I have wasted an inordinate amount of time keeping the tiles arranged and come to the blog very late on.  In fact, it might almost be possible to predict what is going to happen to the group this week, if our meetings were not so unpredictable.

We had an enriching a fulfilling Workshop this week, I am certain of it.  Martin Choules, who never fails to turn in a high-quality piece led out with a prayer to Mammon which I am sure your friend and mine Boris Johnson would understand.  Doig Simmonds, who has definitely rediscovered his poetry mojo, if he ever lost it, which I doubt, gave us a tightly-composed pean to guilt which some of our politicians ought to find uncomfortable reading.  John Hurley claims that his poems take a mere ten minutes to write, first thing in the morning, which is hard to believe considering the quality of this week’s close observation of a friend who has given up on life.  Anne Furneaux has been working on something of an epic; the memory of the same bombing raid on Cologne, from the British and the German points of view.  It’s going to be great to see all the segments brought together.  Michael Harris writes some of the shortest poems in the group, that nevertheless require the most in-depth discussions.  Finally Nick Barth Is apt to pick an appropriate typeface when printing out his copies, and this week did not fail us, with his piece about man’s seeming desire to do without insects, done in a nice Calibri.

Pitshanger Manor is looking increasingly ship-shape and it will not be long before the glittering reopening of Sir John’s bucolic masterwork takes place.  I myself have already begun the arduous task of lobbying the Powers That Be to consider the grand opening a suitable occasion to invite a lynchpin and doyen of the local artistic community to write a three-act verse play on the life of the Manor since at least 1801, with self-same lynchpin performing all the parts using a variety of convincing voices and hats.  Truth be told, I have been lobbying for this for the last 18 months at least , and it’s getting to the stage where I’m going to have to ask Buffy Fotheringey whether he would mind trailing a banner behind his bi-plane over Ealing for a few afternoons, with the addition of coloured smoke, as all other methods have so far proved futile.  Certainly driving around Ealing in the now Tannoy-Equipped two-seater reading aloud from my last collection has not had the effect I desired, and it looks like it will be some time before I am allowed to hang a thirty-foot banner of my face from the front of the cinema in the Broadway again, however nicely lit the photograph was.  Ah, well, every little helps.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 12th June 2018

I notice from my barely-manageable inbox that some of this column’s regular followers have been eager to get in touch with me of late.  In a display of scarcely-credible diplomacy, organisations large and small have been writing to me requesting my permission to be permitted to write to me again at some point in the future.  According to my Solicitor, whose advice I sought on the matter, this is due to a measure called GDPR, which I think I remember my mobile phone using before 3G was introduced.  This must have been around the time my man told me I had to stop using my nice little phone with simple number buttons on it, as everyone was now obliged to stare into a thing resembling the monolith from the film 2001, A Space Odyssey, while being required to prod the things incessantly on the Tube.  He tells me this is what the young people are into at the moment, with train spotting, the hoola-hoop and watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS being on their way out.

Perhaps I am at risk of over-egging this GDPR thing, but the logical implication seems to be that because I once requested a catalogue from them, World of Bow Ties incorporating Cravat Hut are obliged to ask my permission to remember me.  It did get me to wondering whether the arrangement is reciprocal.  I have therefore asked my man to write to the various purveyors of holidays, sofas, curtains, kitchens, concert tickets, books, gadgets, quail’s eggs, vintage spare parts, cummerbunds and folderols in my inbox to ascertain whether I may have their permission to remember them, just in case I want to do business with them in the future. My man has instructions to erase the details of any vendors I do not hear from within the month from my computer.  The law may be an ass, but if I am, as a result of this required anonymity, to refer to companies by means of cryptic clues, such as ‘South American river appears to have a loose approach to paying tax, one word’, or ‘a fruit falling on Newton’s head will have you searching for a charging lead, one word’, or ‘higher class grocer issues imperative to a flower to pause, one word’ in everyday conversation, so be it.

Everyday conversation this week’s Workshop was not.  Michael Harris got things started with a piece on truth and lies, a short poem which inspired a lot of discussion.  John Hurley has been visiting old friends and relations in a graveyard and captured the atmos precisely.  Pat Francis has been watching a heron, and we went on to discuss whether these birds belong in air or water.  Peter Francis got us talking about man’s place in the World Wide Web.  Nick Barth wondered whether a poem can really be a machine.  Anne Furneaux told us that for some people, every day is like Sunday, while some of us feel that every day is like Monday.  Owen Gallagher showed us a boy staring into a pawn shop window at his own guitar, a peculiar cruelty.  Fred Burt had us wondering whether thoughts can really leap like dolphins.  Martin Choules should have inspired a longer conversation about fate and predestination, but for the fact that we needed to hear from Alan Chambers and his modern take on a war poem, before we ran too late to spend a little time in the bar.

One of the other questions which exercises my correspondents, apart from the question of whether we are permitted by law to make a note of each other’s names, is the current state of Pitshanger Manor.  I am glad to say that my twice-weekly visits to the old place indicate that work is proceeding smoothly.  While I was horrified when an innocent enquiry of one of the hardworking brush-bearers elicited the response that when painting the ballroom ceiling he had run out of magnolia and was switching to white with a hint of elephant dung, I was later assured by the Project Manager that this was an attempt at humour and should not be paid any attention.  I have always considered myself as a man of the people, a brother in spirit with the skilled artisan used to the arduousness of physical toil, and had not expected such flippancy.

There are many fascinating aspects to the Pitshanger Manor Restoration, enough to fill an Award-Winning and decent-selling book by a local aesthete,  bon viveur and doyen of the Ealing creative writing circuit, methinks.  The objective of the project was to return the house to the condition as completed by Sir John Soane in 1804.  However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, his house was but one of the several locations where the aspirational Georgian could mix with the enlightened.  There were the Workshops of the Pitshanger Poets, Wilbraham Tollemache’s Classicism Study Evenings at Ham House, King George’s Arboreal Dialogues  at Windsor Park,  Landscape Painting with JMW Turner in John Soane’s grounds, Jeremy Bentham’s regular discourses on the advisability of cruelty to criminals from Westminster, Needlepoint with Princess Amelia at Gunnersbury, non-lethal duelling in the grounds of Boston Manor, and last and by no means least, Comet Hunting with the Herschels in Slough.  For a Renaissance Man like Erasmus Darwin, seeking inspiration for his Lunar Society in the rare journeys he was able to make to London from Birmingham, this must have seemed like an embarrassment of riches.  Imagine poor Darwin’s dismay upon his arrival to find that due to, some might say, overly-competitive planning, all of these delights were held on a Tuesday Evening.  Once arrived in the locale, poor Erasmus set to, furiously rumbling along the turnpikes in an attempt to visit as many meetings as he could in one evening, in a premonition of the ‘seven bridges of Konigsburg’ problem, before admitting defeat and retiring to the relative tranquility of Derbyshire.  If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 5th June 2018

It has been suggested that poetry is the reserve of the tuneless and lazy, those teenage sensitive types who long to be an artist but can’t hack the art.  Want to be a songwriter but never stuck with your piano lessons ?  Fancy being a novelist, but can’t be doing with all those chapters ?  Then poetry is for you !

Of course, as anyone who has ever attempted to find a rhyme for purple will attest, it’s harder than it looks.  And looking through the Archives at our Tuesday night attendees over the centuries, it is clear that most of them never came to much, couplet-wise.  But then, perhaps the life of freezing garrets and editor disinterest hold less of an allure to some would-be wordsmiths, who quietly get on with their bookkeeping or plumbing or ministerial brief and keep the poesy on the QT.  After all, who needs the constant chorus of pedants thinking that anyone who puts a piece of their souls out there is fair game for a sniding (yes, I’m well aware of the argument that disinterest is not a synonym for uninterest, and I reject it).  Far better to wax lyrical at the weekend after a hard week of Mammon.

This week’s hobbyists were led out by Pat Francis celebrating the humble vole with its frustrating lack of a moral, followed by Fred Burt allowing the dreams to answer back in his response to a previous dozy rhyme.  John Hurley has been caught in the rain on market day and huddled with some happy farmers, then Daphne Gloag has been finding a place in the woods with trees made for climbing.  For Peter Francis, stray cats going about their business can only lead to unwanted kittens, while Martin Choules’ childhood business was dreaming of escape from the suffocating countryside, and Alan Chambers has revisited a memorial but found it different from his memory.

Some of the day-jobs of actually-did-make-it poets are well known – Robbie Frost’s farming, Gerry Hopkins’ monking and Georgie Byron’s boozing.  But what of the careers that never were ?  Eggie Poe for instance tried his hand at fortune telling, but his doomy prognostications were not a hit.  Teddy Hughes, meanwhile, almost became a zoo keeper until it became apparent that his only interest in animals was as metaphor.  And the less said about Alfie ‘Highwayman’ Noyes’ moonlighting, the better !

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Workshop, 29th May 2018

One of the ever-endless duties of an archivist is finding new space for old stuff.  Time’s wingéd chariot is constantly dropping feathers and hubcaps, and it is our job to come along with the dustpan of history and sweep up behind them.  It is extraordinary just how much significance can be gleaned from Tennyson’s blotter or Lord Byron’s laundry list, in much the same way that an archaeologist can determine an entire diet from a coprolite, and likewise we must both shine our respective droppings.

But where to keep the meticulously cleaned and catalogued collections of metaphorical toenail clippings ?  In this regard, we can learn a lesson from those archivists of old, the monks.  It takes a certain kind of personality to find great excitement in holy relics, in the prospect of touching a box that is touching a item that touched a genius.  And above all, it takes great faith to instinctively know that this prepuce is the only one of the hundreds claimed to be the prepuce, or indeed to trust that the gaudy casket contains anything at all.  For us these days, it is less body parts and more autographs we engather, but it does no harm to think that a few skin cells must have brushed off onto the page.

Anyway, there were fewer starry-eyes at this week’s workshop as Christine Shirley got us underway, floating with the leaves on the river of memory, while Pat Francis imagined evacuees leaving London but not the Thames.  For Peter Francis, it is rabbits all the way as he recalls the stews of his youth, whereas it was always the trees and the girls which would do for the boyish Doig Simmonds.

John Hurley then recalled a relative who had married well and soon knew her trencher from her porcelain, while Anne Furneaux has been eavesdropping on the Axis bomber command and their fateful decision to target high streets over runways.  Next was Martin Choules seeking to unseat an unscrupulous politician, who seems a safe target not likely to sue, given that he’s both a century old and fictional (the politician, not Martin), handing over to Alan Chambers to navigate both the foggy waters and the soundtrack.

The current restoration of Pitzhanger Manor is turning up plenty of would-be relics from the Tuesday convocations, from Bill Wordsworth’s pressed daffodils to Willy Yeats’ trampled dreams.  They all have to be carefully removed from beneath the floorboards and behind the wainscot and laboriously conserved by many different techniques that all seem to involve formaldehyde.  They are then very carefully slid into a manila envelope and reverently laid into a box file which is then stacked with the others currently propping open the door to the teleprinter room.

And then we come to Patrick Moore’s monocles, of which we have thousands.  The astronomer would often pop in after filming The Sky at Night in Lime Grove studios just down the road in Shepherds Bush, and it was guaranteed that he would get through half a dozen of Colonel Mustard’s finest over the course of the evening.  Indeed, it only took a particularly surprising or shocking poem to be read out and there went another one down between the cushions – so much so that the other guests would deliberately spice up their verses just to see the scale falling from his eye.

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