As the lynchpin and doyen of perhaps the oldest Tuesday evening Poetry Workshop in the Western Hemisphere, I am often asked if I would consider a pause to my weekly labours, a brief hiatus to take stock and smell the roses, as it were, or in the charming parlance of the greengrocers in the West Ealing Farmers Market (and I am paraphrasing of course), why don’t I just give it a rest?
Of course it is because of Pitshanger Poets great longevity that I throw myself, butterfly-like upon the wheel, week after week, to carry out the many and various arduous duties that derive from running such a complex and sophisticated intellectual process. To boil the whole thing down to something which might fit, neutron-star-like, into a nutshell: Some folks turn up at eight o’clock and read out their stuff.
It would have taken a great deal of Mr Putin’s fragrant gas to boil down this weeks workshop to a reduction worth sending out for a case of preservation jars and a flagon of aspic. Peter Francis took us off in one direction, obsessing slightly about Norma Jean Baker. Daphne Gloag took us off in another, with an exploration of distances and snow geese roaming far and wide. Martin Choules took a pot-shot at the Pre-Raphaelites and their somewhat monotonous choice of models, something of a shot at and open goal we thought. Alan Chambers applied the handbrake and spun the wheel into a cul-de-sac of conversations with aspects of the natural world. Pat Francis engaged the Flux Capacitor and took us into the far future and life underneath the sea, where we see all warm and safe beneath the storm. Doig Simmons has been revising a recent piece, on a long goodbye, to great effect. Nick Barth has been thinking about steam locomotives and how the sight of one inspires people to travel.
One wonders how the Pitshanger Poets have managed to plough our furrow for so long, when other groups have fallen by the wayside over the years. For example, loyal readers will recall Alexander Pope’s grotto-bound Tuesday night workshops, damned to a premature end by the grotto’s necessarily damp conditions, causing runny ink and torn parchments. Or the Ham House Commoners, a group of presbyterian wordsmiths which regarded John Bunyan as a guiding light until the weekly long walks from his home in Bedfordshire resulted in foot problems which would not be resolved until Dr Scholl’s famous poetry and podiatry workshops in Chicago in the early 20th Century. Horace Walpole’s House Strawberry Hill hosted a workshop which competed with PP for the attention of the Romantics. Walpole had constructed a wedding-cake white Gothic Revival fantasy for a family castle at a time when this particular architectural style was about as popular as an orangutan in an orangery. The Romantics were impressed and Strawberry Hill looked likely to grab the poetry workshop crown from Pitshanger Manor. All went well until a certain SJ Coleridge discovered the laudanum cabinet on the way to the workshop. The meeting collapsed with Coleridge being stretchered to the local sanatorium muttering ‘the caves of ice…’ and the remainder of the poets resolving to return to a building with slightly less outrageous architecture. If you have been, thank you for reading.