Workshop, 24th April 2018

As regular readers to this blog will be aware (fear not, I know only as much about you as my old university chums are able to find out through Zuckerberg’s Magic Database), on holiday I’m more of a Grand Tourer than a Beach Dweller.  This perhaps stems from childhood memories of being packed up in the palanquin and hauled off to some god-forsaken hole such as Biarritz or Cap Ferrat and told to amuse myself for a month, with nothing but a retinue of servants and a succession of glittering social events to help fill my time, which puts me off.  I was always envious of tales of old London – of brave, ordinary folk wearing heavy, inappropriate clothing trundling down to Kent on stuffy trains to forget their cares and worries during a week of back-breaking toil in a labour gang picking fruit or using little buckets and spades to sort all the beaches into pebbly ones and sandy ones.

It seemed strange then to find myself in the trusty two-seater, carrying only the bare necessities (my man obliged by bringing everything else in a panel van) on the long winding road to Margate, where I had booked myself into a very civilised Hotel, with the singular resolve to enjoy a week at the seaside.  I was attracted partly by the resurrection of Dreamland, the somewhat chintzy fairground in that reborn resort, and partly by the information I had gathered on one Thomas Stearns Eliot, who made this trip some ninety-seven years ago in a bid to unblock the Twentieth Century’s greatest poem written about teeth.

As far as I am aware none of the Pitshanger Poets at tonight’s workshop ever had to do anything as perilous as spend a week in Margate to gain inspiration, but perhaps I am mistaken.   Owen Gallagher is known to take the odd trip, he unfurled his beach towel with a development of a piece recalling his evolution into adulthood.  Doig Simmons cast about for a clear space without too many rocks in order to introduce an enigmatic poem on the subject of fear.  John Hurley made sure he had a clear path to the ice-cream van in order to reduce the level of confusion he is feeling about the world today.  Martin Choules took a deep breath of the ozone and prepared to return us to the hymns we rarely enjoyed singing at school.  Alan Chambers was also thinking of music, but his are the tunes that live in the ear and refuse to leave, such as those being played by the brass band on the front.  Christine Shirley continued the musical theme (it’s funny how that happens) but focused on the spaces between the notes in her piece.  Daphne Gloag has been standing on the shore staring at sunsets, as she evoked the time-mangling effects of supersonic air travel.  Pat Francis spent her time on the excursion train out of Victoria Station thinking about her Aunt Min and the terrible news she refused to break.  Finally, Nick Barth decided it was high time for a ride in the charabanc and a trip down memory lane, a very specific memory lane which keeps coming back.

The cultural mavens among you will have guessed that my journey to Margate was inspired by the recent exhibition at the local branch of the Tate Gallery, taking ‘The Wasteland’ as its theme.  The events surrounding this dense, almost impenetrable work are well known.  Eliot was recovering from a nervous breakdown in 1921 and being stuck at section three, set about packing up some of his best vocab in a porte-manteaux and trailing down to Margate for a dose of light and air.  According to received wisdom he found a seafront shelter near his hotel and sat and shivered his way through the remaining sections, and references to rocks, sea, Margate and whelks are cited as clear evidence of this.

Except that this image of a thin, mournful man in a greatcoat two sizes too big for him, trilby pulled down firmly over his ears, scribbling lines in a salt-spattered notebook are contradicted by a cache of postcards recently located in the Pitshanger Poetry Archive.  Eliot was a regular at the Tuesday night Workshops by this point and he was keen to keep his fellow poets up-to-date with progress on the great work.  According to this correspondence, he lost no time in getting himself along to the Dreamland Fairground and availing himself of the many amusements therein.  He reports himself enormously fond of the Scenic Railway, a form of early roller-coaster, and its stomach-churning motion may well have been the inspiration for the references to the District Line between Richmond and Kew, which has always given me the collywobbles, I can tell you.

It is somewhat heart-warming to read of the many happy hours he spent reinventing English Poetry while gently orbiting in the sunshine on the Ferris Wheel over Margate.  At the end of the weeks’ stay he was so enamoured with the place that he approached the management of Dreamland offering the use of quotes from his new poem as mottos for their fairground rides, though I feel they may have been put off by Eliot’s ideas for an Old Tiresias Fun House and a Death By Water Boating Pond, as they politely declined.  Even more remarkable is the postcard Eliot sent to Ezra Pound suggesting the whole thing be renamed The Dream Land and have an image of a gold fish in a jam jar on the cover.  What could have been, eh?  If you have been, thank you for reading.



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Snail’s Progress – Peter Francis

(for a likely pair of pilgrims)

Sweeping with poised antenna left and right
A snail crawls across the red tarpaulin.
He does not know he makes himself a target.
Touch and smell, the senses of the skin
Are more to him then colour is, or light.
His minute eyes no larger than a pin
He cannot know how soon a bird in flight
Might trap his succulence and take him in.

He’s never changed not since that primal birth.
Still walks on his stomach and on his back
Carries a house, his  refuge and a burden.
He will survive when we’ve all quit the earth
To bundle on lime walls and leave a track
Of slime that shines like silver in the sun.

I watch him with my God like stare
And think we make a likely pair.

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Workshop, 17th April 2018

Apparently, the sun has got his hat on.  Not that we’d ever know, down here in the bowels of the Archive.  But it’s good that to know that the Earth is still orbiting the sun and not careering recklessly through interstellar space.  You see, we poesy-philes are observant like that.  Ever since Izzy Newton dropped in one day during his nationwide book tour to promote his hot new hardback Principia (pronounced with a hard ‘c’, just to give the pedants something else to wet their pants over).  Except ‘nationwide’ in those days meant Cambridge and London, without even the Other Place getting a look-in.

But he did find time to drop in one Tuesday evening in 1687 to join Richie Slaney and guests, and to give an informal reading from his new blockbuster, available at all good bookshops for a mere few times the average tradesman’s annual wage.  (Well probably, but in truth the best efforts of the Archive’s unpaid interns and their alleged internetting expertise have failed to turn up the actual price on release.  Perhaps we would have had more luck if we actually paid them…)

And a word of redemption is necessary here for the late Francis Willughby and his De Historia Piscum (The History of Fish, for those not pseudy enough to know Latin).  Forever the butt of snarky undergraduates as the unstoppable momentum that ate up the Royal Society’s finances, and caused the inevitable opposite reaction of preventing them from being able to afford to publish Mr Newton’s dense and impenetrable work on falling apples and gyrating planets.  But the fact that the Piscum did not sell is not to diminish its radical attempt of an observational classification, nor its glorious illustrations.  It is true that his editor after his untimely death, John Ray, was obsessed with trying to use natural history to prove Creation, but then Newton himself was a Numerologist in his spare time.

Anyway, this week’s workshop was unconcerned with either planets or fish, more’s the pity.  Michael Harris has been eyeing up his shadow, trying to bring it into the light, while Anne Furneaux has been thinking about Bomber Harris while eavesdropping on the mess room gossip in the wartime RAF.  Daphne Gloag has been finding a poem about apples in a scientific journal, though seemingly they were quite stationary, leading into some Springtime sartorial advice from an unchilly Martin Choules.

Alan Chambers has been meeting a ferryman who was almost (but not quite) mythical, followed by a reflective Owen Gallagher and his father’s sad, quiet death.  The other end of the spectrum (of both subject and volume) was unleashed by John Hurley’s riotous folk song to artificial insemination, which could honestly be described as full of bull, teeing up Peter Francis’ own nature study into snails, though he perhaps missed a trick when he rejected his original title The Life of Brian.  Finally, Pat Francis has written a border ballad that has raided the themes from the lyrical reavers of old, but given them her own treatment to cunningly foil the bailiff.

Izzy’s visit to the Manor was not a great success.  His reading was in Latin, and full of algebra, and went on for far too long, not helped by his monotone delivery, nor breaking off midway to complain that there was a nasty draught and could the window be closed.  At the end, a perplexed Johnny Dryden asked him where did the turtle and elephants fit in, and Matthew Prior commenting that he much preferred Willughby’s Fish.

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Daphne Gloag – Pitshanger Book Shop

It would be most remiss of us not to remind you of a rare opportunity to see and hear Daphne Gloag (of this parish) read at the Pitshanger Book Shop, (141 Pitshanger Lane, Ealing) this week on Thursday the 19th April.

The whole shebang starts at 7PM – the first half comprises readings from her Time sequence, How Long Is Not Long. The second half includes extracts from her previous publications, including Beginnings. James Priestman will be there to read some poems, adding his own drama and panache to proceedings.

See you there!

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The Voice Speaks – Martin Choules

(In reply to Rupert Brooke’s The Voice)

Late in the dusk, in the ancient woods
I saw a poet on my stroll
In desp’rate search for solitude,
At one with all and deep of soul.

I bid him “Ho” and “What a view !”
But he just sighed at ‘one-of-those’.
From lofty heights, his dagger-eyes
Shot down along his haughty nose.

So strange, we took so diff’rently
To seeing beauty silver-pearled –
When I see set a sun so soft,
I want to share it with the world.

I guess for really clever chaps,
We little people must appal –
There’s some so full of inner peace,
They need no other folks at all.

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Workshop, 10th April 2018

It’s Spring, both officially and in spirit, which means it’s submissions time again.  Spring is the traditional time for poets of all stripes to start thinking about writing that powerful and incisive sequence, a love story centred on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union’s Reinforced Concrete Industry, for example, so that one can really get going on it during the long summer break from the comfort of the garden recliner when one should really be taking care of the leylandii infestation.  So, while one is sketching out the structure and conjuring up some really powerful similes around forests of steel rods and the hopelessly intertwined affection Yuri discovers he has for Olga on the 7:30 tram to Magnitogorsk, what should one do with the treasure chest of encapsulated veracity that one has been creating all winter?

Now, I would not demean my devoted readership by suggesting you simply send stuff to poetry magazines, that is not the cut of my drift, heaven forfend.  First there is the sheer drudgery of printing out and packaging ten of one’s best recent works to as many as 300 national poetry magazines.  Fortunately, my Man is happy enough to take care of this Sisyphean task for me, and he gets on with it so well that it has been quite a while since I last noticed him printing anything out or stuffing an envelope.  When I last queried him about this, he told me he prefers to carry out the whole ugly business during the late hours, after I am safely tucked up with my Homer and my Horlicks.  He assures me that as soon as one of these hateful organs responds with anything which resembles an acceptance he will let me know, though it has been a while now since we got any form of response from any magazine.  Rotters.

No, what I am alluding to is the growing plethora of specialist on-line publications and web sites springing up all over the world wide wonderweb.  Narrow, and hopelessly dilettante some of these sites may appear but they often serve a discerning group of connoisseurs who would never succeed in getting a publishing house interested in their subject, although some might argue there is a good reason for this.

This week’s Workshop was anything but maven-like.  Pat Francis got us going with a theme familiar to any urban denizen; the neighbour one never gets to know.  John Hurley spun an intriguing tale of the secret left to him by a Great Aunt, but did he tell us what the secret was?  James Priestman, continuing his drive to open the Bible’s stories to people who might count themselves as philistines, told a story of Abimelech, who was, er, a Philistine.  Peter Francis brought us a poem with more than a nod to ‘In The Time Of The Breaking of Nations’.  Alan Chambers is one with the spirit of the season, with his new piece describing a slow walk into Spring.  Nick Barth keeps coming across the same stretch of road, no matter where he goes.  Owen Gallagher conjured the recurring memory of parting in the mind of an Irishman abroad.  Finally, Daphne Gloag reprised a piece centred around an Assyrian lion in the British Museum, captured at the moment of death.

I came to the conclusion that nothing would improve some of these earnest discussion groups more than a poem from your faithful correspondent.  I am certain that there is nothing that Pylon of the Month would desire more than my angry tirade against the ruination of the skyline by the electricity transmission industry.  I am certain that the peaceable and light-hearted Moustache Waxer’s Companion will jump at the chance to publish my wry castigations on the exploitation of bees by the haircare industry.  Likewise I have written pieces for Cheese Monthly, Cravat Club, Crevette Club and Clavier Club just to mention a few targets in the cees on my planning spreadsheet.  Of course, the administrative burden of identifying and sifting all these fine, specialist web sites is considerable, and I am already of the opinion that it might be another area where my Man can assist me with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of actually sending stuff out.  As always, I am sure will be eager to step in.  If you have a gentleman’s gentleman or other staff I hope you have found this idea helpful, and if you have been, thank you for reading.



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New Year Arrival – Pat Francis

The year came in with snow
and birth pangs. I was afraid
of icy roads. A sour-faced nurse,
glass in hand, greeted our arrival
to the sound of bells.

Alone all day with a new baby
I was fearful. Trees in the park
hung heavy and white, endless
winter; no pushing a pram
through frozen paths.

Alone all day with fretful crying
I felt guilty, heart heavy with love.
When my mother smiled, the baby
smiled back – his first time ever.
My smiles were frozen.

Spring, like hope,
deferred its arrival.

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