Eating Out – Daphne Gloag

A meal in that nice vegetarian restaurant
in Hampstead High Street – our first meal out.
We had mixed bean stew.

He said he’d been longing for this and hoped it would be
the first of many, contemplating
the bean on his fork.

Longing for what? Many more mixed bean stews?
Well, certainly I liked that stew – after all
I ordered it.

But many more? Could he have meant
the start of a relationship? Surely not!
And did I want it?

It would be safer to stick with the idea
of many mixed bean stews.
But really…

Even as the words formed in my mind
I saw a bean beginning to sprout.
It grew up and up

and up and up until an infant universe
sprang off the top. Its big bang
was violent,

and expanding briefly at near the speed of light
it broke through the restaurant walls. Was this
to be our relationship?


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Workshop, 23rd January 2018

There are plenty of authors who, despite being born in Not England, have nevertheless overcome their deficiency of not speaking the Mother of Tongues to write some of the most memorable novels in English !  From Joseph Conrad to Jung Chang via Jack Kerouac (Quebecois, since you ask).  By the way, Vladimir Nabakov and Kazuo Ishiguro don’t count, as they were already fluent while still in short trousers.

But poets ?  There are a few in our current times, though one wonders if writing in the modish free verse might make things a little easier for them.  However, if searching for evidence of mastery of weather-obsessive rhythm and warm-beer rhyme, then one need look no further than the pop charts, where the likes of Abba, Neneh Cherry, and super-producer Max Martin have dominated the discoteques of Albion for decades.  Hmm…come to think of it, is it only the Swedes who are so good at English ?  Well, there’s always Björk, though who knows what on earth she’s going on about…?

Anyway, this week’s workshop was a monolingual affair, but none the worst for it.  John Hurley spun a yarn about childhood friends ending up on opposite sides of a bank balance, and Pat Francis told us about a very precise woman watching the slapdashing children.  A stowaway’s dreams crashing down was recounted by Peter Francis, while Alan Chambers has been shouting about the waterfall that wants to drown him out.  Owen Gallagher has been pondering the source of the Latin flair in an Irish village, while Michael Harris has been seduced and  consoled, but has he been resolved ?  Perhaps Daphne Gloag could tell him, although she does seem rather preoccupied by her lunch, and Anne Furneaux is imagining the Top Brass in the RAF having less of moral dilemma than we might wish for.  Finally, Martin Choules is determined not to let an irrational fear get in the way of his phobia.

Oh course, back in Sir John’s day, a respectable gentleman was expected to be proficient in French, Italian, ancient Greek, and maybe even a smattering of German.  The Royal Navy may have been busy exporting the Common Tongue to all nooks of the empire, but once a grand tourist had disembarked from the packet boat at Calais, then it was as much use as a teapot in a vineyard.  It wasn’t as if the locals of Geneva or Venice were hoping to write the next crowd-pleaser to sweep the music halls of Hackney.  Byron’s witty epigram about catching cold while swimming the Hellespont would be quite lost on the Hellespontese.  But English’s day would come…and then it would go, and one supposes in future centuries the lyrically gifted of these wet and windy islands shall have to turn their fine novels and couplets in Arabic or Mandarin, or maybe even Swahili or Tagalog.

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Above love – Michael Harris

He said he thought
I was above all that
sex and love
and relationship stuff,
the messy business
of life.

I know he meant it
in a generous way,
that he saw me
as a spiritual being
on a higher plane,
but his words

cut to the quick
and exposed
the distance I’d placed
between myself
and the cut thrust


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Workshop, 16th January 2018

Well, it barely feels as if the New Year has begun and we are already one twenty-fourth the way through it.  But the Ides of January are the slough of the year, the long Sunday sofa slump-out recovering our energy, our credit and our waistlines.  They are a doldrum poetically too, with a great drought of inspiration and a great flood or lethargy.  But that is no reason for the unpaid interns of the Archive to think that they can laze about comparing gifted jumpers and fidgeting with their phones (and good luck getting a signal down here, and the Archive wi-fi network has long since been postponed until next century.  Incidentally, while we’re in this parenthesis, our resident ‘teckie’ is always moaning about the term ‘wi-fi’: “I mean, what does it even mean ?  The ‘wi’ I get, but why ‘fi’ ?).

No, January is the perfect months for cataloguing.  Every tome must be taken down from the shelves and raised up from the stacks, to be measured, weighed, pan-toned, and have a census made of every word therein.  How many of our slim volumes contain a suitable verse to express one’s vague feeling of regret at not remembering to buy more coffee the last time they were in the shops ?  We will soon know.

Anyway, this week’s workshop showed no signs of slacking as Alan Chambers shared his relief about the restrained nature of the weather forecast and Daphne Gloag pitied the ancient, silent lyre and the crushed, trampled hands prevented from plucking it.  Michael Harris has been complimented for his lack of love, which touched a nerve, while Pat Francis has been enjoying her early suburban mornings surrounded by human life, out there somewhere.  Husband Peter has been recalling the looming prison which shared a party wall with his old playground, and the hypothesised giraffes on the other side, while for Owen Gallagher it is lost love and active imagination that is fuelling his reminiscences.  Finally, Martin Choules has been watching the monkey and the organ grinder, both with and without his rose-tinted pince-nez.

Daphne, incidentally, has a new collection out from Cinnamon Press, so that’s yet another book to add to the Archive’s in-tray.  I suppose we should be thankful that poets tend to be short-burst, long gestation authors, waiting for months for the muse to attend an at-home, or polishing a line to give just the right weight to the semi-colon mid way along.  Imagine if there were pulp-poets, sprouting-out a disciplined seven-thousand words per day, knocking out quotas of couplets, writing metres by the foot.  Not only would their verses be little better than random number generators, but they would run to eight hundred pages.  And most galling of all, they would be selling them by the thousands from airport stationers and supermarket trolley-fillers.  So often lumped in with such journeymen are the much-maligned greetings card pensmiths, but here in the Archives we won’t hear a word against them – at least their doggerel is short.

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Revolutions – Nick Barth

There is still time,
while the world teeters
on its cosmic eccentric
as if holding a pose
to let the perihelion pass,
while the days have stopped shortening
but are hardly any longer;
there is still time
to set a course for the year.

To point a pencil of light into the fog,
to sketch out a map,
ink in some outlines.
To grow in stature
while losing some weight.
To get a little more sleep
to spend more time awake.
To laugh more often
but tell fewer jokes,
to start conversations
but write fewer posts.
To read one more great novel
but dispense with old fictions,
to get a poem going every day
and get one finished on occasion.
To listen to music
to enjoy the silence.
To appreciate more art
but be less artful.
To stop watching the news
but keep up with events.
To repay debts
and find things to invest in.
To reduce the footprint
while stepping further out.
To be happy with less
while searching for more.
To stop killing time
while living the moment.
To never be lonely
even when quite alone.
To dispense with faith
and rekindle belief.

For the world is not flat
here be no dragons,
you will find the coastline humdrum
in fifty weeks’ time.
Think of the sunshine
your feet warm upon deck,
those are the moments
that make the journey worthwhile.

The stories we tell ourselves
are the narratives we use
to keep us together
while we find our way home.

©Nick Barth 2018

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Workshop, 9th January 2018

I don’t know anyone who really enjoys January, do you?  I suppose the package holiday people are feeling bright and hopeful that punters are still leafing through the tome-like supplements that fell out of the Christmas Radio Times, sharpening their credit cards to book another slap-up cruise of a lifetime.  The diary and calendar industries are looking for that tell-tale upswing in the early January sales figures that demonstrates beyond doubt that the smart phone and the tablet have at last ceased to ravage their market and the same retro hipsters who are now buying vinyl have all decided to revive the Filofax and the cute kitten calendar for 2018.  I am quite sure that the vast Christmas Tree recycling multi-nationals are enjoying their bumper month and badgering their marketing departments to have another go at re-popularising further varieties of indoor foliage, from the Valentine’s Virginia Pine, Holy Easter Douglas Fir and August Bank Holiday Colorado Spruce, in an almost certainly vain attempt to fill our streets with spiky green corpses all year round.

Clearly, it’s overtime all the way in the country’s salt, zinc and vitamin C mines, but those vast rolling plains of Echinacea in the mid-west have surely already been harvested and safely bundled up into huge nostrum silos ready for distribution through a billion highly reputable emporia by now, even if no-one really knows what it’s supposed to do.

My loyal poetic readership will even now be yelling at their Netscape Navigators that I am ignoring the not inconsiderable Rabbie Burns industry.  Of course, I am aware that many people enjoy the aphrodisiac qualities of lengthy tracts of vernacular verse accompanied by the traditional two-pound Haggis and even now Scotland’s sheeps-stomach-and-barley mills are running at full stretch, while boutiques around the world are laying in such exotic items as Wee Timorous Beastie provocative underwear and Best Laid Plans prophylactics for the night of passion itself.  The local adult specialist, so conveniently located next door to the emergency locksmiths has already got its tartan bunting up.  It’s no wonder so many Scottish people have their birthdays in September, don’t you think?

Perhaps I should be a little less deplored by January.  As a month, it provides few interruptions to the lyrical arts.  It might be a bit dark and dingy, but we are now on a clear run into Spring.  This enthusiasm was shared by this week’s Workshop.  Caroline Am Bergris presented a polished, well-developed poem on the subject of a monster she once lived with.  Ann Furneaux brought a rhetorical work revolving around the orientation of North and South.  Daphne Gloag has also been thinking about a monster, through the eyes of Gilgamesh.  Sometimes a PP Workshop unconsciously produces a theme, as happened this week, with Owen Gallagher remembering a childhood of dragon-slaying in the tenements of Glasgow.  Doig Simmonds calmed us down with a spiritual experience in Africa at a shrine to Sango.  Bashir Sakhawarz drew us to the mountain-walled Afghanistan, and bread.  Alan Chambers took us in a new direction with an old poem recalling the distant sounds of a fairground.  Nick Barth has been thinking about the next spin around the Sun.  Pat Francis settled us down with three scenes from Twickenham and the gentleman’s game which is played there.  Finally, Martin Choules stepped into controversial territory by musing on modern witch-hunts.

At this juncture, I must apologise for the break in the usual service over the Christmas and New Year period.  The truth is, apart from the usual fripperies and folderols I was intensively engaged in an investigation into one of the many filing boxes that has emerged from the cavernous undercrofts of Pitshanger Manor during its restoration.  The team came across a box of index cards which refer to spoken word recordings of poets reading their own works.  As will be familiar to you by now, the Pitshanger Poets have always been early adopters of technology and the Workshop first acquired an Edison Speaking Machine in the 1890’s and continued to capture poets reading their own works for many years.  As is only right and proper, the vulnerable and delicate recordings themselves were long since donated to The British Library Spoken Word Collection, however this one box of orphaned index cards, featuring only the first lines of the recordings featured represent a puzzle that I found myself wrestling with in every waking hour.  For example, there is Robert Browning’s apparently lost poem, read by the man himself, which begins with the enigmatic line, ‘Do I speak into this?’.  Then there is a George Bernard Shaw piece which starts with the pithy; ‘Is this thing on?’.  On what?  Mysteries abound.  I simply cannot find the Thomas Hardy poem which in any way resembles the highly metrical first line; ‘This one for level. One, two, one, two’, and yet here is the card, neatly typed and dated 1919.  I would certainly like to find a printed copy of the Robert Frost poem which commences with the visceral; ‘Drat, I fluffed it, I’ll go again’.  If you can throw any light on these lost works, please drop me a line.

Happy New Year, and if you have been, thank you for reading.


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First Kiss – by John Hurley

Her daddy was a wealthy man acquisitions,then some sackings
I came from a lower caste with social graces lacking
Maria was a lovely girl, good manners, middle class
Not a lot in common with the youth who cut the grass

And yet she smoked my woodbines, as we sat in the tool shed
Mam and Dad were often absent, with the busy life they led
I never called her by her name, usually just “Miss”
But one evening in a thunder storm I stole a naughty kiss

During lightning and torrential rain, she was a frightened lass
Never even slapped my face, said “Just stick to cutting grass”
So quickly I was disabused of my silly notions
People with her background have a grip on their emotions

The tempest was the trigger, my behaviour was quite crass
But then she had clung to me, like bad luck to a tinkers ass

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