Workshop, 24th July 2018

Well, dear reader, the infamous Ealing Heatwave of 2018 (I’ve heard it’s hot in Uxbridge as well) has finally broken me.  Unable to find solace by bowling down the Hanger Lane in the two-seater without my waistcoat on, I have instead decided to take a short break in cooler climes.  Actually, it was my uncle Archie Muldoon (Sir Archie to his friends) who owns a fleet of fishery vessels in the North Atlantic who was the instrument of my exile.  Archie pointed out that Reykjavik was practically the only city on Earth where there is any rain currently, and offered to drop my Man and myself off within a short dinghy ride of the harbour wall.  I write this sitting outside one of the characterful mackerel bars, with my Man doing the sterling work of keeping the rain off the keyboard with his Royal Navy-issue brolly while fending us off from the amorous advances of trawler men and women.  I’ll let you know when I’ve had enough, but right now the mild cold and the mackerel bites are serving me pretty well.

With the cool dampness and smell of fish pervading my corporeal self to the very quick, I am able to turn my mind back to last week’s Workshop.  Pat Francis raised anchor with the second part of her exciting poem based around the Battle of Brentford, a major Civil War skirmish.  Peter Francis sought to set a course based on the troubles in Northern Ireland, with reference to a military punishment.  John Hurley freely admits to enjoying the odd trip in the Tube, even in this heat, and sees life reflected in the journey.  Owen Gallagher cast his nets with a revision of a recollection of tea with his mother, after a hard evenings work.  Alan Chambers kept a look out for storm clouds on the horizon with his powerful piece.  Martin Choules kept one ear to the Shipping Forecast while bemoaning the wholesale slaughter of bracken.  Anne Furneaux kept us on course with a hardworking recollection of a hardworking woman.  New member Niall Cassidy joined the group with a memorable poem on love, or was that the world?  Michael Harris looked to the horizon with two short, linked poems on the personalities of his mother and a surrender.  Doig Simmonds drew us ashore with a story of an absent love.  Finally, Nick Barth tied us up with a wild tale of a road trip to Berlin.

Iceland and the insatiable curiosity of you, my loyal reader are very much in the forefront of my mind, so I dropped an email to Parsonage, my Data Scientist with a request for any link the Pitshanger Poets may have had with that volcanic rock.  He almost drew a blank but after some rigorous query-writing he was able to unearth a few interesting snippets.  For example, in the 1970’s we received a notification that due to the increasing hostilities between Iceland and the UK over some cod, the Reykjavik Poetry Society would be ceasing relations with the Pitshanger Poets forthwith.  This was a surprise as, as far as we were aware, there was never a relationship between our workshop and the RPS.  Parsonage told me that since then it appeared that the RPS had not made any effort to resume relations with the PP, so it is safe to assume that a state of war continues to exist between our two poetry groups. In the 1980’s however, we were sent a small volume of illustrated poetry by one Bjork Guðmundsdóttir.  The PP judged her work to be ‘quirky, clattery and charming, on an eclectic range of subjects, plus we like the drawings’.  Parsonage tells me that the Ferranti Pegasus has been unable to ascertain what became to Ms Guðmundsdóttir; we obviously wish her well in her poetry career.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Workshop, 17th July 2018

Poets, we are reminded, are not creatures of heat.  They thrive much better with a freezing garret than a baking beach.  For sure, they complain about the rain, but oh how they love to complain – whinging is essential to the poet’s soul, is the driver of great rhetoric, from The Seven Ages Of Man to The Coming of the Magi to This Be The Verse.  And yes, moaning about heat is possible, but it’s hard to do when it’s just so darned hot !

And that is why air conditioning is so important in the Archive.  Of course, being underground helps, but this summer’s oppressive mercury gets everywhere.  So steps have been taken, starting with five oar blades being attached to the circumference an old tyre hanging horizontally from the ceiling, kept in perpetual motion by one of the unpaid interns who has been designated as honorary ceiling-wallah.  Alas, the caverns of the Archive tend to be rather low, and the whole rig has proved rather dangerous in the neck-injury department, and we can only be thankful that the original plan to sharpen the blades to better ‘slice’ though the air was not pursued on account of the fibreglass of the blades not taking a good edge when worked with a grindstone.

The bright sparks at this week’s workshop did nothing to lower the temperature of the Questor’s library this week, but such is the price of genius.  Daphne Gloag put a flame under the pot with a pondering on the possible, which Peter Francis fanned with his ‘tri-incidence’ of unlike wartime events.  Anne Furneaux gave the coals a good stoking with her exasperation on the weather, while Doig Simmonds refused to open the windows as he waxed on a newborn.

The broth was boiling by the time Pat Francis sent us dispatches from the Battle of Brentford, which was kept on the simmer by Owen Gallagher’s poignant family drama of death on the doorstep, and steeped all afternoon while Alan Chambers went bric-a-brac rummaging.  The sweat was steaming when John Hurley turned his crystal ball to our distant future, and Michael Harris’ meditation on health could do nothing to cool the atmosphere as he turned up the oven, so it was left to Martin Choules to pour cold water on matters – alas in the sauna of the hothouse, he only managed to make matters worse.

The poets were just as wilted in Sir John’s time.  Perce ‘Bysshie’ Shelley came in one muggy Tuesday after a month’s absense with a new verse he call What I Did On My Holidays.  In it, he proceeded to tell of his vacation in the Egyptian desert, and porceeded to bore everyone with his miniatures of him stood infront of the sphynx, him sitting on a camel, him hilariously appearing to prop up a pyramid, etc.  But judging by his glowing forehead and peeling nose, he had come back with unintended souvenirs.

But worse was that the only poem he had bothered to write all hols was a sneering jibe at the simplicity of the locals – apparently they still had a pair of giant masonry legs standing upon the lone and level sands that they hadn’t bothered to tear down and make to place look more picturesque (they blocked his sea view from his villa).  It fell to Horace Smith to point out that this statue had never had a trunk to begin with, and was just supposed to be the legs – it was, infact, modern art.

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Bath ꟷ Barth – by Nick Barth

On Friday night, North of this line, after tea
before going out, people take a bath, short ‘a’,
maybe with bubbles, perhaps a rubber duck,
some popular tunes on the transistor radio
to soak themselves into the mood for a shimmy.

South of this line, from the West to the East,
before an evening in a Cornish quayside pub
or a clapboard Suffolk Inn, the people baahth,
long ‘a’, as spoken by a lazy sheep, giving directions
to a Roman Spa Town on a warm summer evening.

Time was, that was the only way to ablute, apart
from an enclave within sound of the Bow Bells
where the folk revelled in a bahf, to rhyme with laugh.
The word spread, before long all roads and railways led
out of London and Cockney became ubiquitous Estuary.

The received bahth, received throughout the South
grew itself a bridgehead, dividing West from East,
a corridor formed by M’s One and Forty, reaching up
into the belly of Birmingham, gateway to the North,
perhaps to eventually overcome the rural baahth.

My inheritance is the German Barth, hard ‘t’,
Saxon Thorn long lost to the invasive Franks,
maybe named for a spa town in Mecklenburg
or an ancient line of romantic troubadours
who prefer to shower before leaving the house.

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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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Restructuring – Nick Barth

There used to be bumbling bees.
Wasps wading in jam, paddling in beer,
moths dashing themselves on lightbulbs,
daddy-long-legs dancing in and out of shadows.

They used to be inscrutable.
An angry insect’s hard to read, tangled up in hair,
caught up in a sleeve, in hot pursuit of a picnic,
preserved as a juicy splat across a windscreen.

They used to be so beautiful.
Picking and choosing from colours and shapes
glosses and finishes, wings and appendages
other creatures were too abashed to wear.

There seemed to be so many of them.
The midges that materialised at sunset,
columns of ants constructing communities,
branches draped with buntings of butterflies.

They seemed utterly indispensable.
Fussing over flowers, visiting every stamen,
enabling reproduction, disposing of the dung,
endlessly producing everlasting honey.

But they were guilty of heinous crimes
against humanity, descending on our crops,
making holes in our valuable vegetables,
taking up residence in pristine fruit.

So, we bravely chose to do without them,
took a generous slice out of the food chain,
massively downsized the planet’s workforce, hopeful
that nature will find a way to take up the slack.

©Nick Barth 2018

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