PG Wodehouse: Poetry & Songs

Poet in the City volunteer Janey Goulding has a chat with the PG Wodehouse Society’s Tony Ring ahead of our celebration of the lesser-known songs and poems of the great English humorist.


When fans speak of PG Wodehouse, the phrase “national treasure” inevitably gets uttered in the same breath. To quote another beloved national treasure, Stephen Fry, “Wodehouse was capable of doing things with language that few others have managed.” He was venerated as an institution, a sublime genius and the greatest writer of the 20th century; such plaudits would hopefully have left the English humorist feeling quite close to gruntled, to paraphrase Bertie Wooster.

Yet while lovers of Wodehouse (or Plum, as he was known to his friends) pore over his gooseberry-eyed butlers, male codfish and chinless wonders with great affection, instigating many a heated debate as to whether his Jeeves or Blandings stories should be considered his greatest triumph, relatively little is known of his poetry and song writing. Poet in the City is delighted to be celebrating a selection of Wodehouse’s poems and songs on 14th April and, as a little taster, I asked Wodehouse aficionado Tony Ring about the remarkable lyrical output of a writer whose wit and whimsy continue to tickle our mental accelerators and make our old lemons throb, to paraphrase Bertie again.

“The bulk of Wodehouse’s poetry – which he referred to as ‘light verse’ – was written during his apprentice years as a writer,” explained Tony. “Many of the verses, written in minutes in response to news snippets, have had a remarkable longevity, as the subject matter returns to the public awareness time after time.” The notion of resonating themes and observations echoing a century later is reflected in a forthcoming anthology of Wodehouse’s verse, edited by Tony, entitled ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’. Certainly, a modern-day reader cannot fail to remark on the topical nature of ‘Thoughts on a Recent Wooing’, with its lofty reflections on the lack of ethics amongst the paparazzi, or ‘Ubique’, which predicts the rise of celebrity culture, while ‘Maud’ explores the world of an exotic dancer who dallies with high-profile figures.

As a songwriter, Wodehouse was prolific and successful. As Tony pointed out, although the 1910s was notable for the first appearances of Jeeves, Wooster and Lord Emsworth (of Blandings), it also signalled his emerging significance as a lyricist in musical comedy. “In 1917 alone, he had seven shows opening,” remarked Tony. “Five played simultaneously on Broadway for two weeks towards the end of the year.” Wodehouse, who worked with Cole Porter on the musical ‘Anything Goes’, wrote lyrics for ‘Bill’ in ‘Show Boat’ and the Gershwin-Romberg musical ‘Rosalie’, and collaborated on a musical version of ‘The Three Muskateers’, is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Two of Tony’s favourite songs, both of which will feature at our event, are ‘If I Ever Lost You’ and the original version of ‘Bill’, which became a massive hit in 1927′s ‘Showboat’ but which began life as a song in Kern’s ‘O Lady! Lady!’ a decade earlier. As Tony put it, these lyrics demonstrate Wodehouse’s fancy for “unexpected humour emerging from seemingly sentimental love songs. In later years, he would describe his fiction as musical comedy without the music.”

The Poet in the City event, in which we are hoping to showcase the original London stage version of ‘Anything Goes’, will see Tony Ring joined by Sophie Ratcliffe, an editor of Wodehouse’s letters, writer Simon Brett, singer-actress Lucy Tregear and tenor Hal Cazalet, Wodehouse’s great grandson, who has recorded an album of his songs entitled ‘The Land Where Good Songs Go’. Musical accompaniment comes from pianist Stephen Higgins.

It promises to be a spectacular evening and a fitting tribute to a humorist with a lot to say and a very special way of saying it. “Much of his verse shows that whatever the modern generation may think, you can learn from the past,” Tony affirmed. “Much of life recurs, and although the circumstances are slightly different, and the questions asked vary accordingly, the considerations and the answers are not that different.” That said, Tony was keen to point out that Wodehouse’s philosophy was best reflected in the character of Uncle Fred, whose object in life was to spread “sweetness and light”.

As Wodehouse once asked, “What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?” So come with us, take a trip to Plumtopia, and prepare to have your old lemon squeezed until it tingles!

Credit: Janey Goulding would like to thank Tony Ring for discussing his thoughts on Wodehouse ahead of what promises to be a fantastic event.

Further info:

The PG Wodehouse event starts at 7pm prompt on Monday 14th April in Hall One at King’s Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG. Doors open at 6.30pm.

Tickets cost £9.50 from the Kings Place Website

Otherwise tickets cost £11.50 at the box office.


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War Music – A Poetry Drop-In

Nick Eisen on the ground at Waterstones Piccadilly for the monthly poetry drop-in…


War Music, the theme for April’s Poet In The City drop-in, drew a large and varied response from a well-attended evening. Hosted by poet in residence at Poet in the City, John Mole, the event was packed with poetry.

April’s theme explored the ideas and experiences of War, ancient and modern, offering another space in which to remember the centenary of the outbreak of the war that, as 100 years of hindsight shows, did not end all wars.

Among the contributions were moving renditions of poems by Emily Dickinson, WH Auden, Joseph Brodsky and Robert Lowell.
John introduced the evening by reading from Christopher Logue’s namesake poem for tonight, War Music; Ivor Gurney’s Bach and the Sentry; and a poem this event’s host himself had just written, inspired by an anecdote about Gurney during his time in the trenches: Gurney hears singing drifting across no man’s land from the enemy lines. Impatient with the German’s narrow repertoire the soldier raises his head above the trench’s parapet and, “risking his life for variety”, demands of the singers: “Give us Strauss!” The poem’s poignant comedy threw the atrocity of its context into relief, reminding listeners of the infamous images of that context while finding a less familiar angle on them.

Also overturning the familiar, Garry Wyatt read from an account of Harry Patch, last surviving soldier known to have fought in the trenches. In this account, not everyone was cheering when war was declared: Harry Patch, for one.

In John’s selection, Gurney contemplates aspects of peace from a context of war; John’s own poem reflected on a moment in war from a peacetime viewpoint. This looking across the divide between peace and war resonated elsewhere in the evening. Reading husband Brian Waltham’s Autoroute, Caroline Cooper evoked a then-and-now, is/was double perspective of driving along the Somme, when the memory of the slaughter that the name now evokes may already have been distant and not personal to poet or reader, but was still within a living human span, when it could still have been spoken of by those who were there. Again, in his own poem, Alan Price reflected on the unease of commenting on war through the awareness that he had never been to war himself. Eve Pearce reflected this tension between connection on one level and isolation on another – experience – in her Family Portrait, a moving poetic memoir inspired by a 1902 photograph of her grandfather.

Perhaps recognising we will never know or understand the experience is the closest those of us who have never been to war will get to those who have.

Poet in the City Drop-Ins take place on the first tuesday of every month, at Waterstones in Picadilly. Check out forthcoming themes at


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Poetry Drop-In: Storm and Struggle

Drop in reading at Waterstones Piccadilly: “Storm and Struggle”

By Nina Thommensen


“Storms are the perfect metaphor, but in their real form (in torrential rain or out at sea, or huddles inside against the elements) they force us to get back to nature and remember who’s really boss.”

On Tuesday the 4th of March we gathered at Waterstones Piccadilly for a drop in poetry session on the theme “Storm and Struggle”. As one of our host poets, Louse Warren pointed out, it seemed like “An apt title to end this winter of discontent”. Setting the tone for the first half of the evening Louise read her own poem “I Should Have Kissed Her if the Raid Had Lasted a Minute Longer” alongside “Blashy Weather” by a Scottish poet, and  ‘A Thunder Storm” by Thomas Hardy.

As the evening unfolded the participants’ interpretations varied from mesmerizing depictions of destructive weather that unfolded the poetic beat of the thunder, to describing stormy minds tormented by their inner brawls. Whilst some readers captured the potential advantages of a storm, such as of playing in puddles, seeking shelter and warmth or clearing one’s mind after a proper blowout; others related it to the terrors of war, the destruction of a torn marriage, or the consuming forces of mother nature.

Towards the second half of the evening Alan Price read his own poem “Fathoms”, followed by a reading of John Clare’s “I Am” which demonstrated how the forces and sufferings a man experiences externally also leaves its marks on the inside. Moreover, Alan’s reading of Stanley Kunitz’s “The Portrait” and “The illumination” illustrated the contrasts between light and darkness a storm often plays on. Although a storm sometimes brings destruction, when it clears, there always seems to be a notion of redemption.

Whether the poems were read with a sense of nostalgia due to remembering the stormy nights the reader spent as a sailor, or with a literal intonation that constructs a storm out of words, the evening was not close to a struggle, but rather a stormy success.

We hope to see you all at our next drop-in session on the 1st of April where we will be exploring the poetic possibilities within the theme “War Music”.

An overview over the readers and some of the poems they presented:

  1. Louise Warren  - “Blashy Weather” – her own poem, “A Thunder Storm in Town” – Thomas Hardy
  2. Ingrid Leonard – “The Storm”
  3. John Snelling – “Forecasting” – his own poem
  4. Katherine Lockton – “The Day the Rain Falls” – her own poem
  5. Tim Ward – “Tree at My Window” – Robert Frost
  6. Simon Koppel – “First Storm and There After” – Scott Cairns
  7. Janette Innis – “The Basics of Life” – her own poem
  8. Michael D. Walker – his own poem
  9. Tom Deveson – “The History of the Flood” – his own poem
  10. Nick Eisen – “Steam Hammers” – his own poem
  11. Jennifer Johnson – “Storm in the Black Forest” – D.H Lawrence
  12. Graham Buchan- “Porphyria’s Lover” – Robert Browning
  13. George Maudgil – “Come Spring” – author unknown
  14. Kevin Murphy- “Strange Meeting” – Wilfred Owen
  15. Steve Rushton – “I Hope His Name was Jim” – His own poem
  16. Alan Price – Fathoms – his own poem, I am – John Clare, An extract from “Book of Jobe”, “The Portrait” – Stanley Kunitz
  17. Eve Pearce – “Storm and Struggle” – her own poem.
  18. Ingar Palmlund – “Hurricane Season Little Compton Massachusetts.
  19. Timothy Ades – Florentino Y El Diablo – Author unknown



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Poetry Portraits: poetry, film and fine art

pp logo

Poet in the City is always looking for new ways to celebrate poetry. We love the challenge of starting unexpected conversations between art forms, of looking at things in new ways. And so it is hugely exciting to be launching a cross-arts project which puts poetry on a fantastic new platform.

In collaboration with Lavender Hill Studios, Poet in the City is creating a series of portraits of the poets featured in our 2014 season of events. These exclusive portraits painted by the talented artists at Lavender Hill will then be sold at a high profile charity auction in early 2015.

PP in the studio

To help promote this exciting initiative we are commissioning a series of short films of each portrait. These films will reveal the portraits in progress, with interviews and poetry – providing an intimate insight into the poets and their work.

The films will be used as online promotion in the run up to each event, but will also stand in their own right as a unique celebration of some of the most exciting and important voices in contemporary poetry today.

The finished portraits will be exhibited publicly during 2014 and a special Poetry Portraits live show will be taking place at Kings Place on Monday 6th October. Keep up to date on all exhibitions, events, films and the progress of this unique project on Pinterest…

Follow the project and its story on our Pinterest page:

Poetry Portraits: An Evening with Wendy Cope

Come along to a special evening of poetry from one of the featured poets and Patron of Poet in the City, Wendy Cope,  in the beautiful setting of Lavender Hill Studios on Thursday 20th March at 7pm. Tickets cost £6.50 and can be booked here.

The selected poets and their artists:

Wendy Cope – Scott Pohlschmidt

Gwyneth Lewis – Ann Witheridge

Jo Shapcott – Jill Hooper

David Harsent – Nick Bashall

Patience Agbabi – Rosalie Watkins

Leontia Flynn – Phoebe Dickinson

Gerdur Kristny – India Amos

David Constantine – Joni Duarte

Imtiaz Darkhar – Archie Wardlaw

Sir Andrew Motion – Scott Pohlschmidt

Seamus Heaney – Ann Witheridge

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Poetry and Wine – The most renowned and prestigious chateaux in Bordeaux

The most renowned and prestigious chateaux in Bordeaux

Time is now ticking down to the Poetry and Wine… from Bordeaux fundraiser event which we are holding at the offices of Clyde & Co in the City of London on Tuesday evening (22 Oct). Everyone at Poet in the City is very excited to be working with the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux, the most prestigious wine institution in Bordeaux, and one of the leading wine organisations in the World.


When people talk about the best wine producing regions in the world, they invariably name the region of Bordeaux in France.  But even within Bordeaux there are huge variations in the nature and quality of the wines produced. In fact the term Bordeaux wines is misleading in that it refers to a quantity of 800 million bottles of wine produced every year from the region, much of which is sold under the generic English name of claret. The Poetry and Wine… from Bordeaux tasting on Tuesday involves something altogether more special. The Academie du Vins de Bordeaux represents the so-called classified growths, the most renowned and prestigious châteaux wines, and some of the very best wines produced in the Bordeaux region. As my wine contact put it to me today, if your average Bordeaux is a family saloon car, the wine being presented on Tuesday is a Rolls Royce!


The tasting on Tuesday is therefore going to be a very rare and special treat for wine-lovers, and a great opportunity to sample some of the very finest wines in the World, the product of centuries (if not millennia) of wine expertise. One of the poems being featured at the event on Tuesday is by the Roman poet Ausonius, extolling the virtues of wine from his home town of Bordeaux in the 4th century AD! With such exceptional wines being presented, both white and red, guests are going to want to hold on firmly to the tasting notes which will be handed to them at the door. These not only identify all of the wines clearly, but give an idea of the flavours and characteristics to look out for in each case. Some of the wines being featured normally retail at £120 or £130 per bottle, and so are in a category far and above the pocket of many wine drinkers. All the better then that most of the chateaux have included their wines, including some in Magnum sized bottles, as prizes in the charity raffle, accompanying the tasting.  Buy enough raffle tickets and you will stand a good chance of going away with one of these fabulous wine prizes.


For those reading this blog who are already wine aficionados, I have listed all the places of origin and wines being featured below for your information. For those who are interested in discovering more about fine wines, this event is a great opportunity for you and your taste buds to explore some of the greatest wines from one of the World’s greatest wine regions.  In the meantime the wine samples which we were handing out at a sample tasting to foodies at Borough Market in London this morning were a huge hit, with reactions varying from delight to surprise. With the shard towering overhead, and a helicopter hovering, quite a number of those who tasted the wine or took the flyers said that they would be coming along to the tasting on Tuesday evening. So don’t miss your chance to experience fine wine from a region which Ausonius describes as follows…Temperate the skies and mild,/Fertile lands that early smiled,/Winters warmed in new-born sun,/Springs full-blown, where rivers run/Like the seas with foaming tides,/Vineyards clinging to their sides


The Academie du Vins de Bordeaux is presenting the following prestigious wines at Poetry and Wine on Tues 22 Oct:

Pessac Leognan: Whites – Château La Tour Martillac 2011, Château Corbonnieux 2010, Blanc, Château Domaine de Chevalier 2003, Château de Fieuzal 2009 and Château Malartic-Lagraviere 2008. Reds – Château de Fieuzal 2009 and Château Malartic-Lagraviere 2005.

Listrac-Medoc: Red – Château Fourcas Hosten 2009

Margaux: Red – Château Kirwan, 2008

Saint – Estephe: Reds – Château Phelan Segue 2008, Château Lafon Rochet 2007

Saint Julien: Red – Château Beychevelle, 2005

Pomerol: Red – Château Gazin, 1999

St Emillion: Reds – Château Corbin Michotte 2010, Château Canon La Gaffeliere 2006, Château Dassault 2006, and Château La Dominique 2006

Barsac: Liquors – Château Doisy-Daene 2010 and Château Nairac 2010

poetry and wine


 Tickets cost £35 and can be book via

 Poetry and Wine takes place from 6.30pm on Tuesday 22 October 2013

Clyde and Co
St Botolph Building
138 Houndsditch
EC3A 7AG London

For further information on this event please contact or 0207 014 2812

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Poetry and Wine – Wine from the Oppidum

By Graham Henderson, CEO of Poet in the City

As Poet in the City prepares for its next exciting Poetry and Wine event next week, we and our celebrity and poet contacts are reflecting on the history and connections of wine in a series of blog pieces. This piece is about my serendipitous discovery of a lovely new French wine called Oppidum, shortly after visiting the most famous example of such an Oppidum…

In August this year I paid a visit to Villa Dondona, a fantastic small wine estate, in Languedoc run by the husband and wife team Andre Suquet and Jo Lynch. Despite the fact that the first vines on the estate were only planted in the year 2000, they have scooped several prestigious awards for their wines over the last 3 years, making them one of the most exciting new producers in Upper Languedoc. They have called their most full-bodied red wine Oppidum, a rich and fruity wine redolent of the beautiful but semi-arid conditions of the Herault region.


The Oppidum is a Gaulish fortified town of the sort encountered by Julius Caesar when he conquered the territory of what is modern France between the years 58 and 50BC. These settlements have recently been described by Graham Robb in an article in the Guardian As it happens, earlier this summer, I also visited on my bicycle the most famous of the Oppidum towns, Bibracte, the remains of which are spectacularly located on top of Mont Beuvray in Burgundy. After defeating Vercingetorix and the Gauls at Alesia in 52BC, Julius Caesar wintered at Bibracte and composed several books of his history of the Gallic Wars in the town.


I always imagined the encounter between Romans and Gauls as an unequal struggle between the uniformed ranks of Caesar’s heavily armed and well-trained legions and a disorganised mass of Gaulish tribesmen. In fact the archaeology tells quite a different story. The technology of arms and armour was shared, and when a helmet from the period is discovered, it is often impossible to tell whether it was worn by a Roman or a Gaul. In other respects we learn that the Gauls were technologically superior to the Romans, for instance inventing the wagon wheel in a form that was to remain virtually unaltered until the invention of the motor car. And the Oppidum, the walled town and trading centre, was at the centre of a dramatic social and economic transformation affecting much of northern Europe. Over 300 such towns were established in northern Europe in the century immediately preceding the Roman conquest, many connected by new roads and trading routes. All of which raises the fascinating possibility that, had the Romans not conquered northern Europe when they did, the Gauls might have represented a future threat to Roman dominance of the Mediterranean. Perhaps Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was in fact a pre-emptive strike against a rapidly modernising enemy?


Choosing the name Oppidum for a new red wine is therefore a good idea, suggesting both the ancient identity of what is now France, and the history of the subsoil, but also reflecting the surprising sophistication and latent potential of what I am sure is going to become a widely acknowledged wine label. For my part, when I sip a glass of Oppidum, I shall be thinking of Vercingetorix, thriving Gaulish entrepôts and wagon wheels!

Graham Henderson 2013


poetry and wine

Tickets cost £35 and can be book via

Poetry and Wine takes place from 6.30pm on Tuesday 22 October 2013
Clyde and Co
St Botolph Building
138 Houndsditch
EC3A 7AG London

For further information on this event please contact or 0207 014 2812

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Poetry and Wine – by David Harsent

david h

The connection between wine and poetry is deep and ineradicable. I think first of Baudelaire’s Le Vin from Les Fleurs du Mal. In ‘The Ragpicker’s Wine’, the poet tells us, God created sleep, Man added wine. Note the crucial ‘added’; clearly, God forgot. ‘The Murderer’s Wine’ begins with a joyous, drunken shout: ‘My wife is dead! I’m free now to get pissed / Whenever I want’. What the police might call ‘a death under suspicious circumstances’, perhaps. In ‘The Loner’s Wine’, Baudelaire insists that sex, gambling and music can’t bring to the poet the satisfaction wine offers, although ‘The Lovers’ Wine’ has an effect indistinguishable from orgasm. And in ‘The Soul of Wine’, wine personified advertises itself as a reward for – and relief from – toil, as a form of religious devotion, as an aphrodisiac (I’ll bring an ecstatic light to your wife’s eyes), as Dutch courage and as the very source of poetry.
I had a friend who worked as an event organiser. She once told me: ‘In general, we allow a half-bottle per person. If it’s poets, we allow a bottle-and-a-half.’
When I was first reading all the poetry I could lay hands on – fifteen years old, say – someone put in my way Dowson’s poem ‘Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae.’ It took me a while to discover the source of the title but no time at all to equate wine with sex. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine/There fell thy shadow, Cynara! Thy breath was shed/Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine… It was that interruptive breath between the kisses and the wine that made my head swim. At about the same time, Jimmie Rodgers had a hit with ‘Kisses Sweeter than Wine’, a trash song with one of those sub-Country tunes, but it reinforced my notion that kissing and wine were in some sort of erotic partnership.
Keats had a great deal to say about wine: in Ode to a Nightingale, to mention perhaps the most famous example, as a means to oblivion. A more celebratory (though offhand) attitude led him to this:

Give me women, wine, and snuff
Until I cry out “hold, enough!”
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection:
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My beloved Trinity.

Just a bagatelle, a knock-off on the merits of indulgence. Its intoxicating trio always makes me think of: Cigareets ’n’ whisky ’n’ wild, wild wimmin. At another time, in a letter to his sister, Keats said, ‘Give me books, French wine, fine weather and a little music played outdoors by somebody I do not know.’ In some ways, a civilised version of ‘women, wine and snuff’, almost vicarage lawn were it not for that intriguing last aspect of the request. He wanted the music but not to have to acknowledge the player: an indulgence of another sort. So, women, wine and your drug of choice, or books, wine and distant music? You choose.

poetry and wine

Tickets cost £35 and can be book via

Poetry and Wine takes place from 6.30pm on Tuesday 22 October 2013
Clyde and Co
St Botolph Building
138 Houndsditch
EC3A 7AG London

For further information on this event please contact or 0207 014 2812

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