ET AL: Failing to bring them flowers


Poets are giving us sleepless nights,” said a photocopy of a news report published in The Guardian that was stuck on the door of the Poetry Café, London.

Managed by the Poetry Society, it’s a small room with wooden table and chairs and a bar. The Café was voted one of the top 10 cult cafes in Elle Decoration, and this year was included in the Guardian/Cafe Met guide to London’s ‘most funky, stylish and interesting cafes’.

It remains busy all year long with various events including Niall O’ Sullivan’s The Cellar and The Poetry Unplugged, Jennifer Langer’s Exiled Writer’s Ink, Nii Parker’s African Poetry, Survivor’s Poetry, Crossing the Line, Dodo Modern Poets and Erotic Poetry Night.

Located in a quiet, residential street close to Covent Garden, the Café’s vivacious commotion seems to have disturbed the sleep of local residents. Sullivan starts the evening by inviting the audience to the dark room downstairs. People collect their drinks and move, paying the entry fee at the entrance. Downstairs Sullivan warns, “There’s a lady next door who hates us all. Please leave the Café noiselessly, do not prolong your farewells on the streets…”

Images of Kathmanud’s New Road sahunis complaining as poets crowd roadside teashops blocking pavements and occupying seats without a cup of tea comes to my mind. Must poets share a similar destiny the world over?

But things in the UK seem different in many ways. People here love to pay to listen to poetry. Audience do not expect to get fed with sumptuous food, tea, samosas at such events. Unlike in Asia, entry to such events is seldom free and people readily buy their drinks at the bar. Sullivan has to pay for the event, so he insists on an entry fee, even from poets who regularly read at his events.

“Poetry scene has never been as vibrant as it is today in the UK,” says Jazz poet John Clarke. “Thanks to the performing poets who have done their utmost to blend music, popular arts and poetry.”

True to Clarke’s assertion, I remained extremely busy in London and during my stay, read at more than 40 events, mostly paid and signed scores of books.

This is how John Paul O’Neill of Farrago Poetry Group welcomed me at the Royal Society of Dramatic Arts: “Today we have this man from the Himalayas amongst us. He was wandering in the mountains and one day thought of coming to London’s Oxford Street and ended up at our event...”

One thing that struck me most at the events was their casual everyday experience. The poetry they recite employs an average Londoner’s language, including all the swearing and cursing. Bush and Blare, Saddam and Bin Laden, Tsunami and Iraq, Bond and Barbie doll, all come under fire. The variety of venues and props they use leave the readers awestruck.

I was shocked to watch the Other Theresa, young British poet from Hackney, perform at RADA. She took a Barbie doll out of her bag and started fondling it as she read, combing her hair and finally lifted the frock to read the last lines.

If my friend Sybil’s reading at the Boat Ting on the waters of Thames had fused most experimental music with screaming recitals to celebrate the power of the Pussy, leaving us blushing like kids, Anthony Howell’s ‘The Room’ at Toteham Court Road involved dance sequences laced with yogic moves. If John Clarke’s reading at Bubblegum, Deptford had country music interspersed with poetry of the cityscape, Nii Parker’s and Kadija George’s recital’s brought the fragrance of the African continent. 

There were some venues/events I couldn’t reach like ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’. I was invited twice, first by my friend Baden Prince, and then by John Clarke. Being new I didn’t know how to get on the right route and ended up wandering on the Oxford Street Underground Stations the first time. Second time, though I had to leave for Wales.

“London’s literary scene,” I thought, “is pretty busy like its traffic and fertile like this magical island itself. I’d go next time.”

But the next time I got the reproach/invitation from ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’, it was scheduled the day after I was leaving London to return to the silence of my own Himalayas.