Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Exiled Writers and Eminem

Last night I went to a poetry evening, Exiled Writers Ink, which is held at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street on the first Monday in every month. I went through a phase of going to an awful lot of poetry readings a few years ago. I was looking for a kind of 8 Mile vibe. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places - Andrew Motion at the Magic Circle on National Poetry Day, Andrew Motion at the Poet's Church in St Giles, Andrew Motion again at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey; lovely though our sometimes maligned Poet Laureate is, he's no Eminem, and certainly at these events no-one ever gets round to the all-important duelling bit where poets of note take it in turns to stand and insult each other in rhyme, as I always hope they might.

The closest I have ever got to finding what I was looking for - because of the energy and passion - was going along to Kindred Spirit, a monthly music and spoken word event run by Michelle Escoffery and her family, although the atmosphere is far from aggressive and there is no 'battling'. Indeed, it is so full of peace and love and blessings - with the audience encouraged to turn and introduce themselves and even shake hands with each other - that the first time I ever went, I was worried that I had wandered into a meeting of some kind of religious cult. (No, seriously. I have never been anywhere before where everyone is so nice.)

Anyway, poetry. Going along to a poetry reading rivals an evening at the theatre if you want to get in touch with your animal self - you're pretty much guaranteed a flash of that 'fight or flight' feeling as you take your seat and the first wave of misgivings starts to wash over you. I spent my formative teenage years living in the country-side where the only entertainment was to sit around in bus shelters smoking, or attend a monthly Christian youth club in order to drink coca-cola mixed with aspirin (is it working yet?) and behave repellently in the face of overwhelming kindness and patience from the club's organisers.

I left for London as soon as I could, promising myself the bright lights. And indeed, the lights are rather bright in the Poetry Cafe if you are expecting a bohemian underground den. And the seating arrangements - rows of unmatching, uncomfortable plastic chairs - are disturbingly reminiscent of Dorford Baptist Church hall.

Last night I was struck by the thought - not dismissed quite quickly enough - that maybe London is not so different from Dorchester after all. What were the intentions, I wondered, of that pleasant-looking smiling woman with the accoustic guitar? Surely she was not going to...?

But of course it was a lovely evening. We heard from Syrian, Iranian and Indian poets who read in Arabic and Farsi as well as English. The smiling woman did sing - in Yiddish, which impressed the friend I was with, herself a Somalian refugee who can speak Arabic, Italian and English as well as her own language(s). My friend has a lively sense of humour - she nudged me very hard when the Syrian asked us to sympathise with him for having to live in Brixton when he first fled persecution in his country to live in ours - but she seemed perfectly sincere when she said that if only Simon Cowell had been there last night to hear the Lithuanian folk songs, he would have signed the singer up.

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