STIMULATED BY THE ‘SOFT BASTARD LATIN’

Friday at the Society Club. Poetry night. Some are shy, but cocktails flow and the diffidence lifts. We open with Ginsberg – ‘A Supermarket in California’. Baseball-capped Cary then offers a ‘Howl’-like work-in-progress, untitled unless by the phrase ‘Manifestation of a Feeble Lucidity’. Erik plays piano behind. He does also for lissome Angélique’s recitation of Lermontov in translation. In between comes Eva to try out the texture of a riff on blues composition from Keith Richard’s autobiography. To counterpoint Lermontov in trans, we hear Chris Brock do the start of ‘The Bronze Horseman’ in Russian. Ah, refreshment of language! leaping out of the ubiquitous English.

We need our verbal centres stimulated by the ‘soft bastard Latin’ of Italian, or harsher of French or even Goethe’s German – I try ‘Kennst du das Land’ in due course. But we are not only foreigners here. John Donaldson moves us with piquant Hardy; James chimes in with some Auden. Charlotte offers another original work, and new member Gregory arrives to sing George Harrison’s ‘Something’, accompanying himself on piano, reminding us that Sinatra thought it the best love song ever written. After hours, from behind the bar, George steps out to serve up ironic young man lamentations to fine guitar riffs. There is no Bukowski tonight, though he and Cary often pay homage to the L.A. laureate of the down-and-out. This is the way: new creation and work from old inspirers. As Yeats said (though I can never find the quote, so maybe I dreamt it) ‘The Living give Life to the Imaginings of the Dead’. Grateful, those dead!

One night came Adrian Hornsby, who ran the desk at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris in the days of legendary bookseller George Whitman; he sets up a music rack, fits a script on it and does a skein of poetic prose, with Chaplin-esque gestures simulating the rise and fall of a dancer. After a pause many-talented Sophie emerges from behind the bar with witty verses from Dorothy Parker. Goodness, those talents behind the bar! Twice now, to popular demand, Tom has enacted the entire ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, while Irish Patrick has vivified ‘North’ by Seamus Heaney and driven away a dull moment by turning Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’ into a lyric without Bob’s caterwauling. Others appear as if out of the fog upon the window-pane: Laura to recite O’Hara, Erik with a meditation on a girl along the boulevard. A nameless other does Keats or Shelley or Byron. New pianists, Lulu or Steven, rumble out blues and jazz. Rare magic! Tender polyphony. Everyone has a voice, and no one need fear failure – I can muff Shakespeare as readily as John Paul can perfect the soliloquy ‘Let us sit down and tell sad stories of the death of kings’. All who dare are welcome. ‘Here error is all in the not done,’ Ezra Pound wrote, ‘All in the diffidence that faltered’. Five minutes is the rule: anymore and a vaudevillian hook will reach out to arrest you. Poem, prose, short scene from a play, aria of bel canto, impromptu flamenco – all is possible in this corner of Bohemia in Soho. The Society Club – Friday evenings. A new voice every half hour.