Time passes. We have a new website, we have new books on the shelves, we have new poets and readers and rapt listeners. Yet much remains – regulars Erik and Leon and Gregory, with their new or old songs and verses; relative newcomers Emanuele and Charley and Chimet, who are game to try out their voices whenever they arrive. We are fortunate for the new as well as the old. And the new have included some with slim vols already published or with recordings you should hasten to download, not only our faithful Lail Arad but also multilingual Camilla Mathias.
Multilingual – polyphonic – a space of liberty – that’s what we are. On the last night of May two further newcomers began, Marie-Charlotte with Heredia’s ‘L’Empereur sanglante’, Lydia with a traditional verse in Chinese about a son leaving his mother to become a state official. The globe began turning. Nina read the poem by her fellow-Bengali Rabindranath Tagore which Nehru recited to the nation on the famous midnight when India threw off the raj. Then George read Cafavy’s ‘Ithaka’ in Greek, with Katina translating in English. Sheera followed a famous piece by W. H. Auden with a lyric in Hebrew. At the end of the evening Camilla sang a romantic ballad half in Italian.
We are cosmopolitan, as is this unofficial capital of the world. The provinces of all countries come to mix here. Meanwhile, among native speakers, Leon in his softly modulated northern accent recited two original pieces, while Jennifer in indelible Amerikin told one of her tales of Baghdad. Jen, not American, nonetheless read a passage from Ginsburg’s ‘Kaddish’, bookending a series which began with me reading a section out of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In between came Keleigh Wolf, whose new poem in honour of club regular Charlotte extended the range of her already formidable Ginsburg-ian or perhaps Whitmanesque oeuvre. It was big; it was bold. A rich evening.
All our evenings are rich in their way, even the ones which followed Sophie’s departure in April after a party so festive that some may have thought it was an end. If it was that, it was also a new start. Mark Fiddes appeared to delight us with sly comic jibes at George Clooney and at the oligarch carry-on dominating the Chelsea Flower Show. We had Louise Stern whose communication by hand, eye and expression only enhanced the charm of her performance and the depth of her tales. A stalwart is Barney, whether reading his own work or a passage from Douglas Dunn, hitting out at hypocrisy in subtle modulation of humour and rage. Nor least has been Leila reading passages from her book of stories set in Cuba, laconic yet tidily detailed about place, personality and interpersonal perfidy.
I stand by the bar and ring the bell, and things happens. It is almost always different from what I’ve expected, even when coming from me. It was perhaps just desserts that when I tried a sequence of Shakespearean sonnets, our stalwart Will halted it by clapping after a line which ran ‘But fires flicker still, I’m not yet dust’. Who would want to hear about dust in this lively place, let alone what may come after? Merciless Death is banned, or retarded, however it may lurk as subject. Poetry countenances all, but on our Friday nights it is many-tongued Love and polyphonic brio that rules.