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Coffee House Poetry at the Troubadour

Had a great evening yesterday at the Troubadour as Coffee House Poetry, Anne-Marie Fyfe’s fortnightly poetry readings, got underway for its summer season.

It’s a crazy scene –  the vibrancy, the quirkiness, the sheer number of people, Cahal Dallat’s virtuosic keyboard skills (yesterday the background medleys included opera classics and a rumbunctious dose of Mozart, all from memory). Moving amongst the crowd, Anne-Marie greets everyone and the whole place feels like a party. And who’s that sitting at the back? Oh, it’s Van Morrison and Jimmy Page, dropped by for a spot of poetry action. You can’t help but feel you’re on a film set. Love it!

Last night’s first half readers were Mark Huband, Scarlett Sabet, Will Burns & Miranda Peake, after which we had a brief musical interlude when Henry Fajemirokun played and sang a very nice Simon & Garfunkel number. Mark Huband’s background in journalism and travel writing informs his poetry – he read from his book ‘American Road’ and some extracts from a new long work. I loved the start of Scarlett Sabet’s set, a strong first poem full of promise. Towards the end she read some more performance-style poems which I find a bit harder to digest – I suppose I mean the repetition and relentless hard rhymes, which I find distract from the meaning and weaken the power of the words.  Miranda Peake admitted she was very nervous, which was a shame, because it dried out her voice – I suspect I would enjoy her poems on the page, they seemed accomplished.

I didn’t take notes, although I noticed a few people around me doing so. I wonder what they write? Maybe the names, for future reference, or perhaps an idea or two that needed capturing. I do sometimes find my mind wandering in a reading, but not in a bad way – it’s usually something I hear that takes seed or gives me a sudden angle on an old issue. As I’m writing now I’m remembering a couple of things I should have written down at the time. Oh well!  And the other thing I’m famously pants at is taking photos of well-lit readers in dark spaces. Which is why I only managed one, but the reader is so blanched out it could be anyone – although it is in fact Will Burns:

Will Burns Faber poet

The second half felt like the big-hitters, with Nigerian poet Inua Ellams (check out his beautiful and stylish website) full of warmth and humour getting things off to a cracking start, Tim Richardson – a big character with an even bigger following in the room, Roisin Tierney – authoritative presence & many Spanish food references and R.A. Villanueva, a vibrant American reader who I wish I could have paid more attention to, but I was a bit tired and thinking about my train at this point.

My favourite reading of the night was by Will Burns and I couldn’t wait to snap up a copy of his pamphlet. Something about his poetry made me sit up. There was nothing exotic about it, but it was extraordinary. The problem with writing about the extraordinary, whether it’s people, experiences, places, is that the writing has a lot to live up to. (See point 7 of Don Paterson’ tips). Plus there’s not always space for the reader. Whereas writing about the ordinary, in an extraordinary way, feels to me like the real work of poetry. It doesn’t just let me in, it reminds me there’s a reason to write and how much there is still to discover both in myself and in others.

On the home page of the website, a quote from Billy Collins declares that the Troubadour has “evolved over its 60 year history from a hidden-away beatnik coffee house to a world famous center for the performance of music and poetry.” Well, it still feels pretty beatnik to me, and nothing wrong with that.

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Robin Houghton 2021