madness, I suppose. Idiocy, at any rate. Sure, we'd
been successful with our monthly poetry nights at Bolton's
Sweet Green Tavern. And the Octagon Theatre nights
had been a sell-out. Well, two out of the three. But
a poetry night in Bordeaux: Bor-bloody-deaux? Yeah,
why not? We can do it.
I suppose I
did know the place, had lived there once and spent
many a contented hour in the Cambridge Arms. Just off
the Chartrons, now you're asking.
So we did it: cheap flights via Nottingham
(never mind the ozone layer, this is poetry). The Bordeaux
end of things was organised by Caroline (I'm doing a
PhD in Latin American poetry. Oh, Neruda. Yes, so
much better in the original Spanish, dont you
find? Er, well I did see Il Postino). You know the
sort of thing? No, neither did we.
We'd decided to have a read-around at
the Cambridge on the, usually-quiet, Thursday night,
and a bigger event with open mic sessions at
Molly Malone's on the quayside, on Saturday. Ah,
They'd forgotten that 11th
November is Armistice Day, a public holiday in France.
And the French go out for their tea, all of them, to
the Cambridge Arms, just when want to do your poetry.
When we arrived, this quintessentially
English pub was full of French people eating fish and
chips and drinking pints of stout; slowly. And I mean
full: not a single, solitary, sodding seat. What
would Sylvia Plath have done now, I wondered.
Not being monkey-eating cheese
surrenderers, we went on the offensive. Hand-to-hand
combat won a few seats as poisson-consumers left and,
by the arrival of the first of our poets, we had
established a beachhead near the dartboard, chairs
drawn together like wagons in a circle. Swelled by
reinforcements, and a combination of Beamish-driven
bravado and stout defensive measures, the poetry
finally started to flow.
By ten, we were taking turns to stand
and deliver our own or others' poetry. LA met Bolton,
met Chicago met Ginsberg, met Larkin. And,
suddenly, it became one of those evenings. The ones
where, you HAD TO BE THERE. The band arrived, an
Irish pipe player from Oban (it happens) and a
singer/guitarist from Beamish. Some sort of promotion
- dont ask me. And it all moved up a gear, as
trays of free beer turned night to daze, and on to
The 20 poets crawled away, unwilling
like snail, yet looking forward to the big night on
Saturday. And lunch was at a pavement café in the
November sun, as we tried not to look like poets
trying not to look poets. Pretentious, nous?
Saturday found us making lunch for
landlord Paul in his flat, washed down - the food,
not the flat - with a simple, unpretentious bottle of
grand cru nineteen-eighty-something Bordeaux they'd
found in the cellar of Malones. And it seemed like
this was how life should always be, until we were
summoned to the quayside for an urgent conference
about why the BIG NIGHT might have to be cancelled.
Big rugby match on the giant screen, see. Noise,
people shouting. Goliath crowd meets David poetry,
but the slings of outrageous fortune were ours.
We went ahead anyway, and the crowd
swelled and shouted poetry above the din, in French
and Polish and American and Gaelic, and the musicians
returned for the craic, and the applause increased;
and of a sudden it was four o'clock and the rugby
wimps long abed. But Dave's plane was at nine, so we
left the young ones to carry on; until seven,
As we taxied to the airport, our
buzzing heads reflected how different it all was from
the home life of our own, dear Sweet Green. So much
so that we vowed, as Rimbaud never said, we'll be
Write Out Loud is running
irregular open mic poetry events in Bordeaux. For
details, contact Write Out Loud's Bordeaux organiser,
Caroline: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.