Like a coven gathering for a moonlit ceremony, people from all walks of life reveal their secret thoughts in front of strangers. Perhaps there is already one of this strange company sat next to you at work.
Poets' Cafe is a forum for people to read their poems in front of a very friendly, appreciative audience. They're appreciative because they know this is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences you can have. Essentially it's a monthly open mic night with a twist.
What makes Poets' Cafe distinctive is the special guests who are invited to display their wares in the second half. An impressive array of figures from the poetry world has passed through the Rising Sun doors, including the disarming Slam princess Sara-Jane Arbury and Whitbread prize-winner Bernard O'Donoghue. On a recent evening, Bernard brought his particular brand of contemplative evocations of County Cork to a receptive Reading audience.
Bernard's poems are based largely around the area where he grew up, including one of his most successful pieces, 'The Iron Age Boat at Caumatruish' about a second-century AD boat they dredged out of the marsh. O'Donoghue is a Seamus Heaney scholar was a friend of the great man, and parallels are not too hard to come by. Between these short poems, Bernard spoke at length and with a dry wit, explaining the considerable background to each poem.
However, sometimes the evening is kept free of superstar guests to concentrate solely on contributions from the panoply of curious figures who come out of the woodwork each month. There is remarkable variety here, from the anti-capitalist rants of Rapunzel Wizard to the laconic, dry waggery of Rob Evans, so you're sure to leave having heard something inspirational. Hosting the evening with incomparable warmth and charisma is Reading's true bard, A F Harrold. Luton gets John Hegley, we get A F.
We asked him how Poets Cafe came to be, and he had the following to say on the matter, "Poets' Cafe has been going for a while, I'm not sure how long. I arrived in 1997 and Waterstone's used to have open mics. I went along, and Susan Utting was running it at the time. it died out a while after that, but we held a one-off last Autumn and plenty of people turned up. I wrote off to the Arts Council and filled in forms, so we've had lots of exciting guests, published poets, coming and performing for us over the last year."
|Rob Evans, a regular at Poets' Cafe|
But don't new people get intimidated by published poets performing?
"I've never seen that as a problem. Often, people don't like to read on their first visit, they like to come and check it out. Since they're acknowledged to be a professional person in the field, nobody feels they're competing against them. Whereas with the open mic, they think 'yes, I can do this'."
Harrold is consistently impressed by Reading's poets. "Most of the open mic poets we have are pretty good, I think they must put something in the water in Reading as we always have a decent quality, compared with other open mics elsewhere in the country, which is heartening and inexplicable."
He's been coming to the evening for years and now runs it. "For a lot of years I came just as a reader and I did a lot of my basic training there. I used it to hone poems and learn how to perform... I'm happy to keep it going, as it can do people good. Also I get paid! I mean, making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. That's Andrew Marvell, isn't it?".