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Top 5: Poetry in London

Ryan Ormonde

Believe it or not, like it or not, London has always been swarming with poets. Writing programmes, university courses and even bookshops bear testament to the never-dying endeavour that is poetic writing, and the really brave will venture out to see real life people reading, performing and exhibiting literary work. This can and will happen absolutely anywhere but for the uninitiated, here is a guide to some of the best places to discover the poetic side of language in an age of information overload.

Southbank Centre

For as long as it is home to the Poetry Library, the Southbank Centre will be the closest London has to a dedicated poetry centre for public use. The library aims to stock every poetry title published in the UK since 1912 and contains over 200,000 items. Southbank Centre hosts National Poetry Day and the London Literature Festival as well as poetry related events throughout the year, supporting a significant share of London’s interlacing poetry scenes. A highlight from last year was Caroline Bergvall’s performance of her work Drift in the Purcell Room, produced by Penned in the Margins, a thoughtful and moving multi-media response to the current refugee crisis months before the media were taking notice.

For information about the Poetry Library, see website.

Free Word Centre

For a venue with a truly international and political outlook, the Free Word Centre is the place to be. Dedicated to freedom of expression, the centre has a year-round programme of events, their aim to ‘promote, protect and democratise the power of words’. Always with one eye on current affairs and a special interest in those parts of the world and communities where freedom of speech is not a given, the Free Word Centre works with organisations including English Pen to promote literature and literacy for all. Poetry is of course a key strand in their work – an upcoming workshop with Jean Binta Breeze, Lydia Towsey and Shruti Chauhan looks worthwhile.

For more information about the Free Word Centre, see website.

Rich Mix

London has several thriving arts centres but the Rich Mix seems to have a special leaning towards poetry readings and performances. SJ Fowler has a good record of bringing together London based poets with poets from other countries and the Rich Mix regularly hosts his events, where avant-garde work is encouraged. If Spoken Word is more your thing, Tongue Fu combines performance poetry with live music. Keep an eye out on the listings for one-off readings and events.

Forthcoming Rich Mix events are listed on their website.

Poetry Café

Home to the Poetry Society, this tiny venue has held readings from many esteemed poets over the years, and many more nervously trying their luck. Most poetry readings in London happen in pubs so the basement of a pleasant Covent Garden café makes a change, and there is definitely a sense of a glorious and garrulous tradition. The Poetry Society itself has had a conflicted and political history, part of which has been documented by Peter Barry in Poetry Wars, his intriguing account of an era that shaped the UK poetry landscape. These days, the café has a busy and diverse programme of regular and one-off events.

For information about forthcoming events at the Poetry Café, see website.

Conway Hall

What is poetry if not poetry books? Well, quite a lot of other things actually, but the small presses are essential for the future of a living and breathing poetic practice. Conway Hall in Holborn is a centre for free thought and ethical principles; every November it hosts the annual Small Publishers Fair and its programme of readings and for the last couple of years the hall has been home to the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair. Both events offer a chance to browse books and meet publishers – a perfect introduction to the thriving small press scene.

For information about this year’s Small Publisher Fair, see website.

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