New in Town

I have been in Paris over 6 weeks now and somehow not had time to write a post. I am really surprised how much there is going on in terms of English language poetry, not just at Shakespeare & Co. In fact, there is something most evenings, so it has been great to leave work around 7pm – I’m working at Sciences Po in the heart of Saint Germain – and just jump on the metro to Belleville, or else walk to the end of the street, over the river, through the Louvre past the glass pyramid and on and up to a attend a reading just off the rue de Rivoli or up at Etienne Marcel.

So, for anybody off to Paris and seeking poetic distraction in the evening, this is what I’ve discovered so far: Mondays and Thursdays there is the weekly Spoken Word/Open Mic which attracts a good crowd of regulars, a mix of Brits and Americans studying or working in Paris, as well as a smattering of young French locals who enjoy hearing English spoken, or indeed, sung. The atmosphere is very supportive and with a kind of unspoken anything-goes policy, so you can essentially stand up and read poetry, an extract from a novel, play guitar, sing a cappella etc.

*Monday is SpokenWord at Au Chat Noir, metro Goncourt. I’ve just been once so far. Run by David and Alberto, the evening attracts a large audience who all convene in the basement on benches to hear readers who have a maximum of 5 minutes at their disposal. A bell is rung at 4 minutes 30 so you have time to finish. Because it gets hot downstairs and it is a residential area, the crowd is not allowed to make much noise and so are asked to click their fingers in appreciation rather than clap, which generates a kind of gentle finger swarm at the end of each reader’s poems. Each set lasts about 30 minutes and there are often three sets per evening. Unfortunately you are not allowed drinks on the street, which means the bar can get crowded, though people gather on the pavement anyhow. 

*Thursday is ‘PLU Lit Up‘ at the Culture Rapide, half way between metro Pyrenees and Belleville. I’ve read here twice so far. Best to get off at Pyrenees as it is a steep hill, and so then an easy 5 minute walk down to the venue where you immediately see everybody gathered for drinks outside. The evening is hosted on a rotating basis by Jason, Kate and Emily and you can sign up to read by approaching them. There is usually a guest poet who is invited to read for a full- twenty minutes – recently Jo Bell read new poems, on her way down south. The activity at Culture Rapide over the last few months have resulted in the first ever issue of a new Paris based magazine called ‘Paris Lit Up‘ the e-version, which can be bought on amazon. It looks a little like Magma and the first issue contains poems by Reading poets Wendy Klein and Ana-May Laugher, as well as Todd Swift – a beautiful poem about jealousy over his wife’s donor card. In addition a group of young Americans passing through Paris have set up a beautiful twice-monthly folded pamphlet called Belleville Park Pages that costs just 2 euros. In fact, after the poetry, many wander down the fill to the lively and sprawling terrasses of Aux Folies, an expansive, traditional bar that stays open late, just by Belleville metro (this week it has been shut by the mairie for 10 days, perhaps for having stayed open too late).

But Spoken Word/Open Mic is not everybody’s cup of tea, in which case there are two regular monthly readings series, both of which I have attended and written reviews for:

*Poets Live is a monthly anglophone reading series hosted by Pansy in the basement vaults of Carr’s pub on rue du Mont Thabor, just off the rue de Rivoli. It’s a friendly Irish pub with old-style restaurant. Each evening features three poets who read for 10 minutes each, and then after the break for another 10 minutes but in reverse order, the poet who went last going again first. These tend to be published poets who are reading from their latest collections. At the last event I bumped into London poet Peter Daniels in the audience and also wrote the review.

*Ivy Writers is a monthly bilingual experimental reading series that rotates venues. Again, often in basements. Evenings usually feature one poet in English and one in French, sometimes poets who have worked together or translated each other. The evening is hosted by the American and long-term French resident, Jennifer K Dick, a professor of Comparative Literature at Mulhouse, who is often in town to attend poetry events. At the last event I met Marilyn Hacker and also wrote a review of the readings by Jerome Rothenberg and Yves di Manno.

That’s it so far – so there are two weekly live events where you can go along and read, and two monthly reading series. All are free. Best is just to check the website Paris Lit Up, which acts as a kind of umbrella portal for all the activities that are going on, including writing workshops, Upstairs at Duroc and other readings at the American library. There is also a French language Monday evening readings series near metro Oberkampf.

Almost forgot, I stumbled across the Maison de la Poesie on rue Quincampoix (just by the Pompidou) the other day and became a member. They have lots of music concerts, poets from around the world visiting, lectures on literature and discussions with high-profile authors. The venue is located in a charming passage way with nice restaurants and cafes all around. I look forward to attending my first event there.

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