For more than a decade, I've lived within walking distance of the Torriano Meeting House, a venue of repute for free-wheeling poetry - but I've never been there before tonight. The occasion was a reading by Bernard Kops, whose book of collected verse, 'This Room in the Sunlight', contains - in my lay view - some real gems.
The room reminded me a little of austere political meeting places of times gone by. It was certainly intimate. If more than forty people had attended - which, alas, wasn't the case - there would have been no room. There was a stage of sorts, with clutter hidden by old style room divides. The audience, several of whom read (or sang) their own poetry in the first half of the evening, reminded me a little of the assemblies in Donald Rooum's cartoons ... assorted individualists and, in a kindly way, oddballs.
Bernard Kops writes accessible and engaging verse, and straddles the embers of the Jewish East End, the strident Soho youth culture captured in fiction by his friend, Colin MacInnes, and the contemporary idiom. His subject matter extends from the holocaust to tender accounts of his family, from a pre-occupation with death to a celebration of human solidarity. Much of his verse is about his wife, Erica, who was also there at the Torriano. I do wonder what it feels like to hear love poetry about yourself recited in your presence to a roomful of strangers.
Kops mentioned this evening that a great hero, W.H. Auden, had come to see one of his plays. They met in the bar in the interval. It's the subject of his (very) brief poem, 'On a Brief Meeting with Auden':
Leaning against the bar
as if receiving extreme unction,
his face amazingly crisscrossed
like Clapham Junction.
Pissed out of his mind in total elation,
beautiful boys surrounding him in
It's in the new book!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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