I made my way down to Kentish Town this evening to hear four members of The Highgate Poets read their work. As a newly-accepted member of the group, I was treated to a brief history lesson about the venue by coordinator Anne Ballard before the evening got underway. It turns out that Torriano House is synonymous with Hungarian Anarcho-Communist Poet John Rety, who founded and ran it as a centre of poetry and social change in North London for many years before his death.
The open reading portion of the evening was just as eclectic as those I had attended in California. The flavour, though, was different. Two older gentlemen sang folk songs a cappella. Themes of opera, atheism, and of course anti-war sentiment peppered the poems from the floor. David Floyd promoted his new pamphlet entitled “Protest.” The walls were lined with ink drawings depicting the horrors associated with capitalist greed for oil. And at the back table, a periodical called Peace News replaced what had typically been promoted at Torriano House–The Daily Worker.
The featured poets themselves took up less directly political themes. Sarah Doyle read several ekphrastic poems inspired by Pre-Raphaelite paintings, each carefully tuned to musical perfection within the constraints of metre and rhyme. She ended with a humorous poem that amplified clever, self-deprecating moments with sucker-punch-timed rhymes. Ruth Ingram read translations from French and German, as well a her own work steeped in keen observation and a quirky turn of thought.
Dennis Evans read short, personally meaningful poems full of plain speech and local knowledge. Diana Bishop, former reader-in-residence at Keats House, read poems with the beautiful diction and expert timing of a trained BBC radio presenter. Her work focused on childhood fears, drawing out the music of language with an easy and subtle relationship to both free verse and form.
Though I miss the longstanding friendships and easy camaraderie of my former California poetry haunts, both the poet and the anthropologist in me came away from the evening galvanised. I look forward to swapping poems with group members in our meeting next month, and continuing to find my way in the eccentric and historically-rich London poetry scene.