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Book Club member Rhuar Dean invites us inside his personal cult, the Y-Tuesday Poetry Club. In keeping with Mr Penumbra’s secret society, Litro Book Club members are telling us about their personal cults. To get your account of a strange society published on Litro Online, email us at [email protected].
I arrive at the Three Kings pub in Clerkenwell tenderised by the wind of a London winter. I tie up my bike on a lamppost and push through the glowing door to the warmth and busy chatter inside. I take my gloves off as I work my way to the bar and order a pint of Timmy T’s – my favourite. I take a first gulp and look round at the pub. Young, stylish people mingle confidently with bursts of laughter erupting here and there. But, of course, poets don’t belong down here. I watch somebody I know enter the pub and shuffle through the crowd to the door at the back, which is flanked on one side by a chalkboard pronouncing: Poetry Upstairs.
London is littered with poetry nights. They spring up in the strangest of places: woods, markets, cafes and, my favourites, those semi-secretive upstairs rooms. Here the poets gather, often awkwardly, as names are taken down for the open-mic. At most events most people read.
Poetry itself is a strange thing – equally lauded and reviled. Perhaps, in some ways, it is the hardest art form to like and the one most susceptible to pretence.
I follow up the backstairs to a small candlelit room with sofas, a duke box and cupcakes. I am greeted by the delicately wonderful compares, Burgess the Rhymer and Ceri May, both also fine poets. They know I’m reading. Somebody strikes up a number on the duke box. I salute the regulars and find myself engaged in a conversation about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It’s not hard, it just happens. I eat my first cupcake and ask, who’s the ghost today? Richard Feynman I’m told. I’m ignorant. He’s a physicist, not a poet. But, as I later hear, he was good with words as well as quantum electrodynamics.
The ghost is a Y-Tuesday tradition, sometimes put together by the hosts, sometimes by a wayward poet eager to share the teachings of the obscure. There have been some obvious ghosts: Dylan Thomas; Robert Frost; Louis MacNeice; Sylvia Plath … and some less obvious ones: The Earl of Rochester; Sei Shōnagon; Diane di Prima and Saint Hildegard von Bingen. Quotes from the ghost are selected from an envelope by punters in between acts and read to the room.
I’ve been to plenty of nights in London dominated by plenty of different types of wordsmith: the slam, the a capella rap, the rhyming comedians, the awkward tell-your-soul traditionalists. I’ve seen people shout at the audience for talking, cry at the mic, mumble into their jumpers and sing songs dedicated to Princes Diana and the downfall of the European Union. Y-Tuesday feels like a mix of the best bits, without too much hype. It’s part poetry reading, part friendly get together, part educational gathering, part self-help group, part drunken silliness.There are inner demons in abundance alongside inner comedians and the occasional folky number. The intimacy is something fundamentally positive, even when the room is so full that people are craning their necks around the door.
The poetry begins and as the evening progresses I hear tales of murder, incest, snooker, thermodynamics, sea life, trains, ADHD, Newport Pagnell, sci fi and Jazz. Underpinning it all is a dose of unfiltered humanity, sometimes getting as close to the bone as words can get. By the time the night finishes and I am merry on ale, I find myself glowing with a certain, specific happiness. One that wonders at the unique. One that I find hard to muster in other places. It’s a happiness that questions what the hell it is others get from this because it feels so very personal that it is hard to sense it through someone else’s synapses.
The cycle home is cold and the next day a little groggy, but some order in the universe is realigned for this protagonist. I suppose that is why I would call it My Personal Cult.
Y-Tuesday London is currently on hiatus pending a decision as to how to take it forward. It’s organisers hope to return with something special soon. Y-Tuesday’s sister ship Y-Aarhus continues to run in Aarhus, Denmark.
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Rhuar Dean is a poet, writer and occasional journalist, based in Washington, DC. He grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and has found himself living in some of the world's finest cities inclding Fez, Kathmandu, Cairo and Beirut. His work has appeared both online and in print. More information, including links to other stories, is available on his website.