Poets yearn for the old days with petition as Poetry Cafe announces limited reopening
The Poetry Society has reopened its Poetry Café and basement in Betterton Street, London for hire during daytime hours for the first time since Covid and lockdown.
But the news has had many poets mourning the ‘good old days’ when poetry events took place in the Poetry Café basement on most if not all nights of the week.
An online petition launched by Paul McGrane, who was membership manager of the Poetry Society from 2006-2020, describes the Poetry Café as a “cherished venue” which has “served as an essential gathering place where people could attend poetry events, share their works, and foster a sense of community among like-minded individuals.
“While the exact reasons behind its prolonged closure remain unclear, financial difficulties are suspected. It's crucial that we demonstrate our support for this institution and advocate for its permanent reopening. By doing so, we can ensure that poets have access to spaces where they can express themselves freely and audiences can continue to enjoy diverse poetic voices.
“We urge all who value literature, creativity, and community to join us in this cause. Let's stand together to save our Poetry Cafe – because every city needs spaces where art thrives freely.”
The petition has already attracted support in the poetry community. Niall O’Sullivan, who ran the open-mic Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Café for many years, said on Facebook:
“Obviously, a petition will not magically open the doors or answer concerns about finances. I understand that. I appreciate that there are many factors at play. The current government's hostility to the arts, especially in London, have made things far more difficult in the wake of the pandemic. If the Poetry Society cannot do this on their own, then maybe others can help? I would leap at the chance to throw my oar in. But we can't help until we know what's happening.”
The Poetry Society announced earlier this month: "Finally, the Poetry Café and its basement are now open for daytime hire during the week and is an ideal space for holding a central London meeting, workshop or performance."
The website says: "Operations at The Poetry Café are currently suspended, but the café and basement performance space are available for bookings during office hours (Monday to Friday, 10:30 – 17:30). If you have any enquiries about hire, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
“Hire rates: The basement is available for £70 per hour with a minimum booking of two hours. The Poetry Café is available for £70 per hour with a minimum booking of two hours. The Poetry Cafe and Basement may be hired together for £120 per hour with a minimum booking of two hours. Poetry Society members and charities are eligible for 10% off all hire fees.”
The Poetry Café closed for nine months in 2016-17 for expensive renovations that included updating and improving access, increasing capacity, new heating and ventilation, and acoustically separating the basement poetry venue from the café’s ground floor. After it reopened there was an appeal for donations towards the cost of the work.
In response to the comments, the Poetry Society's director, Judith Palmer, said: "We have been heartened to read all the warm comments coming in about our much-loved Poetry Café in Covent Garden.
"We’re very pleased to have been gradually introducing a small and growing programme of live events back to the Café, and have been able to welcome people through the doors for a number of readings, young poets’ takeovers, workshops and reading groups. Tonight (25 January) we have the launch of the winter issue of The Poetry Review with readers including Oluwaseun Olayiwola, Jess Murrain and Rachael Allen. Coming up soon in the Café are a writing workshop led by Nina Mingya Powles (22 February), a night of readings (23 February) from some of our regional Poetry Society groups led by Rawanee Stanza in association with the Tonbridge and North Cumbria Stanzas, and our next Poetry Review reading group is 9 April. Events are all listed in the What’s On section of our website, and more are being regularly added.
"The café basement space is available to hire for daytime use, and we’re glad that lots of poetry organisations continue to use the building for meetings and events. If you’d like to make a weekday booking we’d love to hear from you.
"We still have a number of challenges to overcome before we can reopen the café week-round in the way it operated before the pandemic. With increased costs to cover, we need to proceed cautiously, to give the café the best possible chance of thriving. The neighbouring premises that surround us have been undergoing major demolition and construction work throughout the past year, meaning it has been incredibly noisy and dusty, pavements have been inaccessible, and the café building has been obscured by construction hoardings and scaffolding. We had to acknowledge these weren’t the best circumstances to try and reopen the café full-time yet.
"The Poetry Society has a very small core team to deliver a large amount of activities. After the disruption of the pandemic we’ve been prioritising activities which reach members and audiences nationwide. We are so glad to hear so many people look forward to coming back to the Poetry Café, and we hope we’ll be able to welcome more of you soon."