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Dodo Modern Poets find a new location on Dylan heritage trail

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A number of long-established poetry nights and groups found themselves temporarily homeless when the Poetry Society’s Poetry Café in London closed its doors for refurbishment last summer. Most of them quickly found alternative accommodation. One of the most venerable groups, Dodo Modern Poets, took its time in searching for a new venue, before ending up at the King & Queen pub, in the heart of Fitzrovia.

Dodo Modern Poets was founded in 1989 by Patric Cunnane, pictured, who still presides as its organiser. The name is intended as an ironic tribute to Penguin Modern Poets, a series of anthologies featuring new poetry which were published in the 60s, and is also a wry reflection on poetry’s minority following.

On Thursday night open-mic and guest poets gathered in the upstairs room at the King & Queen. It is more than possible that the legendary bard and boozer of Fitzrovia, Dylan Thomas, caroused at this pub. The pub’s upstairs room is also said to be the London venue where Nobel laureate Bob Dylan first strummed his guitar in London, in 1962.

The Dylan Thomas connection was maintained by the first guest poet, Frances White, who was a close friend of the poet’s daughter, the late Aeronwy Thomas. Reading from her new collection Swiftscape, she included a short poem for Aeronwy, ‘Daffodils, I Suppose’.  A poignant lament for a brother lost in a climbing accident on Skye lay behind the formal structure of ‘The Black Cuilllin’, where “a fatal error undermined your skill”. She finished her second set with a light-hearted tribute to Bob Dylan: “I dream of him on his brass bed … Bob, I wanna be tangled up with you.”

Athens-born Natalie Katsou is a theatre director and playwright, but she also writes poetry. The poems that she read at Dodo included a sequence composed after a trip to Russia, that included a visit to the house of poet Marina Tsvetaeva, and her injury while taking part in an acrobatics course.

Lisa Kelly is the organiser of another long-running London poetry night, Torriano Poets, in Kentish Town. She is co-editor of Magma magazine’s current issue on the theme of deafness; she is herself deaf in one ear. In the first half her poems concerned childhood and family: “I enjoyed wordplay and rhyme, because that gives you sounds to hang on to, when you’re trying to establish what people are saying.” Her second set included clever, sharp, funny poems that were more experimental, and featured subjects such as stalking (‘Advice for Men in the Dark’) and “mad women in literature”. Her poem to cherish, for me, was the one that ended the first half about types of apples, a luxurious list of names that included Fair Maid of Taunton, Old Cornish Cooker, Pam’s Delight, Slap Ma Girdle, Yorkshire Aromatic, and many, many more. “One to get your teeth into,” as Patric Cunnane said.

Patric, who has published several collections of poetry, began his own reading by paying tribute to the poet Brian Dann, who died recently, saying that Dann had run a poetry venue called the Gun “in a shed at the back of a pub in Croydon”, which had featured the likes of Brian Patten and Adrian Mitchell. Among the floor readers were Katherine Lockton and Peter Ebsworth from South Bank Poetry magazine, who mentioned the launch of issue 26 next Friday, 31 March, at City Lit in Covent Garden. Others were Anita Pattie, Alice Jacobs, Andy V Frost, Liba, Richenda Power, Bryn Strudwick, Lantern Carrier, myself, and my Write Out Loud comrade David Andrew.

Teething troubles at the new venue? The rumble of the jukebox from downstairs, but that seemed to lessen after the break, and a word in the ear of the bar staff. And a word of warning: the Dodo format of two sets for each guest poet can make for a long evening, which is fine unless you have worries about public transport home. A couple of audience members did leave for that reason before the 10.30 finish.  

Patric Cunnane runs Dodo Modern Poets with PR Murry, a prolific poet, painter and sculptor, with many exhibition appearances to his credit. Murry also runs the Dodo website where you can find many videos of poets’ readings, and in the future, a video record from last night, too.

Greg Freeman


The next Dodo Modern Poets is on Thursday 27 April, at the King & Queen pub, in Foley Street, London W1W 6DL     


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