When Margaret Thatcher Died During A Poem: Spoken Word Paris, and other news

It’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds. It wasn’t in the middle of a poem, and it wasn’t my poem. But it is nonetheless true that I learnt of Thatcher’s death when someone dedicated their performance to the late Iron Lady at Spoken Word Paris. There was a brief pause in proceedings while I shouted WHAT THE FUCK?! NO WAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS?! followed by my laughing uncomfortably – a mixture of disbelief at the news, and embarrassment at having shouted WHAT THE FUCK?! NO WAY! ARE YOU SERIOUS?! into a stranger’s face in a place I have never been – and was dutifully informed by everyone in attendance, their glee tangibly enhanced by my nationality, that yes, the bucket had indeed been kicked.

Well, I picked my jaw out of my pint of wine, and we cracked on. Spoken Word Paris is a weekly open-mic night at Au Chat Noir, a busy – and lovely – bar in the east of the city. From conversations I had with Dareka Daremo and other Parisian poets I met and befriended during the week, there aren’t the huge number of poetry nights that a city the size of Paris should boast. Perhaps this is why Spoken Word Paris is flourishing; turning the basement underneath the bar into a throbbing, sweaty haven for poets, story-writers, musicians and comedians; packing the place out entirely, with a bouncer (Gabriel, himself an excellent poet, sporting intimidating biceps) to keep people from causing a crush or disturbing performers during poems; filling three-halves (I know, it’s three-thirds, but that doesn’t sound as impressive as it needs to!); and all this happens every Monday night.

Listening at Au Chat Noir

Listening at Au Chat Noir

There’s a theme, and the one for 8th April was Swedish Girls, which struck me as bizarrely specific, following on from Cliches and preceding Consequences, Strangeness, Guilty Pleasures and Danger, not to mention decidedly more sexist. I don’t have a “Swedish Girls” poem (I have decided, I’m not sure on exactly what grounds, that this is to my credit!) so I was frantically racking my brains for ways to contrive and manipulate an existing piece to fit the Scandinavian Young Women bent. I decided that the easiest thing to do was to make the long-distance relationship in Disaster Sex into an even longer-distance one, because the poem is rife with innuendo, and Paris would like that.

Thankfully, however, a group of female Swedish singers (and one young Swedish man playing an upside-down waste paper basket) came to my rescue, when they performed a rendition of Robyn’s song Call Your Girlfriend. She is, they told us, tongues firmly in their cheeks, what every

Swedish Drummer Boy in "Call Your Girlfriend"

Swedish Drummer Boy in “Call Your Girlfriend”

Swedish girl should be: feminist and vegan. Satisfied that the evening’s (hopefully accidental) misogynistic undercurrents had been challenged and mocked, I sat back to enjoy the harmonies. But the ‘girls’ were not done yet. Halfway through the song, what felt like the majority of the crowded room rose to join them – all Swedish Girls, all sticking it to the (non-Swedish) Man. Well done.

I was happy that I could get away with saying that I once dated someone from Stockholm called Maggie and leave my theme-related introductory quips at that, I stood up just before midnight and read to the most receptive audience I’ve ever had. Thank you Paris.

Other performers I really enjoyed included the aforementioned comic bouncer poet man dude, Gabriel, eloquent Americans Alex Manthei

Alex Manthei at Spoken Word Paris

Alex Manthei at Spoken Word Paris

and Max, a man whose name escapes me but he has a beautiful poem called Film (I think) which deserves mentioning,

Max at Spoken Word Paris

Max at Spoken Word Paris

hip-hop legend Bruce Sherfield, whose incredibly soulful rap music (his band is called Versus) I would later

Bruce Sherfield at Spoken Word Paris

Bruce Sherfield at Spoken Word Paris

enjoy at a rainy gig in La Defense on my last night (listen to this), a super irreverent compere in Alberto, and my home-girl poetry pals Elisha Owen

Liz Greenfield at Spoken Word Paris

Liz Greenfield at Spoken Word Paris

and Liz Greenfield; the former my travel companion and the latter Paris’s most recent poetry acquisition: Liz was British-based until last month and we gigged together in Plymouth as recently as late March, just 5 days before she moved! Look after her. Thank you Paris.

Spoken Word Paris is such an international experience. And it would be a shame if its success is only down to the sparsity of performance opportunities in the city, but I have a feeling it’s not. There were poems in Russian, English, French, Portuguese, and a song in Swahili. Writers from all corners of the earth live and work in Paris, and the flow of people passing through is constant and enormous, so there will always be upstarts (like me!) looking for a chance (any chance!) to say their words to people, even on a six day pre-exam holiday.

Ben Norris at Spoken Word Paris

Ben Norris at Spoken Word Paris

Thank you Paris. I’m hoping to come back. Dareka Daremo has invited me to perform at his Downtown Slam, so if we manage to sort out the details then I will see you soon. This is an appropriate place to offer thanks to Dareka, who entertained us with a fascinating poetry and interpretive dance collaboration on Saturday 6th April, then took us under his wing all evening…a wing which was heading straight for a Sangria-saturated cave near Notre Dame. We were destined to be friends.

In other news, my Speakers’ Corner version of Dismembered Voices was announced as the winner of Litro TV’s Transgression Competition. I even recorded a silly little intro video. Please don’t laugh. Actually, no, laugh a lot, or both my camera-woman/director and I will look even more stupid! It’s all on the link. Alternatively, if you just want the winning entry, here it is:

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One thought on “When Margaret Thatcher Died During A Poem: Spoken Word Paris, and other news

  1. Pingback: A review of us from April | SpokenWord Paris

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