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Julian Jordon

A Bordeaux Poets' Tour


It was madness, I suppose. Idiocy, at any rate. Sure, we'd been successful with our monthly poetry nights at Bolton's Sweet Green Tavern. And the Octagon Theatre nights had been a sell-out. Well, two out of the three. But a poetry night in Bordeaux: Bor-bloody-deaux? Yeah, why not? We can do it.

I suppose I did know the place, had lived there once and spent many a contented hour in the Cambridge Arms. Just off the Chartrons, now you're asking.

So we did it: cheap flights via Nottingham (never mind the ozone layer, this is poetry). The Bordeaux end of things was organised by Caroline (I'm doing a PhD in Latin American poetry. Oh, Neruda. Yes, so much better in the original Spanish, don’t you find? Er, well I did see Il Postino). You know the sort of thing? No, neither did we.

We'd decided to have a read-around at the Cambridge on the, usually-quiet, Thursday night, and a bigger  event with open mic sessions at Molly Malone's on the quayside, on Saturday. Ah, hubris…

They'd forgotten that 11th November is Armistice Day, a public holiday in France. And the French go out for their tea, all of them, to the Cambridge Arms, just when want to do your poetry.

When we arrived, this quintessentially English pub was full of French people eating fish and chips and drinking pints of stout; slowly. And I mean full: not a single, solitary, sodding seat. What would Sylvia Plath have done now, I wondered.

Not being monkey-eating cheese surrenderers, we went on the offensive. Hand-to-hand combat won a few seats as poisson-consumers left and, by the arrival of the first of our poets, we had established a beachhead near the dartboard, chairs drawn together like wagons in a circle. Swelled by reinforcements, and a combination of Beamish-driven bravado and stout defensive measures, the poetry finally started to flow.

By ten, we were taking turns to stand and deliver our own or others' poetry. LA met Bolton, met Chicago met Ginsberg, met Larkin.  And, suddenly, it became one of those evenings. The ones where, you HAD TO BE THERE. The band arrived, an Irish pipe player from Oban (it happens) and a singer/guitarist from Beamish. Some sort of promotion - don’t ask me. And it all moved up a gear, as trays of free beer turned night to daze, and on to morning.

The 20 poets crawled away, unwilling like snail, yet looking forward to the big night on Saturday. And lunch was at a pavement café in the November sun, as we tried not to look like poets trying not to look poets. Pretentious, nous?

Saturday found us making lunch for landlord Paul in his flat, washed down - the food, not the flat - with a simple, unpretentious bottle of grand cru nineteen-eighty-something Bordeaux they'd found in the cellar of Malones. And it seemed like this was how life should always be, until we were summoned to the quayside for an urgent conference about why the BIG NIGHT might have to be cancelled.  Big rugby match on the giant screen, see. Noise, people shouting. Goliath crowd meets David poetry, but the slings of outrageous fortune were ours.

We went ahead anyway, and the crowd swelled and shouted poetry above the din, in French and Polish and American and Gaelic, and the musicians returned for the craic, and the applause increased; and of a sudden it was four o'clock and the rugby wimps long abed. But Dave's plane was at nine, so we left the young ones to carry on; until seven, apparently.

As we taxied to the airport, our buzzing heads reflected how different it all was from the home life of our own, dear Sweet Green. So much so that we vowed, as Rimbaud never said, we'll be back.


Write Out Loud is running irregular open mic poetry events in Bordeaux. For details, contact Write Out Loud's Bordeaux organiser, Caroline: or

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