Gipsy Hill Tavern

Gipsy Hill Tavern

As London grows and grows and grows, once familiar nooks and crannies in the centre where poetry could flourish have been ousted by property developers. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that talented and enterprising individuals like the organisers of Beyond Words have created sources of wonder and cultural solace in what for some may seem a cultural desert.

It’s not competitive celebrity culture, but the totally free sharing of fun, emotions, ideas, talent, words and music that prevails at the Gipsy Hill Tavern on the first Tuesday of each month.

Bang next to the Gipsy Hill station, this mercifully ungentrified pub has provided an atmospheric location for Beyond Words, a monthly night of poetry, for an amazing six and a half years.

Organised and hosted by Angela Brodie and Caroline Vero, Beyond Words brings together outstanding professional bards with anyone and everyone who wants to share their creations with a super-friendly audience.

September’s session featured the distinguished award-winner Ruth O’Callaghan, who read from her latest book, Wringing Blood.

And, for real democracy supporters, there was also a special treat – two quite diverse poets chose to express politically-inflected feelings.

The first was Thomas Bailey, who unlike everyone else, did not read but performed his philippic against capitalist inequality as spoken word.  Written from memory it was constructed, he explained, “over a 12-hour shift in a factory polishing stones”, while working as a stone mason.

To Whom It May Concern

Our proximity to prosperity
helped privatise the property,
and you’ll probably find
that tired minds
can’t form their phrases properly.
But, you need that job
to make that bob,
to pay the rent
that’s robbery,
and the only change
this day-and-age
is the change we stake
On lotteries.
It’s quite,
I guess,
a lot like chess
as Corporate Execs play monopoly;
but the poor are pawns
and I’m more than bored
of the board-game they play
of our poverty.
It’s unfortunate
that graduates
are forced to accept
as we tighten ropes and
restrict the scope
of perceived
But it’s all a game, though
names might change
Before they’re crossed from history.
So, view me too,
as I do you,
existential mystery.
A basic slave
on a basic wage
in a race to

Robin Pilcher commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Prague Spring, when the democratic revolution in Czechoslovakia was crushed by tanks sent from Moscow. A timely poem as the long hand of today’s Kremlin dictator tries to silence all opposition, including the Pussy Riot group.

Prague Spring

A man in Central Europe
surveys the chequerboard of fate,
dreams of bridging East and West,
plays white against the black,
sees which way the wind is blowing,
opens with the Slav defence,
moves to occupy the centre ground:
tries his best to ease repression,
spread the power around; pace by pace
give socialism a human face;
strives to embrace technology and science,
channel his countrymen’s defiance,
lust for a voice and freedom.
But Russian grandmasters,
confident of swift capitulation,
counter with the Moscow Defence,
move pawns into position, rank and file,
send steeds of steel surging into cities.
Caterpillar tracks clatter,
grind sparks from cobbled streets,
batter a nation’s pride,
ignite a peaceful insurrection:
pots of paint and misdirection,
flaunting of curfews, voicing of views.
But fists and flags prove, in time,
no match for blank-eyed tanks.
Might may not be right, but always wins.
Brave Jan Palach plays pawn sacrifice,
dies in the stench of his own roasted flesh:
Prague spring, summer, autumn,
winter again.
Dubcek, checkmated, cast into wilderness
to oversee the forests,
watches the saplings grow,
not knowing , though the game is lost,
the match is still to play:
the wind of change will blow
through Soviet snow;
the timer ticks,
black kings will topple,
castle walls will fall.

Tom Bailey is a former column writer for Derby-based magazine The Free. He chased a literary dream to London “with a couple of hundred pounds in my pocket… small opportunities with the BBC vanished like the cash in my pocket and I stepped back into steel-toed boots as an alternative to accepting Primark-Positions of shelf-stackery”.  Read Tom’s rant against the housing market here.

Robin Pilcher took up poetry as an inexpensive retirement hobby after a career teaching in further education.  He has been writing fairly regularly for the last ten years or so.  A devotee of the open mic, he has performed at various South London festivals and as far south as St Leonards, as well as a number of venues north of the river, including the Poetry Café and Hoxton Hall.  As a member of Poets Anonymous, he has featured several times on (the sadly now defunct) Croydon internet radio.

Southeast London is rapidly becoming a poetry oasis. A brand new venture opens this month (25 September) at Bell House in 27 College Road, Dulwich  SE21 7BG. Further information from . Flloor poets, guest readers and music welcome.

Irena Hill of In-words hosts regular recitals in Greenwich, while poet-playwright Jenny Lewis celebrates her six-year collaboration on the epic of Gilgamesh with the distinguished Iraqi poet Adnan al-Sayegh with an exhibition at Goldsmiths’ University. Adnan and Jenny are both Real Democracy Movement supporters.

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