Sunday, 12 August 2012


Writers who write in cafés – but what do they write?  I’ve been looking for café poems.   Can you add any more to my list?  (OK, one's in a pub and I am not differentiating between café and restuarant)

I'll start with Esther Morgan’s “At the Falls Cafe” (from Grace) in which the poet imagines herself as the waitress “watching over that solitary guest/who lets the skin grow on his coffee”.   It's a mysterious poem with suggestions of the metaphysical.

By contrast, another Morgan (Edwin) produces a piece of grim realism in his poem “In the snack bar" (from The Second Life).  It describes the poet’s encounter with an old man who needs help to go to the gents. 

In Michael Longley’s “The Lizard” (Snow Water) the poet is distracted “From the gnocchi stuffed with walnuts in porcini sauce” by “a greeny lizard” at the last restaurant on the road to Pisa airport.  (scroll down to read it)

Les Murray’s culinary experience in “Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil” (Poems against Economics) is not a subtle one.   The waiter offers him a chance to get out of it – “You sure you want vindaloo, sir?” – but the poet is a tough Australian.   He consumes “the chicken of Hell/in a sauce of rich yellow brimstone”.  “Oh it was a ride on Watney’s plunging red barrel,/through all the burning ghats of most carnal ambition” to the finished empty plate and “licked knife and fork”.  Part of the fun of the poem is the use of  Dylan Thomas echoes: “I sang for my pains like the free/before I passed out among all the stars of Cilfynydd”.  It takes him three days to recover.

R S Thomas’s “Poetry for supper” dramatises the debate between free verse and traditional forms, inspiration and craft.  The two characters are “two old poets,/Hunched at their beer in the low haze/Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran/Noisily by them, glib with prose.”  Years before the smoking ban of course.

But I’ll let Wendy Cope have the last word.  Why did she call her collection “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis”?  She claims the words came to her in a dream: “I knew it wouldn’t be much of a poem/But I love the title”.  So do I.

By way of a postscript Jenny de Roebeck’s Café Poems project that I blogged about a few months ago has been rolled out to various cafés in the north of Cumbria.  Here’s the complete list:

Celebrations, Bank Street, Carlisle
The Old Engine House, West Walls, Carlisle
The Wordsworth Bookshop café, St Andrew’s Churchyard, Penrith
High Head sculpture park, Ivegill
BoJangles, Appleby
Upfront gallery café, Hutton in the Forest

Just ask for the Café Poems notebook with your cappuccino and add your poetic contribution edible or inedible.

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