Beat around London

Nov 28, 2012

James Dean readingNot too long ago I was cornered, at a house party, by a young man who called himself Balthazar. Dressed well, in a double breasted trench coat and a pair of pointed shoes, he declared that the beat generation was to be reborn. Having read 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac and the odd poem by Ginsberg, I always thought of beat poets as rebellious, cultured bohemians. I'm no poet myself, but the literature from this generation appeals to me. After little time it was clear that Balthazar was very much inebriated. I listened to him politely while he told me that art was the answer to everything, and that post-modernism could make sense out of his 'crazy ideas'. As I moved towards the exit he handed me the book he was reading and told me I should keep it.

In the morning I realised that the book was 'The Naked Lunch' by William Burroughs, a book that I had been meaning to read. Over the next few weeks, it was my evening read and it kept me thinking about Balthazar. Not everything he said that night turned out to be true, but there is no denying that there have been a growing number of pubs and clubs dedicating nights to beat and poetry readings. This comes as a welcome surprise, and one that I would recommend you taking advantage of. If like me, you are a little tired of house music and trendy minimalist bars, the beatnik nights will offer an enlightening alternative. 

The Poetry Cafe on Betterton Street, near Covent Garden, is one such bar. Here, you'll find men dressed in scruffy but immaculately fitted suits, sipping whiskey. While women drink wine and look straight out of the 50's in their vintage dresses. It's sophisticated without being pretentious; it's intimate but not uninviting. 

The beat generation is not just re-emerging in cool London bars and clubs; it is also evident in the mainstream. This week sees the release of the film adaptation of 'On the Road'. Although I probably won't attend too many of these evenings, and I almost definitely won't be reading there any time soon I am exceedingly glad to see them happening. Not only is it a step away from big corporate nights and rip-off wine bars, it is classy, cultured and clever. And in this world of text talk and dumb down media, we could all do with an evening of charming poetry. 

George Marsden

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