Monday, December 5, 2011

Homework at The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, 30th November

My friend Fiona who is a bit of a literary type (it helps, when you're in publishing) brought my attention to the fact that Homework was on that night and she was going, did I want to come? And it was the last Homework of the year. I had planned a relaxing night in with Stephen but it seemed a fitting end to my first enjoyable day of unemployment to go out for a drink or two. In a highbrowish kind of way. I am quite partial to a literary night myself, having been to several BookSlams over the last few years, and also one Literary Death Match and I always find them enjoyable. The added bonus of going to this one, of course (besides it being in Bethnal Green; only one tube stop away) was that I'd be killing two birds with one stone. Attending Homework and striking that off the list and seeing what the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club was like. 

Homework is a monthly night that runs from May(ish) until November(ish) every year which is put on by Aisle16. They are, in their own words 'a looser collective of writers sharing ideas and collaborating on projects as and when'. Although I guess 'as and when' has to coincide roughly with their commitments to Homework. Each Homework has a theme, and this month's theme was Poet in Residence.  The Aisle16 team had to take themselves out of their normal writing habitats and become 'poets in residence' of a different place (building/town/state of mind) of their choosing. 

We had actually seen three of the six poets before, at the aforementioned BookSlams. At first we were a little disappointed by this, although if I had bothered to do my research I would have realised it was inevitable that at least two of them would have been there, considering they are the founders. Last time we'd seen them Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine) and Ross Sutherland, they had done an ill-concieved 'live poem writing' made up of tweets from the evening on a poem which had been projected onto a wall. 

I'm kinda glad I didn't look though, as it might have put me off - I like to see new people rather than pay to see people we've already experienced and that would have been a shame. Because I absolutely loved this night. The places the poets chose to go and be residence in ranged from a library in Bungay to Occupy LSE to Beachy Head. And the poems they wrote there were enraging, moving and hilarious. I don't think I have enjoyed any other literary night more. Fiona said that normally the subjects were a bit more lighthearted than they were that night but I didn't mind at all. It so happened that the 'heavier' things they touched upon were things I had become interested in myself recently. Well, things probably most of the audience were interested in - CEO pay, council cuts, the closure of libraries and er... suicide. But even addressing these serious issues, all the poets managed to sew in some amusement to the tapestry they were weaving and provide light relief. 

And, somewhat of a surprise, they managed to get a real life poet in residence - the ex-Poet Laureat himself - Andrew Motion to come along and do a reading. It was well worth a fiver.

But I am not only reviewing Homework but also the venue in which it was performed. The Working Men's Club. Do not be fooled into thinking this is just a trendy theme for a bar. There is no mistaking that this either still is, or was until very recently, a real working men's social club. It looks like one from the outside, and it smells like one on the inside. It comes complete with those funny sort of plush velvet-seated chairs, heavy drapes and a little bar in the hall manned by people who looked like they were more used to serving working men than a bunch of middle class people 'slumming it' to watch poetry and sip wine.

Given the milieu I wasn't sure if I trusted the quality of the wine and stuck to cider. Stephen was drinking blackcurrant and sodas. The round together cost me a fiver. That didn't seem so bad until I got a sight of the drinks list and saw that my cider was only £3.50. £1.50 for a blackcurrant and soda is a bit steep. 

The Working Men's Club plays host to many a different sort of night - karaoke, burlesque, electropop club nights, gay nights. I'd like to go back and see what it's like on a night when it really lets its hair down. 

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