Byline: MATTHEW SWEET
Tucked down a discreet side street in Covent Garden, the Poetry Cafe is a studious little refuge with a Tribeca ambience: pleasantly scuffed furniture, living-room dress code, thickly stocked magazine racks and bookshelves, corkboards freighted with notices and flyers for arts events.
But you don't have to know Petrarch from Petula Clark to feel comfortable behind its frosted-glass facade.
Many of its visitors have left their mark. Ralph Steadman scored and splashed the poetic caricatures on the cafe's lampshades. Greg Wise put up the bookshelves on the staircase. His wife Emma Thompson supplied the squashy sofas in the basement. Maggie O'Farrell, Simon Schama, Ben Elton, Nick Heyward, Bjork and Emily Watson have all sat at its tables, flicked through a copy of Ambit and nibbled on a Portuguese custard tart.
Alan Rickman, Sheila Hancock, Lindsay Duncan, Douglas Hodge and Celia Imrie have also been spotted on the premises.
John Hegley goes there to pore over sonnets and neck something steamy. 'It's a pleasant, quiet environment with a fantastic array of poetry books and very nice soup,' he enthuses. 'The soup's very important. If you have a need to read poetry, you could go to the Poetry Library. If you have a need for soup alone, there are many options in London. If you want both, there is only the Poetry Cafe.' Hegley meets his friends for drinks, gives the occasional reading, and keeps an eye on the competition by scouring the magazines.
Oddly, writing a poem is the only thing he feels disinclined to do. 'I'll read other people's poems there, but I'm too concerned about poetry theft to write any of my own,' he says. 'There may be lots of rhyme crime going on at the Poetry Cafe.' The poets themselves are the most frequent grazers. Nurse your cappuccino or bison grass vodka for long enough, and you'll clock enough versifiers to compile an anthology of modern British poets. …