Poetry in Paris


Spoken word is the best thing I did in Paris. The city is a wonderful place, but the language and cultural barrier can leave one feeling lonely and tired. Whether you’re in need of some English-speaking comfort or just looking for some friendly faces, go to Spoken Word, the English-language poetry reading in the 20th Arrondissement that takes place every Monday night.
Poetry? I listen to Garrison Keillor read an entry for the Writer’s Almanac every morning via podcast, but other than that I have little exposure to poetry. So I wasn’t sure if I could connect to two-plus hours of poetry readings. But there’s nothing not to connect to. Whether its poetry, a short story, a song or a stand-up transvestite act named Fidelma, I promise you’ll find something to love. Some people deserve applause just for having the guts to stand in front of everyone and read, while other presenters are so fabulous that the claps pour from you for lack of another way to show appreciation.

The rotating MC, identifiable by a top hat, comes around before the show and asks if anyone is interested in signing up. After a poet has presented for five minutes, the MC rings a bell and asks the audience if they want more. With the demand of the audience, the poet’s reading time is extended another five minutes.
Spoken Word takes place at the Culture Rapide bar, in the happening neighborhood of the Belleville Chinatown. If you’re hungry before the show, stop at Restaurant Raviolis for Chinese dumplings, or check out one of the various Chinese restaurants in the area. Continue up the hill, and turn right at the rue Julien Lacroix, at the huge sign that reads, “il faut se méfier des mots” (beware of the words). Don’t worry about being late: the official start time is 8:30 p.m., but the event actually begins at 9:30 p.m. and only gets crowded at the start of the second half, at 10:30 p.m. Still, I recommend getting there at 8:30 p.m. and striking up a conversation with people you don’t know. It’s an English reading event, and everyone there will be English-speaking and interesting; it’s a close-knit but far from cliquey community. I met a Russian with a nearly perfect accent in French and English, and a Canadian on leave from his army trip. 

There’s a theme every week but no obligation to stick to it. So if you’re feeling brave, go ahead and sign up. Me, I’m terrified of reading in front of crowds, but I couldn’t resist the theme “Boundaries,” as my thesis happens to be on how Galileo affronted the boundaries of the material world. Just when I was about to chicken out, Garrison Keillor spent an entire episode of the Writer’s Almanac talking about Galileo; I took it as a sign. I got up my nerve, read from my thesis and was greeted with a beer from my Russian and Canadian friends. Ah, Paris.
Check out Spoken Word and Meetup on Facebook.

Restaurant Raviolis
47, rue de Belleville, in the 19th Arrondissement.
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