"There is no satisfying answer!"

Street poets going underground

Taco van der Eb

Under the Bridge, a collective of around forty young poets and poetry lovers, holds secret meetings late at night. “We don’t understand poetry, because we don’t understand ourselves.”

(Het originele, Nederlandstalige artikel staat hier)
“Ladies and gentleman, it seems we have an audience tonight”, booms the voice of Lorenzo Barberis (25, a Comparative Literature graduate) somewhere under an ancient bridge in Leiden’s town centre.

He discovered this shadowy place months ago during a night stroll with two friends. It’s where they found Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and started taking turns to read it to each other. It was a precursor of Under the Bridge (UTB): Poetry Gatherings, a company of around forty poets and poetry lovers who are getting together among the cobwebs in the middle of the night for third time now.

After graduating, Barberis was plunged into a hopeless existence of badly paid jobs. “I was a dishwasher, a courier and bored as fuck.” He decided not to give up. “There are a number of things I’m passionate about and I decided to focus on them.” So, he started gathering an entire group of like-minded people around him.

“What is poetry?”, asks Barberis, dressed in a black gansey with matching earring. He looks over the group of young romantics who have flocked to the narrow wooden deck. “A transcendence of thoughts”, answers Anaïs Feron (21, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology), wearing fish-net tights and a bright red coat. She and Barberis organise these secret meetings together. Feron heard about the first UTB meeting from a friend. She was delighted with the idea and immediately decided to join Barberis.

“Has anyone got a different answer?” Barberis pushes on.

“We don’t understand poetry, because we don’t understand ourselves”, someone in the group murmurs.
Barberis is not letting them off that easily: “I’m still looking for a satisfying answer.”

“There is no satisfying answer!”, shouts Elisa Ephraim (25), an Applied Psychology student with a glossy head of curls.

“That’s the satisfying answer!”, Barberis laughs and bends down to pick up the bottle of red wine.

Everyone is welcome to recite poetry at UTB, but UTB would prefer not to publicise the location.

“Because we want to keep it intimate.” You can recite your own work or from work by famous poets or unknown poets, everything goes. Tonight, for instance, Italian, Greek, Dutch, English and Indonesian ring through the tunnel. Barberis and Feron walk round with a small, red tombola box containing random stanzas. If you don’t have a poem ready prepared, you must take one from the box and read it out. Barberis stresses that “No one may refuse.”

As a poem about the Netherlands and its flatness by Cees Nooteboom comes to a close, Pablo Kattenberg (21, Literary Studies) steps into the circle. “Let’s have some real Dutch poetry now!” One hand in the pocket of his beige corduroy jacket, he relates his impromptu lift adventure in Sweden.

He wanted to get back with a girl and recalls, in verse, how he stood, “perpetually shivering while the Swedish drunkenness [swirled] around him” at the side of the road in the pouring rain. He wrote the poem he has just recited to the group in a motorway service station.

When he finishes his reading, applause echoes through the tunnel. “I still have to tell the rest of my story!”
Kattenberg continues. He didn’t manage to get in touch with the girl and eventually took a plane home again.
When the final speaker has had his turn, Barberis and Feron get up in front of the group again, hand in hand this time. “To visualise the connection”, Feron explains. Together, they take a last bow under the bridge while the group claps enthusiastically. “Winter is coming”, Feron says. “We’ve found a place where we’ll be warm and dry.”

By Melle Peters

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