The Miserable Poets Cafe: A Year Of Remarkable Misery by Nimue Brown

Friday the 12th of February 2016 saw a gathering at the SVA for Unlucky In Love: Pre-Valentine's Night of Woe. Depressing poetry was herded towards the stage and carefuly chaperoned by Bill Jones (aka Miserable Malcolm, the miserable poet.) The first such of these had been caused a year previously by a Friday the 13th preceding Valentine’s Day. Gathered under the banner of ‘get the disappointment over early’ we exposed our bleeding hearts in public and swayed without optimism to the tunes Uta Baldauf played.

 Miserable Malcolm at Unlucky In Love: A Pre-Valentine's Night Of Woe   photo by Simon Gunn

Miserable Malcolm at Unlucky In Love: A Pre-Valentine's Night Of Woe  photo by Simon Gunn

Why on earth would a person voluntarily subject themselves to an evening of miserable poems? And not just miserable poems, but the worst excesses of teenage diaries, and all that self-indulgent angst can offer. I don’t think Bill had any idea, when he started this last year, of just how excited people would be about misery. Of course sometimes, misery is funny. When Bill Jones takes to the stage, or Jonny Fluffypunk puts in an appearance, giggling is a probability. 

But it’s not just that.

Having been to the Miserable Poets Cafe every time it’s popped up over the last year, I feel I should know the names of the most frequent participants/offenders, but I don’t. I realise as I come to write about it, that the event itself has the feel of a support group. Things spoken of at Miserable Poets Cafe should perhaps stay there as safely guarded secrets. Confessions of murderous intent, and the tale of the young man who dumped her via her work email, not even her personal gmail address. The ex girlfriend who smelled terrible. Secret, personal things, shared intimately with fifty or more other people via a microphone and a stage, which really shouldn't see the light of day.

Most of the time in our normal lives we’re all trying to put a good face on things. It’s fascinating what happens when you’re competing for prizes like broken crockery and second hand handkerchiefs, and there is permission to be your worst. A collective relishing of our most stupid, futile, regrettable, humiliating moments, with or without rhyming couplets. A safe space in which exposing your innate crapness will get you a round of applause, not social ostracism. It’s cheaper than therapy and considerably more fun.

Did Bill Jones intend to create a space that does for failure what Death Cafe does for that other big social taboo? Did he plan to cheer people up by letting them see that they’re just as rubbish as everyone else really? I don’t know, but I'm glad he did. After a year of misery, I'm a slightly more cheerful person than I was.


Nimue Brown lives in Stroud, writes fiction and non-fiction, has a compulsive blogging habit and can be found online at