The Speakeasy: Poetry Comes To Mortimer House

The Notebook | 10th January 2019

Host of The Mortimer House Speakeasy Chip Martin discusses self-actualisation in literature, and tells us what to expect from our new monthly poetry and performance night

We are excited to introduce a new regular clubnight at Mortimer House that celebrates the unique literary heritage of Fitzrovia. The Speakeasy is a monthly gathering of established and aspiring poets and writers in The Living Room & Den curated by the widely published author Stoddard Martin, better-known in London as Chip Martin, éminence grise of Poetry Nights at the now retired Soho haunt The Society Club. Chip has published a number of works exploring what it means to be human, and is a man who has certainly lived his life to the full–ricocheting from the heyday of Haight Ashbury-era San Francisco to teaching literature in the hallowed academic halls of Oxford and Harvard via the colourful scenes of Sunset Strip and Soho, London. His reviews and essays have appeared in, among other places, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Independent, The San Diego Union, The Jewish Chronicle, Literary Review and Quarterly Review. His principal passion as writer has been an interlinked sequence of novellas, including an early trilogy 'A Revolution of The Sun' and five novellas under the title 'The End of The Road', published under the name Chip Martin by Starhaven Press, a small press he set up in with poet Martha Stevens in La Jolla, California in 1978. The Speakeasy draws upon his long literary history and experience of hosting performances from new voices in literature, both amateur and professional, to bring classic and original works to life every month against the backdrop of the Fitzrovia skyline. Here, the author and raconteur tells Maslow’s Notebook why literature is the perfect tool for self-actualisation and reminds us why the key to life is to never stop learning.

What would you say first attracted you to the world of literature?
My mother wouldn’t let us have comic books as such, so I began my reading-life with Classic Comics–essentially potted works of literature, including quite a bit of Shakespeare. In school I won an award, the prize for which was Stories from Shakespeare; so I’d have to say The Bard was what started me. At about eight years old, I saw Olivier’s Richard III and spent months making charts about the rights and wrongs of The Wars of The Roses–a small boy dazzled by the Christopher Marlowe aspect of young Shakespeare. Fast forward. My family moved to Southern California when I was 12, and I got exposed to the other Marlowe, Philip, in Raymond Chandler’s thrillers (Chandler lived four blocks away from us). I went to school in LA and grew into a true believer in Billy Wilder’s comment that Chandler was the Balzac of that wild and romantic, beautiful and damned paradise that is–or perhaps more properly was–Los Angeles. Two summers in the ’70s of running a bistro across from the Chateau Marmont and sleeping in the back of a VW bus on a bluff over Topanga Beach confirmed me in a love of place for which Chandler, inheriting from Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (finest fiction ever set in San Francisco), had honed the perfect Marlovian/Shakespearean form. That was the form I was determined to work in.

Which authors most inspired you?
Like many of my generation, I was affected by Kerouac–not only On the Road, but via music of the 1960s, which to some degree, as Allen Ginsberg said, was Kerouac put to music. In this declension, I was happy to see Bob Dylan win the Nobel Prize: literature comes back to its romantic origins in troubadour lays. Being a child of those times in Northern California, I was also affected by Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a more wrought work than Kerouac’s, but then people forget that Kesey, like his friend Larry McMurtry, was an early product of Stanford’s creative writing program, one of the first and best, presided over by that fine spirit Wallace Stegner. The ethos of Kesey was seminal to an era: the inheritance of Neal Cassady from Kerouac, the Magic Bus, Acid-Tests in La Honda, The Warlocks reincarnated as the Grateful Dead. Bliss it was then to be alive, and to be young was very heaven…

Tell us what we can expect from the poetry nights at Mortimer House...What do you enjoy about hosting poetry nights?
The people, the friendships, the glow in the faces, the ambience, the amateur-ness in the best sense, the liberation from academies, gatekeepers, judges, prizes, bullshit of an ‘industry’. Some people come to listen, some to be heard, some just to drink and hang out; and why not? It’s a club, so the first thing it’s about is togetherness. But just hanging out without purpose–that can be a drag. So on this kind of night, you can hear a guy strum a guitar, a girl read her first fragment of a short story and think–‘Whoa, there’s such a lot of talent around! These nights are for everyone. Someone may walk in who has a big name and be treated no less well or better than the nobody who’s had the bravery to stand up before. The ticket is love.

How can literature help us to self-actualise?
Literature is the best form of self-actualisation I’ve known in my years, whether via my own efforts or those of others. Hermann Hesse said of Faust that Goethe had broken his personality down into all its conflicting parts–magician, devil, ordinary man, servant, student, romantic young spirit, avenger–and the process of the drama was bring all back together in a new synthesis: a kind of anticipation of the process that literature-loving but non-literary men such as Jung, Freud and Rudolf Steiner turned into a science a century on. It is a process I’ve seen again and again in studies of others and felt in my own work. My last biggish piece of writing as Chip Martin was a ‘fable’ called Proie–I call it my ‘last’ because in it I felt I had finally composed a fugue weaving the major disparate themes of my existence together. As Stoddard my last book was a collection of essays entitled Monstrous Century summing up via the work of others an intellectual journey on which for some decades I’d travelled. I’m fairly satisfied now as to where this has led. There may be one or two words left before I reach my destination, but much of the best that remains is in the chance to hear, enjoy and help in the development of voices of others younger than me.

The Mortimer House Speakeasy debuts at Mortimer House on January 21st. It is open to the public strictly via RSVP. Interested patrties should contact john-paul@mortimerhouse.com