The Calcutta Café



I read about a café 
in Calcutta in the sixties
it fixes
in my romantic mind
and I call it The Calcutta Café
though that wasn’t
and isn’t its name
all the same
it speaks to me
of a café society 
you see
each group there 
sat at its own table:
the novelists here
the playwrights screen writers there
the journos the hacks
the others elsewhere
and the poets….
ah the poets
they had their own table too
they even had their own name
which resonates down the years
of their literary fame
The Hangry Poets 
they called themselves
and here’s to explain:
claiming poverty
they professed to be hungry
claiming alienation
they professed to be angry
and being poets
they claimed of course
to be talented
collectively they were
loud opinionated wild-looking 
and as poets everywhere are
curiously attractive
theirs was 
the most sought-after table
it seems some habitués 
of The Calcutta Café
were prepared to give up
writing novels films plays
in order to be
or pretend to be poets
and thus gain a place
at The Hangry Poets’ table
and become presumably
hungry angry loud opinionated 
and curiously attractive too
the quality of their verse
is not known

now here’s a thing:
in 1962 the celebrated
American Beat poet 
Allen Ginsberg
while stumbling around India
in search of enlightenment
stumbled one day
into The Calcutta Café
and saw
in a flash of enlightenment
that The Angry Poets were
in some way or another
an howling outpost
of the Beat Generation
of which he was
a founding father
in turn The Hangries
recognised a fellow Hangry
and fell upon him
with glad cries
of warmth and solidarity
all this a fantastic dream
but real
though such a thing
has never happened to me
or ever will I feel
to think
the company of poets
actively sought 
by literary pretenders
their table blessed
by Allen Ginsberg’s presence
no women sat there
of course
or were invited for sure
if The Hangries had muses
they kept quiet about them
A.G. became their muse maybe
for a bond was formed
two of The Hangries
even got jobs eventually
in American universities
and ceased to be hungry
and even angry possibly
and wore tweed jackets
no doubt
with leather patches
at the elbow
the better able
to live out their fable
yet did ever again I wonder
writers deceive and scheme
to sit at
the once Hangry Poets’ table



Jeff Cloves
Altered image: Claire Palmer

In 2001 Calcutta was re-named Kolkata

A Blue Hand: the Beats in India
this beautifully written account by Deborah Baker

(The Penguin Press New York 2008)
was a primary source for my poem

Below: Poet and International Times regular Kushal Poddar sent this photo
of himself outside the Coffee House in Kolkata yesterday (April 16th 2024)
which also happens to be opposite his old school.
Forming a link between the Beat poets of the 1960s and present day poetry,
the coffee house and bookshops are still thriving
Thanks Kushal!








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