Polly Trope is literary editor of the German online arts magazine indieberlin.de and author of the autobio-novel Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway – a Guardian Best First Book Award nominee last year.
She lives in Berlin but occasionally turns up at Il Puma Londinese‘s Italian-language comedy shows in London. I have no idea if she understands Italian.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from her saying:
We are organizing an indie book fair and meetup for authors in Berlin. Since some authors are abroad and can’t join us we thought of having them phone-in like a radio show. But then we came up with… The Literophone!
We were partly inspired by an iOS app which lets you be phoned-up by a random stranger by way of an alarm clock every morning.
At the book fair, we will set aside a little soundproof cubicle for one-on-one readings. But also, now, it will be the private booth where guests can call up poets and get a poem read to them down the phone.
So, obviously, yesterday I Skyped her in Berlin.
“When exactly is the indie book fair?” I asked.
“Next Saturday – 7th November,” she told me. “It starts at 1.00pm (German time) and goes into the night. We are doing the Literophone roughly between 5 and 8.”
“Where?” I asked.
“In Neukölln, the trendy part of town, where everything is going on. It’s the Shoreditch of Berlin.”
“Why are you doing a book fair?” I asked.
“Because there are so many young people who come to Berlin, who end up staying here for no reason and then they become authors. They’re all very fashionable and cool and they’ve written a chat book or a collection of three stories but none of them have a venue to do their thing in.
“So we’re working with them and also have some of the cool older guys like the Berlin faction of the punk scene from the past… indieberlin is not mainstream. It’s a lot of cool types and we just want to have this party with readings. So many people are going to be doing readings, it’s crazy.”
“Are you telling me,” I said, “that Berlin at the moment is like Paris in the 1920s? Loads of literary people roaming around being creative.”
“Yes,” said Polly, “though I dunno if it’s gonna go down in history like that. But it’s trying to be that.”
“What’s the object of the book fair?” I asked.
“The object?” Polly replied, sounding slightly surprised. “A weird and wonderful experience of poetry and stories and flash fiction. There are gonna be talks in the afternoon but it’s mostly gonna be a party.”
“So it’s not a literary fair at all?” I asked. “It’s a piss-up.?”
“Yeah, with lots of literary types. We call it a networking event.”
“So basically,” I said, “you are going to have a literary piss-up with drunken authors and invite people to phone in from foreign countries who can’t be there to drink with you.”
“Well,” Polly suggested, “they can get drunk on the phone or on Facebook.”
”So what is the Literophone exactly?” I asked.
“A fluffy booth located in the back of the bar.”
“The bar?” I asked.
“The bar where we are doing it: one of these rock ’n’ roll venues. They have a little soundproof cubicle in the back where they can do stuff without disturbing the neighbours.
“At first the thought was we would have one-on-one readings where authors who want to can read their work to just one person in an intimate booth setting. Then it evolved. We thought: Oh! All these poets want to come and they can’t make, so maybe we can have them phone in. So we’re gonna phone them from the fluffy booth. Members of the audience can step in and phone a poet, who will read a poem down the phone to them. We will pay for the phone call.”
“How,” I asked, “are you going to make the booth fluffy?”
“With blankets and fur coats and other furry things. My mum has a very beautiful fake fur bedspread which I’ve stolen. You know when you go to a London phone booth and you can see all these cards for ‘escorts’? It’s going to be a bit like that, except it’s going to be fluffy and it’s not going to be escorts, it’s going to be the names of poets. I’m going to get a rotary telephone and stick my iPhone in it.”
“Who is taking part?” I asked.
“Loads of people,” said Polly. There’s Penny Goring…”
“Not another of Hermann Göring’s relatives?” I said. “I had a blog chat with his very interesting great niece Bettina two years ago.”
“No,” said Polly. “Not Göring with an umlaut. Just with an O. This is a London Goring. And there’s Lucy Furlong: she’s a fantastic poet. I mostly asked poets if they wanted to do it – though there are storytellers of all kinds. We have so many people from America, England, Israel, all over, all going to be available for a couple of hours. I think it’s gonna be awesome.”
“Only Americans can be awesome,” I told Polly. “British people can’t be awesome.”
“But British people can be soo-perb,” she suggested.
“What would Germans be?” I asked.
“Super,” said Polly. “but with a soft S – szuper. Would you like to go into one of those fluffy poet phones if you could?
“I don’t know what I would say.”
“You don’t say anything. You phone up a writer or a poet and they say the things. But you would have to be in Berlin.”
“Someone in Berlin,” I suggested, “could phone me up and I could read one of my blogs to the person sitting in your fluffy booth in Berlin. I could read the Polly Trope blog to him or her.”
“Indeed you could,” said Polly. “I could put your card up in the booth. Will you send me one?”
“Yes. Is there any sequel to Cured Meat on the horizon?”
“I’m finished with Cured Meat,” said Polly. “I’ve run out of copies. I’m doing a new book now.”
“About?” I asked.
“It looks like it’s going to be a set of inter-connected short stories about smoking and ageing.”
“Looks like?” I said.
“Something like that,” said Polly. Stories about smokers and bars and womanhood and ageing and the quest for eternal youth. It starts with a smoking lounge that I used to go to and the people I met in there.”
Polly’s blog gives a hint of what the book may be like.
“What is a smoking lounge?” I asked.
“Just a part of a bar or a cafe where you can smoke.”
“Over here,” I said, “you can’t smoke indoors in public places. You have to go outside. In Scotland, all the smokers will slowly be killed off by hypothermia.”
“Berlin is very lenient for cigarette smokers,” said Polly.
There is a video promo on YouTube for the indie book fair.