Poetry in Madrid, a fire burning bright

The verses from numerous Spanish poems were printed on 1100 crossings of Madrid in 2018. This initiative was called Versos al paso (Poetry on foot), and it constituted a demonstration of the city’s strong poetic movement.

Many people and vehicles have crossed over those words. They have experienced countless showers, and even the powerful snowfall of Storm Filomena that hit Madrid in 2021. Time is unforgiving and those verses have eventually faded away —but poetry has not. Poetry has still a loud presence in Madrid, filling bars, squares and theaters like a fire which shall not be extinguished.

Bars crowded with verses

It’s a fact: Madrid is full of poets. Some of the most famous ones are Marwan and Elvira Sastre. Among the lesser-known ones we have Leo Zelada or Escandar Algeet. There are even poets that make a living with their writing, but whose names are needles in a haystack. All of them, either famous or unknown, need a place to grow, share and create their art —and Madrid is an excellent place for that. What is more, the city offers a wide range of possibilities to do it.

But how are these places? What do they do to promote poetry? The answer to these questions is quite simple: bars and open mics. Although there are also culture centers that manage activities of this sort, artists tend to prefer bars or garitos. The Aleatorio Bar, founded in 2014, is first on the list. Then we have the Vergüenza Ajena, with a long trajectory, El Búho Real and the María Pandora; poetry frequently attends these establishments.

Now let’s talk about those bars where they don’t only host poetry jams or open mic sessions, but also book launches, recitals, literary events… Likewise, most of these establishments provide a space for all kinds of artists. For example, the Café Libertad 8, the Calvario or La Fídula exhibit displays of music, literature and theater, among other things.

Poetry slams or poets’ competitions

But it doesn’t end there. Poetry slams, or competitive events for poets, also rule the stage.  Yeah, just as you heard it: poets can compete among themselves. In fact, the catchphrase of their contests is “10 poets, three minutes, the audience will decide”. Said competitions are not only held in Madrid, but also in cities such as Barcelona or Málaga. Even further away, they can be spotted in New York or Paris. Each city selects a winner who will compete in Spain’s Poetry Slam. Eventually, the finalists will participate in a worldwide tournament.

But, for now, let’s stay in Madrid. Here, the performing poetry competition takes place in the Intruso Bar, next to the subway station of Chueca. This event is known as the Poetry Slam of Madrid. However, there are at least two more of them in the Community of Madrid: first, there is the Poetry Slam of Lavapiés, held in the bar called Chinaski; second, we have the Poetry Slam of Móstoles, which is celebrated monthly in the Urban Underground Club.

From Café Gijón to poetry festivals

Everybody has heard of music festivals, but… what about poetry festivals? That’s a different kettle of fish. Nonetheless, they exist. The number is increasing and many of them take place in Spain’s capital city. For instance, this year has been held the Poetry Festival of Alcalá de Henares, a city in the Community of Madrid. In this festival, people have been able to attend recitals, roundtable events and seminars for three days straight. On a bigger scale, Madrid’s International Poetry Festival each year hosts poets from all over the globe.

In the past, Café Gijón was the establishment where a long list of Spanish writers used to find their place to create and share their art. This place has seen notorious figures such as Federico García Lorca, Benito Pérez Galdós, Valle Inclán, Maruja Mallo and Mercedes Fornica. With the passage of time, Café Gijón has become more of a touristic spot, a mere shadow of the past. The present is constantly changing, and we keep discovering new names, new places… It doesn’t really matter, since poetry continues to pour beautiful waves of verses into our world.

This article has been created in collaboration with the Community of Madrid.

About the author