Marrying an all-killer, no-filler bill of artists from further afield together with up-and-coming Bristol talent, Blahblahblah once again firmly threw down the gauntlet to any other contenders to the title of Bristol’s premier spoken-word night.
No ordinary sight greeted those at June’s instalment, swelteringly subtitled “Here Comes the Sun”. On entering the basement theatre of Bristol’s Old Vic from the muggy evening outside, immediately apparent was the arrangement of items on a stage-right table, laid in such a fashion that it brought to mind a renaissance tableau. Said table was fully laden with inter alia: flowers; fruit; a child’s toy; a megaphone. More on that later.
It was not long until all hubbub had ceased and entered Anna Freeman; her poetic offering this month imagining a world where George Osborne’s Micawberian deficit-cutting agenda is taken to its logical conclusion. Naturally, in such a world a type of fashion re-emerges – one which dictates a smidgeon of ankle-showing as veritably saucy. As per previous months, she whipped up the audience into a frenzied anticipation for the acts about to take the stage.
First to grace the floor was Manchester-based Chanje Kunda, expertly combining spoken-word with performance. Her set was drawn largely from a work of hers entitled “Amsterdam” which has appeared as both a collection of poetry and a solo theatrical show. Here is where the aforementioned table of props came in. In the first poem themes of the ennui of everyday life and responsibility were explored. She appeared with “fragile” packing tape attached to her clothes; this was peeled off as if to signify an individual dispensing with their worries or misgivings. As a result, there was something quite infectiously carpe diem about the pieces. The audience were in stitches when she channelled the voice of her African mother, remonstrating with her not to hot-foot it to the Netherlands. With the Amsterdam trip entailing a love interest, some of the pieces were unabashedly sensual – including an e-mail-themed play-on-word poem; think knowing pauses on terms like “body” and “event invitation”... I say! Not content just to allow the audience a mere snapshot of her life and thoughts through spoken-word, Kunda provided an immersive and often exhilarating performance.
Sliding seamlessly into the bill of exotic acts were two exciting, locally-based young poets who offered those assembled an insight into their brilliant work. Recently crowned Bristol’s Anti-Slam champion, Tim Goodings’ poetry dovetails his work as a stand-up comedian; he relishes and utilises the apparent juxtaposition. His delivery is one that simultaneously contains literary allusions and is comically deadpan; a crowd favourite being his witty ode to the moth.
Next was Jenn Hart who provided forthright, thoughtful poetry with a feminist edge. “Let Loose, Lucy”, for instance, centred on female experience within alternative circles and the contradictions, hypocrisies and frustrations therein. Her words were unarguably thought-provoking, eliciting in the listener (or reader) the potential for dialogue. The resounding response from all watching the two performances: more please!
The final act was Joaquín Zihuatanejo, whose name is poetry itself. He is, as pointed out by Freeman’s introduction, the only spoken-word poet to win the stateside Individual World Poetry Slam and the European World Cup of Poetry Slam. All were eager to learn what he would serve-up for this appearance, fresh off the plane from Dallas and now Glastonbury-bound.
Zihuatanejo brings with him presence, rawness and eloquence all in abundance and did not disappoint on any of these counts. The visceral appeals to an absent father – a theme dealt with quite roundly – were particularly poignant and left the audience spellbound. Zihuatenejo however knows how to work the spectrum from darkness to light – from indignation to levity. Comedy abounded especially in one piece – which he introduced as a love poem (and as the one that receives most approval from his other half) – recounting a trip to a corner store that coincided with a power outage and had him contemplate an evening without his beloved. His teaching experiences also informed some of the poetry he shared with the audience – an example: what might otherwise be assumed to be body language and/or wild gesticulation was revealed to be influenced by a student that uses sign language and rendered the spoken-word performance “Poem, for Jon” even richer. Having performed on Def Poetry and also shared the stage with among others, Maya Angelou, it's no wonder that Blahblahblah's audience clung to every word.
June’s outing was indicative of how Blahblahblah succeeds at the aggregate level. It is not insular or one-dimensional: every aspect of the human condition is dealt with. Expect hilarity, anger; higher-mindedness but also a lot of belly laughs. Politics comfortably sits side-by-side with the personal. Just never expect to be bored. Yes, one could go and do the same old thing that one does this time of year: sit in a pub garden shooting the usual breeze; even a sunny drive. But why would you want to, when an evening chock-full of stunning spoken-word performances is on your doorstep that offers to chuck-aside the usual summer rigmarole?
Photography: Darren Paul Thompson