Never failing to provide nourishment for soul, mind and humour, Blahblahblah injected a shot of light into an autumnal October evening with ‘Luminous Humans’. Ever-ready to drum the Old Vic’s Basement into a rapturous frenzy was Blah’s own Anna Freeman. Diverging from her usual offering of new poetry she's been working on recently, creative writing lecturer Freeman took the audience of regulars and newcomers into the world of academia and its lecture-shirking students through a reading of ‘Did I Miss Anything?’ by Tom Wayman.
Antosh Wojcik has to be one the more delightfully leftfield performers seen this year at Blah. Resident at The Roundhouse, his style of perspective-altering, almost stream-of-conscious poetry would not be out of place in a William S. Burroughs novel. Charmingly witty, sometimes lewdly hilarious anecdotes segued seamlessly into startling poetry – ‘we have a conjoined boyfriend who is sorry to have a harp’ and ‘this must be liquid Texas I’m drinking’ being just two examples. Wojcik’s performance is one of those which is adept at destabilising categories and rendering the line between reality and fantasy blurred – he asserted that everything was indeed true. The boundary between poem and the performance as a whole was also hazy, making it intensely engaging, achingly funny, and giving the impression that in many ways Wojcik sleeps, eats and breathes poetry.
Blahblahblah has clearly been trying to sync diaries with Sabrina Mahfouz for a long time, such is the esteem held for her on the spoken-word scene. She has a plethora of awards under her belt and a number of roles she's currently undertaking, including, but not limited to, Sky Academy Arts Scholar for poetry. Second on stage, Mahfouz dived straight into her repertoire, the first of which was the result of poetry workshop with a group of sex workers, which appeared to be cathartic and emancipatory for the voices represented within. She offered various flavours of poetry, and snapshots from her poetic plays – including an extract from one entitled ‘Chef’. While it would do such a versatile and talented poet a disservice to narrowly categorise their work, it’s clear that her brilliant, streetwise poetry is coupled with an ethically-conscious edge, casting light through her words on those who are often marginalised – whether those are women working on the street or individuals entangled in crime. Her poetry was superbly rhythmic, clipped and crisp. Her channelling of characters through accent also made the voices more real. All this was done in a very unpretentious manner by the erudite Mahfouz, who even recounted her experience of working in a strip club – introducing to all a colleague who prospers exploiting the 'mermaid stripper' niche. As previously, Blah had the good fortune to see a powerful artist exercise their talents so skilfully.
Amy McAllister, UK Anti-Slam Champion (that is, the person who is best at being the worse in the poetry world, which is a sought-after accolade in itself) was, as billed, as hysterically funny as she was lively and irreverent. With many an audience member having perhaps seen her on-screen as an actor, there was certainly a warm familiarity about her, which grew with each effortlessly elicited belly-laugh she prompted from the room. As a performer of poetry she juxtaposes a wholesome, almost-bookish appearance with a boisterous, uproarious, even saucy delivery – even dropping a couple of c-bombs along the way; and how bawdily cool the poetry is. ‘Roleplay’ dealt with that urge to fill an awkward silence with, well, having sex, and was chockfull of marvellous innuendo. As a retort to a stage casting director (very deserving of her ire) who quipped that the very slight McAllister was too large for a production, she treated the audience to a remix of Jay Z’s 99 Problems – her version subtitled ‘Fat Bitch is One’. It demonstrated McAllister claiming the last laugh, simultaneously self-deprecating and triumphant. She is the archetype of a witty and playful poet – as an example, her latest collection is entitled ‘Are You As Single As That Cream?’. McAllister finished on a poignant poem addressed to a troubled comrade, showcasing the full breadth of her poetic prowess.
The humans performing at October’s Blahblahblah were indeed luminous, radiant even. As always, those who attended were treated to tip-top performances and diverse, captivating bodies of work. From stolen sleeping bags to siren strippers to cheeky pickup lines, October’s line-up dispensed more than enough mirth and illumination.
Photography: Darren Paul Thompson