Following last month’s shock resignation of long-standing ‘Blahblahblah’ compere, Byron Vincent, July’s instalment saw the flame-haired Anna Freeman assume hosting duties as his successor. After ten years of reciting lines, Byron has made an indelible mark on Bristol’s ‘spoken-word’ scene by establishing one of the most respected poetry nights in the country. Booking a stellar line up of guests every month, his legacy has laid a solid foundation for all future endeavours of this forward-thinking event. Understandably nervous about the large, Doc Marten-sized shoes that needed filling, Anna joked that accepting the new position had been like taking a leap of faith. Having enjoyed widespread success at poetry slams around the country, Anna is most certainly one of the safest leaps of faith that could’ve been made.
Opening tentatively with a poem to warm the crowd up because, “that’s what hosts are supposed to do, right?”, Anna’s first poem, ‘You Are Something Special’, served as a zany extended metaphor that transplanted the wonders of a Full English Breakfast Scotch Egg to a new relationship. Building in new layers, figuratively and literally to both sides of the savoury analogy, the poem balanced genuine affection against Anna’s humorous ruminations. By the end it was hard to fathom where the metaphor ended and her own life began, yet it was abundantly clear that Anna certainly has the potential to grow into the solid compère that ‘Blah’ so sorely needs after its recent loss.
Unfortunately Indigo Williams had been unable to make it over from London, which meant it was up to Vanessa Kisuule to step in and save the day. A heavy-hitter in the local scene, Vanessa always impresses and tonight was no exception. Acknowledging the regulars in the audience, her set wisely balanced familiar older poems such as ‘The Incidental Sister’ with newer pieces that kept her performance fresh for those that have seen her many times before. Plying rich language across immersive verses that conjured up visually lucid scenes, intriguing perspectives and poignant messages lie at the heart of Vanessa’s distinct brand of poetry. Employing autobiographical snapshots of her childhood in ‘Strawberries’ and the MJ-inspired ‘Walking on the Moon’, Vanessa’s poems always feel spontaneous and raw even when they’ve been heard numerous times before. The experimental side of her poetry shown in ‘The Carpet’, which had been written from the perspective of a subservient carpet, was refreshingly unique and served as an unexpected hit of the night.
Next up was Nathan Filer, a Bristol-based poet and writer who has just published his debut novel, ‘The Shock of the Fall’, to great acclaim. Receiving impressive coverage from The Guardian and sparking an aggressive bidding war between no less than eleven publishing houses, the audience was treated to a reading of the opening chapter. Informed by his own background as a mental health worker, the novel tells the story of 19-year-old Matthew and his descent into mental illness. Hailed as a “compelling story of grief, madness and loss” by The Guardian newspaper, hearing the charismatic author set the scene certainly piqued the room’s interest and Amazon will surely have a few more orders to deal with later this week.
Returning from the interval and closing the night was the softly spoken but immediately charming Matt Harvey. A veteran in the poetry scene, Matt started his career in 1992 and since then has published seven books while also making regular contributions to BBC Radio 4. In 2010 Matt was appointed as the Official Wimbledon Championship Poet, which in his words involved writing, “a series of very questionable poems for each day of the competition.” Opening with the first poem from this series, the onomatopoeic tongue-twister ‘Thwok!’ had the gathering in stitches by ingeniously narrating a game of tennis from ‘love-all’ to game point. Extremely playful and juvenile in its language - “thwakety plik, thowketty plak” - the poem used words to relay the movement of the tennis ball to great comic effect. Delivered with understated flair, the rapid-fire delivery was a joy to hear while Matt’s wry smiles between verses added a further layer of comedy to the performance. Serving an ace from the start, the gentle poet built up the momentum as the set continued, giving his playful sense of humour more room to breathe. In a trio of judgemental pieces that targeted streakers, Andy Pandy and slugs in their lexical crosshairs, Matt was able to turn his accessible brand of finely tuned witticisms in many directions. One particular highlight came in the form of some “botanical banter” that brought two gardeners together in an innovatively romantic way.
A lyricist of great talent, his performance rounded off a varied evening of the very highest standard and proved to be an assured first step in the onward march of Bristol’s ‘Blahblahblah’.