I have a confession to make: I have never read anything by William Boyd. I know, I know; he’s awesome/so clever/such a good read. And I have genuinely been tempted by a few of his books. I haven’t even seen the TV adaptation of Any Human Heart, but I totally will, I promise. Yet this did not stop me from going to see him and a host of other talented types at Book Slam. Last night the event returned to its southern location at the Clapham Grand (and my preferred venue, I must say: The Tabernacle is nice but stuffy and in a whitewashed no-man’s land of West London). Mr Boyd of course pulled in the crowds and I especially enjoyed his short story, The Sovereign Light Cafe, about a girl who runs away to the Sussex town of Bexhill-on-Sea.
But really, I was there for the poets. Primarily, for the fantastic Ross Sutherland, who I’ve previously seen at Homework and at the Edinburgh festival and on every occasion, has pretty much blown my mind. He succeeded once again last night, with a wonderful piece which marries his musings on death ,ideas about the performative nature of grief and the TV show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. As the night’s compère, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to perform against the backdrop of the Fresh Prince’s opening credits and as a result, the audience seemed a tad taken by surprise. But awed and puzzled silence is very much expected when Sutherland is on the stage. His work often starts from a weird place and takes you to a brilliant one, and frequently provokes wide-eyed and open-mouthed wonder.
I was also delighted by the work of poet Martin Figura. I’d known about him for a while but had yet to see him perform until last night and was happy to discover that he is excellent. A warm and funny performer, I found his poems both joyful and serious, grand and humble; exactly what poems ought to be, I’ve decided. As a beat fanatic, I was particularly tickled by ‘Ahem’, his version of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’. Instead of detailing the life of the crazy beat writers and the Lower East Side in the forties and fifties, ‘Ahem’ is the howl of Northern England, about winning the pools and listening to Elvis Presley. I’ve notions of getting him to read here at Nomad Books, so watch this space.
I also enjoyed music by the lovely Jono McCleery, but was hindered by a group who instead of listening quietly chose to guffaw loudly. In the past, Book Slam audiences have stood out for their attentive silence, so I’ve decided the guffawers were a fluke and probably just William Boyd fans, who are renowned for their rowdiness. One final word of advice: while Book Slam is an ace night out, don’t go by yourself. The evening’s format of performances and frequent interludes for the buying of drinks, the smoking of cigarettes and chatting to friends is harder to enjoy when you only have solitaire on your phone for company. Its also makes it easier to feel like a stalker of poets, which is a label I’m only half comfortable with. Despite all this, Book Slam delivered a tasty dose of wordy joy and left me feeling both fuzzy and inspired, as is the norm. If you’ve never been, I suggest you go and get your fill.