The people behind Book Slam describe it as “London’s first/ best/ only literary nightclub”. Luckily for Brightonians, this event moved to the seaside for one night only. Luckily for me, I was among the audience, who enjoyed two and a half hours of top literature and fine music seated at round tables dotted with candles and glasses of wine.
The hostess for the evening was Malaysia-born poet Francesca Beard, whose bubbly enthusiasm put everybody at ease within minutes and who read one of her poems, The Poem That Was Really a List, setting the bar high for the guests of the night.
Funny and thought-provoking, you can watch her recite the same poem at the Norwich Arts Centre in June 2009.
The three guests of Book Slam, courtesy of Brighton Festival 2012, were Jackie Kay, Jon McGregor and Sapphire, who made two appearances each: a format that worked very well to keep the evening interesting and varied.
First up on stage was Jackie Kay. The Scottish poet and novelist was there to promote her latest collection of short stories, Reality, Reality, and read two of these: Mini Me and Bread Bin. Nothing had prepared me for the hurricane of laughter that Jackie Kay brought with her! Her banter was unstoppable and incredibly funny. She couldn’t even stop chatting while reading her two short stories and interrupted herself with giggly comments! I loved and highly recommend her work.
Next up was Jon McGregor, also promoting his latest collection of short stories, This Isn't The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You. I didn’t know anything about his work before attending Book Slam and what I heard made me definitely want to correct this mistake. Britain's second-best short story writer, as he proudly describes himself, read a short story called Wires, whose final twist no-one could foresee, and then made up (or recycled from a previous event!) another using a dictionary and as many words beginning with ‘V’ as possible. Smart and witty.
Last but not least, it was the turn of American poet and author Sapphire. She began by reading three of her poems, although I should say that she sang more than read them. Quieter and more serious than her two predecessors, she was mesmerizing to watch and listen to. She also read a few extracts from The Kid, her latest novel and the sequel to Push, that was made into the film Precious. Her work deals with subjects – like abuse and AIDS - that are not for the faint-hearted but Sapphire has the ability to reach out with dignity and hope, which is not an easy balance to maintain.
After the first performance of each author, a short break was followed with live music by Ninja Tune singer/songwriter Andreya Triana. I had been to one of her concerts before and knew what a treat was in store for the audience. As soon as she started singing, the whole room fell silent in admiration. Andreya sang three songs from her forthcoming second album; her first ever single, Lost Where I Belong; and finished with a cover of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody. Soft yet powerful, her voice, accompanied only by guitar, was the perfect introduction to the second part of the evening.
Book Slam, please return to Brighton!