On a boozy Friday evening, a wide range of poetry enthusiasts met at a quaint little venue located in Mount Pleasant to be awed by the likes of Britain’s own collective of wordsmiths, The Point Blank Poets. From millennial hipsters to baby booming liberals, all convened at the Fox Cabaret with the common intention of enjoying a 90-minute showcase of literary fireworks, courtesy of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
With accolades such as viral videos and highly acclaimed published works, the collective boasted six radical young minds: Dean Atta, Sabrina Mahfouz, Bridget Minamore, Deanna Rodger, Chimene Suleyman, and Hollie McNish (who was unable to appear the night of the performance). They all hailed from London but each individual member explained that they had roots which stretched across all seven continents.
Fun fact about the Point Blank Poets: they don’t appreciate being asked ‘where are you from?’ Listening to them perform, it became explicitly obvious that they weren’t too fond of that question and often struggled to provide an appropriate answer. Many of the collective members tossed and turned with the idea of identity and ethnicity throughout their works. ‘I’m from a place where D.I.Y. projects never get done,’ Dean said during his set.
Having breezed through an appetizer chockfull of teasers and introductions, the night was under way. The first poet out of the quintet to perform was Bridget, a 20-something-year-old with the unique capability of making even the most derogatory of phrases sound elegant with her British accent. Equipped with the usual rapid-fire slam poetry cadence, she delved into the Afrocentric pride she had for her skin colour. Her first poem was deemed as a letter to her ancestors. The following poem, titled ‘Black Girls With White Names’, was framed as a series of questions to parents whose children’s names are seemingly ‘used as red herrings on resumes’. The highlight of Bridget’s performance was a series of 22 obligatory tragic heartbreak love poems, which included a comical anecdote about running into mutual friends with your shagging partner (and pretending you’re not shagging), as well as an allusion to Britney Spear’s smash hit from 1998, ‘Baby One More Time’.
Following Bridget was Chimene, another London native who currently resides in New York. Chimene read excerpts from her debut book, ‘Outside Looking On’, a medley of 40 poems she had published in 2014. She shared with the eager audience a few secrets that didn’t make the book’s prologue – she was eight poems short the day of her book’s deadline, so she decided to churn out the poems in a pub a few hours before handing in the manuscript and based all eight of those poems on a man she spotted by the bar hunched over a drink, named Brian. Much of her work revealed the dark side of womanhood, broaching topics such as abortion and miscarriage. Lightening up the mood before exiting the stage, she left with a succinct piece poking fun at the tendency for Londoners to claim to have known the Kray twins in their glory days.
Returning from a fifteen minute intermission, we were greeted by Dean, whose first piece was a set of instructions on how to be a poet. ‘Visualize quotations around your life and italicize emotions’, he said mockingly. After that, Dean ran through a phenomenally vivid bit about his experience using the Grindr app while sightseeing in Rome, which was punctuated with many laughs. Dean’s routine also dealt with his acceptance of being both black and gay in an urban culture where those two identities conflicted, a theme which resonated through the documentary he made with BBC in 2011, aptly titled ‘No Homo: Hip-Hop’s Last Taboo’.
Next to take the stage was Deanna. Like her collective members, Deanna’s poems were a whirlwind of testimonials about love and identity. With storylines like spiral staircases and classic spoken word gesticulating, her poems fought to defend her ethnic makeup and origins, so much so that it made me wonder, ‘What in the bloody hell is happening over there in Britain?’ Deanna gave a stellar performance. Her standout poem was formatted in the form of a prayer from a little girl who couldn’t manage to utter the words ‘Dear Father’ because of the lacklustre relationship she had to endure with her own father.
Finally, closing out the night was Sabrina. Sabrina read excerpts from her 2016 anthology, ‘How You Might Know Me’, which recalled the lives of four women on the front-lines of the UK sex trade. With poems like ‘Revolutionaries Get Horny Too,’ Sabrina moved graciously through a slew of jaw-dropping poems, ranging from the awkwardness one woman experienced after running into one of her kinky clients at a local bakery, to misconceptions and stereotypes of the sex industry, and even the challenges one woman faced when battling addiction. She finished her set by quoting one of the characters from her book, a senior citizen that had been a sex worker for decades who was coaxed into being paid for her services with a department store voucher: ‘Men pay us to do what they gotta do so that we can afford to do what we gotta do… I pack my children’s lunches every morning.’
Each poet charismatically detailed their personal triumphs. Quite often, they took themselves out of the spotlight and put it on their various musings, such as sex workers and abandoned daughters, thus giving a voice to those who were voiceless and consequently left unheard. Using an eclectic blend of monologue, story telling, spoken word, and slam poetry, they questioned societal norms and challenged taboos. I would go as far as saying they were like superheroes, and the craftsmanship of their words were their superpowers.