Iona Cleave was there as Brixton Book Jam returned to the Hootananny
The lights warm and dimmed, the music off, the dance floor replaced by tables, chairs and candles – Hootananny Brixton was a difference scene altogether.
The audience was still crowding in when Mik Artistik – host of the evening and frequent Book Jam performer – began to tell us about his experience of drawing strangers on paper bags, followed by a song about the “man in chords”.
And so began an evening of joyous strangeness, music and honest, fantastical and comical writing on this wonky old world.
Eight writers took us from the dark and light futures of new worlds to the centuries-ago woods of South London and onto the absurdities and relentless work of modern existence.
The latter, according to the two writers behind the Deserter blog, can be avoided by inspiring your way out capitalism, what they call “tactical slacking” in their new book Shirk, Rest Play.
There was both warmth and sadness to be found in readings on heartbreaks (Rosie Wilby), the apocalypse (Kwaku Osei-Africa) or in the dazzling accolade to a mother-daughter relationship sung by Rebecca Hollweg.
An unstated theme of the night seemed to be human connection. Yet our desire for this is both “our tragedy and beauty,” according to Book Jam organiser Zelda Rhiando’s Theory of Idiots.
The hypocrisies and absurdities of human nature were expertly explored with satire, wit and conscious inanity.
Ned Beauman’s comment on western societies’ response to impending ecological disaster involved two friends debating: if you care so much about all species like insects, shouldn’t you also marvel at the miracle of gonorrhoea?
The night remained unpredictable. The penultimate reading from The Pleasure of Firing Back by Graham Buchan came from the mind of a Beethoven-besotted torturer.
The visceral and cruel language of torture techniques was cast mischievously against the character’s eloquent reflections on symphonies numbers 3 and 5.
With the night creeping on, Celine Hispiche held the audience one final time with a poetic ode to the loss of beauty in London’s landscapes – The Skyline Ballet sung with melancholy, an urging for change and generous amounts of humour.
I left the Hootananny a little confused, possibly smarter, and certainly happier.