Sabrina Mahfouz and Luke Wright on spoken word at Unbound

Unbound's spoken word strand returns this year with a showcase of the Out-Spoken imprint and poetry night; we talk to founder Anthony Anaxagorou and poet Sabrina Mahfouz about the unique night in store this August

Feature by Heather McDaid | 03 Jul 2018

Out-Spoken shows what poetry can be – multidisciplinary, inclusive, radical. “The goal was to curate and distil an event which encompassed both poetry and live music," begins founder Anthony Anaxagorou, "where the age-old elitism and myopia that often trails both art forms is disregarded, leaving artists free to experiment and enthral audiences."

Anaxagorou brings Out-Spoken to the famed Spiegeltent with Babble On, alongside a compelling line-up of those whose work he has published: Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, Fran Lock, Raymond Antrobus and Bridget Minamore.

“The discourse surrounding underrepresentation had reached its zenith with official statistics highlighting the lack of inclusivity and representation within the industry,” he explains. “I had friends who had written great books or pamphlets but were being rejected from major presses due to their poetry failing to meet the narrow proclivities of an editor, so Out-Spoken Press was set up to tackle the ongoing issue.”

One such collection was How You Might Know Me by Sabrina Mahfouz, a book of character-based poems from four women working in London’s sex industry, inspired by her own time working in strip clubs, and by years of writing workshops with sex workers.

With ‘freedom’ running as a thread throughout the Festival, where does Mahfouz feel her work fits within this? “My work is usually documenting a world and people within it who don’t often have the freedom to platform their stories in a way that centres them, whether due to taboos of society, barriers of gender, race, class or all sorts of other reasons,” she explains. “Artists should use what freedom they have just like anybody else – explore things truthfully and mindfully, researching well before representing outside of your own experience and always open doors (literally and metaphorically!) for others when you can.”

On what to expect from the event, Mahfouz quips “accents, anger and some attempts at humour”, while Anaxagorou adds, “There will be moments of high energy, anger, confusion, confession and profound reflection. Audiences can expect to gain insight into worlds that previously they may have been unaware of. These are poets who are responding to life in a way that is wholly unique and compelling.”

Out-Spoken isn’t the only event under the Babble On umbrella – Luke Wright, award-winning poet who co-programmes Babble On with Becky Fincham, brings Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip to Charlotte Square Gardens. “Babble On is about bringing spoken word into the main festival programme," Wright says. "We are in our fifth year now and our weekend of events gets bigger and better each year. This is going to be the maddest night of the whole festival. There is no one quite like Mik Artistik – his songs are both hilarious and moving; beautiful, sad and brilliant. At least half of his sets are ad-libbed, the band play on as Mik takes us by the hand and guides us through the surreal landscape of his mind. We’ll have a job getting him off, but the audience will be begging for more.

“For years I’ve found Mik and the band playing dark corners of music festivals with impromptu crowds of people around him shouting the lyrics to his songs. We’ve wanted him at the Book Festival for years, and this year it is happening. I’ll be Mik’s support. I’ll dig out my best Saturday night poetry and warm you all up.”

Rather than conforming to festival themes, Wright suggests performers at their events simply roam free. When they leave the Spiegeltent after these events, he has one simple hope: “People will sit on buses or in cars, maybe with a bottle of wine at the top of Calton Hill, lines of poetry pinging around their brains: entertained, challenged, changed."

Babble On presents: Out-Spoken Press, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square Gardens, Fri 17 Aug, 9pm