Literature: The Hawaiis and wherefores

An unlikely alliance between a Hawaiian writer with a penchant for vegetables and a former actor from Manchester is redefining the slippery notion of performance poetry
You could tie yourself in knots trying to define exactly what it is Benji Reid and Stacy Makishi (right) do. On Friday, they are both appearing at Apples and Snakes, one of London's liveliest performance poetry clubs, for its final 1997 shindig. But that does not quite make them performance poets; elastic that label may be, but it is stretched to breaking point by the far-outness of their acts. "It's the easiest term to live with, though," says Makishi, who hails from Hawaii and is currently residing in Hackney where she "is often mistaken for Dr Spock".

She tries to elucidate on the form and content of the unnamed piece she will be rendering on the night: "I use a lot of props, a lot of vegetables - particularly cabbages and sprouts - and some movement, in which you can see hula or kabuki elements. There isn't any rhyme... well, I don't know, maybe there is. I suppose it's like automatic writing, a non-linear, non-narrative sort of flip-flopping - I take on a word, stereotype or myth and subvert it."

So, to summarise: "It should feel like driving round the island of Hawaii - a circular journey." And how do the good citizens of her native Honolulu respond? "Some people get it, some people don't. My approach is to go right into the audience's eyes. The more afraid I am, the closer I get [a sort of flopped Morrissey, then]. Some people find it very embarrassing and confrontational. I guess I'm just an embarrassing type of person."

By comparison, Mancunian Benji Reid is positively certifiable (in the nicest possible sense). An actor and dancer who has worked with the David Glass Ensemble, Trestle Theatre Company, Black Mime and Soul II Soul (circa 1990), Reid's performance texts have a rhythmic delivery, underscored by body-popping movements. "The effect I'm striving for is that of a live video, where I can stop, rewind, edit and cut from one scene or character to another in seconds," he explains.

His first piece, "15 Seconds of Fame" lashed out at the treatment of black actors in television; his latest "Paper Jackets", muses on man's life-denying addiction to bureaucratic systems. As with Makishi, the page just won't do proper justice.

Apples & Snakes, 9pm, Friday 19 Dec, Oval House Theatre, London SE11 (0171-582 7680) pounds 4.50, pounds 3 concs