Friday, 30 August 2013

Highlights of Edinburgh 2013: Part 1 (Life of Pie and London up North)

I think I ought to do several posts about this as the whole experience has been incredible. A fellow poet - probably Sophia Walker, or possibly someone else who Sophia then quoted - described the Edinburgh Fringe as a university for poets. Throughout August, the whole city is like a large campus, with the poetic faculty holding its own against a backdrop of theatre companies and stand-up comedians. Don't get me wrong - no jacket potatoes were harmed during the staging of our return to studenthood; however, I survived mainly on a diet of haggis pizza, steak and kidney pie, and donated beer when I wasn't burying into my rucksack for granola bars (the healthy option).

I initially attempted to avoid attending London poets' shows; I'm aware I'm stuck inside a "London bubble" at the moment; I have little awareness of the poetry scene in the rest of the country and rarely perform outside of London. That I hope to change pretty soon. I've met some sound poets from all over the country - and beyond - who I'd love to see more of so, train ticket price-permitting, I'll be travelling inland a lot more frequently.

That said, as far as Lahndaners were concerned, I enjoyed seeing David Lee Morgan, Tongue Fu (with guests Rob Auton and Inua Ellams) and then Beardyman's show, where he created an album in 60 minutes, based on the audience's bizarre requests for musical genres (sorry guys, no Gabber today).  

Identity Mix-Up

I can't believe it, but this went really well. After some well-delivered feedback from the preview (thanks to everyone who came - that really made me rethink a couple of things), I made some alterations. The poems themselves changed little, but the in-between bits did. I'll have more to say on this later, but I feel emotionally drained... I put myself into the show in a big way and telling strangers about your life (and not just the good bits) isn't easy.

The pay-off, however, was amazing. I bonded with the other members of the Utter! team who were there (namely James McKay, Caleb Beissert and Rosie Fitzmaurice) while we hurriedly tried to pick self-adhesive labels off the floor at the end of the shows, or ran across town with flyers. I also met a charming couple who we sat and had drinks with after one show - for two hours - who I almost certainly wouldn't have met in any other circumstance. I chatted with a woman who came to see me because we shared the same surname (Jarrett isn't a common name in Edinburgh); others who came from places as disparate as Aberdeen and Madrid, on a whim or on a recommend. I also had a few poets from London - and Glasgow - come down from doing/seeing other shows to show their support and I discovered, bizarrely, that one such poet went to the same school as me. I had a good friend and my brother turn up too - just for the day. And some people said some very nice things afterwards, including Joe Walsh in the review below:


Cutting his Keith

Broadway Baby Rating:
I don’t think I’ve felt as privileged to be in a performer’s company at a Fringe show as I felt when watching Keith Jarrett. He is astute, he is witty, he is charming, and I would have bought him a pint if only I’d had the chance. Praise all the greater considering La Tasca charge £4.25.This is a show in which Jarrett questions what it means to have labels attached to oneself. What does it mean to be black, to be British and Jamaican, to be middle class, to be homo- or heterosexual? He is not willing to accept any label as a given; he wants to interrogate it, to find out what it means at its core. That he is able to do so via the medium of poetry testifies to an intelligence that is as understated as it is incisive.
The poetry is fluidly embedded into a show that is composed of the conversational, the subtly academic and the interactive. He represents the constituent elements of the identity that he has built up throughout his life by way of donning disparate pieces of clothing: Socks, a string vest, a cap. All bring into poetic focus issues of gender, language, religion and so on as we are drawn through his life from ten-years-old to the present day.
There is much to be said for Jarrett’s engaging and affective style. His delivery is animated and his poems are challenging. He talks to his audience as though to a group of friends, interacting without ever making us uncomfortable. This is not about filling time – it is a launch pad in order to develop ideas of his own. He simply likes to ask questions: ‘That’s what a good poet should do,’ he says.
For whatever other label he may consider irresolute, his identity as a poet is something in which he is definitively secure. Jarrett is articulate, erudite and well-informed. He integrates references to a heritage both literary and musical, his beat reminiscent of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the dub poets of the eighties, of rap artists emergent since the nineties, and – of the most celebrated poets of the twentieth century. And for all the respect that he affords to his precursors, he never sacrifices his own voice.
Jarrett does not only know how to use words, he values them. Some of his rhetoric is outright beautiful, but to write it here would be to do it an injustice. It is a wonderful thing to play witness to. This is a man who looks at what our language is, at how it has evolved through vernacular and globalisms, and treats it with an eminent respect. This is by far the best spoken word show I’ve seen at the Fringe.

Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh has written 32 reviews for Broadway Baby since joining the team in 2013.

Of course, it was very touching to read this and my head swelled for a few hours afterwards. Then it deflated again when I was talking to another poet (who I won't name) whose show I saw and really loved, who'd only got a two-star review from another reviewer who simply didn't get it. There's a saying about writers not reading their own reviews, isn't there? All I can say is I put a lot of work - and myself - into it and I'm really glad that, on the particular week I did my show - barring a few hitches - I felt connected with everyone in the room. I enjoyed every moment - even the cringey stuff I'll write about next time - and, somehow, this translated into really good feedback. I'll use it to hopefully get an audience next time I decide to embark on a project as mad as another Edinburgh show...

Dalry recordings

Another highlight for me was this (see below). In between gigs, we ("we" being Caleb, James and I) managed to find time to record a few poems with Rosie as sound technician. We took it in turns to step up to the mic, rigged to a laptop, and bounced poems back and forth, feeding off the vibes from the poem before. Caleb had done some Neruda translations (he translates poetry) and so I also attempted Oda al Tomate in my confused Spanish dialect (I've been spending time with Spaniards and I'm still trying to hold onto my Dominican accent, while in Scotland). He also read a poem by a deceased friend which made my skin tingle. James' pendulum piece is playful and particularly enjoyable. In fact, I could listen to all of the poems again and again. I'm glad to have shared the room with two excellent poets and friends, and to spend that time sharing poems together.

Hold on, I've just re-read this. It's not normal, is it?

Whatever. This will always remind me of my jam-packed, emotional rollercoaster of an experience up in Edinburgh.   

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