Performance Poet Spotlight #1 Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett is a bit of a dude. He writes and performs poems around London (he’s Camden based) in both English and Spanish. He is also often mistaken for a popular Jazz pianist of the same name.
He started performing poetry in 2005.
Keith Jarrett has previously been reviewed by Sabotage at Farrago, where he was one of the few highlights. His performance there was good, but seeing him since then (including at the Tea Box) he’s blown me away.
A former Farrago London (2006) and UK (2009) Slam champion, his poetry and thoughts can be found on his blog. It’s an interesting insight into a poet, and his poems are wide-ranging and always an entertaining read. Especially good are his meditations on writing, often in great depth and candour, it’s a great look into his writing process.
But it’s in performance where he excels; his astonishingly practiced delivery and his inclusive manner just invites you into his words.
Take his ‘Circle Line Revisited’, a poem about how he retreats from the repetitive horrors of daily news into his musings on the circle lines. Taking in its drunks, tourists, drunken tourists and forbidden lovers, he speculates on how other lines all ‘have a point’, but the point of the Circle Line for him seems to be just itself. It’s a poem of whimsical reflection, that returns (circularly) to the real world (at Hammersmith, as you do).
Or his ‘What I Miss’. It’s a poem about the clash of his dual heritage. between the Dominican Republic and Britain. The narrative takes the form of a conversation in a long distance relationship that makes it seem wherever he is, he’s still in a long-distance relationship with his other home.
His ‘Gay Poem’ was written because he was asked at a gig if he had a ‘gay poem’ and he didn’t have one, so he wrote it. The conceit being that the poem itself is gay. It concisely captured the problems of coming out and the different problematic mindsets (‘you’re just confused’ or ‘I didn’t bring you up that way’) that can be encountered. It’s a mischievously subversive poem that in the end knows ‘As much as you try to stifle my expression, I know it’s you, not me, who needs to change.’
When I saw him at the Tea Box he performed a poem (the title of which I didn’t catch and cannot seem to find) on political spin and his own outlook towards life. It rejects the jingoism of popular politics and the idea of being optimist, pessimist or realist, and instead embraces just being. It’s fascinating how he splashes together contradiction and cynicism with a kind of communal voice, but eventually arrives at sincerity and hope.
‘Colours’ is an involving take on gang/youth culture. On the idea of being influenced by popular media to be more gang-like, a desire which in his poem seems to stem from having little else to trust or believe in. The colours in question are worn by the poem’s subject (a bandana etc.) as ‘a symbol of brotherhood’ and he cleverly alludes to their multiple meanings as a neighbourhood flag and eventually a funeral shroud. The colours take on several meanings, appropriate as he wears them to try and find a meaning to a grey existence without opportunity; failing a purpose, he takes meaning. They’re strong and touching words that encapsulate the vibrancy, naivety and eventual death of his subject.
And then there’s ‘Tell Me What You Believe’. Which you can find online in the excellent interview UKPoetryDatabase did with him. Addressed to himself, it references historical moments of resistance to challenge the strength of his beliefs. ‘What would you stand and block a tank for’ to ‘what would you stand at the back of the bus for’. He references it in his blog, saying that when writing it the weight of the examples (that he dextrously weaves together) and the strength of their meaning would’ve made a satisfactory neat conclusion seem trite. So, after asking himself ‘is there anything you give a fuck for?’ he leaves us with a simple ‘I thought so’. With a simple statement it seems to be asking us to question if, next to those examples, do our passions measure up? Can we know until the moment comes?
Where Can I See this Gem of a Man?
Well that’s a good question! Well his gigs are always listed on his blog, the next you can find him at is the Lounge on the Farm Festival on the 8-10th of July. Otherwise you can usually see him around at nights like Farrago, the Tea Box, Sage and Time and Bang Said the Gun.
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