On the run up to launching my first record ‘Talk in a bit’ I am sharing some bits of talking with poets I’ve been doing over the last few years for a new archive at the British Library ‘Black British Poets in Performance’. The archive is not yet launched (and might take a bit longer due to British Library website shenanigans). In the meantime I am going to post bits of the interviews….Keith Jarrett talked about slams, international slams, and how the slam-form impacts writing. He was the Rio international slam winner (2014) at the literary festival FLUPP, we discussed translation and his experiences of ‘reversed foreignness’ – returning to England after spending time in the Dominican Republic and speaking Spanish constantly.
Jarrett was on the first ‘Spoken Word Educators’ programme led by Peter Kahn at Goldsmiths University. He was one of six poets on the first year of the scheme, alongside Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Cat Brogan, Pete the Temp (Peter Bearder) and Indigo Williams. He discusses the approach of the programme to working with young people in schools:
Bring your lives, bring everything and we’re going to teach you to put that into a poem and not only put that into a poem but to share and to learn how to be part of the community and to build that community.
Although Jarrett had already completed an MA in creative writing (fiction) the Spoken Word Eductor programme was his first experience of workshopping his poems:
It was only then I started calling myself a poet. I’d done loads of stuff – won the UK slam championship but I still didn’t have that confidence to call myself a poet, to have anything published poetry-wise. Fiction is a different story. That’s why I wasn’t really fully professionalised. So we workshopped each other quite a bit and we also went through each other’s stresses of which they were many that year and the following year and every year since. It was a lovely experience. That’s what gave me the confidence to self-published my first collection of poems…. without any advice, which I don’t recommend folks.
Keith Jarrett on labelling and taking his first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe ‘Identity Mash-up’:
Part of it was really looking at the idea of labelling and labelling ourselves. I had this really long piece to begin with, I spend the first twenty minutes in shorts and a vest, covered head to toe in sticky labels, from A-Z, there’s 26 of them. In this poem I remove the labels which have different things. A is African, B is black, C is – I’d have to go through the thing to remember it… C must be Caribbean, and it goes on, but then all of them are labels that I’ve been uncomfortable with at some point. By the end of it I’ve got rid of all my labels and can start getting dressed again. I’ve got all of these things around me on the floor which represent my life… each item of clothing is a poem… […] It was a fun interactive show which came out of me frustrated by being labelled but as the show goes on and in fact as I continue developing the show I realise that it’s a very privileged person who can say ‘I don’t want to be labelled anymore, I’m transcending, I’m a world citizen’ – my friend Fernando in the Dominican republic, try getting into an airport saying he’s a world citizen so he can come visit me. Try telling the people who have been killed by police in the States ‘oh I’m not black!’
Jarrett discusses gender and early experiences of realising how gendered children are: ‘Why do girl socks have to be different? What does that say to a six year old’. And on beginning comfortable with exploring gender and clothing today.
Jarrett finishes by discussing his current work on a PhD in Creative Writing for which he is researching ‘oneness churches’ in London – Pentecostal Jamaican Black and White churches which came to the UK during Caribbean migration to Britain. The project is influenced by his experience of growing up with the Pentecostal church.