How do you know that it will be a magic day? When everything seems to go wrong and then transforms; when the music played by 5 young guys doing their checks makes the body rock possess you like a spirit set to jive; when the piano man plays your song and twists it simple to favor your voice; when the first music that plays starts with African drums, then piano, then sax, then rhythmic dancing of sound, beat; when the skylights fill with evening light; when evening light is, itself, is lighted; when among thousands of swarming people, you are found swathed in the breath of church, incense; when there is gluten-free Eucharist, if only you will kneel;
Yesterday’s set started out as: Piece of Clay, On the football field, Pistol’s confession, Lately I’ve grown accustomed, and Maybe
I was going to start with The Disappearance of Fireflies as the first poem, but I thought that I want to start with the darkness but have time to transition into light.
Turned out that I actually had 15 minutes. Change in set.
#2: Piece of Clay, On the football field, Pistol’s confession, The rising, Paradise, Sonogram, NICU, Lately I’ve grown accustomed, and Maybe.
And the final change in set (after changing it about four more times) was order number two with the omission of On the football field and the first poem position of The rising.
I recorded the reading – audio only – this time, because it is kind of amazing to have read and sang at Ronnie Scott’s, a place with such a strong jazz tradition.
The English crowd is hard to read, though. During the reading, I just didn’t know if the crowd was with me or not. The Pistol’s Confession had a strong reaction later from folks, but unlike an American crowd, there weren’t the sounds of response to which I am accustomed. I am used to nods, moans, affirmations even in muted form. I am used to reading faces, but I couldn’t read the faces there. I suppose I just don’t know how to read faces in England, but it is something I want to learn.
I met a number of phenomenal folk last night, new writers and singers as well as the other performers themselves. An old friend, from a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, was able to come to the performance. We met 5 years ago, and to see a familiar face was absolutely remarkable! Such a gift!
I need to write about the eccentric brilliance of A. F. Harrold, the powerful word twisting magic of Sophia Thakur, the nuanced care of humor and critical eye of Ben Norris, the revival fervor of Four Kornerz, and the majesty of curator, songstress, organizer, radio goddess, and heart-stirrer Jumoké Fashola.
A.F. Harrold is quirky and brilliant. The verse he shared has a charm as his whole being does. He plays with the crowd, rouses them to involvement, with a biting wit tinged with kindness. There was an audience member who was talking during his set, for example, and he stopped his poem and set to reprimanding her and her friend (who chose the seats up front and should choose better friends) in such a way as to set the stage for the performers to come. No one dared talk during the sets after that, but as they were learning the lesson, they were swept up by laughter and then the fantastic maneuvers of his poems. Brilliant fellow. I’m hoping to do a reading with his reading series in Reading next year. I think we’ve set on a date, so it will be added to my calendar soon. Just to be back in England and also immersed for a few hours in the world of an imaginary genius – as you must be to write children’s books, fiction for adults, AND poetry – is a blessing.
Sophia Thakur is hilarious and serious and visionary. She has this one poem about alcohol and the effect of alcohol consumptions on a young woman’s decision making, the Instagram and Facebook reminders of those decisions. There is the one particular image of alcohol fastening itself to the skin, invading the veins like vines, that persists for me. Perhaps because I had just watched The Ruins the night before, but the image of an insidious creature within amber-toned alcohol continues to stick out. I remember, though, after hearing her reading how quickly it went. We had 15 minutes for a set and it felt like she had only just taken the stage before she left it. I was on edge, waiting for more, waiting for where she would take us in the next poem, which I think is definitely a strong way to end. I will definitely be checking out more of her work. If you are reading this, you should, too.
Ben Norris – please don’t take this the wrong way – is spunky. He’s a youthful spirit. I imagine golden, fire spires twisting around him in spirals. He’s got a strong charism, and from the little that I spoke to him, I can see a great passion for the arts and for people. I loved seeing that, when a friend came to sit by him, he was solely focused on her for the duration of their conversation. Sonia Sanchez is like that, solely focused on the moment and the person within that moment. Even when there are hundreds lined up to see her, she gives each person her individual attention. It’s glorious to be bathed in the light of someone’s eyes for a time. Shifting back to Ben, he has that care in his poetry, too. Each line is purposeful, each choice distinct. His poems vary in length, perfect for their aim.
Ending the night was Four Kornerz. They are the group that I spoke of at the beginning. I recorded the last song. I had to drop my music collection from my phone (7 GB worth) to be able to record my set, and I had space enough to record the last song of theirs. I can imagine myself playing that song, “Gold”, over and over again and never being satisfied. It was gorgeous, bright, full of love, stomp-the-floor revelatory. All five of the fellows had a gentleness, a humility, a kindness, a welcoming spirit. I truly hope to continue the conversation with them. Ten years in their work and still they manage to bring joy to what they do. Not many can say that.
Jumoké Fashola, dressed in purple and gold, was regal. I will have to add pictures when I get back to Ireland. She owned the space with her voice and magnetism. If you have never heard her sing, what are you doing with your life? Not yet fully living, I tell you. You know, there is a story in the Bible of Jacob’s Ladder. Folks say a great deal about the symbolism within that story. I like the idea of Jacob’s Ladder as a bridge between heaven and earth. If sound can be a rung, then Jumoké’s voice comprises several. It is a passageway to bliss, and I am grateful.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a lovely little cafe at the Old Spitalfields Market, Tea Smith, drinking from jasmine pearls, basking in the scent of flowers.