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.