STAGE REVIEW: Free-Forms – Tyehimba Jess and Binker & Moses, Fernando Valverde and Juan Pinilla @ Sage Gateshead (03.05.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Tyehimba Jess by John Midgley

“I don’t mean for this to turn into poetry class,” Tyehimba Jess says. But the New York based poet does deliver a kind of class: a masterclass in deconstructive poetry. During the first half of Free-Forms, an event taking place as part of Newcastle Poetry Festival, Jess teamed up with jazz duo Binker & Moses to deliver segments from his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Olio. In the process, he draws attention to historical figures such as Millie and Christine McKoy, twins joined at the spine who broke through their bondage in slavery to eventually purchase the plantation they were born onto. Jess is magnetic, delivering his poetry with fervour, and lovingly demonstrating his truly innovative ways of constructing words; when he reveals the true, concrete form of all his poems about the McKoys, there’s a very audible, completely understandable gasp.

Free-Forms’ second half takes a more traditional turn, as poet Fernando Valverde took to the stage with flamenco singer Juan Pinilla. Together, they perform Jugar con Fuego, a conversation in Spanish between Valverde’s spoken word segments and Pinilla’s emotional, at times melodramatic vocal style. They’re accompanied by stunningly deft guitar and visual English translations, highlighting the raw beauty of Valverde’s words even when, as on the likes of Babel, things become more macabre.

While the two halves of this poetry spectacular couldn’t be more different, together they formed an often breathtakingly adaptable nature of words, shattering the boundaries of what you might have thought possible with poetry before.

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