On the 30th of August I went to see a poetry set at the legendary ‘Hit the Ode’ event, at the Victoria in Birmingham, and have come away once more thoroughly inspired. There were two performances during the evening, one from Lorna Meehan as a shorter ‘warm-up’ act (though that term does not give credit to the excellence of the poems and their delivery), and then a full hour set from Richard Tyrone Jones.
Richard’s performance was all about his ‘big heart’, though we all soon discovered that this was more than a cosy metaphor: he suffered from a terrible heart-failure condition that had almost killed him, and now he was back, and very much “back in the game”. Alarmingly, we were told if he got too excited it could have serious consequences for him: he then proceeded to give one of the most energetic and committed performances I have seen in a long while. It created an atmosphere of tension. I myself wanted to shout at him to take it easier, but the nervousness it evoked seemed to me a deliberate device to keep the audience slightly on edge: he could fall down at any moment, and that was what he was living with. He brought across that emotional state and let us share it for a time, and indeed, afterwards as well.
The performance was well choreographed, with each story and prose section flowing smoothly into poems. Though each poem was distinct, it was equally part of a conglomerate whole, a section of a narrative rather than a collection of individual works of art. The set seemed most like a tapestry, flowing from left to right with a tale constructed out of frames wrought in moments of vivid alacrity.
It was funny in most parts, personal and intimate in others, nausea-inducing occasionally (not because of poor performance or writing, but because of squeamishness at the gruesome nature of the various ‘procedures’ he had to undergo), and overall exceptionally moving. On a truly dissonant and yet wonderful note, the performance ends with Richard declaring that he has to stop talking about how he ‘almost died’, because most people in his position ‘have.’
Overall a fantastic event, and if he’s in your area I highly recommend you go and see Richard Tyrone Jones’s “Big Heart”.
A Final Note: As I was moving to purchase a copy of Richard’s collection which he was selling at the end of the event, he said that he would be willing to ‘trade’ other poets for their collections – something which deeply surprised me, but nonetheless appealed to my “olde worlde” sense of barter and exchange. I handed him ‘Unconstructed Constellations’, my own poetry anthology, and picked up his ‘Germline’, which I hope to review in a little while. Somehow I found it deeply encouraging that such an exchange could occur, in the midst of an economic crisis, one writer could still give his words to another, for the simple return of his own.
I don’t know why that is beautiful, but it is.
Thanks very much for reading!