Poets Live – Kerry Featherstone, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Rufo Quintavalle
Review by Lucy Binnersley. Photographs by JFMcG and Viola Manfra.
A newbie to the Poets Live scene, I arrived fashionably five minutes late (due to unforeseen navigational problems – please learn from my mistake and do not confuse Le Bal’s misleading address of Impasse La Defense as being anywhere near La Defense), with high expectations due the promising line-up. Poets Live prides itself on offering an eclectic range of English-language poetry. Following my first visit, I can confirm that this pride is not at all misplaced.
First up was Kerry Featherstone, a UK based poet, lecturer, translator and songwriter (and they say that men can’t multi-task). His reading perfectly showcased his careful yet powerful observations and ability to craft some truly lovely and unique details. What I found most compelling was his fusion of memory and imagination. From recalling the death of a school friend, in No 536 What to look for in autumn (with the fitting last line ‘I went back to those fields with a brown crayon’) to the poem Powercut ‘I invented a little child keeping my belly round’. It was undeniably refreshing to hear a man writing about women and women’s lives with tenderness. (And yes, that was a hint, so other contemporary male poets should take note!)
Kerry reserved the major tug of the heartstrings in his poem, Spark up the Sky. This poem, like several others, is not only the product, but the reward of his translation of Ingrid Tholbois’s debut novel Roi d’Afghanistan ne nous a pas mariés. With lines that describe Afganistan as ‘where everything is made with fine fingers and a bunch of nothing’, this poem will undoubtedly be as powerfully felt among linguists as it was for the audience at Poets Live.
Listen to Kerry Featherstone read a bilingual piece here:
The experiment with words continued with the second poet of the evening, the Puerto Rican born, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez. Pansy has been living in Paris since the 1970s, and as a way of introduction, she and Kerry recited a poem that they had jointly composed over email. It seemed perfectly fitting that Pansy should then say that she regards a reading as “throwing the poems at the audience”. Indeed, the evening seemed to become a playground of words as Pansy then read 4 sonnets that she composed using lines from 14 sonnets penned by 14 other poets. Sometimes retellings fail to do justice to the original (I speak from experience following a recent viewing of the new Wizard of Oz film last week. Enough said), but Pansy showed just how powerful words are when they are freed from their original structures and are seen in a new light. In one she speaks of “a room with an unspectacular view”, however on closer inspection it is the small details within that make the unique. The retelling and the working from the inside (words) in order to make the outside (structure) spectacular is arguably, what the audience was witnessing at Le Bal.
Listen to Pansy read The Glimmering Long Windows of an Afterthought here:
And then came Rufo Quintavalle, a fellow British expat living in Paris. I feel like I having been missing out on never having seen Rufo perform before. I was engrossed. I can’t quite put my finger on what drew me into his words, but there was some kind of magic in his performance. Quoting Hegel’s “to be free is nothing, to become free is everything”, Rufo launched into a fast-paced, energetic reading. Phrases that really shone included, “water alone is wealth”, “the world is small but bigger than before” and “the city belongs to the drag queens”. There was something highly novel and entertaining about watching Rufo perform Anyone for Anymore with its initial comic and then sobering effect in the audience.
Listen to Rufo Quintavalle’s Anyone for Anymore here:
Wrapping up the night was Kerry with a beautiful serenade of some of his songs. A perfect soundtrack ending to a perfect night of poetry. And I even managed to find my way back home without getting lost.
Listen to Kerry Featherstone sing here: