All I really have to say, is that this piece took me… eight years to write (off and on) for my Honours degree at uni. Why did I think a creative disertation on orality versus literacy was a good idea?!
My Duet With An Artist
You might say that Jacob is a paradox, an illiterate performance poet. But his biographer, Premela doesn’t think so. As cruel as he is to her, she listens to his story, growing from a sweet little boy to this angry young man. Writing the story he tells of illiteracy as a lifestyle.
But that doesn’t tell it all. Missing between the two of them is Jacob’s reciprocation. Premela listens to him, but he will never enjoy her words…
I would like to be invisible. In fact, now much later, in such different circumstances – now afternoon, with my notes spread at this great glass table in my yard; I would want to leave this kind of introduction out. Would that leave people to believe this were fiction? I realize neither of us are famous, that it would be easy for someone who hadn’t known us, who’d never sat in on one of his poems, who just happened on this, to think it a clever fiction. It isn’t. My words come from his mouth. Spoken as if we were never to go home from the club that night. This document is a struggle of mine. To make a note of his language. To capture his voice. When I watch him, I wish I could describe the smells he makes me feel, the pulse he has me beat; to his poetry, his stories.
I asked him, when collecting these notes, if he was sure of trusting my representation of his words, his life; I told him how I wanted to bring his presence to his wider audience. I said I would be faithful to him. And Jacob stopped me: “Prem! Stop. I’ll never know what you do with it.” To him, us speaking of it, was the end of it.
After this, these are only his own words. And that is all I can say in its defence. My name is Premela Subramaniam, his, Jacob Richardson.
This is my duet with an artist.
Detail of Duet by Frans van Mieris sr. (1658)