ArtHouse Jersey commissions award winning poet Luke Wright to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of John Keats

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ArtHouse Jersey is proud to introduce the release of a specially devised poem to commemorate the ​bicentenary of the death of renowned poet John Keats​, which falls today on Tuesday 23 February 2021.

Award winning British poet and author ​Luke Wright​ has written and performed this original piece entitled ​“The Death Of Keats”​, as c​ommissioned by ArtHouse Jersey and the Keats-Shelley Memorial House (Rome) committee member ​Mary Venturini​.

The piece will be shared from the ArtHouse Jersey website here via the museum’s ​site​, forming part of the official bicentenary of Keats’ death commemorations in Rome tomorrow.

Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome – Suffering from tuberculosis nearly two hundred years ago, poet John Keats made the arduous journey to Rome with a friend hoping that the milder climate would cure his consumption. Within three months he was dead. He died in a small room on the second floor of Piazza di Spagna 26 with only his friend Joseph Severn at his side. He was just 25.

It was a difficult and lonely death. Mary Venturini​, a​ former journalist for The Economist who lives between Jersey and Italy set up the magazine Wanted in Rome in the mid-1980s upon identifying a hole in the market for foreign, English-speaking residents in Rome. From there she also became a committee member of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House and her latest essay recounting Keats’ final days of his life in the Italian capital can be read on the museum’s ​website.

Keen to find a way to adequately commemorate John Keats’ death in a contemporary style, ArtHouse Jersey introduced Mary Venturini to a previously commissioned performance by ​British poet Luke Wright ​on ​ArtHouse Jersey Presents​. So taken by this piece, Mrs Venturini offered to co-commission this new work,‘The Death Of Keats’, which will be available to watch and listen on the digital platform from 11am on Tuesday 23 February 2021 ​here​.

Luke Wright – Poet Luke Wright is described as a spit and sawdust wordsmith. His poems are inventive and engaging, documenting 21st century British life with wit, humanity, and panache. He performs his work with snarl and spit and he’s toured his wares around the world for 20 years.

Of the commission, he said “My knowledge of Keats was pretty poor before I started researching for this poem, but Mary’s account of his death and her passion for the subject convinced me that it would make a great subject for a poem, if not a daunting one to be taking on. I did nothing but read and read about John Keats for two months, amassing thousands of words of notes, until I felt I knew him intimately. I fell in love with the odes – reading and re-reading Ode to a Nightingale over and over one day in early December. The result is a poem full of reference and details and I hope the cadences and tones of Keats himself. The circumstances of his death are so sad (exiled from his friends and lover, feeling he had failed as a writer) I was determined to give him a happy ending, hence the Endymion-like sequence at the end, where Keats finds himself in the kind of Arcadia forest he so liked to conjure in his poetry.”

Keats-Shelley Memorial House (Rome) committee member Mary Venturini ​said of the commission ​“In Rome last year we had been discussing several projects about ways to “bring Keats back alive” for the 200th anniversary of his death on 23 Feb 1821. When I was talking this over with Tom in Jersey last summer he suggested I have a look at a poem by Luke on the ArtHouse Jersey Presents website. “Prayer” blew me away and that’s how the idea of asking Luke to write a poem to mark the Keats’s anniversary came about. For me performance adds to poetry. I often find that poets miss the poetry in their own poetry when reading it aloud. But Luke puts the two together and that’s what I was looking for. I also felt that Luke would be able to convey the desperation, the anger, the disillusion of Keats in those last months of his tragic illness and death at only 25. I felt that being on the biting edge of poetry, much as Keats must have been, Luke would get the message right. I couldn’t have asked for more as I watched first the text of the poem and then the performance emerge. But quite unexpectedly there has also been the sheer excitement of working on this project. Creating something out of a vague feeling, to watch the finished performance emerge, now with the addition of inspired music, is more than I could ever have imagined when we started out”.

Music – Inspired by a preview of the finished piece, musician Thomas Gandey offered to write a score underneath the poem, which is lead by a Harmonium (a foot pump driven parlour wind organ from the period of John Keats), piano, pizzicato, double bass and a wind & rain track, all helping to set the atmosphere of the room in which Luke Wright performs.

Click here to watch ‘The Death of Keats’

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