My Poetry Week, by Robert Garnham

It’s been a very unusual but enjoyable week performing in two completely different towns to two completely different audiences. In Bath I performed to the students of Bath Spa University and I was the oldest person in the room, though I did get mistaken for being a 22 year old, and I did cause consternation at the bar by asking for a cup of tea. They made one for me in the manager’s office, and then they didn’t know how much to charge for it. Bless.

And then the next night in Okehampton I was the youngest person in the room by some considerable margin. It was in an inn on the edge of Dartmoor, miles from the town itself, surrounded by bric a brac and paraphernalia, the gig itself take place in a room decked out to look like a galleon. The audience wasn’t very big, but when some younger tourists from Sweden turned up, the manager of the inn informed them that watching my set was compulsory!

I did similar material on both nights and it went very well. Yet my overriding memory of the two days was the travelling. If I have to get on another rail replacement coach again then someone’s going to get nutted,

I was very impressed with the students at Bath Spa. Samantha Boarer has long been a favourite poet of mine, and she is now seen as an elder statesman among the younger students. Those who performed were individuals, humans, with genuine concerns, humour and rhythm, surrealism and genuine literary talent. There was a really supportive atmosphere which I was incredibly glad to be a part of.

And it was great the next night to spend some time with Jackie Juno, one of the people who inspired my poetry career. Endlessly funny, inventive and real.

There’s so much talent in this area and it makes me proud to visit other parts of the country and see just how individual and buzzing the Devon / South West scene is.



Jungle Haiku

It was only the other day, while poking round through some old photos on my phone, that I came across this picture.

It was taken in the jungles of Queensland, more specifically, in the Mossman Gorge River.

I was there with a bunch of backpackers who were all about fifteen years younger than me. Oh well, go on then. Twenty years younger. We'd spent the day travelling through the jungle in an organised tour in search of the famous Jungle Haiku, the remnants of which can still be found amid the lair of the cassowary and the fresh water crocodile.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the Jungle Haiku, then let me remind you. In the 1960s a band of Japanese students of literature, enraged by the increasing westernisation of their university campuses, wrote a series of beautiful haiku which they were sure that nobody would ever read. Emboldened by the exuberance of youth, they set them on the air on lanterns which carried them not towards the mid Pacific, as they hoped, but towards Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea.

It is probable that all memory of this would have been lost had not the literary explorer, Professor Zazzo Thiim, discovered two of them in the jungles of the Mossman Gorge in 2010.

The haiku were said to be of such exquisite beauty that his heart rate increased immediately and he felt within him the ferocious pull of the centuries. Thiim, thereafter, said little about the haiku.

In 2011 I travelled to the same area with a band of enthusiastic students of French symbolism. Youthful, exuberant, they started the day eager to find more of these fabled haiku, but as the day wore on they became more interested not only in engaging with their environment, but also with each other. By the time we got to the Mossman River itself, all thoughts of the haiku had vanished to be replaced by the necessity of going for a swim. As one of them was heard to quip, ‘Who needs bleeding haiku when it’s almost forty degrees and ninety percent humidity?’

I gave in, and joined them in swimming in the river. The boulders, worn smooth by the constant flow, were slippery, but the water was cool, fresh and pure. Swimming against the tide, I was able to drink and rehydrate myself.

As the afternoon slipped into evening, the gathering darkness held within it a queer magic and we swapped stories around the camp fire of literary shenanigans and high whimsy. I recited a few poems and a few of them ell asleep. But in that magical day we had all become as one, a unit of brave explorers who, in the morning, would never see each other again. It was timeless, beautiful, resplendent.

As I made my way to my tent I looked up and saw the remains of one of the Jungle Haiku hung in the branches of the tree. To find it now. I told myself, would spoil the moment forever. Let us rest with our memories, and carry on with our lives.

I didn’t mention it in the morning. Indeed, I kept it in for all those years, eventually convincing myself that I’d seen nothing, until this morning when, looking at the memory card of my old phone, I found the above photograph.

Bugger it.


You know it’s quite busy being one of those poets

One of the things I never realised before embarking on a semi-career as a poet / spoken word performer was how much paperwork there is. Emails, forms, administration, poking people into action, begging for answers, all of it on top of the actual sitting down and writing. But it all comes good in the end and the results are definitely worth it.

For the last few years I’ve been running Poetry Island performance poetry nights in Torquay, and while the nights themselves may seem to run like clockwork, seamlessly and without any hitches, (ha), the organisation behind the scenes is enough to justify getting a secretary. Or at least throwing the occasional wobble. Getting poets together is like herding cats. Nice, well-meaning, talented, awe-inspiring cats, but cats all the same.

That’s why it’s such a joy to go to other people’s nights and relax, enjoy the evening, and then do a set of poems without having to worry about such things as timing and the set order. On Thursday night I made my debut at a comedy night, the Jocular Spectacular Roving Comedy Show at the Blue Walnut hosted by Chris Brooks. It was an amazing night of laughter and hijinx topped off by a brilliant set by the elderly poet and innovator of sound poetry, Mr Lionel Spume. He was fantastic, funny, a brilliant character-piece. I laughed so much that I had to use my inhaler.

And then on Friday, I made my second debut of the week, this time as a workshop facilitator at a sixth form school in Exeter. I was incredibly nervous beforehand, that the students would be monosyllabic, or perhaps downright rude. But they were wonderfully attentive during my performance, and then during the exercises, in which I handed out postcards to provoke some kind of written response, they showed such imagination and poetic flair that I felt very much humbled by the whole experience. Just five minutes, with paper, pen and postcards, and they managed to create works which had a distinctive voice and a beautiful outlook on life.  The hour ended with a question and answer session. I expected something along the lines of ‘Where did you get your tie?’, or ‘What the hell have you done with your hair?’, but the first student asked about ’embracing the abstract’.

It was a hugely enjoyable day, run by Kathryn Aalto, who has also written about it in her blog.

So it has been a good week, and next week proves to be busier still, with a radio appearance on Tuesday, (the Brenda Hutchings show on Riviera FM, 11AM, Tuesday), Taking the Mic in Exeter on Wednesday, and then Poetry Island in Torquay on Thursday night. I can’t wait!

Poetry Ping Pong – An announcement!

Thanks to an amazing amount of hard work, organisation and administration on the part of Daniel Haynes, it gives me great pleasure to announce that we shall be going to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year with our show, ‘Poetry Ping Pong’.

To be honest I never thought we’d get in. It’s as part of the Free Fringe organisation, which means that all though we don’t get paid, we don’t have to pay ( much) to be a part of it. And having been to the Fringe twice before as a viewer, it’s something I’d always wanted to do.

So what’s Poetry Ping Pong all about?

It’s 5000AD and humanity has changed beyond recognition. Only two remnants of 21st century culture remain, albeit twisted, mutated into a new blood sport they call Poetry Ping Pong. The legends of poetry through the ages are resurrected, then pitched together in horrible, gladiatorial combat. Only two remain. Robert Garnham showed his worth by knocking out the bookies favourite, a cyborg TS Eliot reconstruction in the semis. And Daniel Haynes, slipped into the final by vanquishing a genetically extracted bio-slurdge Pam Ayres thing.

That’s the premise, anyway.

So we are putting on this show, and so far Dan has got us on the bill at the Bath Festival too, as well as the Barnstaple Fringe with our other show, ‘Bard Science’.

And I’m really looking forward to it, because it makes everything kind of official. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like this. So for the next couple of months we shall be writing and practising and rehearsing and coming out with promotional material and all the other things that Real Poets Do.

On Tuesday we went to Barnstaple to look for a venue to perform in and we ended up in the science labs of the community college. The science teachers showed us round and interrupted the sixth form lessons to show us the different types of rooms that they had. The students seemed well behaved and only a few of them sniggered at the strange people who were standing in the doorway!

So that’s what’s coming up, then. Look out 2014, here we come!