My avant gard poetry past

When I first started performing back in the late 2000s, the local scene was heavily influenced by comedy and surrealism in south Devon, and I soon joined in with a bizarre mix of my own, of prop-based avant gard and whimsical verse which, at the same time, mocked the whole idea of poetry performance. And for a while, this was my Unique Selling Point. Lately I’ve been thinking of going back to this style of performance, working, as I do, on the outskirts of the spoken word community. Winning slams kind of focussed my mind into performance and comedy without any prop embellishment, but now I have moved on from entering slams, I feel I am able to reconnect with my avant gard past.

So here are a few things that I got up to over the years, before I became mainstream sometime during 2014. And thanks to Bryce Dumont, who faithfully recorded almost all of my performance between 2008 and 2014.

1. Used a mobile phone to deliver my set from a cubicle in the toilets.

2. Built a cardboard robot called Robot Garnham on stage and let him do my performance.

3. Phoned a friend halfway through a set to ask him what my next line was.

4. Performed a set of Pam Ayres poems through the window from the street.

5. Pretended to drink Pam Ayres urine after pretending to choke on a cream cracker.

6. Performed a whole set with a tea bag sellotaped to my forehead.

7. Performed the same poem twice in a row with no explanation.

8. Tried to get inanimate objects to race each other.

9. Built a large hadron collider on stage.

10. Got a poet to dress as a spaceman and pretend to interrupt my set as visitors from the future intent on making sure my rise from obscurity did not occur,

11. Got an eminent and well respected page poet to perform Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance as a poem.

12. Stood behind another poet as he performed and ate crisps, noisily, while staring straight ahead.

13. Performed while standing on a hip exercise swivel disc.

14. Performed through an iPad which I held up to my face while wearing a large box on my head.

15. Dressed as a crocodile, which had nothing to do with my set.

16. Wore a fake moustache which slowly moved around my face.

17. Performed the Pet Shop Boys song Two Divided By Zero on a talking calculator.

18. Used an Elefun toy game to blow small pieces of crepe paper with poems written on them into the air.

19. Hired out my five minute set to another poet who wasn’t on the bill.

20. Read a poem from an incredibly large piece of paper.

I’m sure there were other things and I shall add them as I remember them. But needless to say, I calmed down a bit as I began to travel around the UK.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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