Year of the Cassowary

So recently I found the manuscript of my first ever home made collectin, Year of the Cassowary. These poems were written during the first couple of years of my spoken word career. I thought I’d post them here for your delectation.

The book was home made, printed and stapled by myself, and it offers a fascinating snap shot of my preoccupations at the time!

Robert Garnham

Year of the Cassowary

Contents:

Poem (Lines Written Inspired by Somerset)
Plop
Barn Conversion on an Accident Black Spot
On the Subject of Mister Shaw’s Private Life
Poem Which Starts with the Words ‘ Pull Up a Chair, Philip Larkin’
Matt’s Duvet
On Air Trapped in a Parisian Radiator
Doc
Nowhere Near Magnetic North
The Jacket of Agnes
Llama-Trekking with Kim Jong-Un
I Am The Wardrobe Man
Poem
Mister Purposefully-No-one-wish-I-Was-Someone-Man
Poem
Frank (1-1=0)
Karaoke in the Departure Lounge
Love Poems Love Poem
Lament of a Noted Brazilian Anglophile

Poem

Alack! Do some settle
In Somerset.
Sunset’s set, sat un-set
And stomach upset.
Somerset.
Somersaulting vaulting sum of
Greater parts. Haunting dauntless Taunton,
Summer parks.
I’d settle soon in Somerset,
Besotted thus with summer sex,
Haystack fumbles, aching, wet,
Hanging round at nights with the badger set.
Think of all the joy I’d get
In Somerset.

Although, I do suspect
A seldom sudden thought remains unsaid.
I don’t like barns. Or farms.
Or country vets.
And that is why I’ll settle not in Somerset.

(written on a train just outside of Taunton, 2010)

Plop

I have probed the depths of literature.
But my friend Mark only remembers
The one poem I wrote.
The one called ‘Plop’.
And it goes something like this:
Plop.
Pah-lop.
Plop.
At nights I reach right in and thrust my hand
Deep into the fiery furnace of metaphor,
And I grab the human condition
And I throttle it.
And I squeeze the truth out of it.
And I tear the words from the sky.
And I wrestle with sentences like a demon.
I am the king of ink, monarch of the pen.
My nib moving faster and faster as my fingers
Grip the shaft of the biro,
Spilling on to the page beauteous visions,
Truth, honesty, existential angst
And what it means to be alive.
And yet Mark’s favourite poem of mine is
Plop. Pah-lop. Plop.

(Paignton, 2011)
Barn Conversion on an Accident Black Spot

Our love was like a barn conversion
At an accident black-spot.

We’d took time to transform decrepitude
Into something quite hot.

Aesthetically-pleasing,
Occasionally teasing.

A place of comfort in which to reside
And yet, on the road outside

There was carnage on a nightly basis.
Our beautiful home, once a quiet oasis

Tarnished, ruined, a private hell
Amid the chaos of tearing metal.

Perhaps, we reasoned, architecturally-speaking
The drivers of the cars, continually seeking

Perfection, driven mad by our decadence and style
Had kept their foot off the break just a while

Too long.
(Brixham, 2009)

On the Question of Mister Shaw’s Private Life

For years, carved in hot melted tarmac
In the suburban commuter town where I grew up, the words
Mister Shaw is a Tosser
A permanent memorial to a teacher
Long since, having passed through, forgotten by most,
His name a mystery to succeeding generations.
He lived in a flat tacked to the side
Of the church hall. I suppose it came with his job
In our C of E middle school.
The place might even have seemed exotic, bohemian
Divorced from the humdrum of growing up,
Though, a deeply religious young man,
Probably he disapproved of anything remotely bohemian.
A bachelor.
My dad said he walked as if he had
A roll of lino under his arm.
Jutting chin, and the Alex Hurricane Higgins hairstyle
Of the early 1980s.
Was Mister Shaw a tosser? No, he was reasonable.
He encouraged me to write, and for that,
I shall never inquire as to what he got up to
In his church hall bachelor pad,
Scene of nativity plays and jumble sales,
Whether tossing or not.
(Cairns, 2010)

Poem Which Starts With The Words ‘Pull Up A Chair, Philip Larkin’.

Pull up a chair, Philip Larkin.
Help yourself to some cheese and onion Hula Hoops.
Stop frowning, I wont hurt you.
Tell me, Philip Larkin, is it true that you couldn’t work out how to use the self-service machine at Tesco’s?
Or that you lost your glasses while jumping on an inflatable bouncy castle?
Help yourself to a fondant fancy.
Oh, Philip Larkin!
You looked so glum when I suggested we go clubbing and then when we got there you shocked everyone by asking for a cup of tea at the bar.
That reminds me, shall I put the kettle on?
How did it go last night, by the way?
Taking on the Americans in an impromptu tug of war.
You and WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood
Verses the Beats – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs.
Trounced, you say?
You let go of the rope to pick up the 50p coin?
And Alan Bennett called you a knob?
He’s got a point.
Is it true, Philip Larkin, that you stayed up late last night to watch Wrestlemania?
Would you like a jam tart, Philip Larkin?
Would you? Would you? Would you really really?
Is it true that when you met Princess Anne you sneezed all over her?
I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were allergic to horses.
Is it also true that you put stones on the railway lines to see what happened when the fast train came through but you got arrested by the Transport Police?
Is it also true that you fancy Sarah Palin?
Well, we must meet again some time, this was nice.
You’ve got a bit of something just . . . Just there . . . That’s it . . . No, to the left . . . Never mind.
(Paignton, 2011)

Matt’s Duvet

I see you
In that photo message you sent
Wrapped in your duvet.
Why do they
Say that our love should be
The way that it should be.
Heteronormativity.
I see you
In that photo message you sent
I now repent
My life has been spent
It’s such a cruel day.
I wish I was there with you
Wrapped in your duvet.
(London, 2011)

On Air Trapped in a Parisian Radiator

Last night I dreamed, initially,
Of Paris
And then of those plastic keys
One might use to bleed a radiator.

Post-midnight, REM-induced fluctuations
Bubble and spurge into my psyche
Tinkling like the sound of bubbles trapped
In the central heating system.

The spotlight on top of the Eiffel Tower
Illuminates rusted metal
And the thermostat throws crazy shadows across the wall.

I wonder what it is in my life
Which needs such adjustment
That I should dream so sullenly
Of radiator keys.

Mind you, it was cold
And the last time I was that cold
I was in Paris.

A turn of the screw and things hiss out like air.
A turn of the screw and its all much warmer.
A turn of the screw and the relief is gradual.
Flower-patterned wallpaper and 1950s chintz,
Gurgling pipes, rusted controls, non-traditional plumbing.
Flaking, stippled ceiling, subsidence cracks
Ill-fitting sash windows and damp duvets.
So much work, so much work needs doing
But a turn of the radiator key is the very least I can do.
And it becomes a little warmer
Like my love for you.

Oh! That’s what the dream was about!
(Paignton, 2012)

Doc

Doc and I ran to pee
Before the river ferry left.
We had two minutes at the most.
We aimed for a small copse of trees on the riverbank.
We didn’t realise until we ran into it
That we’d waded into a swamp.
Ideal crocodile territory.
The relief was fleeting.
Bladder pressure replaced by a sudden swarm
Of mosquitoes biting eating feeding,
Slapped blood splotches on itchy exposed skin.
We ran back to the backpacker’s van along
The jungle road, arriving swiftly
To high-fives and exuberant cheers,
But at what price?
Eaten alive in twenty different places at once
And we’d not had time to wash our hands!

But, as Doc, who is wise in outback lore explained,
You never know when you’re going to get another chance
To visit the bathroom.
(Cairns, 2010)

Nowhere Near Magnetic North

Hallowed be thy onion rings.
Now the yoots have big hair.
And you with your M
Increasingly, slaphead : Forlorn.
The line dissecting forehead constant frown.
No wonder they think you’re the boss,
You always look so cross.
Answering the phone with a packet of crippens.
Infatuated with Doctor Hotch!
You hate it when I say ‘calm down’
Or say things like, ‘You only know you’ve got a dose of the Hotch
When you’ve got it’.
Talk about obssessedness!
(Paignton, 2011)

The Jacket of Agnes

I wonder whether she’ll be wearing the same old coat again.
The green felt long one with the big green buttons.
And the compartments in which she keeps
Ocelot.

She looks like a walking
Prairie.
And the coat is slightly hairy.
And she often gets lairy
In her coat, the one that she wears.

It’s got a hood.
The hood isn’t very good.
When she talks she can’t be understood.
On account of the hood.

She looks like a barn.
She looks like she should live in Chard.

The zip zips up but it doesn’t zip down.
The often causes her to frown.
Going up and over in an endless zip
Of zip-pulling rip-cord zip-rip-torn
Zip-a dee doo-dah
Zebadee zip slip knot zip not
Stuck fast zippy zip zip
But in any case she’d got those big green buttons on the front there
That I spoke about earlier in this poem.

She often wears a scarf with the coat.
But the scarf is the same colour and you can’t see it
Like a Patagonian mule falling into a castle moat.
I seldom gloat at her coat.
She’d grab me by the throat.
I’d probably choke.

And the shoulder pads.
Like boulders. Balanced on other boulders.
She once broke the nose of a postman
While turning around a tad too quickly.
Whacking him across the mush with those boulder-like shoulder-pads.
He’s been off work.

I wonder if she’ll be wearing that coat.
It’s grubby at the hem.
And every now and then
She’ll tug on a sleeve
In a kind of compulsive manner.
And its inner lining
Puts me in mind of 17th Century Czechoslovakian porcelain
In that you hardly ever see it
Unless she wears the coat inside out for no reason.

Have you seen her coat?
Have you seen her coaty-coat coat?
Have you seen her coat coat coating coat
Coat coat coatily-throatily
Coat coat coca-cola-coaty coatie coat coatilly coat?
It’s from New Look, or one of those other high street fashion retailers.
(Paignton, 2012)

Llama-Trekking with Kim Jong-Un

I went llama-trekking along the Dorset coast
With Kim Jong-Un.

On the edge of a cliff
With our llamas in tow
He confessed to me he’d never seen an episode
Of The Only Way Is Essex
And it ate at him inside.

I said, now look here, Jong.
You’ve got to be true to yourself
And approach life as if it is a picnic basket
Because one day, when all the mini-pork pies have gone
And the last fondant fancy consumed
You’ll be left with nothing but angry wasps and the washing-up.
Jong just looked perplexed.

The waves broke below us, and the wind whistled
As we made our way over dale and hill
And at one moment we stopped and Kim Jong-un made
As if he meant to reach across and peck me on the cheek,
But then he changed his mind.

The grass was tall and wet with dew
And it made his trackie-bottoms sag.
And he told me that rather than being the
Supreme Commander of the North Korean Army and
Prepared at all moments to strike down with venom
The imperialist West,
He’d rather be bouncing on a trampoline.

We headed back to base, it was late
And our llamas were weary
And Kim Jong-Un was keen to show me
His collection of staplers.
And that’s when I decided that if I were ever going to change the world,
This was the right time.

Jong, said I.
Put down that pot noodle,
Stop fondling that llama,
Grab your anorak and listen.

Should we march in unison,
Should we maim and kill
Should we divide and rule
Should we conquer, should we judge, should we frame,
Will it ever be the same, Kim Jong-Un?

Is it all a silly game, Kim Jong-Un?

Are you a freak or a peacemaker, a geek or a ruthless dictator,
A monosyllabic slab, a leader wrapped in glum,
Are you coming undone Kim Jong-Un?

Are you pliable by nature, a first-rate hater,
A war-widow maker, an atomic risk-taker,
Have you ever seen the sun, Kim Jong-Un?
Would you like a cream bun, Kim Jong-Un?
Is it really so much fun, Kim Jong-Un?

Will you grab at the truth or will you let it fly by you?
Will you reach out towards the absolute screaming necessity of peace?
What do you have to say for yourself, Kim Jong-Un?
What do you have to do?
What does the future in all its
Pounding incessant ever-so fragile easy-gone
Quivering army-painted atomic
Parallelogramatic sensomatic
Button-pressing most-depressing dissent-oppressing
Nation-starving one-heart-beat away from senseless oblivion
Have in store for you?

To which he replied,
Let’s go for an ice cream.
I Am The Wardrobe Man

Big hulking presence.
I loom in your room.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

On uneven floorboards I lean
Ever so slightly at an angle
As if politely implying deafness.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Fling my doors with gay abandon.
Like arms releasing coats and jackets
Faintly, the smell of mothballs.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Flat-packed self-built
And not nearly as solid as my
Oak veneer might otherwise indicate.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Shift me uneasily
It’s a two-man job
To get me moving.
Coming out of the closet that I am anyway.
No-one is in the least surprised.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Oil my hinges!
Mister Carpenter!
Or else I’ll squeal for England!
Opening my doors
Like the parting of the flasher’s mack,
I am the Wardrobe Man.

I linger
And hide from your acquaintances.
All of your mess, your transgressions
The squeaky scratchy scrape of coat hanger on steel pole
Like the inner protest of one who is so often so profoundly wronged.
I am the Wardrobe Man.

Get those coats out of me!
I can’t stand it any more!
And the chest-of-drawers keeps winking!
I am the Wardrobe Man.
(Brighton, 2011)

Poem

I only asked you to show me round several districts of your home city.
The Icelandic district.
The Museum of Badgers.
The building that’s so tall they don’t let anyone go up it
Unless they’re scared of heights
Because they know that they wont get further than three storeys up.

You showed me the Museum of Dust.
The cremated remains of my Aunt Peggy
Being perpetually sucked up a vacuum cleaner
From a rug, and then the whole lot emptied back on the rug
And the process repeated. How ironic.
She was always complaining about the mess.

You showed me the Tesco’s Metro.
You showed me the World’s Largest Dartboard.
You showed me the atomic bomb shelter
To protect the city’s strangely large giraffe population in the event of nuclear annihilation.
You introduced me to the fishmonger who swears she got a text message from
Vincent Van Gogh.
The blind Morse code operator who swears he transcribed last year’s Booker Prize winning novel by decoding
The twenty-four-hour tap-dancing competition upstairs.

You showed me the bus station and you said.
You see all this?
You see all this?
What’s all this about, then?
What the bloody hell is all this about?

And that night we went to the zither recital,
The duck philharmonic
The wardrobes-on-ice show
And when we went to kiss in the underpass I strangely shied away.

The next morning, when I caught the train
From Platform 3, out of the city and off to somewhere else,
The whole place looked more or less like any other.
(Brighton, 2011)

Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man

You stride, purposefully
With keys jangling from your belt
Like a caretaker or a taxi driver
Bereft of that which would otherwise mark you out from the moment.
Perhaps you should fashion a natty moustache,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

You effect, without reason
The odd opinion, then guffaw
As if it had meant nothing at all.
How apt, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
That you should disappear in a crowd of your own invention
When you’d rather be chasing squirrels
Across Platform 3 of Exeter St. David’s station,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

You tell jokes. You are not a joker.
You tell jokes, and each one falls like a conker
From the horse chestnut of incomprehension.
And those who laugh do so because your flies are undone,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

And when you effect a jolly demeanour
No-one thanks you, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
But when you add a tad grumpy
You encounter a strangely hostile, singularly perplexed and not a little affronted
Grouping of pensioners, who then laugh at you.

Once, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
You fell down the stairs in KFC.
The perfect somersault,
Your hand-held carton of diet coca cola
Perfecting a neat parabola in the air.
Individual globules of carbonated soft drink crystallised like jewels
Before splattering on the sticky tile floor.
It was the prettiest thing you ever did,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
And then, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
You were fired from your position in the office
For drinking in the work place.
Alas, it was not alcohol on your breath they smelled,
But a lunchtime banana sadly fermenting on the windowsill.

Do you remember, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man,
That time you met the perfect woman
And you poured out your heart
And you told her your feelings
And the state of your life
And your sincerest motivations
And your penchant for strawberries
And your fear of death and of dying alone
And your fears in general
And your philosophy that the world exists somehow as a kind of personal affront
And of your years of crippling horrific tedious soul-draining mind-numbing loneliness
And she looked you in the eye,
Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man
She looked you in the eye and said,
Enthshuldigung, mein Englisch ist nicht so gut.
You hardly saw the funny side, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.

Oh, Mister Purposefully-No-one-Wish-I-Was-Someone-Man.
You looked in the mirror once
And saw me staring back at you.
It freaked you out. And I’ll tell you what.
It freaked me out, too.
(Paignton, 2010)

Poem

If the most obvious explanation
Is the most likely
Then why do I presume the worst?

Apricots.

Admiring the smaller moments over the large,
And always being optimistic,
That all the small moments build up and become the large.

Thunderry showers.

I bland into the blandground,
Overlooked and quite bland
In the blanding bland bland of the bland.

Maroon.

Grabbing at several things simultaneously.
Surreptitiously.
Bland.
Obvious.
Optimistic.

Badminton
Shuttlecock.
(Paignton, 2011)

Frank (1-1=0)

One minus one equals zero.
One times one equals one.
One divided by one equals one.
One plus or minus the square root of one divided by a half percent of one plus one equals one.
And a bit.
One divided by infinity equals nothing but not quite.
One divided by infinity equals almost nothing, very nearly, hardly a speck.
Nothing therefore exists, not even one.
One equals zero plus a smidgen.
(Paignton, 2010)

Karaoke in the Departure Lounge

Deep beneath so many layers
Of postmodernist subterfuge
Like an accidental Wotsit in a packet of Frazzles.
A glistening gem, a rhyming couplet
A misaligned toupee on the crown of a slaphead.
There once there once there once
Was a man from Newton Abbot
Who did nothing funny or clever, nor did anything he do rhyme with Newton Abbot.
Deep beneath so many layers
The poetry,
Like honey dripping from the claws.
Of a monster.
In Poundland.

(Paignton, 2011)

Love Poems Love Poem

When I gaze into your eyes
I think of all those poems written
About gazing into someone’s eyes.

When I stroke your skin
I think of all those poems written
About stroking someone’s skin.

When we make love
I think of Wagner,
Which is a little odd.

When I feel the magic in the air with you
I think of all those poems written
About someone being with someone and feeling the magic in the air with them.

I’m always thinking of different things
More or less connected to what I’m doing.
(Paignton 2012)

Lament of a Noted Brazilian Anglophile

The fire chief of Jakarta,
Solitary in his quieter moments,
Playing chess with the station porters,
And dreaming, dreaming
Of the rural English countryside.

Of barns and church steeples
And farm implements
And hot rampant rumpy pumpy
With a milk maiden while inexplicably
Someone plays bagpipes,
And knights in shining armour
Move like Jagger
In the rural English countryside.

The fire chief of Jakarta
Resplendent in his uniform,
His brass buttons blazing in the hot Brazilian sun
(Or wherever the hell Jakarta is),
Dreams of Newton Abbot
With its market
And its culture
And its skyscrapers
And its metropolitan nuance.
With Robert de Niro in the local Costa Coffee
And crocodiles in the River Teign
And Manchester United playing
On the local village green.

The fire chief of Jakarta
Taking time out from squirting his hose
At a bush fire near a shanty town
To daydream of bowls tournaments
And maypole dancing
And sausage butties
And tractors toiling the soil
And doing all their tractory toil.
And Betjeman playing hopscotch in a pub garden
And Elton John balances a Cornishware jug on his head.

Snap out of it,
Fire Chief!
The favelas are aflame!

He sees
Contrails in the evening sky.
Hot air balloons vibrant in the sun.
Ducks lifting en masse from the village pond.
Hedgerows and barns
Hedgehogs and farms.
Afternoons in Chard.
Broad-meadow swamp-monsters.
Cluster-thatch mis-match cottagey
Cottages two-storey stone-wall
Two-up two-down cottage-type things
Combine harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Harvesters
Combine bloody harvesters!
He sees all of this and he aches within
And his heart pines for the metaphysical
Dread-beat nuance of one who is enraptured, trapped
By his own dark imaginings,
Oh what a fool you are
Fire Chief of Jakarta!

What a fool you are!
With your National Geographic magazines
And you dreams
And those endless TV repeats
Of Last of the Summer Wine
What a blazing fool you are!

Or are you?
I’ve been to Newton Abbot and it sucks.
I like your version much better.
(Exeter, 2012)

Limerick

There once was a man from Aberystwyth
Who was an existentialist.
While eating some ham
He said ‘I am’.

(can’t remember when or where)

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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