Around 2011 and 2012 I used to travel up to London every month or so and go to either Bang Said the Gun or Jawdance, two of the biggest spoken word nights around at the time. (Indeed, Jawdance is still going). Not only would I get on the open mic and perform, but also I’d see what was happening at the cutting edge of spoken word.
At the time I’d been working on a new poem about the moon, which had lots of different verses which independently made sense, but when you put them together, there was no logic to it. I was really worried about this. One month I went to London and I was booked in for a slot at Bang Said the Gun, but also decided on a whim to go to Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe. While I was there I saw a performer called Christopher Lawrence, who was fairly new, and for some reason he was introduced as ‘Christopher Lyons’. We’d been sitting together and I suggested to him that Christopher Lyons might make a very good stage name. Anyway, he did a poem – which I must admit I can’t remember much about, but the structure of it was very similar to my moon poem, plus it had a lot of word play and playing around with sound.
Something sparkled within me and I realised that I needn’t be worried that my poem made no sense. I came back to Devon and worked on the poem, and Moon Simon was born.
I next decided that it needed a prop. At the time I was heavily into props, so I gathered together a big pot of yellow paint, a very large piece of cardboard, and I wrote ‘MOON’ on one side and ‘SIMON’ on the other, and at various points during the poem I would twirl this around so that the audience saw either the word ‘MOON’ or the word ‘SIMON’. I then rehearsed a few times and found myself getting muddled and displaying the wrong side of the sign at wrong moments of the poem. This was most annoying.
I got to a stage where I was happy with the rehearsals. In those days I didn’t think I could memorise poems, and the poem itself was printed in a big notebook, so I knew I’d be holding this big cardboard sign with one hand and the notebook with the other.
My next gig was due to be in Ashburton, and it was the launch event of Lucy Lepchani’s new collection, Ladygardens. I didn’t know much about her publisher, but I went along into the Devon countryside with my giant cardboard moon, feeling incredibly nervous and wondering what these Proper Poetry People would think about me turning up with this weird prop. As it happened, it went far better than I could ever imagine. Not only did my set go well, but the laughter during Moon Simon – especially when I started getting mixed up with which side of the cardboard moon I should be showing at any point during the poem – was most hearty indeed. And when I finished my set the weirdest thing happened – I was asked to get back up and do another poem!
This wasn’t the only amazing thing about that night. It turned out that Lucy’s publisher was in the audience, a chap called Clive Birnie, and he came over and told me how much he liked what I’d done with the cardboard moon, and why didn’t I think about sending him some poems? Needless to say, without me realising it at the time, this was one of those moments in my spoken word career took a very definite path. It led to my first book with Burning Eye, ‘Nice’, and all sorts of opportunities thereafter.
I must admit I haven’t performed Moon Simon for a while, and maybe I should. It’s incredibly silly. The reason is very silly, too – I’ve stopped using the notebook it’s printed in. Part of the fun of performing it was that I’d be fumbling with the notebook and getting mixed up with the giant moon prop. And once I was conscious that this is what people were laughing at, then my confidence that I could do these on purpose and make it funny took a bit of a dive. Because now people were expecting me to get muddled!
I’ve been taking clowning lessons lately, so maybe I might be able to ‘fake’ this, and I’ll start lugging that giant cardboard moon around with me again!
As a side note, a couple of years ago Burning Eye brought out an anthology featuring their published poets, and guess which poem was chosen as my entry? That’s right. Moon Simon!