Had a great time with filmmaker John Tomkins filming my new show at Paignton’s Palace Theatre last week. The show is still being edited, but John has made this trailer, which I hope you like!
The show will be available to stream on various online fringe platforms over this summer.
But what is it about?
‘Robert is a poet. And he’s happy. Or is he? After the death of a favourite aunt, he decides to find out exactly what it means to be happy. He ends up as a poet-in-residence on a fish factory ship in a search for contentment on the high seas. What could possibly go wrong? Comedy and poetry collide head on in this new show from the Professor of Whimsy’.
My friend Anne has planned her funeral.
She wants bright colours,
All the colours of the rainbow,
Beach wear and party glitter,
Pink feather boas and dancing,
Cocktails and music and laughter,
Because, she says, ‘Life is a chase,
A dream; why not celebrate,
Obscure the hate,
Spread joy in the moment before it’s too late
To expose the beauty that lies deep within
Every pristine soul?’
Have you ever heard such bollocks?
I want sobbing at my funeral.
Mourners dressed in black, sobbing,
In an austere church with such bad acoustics
That all you can hear is sobbing.
I want horses with those black tassels on their heads,
And I want the horses to look sad,
And if possible I want the horses to be sobbing, too.
I want dreary music, and just when it sounds
Like the dreary music is about to end,
I want it to start up again.
Dreary music and sobbing.
I want a sermon which goes on and on
And is so incredibly pointless
That not even the vicar knows what it’s about.
I want the vicar to be a droner.
A droner with a nasal whine,
Bad teeth and dandruff.
I want the vicar to talk about how
Meaningless life is.
I want the pews to be
I want my casket to be there, of course.
I want someone to throw themselves on it
And have to be dragged away.
I want some poor sucker to have to
Read some poem by a Brontë sister.
I want my gravestone to read,
Sleep brings no joy to me.
And I want the stock markets to crash
That very morning
Just because of my death.
And I want it to rain.
You know the sort of rain.
That wet rain.
And I want the pallbearers
All to get a slipped disc.
And on the way home
The mourners stop at a café
And order chips,
But the waitress says
That the fryer has broken,
So they order jacket potatoes instead,
But the jacket potatoes are still raw in the middle
And the salad is limp.
I want my death to come
At a period of maximum inconvenience
Right at a time of peak happiness
Or just before a long-anticipated holiday.
I want people to have to cancel things.
I’m laughing about it right now.
I want my death to be so, so miserable
That it reminds people of Worcestershire.
Oh my God,
That’s what I want.
Anne says she wants to put the fun
Back into funeral,
And she’s already bought a CD of S Club 7
Just in the off-chance.
But I, oh, I
Aspire to greater things.
In fact, it’s a shame
I wouldn’t be around to see it.
During my spoken word career I’ve performed in some wonderful cities and places where I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone unless I had a gig there. Lancaster, for example, or Newquay, or Petersfield. Lovely places which I’m glad I got the chance to look around because I wouldn’t have even thought about going to them. And of course, London, New York, and Barnstaple.
About eight years ago I decided to have a few days in Berlin. I’d always been fascinated with Berlin having studied twentieth century history for my A-Levels, and it seemed a place imbued with the mystique of Cold War intrigue, wartime shenanigans, the excesses of the 1920s, and of course, the basis for Bowie’s mid-70s albums. So I booked into a lovely hotel near a small park and a lake, a short U-Bahn ride from the city centre, and set about having a good old poke around.
It didn’t take long to wonder if there were any spoken word open mics. I’d heard from people such as Mighty Mike McGee that there was a thriving spoken word scene in Germany and that they were very accommodating to English language performers. Indeed, I do speak a little bit of German, yet people soon lapsed into English when ever I opened my gob. A quick check of Google showed that there would be a slam in a venue not far from my hotel.
Incredibly nervously, I turned up at the King Kong Klub for their poetry slam. And the host greeted me, he was incredibly welcoming and made me feel at home, and I sat with his friend, who was taking the entrance money on the door. I’d already emailed to say that I was coming and they both seemed happy for me to take part. I’d spent part of the afternoon perfecting my finest three minutes.
The King Kong Klub was a bar with a kind of shabby chic demeanour. Or perhaps it was just plain shabby, it’s difficult to work it out, these days. And when the show began I soon realised that my limited grasp of German was not going to help me, as the host spoke very quickly and then at one point started throwing bananas at the audience. This, apparently, was a tradition at the King Kong Klub poetry slam. One of them ricocheted off my head.
And then the competition began. The first thing I noticed was that the performers, who were all performing in their home language, didn’t seem at all rushed. Indeed, they were doing slots of ten, fifteen minutes. And they didn’t follow any of the conventions of slam that I’m used to. Some of them had props. Some of them danced. Some of them did several poems. And after each had sat down, they were given scores by members of the audience, just like a slam ‘back home’.
And then it was my turn. I did my tidiest three minutes. Expecting not to be understood, I was relieved to hear the audience laugh at all the appropriate places, and then when I went to sit down the people at the bar told me in English that they’d loved the poem.
Now, due to my insistence on not looking at the scores, I had no idea how I’d done. The next performers came up and did ten, fifteen minutes. And then there was a break, and I was too embarrassed to ask the host if I’d made it into the next round! I remember going down a spiral staircase to the basement toilets and trying to pluck up the courage to ask, while at the same time wondering how long the building had been there, and which part of Berlin it had fallen into during the Cold War. So it was something of a pleasant surprise when the show restarted that my name was called again! Indeed, not wanting to look too presumptuous, I’d put my performance book away in my bag so I had to fumble around to get it out. I’d also nabbed one of the bananas. ‘For later’.
My second poem also was well-received, and I only knew I hadn’t made it into the final when they actually did the final. I do remember that one of the lads in the final did a set of poems which seemed to be about a toy car that he was using as a prop.
It was a wonderful night and I chatted with my friend on the door, as we had a beer, (I don’t usually drink beer, but he was nice enough to come back from the bar with it), and we both clinked bottles and said, ‘Prost!’, at which point he informed me that apparently I’d come fourth!
It was a lovely night, and I really do want to go back to Berlin once the world is a little safer. I made some new friends that night!
Robert Garnham’s new collection Yay!, has just been published by Burning Eye.
Yay! , is a selection of what Robert calls ‘upbeat, happy poems for a world in which there doesn’t seem to be much to smile about’.
‘When I first started planning this collection, I decided that every poem would be something positive and optimistic, yet with depth, a serious undertone beneath the surface, and yet a positive outlook, something cheerful which might take people away from the humdrum. There’s also an undercurrent referencing mental health, and an acknowledgement that a lot of people are struggling at the moment.
Of course, I started planning this book in 2018, just before things suddenly became even more depressing, with the global pandemic and human rights abuses coming to light.
I initially saw the book the way people might see a pop album, something bouncy and cheerful which colours their summer and brings back happy memories. Like Proust with his madeleine. It’s also something of a ‘concept album’ with a deliberate seaside feel. The first two poems, and the last poem, are all about living in a seaside town. The rest of the poems are about LGBT issues, relationships, superhero pug dogs, scratch ‘n’ sniff Egyptian hieroglyphs, and a rap about tea.
I took two weeks off in 2019 and took a scalloper to an Icelandic peninsula, and there, in a low stone hut with a turf roof, I laid out the poems and tried to whittle them down to a collection’s worth, but only ended up writing more poetry! It was there, with the scent of sulphur from the volcanoes on the breeze and the sound of the sea crashing on the hardened lava floes, that I wrote the poem about a young man on a double decker bus trying to use his mobile data to watch porn.
I then went down to the Amazon, to the city of Manaus, and stayed in a wooden cabin on the outskirts of the jungle itself. And there, amid mosquitoes and with the sound of the rainforest a constant buzz, I laid out the poems on the forest floor and decided on their order. Some of the pages got squashed insects on them, and the air was so humid that the ink began to blotch. And yet still the muse was calling to me. Surrounded by such biodiversity and the pungent aroma of the peaty earth, I wrote the poem about being trapped in the toilet at a motorbike museum.
I am so looking forward to unleashing this book on the world! There will be a show to accompany the book, and book launches planned both online, and for real!