Yay! The show diaries (2.2.21-6.3.21)

This is what I’ve been up to for the last month or so with the show, if anyone’s interested!

(For progress up to this point see https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/02/02/yay-the-search-for-happiness-diaries/ )

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

3.2.21

Line learning linking material.

5.2.21

Line learning linking material. Also worked on the ‘poetry workshop’ scene and explored options of hearing or showcasing the poems. Thought about an audio section much like the ‘You Dunked Your Muffin . .’ Section where I say that I recorded the fishermen on my mobile phone. Decided to write the poems on paper and keep them folded in my pocket, (cleverly with the before and after lines written on the paper too!), thereby whizzing through a whole page of the script.

8.2.21

Rehearsed and went over last third of the show. Did a ‘table read’ of the final piece of long linking material, then re-wrote to shift the focus away from the Robert character ‘coming out’, and more to a confession of his love in keeping with the tone of the show. Tidied up and tightened the rest of the linking material which comes after the Sunrise poem.

9.2.21

Line learning linking material.

10.2.21

Chatted to film director John Tomkins about performing the show in Paignton to a select socially-distanced audience and him filming it and editing it professionally for streaming services and online fringe festivals. Also, line learning linking material.

11.2.21

Went out this morning in freezing wind with Mark to try and take some publicity photos for the show. Edited them. Spent the afternoon rehearsing and line learning. Just a couple of paragraphs to go!

12.2.21

Line learning linking material.

13.2.21

Line learning linking material.

14.2.21

Ran through almost the entire show from memory, with the exception of the last couple of minutes. Running time 55 minutes. Decided on a couple of ‘light’ rewrites.

15.2.21

Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material and more line learning.

16.2.21

Contacted Emily Appleton about taking some publicity photos for the show poster and to publicise the show and the book. Arranged for Sunday morning, weather permitting. Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material yet again! Line learning linking material.

17.2.21

Line learning Happy.

19.2.21

Line learning Happy.

20.2.21

Line learning Happy.

21.2.21

Looked at the end of the show, rewrote the last paragraph of linking material again. PThen looked at the last poem, wrote a new poem, ‘I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy’, and decided to make a medley with ‘Happy’ for the last words of the show, more fitting with the tone. The idea being I might put this poem on a postcard as an extra / bookmark for anyone who buys the book. Ran through sections of the show. Then off to Victoria Park skateboard ramps for a photo shoot with Emily Appleton for the show promotional material. Home, and re-worked the ‘You Dumped a Muffin in your Cuppa’ song, making it almost a minute shorter. Long day!

22.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy.

23.2.21

Full show run through from memory, for the first time! 54 minutes. Decided to end the show after the final linking material but then carry on with I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy afterwards. This gives the option of substituting another poem.

25.2.21

More subtle rewrites to the end of the final linking material to make it sound more like an ending.

27.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy.

28.2.21

Practising random parts of the show.

1.3.21

Full show run through, 53 minutes.

2.3.21

First real rehearsal session rather than line learning, played around with using a chair as a prop, marked up the scripts at moments where the chair will feature.

3.3.21

Exchanged emails with Paignton Palace Theatre about the possibility of using their black box space to film the Yay show without an audience for online fringe purposes. They emailed back to say yes, and free of charge!! (Well, they want some work off me in exchange).

4.3.21

Chatted to filmmaker John Tomkins about arrangements to film the show without an audience at the Palace Theatre and agreed terms, then chatted about the logistics. Next got in touch with the Palace Theatre and they said they could offer the actual theatre auditorium for filming purposes and let us use their sound / lighting engineer.

5.3.21

Worked on the publicity images sent by Emily Appleton to choose two or three as possible poster images for the show and images to send out with press releases. Then chatted to John Tomkins about the film version before listening to various bits of music as opening and closing music for the film version of the show. Had another rehearsal with the chair as a prop and also tried some choreography for the last poem, I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy. Finally pondered on the idea of signing the ‘Becky’ poem myself and ran through it a couple of times.

6.3.21

Full run-through of the show singing the You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa song rather than playing the audio, and doing the whole show with movement, choreography and using the chair as a prop. Also chatted to Bryce Dumont about the possibility of using Croydon Tourist Office music for the start and end of the filmed version.

Squidbox

I spent the summer of 2020 getting to know the town of Brixham and its fishing industry, and what that industry meant to the people of this evocative Devon port. Meeting people whose lives and livelihoods depended on the catching of fish, and learning about historic events, wartime exploits, the role of women and the emotional and family effects of such a perilous industry, I wrote a series of poems which were published by Torbay Culture as ‘Squidbox’.

It was a particularly evocative project and one which is close to my heart. As a comedy performance poet, I don’t often get the chance to concentrate on serious matters, and it was a privilege to become part of a community. As a bit of background history, I moved to Devon in 1996 with my parents initially to the fishing port of Brixham, a place which, at the time, I knew very little about.

During the course of the project I met with trawler operators, fishing folk and other people who work in the industry, as well as the curator of Brixham Museum, where I spent time in the archives looking at the role of women, and the Belgian refugees who were welcomed into the town during the Second World War. I also spent time researching events from the First World War and the role that the trawlers played including skirmishes on the high seas with German U-boats. It was fascinating.

One of the more fun days was spending some time aboard the Adele, a small one person trawler operated by Tristan, who told me all about his job, the difficulties and risks, and also the biodiversity and environmental effects of global warming.

On a drizzly, wet and windy day at the start of the winter, I went down to Brixham harbour with film-maker John Tomkins and my producer Clare Parker, and we filmed general scenes of the harbour and myself reading some of the poems from my Squidbox collection. This really was a case of suffering for my art! Wearing two coats, and soaking wet, and with the rain rolling down my neck, I was filmed in a variety of locations around the harbour. The film can be seen here:

Soon after the project finished, Brixham was hit by the tragedy of the sinking of one of its trawlers with the loss of two crew members. I revisited the poems and wrote two new works, which reference the sinking, as well as a third new poem about the natural sea grass environment of Fishcombe Cove.

If you would like to order a copy of Squidbox, you can do so here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

It’s been a wonderful summer being paid to write poems, which is not something that normally happens. I’d like to thank Torbay Culture for the opportunity, and the Arts Council who provided the funding. It was fascinating learning all about the history and culture of Brixham and the importance that the fishing industry has on the town and the people who live and work there.

Moon Simon – The story behind the poem

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!

The Spottsville Monster

I’m currently working on a song with Croydon Tourist Office based on eyewitness accounts of a strange monster in the town of Spottsville, Kentucky. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in small towns in places like West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and they all seem to have local legends about monsters and Bigfoot and the such.

The Spottsville Monster

I didn’t believe at first but then
I came around.
A pile of feathers from 16 dead chickens,
The bones of a goat,
A strange howling in the night.
And there, do you see that?
In the pasture.
It’s huge!
This is giving me the creeps.

A lone motorist on Baskett Lane
Saw a hairy ape-like thing caught in
The headlights,
The dew glistening on its hairy flanks.
It looked up with an evil intent,
Then sidled into the trees.
I didn’t want to tell him
That I believed.

Gun-toting ape hunters eager for the kill
Sheltering from the rain in a long abandoned barn.
Cup of tea, lads?
Tommy Thompson says he saw it,
Pointed fangs and strange red eyes that
Frightened him to the soul,
Peering in through the
Laundrette window.
Would’ve shot it too, says he,
But I was only in my boxers.

Are you okay, my precious?
Let me stroke your frightened chest,
Smooth down that clammy grey fur.
My neighbour says he saw you
Silhouetted against the Seven Eleven Neon,
Just a glimpse,
Sadness in your eyes,
Or was it the reflection
Of the Coca Cola machine?

A government investigator swore blind
That it was just a very hairy person,
A long-hid throwback, some Neanderthal
In the gloaming,
Or maybe just local youths with a discount coupon
At the fancy dress shop.
The government inspector was found in the woods.
Well, bits of him.

Midnight howling in the western Kentucky bottom lands.
Entranced, I go a-wandering,
Floating above the ground on ethereal mists,
She’s calling to me, she sings
With all the beauty of the ages,
Let us dance under the stars,
Let us make these fools into gibbering wrecks,
Just by being different.

Gun-toting ape hunters eager for the kill,
The Spottsville Monster.
A pile of feathers from 16 dead chickens,
The Spottsville Monster.
A government investigator swore blind
That it was just a very hairy person,
The Spottsville Monster.
Either friendly or malignant depending on the
Content of your heart.
The Spottsville Monster.
Alone in the woods, it’s rancid breath on my neck.
The Spottsville Monster.

Beyond the whimsy – some serious poems

I’ve had huge amounts of fun the last twelve years or so performing whimsical comedy poems at various poetry nights and comedy nights, festivals, fringes, theatres and whatnot. And while this is where I get my kicks, it’s often been pointed out that there’s something serious beneath the surface. For me as a performer, there’s nothing better than the reaction of an audience when you’ve said something funny, and it’s like a drug, it really does keep you going.

However, not everything I’ve done over the years has been totally comedic, and I have written and performed several poems which aim for something beyond mere comedy. And while I do like the dynamic of adding a serious poem in the middle of a set of comedy poems, they’re probably not as well known as what I would term to be my usual ‘bangers’.

A recent example would be ‘Nathan went for a walk in the rain’, a poem which deals with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. This is not an autobiographical poem, though it is based on a real person. It also talks about issues of masculinity and social expectations. You can see the poem here:

https://youtu.be/YsNvr3irwuk

Another poem which I’m proud of is ‘The doors’, which was written quite a few years ago now when I performed at Gay Pride in London. I realised that the event needed something serious from me. The poem came about when I read a Time Magazine article about gay rights in parts of the world like Nigeria and Russia, and how people felt living as LGBTQ in those places. The poem came to me in one amazing sitting, drawing on words and themes from that article. Here’s the video:

https://youtu.be/ij7FOx7kmZk

The next poem is both serious and autobiographical. I was asked to write a poem with the theme and title ‘a queer body’, which got me thinking about all kinds of things: body issues, illness, appearance. Naturally, for such a serious subject I felt I had to inject some humour, but it talks about health scares, Covid and other things. You can watch the video here:

https://youtu.be/g-JaoTEFHSg

The following poem is based on a real event, so I suppose this is autobiographical too, though it wanders off into an imaginary land. It’s about homophobic abuse shouted at me from a passing car while I was in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. I was just about to cross the road to go to the book festival when it occurred, and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then afterwards you always get to thinking. Again. I injected some humour into this. The video is an early version of the poem.

https://youtu.be/O1AcvaSzyw0

This next poem was part of my Squidbox project from last year. The project dealt with the Brixham fishing industry and what it means both to the town and the people who worked in that industry.

https://youtu.be/i4EeKGWdmGw

And finally, this too is an autobiographical poem. In 2020, aged 46, I discovered that I was dyslexic, though I’d suspected so for some time. The world had always seemed ever so slightly off-kilter! One night I sat down intent on explaining how this felt, and I’m really quite pleased with the outcome. You can read the poem here.

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/01/09/on-a-poet-discovering-hes-dyslexic-just-before-his-47th-birthday/

There are more poems, of course, which deal with serious issues or have an intent beyond comedy. Most of these I’ve never performed, though they may eventually see the light of day, when I’m brave enough!

Gravity of the situation

Gravity of the situation

Thunder roar and dancing flames,
Gravity regained.
Cosmonaut Major Pavel,
Youthful,
hero of the
Red age
Braces in his helmet
For the crush of atmosphere . . .

Another frosty morning on the Steppes. The flat landscape is a faded sepia nothing. Her cottage is nowhere near a main road, little more than a wooden shack surrounded by a wooden fence which demarcated her territory from the endless nothing. A few flowers in pots had not yet had the chance to bloom, though they had shown green roots and signs of growth. She hung out the washing. Her breath turned to vapour, but she was used to the cold. Her scarf, her shawl, her dress, bright primary colours against the dull landscape, the dark wood panelling, the peeling paint, the overcast sky.
She hears a whistling sound. She pauses for a while, her lips clamped on clothes pegs as she hangs a pair of flowery bloomers. The whistling spins gets loud, pronounced, sustained, and she looks up just in time to see a parachute open, and suspended beneath it a Soyuz re-entry capsule. The whistling stops, and the capsule, grey and defined against the overcast sky, swings back and forth, then lands with a heavy thud in the field next to her cottage.
‘Not again’, she whispers.
She finishes hanging up her bloomers, spits out the remaining pegs into her laundry basket, then ambles over to the gate, just in time to see the hatch of the capsule open.
‘Another couple of metres and you’d have crushed my bluebells!’, she yells.
Major Pavel squeezes himself out of the capsule. Like toothpaste from a tube.
‘Olga?’, he says.
‘Pavel!’
The gravity is too much. He’s been on the International Space Station for almost a year. He kind of slumps down on to the side of the capsule.
‘How are the kids?’, he asks, as he takes off his helmet.
‘Fine, no thanks to you’.
‘I had to make sacrifices. For the good of the space programme, and for Mother Russia’.
‘Don’t give me none of that’.
‘How I’ve longed for your supple arms, capturing me, plucking my Sputnik from the sky, my sexy Soyuz so charred and beaten . . .’.
‘You just left me one morning. Gone . . ‘.
He seems dazed. He looks over at her cottage.
‘What . . . What are the chances?!’
Her dainty touch, skin so soft as new year snow.
‘Hugging my metal machine to your chest . . . You dainty flower . . ‘.
‘Don’t you go on about dainty flowers. Another five feet and you’d have crushed my dainty flowers with your fancy spacecraft. Bluebells are just coming up . . .’.
‘Did you miss me?’
‘I’m certainly glad you missed me!’
‘But did you . . Miss me?’
Her features relax, somewhat.
‘Yes’, she whispers.
‘They’ll be here soon’, he says. ‘To pick me up. Begin the debrief. Add my knowledge to the needs of the Motherland ‘. He looks at her and smiles.
‘They might not be’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Social distancing’.
‘Olga!’
He takes a step forwards. She takes a step back.
‘Two metres!’, she says.
They stare at each other across her bluebells.
The night before he’d seen lightning over the Brazilian rainforest. He’d never felt further from home.
‘The sky’, she whispers, ‘is the same as it’s always been. But we’re all cosmonauts, now’.

A Queer Body

A Queer Body

I’ve always been passably handsome
When viewed through frosted glass,
(Frosted glass slightly concave
Acting the same as ‘skinny mirrors’
In fashion boutiques,
Or are they just an urban myth?).
Anyway, passably handsome
At a quick glance.

Though this queer body,
Structured as it is like the
Centre Pompidou with all of its
Accoutrements and pipes on the outside,
Has, on drunken nights,
Momentarily convinced a member
Of the same gender that it might be right
For voracious osculation, you know,
Ironically, the night not a total waste.
There’s no accounting, my mother
Would say, for taste.

But last year it started to
Stand up for itself, (excuse the pun),
And developed a lump that had to be
Swiftly removed, like an edited comma,
Erroneous punctuation,
And then this year decided on a whim
To do the obvious thing and
Get that trendy flu that everyone’s been
Raving about, you know, like a hat,
Or that winter eight years ago when
All the trendy kids wore jumpers that said ‘Geek’
When they obviously weren’t.

Ay, ’tis a queer body, wrapped
Around a queer man who has the lusts of a
Queer man and the abs of a panda.
I know, I thought, let’s shave of all of my
Body hair (I was bored) and look beach ready,
Ended up looking like a chicken, oven-ready,
A butterball plucked and my chest hair
Itched like a bastard for weeks.

Of pirates and conveyor belt toasters

Poem

You know those
Conveyor belt toasters you get
In buffet breakfast bargain hotels?
My mate Brian
Has one of those in his kitchen.
It’s kept on all the time
On the off chance that
Someone might fancy some toast.

Brian is a pirate.
He’s proud of his toast conveyor.
I’ve seen him plunder a frigate.
I’ve seen him
Butter a crumpet.
The toast falls off the bottom
Of the conveyor belt
And he says,
Har harrrrrrrr.

We met on the high seas.
I was first mate on the poop deck.
He threatened me with his big blunderbuss
But after that we got on fine.
You must come round for dinner
Some time,
He opined.

I brought a fine Merlot.
I’d like to propose a toast, he said.
Would you like some too?
And we sat like lemons
In an awkward silence
As we waited for it to trundle through.

Four slices.
Cut in two.
Pieces of eight, he said.

London

This is a poem I’ve been working on for around six years. I first started writing it in a hotel room in London after a gig when I couldn’t get to sleep. And I’ve been coming back to it on or off for years since.

It’s an ode to the city where my family comes from, the city I visit more than any other, the city on whose fringes I lived when I was growing up. You could sense it all the time, just out of reach.

London

Hark, doth London linger.
In lingering humdrum exhaust fume longer
Doth it linger
With that sweat tang white van traffic jam
Lingering in the humdrum London.
River bridges glower tower block
Chock a block gridlock London.
Overcast mellow weather does it settle
Yellow smog hacking hacking Hackney cab London.
London fun with traffic tang
On the tongue
Coming undone I might succumb
Lingering loitering London.
Sunday parks car parks Cutty Sarks
Torn apart grabbed my heart
Seedy humping in London fun parts.
London looming in surly amid the
Hurly burly London fog so swirly
You never get there early
In London.

Sweaty set sweat stains
Train seat sweat stains and the
Sweaty armpits tube hanging
Sweat stains hanging from that
Tube strap sweat stains
Tube strap pulsing veins
Very much like the tube map.
Mind the gap.
Sweat stains armpit blotch like
Map of Greater London.

Drunken wine bum
Drunk on London
London low life lowdown lurking.
London terminus ominous terminus
Probably verminous
Not cleaned since Copernicus.
Charge by the hour
Ever so sour looming tower
And I hover likewise
I have the power
Eardrum thrum in London.

City city pretty scape
Skyscraper cityscape
Mass escape city pretty
Sitting pretty cityscape.
London undone fun run
London squares and bars and fairs and cars.
Kick that burn that kicking in
Floating high on fog bank London.

I hover tentative grey sky
Square mile London longer
Doth it linger deep within
My city my thing my
History my place my dream
My London.