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Squidbox @ Palace Theatre, Paignton: Poems and an Essay about the Project working with Brixham Fishermen

You can listen to the 45 minute performance / reading right here: poems and an essay 12/5/22
  1. Homecoming (p63)

You know, things were jogging along just fine and the future looked incredibly exciting. I’d spent most of 2019 on the road, not only with the Hammer and Tongue  tour to Hackney, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton, but I’d taken my show Spout to Barnstaple, Reading, Guildford, Edinburgh and Petersfield, and I’d also performed headline sets in Newcastle, Milton Keynes, London, Swindon, Bristol, Exeter and even the Eden Project, where I’d actually performed in the main dome itself surrounded by thick jungle vegetation, before spending the night in a shipping container which had been transformed into a hotel room. Added to this the corporate work I’d been doing for a certain building society, and my December I was absolutely burned out. I decided to take three months off from performing.

          And you’ll never guess what happened next. 

          I’d been looking forward to 2020. I had gigs booked in faraway places and I was planning a new show, Yay!: The Search for Happiness, which would be something of a departure and I was excited about the whole process of putting it together. If 2019 had been amazing, I was sure that 2020 would be even better, the momentum having built up, but the international pandemic stopped everything in its tracks and all of a sudden, the whole world narrowed down to just my small flat in an out of season seaside town.

          I wasn’t alone in this, of course. I mean, obviously I was alone in my small flat, but I wasn’t the only performer for whom the future had suddenly turned to mush. Up and down the country, and throughout the world, singers, artists, performers of all types suddenly found themselves without a livelihood and a very bleak future. In a way I felt lucky that I only had myself to look after, and no mortgage, but on the other hand, things would be tough.

          I tried to make the best of it. I launched into online gigs. I made videos. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I started rehearsing and learning the new show. But the one thing that didn’t happen was that I was making any money.

          So, things weren’t entirely ideal. But then something wonderful did happen. Torbay Council were looking for artists to pay to do create local works in order to help them recover from the financial hardship of the pandemic situation, and add colour to the local artistic landscape. I applied, with the vague idea of writing about a subject of which I knew very little, yet was a big part of the local culture. I went through several ideas, from hotel workers to those involved in the holiday industry, until it struck me that, in spite of having a wonderful relationship with the town of Brixham, I’d never actually learned much about its fishing industry.

  1. The Trawler Basin (p10)

I sent an email to the Torbay Culture organisation, which was allocating funds, detailing an idea I had to write poetry about the Brixham fishing industry. It would be a strange departure for an LGBT comedy performance poet, but I was looking forward to embarking on a new project, and more than anything else, I was looking forward to earning some money.

          Amazingly, they said yes. They gave me a timetable of when things should be accomplished, and then assigned me a producer, who would put me in touch with various people within the fishing industry. And for the first time in a very long while, I felt like a proper artist.

          All I had to do was get started.

I didn’t know the first thing about the fishing industry. I knew that the fishing port in Brixham was one of the largest in the UK and that it had been there since god know’s when. My producer was a wonderful person called Clare with whom I had a couple of Zoom meetings and she gave me a few pointers of where to start. The harbour master? The fish market? Perhaps I should write to one of the trawler companies and see if I could interview one of their skippers. I was also interested in the ecological side of the business and how it affects the local ecosystem. But most of all I was glad to be involved in a project which took me way out of my comfort zone and my usual oeuvre of poems about badgers and dentists.

          By the marvels of social media I managed to get in contact with the skipper of a trawler. Indeed, he was the only person who worked on the trawler. Officially, it was the smallest trawler in the Brixham fleet, yet Tristan managed to go out every single day and get his catch and then sell it straight from his boat on the harbour side. As a result he had made quite a good living over the last couple of years and slowly built up a reputation for the quality of his fish.

          We exchanged a couple of messages and he invited me to come down to the harbour and interview him aboard his boat, the Adela.

          This was my official first foray into the world of reportage and I must admit I did not exactly cut a very athletic figure as I clambered from the quay on to his vessel. I’m sure there have been less graceful entrances into the trawling business, but the damn boat kept going up and down on a swell and I kind of managed it by kneeling on the edge of the vessel and kind of falling sideways. 

          Tristan gave me a quick tour of his boat and then invited me into the cabin where we had a chat about what he did.

          ‘I started out on the bigger trawlers’, he explained. ‘Several of us going out for days at a time.’

          ‘Did you get seasick?’

          I’d once caught a catamaran from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef and I’d spent the whole journey honking up.

          ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘Really badly, for the first six months, every single day I was so ill you wouldn’t believe it. But you know what? I hid it from the rest of the crew. I tried to be all tough and manly about it, but I would find a space where they couldn’t see me and up it would all come’.

          The cabin of the boat was decorated with photographs of his family and he explained that the boat was named after his daughter. I then turned the chat to what it was that he caught in his nets.

          ‘Anything with eyes and an arsehole’, he replied.

          We both had a good laugh about that and he said I was welcome to use it in one of my poems.

          ‘Seriously, though, the impact of climate change is affecting the types of fish that I can catch. Ordinarily, you’d be assured of catching certain species at certain times of the year. But now, it’s all over the place. Fish which rely on warmer waters are spending more and more time further north. And this affects what I can sell on the quay when I return. Most of my customers are restaurants and hotels and what they put in their menus depends on what I can catch while I’m out’.

          I asked him where he fishes.

          ‘That’s a secret’, he replied. ‘I can’t tell you, because I want to keep these places to myself. But let’s just say, some mornings the entire Brixham fleet leaves together, and they all go one way, and I go the other. I have my methods’.

          We had a great time chatting and I think I was more tense than he was about it. Indeed, he seemed very media savvy, which was a relief, and the one thing I was worried about was that I would write all these notes and then not be able to understand my own handwriting.

          Once we’d done, I clambered off the craft with all the grace of a hippopotamus, then went to the bus stop and wrote up my notes as quickly as I could before I forgot anything.

          But I was on a high, because this was my first ever bit of serious community engagement. Perhaps, I thought, people might start to see me as a proper poet after all!

  1. Solo Skipper (p18)
  2. Storm (p21)

One of the things I looked into, with the help of Clare, my producer, was the history of Brixham. 

          Clare arranged for me to spend a day at Brixham Museum, poking through their archives and chatting to the curator. I was assigned a desk in the stores and the curator brought me files, folders and newspaper cuttings about the fishing industry, and we chatted about the Fishawkers.

          The Fishawkers were a band of fishermen’s wives who ran the town while their husbands were out at sea in the 1880s. They would congregate on the quayside and bid on the fish that the fishing boats brought back. As this was conducted in the form of a traditional auction, the winning bidders were usually the ones who had the loudest voices and the Fishawkers had perfected the technique. They weren’t at all averse to using a bit of physical intimidation to make sure that they bought the best fish, which they would then ‘hawk’ from door to door in barrels. The museum provided me with plenty of newspaper accounts of Fishawkers brawling in the alleyways and streets of Brixham, and one in particular who was hauled up before the local judge for a breach of the peace and was then fined extra for her cheekiness in court. The judge had asked her if she had anything to say, and she’d replied, ‘I’ve got a bit of extra money here, guv, if you’d like to put it towards my next misdemeanour’, or words to that effect.

          The thing about the Fishawkers was that they were officially breaking the law. They weren’t allowed to bid on fish and then sell them around the town. As a group, they appealed this law and won and as a result struck something of a minor triumph in the advance of women’s rights at a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.

          I also read about the role that the Brixham trawlers played in the First World War, when the fleet was attacked by a German U-boat, the captain of whom demanded he board each vessel and rob their kitchens of food and cooking utensils. I guess such things were hard to come by when working as a submariner. But the most stirring story was that of the work the town did to accommodate refugees from the Second World War. Belgians from the fishing towns on the North Sea ferried across the Channel to Brixham, having forged friendships during peaceful times with visiting Brixham fishermen. And as a the Nazis moved in, they piled all of their belongings, family members, furniture and hopes and dreams aboard their fishing boats and made the journey.  In such a way, welcomed by the local townspeople, Brixham became known as ‘Little Ostend’, and the Belgians became a part of the town’s culture and community, getting jobs in shops and on farms, marrying locals and helping with the war effort. When the war ended, quite a few stayed behind. The rest left in a fleet of buses in order to make the return journey, the whole town coming out to wave them off.

          And now here I was, at a time of Lockdown and pandemic restrictions, reading about their exploits in the confines of the museum store room, feeling the swirl of history around me and the odd idea that really, no matter what we all go through, we are just the continuation of something much bigger. Which was a pretty profound thought for a comedy performance poet.

  1. Fishawkers (p45)
  2. Little Ostend (p47)

Clare suggested I look at the environmental aspect of the fishing industry. Bizarrely, a couple of months earlier I’d done a couple of online education courses, once it became obvious that lockdown was happening and that I’d be indoors for pretty much the foreseeable future. The two courses I did were both about as distinct from each other as I could manage. The first was a study of the Icelandic Sagas, delivered by the University of Reykjavik, and sure, it gave me one or two ideas for poems and short stories, but I took the course more out of interest. The second was delivered by the University of Queensland in Australia, and it was all about the coastal ecosystem, with special emphasis on coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses.

          So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that an area of Brixham just off the coast was home to a very important patch of seagrass. This was now something I could speak about with a small degree of prior knowledge, of how   seagrass is a vital piece of the marine ecosystem in that it acts as a nursery for younger fish and the next generation of fish stocks. Not only that, but seahorses were a feature of the seagrass environment, and I’d always felt a strange kinship with seahorses. I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s the flippers.

  1. Seagrasses (p50)

During the time I was working on the Brixham project, I was also planning my new Edinburgh fringe show for this year. And as you can tell from the following extract, the project certainly had an influence!

  1. Poet In Residence

The crew soon grew tired of my constant questions . . 

  1. Shakka Lakka Boom

At night, the captain regailed us with tall tales from a life spent on the ocean.

  1. Captain and the Sea Monster

 Wouldn’t you know, the weather was awful. I’d never seen such rain. I wore my usual ‘performance’ costume, but due to the intense and very persistent deluge, I wore a large raincoat over the top of them, and then a plastic mac over that, too. I was more worried about the camera and the microphone that I was wearing, but John and Clare kept themselves very dry while I stood on the quay with the rain rolling down my neck, performing to the camera. Worse still, the persistent rain flattened my traditional gelled, spiked hairstyle flat to my face, and the gel began to drip into my eyes. The book became a sodden mulch in my hands. In fact, it all reminded me of flyering in Edinburgh.

          And thus, the Squidbox project finished with something of a damp squib. But it had brought me closer to the town, and for the first time I felt truly a part of the local community. The poems made their way out into the world and I was asked to perform some of them at Brixham’s Museum during their inaugural poetry festival in the spring. And sadly, when a Brixham trawler sank off the coast of Sussex that winter, the poem We are Brixham featured on the Devon News website. Indeed, the whole tragedy affected me not only that I’d spent the summer with the trawler crews, and we’d chatted about the potential for danger, but also because one of those who died had been a friend of a friend and I’d hoped to interview him at some point, though never got around to it.

          Looking back now, the project seems a very interesting diversion. Once Squidbox was done, I was able to concentrate on the next solo show, and I incorporated a couple of the poems into the narrative, the storyline of which poked gentle fun at the whole process. By the time I’d finished the project, I understood that I certainly had the creative abilities to engage myself in something different, and this made me kind of fearless when it came to choosing a new project. But most of all, it demonstrated that no matter where we are and who we are, we are tied to the history, community and environment in which we are placed, and this kind of made me feel a little better about the world itself.

  1. We are Brixham (p62)

You can watch a video of some of these poems, recording in the pouring rain in Brixham, right here:

You can buy the book Squidbox here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

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A message from the chairman of the scone society

Dear fellow scone enthusiasts.
It pains me to write this letter, but circumstance has forced my hand. For many years, the Brixham Town Scone Society website has been a valuable tool for members to connect, ask advice, share cooking tips, and buy and sell both equipment and ingredients. There have been no complaints and many of us have both enjoyed, and taken advantage of, this wealth of scone-cooking know-how just a click of the mouse away.
However, lately it has come to the attention of this committee that the Classified section of the website has been coming under some abuse from certain members whose interests lay beyond mixing methods and how to create a really cracking milk glaze.
The problem first came to light when it was pointed out to me that a lot of our newer subscribers to the website, who filled in the online form, listed the classified section as their main motivation for doing so, yet almost all of them answered the question ‘How many hours a week do you spend cooking scones?’ with the response, ‘None’, and in a lot of cases, ‘I do not like scones’. This was somewhat perplexing and an investigation was launched in case there were some confusion in the title of our website, (Scones A-Plenty.com), or indeed if there were some new boy band or comic perhaps titled ‘Scone Man’, that was leading to this sudden influx in new members.
However, after a terrible mix-up (no pun intended) the other day in which one of our senior committee members, Maureen Hepplethwaite, found herself not at a scone cookery demonstration as she had been expecting, but at a swinger’s sex party, it was decided that action was needed.
The first thing we noticed was the number of young men offering a variety of different shaped spatulas for sale in the classifieds. While these are great implements in the mixing process, it is probably more common in the scone community to use wooden spoons, so I think it’s fair to say that this raised a few eyebrows among the committee. Most of these spatulas were advertised as being new, ‘or in new condition’, while some were being offered in a slightly battered state.
At this stage, alarm-bells didn’t actually start ringing. The admin behind running a pro-scone website means that some matters don’t actually get attended to until there’s some kind of emergency. The Great Flour Shortage of 2005 was one such calamity, and equally fraught was the resignation of our chairman in 2009 when he announced that frankly, he preferred muffins.
We then noticed the alarming number of society members offering scones of varying states of completion, some of which were ‘ready to pick up now’, others were, ‘come and collect’, while many were ‘lacking one final ingredient’. ‘Already in the mixing bowl’, apparently, (and according to Reginald, who does not proclaim to be an expert on such matters), means that the ‘seller’ is willing to conduct the process in their own home. ‘On the baking tray’, apparently means that they are willing to travel. And it’s anyone’s guess what ‘ready to be consumed with fresh fresh salad’, means. Suspicions were raised further when Phil Burton (member since 1988), advertised that he had a home-made ready mix featuring fresh sultana pieces and fruity chunks only to receive an email which read, ‘You’re a dirty boy, oh my, you’re a dirty boy!’, followed by someone’s phone number.
Dear society members, this will just not do. To get to the root of the problem, we have employed a code-breaker whose previous area of expertise was the Egyptian hieroglyphs and also the mating call of the common sparrow. And it was no surprise to learn that the codes adopted by many of the users of our classified pages were also a base form of mating call in themselves . Once she had explained what many of the codes and terminologies

were, I, as your brave Chairman, decided to pose online as one of these lovelorn scone-bakers with an advertisement composed specifically to entrap the guilty.
Spatula for sale (or rent). Slightly rusty yet ergonomically designed to offer maximum stirring. Mixture in bowl yet also functions on the tray. Fellow mixer must have GSOH. No salad please. Jam and cream to spread as desired. Satisfaction guaranteed. Stirs in an anti-clockwise or circular motion.
Alas, the only reply to my classified ad was from another society member who offered me a ‘lasagne’. ‘I don’t get it’, I said to the code-breaker.
‘Nor do I’, she replied.
And just to be safe, I haven’t eaten a lasagne since.
Dear society member, it is time to put an end to this, and the decision was recently
taken at a committee level to put an end to the classified section of our website. We understand that this may very well reduce the number of people who have joined our society, (over twenty thousand new members in the last six weeks, a figure which still manages to perplex us), but we believe that this is the safest method to rid our wholesome community of undesirable attention.
Like many of you, I started out as a young man with a head full of ideas and dreams intent on devoting my life to the construction and consumption of the humble scone. Starstruck by such scone-bakers as Ethel P. Anderson and Audrey ‘Iron Knuckles’ McGinty, I saw the society as a means to connect with like minded souls whose purpose and heart were in a similar vein to my own. It has been nothing short of tragic to see our fine institution highjacked by those whose thoughts remain as base as their own animalistic instincts. I see this as an opportunity to root out these wrongdoers and make our society safe again!
The moment I’ve finished writing this email, I shall be visiting the committee where no doubt we shall be indulging in the wholesome pursuit of the perfect scone. And yes, fellow committee members, thanks for asking, I shall definitely be bringing my own spatula.
Yours
The chairman.

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Slam Poem to Raise Awareness of Unregulated Backflow Systems in the Plumbing Industry

So I often get asked to write poems about issues and an issue was recently brought to my attention. I usually write about human rights and political matters but in this case I was asked by the Plumbing Standards and Water Supply Appliance Regulatory Commission to promote a campaign raising awareness of the contamination and pressure issues which come with unregulated backflow systems. The trouble was, before contacting me, they’d been watching videos of American slam poets, you know, those really big-voiced shouty ones.  So they asked if I could grow a beard and wear a check shirt and come up with a poem for them.

He said,
It’s there all the time,
That drip drip drip,
That rhythm which colours my life,
This drip drip drip
Like my life is a hip hop,
It’s a drip hop
It’s a drip drip drip
It’s a clogged drain in a chip shop
Like a clock tick tock counting down
The seconds to the next time
I have to do the washing up.
And he’s tired.
And he’s got a strange stain on his trousers,
A kind of waxy residue.

He said, no pressure.
I said,
How dare you tell me there’s no pressure!
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
I’ve known pressure since before you were born.
I’ve walked under stormy skies.
I’ve asked such questions, the where’s and why’s,
Life can be a disappointment but it’s seldom a surprise
You can see it in my eyes
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
And he said,
I meant water pressure.

He said,
The pipes, they rattle,
Like the plumbing in France.
You never get a chance.
It’s like a Broadway musical,
You should see the tap dance.
It’s a hotspot, it’s like hopscotch,
I’ll show you where you can find the stop cock,
Start a stopwatch
I’ll time you
It’s insanity
It’s you and me,
I said,
It’s a violation of regulation six
Slash four seven dash three,
You see.

Because
Because
Because
The two of us
Brothers in arms
Brothers with arms
We can fix this leak together
And be ever so clever
Don’t tell me whatever
The world is improving
This really is moving
But I tell you what isn’t moving -
The water in these pipes.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used an isolation valve.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used a tap back nut spanner.
Don’t tell me you don’t know your way around a pipe vice
That’s not nice
Like cooking a chicken tikka
And then running out of rice
Don’t you understand
This stanza is so long
I might possibly pass out!

Huhhhhh! (Pant!)
The way I passed out from plumbing school.
I ain’t no fool.
Pass me that pipe deburring tool.
But you,
You’re a tap squirty bloke,
You’re a basin filling jerk
You’re a water meter cheater
You’re a low flow joke
And me?
I ain’t going sixty foot down a well
To fix a pipe,
I ain’t plumbing the depths!

It’s heart skipping
It’s reality tripping
And all because the pipes are dripping
I’ll leave a gap now
For some audience finger clicking.

And now the emotions
Are getting to me.
Because no one understands that
I need
To

Tighten

A




Nut.

Let’s not succumb to the backflow.
It’s a blowback.
Like a distant memory, a throwback.
Everything has been inverted,
Like getting hot water from the cold tap.
Like that time I managed to persuade my life coach
On a change of career.
He’s now a chiropodist.
And me?
I’m an optimist.
And you?
You’re a Sagittarius,
And this?
This?
Needs no wonder
Nor hearts to plunder
This is going to take more
Than a sink plunger

And it’s why
We need
Industry regulation in the plumbing and water supply
Appliance sector.

That’s it for me now
It’s the end of the poem
Because just like the pipes
I’m drained.
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In the Glare of the Neon Yak

In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a rip roaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F? 

An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is by turns delightful, magical, disturbing. It’s a veritable modern fairy tale!

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Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)

I don’t get asked to do workshops very much. But every now and then someone will say, oh, hey, erm, someone cancelled, is there any way you can lead a workshop on humour in poetry? Below you will find the notes that I use when I’m doing one of these.

Due to dyslexia, workshops aren’t something that I feel comfortable providing, because I can never successfully answer any questions which might come up. So I have these notes with me which I read from. I hope you find them useful!

Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)

This workshop gives us a snapshot on how to formulate ideas to use in poetry (or comedy) and how to expand on a theme. The second part of the workshop covers the attitudes we apply to those themes.

The purpose is not to create deep philosophical page poetry. That can take months and possibly years, though it may be a start along that route.

By its nature comedy has the ability to say more than can be said through serious poems, or at least, gives the poet a platform in which they might easily bring to the surface serious themes. These themes can then be explored in a comedic manner, for example, homophobic bullying, gender expectation, heteronormativity.

However comedy is only funny when you’re punching up. If you’re in a minority or an under-represented part of the community, comedy poetry can be a way of connecting with a wider audience, because everyone enjoys a laugh no matter what your background.

Punching down, though, is not funny. It’s downright mean and it enforces stereotypes.

While this workshop might not necessarily result in a fully-formed completed poem, it will hopefully give you the tools and the impetus to get working on something funny and compelling.

So what is performance poetry? What do you understand by that phrase? (There are no wrong answers).

Discussion five to ten minutes, possible discussion points:

  • A juxtaposition of ‘high’ art of poetry and it’s usual ‘serious’ tone with the mundane, therefore elevating the mundane to high status.
  • The surprise which comes with elevating the mundane to high status.
  • Saying what nobody has ever noticed, but through a poem.
  • Saying what everybody has always noticed, again, through a poem.
  • The communal fun of a shared experience, including content, rhymes, rhythm and the atmosphere in the room which comes from these.
  • Breaking up the tone of a poetry recital or gig which isn’t necessarily comedy-focussed.
  • Hiding serious messages and social concerns behind the veneer of comedy.
  • The surprise which comes with the juxtaposition of rhythms and expectations of poetry and the conversational tone of words and phrases. (Lidls, muffins).
  • Punchlines and jokes to make the audience laugh.
  • Exaggeration and attitude.
  • Creating tension and then relieving it with humour, punchline, tag, afterthought.
  • Using language, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, metaphor, simile, repetition, vocabulary and sounds for easy aural consumption.
  • Non-verbal communication.
  1. Ideas and material generation

Pick a subject to write about. Tricky, huh? It can be something mundane like turnips or teapots, or something abstract, like ennui or clumsiness. Or a place, or a memory, or a year. Or just an interesting word that you might have heard. Write the subject in the middle of a sheet of paper.  (Two minutes)

Add around the subject some free associations, once again ignoring the social editor, and the links can be as tenuous as you like. Just write the first thought that pops into your head.  (Five minutes)

Go around the word again and add a second layer of free associations to the first ones. Again, write the first ideas that come to mind. However more than just words, these will be more like statements or ideas. (Five minutes)

Choose one or two of these ‘branches’ and add three, four, or as many new associations as you like. Each one could follow the logic of the last one or it could be an ‘afterthought’ – like a comedy punchline. (‘I like my nephews. But I could never eat a whole one – unless they were served with roast potatoes – however I’m trying to cut down on my carbs’. (Five minutes)

If you’re really lucky, the last association might be a punchline or some kind of method of drawing all of these together neatly. If so, then you’ve probably got the basis of a joke. In any case, you’ve now got the structure of a pretty weird poem.

Just concentrating on one of these ‘branches’, free write a poem, ignoring the social editor.

The social editor is the part of the brain that tells you that you can’t say or write something because it isn’t proper. Part of writing comedy is learning to ignore the little voice that says, ‘Hey, that’s not logical, you wouldn’t find a duck driving a bus’, or, ‘In real life, people would certainly not try and have a conversation with an elephant about prunes mistaking them for a supermarket manager’.

Often when you ignore the social editor, several disconnected themes suddenly connect. Writers have been trying to think of methods to achieve this over the years. Some take to drinking, some take to drugs. My own method is to kind of take my brain out of gear, relax, free-write and see what emerges.  (Fifteen minutes)

(Read examples people have come up with, ten minutes).

  1. Attitude

This is the ‘what to do with it once you’ve found it’ part of the workshop. 

There are many attitudes that you can take while writing or performing. You can write in praise of a subject, or you can rant against it. You can be angry, venting, quizzical, perplexed, speak from a certain authority, you can be in awe, laughing at it, laughing with it, having fun, or you can be surreal or just plain weird. There are many different attitudes.

Others include : fun, surreal, plain / neutral, angry, ranting, in character, monotone. A lot of these depend on your tone of voice, facial expressions, movements and gestures.

Think about what kind of attitude you might like to apply to what you have written. (Five minutes).

(Let people demonstrate some of their attitudes, five to ten minutes).

Now look at these attitudes again and choose what you would consider to be the complete opposite. For example, ranting might become fawning, fun might become scared, angry could be enthusiastic. Or just pick a completely different attitude at random just to play around. (Five minutes).

(Let people demonstrate some of these attitudes, five to ten minutes).

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What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara

What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been re-reading Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. When I was a teenager, I read a lot of Kerouac and kind of fell in love with the idea of freedom and movement, jazz and friendship that his books described. Consequently I grew up with the idea of the Beat Generation being this mighty art form of expression and culture which has gone on to inform the literary movements of the present day.

          Naturally, this idea was just the romantic side of me attaching importance to something I really liked. Because when I was a teenager, I wasn’t into sports or football or anything like that. The big names of literature were the equivalent of major league football teams. I didn’t care about Liverpool FC, or Real Madrid, or Bjorn Borg. For me, the big names were Kafka, Camus, Dorothy Parker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And of course, Jack Kerouac.

          As I grew older I had to get a job, and real life kind of intervened, and this meant that I didn’t read, or dream, quite so much. Around the year 2000 I decided to study with the Open University, and this led me to the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

          I hated poetry. I always enjoyed English Literature at school, but I hated poetry. It left me cold every single time, from what’s his name with his bog bodies, to Byron going on and on about how much he liked Napoleon. Wordsworth was just a pain in the arse. Poetry never spoke to me the way that prose did, and most poems seemed to be a puzzle that had to be solved, but never would be solved, or at least, never by me. Some of the words were pretty, but really, who had the time? 

          I was very excited when I learned that one week, we’d be studying Allen Ginsberg. A-ha! Wasn’t Ginsberg a friend of Kerouac and William Burroughs? Sure, he was just a boring poet, but wouldn’t he be saying something as exciting as the saintly Jack?

          And sure, the beginning of Howl was great, but then it just became words again. And my mind started to drift. And I’d re-read lines. And the text would say, ‘Look how exciting this next verse is!’, and I’d read it and think, ‘What?’ The whole week was very disappointing.

          The next week we were due to study Frank O’Hara, and I thought, oh jeez, not another bloody poet. But perhaps this defeatist frame of mind was just the ring thing at the time, and it has probably changed the entire course of my life. Expected to be bored arseless, I was instead completely captivated by this slightly camp fresh new voice writing poems about drinking cola, eating hamburgers, calling up friends of the phone and watching B-movies. And of course, sexual acts in train station toilets. Frank O’Hara, I said, where have you been all my life?!

          If you’re reading this, then you’ll probably know all about Frank, and how he was a member of the New York school of poetry in the 1950s, allied to the abstract expressionists and employed by the Museum of Modern Art. I liked New York, and I liked abstract expressionism, and I’d been to MoMA several times. More than that, Frank seemed to be talking just to me. Sure, everyone who reads his poems probably thinks the same thing, but I sensed in his voice the sort of personality that I could easily become friends with. Who needs those Beat Poets with their beards and their sandals and their grimy treks across the continent when this urbane, funny, whimsical precursor to Warhol, who hung around cafeterias and galleries and burger bars, (and station toilets), existed and elicited more or less the same artistic response from the reader?

          It’s been 22 years since I discovered O’Hara and I’ve read almost every textbook, biography and anthology you can think of. Because O’Hara showed me that poetry can be about anything which you want it to be about. There doesn’t have to be something metaphysical or metaphorical about it. Sometimes a poem about eating a sandwich at lunchtime can just be about eating a sandwich at lunchtime. And it can be funny! Who else could end a poem with the words, ‘Lana Turner we love you, get up!’, the poem in question being ‘Lana Turner Has Collapsed’.

          When I first started performing and writing performance poetry fourteen years ago, O’Hara was my reference point. He helped me find my own poetry voice. This would be before I was introduced to the work of people like Ivor Cutler or Salena Godden. It’s probably fair to say that if I hadn’t read O’Hara, then I’d never have taken up spoken word.

There are literary stories which I love. These are usually about writers meeting, and some of these may be so mythological as to not actually have happened at all. One of my favourite stories involves a cab ride shared after a Parisian party by those two giants of the literary scene, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. And apparently, they sat side by side in the cab, completely silent the entire journey, and when they arrived at the first dropping off place, Joyce said, ‘Evening’, and that was it.

          But there’s another literary meeting of world which I enjoy, and this involves Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara. Representatives of the two different schools of poetry, the Beat Generation and the New York School, they apparently did not get along.

          Now this was a shame. It’s like discovering that two of your uncles don’t like each other. I tried to stay neutral in this battle from seventy years ago, but while I liked Kerouac, and while Kerouac was a big part of my formative years, I decided very much to put everything behind Team O’Hara.

          It’s not quite clear how this enmity existed. There have been some who have accused Kerouac of homophobia, though a lot of his friends, and a lot of the content of his work have been concerned with homosexuality and very non-judgementally so for a time that was significantly more conservative in these matters. There have even been some who suggest that Kerouac was simply jealous that Frank could be so open about his sexuality. Others suggest that Kerouac’s antagonism towards O’Hara was because his friend, Gregory Corso, was a big fan of O’Hara’s oeuvre, which made Jack jealous, and Ginsberg was also an admirer.

          Whatever the cause, word has it that at a poetry reading in New York, while O’Hara was reading some of his poems, Kerouac is supposed to have shouted, ‘You’re ruining American poetry!’ To which O’Hara is said to have responded, to much laughter, ‘That’s more than you’ve ever done!’

          I’d love this story to be true. Especially as Kerouac is later meant to have apologised a few months later, by visiting O’Hara’s flat, saying nothing, but typing out an apology on his typewriter. Something along the lines of, ‘Sorry for what I said that time’.

How I would love to have been there. I can imagine Frank afterwards, probably at a party, bitching about Kerouac. He would probably have found it hilarious.

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Blimp – Live in Bristol

You can now download a recording of my gig in Bristol last month. This was an amazing evening at the Wardrobe Theatre in front of a lovely audience.

I did a few old poems, a few new ones, a cover version and a really old poem from when I was about 4!

You can stream the album for free, or download it for a fiver. I hope you enjoy it!

https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/album/blimp-live-in-bristol-2022

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Seven Golden Rules to Enjoy Life, for Pete’s sake.

Some golden rules to start enjoying life, for Pete’s sake.
By Robert Garnham

Being a cheerful, optimistic sort of person, but also a poet, people often ask me for advice to get through the day. So here are my top golden rules which, hopefully, will benefit many of you.

1. No one is ever worth writing a poem for, though every now and then you’ll meet someone who’s worth a limerick, particularly if they come from Chard.

2. It’s easy to get a personalised number plate, according to my friend PUV 621R.

3. A two-day old baguette will stop your car rolling down the street.

4. Hold on to your nostalgia, otherwise you’ll have nothing to be nostalgic about, except possibly for the time you used to be nostalgic about things, so maybe you can be nostalgic about that.

5. Every fear can be overcome. Do it with a smile! (Unless your fear is crushing loneliness).

6. It’s never too late to learn. It’s never too early to forget.

7. Only concentrate on that which requires no thought.

8. You might not mention the elephant in the room, but you can certainly wonder how it got up the stairs and through the door.

9. Look at the mirror every morning and say, ‘I am loved, I am loved’. At least this way you’re prepared for any other claptrap that comes along.

10. Everyone you see or meet or talk to has been born. Even Avril Lavigne. And if you think being born was difficult, try getting a dentist during the weekend.

11. Go on, help yourself to the last cake in life. Living is all about grabbing the last cake. Go on, have it. Enjoy it. The dog licked it.

12. Get up early one morning, when the dew is still on the grass, and go for a walk barefoot in the park. Let me know when you’re doing this so that I can come round and borrow your vacuum cleaner.

13.Do something that excites you every day. Subvert the rules. Turn things on their head. (Naturally it’s best not to attempt this if you’re an airline pilot.)

14. How do we know that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck? Who was the first person to discover this? How many similar things do we do which are good or bad luck without us knowing? Brandishing a vase on a Thursday? Sitting on a pouffe just after lunch? The mind boggles, Mrs Trubshaw, the mind boggles.

15. Give as much joy to the small things in life as you do to the large. Which is why me and my ex split up.

16. If at first you don’t succeed, then maybe catching bullets between your teeth isn’t the job for you.

17. If you don’t think you can get it out, don’t stick it in there in the first place.
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Whimsy in the Woods Episode Nine

Today’s episode comes from the centre of London next to the Science Musuem. Robert reminisces about working in a social history museum and the philosophical questions he would ask about looking at old photos of Victorian rural workers, then performs a poem about someone called Justin Trubshaw.

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Juicy – The Video of the CD!

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of performing at many venues and entertaining audiences. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of these filmed, either as snippets, or the whole show. Collected here are some of those which I didn’t put on YouTube, fearing that to put my best work on social media would leave me with nothing to perform in public.

So here, for a limited time, are the recordings of some of my favourite poems. The audio from these and others appear on my CD, Juicy, which can be ordered here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/juicy

I’d like to thank those who have filmed me including Laura Jury and Danny Pandolfi

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Shakka Lakka Boom Live in Bristol

Here’s a track from my forthcoming live album Blimp. Recorded at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol earlier this month.

You can stream or download Shakka Lakka Boom!

https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/shakka-lakka-boom-2

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Holding out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler Cover Version by Robert Garnham, Bristol, Feb 2022

Had an amazing time at Milk last night in Bristol at the Wardrobe Theatre and I managed to record my set. I was asked to choose a poem to ‘cover’, but instead chose Holding Out for a Hero, the Bonnie Tyler song.

Here it is in all its splendour!

Holding out for a Hero, Robert Garnham
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On the road again! Penzance, Wolverhampton, Bristol

On the road again

For the first time in three years I’ve been on the road again with my comedy performance poetry. Over the pandemic years and lockdown I’d become quite used to my own company and not going anywhere, and it felt like my world had just narrowed down to my flat and the town I live in. Going places and performing no longer seemed the sort of thing that someone like me did.

The last time I had a bit of a tour was in 2019 when I undertook the Hammer and Tongue tour, performing in six different cities over nine days. This time around is less exuberant, three cities over five days, but the logistics of travelling and making connections and getting to places to perform to people I’d never met was still the same.

Indeed, I’d quite forgotten how nervous the logistical side of it can be. The first gig was in Penzance, right at the end of the country. I caught a train to Bodmin Parkway and was then picked up by Rob Barratt, and after our joint show he drove me back to Bodmin Moor, where he lives, and let me sleep in his lounge. Logistically, this was the easy one.

I then came back from Bodmin, and spent the night at my mothers in Brixham, then the next morning caught a bus, a train, a rail replacement bus, another train and then another train, each time stressing about the connections and the timings and the links, in order to get from Brixham in Devon to Wolverhampton. Thankfully, every part of the journey went well, although there was an amusing incident at Newton Abbot where we all got on the rail replacement bus, and were then told to get off the rail replacement bus, and then they said, sorry, our mistake, and we all had to get back on the rail replacement bus.

After the gig in Wolverhampton, I got the train to Birmingham New Street, waited an hour, and then caught the train down to Bristol Temple Meads for gig number three. I arrived here last night around nine, by which time I’d done about ten hours on trains and buses. Thankfully, today is a day off.

But what about the actual gigs? I’ve had an amazing time. Penzance was a joy. I performed with Rob Barratt in our show, The Two Robbies, which we’ve put on all over the UK in recent years. The venue was an arts centre / theatre called The Acorn, with a proper stage and a cabaret seating arrangement. We even had our own green room with kettle, microwave and washing machine. If I’d known, I’d have brought my laundry! Rob was magnificent as ever and the whole evening was warm and friendly. We even had our own photographer supplied by the venue!

The Wolverhampton gig took place in a nightclub, though this was at three in the afternoon. A day of solo shows as part of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival, I was incredibly nervous beforehand, but the audience was a respectable size and my show was greeted very well indeed. By which I mean they laughed at all the good bits and the applause seemed genuine and generous. I was on a high which lasted all the way back to Bristol. I then had the joy of watching Elizabeth McGeown’s new show, Cockroach, which I enjoyed immensely.

Tomorrow night I’ll be performing at the Wardrobe Theatre here in Bristol as part of Milk, but for now I have a day of leisure in Bristol, and I’ll be meeting up with my dear poetry friend Melanie Branton. Tonight, I shall be rehearsing and fine tuning my set for tomorrow.

Seriously, it feels like I’ve hardly stopped moving since Thursday morning, but today should be somewhat less harried!

I just love the life of comedy performance poet.

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Whimsy in the Woods Podcast Episode Three

In today’s episode Robert goes along the beach in Paignton for a walk next to the sea and performs two poems. One of them is about a chap called Bill, who just wants to make some noise. The other is about a man who sees a ghost, ooooo!

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Some short videos that I’ve gone and made

Over the last few weeks I’ve been making videos of some of the short poems that I’ve been writing. Usually little more than a minute long, they give me a chance to have a little fun! I hope you like them.

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A plethora of short poems

I’ve spent the last few weeks making videos of short poems intending to release one a day. But then I thought, why not release the whole lot at once?

So here they are! I hope you like them.

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New Year’s Day Whimsy

Well, I did my annual New Year’s Day special yesterday, from the environs of the room at the back of my mothers garage, as I am staying in Brixham for the new year period. Here it is in all its whimsical glory, I hope you enjoy it!

If you like what I’m doing, feel free to support me right here:

https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

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Flapjacks a-plenty, a story for Christmas, by Robert Garnham

Flapjacks a-plenty

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a cappuccino-flavoured flapjack. I say ‘true love’, he was actually the man upstairs, the one who has a face that could rival the angels and a flat that smelled of beef-flavoured crisps. I must admit there was a certain chemistry whenever he spoke, he would ask about things that had nothing to do with anything, like whether or not I preferred skimmed to semi-skimmed milk, and had I seen the football at the weekend?
I’d not been sure what to make when he had moved in, a couple of months previously. He didn’t look like the sort of person who would have time for anyone else. He drove a souped up car with a big spoiler on the back and whenever he started it up it sounded like a fart in a sewer. And he wore a baseball cap a lot of the time, and not even ironically. I’d phoned up a friend.
‘I think his name is Aaron. Although it could be Adam. It’s hard to tell. Whenever he has friends come over they stand outside my window and shout up at his flat. And you know what people are like, they’re so sloppy with their syllables, sometimes’.
‘Is he good looking, though?’
My friend, Matt, was incredibly shallow.
‘Yes, very much. He has a face that could rival the angels. And blond hair. He’s absolutely gorgeous’.
Yes, Matt was very shallow indeed.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two chocolate coated flapjacks and another cappuccino-flavoured flapjack. Obviously, he didn’t know that he was my true love, yet. Plus I hadn’t eaten the flapjack from the day before, yet.
‘Where are you getting all these flapjacks from?’, I asked him.
We were in the communal entranceway. Tinsel undulated on the heat rising from the radiator.
‘It’s kind of a family tradition’, he replied.
Did I mention that he’s got blonde hair and a winning smile? I’m sure I remembered mentioning the winning smile.
‘But I don’t really like flapjacks’, he added.
‘I’ll have ’em’.
Kind of like a flapjack-orientated advent calendar, I told myself.
‘Right, I’ll see you tomorrow, then’, he said, and off he went, back up the stairs.
I kept the flapjacks in the cupboard in the kitchen, the one that gleams and shines whenever the kettle boils. I’d put a few Christmas decorations around the kitchen, some fairy lights around the microwave and some dangly jovial elves on the mug stand. Yet whenever I opened the kitchen cupboard door and saw the flapjacks there, it made me more festive than any plastic tinsel while at the same time reminding me of my true love with his blond hair and winning smile and his flat that smelled of beef-flavoured crisps.
He was out in the front driveway the next morning, putting rubbish in his bin. He was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts and it must have been about two degrees celsius out there. His manly, yet graceful frame contrasted with the drab surroundings. I almost dropped my cup of tea. Sure enough, there was a knock on my door around ten minutes later and he gave me three bakewell-flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate flavoured flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack.
‘I saw you putting the rubbish out this morning’, I told him.
‘Crisp packets, mostly’, he replied.
And boom, that winning smile.
‘Are you okay with all of these flapjacks?’, he asked. ‘They’ve got a good date on them, so you don’t have to eat them all at once’.
‘No problem. Keep them coming . . . Aaron?’
‘Pardon?’
‘Adam?’
That grin, again.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four plain flapjacks, three Bakewell-flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate flavoured flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack. To be honest it was only the cappuccino flavoured flapjack which appealed to me, which meant I was only going to be getting one a day of the sort that I actually liked, which wasn’t really fair but again I told him to keep them coming.
He went back upstairs to his flat and a short while later I could hear him belching the theme tune to Match of the Day, which, I guess, must have been quite difficult to do.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me five onion rings.
‘Is this some kind of a joke?’, I asked. ‘Where’s my flapjacks?’
‘The post was late this morning’, he replied.
‘My advent calendar picture today was of an advent calendar’.
‘Well’, he said, with that winning smile, ‘How meta is that?’
He went off out in his car a short while after that, baseball cap and big puffy jacket, and off he drove, those big double exhausts blowing raspberries at the cars behind them. I stood in my window next to my fairy lights and I gave out something of a deep sigh.
I don’t need to go on, but suffice to say, a veritable torrent of flapjacks arrived over the next six days sprinkled here and there with a modicum of onion rings. But it was the season of goodwill and in a strange sort of way I wondered if he felt sorry for me. It was great that he wanted to involve me in his annual tradition, what with his blond hair and his winning smile. But onion rings gave me wind, I didn’t have the heart to tell him.
The advent calendar picture that day was of a sneezing unicorn.
I’d start to imagine all kinds of scenarios where we might go out together in his souped-up car, me and my true love. Of course, he’d have to be very patient as I lowered myself down into the passenger seat. I don’t know why the suspension has to be so close to the ground in these things. We’d park in the multi-storey and go to the Christmas market, just the two of us, him in his puffy jacket and baseball cap, and sure, people might think that I was going around with my nephew, but it didn’t matter what they thought. And we’d sip mulled wine and marvel at the wooden carved decorations and the fake snow and the mince pies which were given a shockingly high mark-up just because it was a christmas market. And then he would go back to his car and he would smile and I would smile and he’d put on his CD player and instead of it being DJ J.D. Deejay D and the Angry Muvvas, it would be Bing Crosby singing I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, booming out from his speakers as we slowed down for the speed bump on which his front spoiler might scrape.
And then, subsumed beneath the warmth of sherry and mulled wine, he’d come back to my flat and we’d sit on the sofa and he’d snuggle up next to me and we’d watch late night TV. A festive edition of Police Interceptors, perhaps. With the normal theme tune but someone rattling sleigh bells over it, and superimposed fake snow over the opening titles.
Every day he would come. With his body-hugging plain white t-shirt and his blond hair and his winning smile, wearing shorts even though the heating was on. And I would look forward to it because I knew that every flapjack he delivered was his little way of saying, ‘Yeah, you’re alright, you are’.
I phoned up my friend, Shallow Matt.
‘Why don’t you ask him out?’
‘Yes, but where would we go?’
‘It’s just an expression’.
‘The christmas market? That’s just ridiculous?’
‘I didn’t mention the Christmas market’.
‘No, but you were thinking it’.
‘He went out to his car this morning. I don’t know why, perhaps he was just checking that it was still there. And he kind of ran his long fingers along the bonnet. And I thought, wow, that’s true love, that is.’
‘Do you actually like flapjacks?’, Matt asked.
‘Only the cappuccino ones’.
On Christmas Eve he came down with a box. It contained twelve Wimbledon fancy flapjacks, eleven goji berry flapjacks, ten yoghurt-topped flapjacks, an almond croissant, (I still don’t know how the almond croissant got mixed up in all this), eight caramel flapjacks, seven cherry and oat flapjacks, (‘Aren’t they all oat flapjacks?’, I’d asked), six toffee flapjacks, five onion rings, four plain flapjacks, (‘That’s your oat flapjack’, I said), three Bakewell flavoured flapjacks, two chocolate coated flapjacks and a cappuccino flavoured flapjack.
‘Just pop it down there’, I said.
‘Aren’t you going to invite me in?’, he asked, ‘What with it being Christmas Eve and all that?’
He lingered in the hall. He smiled. He even leaned on the doorpost in what I suppose was an approximation of nonchalance.
‘Come on then’.
He came in. He looked kind of smaller.
‘Do you want something to eat? I’ve just cracked open a Pot Noodle, I can easily get another one on the go’.
‘Go on, you twisted my arm’.
‘It’s good to see you, Aaron’.
‘Adam’.
‘Adam’.
I looked out the window. It was drizzling. The sun had long since disappeared behind the factory that manufactured novelty farting gnomes. (Is there any other kind of farting gnome than a novelty farting gnome?). Our reflections glared back at us from the darkened glass, me and him, my true love, with his winning smile and blond hair and plain white t-shirt and shorts, and me, and we did look kind of good together, it must be said.
‘What was your advent calendar picture today?’, he asked.
‘It was an advert for some cut-price ceiling tiles’, I replied. ‘I think I might get a different advent calendar next year’.
‘Your flat’, he said, ‘smells of flapjacks’.

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Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist – A review of the Hazel Hammond exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol

Exhibition Photo, Image by Vonalina Cake Photography

I first heard about Hazel Hammond about thirteen years ago. I had just started in performance poetry and someone mentioned this artist and poet in Bristol, who did a show in which she invited audience members to write and draw fake tattoos on her body, the idea being that she had a date and needed some tattoos fast. I then went to a gig at the Artizan Coffee Shop in Paignton, Hazel was headlining and her poetry was amazing, life affirming and very human. I became absolutely smitten with her as a poet and as a person.

A short while later I started attending various open mics up and down the country and one of these was Acoustic Night in Bristol. Hazel was there, and we became acquainted and I would stay at her house every now and then when I was visiting Bristol. Amazing company and absolutely devoted to art, she would tell me about her various projects such as Marietta’s Wardrobe in which she created a box containing postcards of the contents of the wardrobe of a lady named Marietta, and a poem to accompany each. Marietta’s Wardrobe was a study of memory, loss and grief and brought a curator’s eye to the keeping of memories. And when I put together my show about tea, which I toured throughout the UK, Hazel knitted a hat for me in the shape of a teapot based on the exact dimensions of my head.

Knitting is one of Hazel’s artistic mediums. She told me about one of her performance art exhibitions in which she knitted herself into a cocoon live on stage. The cocoon was then taken to an arboretum. In such a way, Hazel remains one of the most original artists you are every likely to meet, unafraid to blur the boundaries between disciplines, and poetry was at the heart of this.

I’m 2018, Hazel had a stroke. It was an incredibly anxious time for her friends and admirers. Her friend, fellow poet Andi, used social media to update us on her condition, but you couldn’t help but fear the worst.

During her recovery, Hazel turned to art as therapy, from the models and characters she would create with plasticine, to the exotic finger dancing she would develop when listening to music. But during this time, she found that words had left her. Afflicted with the condition aphasia, Hazel could no longer rely on her mind to deliver the words that she so cherished as a poet. In the film which accompanies her exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, she explained that she shunned the company of poets. I asked her why and she replied, ‘Jealousy’. Poets had their words, and Hazel did not.

The title of the exhibition is ‘Not the Same Poet, But Always an Artist’, which is an apt description of how Hazel’s life has changed in the years following her stroke. The film details her use of art as therapy and the work that she has been doing in the community, using the lessons learned through her own therapy to help other stroke sufferers. In the next room, there are photographs of the knitted hats she has been making which deal with her stroke. One of them is a visual metaphor for the stroke itself, in which one can put one’s fingers as if right down into the centre of someone’s brain. I explained that I found this one a little creepy. She laughed and said, ‘It’s not real, it’s only a sculpture’.

There’s a lot of Hazel’s trademark humour in the exhibition, in spite of the serious message about art which it delivers. Photographs of Hazel wearing her hats are humorous. In one of them, she looks out slyly from behind what she calls her ‘Shouting Hat’, which she wears when she wants to shout because the stroke has left her with a soft voice. Another demonstrates the visual disturbances she suffered, and another is paired with gloves which demonstrate how she uses her fingers and hand gestures to add meaning to her speech.

The exhibition is hugely atmospheric and emotional. The viewer is left truly astounded at how Hazel has overcome such adversity through art, and it is hugely inspirational that she should make the absolute best of such a horrible situation. Hazel has always been an inspiration in any case, and this exhibition cements that feeling.

But what of the poetry? I wanted to ask Hazel if she thought she might write again, but it didn’t seem appropriate to ask. The question is addressed during the film. One of her friends says that perhaps it will come back. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not in the form in which it once existed. But then I thought, this whole exhibition is poetry. It’s the visual manifestation of something which speaks to the viewer emotionally. Hazel has gone beyond mere words and found an even higher form of expression, the likes of which most poets can only dream about.

I heartily recommend this exhibition, and I hope that it tours to other places once the run at the Arnolfini has been completed.

Hazel, photographed by Robert Garnham, Oct. 2021
Robert Garnham wearing Hazel Hammond’s Teapot Hat, 2019
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I Wish I Lived in a Bungalow (A Poem)

I wish I lived in a bungalow

I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.
Mooching round in my bungalow,
Now what shall I have for my tea?
People would call
They’d stand in the hall
They’d look around
And say, ‘Is that all?’
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
I’d go from room to room.
I’d only need one plug you see
When I use the vacuum.
It’s ever so static
I’d feel so ecstatic
And going upstairs
Only leads to the attic
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or possibly a chalet.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
My god it would be such a laugh.
People would visit my bungalow
And ask, ‘Where’s the other half?’
I’d have no cares
I’d ignore their stares
There is no cupboard
Under the stairs
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or perhaps a ground floor flat.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
My bedroom down the hall.
Would I get bored of my bungalow?
No, not a chance, not at all.
It’s what I adore
I’d be thrilled to the core
My plan only has
One major floor
I wish I lived in a bungalow
And be closer to planet earth.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
Imagine the plaudits and glory
Like the Star Wars franchise the place
Only has the one storey.
It’s what I’d do
Without much ado
The downstairs loo
Is just called the loo
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Also, I’m ever so lonely.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
You try it, you can’t go back.
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Perhaps in a cul-de-sac.
It’s made out of brick
I get such a kick
You can keep your stairs
They’re making me sick
I wish I lived in a bungalow
With Darren from the coffee shop.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
It’s something I’ll always regret.
Nothing better than a bungalow,
You can keep your maisonette.
That’s my intent
The hours I’ve spent
It’s one step away
From being a tent.
It wouldn’t be far
You can visit by car
You can come right in
The door is ajar.
I’d make my stamp
Buy a standard lamp
You’ll have to admit
It’s kind of camp
I wish I lived in a bungalow
I wish I lived in a bungalow
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

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All about my new book, ‘Yay!’

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!

You can order a copy of the book here : https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/yay-book

(The book will be accompanied by a new solo show, Yay!: The Search for Happiness, which you can find out more about here : https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/03/21/yay-the-search-for-happiness-2/

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Yay! Videos

I have a new book coming out in May published by those good people at Burning Eye, and with a lack of actual gigs, I’ve been making some videos of the newer poems to get them out into the world. And it must be said, I’ve had a huge amount of fun doing so! There are still a couple more ‘in the can’, as they say, but here are the one’s I’ve released so far. I hope you like them!

Seaside Soul

Shakka Lakka Boom

Dry-Stone Walling

My Mother is Banksy

Instructions for my Funeral

Happy

Seaside Serenade