The A303 isn’t as long as it used to be

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 28: The A303 isn't as long as it used to be.wav” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 28: The A303 isn't as long as it used to be.wav</a></div>

Can you believe I’ve been doing my daily poem podcast for four weeks now? Anyway, here’s episode 28, a poem about the secret history of the road from London to Devon.

I hope you enjoy it!

An interview with Mary Dickins

When I first started performing I would travel up to London every month or so and perform at open mics. This was a great way to meet new people and see other poets. One of the biggest and noisiest nights was Bang Said the Gun, which took place at the Roebuck pub near Borough, and I would go often, sometimes just to sit and watch, and sometimes to perform.

It was at one such evening that I first saw Mary Dickins. I fell in love with her poetry immediately. Joyous, funny, an delivered in a deadpan that added to the comedy. We would later work together making TV adverts for a certain building society, and at one or two corporate events. Mary’s poetry has a joyful playfulness which masks a serious subtext. Well observed descriptions of every day life combine with a true poetic sense of wonder.

Mary’s book, Happiness FM, has just been published by Burning Eye, and I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to interview her.

How did you get into writing poetry?

I have a distinct memory of writing my first poem when I was four. It was a nonsense poem called “The man wrapped up in a Pin” and it rhymed. I was much more excited about it than the rest of my family. Throughout my life I’ve used poetry and creative writing as a therapeutic outlet but I saw it as more of a hobby and I never thought my work was ‘good’ enough for performance or publication until much later.

I’ve seen you loads of times performing on the London spoken word scene. How did you start performing live?
I have always been interested in the performance aspect of poetry and in my professional life was a conference speaker and lecturer but it wasn’t until I was 60 and attended an Arvon course run by Matt Harvey and Kate Fox that I got the confidence and self-belief to give my poetry a try. This led me to do open mic at the brilliant Bang Said the Gun and for the first time I experienced a really noisy and enthusiastic response. I thought that was wonderful and I wanted more.

Who are your influences as a poet and artist?
My influences are many and varied. I was very taken by the Liverpool poets and the irreverent breath of air that they brought to the poetry establishment in the 60s..  I was an early and devoted fan of John Cooper Clark and John Hegley and also poets such as Maya Angelou and Grace Nicholls. I am now an avid reader of all kinds of poetry and I think I probably take a little bit from everyone I like.

Your collection Happiness FM has a bright, upbeat feel. Was this a conscious decision at the start of the project?
I do feel that the best poetry is usually uplifting in some way so I suppose I do aim for that. I guess this evolved as I thought Happiness FM made a good title poem. My daughter Hannah designed the cover around that and together we aimed for an eye catching joyful feel. I was worried about the irony bringing out  a book with this title at a time when the vast majority of people were feeling singularly unhappy then I thought maybe it could bring a little joy into my readers lives.

You have a wonderful knack at finding the eccentric and the odd beneath everyday reality. How did you develop this quirky worldview?
Is it me that’s quirky? I always think it’s everybody else. I think that feeling excluded while growing up (long story) made me into an acute observer and gave me the ability to step back and view reality objectively. Let’s face it there is plenty about the world that is eccentric and odd so there is no shortage of ideas.

Your poetry can also be deeply serious. Do you think it is a poet’s duty to look at the bigger issues in society and life?
I’m not sure about the word ‘duty’ as this rather saps the enjoyment out of it. Poets describe and interpret the world around them and also chronicle the times they live in so the bigger issues are pretty hard for any of us to avoid. Exploring identity, for example, inevitably leads to us to examine and challenge existing values and systems. Poetry can be a powerful tool for change and personally I do like my poems to contain some kind of social comment however oblique. I think anyone with a public platform has a responsibility to try to make the world a better place and that includes poets. I want the poets I admire to have integrity and be truthful. But they should be allowed to express themselves as they choose.

What is your writing process? Do you have a specific time and place for writing?
I’ve never been very good at keeping to a self-imposed writing schedule although I can be disciplined and dogged if the situation calls for it. A lot of my writing takes place in my head and I find that 2am in the morning is the time when random ideas and solutions suddenly emerge. This means that the kitchen table is often littered with strange and obscure post it notes to self in the morning.  I find poetry courses and writing groups very useful as they give you homework deadlines and a reason to persevere.

What was your best ever gig as a performer?
It has to be when I won the Golden Gun at Bang Said the Gun a few years ago. I performed a somewhat blasphemous poem called “The Richard Dawkins Delusion by God” and Andrew Motion who was Poet Laureate at the time and also performing said how much he liked it. I floated home on the tube that night.

What are you working on at the moment or what will your next project be?
Well this is the rub. At the moment my biggest challenge as someone in a vulnerable category for Coronavirus is how to maintain a poetry presence and promote the book. Luckily there are online opportunities at the moment and I hope these continue as there are a few of us who might be stranded if they don’t. I have a number of new poems up my sleeve so I am looking towards the next collection.

What advice would you give someone who would like to follow on your footsteps and be a poet and a performer?
Don’t wait as long as I did but at the same time it’s never too late to start.

New York Poems

Going through my archives, I’ve found the poems I wrote while I was in New York a couple of years ago. Most of them were written in coffee shops or diners, though one was scribbled in the Museum of Modern Art, and another was written in the Museum of Native Americans.

New York 1.
They say that Manhattan is a state of mind
But I’ve looked on the map
And it’s definitely there.

It doesn’t stop,
Not even in the dead of night,
The rumbling, the growl,
No wonder they look so angry.

I went into Starbucks at five in the morning
And there was already a queue.

Shuffling jittery city dwellers,
The insomniacs and the early risers,
The boy who cannot sleep in
The city that never sleeps,
Nothing more offputting than a
Mardy pre-caffeine New Yorker.

Don’t take coffee, I take
Well actually I do take coffee,
Thanks for asking,
And maybe one of those tarts.
I’m English, you know.

Sitting in the window and watching
The cyclists,
Weaving, open-mouthed.
Stop lights mean nothing to them,
Life seems so tentative,
These two-wheeled mosquitoes,
How many of them end up
Plastered on the front of those
Big-assed delivery trucks that you see,
Or some nobhead’s Humvee?

I thought the barista was only being nice
When he asked me for my name.
He repeated it with a smile, all
Rhotic on the consonants,
Elongating the vowels in a way
They don’t normally get pronounced,
Making my heart all fluttery
Until I notice he’d written it on my cup.

It’s the familiar things
That make me feel at home.
Crushing disappointment,
And the fact that they
Also have McDonalds over here.

New York 2

I need one with a shot of espresso.
You’re the newbie, you’ll need this.
There’s a whole bunch of confidence there.
She never told anyone
But she likes attention.
She’s like that with every guy, trust me.
And then she can cut him out, say uh-oh,
It’s like oh, it’s bad, she’ll go far,
She got green locker room doors,
She won’t try to apologise.
I don’t have an issue with her.
Every time I told her she gave me the one two.
I used to consider you a friend
And I was your friend whatever.

(Found poem, three NYPD police women chatting in a coffee shop at the next table).

New York 3

The way he’s sitting
And what he’s wearing
And his hair
Those are the definites.
His sensitive eyes
His long eyelashes and the
Way he just looked
At that jogger,
Those are the peripheries.
And the hoodie,
American Dance Theatre,
Alvin Ailey,
Whatever that is.
(I will google it later).
It’s all mostly symbolic
I feel
I know him.

New York 4.

She took my hand and danced with me
Amid the noise and clamour and cacophony
Of Times Square
As the skyscrapers whirled in their
Concrete and glass delirium,
She yelled
Above the engines and the horns and the
Shouting and the hooters and the sirens and the roar
And the buzz and the energy and the excitement
And the rush and the glee and the pulsing rhythms
Of the city in all its brash omnipotence,
I thought you were my husband.

New York 5.

(Amid the Abstract Expressionists, MoMa)

He, who isn’t here
Would have haunted these
Very pictures,
Broken nose to canvas
And a ready opinion.
Losing himself
In the Pollock
And it’s intricate action,
Felt a spark of the very now,
And would have known everyone
On first name terms.
Jasper. Jackson. Elaine. Robert. Mark.
The boy with the red trainers,
A sly flitting nonchalant phantom
Who will blond my dreams
With his purposeful demeanour
Right now here and
F would have approved.

New York 6.

I’ve only got one joke about denim.
A one liner about crinoline.
I’ve only got a couple of puns about nylon
And a quip about silk
I’ve run out of material.

New York 7.
(Written in Tom’s Diner)

I wasn’t sitting near the window.
I was at the counter.
But it was still the diner on the corner
And the burger was mighty fine
On a drizzly Manhattan Saturday.
And there’s a ball game on the tv screen,
Notre Dame are playing NC State
And I’m not sure what the sport is
But they’ve all got helmets and shoulder pads.
There’s a picture from a magazine
Of Jerry Seinfeld on the wall and he’s
Kind of looking at me imperiously
As I eat my burger which,
As I said, is mighty fine.
I’ve got that tune in my head now,
You know the one.
The Seinfeld tv theme music.
I probably wouldn’t have come here
If it wasn’t for, you know,
These two things.

New York 8.

The Staten Island ferry
Everyone is merry
They’re all waving at me!
Am I a celebrity?
Have I been recognised?
Am I famous here?
No, they’re
Wiping mist from the windows
Of the inside seating area.
I’m depressed now.

New York 9.

She purred
Hold on there, honey,
I’ll just put you through
On to line number three.
There was barely a click.
No static.
She’s such a
Smooth operator.

New York 10.

I want to go out with Rhys.
I want to have a date with Rhys.
I want to spend quality time with Rhys.
I want to get to know Rhys.
I want to be with Rhys.
I want to make out with Rhys
I want to express my love for Rhys
I want to have relations with Rhys
I want to be at peace
With Rhys.
I say to Rhys
Please please please
Rhys Rhys Rhys
Come on
Don’t be a tease
Put me at my ease
I haven’t got flees
You are the bees
What do you say?
What of it, Rhys what of it, Rhys what do you reckon?
You and me Rhys please Rhys what do you think Rhys
Me and you Rhys you and me Rhys us together Rhys
Us together Rhys us together Rhys us us us
Together together together
Rhysie babes.
Oh dear!
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Rhys has gone walking off.
Has called the police.

New York 11.

The big pancake. The big muffin.
The big nausea. The big nothing.
The broad one. The tall one.
The big fella. The concrete devotional.
The prostrate giant. The cosmopolitan.
The metropolitan. The big breakfast.
The all day lunch. The concrete funnel.
The distorted mirror. The seismic cherry.
The license to chill. The delicatessen.
The bad boy. The big bad boy,
Cavernous potholes so deep you’ll
Lose yourself for a week.
The big dependable. The three-way delicious.
The exuberant fruit. The hungry papa.
The pumping beehive. The big badger.
The big glacial. The big crazy.
The big security. The big despicable.
The big beat. The big Apple.

New York 12.

No ghost dance
On these gentle hills
Nor ceremonial gatherings
On the granite outcrops,
Central Park no wilderness,
Just the whisper of
Other people’s conquests
Too rooted in the now
To wander successfully.

I want to be a Stobart lorry driver

I want to be a Stobart lorry driver.
I’d be able to back it in to any space.
I’d operate the clutch
Like nobody’s business,
Just waiting till deliver my load.

I’ve got a spare seat in my cab
In case I decide to bring a mate.
We’d park up in Gordano services
And play Top Trumps
Who’s got the biggest one?
Hanging round outside the toilets
Playing with the change in my pocket.

I want to be a Stobart lorry driver
My trailer full of Kit Kat’s and mayonnaise
Gritting my teeth in traffic jams
Like a constipated Smurf
Peeing in to an empty Lucozade bottle.

I want to be a Stobart lorry driver
With my aching buttocks
Phoning the missus on speakerphone
Hurling abuse against a wanker in an Audi
Sorry love, that wasn’t aimed at you.
Hello? Hello? hello?

The new fridge freezer is suspiciously quiet

This is a poem that’s been around for about 12 years. There’s even a music version of it somewhere made by Solomon Doornails.

I hope you like it!

For goodness sake, where is my train?

Well I’ll just stand here like a lemon,
Then, shall I?
Where’s that train you promised me?
I’d really like to be on it.
I got places I need to get to
And here is not one of them.

Any old train will do.
Any old duffer chuffer diesel puffer.
Any old sad sack terribly slack
Single track clickerty clack.
Send a choo choo through
Without much Ado!
Where’s my train?

I know it’s in your jurisdiction.
It’s really not an imposition.
Your timetable should win the booker prize
Because it’s a work of fiction.
Just send a train!

I won’t name and shame your company.
But your trains head west
And your website calls you great
And the info screen says you’re late
So that means you’re great and western
And a railway.
You’re Great Western Railway.

I phoned the customer helpline.
They said, what’s your log in details?
What’s your ticket type?
Now dance for us, fat boy, dance for us.
Bark like a dog!
Woof! Woof! Woof!
A-ha ha ha ha!
(These calls may be recorded
For training purposes).

Trains that are meant to be in
After my train
Are arriving before it.
How is that even possible?
Did they fly over the top of my train?
Are they magic trains?
Zig zagging through the air like
Drunken Dragons?
I whistle, kick my heels,
I sip my bottled water,
You know, like they do in films.

Is there a fault on the train,
Are there operational difficulties?
Has the buffet car run out of casseroles?
Is there a weasel on the line?
Is there some pervy bloke pleasuring himself in the vestibule?
Or has the drivers head exploded
Because he’s been reading Will Self again?
Has the train manager got struck by lightning?
Mind you, he’s a conductor.
Whatever it is, you’re keeping it to yourself,
Just like you’ve done with the train,
The one that should be here.
But hey, stiff upper lip and all that.

I thought I heard it approaching,
But it was a chaffinch.

Ohhhhhh why me?
I just want my train.
It’s driving me insane.
I’ll change my life
I’ll never be the same again.
I’ll be nicer kinder ever so emotive
Just send along that locomotive.
Where oh where oh where’s
The train?

Here it comes now!
Looks kind of like
A drunken hippopotamus
Shuffle shuffle
Shuffle shuffle
Take your time, love.

Scooby Doo – The Later Years

Today’s daily poem podcast imagines the later years of Fred from Scooby Doo.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 13 : Scooby Doo – The Later Years” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 13 : Scooby Doo – The Later Years</a></div>

Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with the Dalai Lama

I was playing Hungry Hungry Hippos
With the Dalai Lama.
He kept distracting me,
Manually manipulating the plastic balls
Out into the gaping hippo mouth.
His gaping hippo.
The red one.
What a wanker.

The cheap plastic rattles
With frenetic energy.
He’s winning.
He’s obliterating me.
The hunger to win
Comes from within,
He said.
And desire without hunger is meaningless.
And you are going down, my son,
You are going down!

His hands a blur,
His lightning reflexes,
Nimble and quick and precise,
And me?
I shouldn’t have had that
Sausage and egg mcmuffin.
I shouldn’t have had that
Chicken mayonnaise bap.
I shouldn’t have had that

Before the game had even started
He’s turned on the table lamp,
The ceiling light, the bedside lamp,
The fluorescent bulb in the kitchen,
He’s turned them all on.
It’s all about enlightenment, he’d said.

He’s winning, the bastard is winning!
Yet still he gets a rockhopper penguin
To stand there and fart
Trying to put me off.
Farting penguin farting penguin
Pungent pungent
Farting penguin,
Geez, that’s rife!

Perhaps he’s not the Dalai Lama at all.
Perhaps he’s called Steve.
But no one called Steve
Can play the way he plays.
He’s a Hungry Hungry Hippo virtuoso,
He lights up the room,
The plastic balls zoom,
Tick, tick, tick, tick, boom!

Oh for goodness sake
Now he’s playing one handed,
The little plastic balls
Drawn to the gaping mouth of his
Cartoon hippo
With an eerie inexorability.
Jesus Christ!
He yells.
I mean, Buddha.

He’s not aiming at all,
There’s no strategy,
He’s just going for it,
But it’s working,
Even the farting penguin is smirking,
And me?

I can feel the hope draining,
My fingers are straining,
There’s four balls remaining,
Three now, the tosser
Has got another one,
This long show ceased to be fun,
I can feel every part of me
Starting to come undone
And now of all those balls,
There’s only one.

But he wants it,
The Dalai Lama wants it,
He clicks his fingers and in lumber
Four giant pandas,
Who lift up the table at his end,
And tilt
The last ball,
Straight into the gaping mouth of his
Hungry Hungry Hungry Hungry
Hungry Hungry Hippo.

Next week
Next week
Next week
I’m playing Connect Four
With the Pope.

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”; title=”Daily Poem 16 : Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos With the Dalai Lama.wav” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 16 : Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos With the Dalai Lama.wav</a></div>

A plea to the bees who keep flying through my window

There’s so much I’d get done today
My life would be so at ease
If it wasn’t for stopping every ten damn minutes
To rescue errant bees.

I sit at my desk and I start a chore
It’s the sort of thing I often does
But just as I’m really getting into it,
That’s when I hear that buzz.

It’s the hottest day of summer and the window is open
It’s cranking up to thirty degrees
And all I want to do is work unheeded
Which I can’t do with all these damn bees.

They say that they’re brainy and ever so bright
From all the flying they do about
They manage to get in to my flat so well
So why the hell cant they just fly back out?

Have they just forgotten in ten seconds flat
The route that they took to get in?
Banging on the window so angrily
It’s starting to make my head spin.

It’s there! Just look! I left it open!
All you’ve got to do is see!
You pollinate the flowers as part of a hive
Or are you a particularly stupid bee?

Glass has been in buildings now for five hundred years
Yet it seems a foreign concept to you.
I suppose in the colony in which you operate
You don’t have anything that’s see through.

So you bang in the glass and that just makes you angry
While I flap on a ladder with the paper.
If you were a humble bee secret agent
Then you’re really not much of an escaper.

I’ve got lots to do today, I haven’t got the time
Just one false move and I’ll get stung.
I try to be patient to the animal kingdom
But you really are a pain in the bum.