Perpendicular: My new podcast

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a podcast and it’s now ready to be unleashed on the world. Each episode is a purpose written piece featuring all kinds of whimsy. I’m hoping to release one a week but to get things going, here are two episodes.

I hope you enjoy them!

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/perpendicular-1/s-MqMu2

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/perpendicular-episode-two-elvis-impersonator-newton-abbot-station/s-MBqnS

Menage a Trois

Poem

I was asked to be part of a
Ménage a trois.
I had to look it up.
I thought it was a type of meringue,
No wonder they looked at me weird
When I asked to bring my egg whisk.

It was all very exciting.
It certainly beats me normal love life
Of a ménage a one.
And it’s not even a ménage,
It’s a maisonette.

Oh, Steve, said Andy.
Oh, Andy, said Steve.
I’m here too, I said.
I’m your lion, said Andy,
Hear me roar.
I’m your tiger, said Steve,
He’s me roar.
And I’m a chicken, I said,
Bakuuuuurrrrp!
Nobody said anything.

The most exciting thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that I could tell people
I was in a ménage a trois.
The worst thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that when I put it on Facebook
Autocorrect changed it to
Milton Keynes.

This is so fun.
This is so hip.
Let me know
If you need a whip.
To be honest right now
I could do with a kip.

It’s all about experimentation.
I’ll put my hand to anything.
The slimy sweetness of sensual skin
In the gap between their bodies
My fingers exploring the depths
Of that fleshy canyon
Trying to find the Malteaser I dropped.

Sing to me, Steve, says Andy.
Sing to me, Andy, says Steve,
And I replied,
I can sing too!
‘There is
A house
In New Orleans.
It’s caaalllleeed
The riiiiising son!. .’.
That’s not what you meant, was it?

There was something amiss about the night.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I felt left out.
It was less a ménage a trois
And more a ménage a
Whatever the French for two and a half is.
Why did they even invite me?
What do I get out of this?
Why did they make me wear a
Giant panda onesie?
It’s just not fair, chaps,
It’s just not fair.

Steve, you look like a potato.
Andy, sex with you would be just like
Folding up an ironing board .
Abracadabra.
Rhododendron.
That’s it,
I’m off.

Eccentricity, and Ivor Cutler

I’d been performing for a few years as a spoken word artist, oblivious to those who had come before. And I must admit, wilfully obvious. The only big names I knew, with the exception of Pam Ayres, were those who I’d seen at gigs where I was also performing. The reason that I was oblivious was because I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else. I knew that once I saw poets I liked, I would start to emulate them, look at what they were doing and try it for myself, like seeing someone in a fashionable hat and thinking hmmm, I wonder if that would suit me? And sure enough, this happened. I would see poets and spoken word artists reduce a room to fits of laughter, or stunned, awed silence, and I would then look at what they’d done and try to analyse it. I became a spoken word nerd. A spoken nerd,

But this knowledge was only good for those who were active at the present time. And one day, after a gig, someone asked me if I’d heard of Ivor Cutler. They said that they’d seen parallels between my own oeuvre and that of Mr Cutler. No, I hadn’t heard of him, but that night, unable to sleep due to the pumping adrenaline of having just performed at an open mic in Brixham, I went on YouTube and iTunes and knocked myself out on anything I could find of his work. Needless to say, it immediately appealed, but much more, and in a very strange sort of way, Ivor reminded me of my grandad. Not only was there a physical resemblance, but the humour, which almost sways into surrealism yet always stays grounded in truth and the human experience. I was immediately hooked.

This all happened close to ten years ago, now. My other poetry hero at the time, and major influence, was Frank O’Hara. But now it seemed I had two poets whose works I could memorise much easier than my own, two outlooks on life which I could also adopt, two poets who I can ask, as I sit down to write or stand up to perform, what would they do?

Ivor Cutler’s eccentricity seems to be something lacking these days. I go to plenty of spoken word events where the performer wants to be cool, to be liked, to get a message across, to make people laugh while still retaining the veneer of ironic and knowing cool, yet nobody seems to be genuinely eccentric. Or if they are eccentric, then this is not something which then carries over into their everyday life. Sure, I might aim for eccentricity myself, but I don’t wear the pink feather boa while going about my daily chores, and the eccentricity stops the moment I’m in a supermarket queue or on a bus. But with Mr Cutler, his whole life seemed a performance, wearing his distinctive hats while cycling, or handing out stickers with mottos on them. His genuine mission seemed to be to spread joy all the time, while basking in his own personality of glum duty. The best YouTube videos, incidentally, are those in which his mask slips and he gets an attack of the giggles during a poem.

Ivor was influenced by many factors. His Scottish upbringing, while exaggerated for comic effect, and his Jewish roots assured him the status of an outsider. The communal songs of his childhood and his appreciation of folk music formed a love of music and singing. His job as a teacher gave him the ability to talk to people, and children, at their level without pontificating. Ad as a result all of these influences combined to create a very distinctive act.

The world is a scary place. Life is meaningless. There are people who spend their time adding to the stresses and inconveniences of others. And there are people, just a few here and there, who aim to add a little colour along the way. Artists and singers, poets and writers, comedians, all of which Ivor was certainly was. Yet there was a certain underlying tenderness and love of life to many of his works which certainly stands as an example to those who are struggling to make sense of the modern world. Mr Cutler certainly remains, and increases, as a personal inspiration, and I would recommend his work to anyone.

Nineteen (count them, nineteen!) short poems about Shire horses.

1. An uneasy sleep.

Up until recently I’d been
Immune to the sublimity
Of shire horses.
But last night I woke,
In a hot sweat,
Feverish,
Palpitations,
Images of these stately beasts
Imprinted on my brain.

2. Just calm down.

Heavy shouldered
Hoof tuft
Olde worlde hurly burly
Heft load luggers
Proud in tandem harness
Across deep ploughed furrows,
Somber yet somehow humble,
Nothing stirs the heart more
Than the sight of a shire horse
In full flow.

I bent over and I whispered
To Agnes,
Look at their rippling flanks!
Their mesmerising rumps!
And she said,
If you don’t mind I shall
Go and eat my luncheon
Elsewhere.

3. Make a living, the shire horse way.

They work, shire horses.
They work for a living.
They work work work work work.
Trudging and pulling heavy loads
And tugging and pulling and trudging
And pulling and tugging and trudging
And doing paperwork and things
Only with more trudging.
Jeff trained one to make
Sandwiches, rolls, cobs,
Baps, wraps, paninis
Only with more trudging involved
Than the average person whose job it is
To make sandwiches, rolls, cobs,
Baps, wraps, paninis.

4. But what are they really thinking, daddy?

Flared nostrils
As if permanently disgusted,
But they get on with it anyway,
Stoic beasts, the shire horse.

5. Memories of a suburban upbringing.

When I was a kid
Every year the school trip
Used to be to the bloody bleeding
God-arse awful boring
Shire Horse Heritage Centre.
And then I joined the scouts
And we had a trip to the
Shire Horse Heritage Centre.
And then my aunt came over from
Canada
And we went on a day out to the
Shire Horse Heritage Centre
And then a friend had a birthday
And as a treat we went to the
Shire Horse Heritage Centre
And yet when I informed my parents
That if should be called the
Shite Horse Heritage Centre,
Bizarrely,
It was me who was reprimanded.

6. The competition.

Every year the Shire Horse Heritage Centre
Took on the
Cart Horse Heritage Centre
In an impromptu game of curling.
And as the stone granite boulders
Slid along the ice,
They’d say, shire horses are better,
And the opposition would say,
Cart horses are better,
Shire horses
Cart horses
Shire horses
Cart horses
And it was all good natured and fun until
Aaron from accounts
Let off a fire extinguisher yelling
Cart horse Fart Horse!
And Debs from advertising would
Smash a window and yell,
Shire Horse Shite Horse!
And it all descended
Into ugly violence.

7. I’m not immune to failure.

I went to a poetry slam and the poets were brilliant and did poems about family, relations, drug addition, sexual abuse, the history of black culture from slavery to the present day, social issues, homelessness, countering the rise of the political right, immigration, and the trials and tribulations of being a youth in the twenty first century, and then I went up and did a poem about shire horses and I didn’t even get out of the first round.

8. Looming in the office.

My chiropodist had a shire Horse.
At the bottom of each left it had a tuft.
Now it’s dead but you can see it in her office
Because she’s had it stuffed.

9. General dimensions.

They’re taller
Than regular horse.
Shire horses,
Higher horses.

10. A Parisian misadventure.

The French avant gard,
Jean Jacques Coat,
Trained a shire Horse
In the art of mime.

It used to stand still
And not move a muscle
And not say a word.

And Jean Jacques would explain,
Now it’s impersonating a donkey,
Now it’s impersonating a zebra,
Now it’s impersonating a mule,
Now it’s impersonating a regular horse.

11. A general appreciation of shire horses.

You’re not a car
So you don’t get a flat tire,
Horse.
You don’t speak,
So you’d never be called a liar,
Horse.
You’re not in a circus
Performing on a tight wire,
Horse.
You’re not an actor,
So you’ve never worked with
Danny Dyer, horse.
You don’t do laundry,
So you’re not a tumble dryer
Horse.
You’re not near a naked flame
So you’re not on fire,
Horse.
You’re a shire horse.

12. Breeds of heavy working horse.

Shire.
Percheron.
Belgian.
Diligent.
Clydesdale.
Oldenburg.
Cleveland Bay.
Hackney.
Vintage.
Flopper.
Clippity hopper.
Honker.
Clippity honker.
Progressive honker.
Belgian honker.
Devonian crisp.
Beard poker.
Fat stick.
Unspoked clapper.
Subliminal pencil.
Polly.

And where might I purchase any of the above?
Any reputable dealer of cart, shire and working horse.

13. Height.

According to the website
The average shire horse
Is seventeen hands high.
Now I need to find out
The size of the average hand.
The lady in Morrisons said
They mostly sell Large size marigold
Washing up gloves.
But I didn’t have my tape measure.

14. Meanwhile.

Backpack Sam’s the flapjack man
He likes to eat them where he can
He eats them on the bus and gloats,
‘This is how I get my oats’,
Which is also what shire horses eat.

15. Icelandic interlude.

Shape shifting shire horse
Tireless worker beserker.
Norse legend.
Horse legend.

16. Advertisement poem with a very funny last line which will appeal deeply to those in the shire Horse community.

Have you seen those shire horses?
Those shy shire horses?
Those sly shy shire horses?
Those sly shy give it a try
Come and see them before you die
Why oh why not drop on by
And try a shire horse?
Come down to the
Shire Horse Heritage Centre
And you’ll see loads!

17. Repetition of the word ‘shire horses’
(To be performed while pouring custard over ones head)

Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses

18. The time of the shire horse is gone.

And in the time of the shire horse there
Would be shire horses aplenty,
And they would work and trudge
And trudge and work
And all that was holy
Could be found in the shire horse
And all that was sacred
Could be found in the shire horse
And all that was good for the garden
Could be found in the shire horse.

And the rustic sun would set
Over rustic rainbows rustic barns and
Rustic hedgerows
And the rustic shire horse
Would keep on working
And wheelbarrows left out in the rain
Would go rustic
And there wasn’t a
Youtuber in sight.

And the annual final of Strictly Come Dancing
Would invariably we won by a shire horse
Because they were so fucking talented
And farmers would lean on gates
And suck on straw and opine
That shire horses were totes amazeballs.

And people just got on with things
Even when their arms dropped off
Or their cowsheds fell down
And the ploughman was king
And nobody ever wondered what
Barn owls were called
Before there were barns.

And there would be
Shire horses in the barns
And shire horses in the cottages
And shire horses in the dairies
And shire horses in the kitchen
And shire horses in the municipal swimming baths
And shire horses
In the shire horse Heritage Centre.

And then some bastard
Invented the tractor
And people said how wonderful tractors were
Because they didn’t
Poo everywhere like shire horses did
And you could see the really sad look
In the shire horses eyes
Because he knew that it was the end.
Such a long face.

And the sun began to set
And everything went pear shaped
And they built the M25
And shire horses weren’t even allowed
In the slow lane
And I took the hand of the man I loved
And I whispered,
Be a shire horse
Just for me
And he went downstairs and just
Stood in the back garden
Looking really sad.

19. Finis.

And I slept
Really well.

Poem

You’ve got a cuckoo in the kitchen
Got a cuckoo at the cooker
You’ve got a cuckoo cooking cookies
Kindly keep some cookies for me
You’ve got a cuckoo cooking cookies
Out of coco going cuckoo
You’ve got a cockney cuckoo cooking
With a cock eyed cookie cutter
You’ve got a cuckoo cookie cooking cuckoo
My god it’s such a coup
That the cockney cuckoo cookie cooker
Is not a cockatoo

I Know what People Are Thinking When They See Me

I know what people are thinking when they see me. I know what theyre thinking, they’re thinking, now then a man with a smug demeanour. There’s a man who’s not in it for the money.

There’s a man who forsakes the capitalist system and does not perform poetry for personal monetary gain.

Well let me tell you, I got books for sale.

I tried to write a poem about an old photocopier last night. It just wouldn’t scan.

I don’t need contraception. Poetry is my contraception. My poetry has helped me not sleep with more people than you can imagine.

People tend to know instinctively that I am a poet. How so they know this? Is it the jacket? Is it the book of poetry? Or is it that I arrive at gigs alone?

Yet I don’t feel like a poet. My rhyming couplets have all split up. My found poems were hidden for a reason. Nobody has hung around long enough to tell me what my rhyme scheme is.

So, what is poetry? Percy Bysshe Shelley said that poets are the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’. I suppose the ‘acknowledged legislators ‘ would be governments and town councils.

To be honest, I don’t think it would work. Have you ever seen a group of poets trying to solve a planning dispute?

I suppose it depends if they work in rhyme or blank verse.

Well, I think we’ll put the school next to the pool. And perhaps also the church hall.

The shopping centre. Hmmm, can’t think of where to put the shopping centre. I know! Let’s call it a mall, and then it can go with the school and the pool and the church hall!

The library. Hmm, has this town got an aviary?

The food waste refuse anaerobic digestion chamber . . . What the hell?

Mind you, judging by the high street in Swindon, it looks like the surrealists have already been at work.

So I’m a poet, and I get all kinds of weird commissions. Sometimes I think that my career is going nowhere. Sometimes I don’t.

I’ve recently been working as a Poet in Residence at a paper clip factory. It really is stationery.

I was supposed to do a workshop for a fear of commitment support group, but nobody put their name down.

The other night I was double booked, I was also meant to be at a gig for a group of amnesiacs. So what I’ll do is I’ll go along next week and remind them how good I was.

I’m actually looking for ways out into other lines of work and I think I’ve come up with a winner. I’ve decided to start up assertiveness training courses.

Because if it doesn’t work, nobody’s going to ask for a refund. They won’t be brave enough.

And if anyone does ask for a refund . . .
I can just say, well. There you go.

But poetry for me is a lot like sex. When it’s good, it’s very, very good and you wish it would never stop.

And when it’s bad, it’s just plain embarrassing. Although I do get roughly the same number of laughs.

The thing I like best about poetry is that it’s not all about profit and personal gain, it’s not a hugely capitalist enterprise, people aren’t in it to make a quick buck. And by the way, I’ve got books for sale.

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

I don’t know what’s happening with spoken word in Torbay at the moment, but there seems to be a remarkable increase in energy and interest which is quite thrilling to see. This last month, both Stanza Extravaganza and Big Poetry, the two spoken word nights in Torquay, were standing room only and sold out. Both had audiences that were bigger than the actual venues, which is certainly a nice problem to have.

I was chatting with Brenda Hutchings as she gave me a lift home, and she was of the opinion that spoken word audiences in Torbay now see it as normal that they should come to such a night and expect comedy poetry. I believe she’s right, and that this is a local thing, a peculiar speciality just of the Torbay scene. Audience members in Bristol, London, even Exeter, do not automatically expect that what they are about to see will necessarily make them laugh, and that if this happens, then it’s just a bonus. However, Torbay’s audiences expect to be entertained and to have a laugh. This is not to say that serious poetry and serious issues are not tolerated. Indeed, serious content is magnified by such expectations. Witness, for example, the rapturous response to Melanie Crump’s poem about women’s rights and empowerment.

Not only do there seem to be a lot of comedic poets in Torbay, but they are diverse and funny in their own unique way. Melanie Crump and Brenda Hutchings can both be hilariously funny and also deeply serious and emotional. Steve O uses props for incredible effect, Tom Austin uses props and costumes, Joanna Hatfull uses rhyme and storytelling, Shelley Szender explores her material in a relaxed and relatable manner. Both myself and Samantha Boarer, my co host at Big Poetry, look at life and relationships and erotic issues within our work juxtaposing the everyday with the downright filthy.

Part of the success of the local comedy poetry scene is the curating policy of Big Poetry. Each night is put together with one eye on the holistic effect of so many diverse performers, but a big philosophy of the night is to include comedy poets. As well as the local Torbay performers, we invite the funniest poets from Exeter and Plymouth, Totnes and further afield, such as Julie Mullen, Ross Bryant and Jackie Juno, and they become as much a part of Big Poetry as the venue itself. Each has their own loyal following.

I’ve written before of the perculiar nature of the local scene. The poetry nights at the Blue Walnut started almost ten years ago and the emphasis was always on experimentation and comedy, thanks to performers such as Chris Brooks, Bryce Dumont, and the previously mentioned Tom Austin, who would push the performance envelope and be as downright weird as they possibly could be. It was this atmosphere that attracted me to performance and it was with these people that I crafted my own act and stage persona. I can think of nowhere else in the country where these elements hold sway in such a tight geographical location.

We are also very lucky to have some fine poets whose styles are so different and diverse as to add a singular touch to any evening, such as Becky Nuttall, who does an enormous amount for the local art and spoken word scene, and Jason Disley, whose jazz influenced beat poetry is utterly unique. Jason has just started running a new night in Paignton called Speaky Blinders, which is also going from strength to strength and is imbued with the whole Torbay ethos of spoken word as fun. Becky is working hard on various projects bringing art and poetry together, while also running the Stanza Extravaganza poetry nights at the Artizan Gallery.

It’s a thriving scene down here in Torbay, and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it. Our audiences are amazing and without them and their encouragement, the scene would not be quite as vibrant as it is.

One year as a semi professional spoken word artist

So it’s been almost a year now since I went semi professional and things are going well. I’ve done some amazing things and had some great opportunities, and I’ve glimpsed what it’s like to be a professional self employed artist, and how tentative the financial side of things can be. I feel like I’ve never worked harder. Every decision has to be made with a financial head rather than the usual emotional impulse to do something, whatever the consequences. The admin has taken over my life, in that there are days when I spend hours on end just filling in forms and understanding how things work.

All of this has left me with a deep admiration for those who are full time self employed creatives. We only seem to celebrate them when things go well, when they win big commissions or competitions, when they appear on Britain’s Got Talent and amaze the audience, or win poetry slams, or get parts in plays and films. What we don’t see is the frantic administration behind the scenes, the hours of self doubt and the incredible practice and industry these people put in to get something back.

For me, the result of being self employed is the idea that I have to choose my projects carefully. Every now and then something comes along which I really want to do, but I have to weigh up whether or not if will be a good use of my resources and money. I can no longer flit to a gig the other side of the country just to do an open mic slot like I used to in the old days, because if I did then I wouldn’t have enough money for the rest of the month. However, if I could combine it with another project which makes it financially viable, then I would.

One of the most surprising aspects of being self employed is the fact that I get commissions every now and then. I’ve written bespoke poems for people, for weddings and anniversaries, christening and parties. This week I had a commission and while I was in the shower, some great rhymes came. I went to my desk and spent an hour carefully crafting a poem in memory of someone’s grandmother and was just about to send it to them when I checked the original email. I’d got the name wrong. The real name didn’t even rhyme with anything I’d written. Looking back now, iT was rather comical.

So over the last year I have put together a brand new show with all new material, and taken myself out of my comfort zone with storytelling, serious material and a one hundred percent polyester ringmaster outfit, and then toured it around the UK. I’ve hired small theatres and venues and put together the gigs myself. I’ve taken over a regular spoken word night in Torquay. I’ve become the editor of a comedy online journal, and I’ve been employed as the social media manager for a more serious poetry magazine. It’s been quite a year.

So of course, I’m still semi employed. I still have a job for most of the week, which is where I’m off to now. But the progress I’ve made over the last year fills me with hope, all I need now is to build on what I’ve done, and who knows, there’ll be no stopping me!

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day Four

So I’m over halfway through my run now at the Edinburgh Fringe and it’s been the usual case of highs and lows, though the highs are not as high as last year (with that whole Guardian joke lost Thing) and the lows are not as low (I arrived with all of my luggage). I’ve had good audiences and bad audiences. I had a day with low attendance but the audience was incredibly enthusiastic and generous with their donations. I’ve had a day with a sizeable audience who just sat there in a stony silence.

As ever it is the camaraderie which makes the fringe. My venue is a complex of seven stages and in other rooms are magicians, actors and comedians, and we all meet up in the room where we store our fliers, and chat about how it’s going. One of them told me that he spends eighty pounds a day hiring four flyerers and then gets audiences of sixty, which more than pays for them, it’s simple economics, he says. He’s a magician. Others are more philosophical and say, well, whatever happens, happens. Going on the advice of the magician, I hired a flyerers for an hour. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

I’ve seen some amazing shows, so far, and I’m aiming to get out today and see some more. In fact I might hold back on the flyering and enjoy a day in Edinburgh. The best thing I’ve seen so far is my favourite spoken word artist, Dandy Darkly, and his show All Aboard, a rip roaring cabaret style digression on politics and social issues delivered in brash camp storytelling. It was utterly transfixing and Dandy remains of the finest performers I’ve ever seen. Fay Roberts show The Selkie was a quieter mystical study of myth and nature.

The other day while I was flyering, someone asked me if there was dancing in my show. I shall only come along, she said, if there’s dancing. Someone else asked me what the weather forecast was, and when I said I didn’t know, she got very angry. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

So I have three more shows to go and a couple of guest spots here and there. And each night I come back to my student flat, cook dinner, drink red wine and ponder on how it has gone. And of course, I think about next year. What can I do next year? Now, what can I do?

Edinburgh Fringe Diary Day One

I’m currently on a train heading north towards Edinburgh for the fringe. This is my sixth year as a performer, and my eighth in all, so I’m starting to feel like an Edinburgh veteran. Yet for some reason it seems in inconceivable that I’m going at all this year. I suppose the main reason for this is that I feel more prepared than I have done for years, with a show that I have rehearsed and polished and written specifically for the fringe, rather than a collection of greatest hits. I have also done more promotion work behind the scenes, and worked with a director. My whole year, in fact, the last two years, have been leading up to this, and yet, now I’m on the way, I can hardly believe it.

I stayed in London last night, in a hotel that I’ve been staying in on and off for twenty years. There’s something labyrinthine about the place, with rooms and corridors decorated as if from 1970s Czechoslovakia. There’s a complicated system of dials and knobs next to the bed to work the radio. The bed is surrounded by tongue and groove pine panelling. Every morning for the last twenty years, a man who looks like Leonard Cohen rules the breakfast restaurant with an iron fist, but he wasn’t there this morning. I felt cheated. I hoped that he was okay. It just didn’t seem the same without him.

The madness starts tomorrow, with my first show, and appearances at other events. I also want to see as much as possible when I get there, particularly cabaret and comedy as well as spoken word. And this is the first year that everything has gone ok. I haven’t lost my passport like I did the year before last. My luggage hasn’t got lost, like it did last year. And I won’t be staying in a tent or a flat with no roof, like I have done in years past, but in the same university flats that I’ve used for the last couple of years. Auld Reekie awaits, and I can’t wait!