The Shivering House

Here’s a happy little short story I wrote a long, long time ago when I was a member of Paignton Writers’ Circle. I hope you enjoy it!

The house keeps on shivering.

I’ve called for a builder in order that he might assess the problem, and he recommends a doctor. The doctor didn’t know what to do himself, although he prescribed some pills because of a nasty rash in the kitchen near the microwave, and he also wondered why there was a patch of stubble in the hall.

‘Do you ever shave the floors?’, he asked, somewhat accusingly.

‘Of course not!’, I laughed. ‘Why would I do such a thing?’

‘I just thought you might be one of those house-rights activists. They have such weird beliefs. Shaving a house, they often say, gives it some dignity’.

I pointed to the floor of the living room where we were both standing and I indicated that the carpet had not yet had a chance to grow, though the previous house-doctor had stipulated a month’s wait at least until the shag pile had developed. ‘Would I have willingly ordered carpet’, I asked, ‘If I were in the habit of shaving the floors? Now I understand that stubble on the floor might be the next big thing in interior decoration, although I’ve heard that it can be quite painful on the feet. But I can assure you that the house, in all purposes, is allowed to follow its own developmental path’.

‘Hmm’, the house-doctor said. He wrote out his prescription and he passed it to me. ‘I’ll look into this’, he said, ‘But I’m not promising anything’.

The house kept on shivering all through the night. I wondered if it was anything to do with me. Bad luck seems to follow me around, or maybe it is that I take to heart anything that goes wrong in my life, that I take things so personally. I have, however, never been happy in my new home. There was a curious burping noise when I first moved in, which was revealed to be a build-up of installation gasses in the main bone structure, and a nasty lump had to be removed a few weeks later, under aesthetic, a process which meant that I had to stay with my parents until the house recovered. But now this constant shivering, which, eerily, occurs more often at night, seems to confirm that such matters are completely out of my control.

I go through the next few days with a grim determination that the problems of the house should not ruin my enjoyments of life. At work I am personable and polite and all conversations regarding the developments of my living space are answered with an airy grace, underscored by a ruthlessness in not inviting any of my colleagues home to view the place. I describe to them the exact colour of my carpet – when it finally grows – and they applaud me on the colour that I have chosen. ‘It is obvious’, I am told, ‘That you have a flair for decoration. Maybe you would like to work on our office, when the next budget comes through’. But I look around at the plain, glass and steel building, and the whole place gives me the creeps.

‘It just doesn’t seem alive’, I whisper. ‘How can one ever get a bond with an inanimate object? Who hasn’t fallen asleep at night lulled by the heartbeat of their own house? I’m sorry, but brick and mortar have nothing for me’.

I do not hear from the house-doctor for a while. Yet the shivering gets worse, a continual flexing and spasm evident in most of the inner walls. At last the rash on the kitchen wall clears up, although the house-doctor was correct, a path of stubble on the hallway floor would hint to me that a razor was being applied to it in a methodical fashion. One night on television I learned of a horrible disease affecting houses of a certain period, and a whole street in Basingstoke closed down and condemned, the houses coughing and spluttering, the walls braking out in cold sweats. The programme made me think and I wondered if my house, too, had caught such a disease, though it comes from a healthy stock and good breeding and is the result, I was informed at the time of its purchase, of a natural, free-range house-to-house courtship. The only problem I could see is that there was, in its heritage, a quarter bungalow, that its grandfather was a seaside shack by designation, and by their nature, single-storey houses have long been prone to infection.

One night the shivering became so bad that I could not sleep. The bed kept on moving with each involuntary shudder, and I found myself walking the neighbourhood. The night sky was clear and I could see the stars above, and even the Coca-cola moon shining bright with its red neon laser glow. I could see beauty in the world, and for the first time I wondered if this beauty came from nature. Could it be possible? I remembered the years of my youth when I once saw a squirrel, and as my mother hurried me away from it in case I caught its diseases, I was entranced that another creature could also exist on this planet without having been designed or tested for usefulness. I remembered how wonderful this squirrel had looked, how sure of itself it was, and how there were once trees and the squirrels had lived in the trees. Heavens, they had even eaten nuts and still survived without succumbing to some allergy! But the stars, despite everything, were still there.

I returned to my house. I could see it convulsing at the end of the driveway. As I reached out to open the front door, it seemed to shrink back from me. When I breathed out a sigh of relief in the hallway, the walls broke out with chicken flesh bumps, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s almost as if the house is repulsed by me . . . ‘ . It was only when I got to the kitchen that the moaning started.

A deep, deep throated yawn. Which was most strange, because the house was not installed with a throat. I clung on to the furniture as the house swayed from side to side. Ohhhh, it said, ohhhh. It was as if there was an ache somewhere within it, and I thought about applying a paracetamol to its bloodstream, but then thought better because it would invalidate my warranty. Ohhhh, the house said. Ohhhh. The swaying got worse, as if the house were drunk, and I started to slide down a wall. Such a stench! Of stale sweat, and I could feel a clammy odour seep from the skirting boards. Then the heart beat started accelerating. No problem, I thought. Houses often suffer cardiac arrest. My Uncle’s house had three bypasses before it finally expired. But this was a pounding, a rushing of blood, and I could see veins underneath the wallpaper. The house was rocking from side to side, now, as if in the throes of some primeval dance. I wondered if its bungalow ancestry was coming to the fore, or the impetuosity of the maisonette. But this was worse, much worse. At last I fought my way back into the hallway to see something horrific, something so tremendously appalling that I have never set foot in such a house again.

A pair of arms had sprouted from the walls. The house-doctor told me later that in just two generations – and no doubt accelerated by the chemicals used to speed up the growing process – the houses had evolved, and grown inner arms by which they could amend themselves for maximum personal comfort. And what were these inner arms doing? They were shaving the floor, right where I had decided to grow my new carpet. Scrape, scrape, scrape. I ran into the night and I hid until morning in the shade of my garden shed, my only comfort coming from the red neon glare of the Coca-cola moon.

Poetry Takeaway and Bang Said the GunĀ 

It’s been one of those weeks. One of those surprising weeks. To be honest I’ve crammed so much in that I really have been waking up wondering where on earth I am. But that’s the life of a modern performance poet, it seems. The hard part has been fitting it all in with a normal nine to five job!
On Sunday I went up on the train to London to help out with the Poetry Takeaway project at the Camden Roundhouse. Run by Michael Bolger, this is a unique happening in which poets are tasked with writing poems on demand for members of the public. It usually operates out of a takeaway burger van, the poems being wrapped as if they were burgers or hot dogs.
I felt very privileged to be asked to contribute to this. My shift featured Peter Hayhoe and Jemima Foxtrot, both of whom I hold in very high esteem. Indeed it was a huge joy finally to meet Jemima.
My own stint started well enough with a young lady who wanted a poem for her boyfriend because she loved him so much. It was all very touching, and she loved the poem that I wrote for her. The second person wanted a poem to help her decide which of the two men she was currently involved with that she should choose to spend the rest of her life with. It’s quite a tall order for a poet to decide on such matters, but I took all of her information and I wrote a poem which did it’s best at least to describe the situation.
And it seems that this is a by product of the project. The poets get told things that nobody else would hear. People feel that they can open up to poets, and tell them their deepest, darkest secrets and fears. At times I felt like a psychoanalyst, or even a detective, piecing together the relevant information.
The stint over, I caught a late night train as far as Bristol and stayed overnight in a hotel next to a Mexican restaurant. When I opened the curtains at five AM, footage of a mariachi jazz band was being beamed on to the wall of the restaurant. I wondered where the hell I was. I caught the early morning train in to Paignton, and work.
That night I guest hosted the Artizan Comedy Night in Torquay. I even debuted some comedic material. I thought I’d be pants, but people quite liked it. The comedians were all very good and I felt honored to be associated with them.
On Thursday I caught the train up to London again for my guest slot at Bang Said the Gun. When I first started spoken word in 2011, people kept saying that Bang was the place to aim for, and that you only arrived as a poet once you’d had a slot there. For years I kept trying to win a slot there by entering the weekly slam. On one occasion I happened to win, but because it was running late and I had a train to catch, I had to leave before the end and only found out the next day. The second time I entered I felt very ill with a virus and again, had to go back to the hotel. The third time I entered I came second to a guitarist.
I felt incredibly honored to be asked, even more so that Laurie Bolger, the evenings host, played a game with the audience called ‘Robert Garnham Or Judy Garland’, in which an audience member had to decide whether a quote was from Judy Garland or myself.
The night was the usual mix of noisy mayhem and energy, spellbinding poets and spoken word types, comedy and laughter. Just how they manage to keep it all up week after week remains a mystery. It really is the best poetry night in the country. Headliners Candy Royalle and Inua Ellams were fantastic, professional, and almost hypnotic.
My set was greeted fairly well. I was unusually self conscious, in a way that I hadn’t been while performing for about four years, and even worse, I performed the wrong version of Beard Envy! The audience must have wondered who the hell I was, inflicting such material on them, but I had a great time. The way that some of the poems were greeted with hooting and the rattle of the shakers made me feel that anything in life is possible. It was a wonder I got to sleep that night.
Thanks to everyone at Bang for the opportunity. It means more to me than you’d ever know!
And then a night in a cheap hotel followed by a cheap flight back to Exeter the next morning, for another day at work. My mind really does feel like it’s been in a blender this last week.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow I performing twenty minutes at the Respect Festival in Exeter. In a field. In a tipi.

Here are two of the poems I wrote at Poetry Takeaway. I’ve changed the names of the recipients.
 Poem for Matthew from Natalie
How can I express my love for you, Matthew?

How can I express the fulfilling

Breath of life you instil in me

That I should feel so entirely complete

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I want to show you in a poem

The joy that keeps on going

But you know and I know and it’s the

Knowing that keeps on growing,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express the absolute

Peace I feel in your company,

The fact we are both wired in to the

Very real was of now

And I know it’s weird

But I really like your beard,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I love you lots and lots

My heart is tied in knots

Like a room scattered

With discarded yoghurt pots

I gaze in them and it reminds me

That our love is meant to be,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express my love for you, Matthew.

I hope this poem will do.
Poem for Rem from Ben
Have you ever noticed football referees?

have you ever noticed football referees?

Refereeing, that’s their job,

They’re football referees,

Running around but not getting a

Single shot on goal.

Have you ever noticed that

They’re frequently bald?

Have you ever noticed

How angry they are?

Have you ever noticed football referees?
Probably not.

But if they didn’t exist

There would be chaos.

Nobody to call the shots.

There’d be an empty gap,

A referee sized gap.
Rem, when you left,

When you moved away I felt the

Same chaos inside.

You were my referee, I based

Everything on the feelings I had

Within.

You weren’t on my team but

I Could always sense you

Running along beside me.
I couldn’t tell you.

I couldn’t express myself.

And now you are gone.
The opposition is in their

Predictable attack formation

I keep towards the side,

Away from the game

Away from the game.
What were you thinking, ref?

What were you thinking, Rem?

Why I really, really rather like Bristol.

I really like Bristol.

No, that’s not a euphemism or Cockney rhyming slang.
Since I started performing poetry all over the place, I’ve had the chance to visit towns which I never would have done for any other reason. I’ve seen Wolverhampton, Swindon and Manchester. Guildford, Berlin and Barnstaple. And all in the name of poetry. 
But there’s one city which seems to have become a talisman, a good luck charm, and that’s Bristol. Good things have happened to be on many occasions in Bristol, poetically speaking. And I have never been there for any other reason than poetry.
When I first started performing around the Torquay and Exeter area, Bristol poets were held in awe by the local hosts and promoters, and we would regularly see people such as Nathan Filer and Byron Vincent, amazing us with their skill and commitment and their sheer brilliance. Consequently, it became a kind of goal to aim for, and Bristol itself stood as a beacon of poetic endeavor to which we should all aspire.
The first time I went to Bristol was for the Bristol Slam. Indeed, this was my first ever slam and there were many names there who would go on to be friends and colleagues in the poetry world. People like Vanessa Kisuule, Tim Vosper and Stephen Duncan. None of them knew me from Adam, and amazingly, I came second in the slam to Stephen. We went for a drink afterwards, the euphoria ensuring that it wouldn’t be able to get to sleep!
The next time I went to Bristol was to Acoustic Night at the Halo. It was a birthday present to myself a little journey away, and some of the Bristol slam people were there and they remembered me. Tim Ledwitch was as brilliant as ever. Amazingly, the host of the night liked me so much that he offered me a co-headline set for a couple of months later on! The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
The next time I went to Bristol was to do the headline set at Acoustic, and it went very well indeed. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
By now I was zooming about all over the country and building up a reputation as a comedic poet, so the next time I came to Bristol was to support Vanessa Kisuule at Hammer and Tongue. I made a little holiday of it and stayed in a nice hotel, and I was just about to leave for the gig when I got an email to say that my first book had been accepted for publication! I remember dancing around the hotel room in my very camp manner indeed.
And then the gig itself went very well. The two Tims were there, and Graham Chilcott, and everyone was most complimentary about my set. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
Last night I was back in Bristol again, headlining at Milk. It was a fantastic night, filled with talent and friendship. All of my Bristol poetry friends were there, and my set was greeted marvelously. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
There is a constant criticism of Bristol poetry, that there really isn’t much variety, and that it is youth orientated, slam-style, three rhymes per line and too deeply serious for its own good. Last night at Milk there was plenty of variety and styles of performance, and it was great to see Samantha Boarer, who I really do admire in a deep and special way. She’s just about one of the funniest people I know.
So Bristol remains for me a city devoted to, and standing primarily for, spoken word and performance poetry. Indeed I cannot see it except through this lens. I’m sure I will be back there again very soon, and when I do, I shall take some sleeping tablets.
I also like it because someone has spray painted, in large letters, the word ‘Arse’ on a wall next to Bristol Temple Meads.

Poem (for Katie Hopkins)

Poem (Katie Hopkins)


Once upon a time

There was an evil monster

Whose ferocity was fed

Not by those it maimed

But by the pumping buzz

Of publicity and sound bite,

Controversy and sheer big-headed

Attention-seeking desperation

And it was called 

Katie Hopkins.


And the more it fed the more

It scratched at the surface of

Polite society hoping that the

More damage it inflicted

The greater it’s substance would be

Only to find with each

Deep vicious cut

That people merely laughed at it.


How it scowled at the world

Like a mardy shark

Spoiled not by circumstance

But by the slow drip of publicity

Which it mistook for adulation.

How it fed so ravenously

On the eternal circle of

Jaded misguided opinion and response,

Prejudice disguised as truth.


Oh, Katie Hopkins,

Like a bad busker on the

Pedestrianised high street of proper debate,

A sad singer wailing at the world

Having only made 10p.


You’re like the kid in the quiet cul de sac

Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Starting to become a nuisance.

Looking out from the window,

There she is again.


Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Back and forth, hither and thither,

Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.


I like to think it’s an act.

No-one can be so stupid.

I like to think that you

Meet up with your friends

And you’re perfectly normal,

As easy going as the rest of us, 

Hoping that one day we will all realize

That it’s a silly joke,

A grotesque parody,

Somehow revealing our own

Misgivings and

Actually adding something to the world.


Oh, Katie,

You vain fickle brained warthog,

You gloating flap mouthed pimple,

You xenophobic motley-minded weasel,

You rank vomit-inducing ne’erdowell

With a face like a permanently surprised frog,

You toxic, provocative, class-conscious, 

suspiciously orange

Arse.

It’s like you’ve seen that Farage bloke and thought,

I’d like a piece of that,

Though he’s far too left wing for my liking.


It can’t be like this, surely,

It can’t be.

Yet a part of me suspects that it is.

If you didn’t exist,

Then we’d have to invent you.

And that, I suspect,

Is what’s already occurred.



   

Flying in to London. Double lush!

Flew in to London yesterday from Exeter. Amazingly, it was cheaper than the train. The secret of this is not to have any luggage.

But there’s also a childish delight for me in flying instead of getting the train. I’ve always been a fan of flying, whether short haul or long haul or just popping up in a small Cessna. I love flying and everything to do with it.

It wasn’t the worlds longest flight. Within ten minutes we were over the Isle of Wight, and within fifteen minutes the pilot announced that we had begun our descent into London. The pilots name was Captain Shackleton. Could there have been a more appropriate name for a pilot? Kind of neutralized the effect of seeing that the aircrafts registration was G-JEDW, which immediately made me think of Jedward.

There were only 23 people on board and I was one of them. There were only two of us sitting anywhere in the front ten rows. I’d booked a seat where I could look at the engines and the wings, but the book in desk asked me to move to the front of the plane with special responsibility for the emergency exit door. The stewardess gave me a run down on how to use it. Pull down on this handle, she said, while pulling down on the handle. Remove the door and then throw it out of the aircraft. I couldn’t help noticing, once she’d finished, that the handle was still pulled down a bit and I spent the rest of the flight wondering if the door would suddenly open. Not that we ever gained enough altitude for depressurization.

The stewardess and I bonded and I really did wonder what would happen if I’d been one of my straight friends, for she was undoubtedly very beautiful and a lesser man would have taken her constant chit chat as flirting. Indeed, she chatted to me while Captain Shackleton made an announcement about being early. ‘We’re early’, he said, ‘Which is good news. So we are just going to wait for four minutes so that we are on time’. ‘Well then’, the stewardess said to me, ‘We’re not early then, are we? Captains are always saying things like that’.

We flew over Bognor. It reminded me of summer holidays as a child to Bognor. Sitting in a car with the windscreen wipers going,looking out at an angry sea, drinking tea from a flask. We flew over Hever Castle, and then the suburbs of London. And then London itself, swinging over the centre in a wide arc, skimming over the top of Canary Wharf and that silly cable car thing they’ve put in. ‘Nice, isn’t it?’, the stewardess said to me, as she strapped herself in. And then Captain Shackleton kind of flumped us down on the runway at London City.

It’s sunny in London and the world seems a place full of mystery and magic. I know that this will soon wear off but I’m wondering how much of that has to do with the fact that I got here on a Bombadier Dash 8. 

Builders in Sicily found these ancient texts. You wouldn’t believe what happened next!

As you know, I have always seen myself as something of an innovator in the field of poetry. Aided by the eminent Professor Zazzo Thiim, I have explored the heights and the depths not only of poetry but also spoken word. Interpretative methods and matters of composition have been prodded and poked, rattled and dissected until there’s nothing left but random punctuation and a hell of a mess all over the dining table.

But now this inquisitive mind of mine has dived deep into the past and ushered by Thiim and a few of my local poetry colleagues, I have not only discovered, but resurrected a form of poetry long lost.

In a farm in Sicily recently there were excavations linked to the famed missing pearl necklace seemingly the inspiration for that worn by Marge in The Simpsons. Two teams of competing bounty hunters dug day and night around the barn and next to the cattle shed but no pearl necklace was found. However, one of them dug up some ancient manuscripts, and opining, quite rightly, that these weren’t nearly as exciting as the pearl necklace, flung them on the compost heap.

Yet these manuscripts contained the world’s first scribblings in the long forgotten poetic style, the decadocahedronic double quatrain.

By means of donkey and a backhander to their boss, these manuscripts were obtained by Thiim, who verified them as work of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello, the eleventh century monk and scribe whose poetry also resulted in the invention of the sonnet, and also, in culinary circles, the egg whisk.

The decadocahedronic double quatrain is relatively simple in construction and the rules for their composition are easy to remember. The rhyme scheme is ABAB BABG. Where the G comes from is anyone’s guess, but Capello was known to be a maverick at a time when most mavericks were burned at the stake. The meter is iambic, of course, because anything other then iambic pentameter was thought to cause madness in goats. It is the syllable stipulations where the decadocahedronic quatrain comes into it’s own.

1st line 5 syllables

2nd line 6 syllables

3rd line 16 syllables

4th line 11 syllables

5th line 2 syllables

6th line 18 syllables

7th line 63 syllables ‘or as closeth as one might reasonably fathom’

8th line 3 syllables.

Capello is known only to have ever written one poem in this style, the famous ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But he added one other stipulation, and this is that the decadocahedronic quatrain must always mention someone called Mandy somewhere in it’s content.

The fact that he only ever wrote one decadocahedronic double quatrain provokes many in the poetic community to conjecture that he only came up with the syllable count once his own poem was finished so that it automatically conformed, and that then he just couldn’t be arsed to write any more. Alas, due to copyright reasons and a promise of a knuckle sandwich from the curator of the British Museum, I cannot publish here the ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But fret not, for I have had a bit of a bash at writing a decadocahedronic double quatrain myself.

So sit back, and let this remarkable verse take you once again to Sicily, and the genius of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello.

Poem


I shall go to Kent.

It is a place I like.

It’s about time I pulled my finger out and packed my bags and went.

I shall then ask my really good friend Mike

Or Brent

If they would like to go to this magical place and ride a motorbike

Because I’ve often wished it would be beneficial to many in the wider artistic community to gather ones objects and belongings and make a pilgrimage to a place where small annoyances are, and stay in a two man tent.

Or not.

Ok, so I’ve only just realized that I missed out the obligatory mention of Mandy. But it’s not bad for a first attempt and Thiim himself said that it brought a tear to his eye. He’s off for a lie down, now. I hope this becomes viral. I’ve got washing up to get on with.

  

I get nervous. I used to get nervous. I don’t get nervous.

I’ve been performing poetry now for about five years up and down the country. I’ve been to parts of Britain that I wouldn’t normally go to, like Wolverhampton and Swindon, Salisbury and Cheltenham. And I’ve met some great people who have become friends. But there’s one constant which won’t ever go away, and that’s the state if nervousness I get before a poetry night.

It’s been there since the start. I thought it would go away with practice, but it doesn’t. It starts as a dull ache in the chest and a funny feeling in my stomach, and then as the day goes on it increases.

I don’t think this is necessarily about the performance, either. Yes,it is scary to stand in front of strangers and do poems about ostriches and goats, and to tell jokes which they might not laugh at. But the nervousness which I get usually comes from realizing the logistical details of getting somewhere, finding the venue, arriving at the right time, performing, then spending the night somewhere.

Because I’ve got one of those minds which always thinks of the things that can go wrong. And while I try to plan in as many escape routes and procedures as possible to negate the effects of Something Going Wrong, there’s always the chance that Things Might Go Terribly Wrong.

I remember taking part in the Wolverhampton Love Slam in 2014. By chance it was the same day that the railway fell into the sea at Dawlish. It took almost twelve hours to get to Wolverhampton from Paignton. The first person I bumped into was Jonny Fluffypunk. That’s when I knew that everything would be okay. But the whole day up till that point had just been one huge nervousorama.

I used to be the host of Poetry Island. I loved the nights themselves, there was so much energy, it was the poetry equivalent of being in a tornado. But there was so much organizing to do, and so much worrying about all the minor details, that in the end it wasn’t worth doing. I would spend the hour before going to the venue lying on my back on the floor and staring at the ceiling, trying to calm myself and run through everything in my head. That can’t be normal behaviour, now, can it?

I’m sure it’s the same for other performers. But the results far outweigh the nervousness. I’ve been to such wonderful gigs this year already, and I’ve got loads planned for later in the year, that I’m not even thinking about the nervousness.

Lately, I’ve been pursuing a new tactic. It’s called Operation DontThinkAboutIt. The day before a gig, I just carry on as normal. And even when I’m changing into my poetry outfit, I’m not thinking about what it is I’m about to do. And then I lie on the bed and I listen to pop music on my iPod. Loud, disco beat kind of stuff. The upshot of this is that it all makes the act of going to the gig and performing almost natural, and it seems to work. I’ve been having much more fun when I get there, less nervousness, and I reckon I’ve been performing better, too. If I stress too much over the minor details, then the actual reason for being there gets left behind. But now I don’t stress so much at all and it’s cleared my mind, made me focused on what it is I am meant to be doing.

Having said that, I’ve got some gigs coming up further up the country. So I shall see how it goes! And as long as the railway line doesn’t fall into the sea at Dawlish again, things should be okay.

Anyway, for no reason whatsoever, here’s a poem I wrote late summer while staying in Brixham.

Poem

Too hot out
For serious contemplation.
I sit in the cool of my room
At my parent’s
Bunga
Low.

Window open,
Net curtains twitching on the slightest breeze,
Car tyres on the concrete road surface,
Apolo
Getic.

The stipples ceiling has cracks.
Little roads through a mountain landscape.
But instead of being round the world is
Rectangular
( Except for a slight recess in the east).
The capital city is the light fixture.
The explorers are ever so brave
Who reach as far as the
Archi
Trave.

Outside in the summer heat,
The plaintive honking
Of something that honks.
I’m a city boy so I don’t really know
What kind of animal honks.
But I wish it wouldn’t.
It gives me the willies.

I imagine the room filled with
Albino
Ocelot
Octopuses
Cool
Coral
A
Drinks
Vending
Machine
PepsiCo

It’s so hot
I try to visualise somewhere cool
Like an airport air conditioned coffee shop.

Actually the honking is probably
Just the shed door
Creaking in the breeze.

Evidently

I felt incredibly privileged, yesterday, to sample the fantastic array of poetry in Manchester, and to perform a feature slot at Evidently.

I’ve been to a few vibrant poetry nights up and down the country, and Evidently is definitely one of the best. The show is hosted by Kieran King with such energy and gusto as to be wholly infectious. His enthusiasm for every single performer radiates out and ripples across the audience like a Mexican wave. Every open mic poet is greeted with cheers and clapping and whoops, which must be especially exciting for a first-timer. How wonderful it is to see fresh talent being encouraged in such a way!

The venue is amazing. Google Maps sent me to a light industrial estate somewhere in Salford. I wondered if there had been an error, and as the mist began to roll in from the moors, (or wherever the mist rolls in from in these parts, as I’ve virtually no knowledge of Manchester or it’s geography), a strange magic overtook the night. Neon became blurred, the tower blocks loomed like tombstones, late night garages glared fluorescent light out into the gloom, and then, all of a sudden, the Eagle Inn appeared.

A beautiful old pub, preserved against the neighborhood, with brown tiled walls and architectural flourishes, fireplaces and flagstone floors, the place seemed perfect to evoke a Manchester of the past. As if to reinforce the image, a jukebox was playing The Smiths, and a young man at the bar was singing along, every now and then apologizing to me by saying, ‘They’re just wonderful, the Smiths, and this is my favourite song’.

Evidently is held in the back room of the pub. The back room has a stage and a balcony. The magic is reinforced by the subtle lighting of the room and the way it fills with souls coming in from the dark to spill their words to an appreciative audience. You could smell winter clinging on to their overcoats as the room filled to the brim. Others went upstairs and watched from the balcony.

My own set was a typical blend of Surrey whimsy and pink puppet shenanigans, the audience seemed to enjoy it very much. And then the open micers came on.

One thing that always strikes me about my own local scene in South Devon is the sheer variety. I’ve been to other towns, and each one seems to have its own style, but little variety. In London there’s rap, and it’s good rap, but after eight or nine rappers you begin to tire a little. In Bristol there’s the three-rhymes-per-line lets-all-be-nice-to-each-other style which is also very good and very effective but a little wearing after a while. But Evidently last night was different. It had variety, it had energy, it had humour and it had serious poems.

I wish I’d taken some names down. A poet did a wonderfully effecting piece about civil rights and police brutality which almost made me want to video it and show it to everyone. A young lady of 17 made her debut and recited a fantastic poem about what it means to be 17 and finding your place in the world. There was a chap called Alabaster (I believe), funny and engaging. Jamie Harry Scrutton was hilarious and energetic and I just wanted to take him home with me. Indeed,there were too many to mention here, and then to top it all off, Tony Walsh did a quick set about empowering women and women’s rights. Fantastic stuff!

Rose Condo did a brilliant set, too. Geography, the human spirit, bus stops, Winnipeg. She was hypnotic, truthful, she made me see the world through different eyes. In fact, everyone did.

So my first experience of Manchester was certainly positive and I feel that I should spend more time there. And yes, there was much derision over the fact that I flew up, further demonstrating that this poetry malarkey is just a glorified hobby for me rather than a business, but it only added to the sense afterwards of having had a very perculiar and very pleasant dream.

Here’s a poem I wrote while I was there.

Poem

I’m writing this poem in Manchester.
I’ve never been here before.
I didn’t know what to expect
But I wanted to find,
While I was here,
The real Manchester,
Something tangible and local that I
Can build on
As definitive proof,
(Apart from this poem), that
I have been to Manchester.

I found a Starbucks.
I found a Waterstones.
I saw on Google Maps
That there’s a Weatherspoons.

A man on the train said he was
‘going down tut pub’.
I saw another man
And he was wearing a flat cap.
I saw an advert for Yorkshire puddings.

Everyone sounds like
Daphne’s mum, from Frasier.
I feel like I’m
A long way from Guildford.

Ps, bit late now, but I’ve only just worked out why the night was called Evidently.

South Devon kicks ass when it comes to performance poetry!

For a while now I’ve had this thought that the South Devon poetry scene is one of the richest and most vibrant in the county, when you take into consideration the scarcity of the population in most of it, what with all them fields and things.

Torquay is a resort which has, admittedly, seen better days, but even here there are two vibrant performance poetry nights a month. Poetry Island is long established, first under Chris Brooks, and lately under Ian Beech, both of whom have done amazing things to bring big names down to the bay, and now there is a night at the Artizan Gallery, too. Exeter isn’t that far away and there are three regular monthly nights as well as an amazing array of one off events thanks to venues like the Phoenix and the Bike Shed. Plymouth has two regular nights, and even Totnes has events at the Kingsbridge Inn.

But it is the sheer variety of styles and performers which makes the scene so vibrant. It is impossible to come up with a definitive South Devon style, because there are so many different interpretations of what makes spoken word and performance poetry so engaging. Daniel Haynes is droll, funny, serious, human, everything which a Bard should be. Which is good, because he is the currently Bard of Exeter. Tim King is experimental, political, also very human. The most human of all humans is James Turner, who exiles literary excellence and a fantastic understanding of the importance of performance and voice, as did the late and very much missed Rodney Bowsher. Joanna Hatfull is impossible to categorise, fusing theatre and monologue, humor and reality into her poems which never stray too far into surrealism. And then there’s Ian Beech, whose poetry is heartfelt, honest, occasionally ranting, often fierce, always well meaning.

Add to this people like Jackie Juno, Ziggy Abd El Malak, Chris Brooks, Gavin McGrory, Morwenna Griffiths, Solomon Doornails . . .

So what flavor is there to this excellent scene? Are there any common traits? Most of the performers have developed parallel and each event serves to drive each participant on to find deeper modes of poetic expression and audience engagement. Yet there seems to be a willingness to perfect this individualism in a way that may not be the case somewhere like Bristol or London, where a similar style dominates. The rhythms are different from one poet to the next. You might get the excellent Marc Woodward with his fast paced calm delivery, followed by the enthusiasm of Chris Brooks, and then the calm, slow, assured delivery of Dan Haynes.

There’s a great thing going on down here in South Devon at the moment and it makes me glad to be a part of it. And now some of us are starting to get recognition from further afield, strange parts of the country who can only be intrigued by the creativity and art which seems so normal. When I first started performing at Poetry Island, Chris Brooks would end each evening with an appeal for performers. Yet now there are so many that there is a strict rota and waiting list! And that has got to be a very good thing.

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a couple of new poems.

Poem

You said you’d do a magic trick.
Is this your card?, you asked.
Or is this your card?
Or this?
And then you reached into my pocket
And you announced,
This, this is your card!
And then you looked at it and saw
That it was my one day megarider bus ticket
And a tiny tear formed
In the corner of your eye.
In any case,
I hadn’t even picked a card.

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