What is Juicy? An interview with Robert Garnham

What’s the theme of your show?: Juicy is a scatalogical mishmash of comedy poetry, spoken word shenanigans, serious and deep explorations of loneliness, LGBT rights, songs and a comedy monologue about lust at an airport departure lounge. I suppose if it has a theme, then that would be finding love. Different characters throughout the show find love, or dream of finding love.

What’s new or unique about the show?: Juicy is a free form entity, different every night, with no definitive order. It’s upbeat and funny one moment, contemplative the next. It looks at some serious issues, too, behind the fun and the hilarity, such as gay rights in places such as Uganda and Russia, loneliness, isolation, longing.
How did the show come into being?: the show just kind of evolved outwards from several different places simultaneously, somehow, in a kind of spoken word osmosis, meeting in the middle. It started with a few ideas, which were improvised, then these ideas led to other ideas.
Describe one of your rehearsals.: The show is in three parts so rehearsals were conducted in fifteen minute sessions in a shed at the back of my parents garage in Brixham, Devon. This is real home grown stuff! There’s a big mirror along one wall where I can watch myself practising. I play around a lot with word order and tone and movement and hey presto, the show started to come into being.
How is the show developing?: One of the important aspects was the adoption of music. I worked with some talented musicians and sound artists, which really helps with the tone and the delivery. And then I was privileged enough to work with Margoh Channing, one of the funniest cabaret drag artists of the New York scene, and she recorded some words for the end. I just knew that the end would have to fit in with her words!
How has the writer been involved?: The writer has been involved since the start. I’m the writer. I’ve been there for every rehearsal.
How have you experimented?: As I say, the music was the key to the show. I’ve performed all over the UK and New York for years, but never used music before. Most of my experimentations were actually with the technology necessary to get the music backing just right. I’ve also never done a long monologue before, so this was kind of scary. I was influenced by another New York friend of mine, the storyteller Dandy Darkly.
Where do your ideas come from?: I wish I knew! They just seem to arrive. Like being hit in the face by a kipper. You can be in a sauna or swimming pool or on a bus about to get off and suddenly, oh yeah! A badger that wants to be in EastEnders!
How do your challenge yourself or yourselves?: I watch other performers and see how they do it. And then I try to be as good as them. I’m really influenced by cabaret artists, even though I’m a spoken word artist. The sense of fun and naughtiness is irresistible. 
What are your future plans for the show ?: Juicy will be going to GlasDenbury Festival near Newton Abbot, the Guildford Fringe, and then the Edinburgh Fringe, where I’ll be at Banshees Lanyrinth.
What are your favourite shows, and why?: Margoh Channing’s Tipsy, for the humour and the pathos. Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. Paul Cree, Ken Do. All these people invent characters and invest them with humour, and take you to new places almost effortlessly. I’ve seen them all at various fringes. Also Melanie Branton’s new Edinburgh Show, she’s such a good writer and performer.
Show dates, times and booking info: 29 June at 5pm, 1st June at 650pm, 2nd June at 330pm, all at the Golden Lion in Barnstaple, tickets available on the Barnstaple TheatreFest website.
Then the Keep pub, 9 July at 730pm, Guildford Free Fringe, tickets available, again, from their website.
And finally at Banshees Labyritnth, every day at 1230pm, 13th to the 19th August, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

My writing life.

I started my writing career in 1981. I was seven. In a style which I have later adopted in my poetry, my first novel didn’t have a title, it just had a giant R on the cover, which stood for Robert. I can’t remember much about if except that the villain was an entity known only as the Blue Moo. The Blue Moo was what I used to call my sister, because she wore a blue coat. Which is kind of cruel, seeing as though she was only five at the time.

I would write at school during playtime, whenever it was raining. It rained a lot, I remember, when I was a kid. I’d always get excited about rainy days because it meant that I could write. I still get excited shout rainy days, even now.
By 1984 I was at middle school and I used to fill notebooks with stories. I was encouraged to do this by my teacher, Mr Shaw, who would then let me read my stories out in class. The first of these was called Bully Bulldog’s Ship, and for reasons which I’m still not sure, all of the characters were dogs. And secret agents. The cover for Billy Bulldog’s Ship shows explosions and a radar screen and has he tag line, ‘Featuring car chases, underwater bases, kings and prime ministers and that sort of thing’. It was rubbish.
By 1986 I was still at middle school, but now I’d progressed to writing about humans. I wrote a whole series of short novels about a skier, called William Board, and his friend Ed Butf, and how they would get into all kinds of adventures during and after skiing tournaments. I have no idea why I picked skiing tournaments, but I did watch an awful lot of Ski Sunday back in the day.
In 1988 my grandparents gave me a typewriter, which I still use now whenever I’m Poet In Residence anywhere. By now William had left the skiing circuit and was a policeman in a small Surrey village called Englemede. I’d type up these stories and inject as much humour as possible, because this would make my English teacher, Mr Smith, laugh as he read them. This was probably a big moment in my adoption of comedy. The stories were still rubbish, but my grammar and spelling had improved.
By the time I got to sixth form I was still plugging away, and remarkably, William Board was still the focus of the stories, his ineptitude as a policeman and his promotion to detective providing much mirth. My magnum opus of this time was Impending Headache, set at a sixth form college in Surrey much like the one I attended. And in between chapters I’d write over the top comedic poetry.
By 1992 I had my first job and, amazingly, William Board was still my main focus. By now his detective work would take him to a supermarket in Surrey, round about the time that I worked at a supermarket in Surrey, in a novel called Bar Code Blues.
In 1994 I got a job in a village shop in the suburb of Englefield Green, and I wrote a new novel with a new main character, the trainee guardian angel Genre Philips. The novel was called Englefield Green Blues, and like Impending Headache, it would be influential on my writing career in that I’d re-use chapters and stories to form the novel I’ve been working on this year.
At this stage, I’d started sending novels off to publishers and agents, and one or two were very supportive but would ultimately say no.
By now I’d dabbled in comedy poetry, filling up notebooks with poems written with a pen I’d been using since sixth form. I’d stay at my grandmothers house in the hot summer, she lived on a hill overlooking the whole of London from the airport to Canary Wharf, and I’d listen to the jazz stations and just write whatever I felt like. This would form the basis of my one man show, Static, in 2016.
In 1995 my Grandfather passed away. I went to see the pathologist and watched as he signed the death certificate with a cartridge pen, and that afternoon I went out and bought one for myself. Amazingly, this is the same pen I use today for anything creative, and it has written every poem, short story, novel and play since 1995.
In 1996 I moved to Devon. By now I’d discovered Kafka, Camus, Beckett, and my writing became dense, impenetrable. I used my own system of punctuation which made even the reading of it impossible, and to further add to the misery, my novels had numbers instead of names. RD05, RD06, RD07, and so on. I’d send these off to publishers and I could never understand why they’d come right back.
I joined a band of local amateur actors and I would write short sketches and funny monologues for them, we’d rehearse and make cassettes, but never got anywhere near the stage. One of my monologues was about a rocket scientist who’d fallen in love with his rocket. Not phallic at all.
I came out in 2000. I didn’t write much at all for a while. I was busy with other things.
By now I had a job, and I’d studied a-levels, undergraduate and postgraduate at night school, so I didn’t have much time for writing. For a laugh, I got a part in a professional play, and while it meant I would never act again, (oh, it was so traumatic!), it led me to write a play called Fuselage. Amazingly, it won a playwriting competition at the Northcott Theatre. I remember getting off the train in Exeter thinking, wow, it’s my writing that has got me here. This all happened in 2008.
In 2009 I discovered performance poetry, accidentally, and kind of got in to that. Around the same time I wrote a short novel called Reception, based on an ill fated trip I took to Tokyo, but by now my main focus was performance poetry and spoken word, shows and comedy one liners. In 2010 I had my first paid gig, at an Apples and Snakes event in London, and amazingly, this was the first time I made any money from my writing since I was 8!
So that brings me up to date, more or less. I now write every day, still with the same pen, and I still use the same typewriter every now and then, though mostly for performance. And I’ve kept a diary, every day writing something about the previous day, which I’ve kept up since 1985 uninterrupted. It’s only taken 37 years to find the one thing I’m halfway decent at!

On memorising.

So lately I’ve been trying to memorise my new Edinburgh show, Juicy. This would be quite an undertaking for me, as I’ve never successfully memorised anything I’ve ever written, and to be jones I probably won’t manage it. I can memorise whole Bob Dylan songs, all fourteen minutes of Desire, but I’m quite hopeless at anything I myself have written.
I did a scratch performance of Juicy at the Bike ashes Theatre in May. It was a daunting experience because I was surrounded by theatrical types, and to be honest I think they were looking at what I was doing more in the context of a theatrical piece than a set of poems. The feedback afterwards unanimously suggested that I should learn the whole thing, because this is what theatre is. Some of the feedback suggested I move around more. Which was quite funny on two counts, firstly because some of the feedback also said how nice it was to see someone who doesn’t move sound all the time, and also because the director I used for my last show told me to stand dead straight for the whole hour. And he was a theatrical director.
So I’ve set to work trying to learn Juicy, and after two months I’ve managed to learn six pages of it. Out of thirty. Now this may not seem like much, but for me, this is a small triumph. I’ve never managed to learn anything before, so six pages of Juicy is the ultimate achievement.
Last week I went to a gig in Totnes and I spoke to a fellow performer who I have lots of respect for. I told her about learning my show and she replied, ‘Why?’
And that got me thinking, why indeed? Ok, so if you’ve learned your lines you can move around more and have a deeper connection with the audience. But on the other hand I’ve always performed with a book, and it is a part of my whole repertoire. I look up from the book, glare at the audience, look at them all in turn. Which should be quite easy at the Edinburgh Fringe. In fact, I know the words, I just can never remember in which order the verses fall.
Make no mistake, it’s good to learn poetry and adds to the performance. And the fact that I’ve memorised six pages of the show means that now I can apply this to the three minute poems, and hopefully grow my performance. But I think I shall just relax on the memorising at the moment and concentrate just on the performance. That’s the main thing. It’s performance poetry, after all! 

Ant – A solemn investigation 

It has been apparent for some time that a solemn investigation were needed into the effects, physical and psychological, of an ant crawling on someone’s hat. Seeing it as upon myself, (the theme, not the ant), I set out, in a somewhat grave manner, and yet bravely, into such an investigation. 
The manner this investigation took soon revealed itself to be poetical in nature, and within a couple of hours I had completed a poem based on the theme of having an ant crawl on someone’s hat. Yet this did not fully satisfy me, and a further poem was written.
At this time, I was bitten by the bug, (again, not the ant), and more poems began to arrive. The theme of an ant on a persons hat soon took over my life and all of my creative output, until such a time arrived that I could think of little else. Indeed, the poems began to resemble a Groundhog Day syndrome, the same repeated themes, the same story with different outcomes, different languages and tones, until within a month I had thirty such poems.
The good people at Mardy Shark publishing soon recognised their worth and a pamphlet was soon produced, titled, simply, Ant.
Ant stands as the zenith of my creativity, a full flow measure of poetic and literary sensibility, all inspired by the horror and the bizarre situation of having an ant crawl on ones hat.
You can download the Kindle version of Ant herehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Ant-Robert-Garnham-ebook/dp/B071JDZJ7X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497201234&sr=8-1&keywords=Robert+Garnham+Ant
Or you can send off for the physical version here http://www.lulu.com/shop/robert-garnham/ant/paperback/product-23218401.html

Thoughts from on the road 

I’m on the road at the moment, with three gigs in three towns over three days in three different parts of the country. It isn’t normally like this. In fact I can go for months on end before there’s anything outside of South Devon.
And it’s the weirdest feeling, because a lot of effort goes into travelling around, and it’s all because I stand on stage and say vaguely funny things and try to make people laugh through poetry. In fact, if you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be doing this, I’d have laughed, derisively.
But this time has been different, and I find myself clinging on to every moment. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting old. Perhaps it’s because I still can’t really believe that spoken word is making me do all these things. So I concentrate on small details, such as the carpet pattern in the venues where I perform, the people I meet, the things that I might not necessarily remember.
Last nights gig was in the function room of a hotel in Bristol. It was the most unexpected space, in an urban environment, looking more like a Manhattan loft or comedy club than the function room of a family pub. As the night wore on a full moon drifted past the window, which only seemed to add to the candles and the fairy lights and I thought, hmmm, this is a good existence. We all came together and made an evening for people to enjoy. This night will never, ever be repeated exactly as it is right now.
I spent the night in Bristol and now I’m off to London. I’m looking forward to having a good old poke around Tate Modern this afternoon before the gig, no doubt enhanced by the anticipation of performing to a new audience.
It’s the people you meet that make the journey worthwhile. That’s where the anticipation comes from. It doesn’t even have to be because of the spoken word, it’s the idea that I, and others, have travelled to a specific place to be sociable and cultural and to share enthusiasm. As I sat on the station at half eleven last night in Stapleton Road I wondered where I would be in twenty four hours time and who I might meet.

The rise of wilful buffoonery and the allure of people like that Trump bloke.

I don’t usually do politics. The kind of spoken word that I do is an escape from the real world, though I do poetry about themes and society, such as LGBT issues, representation and inequality. I don’t usually do pieces about real people either, unless you count Jeremy Clarkson and Katie Hopkins, both of whom I’ve performed humorous poems about. I always see such poems as having a relatively short shelf life. I haven’t performed the Clarkson poem much since the muppet was fired from Top Gear. It was a sad day.
However this year has truly been a bummer, politically speaking, not only with that whole Brexit thing, (what the hell was all that shout?), and the populism of that Farage bloke, the rise of the rather spooky Teresa May, (again obliterating one of my poems, in which I mention ‘Home Secretary Teresa May. Short shelf life, you see), but rather more scarily, the ominous buffoonery of Donald Trump.
I’ve tried to make sense of all this as the ultimate expression of celebrity culture, the rise of anti-intellectualism, image over content, bluster as a signifier of the supposedly downtrodden. The result of the Europe referendum demonstrated, to my way of thinking, the wilful protest of the supposedly under-represented. Both Farage and Trump have grasped the idea that it doesn’t matter what lies you tell, as long as you sound angry. They have created situations in which there is a supposed opposition to everything which their supporters only just now realise that they cherish. Abstract concepts such as freedom, identity of the dominant culture, fear of change, the foreign Other. The more they shout and lie, the more popular they get, because the lies are so obvious that they’ve become conceptual anti-political protests.
I’d like to write poetry about this. But none of it is very poetic. The best way to fight bluster and bullying is often with humour, and that’s happening a lot in the US but not so much over here. I can’t remember who said that you can’t win an argument against stupidity. But when the stupidity is a purposeful tactic to win arguments, that’s when we should be worried.
The Pet Shop Boys did a song called I’m With Stupid, which had the line, ‘Is stupid really stupid, or a different kind of smart?’
Will all of this blow over? Probably not. Mr Trump hopefully won’t win the election, but you can never be too sure. People are being put off politics, including the politicians, and this will lead to a whole generation of media-managed calculated blundering, office as character, celebrity warmongering.

The Most Significant Full Stop. (Part Eleven).

Yesterday I extrapolated a full stop from a text of writing, and then using screenshots, managed to magnify it to such an extent that it took up nearly the whole screen.

In doing so I was imbuing the full stop with far more significance than it might otherwise have. The next step was to print off the full stop on to some A4 paper, and affix it to an ordinary wall on the back of a shop, down an alleyway, in Paignton, Devon.

The full stop was certainly striking and again this imbued it with far more significance than it should have had. After all, this was just an ordinary full stop taken from some text, typed with no idea that it would be such a statement of intent, typed merely to aid the comprehension of the text.
Kafka’s father said that he was ‘morbidly preoccupied with the insignificant’ and I believe I understand what Otto Kafka was alluding to in the sudden elevation of this full stop.
The next part of the project was to reassign the full stop with its original intent, that of aiding in the comprehension of text. By taking photographs of the full stop as it hung on the back of a shop in an alleyway in Paignton, I was able to stand further away and keep on taking photographs, until the full stop was just a dot again.


Using poster making software, I coloured in the photograph with the exception of the full stop.

 I then added the full stop back into some random text, where it once again functions as a full stop, and not as a statement of insignificance. Can you spot it?

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.

An Interview with Richard Thomas

I’ve know Richard Thomas for as long as I have been performing. Indeed, he was almost certainly one of the performers at the very first gig I went to as an audience member. He very quickly drew me in to his world of imagery and humour, strange juxtapositions and asides, in a manner which I found most compelling.

We both did the same literature course with the Open University, and it was through this that I discovered we both admired the poetry of Frank O’Hara and the music of British Sea Power. Because of this, I have always followed his career with interest.
His first published book, The Strangest Thankyou, came out almost two years ago now. It contained some wonderful poems including the delightful ‘Flamingo’ as well as more serious pieces, and others written after trips to Rome. I read the book twice over the course of two days, and then my mother borrowed it too. I was jealous that the cover was orange, because Frank O’Hara’s book Lunch Poems also has an orange cover!
One of the things I really admire in Richard is that he is so very different to almost any other performer both in his style of reciting, and in his subject matter. To watch or read Richard is to visit a strange new world, only to realize at the last moment that it’s a world you’ve always known. 

I’ve known you for almost six years now. You were one of the first poet performers I remember seeing. How did you get in to writing poetry?

I had written lyrics here and there for various bands I had been in. The more I wrote, the more I realised I enjoyed playing with language, so I started to keep a notebook and would just write very stream of conciousness type stuff in it. Eventually, and mainly through the Open University course you mentioned, I learnt how to shape those ramblings in to actual poems, and it went from there.

How important is the performance aspect of your poems?

For me, when I write poetry, performance is the last thing on my mind, bar perhaps a couple of poems I have written. I think this is probably because I got in to poetry originally from a page-poet’s perspective, and I wasn’t aware of any performance opportunities in my area at the time. When I moved to Totnes, that changed: I did my first open mic and got hooked on the buzz it gave me. It still very much felt important to me, though, to keep writing primarily for the page, as seeing my poems in print was the dream. So I continue to do that, and then when I am performing, I will pick out the poems that translate on to the stage best. Half of my poems I have never read live. I quite like the idea of doing a live set of poems I would never usually perform, to see what happens, but I am yet to muster up the confidence.

Your book The Strangest Thankyou was one of the reading highlights of my year when it came out. How would you describe the new book?

Thanks, Robert. I remember you telling me your mum enjoyed it, too. Three of my friend’s mums have read it. And I think just one of those three friends has read it themselves (yourself). It’s good to know your audience. Perhaps that is why my new book is a collection – a pamphlet – of poems about babies. A subconscious effort to satisfy my target market. But seriously, it’s a little more than about babies, though it is that. Zygote Poems is about a young man’s journey in to the unfamiliar realms of fatherhood with the effects of anxiety. It uses phonetic language to both convey that effect, and at the same time mimic ‘baby talk’. There are some other fun techniques employed, but I guess I shouldn’t give too much away. Selling poetry books is hard enough. I think, though, this new pamphlet is my most focussed poetry so far.

Can you describe the writing process for it?

I wanted these poems to be as candid as possible, and given the subject, they were all personal. So to start with, it was a case of writing down every significant thing I could think of as I looked back over my journey up to that point. As I originally wrote it for my degree dissertation, I had to write a certain number of pages. So I worked out what kind of balance I wanted in terms of the content – what moods I wanted to give – and I drew up a table, dropping each significant event in to a particular mood box until I had filled the table with an equal amount of each. And then I went about working my way through the table, writing each poem that needed to be written. It got very mathematical, but it was a pretty interesting way to go about writing a collection of poems, and felt right for the to get the result I wanted. The hardest part was to write as candidly as possible. My mind often told me to censor stuff, so it took some redrafting to get all the poems as honest as possible, without them becoming unreadable.

 How would you describe the content of your poems? Are there recurring themes?

The new pamphlet is all specifically themed, but I guess my poems do generally repeat certain themes, often without me realising. This is probably to do with the fact that I usually write whatever is on my mind at the moment of holding the pen. The Strangest Thankyou was a lot of love, lust, loneliness and confusion – even the surreal impersonal poems abour Flamingos, dancing butchers and dogs eating figs conveyed a sense of trying to understand the world and its obscurity. I think that had to do with the mindset of being in my early twenties, and I guess certain subjects tend to occupy the mind more than others at different ages. I like that idea: that my poetry up to this point could be read as being written by someone in their twenties, purely by the themes most covered, and that my thirties, forties, etc, will bring about their own re-occuring themes. I think this also helps me deal with the idea of ageing – being intrigued as to what poems the world might draw from me as time goes on – I look forward to poems more than I do birthdays. That wasn’t meant to sound as melancholic as it did…

Is humor important to you?

Definitely. I think humour is important to any art form to some extent, whether you’re Charlie Chaplin or Marina Abramovic. And even Beethoven was a prankster. There’s that story about him, as a kid, putting a whoopee cushion on Mozart’s piano stool, isn’t there. There’s no whoopee cushions in my poetry, but I like to think there is humour. Not in all my poems, but where it lacks, I try to make up for it with a sense of absurdity. I think humour can help a generally serious poem breathe, and lift it from the page. It helps the poem transcend from writer to reader.

You’re obviously a big fan of the beat poets. You even had a beard at one time. And it was a nice beard, too. How influential is Ginsberg both in your writing, and also modern poetry?

I have had two significant beards in my life so far. I think you saw the first. The second was a much better effort. That is a benefit of ageing. That beard was going places until I chopped it off. I have yet to properly grieve the loss of it. Who handed me that pair of scissors? Ginsberg had a great beard, and was a great poet, and I think I owe a lot to him for both of those things. Kerouac, Corso, di Prima and the others have been a great influence too. I discovered them at about twenty two, and really felt my poetry take a change of pace when I did. I remember the first time I read those lot – it felt like I had never read poetry before. I felt a different level of excitement for poetry, and it was around that time that I started to write ‘proper’ poems and do readings. Ginsberg was a huge influence on poetry, both then and now. I really believe him and his friends were game-changers, and had a significant effect in moulding the shape of poetry to come. Even for those who dislike him or the other beat poets – a negative influence is an influence nonetheless. But I think Ginsberg in particular proved that you could really say and do whatever you want with poetry, and it needn’t conform to certain ideals or standards. Amongst young poets today, I think this has particular resonance, knowing that there aren’t boundaries, and that poetry can say anything you want it to say.

Who are your favorite poets, both dead and alive?

Well, those that I have mentioned are favourites, for sure. I am still yet to read anything that gets me on the same level as Gregory Corso. I also love Sylvia Plath, Shelley, the Surrealist Poets, Leonard Cohen, and as you mentioned, Frank O’Hara. I have recently been getting in to Arthur Rimbaud and Ronald Duncan. The latter of which I found by grabbing a load of free poetry books from a box outside a lecturer’s office, and when I started reading, couldn’t understand why I had never come across him before, as his love poems remind me a lot of my own. Especially when he lived fairly local to us, too – North Devon I think.

What are your plans for the next year or so?

I am currently doing my MA in Creative Writing, so that, along with being a father to a toddler, is definitely keeping me busy. I have Zygote Poems coming out in June via Cultured Llama, so I hope to be promoting that as much as I can. I’m also working on various other writing projects: a short film, a children’s story and another poetry collection. Sometimes I wish I could just focus on one thing at a time, because I am sure life would be a lot easier that way, but my head refuses to work in that fashion it seems.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s always wanted to write poetry?

Read every type of poetry you can get your hands on and get started. The bigger the palette, the bigger the picture. Forget about trying to make it good, or what you think your neighbour, or the local baker, might like to read, and just write. Quality will come the more you write, and it’s important to be honest in your writing. The best and most genuine stuff will come when you are just trying to please yourself.
  

 The Strangest Thankyou is available for £8.00 from: http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/books/strangest-thankyou

Zygote Poems will be published by Cultured Llama in June 2015.

http://www.richardchristopherthomas.wordpress.com