Yay! The Search for Happiness

Robert is a poet. And he’s happy. Or is he? After the death of a favourite aunt, he decides to find out exactly what it means to be happy. He ends up as a poet-in-residence on a fish factory ship in a search for contentment on the high seas. What could possibly go wrong? Comedy and poetry collide head on in this new show from the Professor of Whimsy’.

Interview

Comedy performance poet Robert Garnham has been writing a show about happiness. It’s a project he started back in 2018.
‘It seemed to me that there was a lot of negativity around at the time’, he explains. ‘And let’s be honest, the news was always really depressing. It’s hard to be upbeat at times but I thought it would be nice to at least try. Of course, then things started getting even worse’.
During this time he was also preparing his third collection, ‘Yay!’, due to be published by Burning Eye Books in May 2021.
‘The agreement was that I would write and perform a show which I could tour in support of the book. Mind you, this agreement came about before the global pandemic and the various lockdowns’.
‘I started work on the show in April 2020. At the back of my mind was the cheerful thought that maybe by the end of the year, everything would be back to normal. Ha! But I kept writing, and then in September 2020 I started the process of learning the script and rehearsing, all the time unsure when it would ever see the light of day’.
So what is the show about?
‘The show tells a story of the main character’s search for happiness. He’s happy enough, but when his Aunt dies he realises that he needs to get to the root of happiness. He asks himself, can we ever be truly happy if we’re only going to snuff it? He becomes a poet in residence on a ship and interacts with the crew, all the time looking for those moments of happiness. Of course, things don’t go to plan, but he learns what works for other people. Relationships? Humour? Alcohol? Being kind? A sense of belonging?’
‘The show touches on matters of mental health, identity, kindness, and learning to listen. But not in a preachy kind of way. It’s a comedy, but there are serious undertones’.
‘The show is interspersed by poems from the new collection. Also, I’d made a conscious decision at the start of the process not to have any props or sound effects. I’d spent most of the last ten years touring the UK, lugging a big box of props around, and seriously, I’m getting too old for that kind of thing! But I thought it would be an amazing challenge, just to stand there with the mic, the words, and nothing else.’
‘Naturally, the show does not solve any of the problems of modern society. I just hope audiences will enjoy it as an hour of amiable poetry and storytelling, a bit of silliness and wordplay, and perhaps think about what it is that makes them truly happy’.
Yay: The Search for Happiness will be appearing throughout the UK and also be available to stream online in 2021.

Yay! Videos

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

Seaside Soul

Shakka Lakka Boom

Dry-Stone Walling

My Mother is Banksy

Instructions for my Funeral

Happy

Seaside Serenade

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic

During 2020 I collated some of the hundreds (!) of hours of recordings I’d made since 2010 of my various performances all over the UK, and I put them in the form of a CD. It was a wonderful process revisiting some of the many gigs, especially the special ones, such as Raise the Bar in Bristol, or Scribal Gathering in Milton Keynes.

The process was helped somewhat by the fact that my friend (and fellow Croydon Tourist Office band member) Bryce Dumont had recorded some of my earliest appearances at his monthly Word Command events in Paignton, at his vegetarian cafe, Epicentre.

During this time I was much more experimental than I am now, veering from comedy to sound poetry to poems which made a lot of use of rhythm, word, syllables and sound. One of these early examples was a poem called ‘Ink to the Pen’, which, for reasons I’m still not sure, I only ever performed once. Indeed, I used a massive book in which I’d glued my poems and for an even weirder reason, I tore this poem out of the book to make way for a new one, and consequently, forgot about it for over ten years!

Hearing the poem again was remarkable, because it was like a present from my past self. And I must admit, I’m rather pleased with how it sounds! I included it on the album and you can hear it right here.https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/ink-to-the-pen

Poem

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the pen to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the pen to the page to the mic.
Jink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Jink to the zinc to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.

Gasp.

Jonathan removed my antlers and said, ‘Not in here, the clientele are mostly Dutch’.

Yay! The show diaries (2.2.21-6.3.21)

This is what I’ve been up to for the last month or so with the show, if anyone’s interested!

(For progress up to this point see https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/02/02/yay-the-search-for-happiness-diaries/ )

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

3.2.21

Line learning linking material.

5.2.21

Line learning linking material. Also worked on the ‘poetry workshop’ scene and explored options of hearing or showcasing the poems. Thought about an audio section much like the ‘You Dunked Your Muffin . .’ Section where I say that I recorded the fishermen on my mobile phone. Decided to write the poems on paper and keep them folded in my pocket, (cleverly with the before and after lines written on the paper too!), thereby whizzing through a whole page of the script.

8.2.21

Rehearsed and went over last third of the show. Did a ‘table read’ of the final piece of long linking material, then re-wrote to shift the focus away from the Robert character ‘coming out’, and more to a confession of his love in keeping with the tone of the show. Tidied up and tightened the rest of the linking material which comes after the Sunrise poem.

9.2.21

Line learning linking material.

10.2.21

Chatted to film director John Tomkins about performing the show in Paignton to a select socially-distanced audience and him filming it and editing it professionally for streaming services and online fringe festivals. Also, line learning linking material.

11.2.21

Went out this morning in freezing wind with Mark to try and take some publicity photos for the show. Edited them. Spent the afternoon rehearsing and line learning. Just a couple of paragraphs to go!

12.2.21

Line learning linking material.

13.2.21

Line learning linking material.

14.2.21

Ran through almost the entire show from memory, with the exception of the last couple of minutes. Running time 55 minutes. Decided on a couple of ‘light’ rewrites.

15.2.21

Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material and more line learning.

16.2.21

Contacted Emily Appleton about taking some publicity photos for the show poster and to publicise the show and the book. Arranged for Sunday morning, weather permitting. Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material yet again! Line learning linking material.

17.2.21

Line learning Happy.

19.2.21

Line learning Happy.

20.2.21

Line learning Happy.

21.2.21

Looked at the end of the show, rewrote the last paragraph of linking material again. PThen looked at the last poem, wrote a new poem, ‘I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy’, and decided to make a medley with ‘Happy’ for the last words of the show, more fitting with the tone. The idea being I might put this poem on a postcard as an extra / bookmark for anyone who buys the book. Ran through sections of the show. Then off to Victoria Park skateboard ramps for a photo shoot with Emily Appleton for the show promotional material. Home, and re-worked the ‘You Dumped a Muffin in your Cuppa’ song, making it almost a minute shorter. Long day!

22.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy.

23.2.21

Full show run through from memory, for the first time! 54 minutes. Decided to end the show after the final linking material but then carry on with I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy afterwards. This gives the option of substituting another poem.

25.2.21

More subtle rewrites to the end of the final linking material to make it sound more like an ending.

27.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy.

28.2.21

Practising random parts of the show.

1.3.21

Full show run through, 53 minutes.

2.3.21

First real rehearsal session rather than line learning, played around with using a chair as a prop, marked up the scripts at moments where the chair will feature.

3.3.21

Exchanged emails with Paignton Palace Theatre about the possibility of using their black box space to film the Yay show without an audience for online fringe purposes. They emailed back to say yes, and free of charge!! (Well, they want some work off me in exchange).

4.3.21

Chatted to filmmaker John Tomkins about arrangements to film the show without an audience at the Palace Theatre and agreed terms, then chatted about the logistics. Next got in touch with the Palace Theatre and they said they could offer the actual theatre auditorium for filming purposes and let us use their sound / lighting engineer.

5.3.21

Worked on the publicity images sent by Emily Appleton to choose two or three as possible poster images for the show and images to send out with press releases. Then chatted to John Tomkins about the film version before listening to various bits of music as opening and closing music for the film version of the show. Had another rehearsal with the chair as a prop and also tried some choreography for the last poem, I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy. Finally pondered on the idea of signing the ‘Becky’ poem myself and ran through it a couple of times.

6.3.21

Full run-through of the show singing the You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa song rather than playing the audio, and doing the whole show with movement, choreography and using the chair as a prop. Also chatted to Bryce Dumont about the possibility of using Croydon Tourist Office music for the start and end of the filmed version.

Squidbox

I spent the summer of 2020 getting to know the town of Brixham and its fishing industry, and what that industry meant to the people of this evocative Devon port. Meeting people whose lives and livelihoods depended on the catching of fish, and learning about historic events, wartime exploits, the role of women and the emotional and family effects of such a perilous industry, I wrote a series of poems which were published by Torbay Culture as ‘Squidbox’.

It was a particularly evocative project and one which is close to my heart. As a comedy performance poet, I don’t often get the chance to concentrate on serious matters, and it was a privilege to become part of a community. As a bit of background history, I moved to Devon in 1996 with my parents initially to the fishing port of Brixham, a place which, at the time, I knew very little about.

During the course of the project I met with trawler operators, fishing folk and other people who work in the industry, as well as the curator of Brixham Museum, where I spent time in the archives looking at the role of women, and the Belgian refugees who were welcomed into the town during the Second World War. I also spent time researching events from the First World War and the role that the trawlers played including skirmishes on the high seas with German U-boats. It was fascinating.

One of the more fun days was spending some time aboard the Adele, a small one person trawler operated by Tristan, who told me all about his job, the difficulties and risks, and also the biodiversity and environmental effects of global warming.

On a drizzly, wet and windy day at the start of the winter, I went down to Brixham harbour with film-maker John Tomkins and my producer Clare Parker, and we filmed general scenes of the harbour and myself reading some of the poems from my Squidbox collection. This really was a case of suffering for my art! Wearing two coats, and soaking wet, and with the rain rolling down my neck, I was filmed in a variety of locations around the harbour. The film can be seen here:

Soon after the project finished, Brixham was hit by the tragedy of the sinking of one of its trawlers with the loss of two crew members. I revisited the poems and wrote two new works, which reference the sinking, as well as a third new poem about the natural sea grass environment of Fishcombe Cove.

If you would like to order a copy of Squidbox, you can do so here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

It’s been a wonderful summer being paid to write poems, which is not something that normally happens. I’d like to thank Torbay Culture for the opportunity, and the Arts Council who provided the funding. It was fascinating learning all about the history and culture of Brixham and the importance that the fishing industry has on the town and the people who live and work there.

Moon Simon – The story behind the poem

Around 2011 and 2012 I used to travel up to London every month or so and go to either Bang Said the Gun or Jawdance, two of the biggest spoken word nights around at the time. (Indeed, Jawdance is still going). Not only would I get on the open mic and perform, but also I’d see what was happening at the cutting edge of spoken word.

At the time I’d been working on a new poem about the moon, which had lots of different verses which independently made sense, but when you put them together, there was no logic to it. I was really worried about this. One month I went to London and I was booked in for a slot at Bang Said the Gun, but also decided on a whim to go to Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe. While I was there I saw a performer called Christopher Lawrence, who was fairly new, and for some reason he was introduced as ‘Christopher Lyons’. We’d been sitting together and I suggested to him that Christopher Lyons might make a very good stage name. Anyway, he did a poem – which I must admit I can’t remember much about, but the structure of it was very similar to my moon poem, plus it had a lot of word play and playing around with sound.

Something sparkled within me and I realised that I needn’t be worried that my poem made no sense. I came back to Devon and worked on the poem, and Moon Simon was born.

I next decided that it needed a prop. At the time I was heavily into props, so I gathered together a big pot of yellow paint, a very large piece of cardboard, and I wrote ‘MOON’ on one side and ‘SIMON’ on the other, and at various points during the poem I would twirl this around so that the audience saw either the word ‘MOON’ or the word ‘SIMON’. I then rehearsed a few times and found myself getting muddled and displaying the wrong side of the sign at wrong moments of the poem. This was most annoying.

I got to a stage where I was happy with the rehearsals. In those days I didn’t think I could memorise poems, and the poem itself was printed in a big notebook, so I knew I’d be holding this big cardboard sign with one hand and the notebook with the other.

My next gig was due to be in Ashburton, and it was the launch event of Lucy Lepchani’s new collection, Ladygardens. I didn’t know much about her publisher, but I went along into the Devon countryside with my giant cardboard moon, feeling incredibly nervous and wondering what these Proper Poetry People would think about me turning up with this weird prop. As it happened, it went far better than I could ever imagine. Not only did my set go well, but the laughter during Moon Simon – especially when I started getting mixed up with which side of the cardboard moon I should be showing at any point during the poem – was most hearty indeed. And when I finished my set the weirdest thing happened – I was asked to get back up and do another poem!

This wasn’t the only amazing thing about that night. It turned out that Lucy’s publisher was in the audience, a chap called Clive Birnie, and he came over and told me how much he liked what I’d done with the cardboard moon, and why didn’t I think about sending him some poems? Needless to say, without me realising it at the time, this was one of those moments in my spoken word career took a very definite path. It led to my first book with Burning Eye, ‘Nice’, and all sorts of opportunities thereafter.

I must admit I haven’t performed Moon Simon for a while, and maybe I should. It’s incredibly silly. The reason is very silly, too – I’ve stopped using the notebook it’s printed in. Part of the fun of performing it was that I’d be fumbling with the notebook and getting mixed up with the giant moon prop. And once I was conscious that this is what people were laughing at, then my confidence that I could do these on purpose and make it funny took a bit of a dive. Because now people were expecting me to get muddled!

I’ve been taking clowning lessons lately, so maybe I might be able to ‘fake’ this, and I’ll start lugging that giant cardboard moon around with me again!

As a side note, a couple of years ago Burning Eye brought out an anthology featuring their published poets, and guess which poem was chosen as my entry? That’s right. Moon Simon!

A Queer Body

A Queer Body

I’ve always been passably handsome
When viewed through frosted glass,
(Frosted glass slightly concave
Acting the same as ‘skinny mirrors’
In fashion boutiques,
Or are they just an urban myth?).
Anyway, passably handsome
At a quick glance.

Though this queer body,
Structured as it is like the
Centre Pompidou with all of its
Accoutrements and pipes on the outside,
Has, on drunken nights,
Momentarily convinced a member
Of the same gender that it might be right
For voracious osculation, you know,
Ironically, the night not a total waste.
There’s no accounting, my mother
Would say, for taste.

But last year it started to
Stand up for itself, (excuse the pun),
And developed a lump that had to be
Swiftly removed, like an edited comma,
Erroneous punctuation,
And then this year decided on a whim
To do the obvious thing and
Get that trendy flu that everyone’s been
Raving about, you know, like a hat,
Or that winter eight years ago when
All the trendy kids wore jumpers that said ‘Geek’
When they obviously weren’t.

Ay, ’tis a queer body, wrapped
Around a queer man who has the lusts of a
Queer man and the abs of a panda.
I know, I thought, let’s shave of all of my
Body hair (I was bored) and look beach ready,
Ended up looking like a chicken, oven-ready,
A butterball plucked and my chest hair
Itched like a bastard for weeks.

Of pirates and conveyor belt toasters

Poem

You know those
Conveyor belt toasters you get
In buffet breakfast bargain hotels?
My mate Brian
Has one of those in his kitchen.
It’s kept on all the time
On the off chance that
Someone might fancy some toast.

Brian is a pirate.
He’s proud of his toast conveyor.
I’ve seen him plunder a frigate.
I’ve seen him
Butter a crumpet.
The toast falls off the bottom
Of the conveyor belt
And he says,
Har harrrrrrrr.

We met on the high seas.
I was first mate on the poop deck.
He threatened me with his big blunderbuss
But after that we got on fine.
You must come round for dinner
Some time,
He opined.

I brought a fine Merlot.
I’d like to propose a toast, he said.
Would you like some too?
And we sat like lemons
In an awkward silence
As we waited for it to trundle through.

Four slices.
Cut in two.
Pieces of eight, he said.

London

This is a poem I’ve been working on for around six years. I first started writing it in a hotel room in London after a gig when I couldn’t get to sleep. And I’ve been coming back to it on or off for years since.

It’s an ode to the city where my family comes from, the city I visit more than any other, the city on whose fringes I lived when I was growing up. You could sense it all the time, just out of reach.

London

Hark, doth London linger.
In lingering humdrum exhaust fume longer
Doth it linger
With that sweat tang white van traffic jam
Lingering in the humdrum London.
River bridges glower tower block
Chock a block gridlock London.
Overcast mellow weather does it settle
Yellow smog hacking hacking Hackney cab London.
London fun with traffic tang
On the tongue
Coming undone I might succumb
Lingering loitering London.
Sunday parks car parks Cutty Sarks
Torn apart grabbed my heart
Seedy humping in London fun parts.
London looming in surly amid the
Hurly burly London fog so swirly
You never get there early
In London.

Sweaty set sweat stains
Train seat sweat stains and the
Sweaty armpits tube hanging
Sweat stains hanging from that
Tube strap sweat stains
Tube strap pulsing veins
Very much like the tube map.
Mind the gap.
Sweat stains armpit blotch like
Map of Greater London.

Drunken wine bum
Drunk on London
London low life lowdown lurking.
London terminus ominous terminus
Probably verminous
Not cleaned since Copernicus.
Charge by the hour
Ever so sour looming tower
And I hover likewise
I have the power
Eardrum thrum in London.

City city pretty scape
Skyscraper cityscape
Mass escape city pretty
Sitting pretty cityscape.
London undone fun run
London squares and bars and fairs and cars.
Kick that burn that kicking in
Floating high on fog bank London.

I hover tentative grey sky
Square mile London longer
Doth it linger deep within
My city my thing my
History my place my dream
My London.

I caught Icarus (and ruined a fable) / Graduation ceremony buffet

Two poems, the first is from 2010, the second is new.

Poem

I caught Icarus
And ruined a fable.
He fell into my arms
Slightly warm and slick with wax
And wild-eyed yet surprisingly
Composed
After his flight.
Did you see that?, he asked,
Did you see that?
Awwwww man, that was well wicked!
That was sick!
That’s going on Instagram later, I tell you!
These things just kind of happen to me.
He prepared to leave.

And what of me?, I asked.
You can’t just fall into my arms
And then saunter off.
This isn’t how it happens,
This is not how it’s meant to be.
Don’t look so grumpy, he said.
Don’t look so downcast.
This never would have happened
If it had been a bit overcast.

Poem

I went to a buffet
At a graduation ceremony
Sausage rolls
Cheese on sticks
Postgrad students
Selfie pics
The table laid out with food food food
It
Was
A
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
A pipe then leaked
And someone called
The water board
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
Give a sausage roll
To the man from the water board
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
Mortarboard
Smorgasbord
Sausage rolls
Cheese on sticks
Postgrad students
Selfie pics