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.

Sometimes they don’t come back

Sometimes they don’t come back

And the community
Close knit at best
Comes together.

A friend of a friend
Went to sea
And he never returned
And nor did his mate
And it felt
Like everything
Was closing in.

There’s a statue on the quay,
Man and Boy.
It became a focus
And everyone left tributes.
This town
Has no secrets.

Flames flickered
In the autumn breeze
Under overcast skies.
Floral offerings
Heartfelt outpourings
The town
A shoulder.

And the grief
Never seems to go.
It’s unimaginable.
You can’t even begin.

Souls entrust in each other
That every boat which sales
Carries an extra presence
Acknowledged but never seen.

Because
Sometimes
They don’t come back.

Seaside Soul : A Poem for Paignton

New poem! I performed this a couple of weeks ago at Paignton Palace Theatre and people have been asking to see it online. It’s a love letter to my home town of Paignton. It’s also featured in my new show Yay! The Search for Happiness, and my forthcoming book Yay!, to be published by Burning Eye.

Seaside soul.

This town is not torrid, nor tainted nor brazen,
This tornado of flavours,
Chip shops and chopsticks and packets of Quavers,
Savour its layers and nautical sailors.

Barbers and harbours and car parks and mars bars
A beer at the Pier Inn while peering at the pier thing
A stride and a stroll
But hide from the gulls your hot sausage rolls
It’s the way that we roll
With our seaside soul.

High tide drip dry nick nack paddywhack
Picnic and a packamac
Promenade flapjack
Sand in your rucksack
Sand in your flapjack
Sand in your arsecrack
Let’s go to the pub.

Cinema chick flicks
Candy floss, pick n mix
Fish n chips, kiss me quick
Think I feel sick!

Ring road surf shack seaweed stink
Caravan holiday
It’s worse than you think
Dodgy dodgy plumbing and a blocked up sink.
Big bands and jazz hands, gleaming sands and
One night stands
You probably will not understand
It’s ain’t no hole
With your seaside soul.

Amusements, bemusement,
Soup of the day
The all day breakfast
Only served till midday
Have you paid and displayed?
Grab your bucket and spade!
You’ll never be dismayed
Memories fade
But your heart will always stay.

This frisky town this sea breezy town
This cream tea scene of green seas and freezing dips
Donkey rides and cheesy chips
Ice cream by the bowl
We’ve got seaside soul.

Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
The hot pulse of life adding fire to my brain
The legs of the pier stride deep in the brine
Let’s dance once more time, say you’ll be mine
We laugh and we grin and we howl at the ships
The night is afire and it smells just like chips
You bend for a kiss like a child with a doll
You asked what’s for dinner, I said, seaside soul.

To the ghost ships

An ode to the ghost ships

Through the mists of a calamity
In a year we never asked for,
The long arm of our shoreline bay
Offered you anchorage at first only
For commercial reasons.

Yet your streamlined sleek and tower block decks
Formed a fleet of imaginary towns,
Dark horizon Christmas trees with an
Imaginary population, new neighbours.

In a world of sudden restrictions you became
A local secret, an impossibility of the soul,
A solace as onerous as the mournful horns
Adding an extra solemnity for remembrance,

Seeing out this accursed year, or those
Poor fishermen who would never return.
We can sing sweet lullabies, dainty and plaintive
Though none can compare to your industrial symphony,

A blast of the horn as unsubtle as anything!
On foggy mornings you layer the imagination,
Ethereal in the gloom your hulking gross tonnage
A link to a world beyond immediate geography,
Ghost ships, haunting the present with voyages past.

Image Ian Williams

Squidbox – The Video

On a drizzly, wet and windy day the week before last, 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. Just another crazy poetry adventure!

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.

Here’s the video! I hope you enjoy it.

You can order a copy of the book here https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

Squidbox

Comedy performance poet Robert Garnham 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, Robert used his trademark humour to draw out the unique character of an iconic town.

Squidbox

In 1996 I moved with my parents from Surrey to Brixham. My parents had come down to Brixham during the 1960s for various holidays and they had always loved the place and its people. They had always said that they wanted to retire there. I came with them, and the whole place felt like a different world. I immediately fell in love with the history of the fishing industry and the traditions of those families who had a long association with the sea.

I moved away from Brixham in the year 2000, but I have continued to visit every single weekend, using the room at the back of my parent’s garage as a makeshift rehearsal room as my career as a comedy performance poet grew. When the chance came to write some poems on a themed idea, funded by Torbay Culture through the Arts Council, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the Brixham fishing industry and the people who work within it.

With the help of Clare Parker, my producer, I was able to infiltrate this world. I spent a little bit of time on a trawler, (in the harbour, though; we didn’t go anywhere!), and I interviewed trawlermen and people associated with the industry, as well as locals to get their view on what the fishing industry meant to them. I was also able to go behind the scenes at Brixham Museum and chat with Anna Kisby Compton, the curator, about the role that women played in the history of the fishing industry. I was also deeply inspired by Samantha Little’s book, ‘Battling Onwards : The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918’, published by Brixham Museum. I also spent some preparation time chatting with John Hegley, a much more accomplished comedy performance poet, who gave me some ideas on how to approach the project, and who suggested poems I might read or listen to by way of inspiration. Finally, I chatted with Maggie Duffy, Brixham-based singer and songwriter, whose extensive knowledge and understanding of the town and its people were invaluable.

I have recently published these poems in the form of a pamphlet which, for now, you can order from Amazon. The whole project has been an incredible learning experience for me and has left me with an increased understanding and affection for the town of Brixham.

The pamphlet can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08KR2M649/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Robert+Garnham+Squidbox&qid=1602320577&sr=8-1

We are Brixham

I’ve had a great month (and summer) getting to know the people of Brixham and writing poems about their fishing industry, its importance, history and culture.

We are Brixham

Amid the pontoons and jetties, the wind whistle
Through yacht mast rigging,
The stone breakwater a loving arm,
The harbour calm.
Amid the trawler bustle and diesel throb, the hum,
The roar, the continual movement,
Night-lights of long-distance trawlers
In their humdrum heroic return,
We are Brixham.

Amid the labyrinthine narrow lane cottages kissing
Face to face over alleyway cobbles,
Amid the crafty cats and shoals of sprats,
And bearded trawlermen in blue cloth caps,
Amid the grind and wheeze of autumn’s first breeze,
Of chilled fingers numbed by winter’s first freeze,
We are Brixham.

Amid the rust and plants and smuggling haunts
And quayside pubs where sea legs find their own solidity
On the moving deck of life itself,
Amid the gift shops and chip shops and ship hulls
And sea gulls and old father time his
Beard soaked in brine,
We are Brixham.

Amid the local lore, the drunk pub bore,
The concrete remnants of the Second World War,
The plastic floats, the high-viz coats,
The loaded totes from chugging boats,
The sea serene, the sea-scape scene, the holiday dreams
Of vanilla ice cream, the trawler beams,
The harbour walls, midnight pub brawls,
The pirate ghost ghouls, the mechanic with his tools,
The people, the town, the community and life,
We are Brixham.

Adam

Adam

I’m a firm-chinned trawlerman.
I don’t fight on the quay.
I’m not a brawlerman.
I don’t stagger in the gutter
Getting legless in the pub
I’m not a crawlerman.
Although I’m not short,
I could be a bit taller man.
My name is
Adam.

Heaving seas much like the
Heaving bosoms of the girls I have
Pinned around my bunk.
In the middle of the night
In the midst of a gale I catch
Their slightly uncertain eyes in the glare
Of my mobile phone.
I’ve cut them out from magazines.

Yet my heart yearns and the
More it yearns I beg not
For a girl in every port.
The lessons I’ve learned,
The lessons I’ve been taught,
Someone to spend my time with
Because my trawler days are fraught
And my life will mean nought
Because I really ought
To find
Contentment,

Slippery nets as we haul in a big one,
Scales and flippers, kippers,
Frantic shouting from the skipper,
Diesel generators and lights
Illuminating horizontal rain.
How I tire of these
Seas
How I pine for a night
With a loved one.

I’m too old
For magazine cuttings.

Chugging into port,
A belly full o’ fish
After a week on the big brine
Feeling an ache in every muscle,
A lonely room awaits me
Somewhere in this place, this
Collection of lights, this
Outpost of humanity,
This
Rock-clung town with its cottages
Like limpets holding on so
Tightly as if to an idea.

She’s out there, I can feel
An untold story,
A future love.