On missing the Edinburgh Fringe

For the last couple of nights I have dreamed about the Edinburgh Fringe. I can’t remember what the dreams entailed, but there was definitely cobbles and drizzle and small theatre stages crammed into implausible locations. The cancellation of everything this year, including Edinburgh, has been pretty hard to take as a performer who relies in the most part in an audience. But most of all, it’s the communal madness and annual pilgrimage to Auld Reekie that I’ve found myself, oddly, missing muck more than I thought.

I say ‘oddly’ because last year, absolutely everything went wrong. Last year was my sixth year as a performer and my eighth fringe in all. The adventure started when the railway lines got flooded on the way there and I arrived nine hours late after various detours taking in Birmingham, Preston, Manchester and Newcastle instead of my original train which should have taken me straight there. I arrived to find that my show had not been included in the Wee Blue Book or on any of the signage at the venue, and then the venue itself had the toilets overflow because the sewage pipes had been inundated. One day I arrived at my venue to find a comedian setting up, they had assumed that the room would be empty because they had taken the wrong day off by mistake. And then on the way home, someone stole all my luggage. In spite of all this . . . I decided I wanted to go back the next year.

Edinburgh means a lot to the structure that I give to my year. I start writing a new show in November or December the year before, and then rehearse it up till April, when I unleash it on the world. I then do the same fringes every year : Barnstaple, Guildford, Reading, GlasDenbury, culminating in a trip up north. The whole year is structured around this timetable.

But Edinburgh means a lot more, too. It really is like a convention of spoken word artists and performance poets. People who you only usually see on social media are there, and a community exists of likeminded people sharing tales of flyering and accommodation. Some of these people have become very good friends over the years and it’s always somewhat emotional seeing them for the first time in a year. It’s also a great training ground, where you can hone your show and watch as many other different types of show as you can fit in. The inspiration I get from going every year lasts me a very long time and helps me experiment and push the boundaries. My last two shows wouldn’t have existed without seeing other shows.

And yes, Edinburgh is hard, physically and emotionally. I don’t know who decided to build a city right on the top of an extinct volcano where it rains most of the time and all the streets are cobbled. And you’re competing against thousands of other shows. And flyering itself is soul-destroying. I’m really no good at it. Yet the highs are extraordinary – slam wins, big audiences, great feedback, and of course, that miracle year in 2017 when I ended up on the radio and in all the papers, certainly outweighs the bad days where you get an audience of one, or you get absolutely drenched for eight hours a day.

I was looking forward to this year. I was going to do a ‘Greatest hits’ package which required minimum props and I’d found some great accommodation, and I was hoping to do everything right. Well. maybe next year, now.

And that’s if next year happens at all. The economic landscape may look very different by then, but I’m hoping there will still be a chance to go back up. With the exception of the town where I live and the town where I grew up, Edinburgh is the place I know the best having stayed and performed all over it for most of the last decade. I can’t envisage not going there for two years.

Badger in the Garden (Who thinks he’s on EastEnders)

Here’s a new film version of my poem, Badger in the Garden. It’s actually the first three minutes of a longer piece which I shall be releasing shortly. I hope you like it! It’s a little silly . . .

Some useful tips for performing performance poetry at performance poetry performance nights.

1. Sit at the back. Don’t sit at the front. If you sit at the front, when it’s your turn to perform you’ll be performing to an empty chair.

2. Also, if you sit at the back, the audience will clap for longer while you’re walking to the microphone.

3. If you are a prop poet and you bring a cow to the stage, don’t point out that you’ve brought a cow to the stage, because people can see that you’ve brought a cow to the stage.

4. Don’t milk it.

5. If you bring books to sell, beg the host for a slot in the first half. That way you can sell books during the interval and still have time to run off and get the train. Make sure you can change a twenty.

6. If someone says they like your stuff, they usually mean it. Sometimes they say it so that you’ll automatically reply that you like their stuff, but not always. Sometimes they’ll say it because you were awful and they feel sorry for you, but not always. But most of the time they mean it.

7. I mean, I think they do.

8. I’m pretty sure of it but you’ve got me thinking, now.

9. If it’s an open mic, spell your name legibly on the sign-in sheet. I usually end up being announced as Rupert Graham.

10. If you’re performing haiku, for gods sake, we all know what haiku are, so you don’t have to explain what a haiku is. Syllables and stuff. The explaining is usually longer than the haiku. Sodding haiku. Same goes for acrostics and villanelles.

11. Don’t get rat-arsed.

12. If you’re using props, check for light fixtures and obstructions.

13. I mean, is it me, or do haikus always seem like they should be longer?

14. If you want to have a laugh while performing, make eye contact only with one audience member, then glare at them, give them the old state, really freak them out.

15. It’s not a competition.

16. Well, except for slams. I forgot about slams.

17. Don’t give away all your poem in the introduction.

18. If you bow to the audience at the end of your set, don’t bang your forehead on the microphone. It bloody hurts.

19. The long walk back to your seat is still part of the performance. Maintain your aura. Try not to trip over handbags. And listen out, because the compere might make some wise-arse remark about you.

20. Always leave them wanting more. Try to do less than the time allocated. The host will love you for it.

21. Make sure your flies are done up.

22. Sitting at the back gives you a sense of mystique.

23. If you really want to infuriate the host, turn towards them almost at the end of your set and ask, ‘Have I got time for another two poems?’ They will always be too polite to say, ‘No, sod off’.

24. If there’s a mic, then don’t say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll perform without the mic. Can you all hear me?’ The people at the back who can’t hear you won’t hear you say ‘can you hear me’. For goodness sake, use the damn mic!

25. Not everyone enjoys the phrase ‘this poem requires some audience participation. Let’s practice, shall we?’

26. But poems with audience participation get stronger applause because the audience is clapping themselves, and most of them are relieved that they don’t have to do any more audience participation.

27. There really is no subtle method in plugging a book.

28. I reiterate, if you’re using props, then check for light fittings.

29, Don’t hold a massive folder in front of your face while you’re reading.

30. Practice at home, time yourself, and aim to do less than your allocated slot.

31. Talk to the other poets.

32. Look for the following: a poem about a cat, a poem in which the performer uses the expression ‘You have no right to tell me how I must feel, how dare you tell me how I must feel’, a poem in which the poet turns on the waterworks halfway through, a poem about some Ancient Greek myth which you’ve never heard about but then everyone laughs knowingly and you laugh too even though you have no idea what they were going on about, a poem which finishes with everyone just going, ‘Mmmmmm’, a poem about being a poet, a poem with a modern cultural reference or metaphor which everyone laughs about and again you join in even though you have no idea what they’re talking about, a poem in which the poet does that strange thumb and forefinger pinched motion as it plucking a finely tuned delicate word from the ether, another poem about a cat. There’s no wrong way to do it, but give yourself a point for each of these!

33. Enjoy the whole experience!

The Lighthousekeeper

Today’s poem is about a quite randy lighthousekeeper. This poem is not for the faint hearted!

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/robert-garnham-poems-trim-trim&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 10: The Lighthouse” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 10: The Lighthouse</a></div>

You can tut all you like

You can tut all you like

You can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
This queue ain’t moving any faster
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Ain’t gonna make the queue go faster

He’s an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
He’s a mean low thing who lives in the gutter
But he ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

You can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
I’m gonna take my own sweet tine
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
I’ll make sure you’re still stood in line

He’s an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
He’s talking to himself and the queue can hear him mutter
But he ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

Can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
I’m sorry if I disappoint
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Mind you, he’s got a point.

Hes an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
It’s clear we’re in the way and they think we’re just clutter
And we ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

Oh for goodness sake now one of them’s gone to lunch.

A daily poem podcast

From today I have started a daily podcast featuring one poem every day. I’m really looking forward to sharing some of the new poems that I’ve been writing with the wider world.

You can find the podcasts on my Soundcloud page.

Here’s the first episode!

<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/my-mother-is-banksy&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 1 – My Mother is Banksy” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 1 – My Mother is Banksy</a></div>

An ode to darts

Nightly pub-sport spectacle.
Like rhinos line astern gripping tungsten spears.
Chunky-reaching cheek-wobbling darts.
Beer belly a-quiver overhanging too wide tee shirt unsolicited stomach glimpse darts.
Spherical hysterical measures out in trebles.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Cocky oche-jockeys crafty cockneys dressing sloppy.
Sports-upholding team mate-scolding beer glass-holding.
Carpet shuffling fart-muffling comes away with nothing.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Double-chaser bullseye-maker opponent-hater third-rather.
Forefinger fling-flourish free-form darts throw panache.
Board-seeker tip bounce wire hitting kerplink.
Unlucky, Trev.

Thud. Thud. Kerplink.

Great big belly-man darts-land Leviathan takes a stand.
Meaty meaty clap-hand (nurses darts like baby chicks),
Arrow-flinging darts board-singing double-trimming
Guess who’s winning?

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Trophy-doting low-score-gloating show-boating local scrote
Boozy-wobbling woozy-toppling lazy darts-fling treble twenty
Bar staff aghast, darts stars laugh, fast darts dance, last chance,

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Last game, the same again, self-same blame game.
In the team lean, seeming so keen, trophy a gleam, he’s a darts machine!
No pain no gain, no gain, no fame, oh, the shame!
Sudden-death shoot out, league-topping bullseye-aiming,
Thud, pretty nifty, scores a fifty, mores the pity,
Geddin my son quivering tentative there the dart itself hanging like a
Swan so graceful in its beauteous flight betwixt chubby
Sweating fingers slow-mo revealing the under belly wobble
Suspended in mid air aerodynamic like the philosophic truth
Writ large straight into the exact centre of the board!

Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.

See you all next week?

A poem for Andrew Graham-Dixon

Andrew Graham-Dixon
And finds poetry in the raw
Of that which would
Otherwise bore me arseless.

He finds radical politicising
In a small painting
Of a warthog.
It’s all in the tusks,
He says.
He looks a bit like
Bryan Ferry.

The aurora borealis
Bore me arseless.
Andrew Graham-Dixon
Talks about bleakness
With a Norwegian.

Andrew Graham Dixon
Andrew Graham Dixon
Luxuriates in the last syllable
Of Van Gogh
Andrew Graham Dixon
Is the thinking mans
Maggie Philbin
Andrew Graham Dixon
Finds Pot Noodles
‘Hauntingly eloquent’
Andrew Graham Dixon
Uses exuberant hand gestures
At dull canvases
With a sad horse on it
Andrew Graham Dixon
Doesn’t move his eyebrows much
Andrew Graham Dixon
Would probably do the ordering
For me
In an Italian restaurant.

I turned up at work
With a side parting
And a shirt open
At the collar.
You’ve been watching him again,
My boss said,
Haven’t you?

I murmur something
About the stoicism
Of the early Romantics
And get on with

On hearing late night planes

What’s that noise?
A little buzzing aeroplane
Tiny buzzing flying buzzing
Little little aeroplane.

Two in the morning,
You’re hidden by night clouds
And I’m laying in bed with the
Latest bout of insomnia,
Envisaging your propellers
Cutting through the mist
As you effect your
Sweet nocturnals.

You fill the night with an insistent throb,
Jarring vibrations, secret missions.
I’m down here on sweated sheets,
You’re up there so cool and calm,
All professionalism and various scientific principles,
Calculated, unflappable optimism.

I’ve been grounded all night.
Sleep would be the ultimate take-off.
I’ve been trundling down the runway
Turning around and giving it another go.
Garnham Air, you’ve got permission to take off
I know
I know.
I’m trying.


How mesmerising my town must be from up there
Hypnotised, trance-like, by the lights of the
Tesco’s megastore
From up the you can probably see
The curvature of the pier.
You might even see what
My neighbours been up to in the back yard
These last few weeks
Or at least what’s causing the smell.

All day long, you never stop moving from
Exotic locations bound up with chimerical
Extravagance and wonder.
From Manchester international a short hop
To Edinburgh International.
From Edinburgh international a shot hop
To Southampton international.
From Southampton international a short hop
To Newquay Airport.
For, Newquay Airport a short hop
To Manchester International.
From Manchester international a short hop
To London Stanstead.
From London Stanstead a short hop
To Manchester International.
From Manchester International a short hop
To Southampton international.
From Southampton international a short hop
To Manchester International.
And so on.

Two in the morning.
What I really need is a friend.
Text messages in the dark,
Phone vibrations matching
Your incessant buzz.
‘Hey Rob, you there? x’
How my heart would dance!
Not like yesterday when
All it said was,
‘Your bill is available to view online’.

I imagine you pristine
Skimming voluminous cumulonimbus
Just you and the stars and
The satellites
Floating as if on nothing
With your seamless buzzing
Incessant buzzing
Endless powerful buzzing.

Which, actually,
Might just be the central heating pump.


Look into my eyes
I’m going to put you in a trance.
When I count to three
You’ll open your eyes and
you’ll be an audience at a poetry gig.

Let me hypnotise this chap.
When I say the magic word, maybe
He’ll be the walrus
And I’ll be the narwhal
And he’ll nuzzle me,
Oh, how he’ll nuzzle me,
Nuzzle me you walrus freak,
You sexy feral walrus freak.
The magic word will be
Anne Widdecombe.

I tried to hypnotise my aunt
make her think she was a donkey.
didn’t work.
She just did her knitting.
I tried to hypnotise a donkey
Into thinking she was my aunt.
Amazingly it did some knitting
And looked just like my aunt.
then I realised I’d just
Hypnotised my aunt
Into thinking she was my aunt
Which is what she was.

I saw the man of my dreams
And I started my old routine
Pendulous pocket watch tick tock pocket watch
I know this might sound creepy
But you are feeling sleepy
On the count of three you’ll wake and see
That you should spend your life with me
And he replied
Do you want to go large
For an extra 65p?
I went home.

My friend Eric
Is really mesmeric.
And because he’s so mesmeric
He’s known as mesmeric Eric
He can walk into a fishmongers
And just the raising of an eyebrow
Can get him as much free hake
As he can shake a stick at.
He lives in Falmouth.

I asked my ex if I could
Hypnotise him.
I said it will be over before you know it.
He said, usual then.
I said, you won’t feel a thing.
He said, usual then.
I said, it might put you to sleep.
He said, sounds about right.
I said, parts of it will be a bit sloppy.
He said, story of my life.
I said, afterwards you might feel a bit humiliated.
He said.
We are talking about hypnotism, right?
I said, and then we might just kind of drift apart
And the next time I see you you’ll be with a much
Younger thinner more handsome hypnotist
Called Kevin
Who means everything to you
And you’re all over each other
And I wonder if secretly it’s because you’re trying to
Prove to me that I meant absolutely nothing
And then you introduce me to him and say,
This is Kevin, he’s an optometrist.
I don’t care what Star sign he is.

I told him a joke
About wheat
He said
It was corny.

When he used to work in a bank i once came in
And asked what do you with all my sultanas.
He suggested a currant account.

I asked him to think of a number
Between one and nine.
He said, Anne Widdecombe.