One of the strangest things about being a performance poet is that I am, obviously, not a performance poet all the time. In fact, when you think about it, I’m probably only a performance poet at those moments when I’m on the stage or behind a mic, performing poetry. The rest of the time, I’m just an anonymous bloke.
Because I have an anonymous job and I live in an anonymous town, and the clothes I wear when I’m at work or at home or going round the town are nothing like the clothes I wear when I’m performing poetry. And while it’s true that most of my spare time is taken up with admin, emails, research, watching video clips of other performance poets, and of course, the actual writing and rehearsing of performance poems, I still have the mindset of being just an ordinary person, until the moment,of course, that I arrive at the gig.
Last week I had a gig in Exeter at the Apples and Snakes Spokes Amaze evening. It’s always a wonderful night of energy and poetic brilliance and I like it especially that I can just pop up on the train. So I got into costume and I got out my set list to do some last minute adjustments when, at the next station, a group of drunk lads got on.
They were hammered. Posh, hammered drunk lads in shirts, all called Tarquin and Maurice. And as the train carried on into the early evening I kind of sunk down in my seat a little bit, hoping that their loud joshing to each other would make me somehow anonymous. But I was wearing my poetry costume. The tweed jacket,the glasses, the spiky hair, and worse still, I had my briefcase and my large sparkly hat decorated with fairy lights. I wasn’t exactly inconspicuous.
Eventually one of them asked me where I was going and I had to tell him, hoping that they would leave me alone. But they were most interested indeed. Drunk, loud and interested. What kind of poetry? Comedy poetry? Do you like Michael McIntyre? Do you like The Pub Landlord? Make us laugh, then.
I knew that I could probably have said anything at this point and they would have laughed. They wanted me to get up and put the hat on, and then do some poetry. A part of me wanted to get off as soon as possible, but another part of me realized that this was a golden opportunity not only to perform in front of a brand new audience and bring poetry to a place where it had never been before, but also, I could use it as a practice for my forthcoming set.
So I got up and went through a couple of poems, right there at the front of the carriage. And they loved it. And the conductor loved it. And the other passengers, some of whom were watching, seemed to tolerate it. And when I finished, they all cheered and clapped. They took turns wearing the hat. Tarquin went and sat in the luggage rack and recited one of my poems from the notebook. It was a strange, yet ultimately fulfilling start to the evening.
As luck would have it, a lad got on at the next stop who looked just like Ed Sheeran, and to top it all off, he was a singer too. So they made him perform and I was able to concentrate again on my set for the gig.
Only afterwards did I think how weird the whole experience was. The lads weren’t louts, but they were certainly loud. They weren’t violent or silly, but they’re still not the sort of people I’d hang around with, even though they shall wanted to go for a drink with me.
I have, of course, been in touch with Apples and Snakes to see if they can throw some extra cash my way for bringing poetry to carriage two of the Paignton to Exmouth train. They have yet to respond.
Anyway, here’s a new poem.
LUMINOUS SUPER FUN TOKYO MASSIVE BODY SURPRISE
I’m becoming Tokyo.
I used to be a human being.
But now I’m becoming Tokyo.
My fingers are now motorway bridges.
My face is the Roppongi district.
My teeth are now neon.
My chin is the metro system.
Instead of living in a house
I now surround a bay.
I used to have an armpit.
Now I have an airport.
I used to have two armpits.
Now I have two airports.
People didn’t use
To be able to find me
In my cosy little house
But now they look at a map
Of Japan and they say,
There he is!
I went to a bar
And I asked for a beer
And the barman said,
I’m sorry, but you are a whole
City and there’s no room
For you in here
Unless the laws of physics were to be
So I had a cola and sat outside.
You should see my Mount Fuji.
The doctor has given me a cream
Arms length out like
Supple bullet train
Shinkansen just far enough
To tickle Kyoto
Ha ha ha rumble rumble
Is that an earthquake?
No, I just told you,
I tickled Kyoto
Super bouncy fun happy.
I look through a magnifying glass
At my own arm
See Ginza shopping district shoppers
Shopping in the shops with their shopping
When I sneeze they
Put up umbrellas
And they carry on shopping
Posing for selfies next
To my wristwatch.
Skyscraper head antennas
Winking like eyes blinking
Spikey-haired towers voluminous
Suspended roadway ninja hung clinging
Motorbike sounds karaoke rhythmic feet
From subway constant noise
No wonder my friends stay away from me
And the Tshirt I bought last week
Just doesn’t fit
Since I started my metropolitan
And this poem has got now
Far too many syllables
To be a haiku.