Fun at the Barnstaple TheatreFest Fringe

It’s been a couple of years since I was last at the Barnstaple Fringe and I’d always had good memories of it, in particular it’s manageable nature and the camaraderie of the other performers. Coming back this year, I can see that it has grown, and this just adds to its excitement and the variety of shows on offer. 
This is my first time here with my own show. I don’t mind admitting that the whole process has been nerve wracking and I was incredibly jittery on the train here the other day, that crazy single line track between Exeter and Barnstaple which seems more like a throwback to the 1950s. This is the first show that I’ve invested a lot in, from rehearsing almost every night to having friends and professionals help out with voice, music and movement. Yet I still had no idea how it would go.
The technicians and the people running the fringe have been very helpful indeed and my mind was put to rest after the technical rehearsal in which it appeared that the technology I was using actually worked! Indeed, the technicians were also pleased because they said that i was, and I quote, ‘low maintenance ‘.
And then the fringe craziness kicks in, the familiar faces you see around town and at other gigs, performers and friends from the local and national circuit all coming together in this small town, this Devonian Edinburgh. And my shows had an audience! Last nights was a classic, for example. On the spur of the moment the technicians suggested using the smoke machine, which certainly added a layer of mystique to the performance and perhaps further adding to the ridiculousness of it.
Bizarrely, the show was reviewed and the reviewer praised my dancing!
Last night I stayed in a venue. By which I mean, Bryony Chave Cox had been performing a production in a hotel room, which she then hired out to me for the night. It was certainly a very strange sensation, having an audience in your hotel room and having to wait for them to leave before getting a good night’s sleep. 
So I’ve got one more show to do, and I’m going to try and get out and see as much as possible. I’d really like to thank the organisers of this whole festival, it’s been homely and artistic and everything that a fringe should be. I really hope they let me come back again next year!

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!

Ant – A new pamphlet from Robert Garnham

What is ‘Ant’?
Ant is my new collection of poems. Or is it the same poem? That’s for you to decide. Maybe it’s a new art form, the repeated refrain and compulsory ingredients leading to a strict regulatory poetic style which anyone might then imitate, play with, subvert. Or maybe I’m just having a laugh.
The Ant poems retell the same situation thirty times, that of a man with his uncle, who’s eating a bonbon, the nephew realising that his uncle has an ant crawling on the brim of his flat cap. It really is that simple. Only there are subtle variations, subtexts, tangents and asides, because life is never really as simple as we think. So many different things can happen, and do, that it’s quite impossible to come up with a definitive recap of the story.
I had great fun writing the Ant poems and I’m sure that you will have great fun reading them. You can download your own copy of the pamphlet at this link.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ant-Robert-Garnham-ebook/dp/B071JDZJ7X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496822754&sr=8-1&keywords=Robert+Garnham+Ant

The most significant full stop (Part two).

Hello.

This morning I typed a full stop and by means of social media, attempted to make it the most famous full stop in the history of existence. So far the plan has not been a success. As many as sixteen people have viewed the full stop on social media.

For the next phase of this project, I have decided to focus on the full stop itself. This solitary mark of punctuation was generated electronically rather than handwritten which means that it does not exist in any tactile form. It exists purely as electronic information. Which makes me wonder if it exists at all.

So I have taken a screenshot of the full stop, magnified the picture, and each time taken another screen shot, so as to get to the very essence of the full stop and see how it exists on a massively intensified form. The results thus far have been inconclusive.

Here’s the original full stop, followed by the several magnifications.


It is interesting to note that the magnified full stop has particles, ‘ghosts’, if you will, orbiting around it, which our scientists are very interested in. Perhaps all marks of punctuation have these orbitings, and every letter too, making one wonder if there is hidden meaning in the most simple of texts which we subconsciously glean from any reading.
More news will be forthcoming, and further investigation into the full stop, will be provided, as and when.

Your continued patience is much appreciated.
Robert .

Found Poems.

I’ve been looking for found poems. I haven’t found any, which is weird, because I’ve been to so many gigs where people have had found poems. They must be lying around all over the place, these found poems, waiting to be found. Perhaps they’re not found poems if you purposefully go looking for them.
I had this big plan of finding a found poem and I figured a good place to look would be the index of a biography under the subject heading of the person the book was about. I thought about who I might choose, because there are so many famous names who are also a bit of a rake and whose biography would have the index and bibliography necessary to provide a found poem. I chose Bill Clinton. The index was dull, because the book itself was a scholarly affair. A book which concentrates on the more sordid details of a celebrity’s life does not, alas, usually bother with such things as indexes and bibliographies.

I went to the bus station and looked at the bus timetables but they were similarly unforthcoming. There’s nothing noteworthy or humorous about a bus timetable, although here in Devon, they might seem more as fiction than found poetry.

I work with second hand books and often people have used old shopping lists as book marks, but these hardly ever have any content worthy of performance repetition.

I looked at Daily Mail headlines, but it turned my hair white with shock.

It seems that the found poems I’m looking for are remaining hidden. I also think that there’s an element of composition in every found poem. There’s editing going on, manipulating of the facts. I’m sitting in a trendy coffee shop as I write this and I’m looking at the menu board, but there’s nothing on it that’s remotely funny. There’s nothing inventive or fun about a flat white.

I think the best thing to do with found poems is not to look for them. Unless, of course, I did a list of found poem subject matter, and then made that into a found poem. Yes, that might be one way out of it.

Or I could just stop looking and get on with my life.

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.

Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work

Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work. 

Earlier today I posted this message as a blog:

“I shall be having coffee in the coffee shop on the harbour in Brixham. I will be the one with the notebook.

But you already know that. “

 The reasons for this weren’t that I’d lost my mind. In fact, it’s quite simple. It was a message to the future, to future generations who might be looking at my various writings and journals and trying to decide on a good moment to go back in time and meet up with me.

Indeed, going to the coffee shop this morning might have been the start of something big. An experiment combing poetry and literature with physics and science, logistics, perhaps even religion. Time travelers from future generations would come in, in their tens, perhaps hundreds, and I’d buy them all a decaf cappuccino and chat about life in general. And then perhaps they’d let me pop back with them a bit further and go disco dancing with Dorothy Parker. How fun it would be! So when I left for the coffee shop this morning down to the harbour in this strange little fishing town, I took a bag with me and an extra pair of pants, just in case.

And do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Nobody turned up. I even ordered an extra flapjack in case at least one person arrived, but there was nobody. The only other people in the coffee shop were Welsh holiday makers, and nobody was wearing bright space clothes or futuristic fashions. Unless the Welsh holiday makers were from the future, in which case it looks like flat caps are making a come back in the year 2525.

Nothing.

The only thing I can deduce from this is that in the future I become so well known that people don’t want to meddle in my time line to ensure that I really do stand over the world with my arms folded, omnipotent, wise and celebratory.

If there are any time travelers reading this, you mucked it all up. I will be lingering in the car park at work tomorrow for five minutes but I’m not holding my breath. And if you want a flapjack when you arrive, well, you can just bring your own.

While I was at the coffee shop, I wrote a poem.


Poem


In a rocky cove,

With a bonfire,

The surfers have one of their

All night sex driven drug fueled raves.


Alright, lads?

Mind if I just

Squeeze myself in here.

No joint, thanks,

But I wouldn’t say no

To a nice cup of tea.


Orange quivering light

And silhouetted dancing

On rock formation outcrops.

Beach-bronzed, board-weary,

They fumble in the rucksacks

For PG Tips

And one of them confides to me

That he likes the way I think.


I retune their radio,

Blotting out their techno pump

And we listen to Bed At Bedtime.

He soft burr of Richard Wilson

Reading Graham Greene’s

Travels With My Aunt

Wisping out across the

Flat calm sea.

Who are we and why do we do it? (Perform poems, I mean).

This week I was asked by someone who the ‘persona’ was that I adopt when I’m performing. The person asked this because whenever I perform I tend to wear the same shirt and trousers and I told them that this was my ‘costume’. The person I told this to is in the theatre so they took this to mean that I became a character whenever I performed.

Ah, I said.

And then I got to thinking that maybe she was correct, and that the person who stands up and does things into a microphone is not the same sort of person who does everything else that I do. The Robert Garnham who gets trains and goes to work and eats a flapjack and goes to the supermarket is not the same Robert Garnham who performs poems about orgasms and trousers.

The question then came up again during rehearsals for a show that I’m involved in. ‘Who is the narrator of this poem?’, I was asked. And to be honest, it’s not something I’d even thought about. (The poem is about orgasms).

Anyone who does anything performative it always a different person in front of other people. And yet this persona is bound to have qualities of the person underneath. Whether or not this is an unexplored side of that person, or an exaggeration, depends, I suppose, on the act itself. I’d always thought that my ‘character’ of ‘Robert Garnham’ was a bit of an academic buffoon whose poetry aims for the deep while accidentally provoking much sniggering and laughter. Which, I suppose, is a pretty fair summation of what I do, but also of who I am underneath.

I’m always saying the wrong thing.

I looked at all of my favourite poets and performers. John Hegley becomes somewhat school-teacher-ish when he does his thing. On the one occasion that I worked with him, he was a completely normal chap before he went on stage. (Mind you, we’d both got to the venue late because we’d both got hopelessly lost on the way). Rachel Pantechnicon is very clearly a constructed character who bares very little resemblance to the person who plays her. Yet there is still a slight resemblance of sorts. Both have taken aspects of their normal character and infused them into their stage presence.

But there’s also a form of wish-fulfilment. In the case of Robert Garnham, there’s a sense that he becomes the sort of person on stage that he wants to be in real life. He doesn’t usually get everyone’s attention in any situation apart from when he’s behind the mic.  He’s always the one who gets spoken over during staff meetings at work. Yet he’s always the one who’s proved right. He hates staff meetings.

So why does he do this strange performance every now and then? Because he can? Because there are underlying issues? Because he just wants to entertain? Because he’s always been incredibly jealous of Pam Ayres? It’s probably a combination of all of this. Plus, it’s really good when people laugh.

I told the theatre director that the persona I adopt himself has a persona which changes with every poem. There are many meta-layers and semantic possibilities within this. Robert Garnham becomes ‘Robert Garnham’ who then becomes “Robert Garnham”.  This explanation seemed to satisfy her and then she asked the same question to another poet.Image