Imagine a prison

Impossible to break from

Yet without physical form.

Invisible walls

Built not of brick but of pain,

Notions, expectations,

Life ruined by the abstract.
There are others of your kind

Unseen in their struggle.

But the very nature of your

Sublime imprisonment

Blinds you to them.

Rather than fight, they pine,

Or else ignore the obvious,

Face sweating behind bitter masks.
Those who are fortunate

Fill you with anger.

Their love is nought but luck,

And now they love their luck,

And how lucky their love.

Another head of sweat rolls

Beneath your jaded caricature.

They’re so immature.
You dance in your mind.

Rhythms so sensual

Pounding party silly rhythms

Inexplicable sun shining smiling

Fresh faced rhythms incomprehensible

That fact should swamp denial,

Go on dance close your eyes and

Dance and let yourself go in a

Way that shouldn’t be disco lights

Flashing almost unbelievably as you

Submit to the bounty of freedom

Sugar flip heart pump running

Fingers across the forbidden and

Not one ounce of tired regret

Just don’t. Open. Your. Eyes.
Steadfast in your culture.

Grey tomb of the senses.

Flesh unblemished by whip crack.

Absolute devotion to the ether.

Shouting loudest from the opposite shore.

Anger seething in the night.

You’ve got to do what’s right.

You’ve got to do what’s right.

You’ve got to do what’s right.
Imagine a prison

Impossible to break from.

Not one, but many

Millions, everywhere,

And in some places more than others,

From which

Only the lucky few have ever escaped.

You Can’t Put Tinsel on Loneliness

Here’s my Christmas poem for this year.

Amid the tinsel of a November Weatherspoons 

A cold air nip as the log fire cracks

Alone at table 67, traditional breakfast 

No one to share the superfluous hash brown with.

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
Twenty years of solo meals and microwave Christmas puds

And naps in party hats and texts from exes

And pondering on paperwork to pass the time

Or at least the polishing or painting of skirting boards

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
You can’t put fake snow on despair 

You can’t hang angst on a tree

You can’t parcel up and shrink wrap disappointment

You can’t fill a stocking with ennui

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
A mardy face sneering under a felt red Santa hat

Randy nights of crackers pulled, curtains drawn and candles snuffed

Christmas Eve spending the day at your mothers, as a ‘friend’

Unwrapping just the one present and finding its a tea towel

It’s the thought that counts 

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
Here he comes now, Josh, duty manager,

Yes everything’s all right with my meal, tell me how you’d feel

These cold mornings just expose the emptiness of the galaxy 

And the dichotomy between companionship and the briefness of our existence,

Yes, everything’s all right with my meal, but

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
Table for one, sir?

Leave a coat on the chair so that

Some other loner doesn’t nab your seat

While you’re ordering at the bar

The all day breakfast is only served till eleven

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.
Back amid the tinsel of a November Weatherspoons 

Flimsy cardboard card advertising overpriced turkey

And the promise of not having to do the washing up

We timed our orgasm for the stroke of midnight

Rhythmic with sleigh bells like a radio jingle xmassified 

You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.


In case you didn’t know, I’ve got a new book out! : Thoughts on ‘Nice’.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve got a book out. Indeed, it is my first published book, my first proper collection from a real publisher, Burning Eye Books, rather than a self published effort. I can’t begin to describe how great it feels!          Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a published writer. While other kids would daydream and talk about winning some football match or scoring a winning goal, I would dream about there being a book out there with my name on the cover. I would repeat, over and over to myself on those long suburban sultry nights, the image of opening a box from the publishers and seeing all the books there inside, ready to go out into the world.

          It’s taken a while!

          Burning Eye are the most dynamic and wonderful company I can imagine. They’ve published all my favourite names in the spoken word community, such as Megan Beech, Vanessa Kisuule, Rob Auton, Salena Godden. I have devoured every volume over the years, and when the chance came up to send them some material, I didn’t hesitate. I heard nothing for a while and I thought, well, on to the next thing, then.

          Then last year, while staying in Bristol and supporting Vanessa Kisuule at the Hammer and Tongue event, I received an email from Clive Birnie inviting me to send in a manuscript, because he’d chosen me to be published! I was so happy, but I didn’t want to jinx it by telling anyone. The only person I told was Vanessa, and then I carried the secret around for months! 

          I cannot stress how incredibly professional Burning Eye have been. I’ve worked with editors and proofreaders, going through the poems and clarifying every last mark of punctuation or dodgy example of bad grammar. (Like this sentence). Hours spent enchanting emails about the rules on brackets and semicolons, hyphens, and the fact that one poem had to change its content in order not to be sued by a large film company which has a mouse shaped logo! Burning Eye were brilliant, it felt so good to be a part of their system.

          So, what is Nice?

          First of all, the title. I’ve always hated the word ‘nice’, because it’s so floppy and undescriptive, and it can be used sarcastically. But I wanted the book to be positive, to contain only funny or life affirming poems, and I needed a one word title that was positive in itself. The original title was ‘Nice One’, then I went with ‘Responsible’, and then back to ‘Nice’. I was also going to call it ‘Poems’.

          So, Nice is a collection of fantastic upbeat silly funny poems which don’t tax the brain and make no claims to literary excellence, but they are the ones that I enjoy performing the most and the ones that the audiences like. There are also one or two brand new pieces in there which I’ve not yet performed, such as a rap about fuchsias originally written for my music group Croydon Tourist Office, and another about, ahem, weird sexual fetishes. Indeed, a first read of the manuscript shocked me at the amount of sex mentioned in the book, although there was nothing exactly graphic. I did wonder what a psychologist might think!

          The cover is deliberately bright and clean. It’s based on the sort of design that you might see on a 1980s album cover, I wanted to create something simple and iconic, easy to replicate, and easy to put on posters. I think it looks clean and fresh, and the motif is repeated on the back. The colouring also could represent the rainbow flag, though this is not explicit and I only thought of it after I’d designed the cover!

          On the whole, Nice represents the last two or three years of my performances, and now it’s out there in the open for the whole world to enjoy, and I can go on to the next thing.

          I’m hugely proud of the book and the reception so far has been great. I’ve been working on it for a year and it still hasn’t lost its magic with me, so I hoping that this remains the case for the reader, too. The next step is a couple of events to help launch it, such as a book signing in Paignton in December, and a mini book tour taking in Torquay, Exeter, Bovey Tracey and Woking.

          You can buy the book here 


Poem (People Keep Mistaking Me For Tom Daley) 


Got mistaken again last night

For Olympic diver Tom Daley.

That’s the third time this week.

The classically handsome features,

The tanned, toned physique,

That winning smile,

Just like Tom Daley.

A lot of people have said

We could be twins.

Coming out of Morrissons with a

Supermarket trolley,

Some yob shouts from the bottle bank,

Tom! Tom! Tom!

Tom Daley! Tom Daley!

It’s Tom Daley!

Swimmer bloke! Trampoline swimmer bloke!

Tom Daley! Divey swimmy divey divey

Swimmer bloke!

From the tv!


Tom Daley Tom Daley Tom Daley Tom Daley!

He then peered at me closer and said,


In the coffee shop,

Flapjack please and a decaf cappuccino 

The barista above the steam gurgle machine

Says, half heartedly, ‘hon haley?’

And I say, what?

And she says, 

‘hon haley? hon haley?

and I say what?

And she says,

‘hon haley.

Nothing, nothing

I thought . . .

Sitting in the coffee shop

Avoiding eye contact



Tom Daley is one of my favourite athletes.

This is because of the way that Tom Daley dives.

Tom Daley climbs up the ladder and then

Tom Daley dives off of it and Tom Daley

Hits the water and then Tom Daley swims to the side

And Tom Daley climbs out of the pool.

You could buy Tom Daley an ice cream and Tom Daley

Is the sort who would say thank you for buying me

An ice cream because that’s the sort of person

That Tom Daley is.

I dreamed that he came round

And we chatted about Professor Brian Cox

And now his to shows, informative as they are,

Might be half an hour shorter

If he didn’t speak



The cat wanted to go out and

Tom Daley volunteered.

Come here, Kevin, he says,

Come here.

The cats called Kevin.

Sometimes people mistake me for

Professor Brian Cox, too.

I’m not Tom Daley

But if I was I’d probably

Wear a false handlebar moustache

In public

In case someone dropped their handbag

Into a river or a harbour

And a call went up among the throng,

‘Is anyone here an Olympic diver?’

Another invitation this week

To open a summer fete.

Just wear your swim shorts, the email said,

So we can put pictures in the staff magazine.

They thought I was you know you.

I’m fed up that

People use me just as a sex object.

Turned on the tv last night.

Diving championships,

Happened to be on.

Just in time to see Tom Daley

Clambering up for another

Rocket ship from the springboard.

And the commentator said,

‘And now here’s something different,

It’s performance poet Robert Garnham’.

A town called Burnsville, West Virginia.

I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled all over the world from an early age, and since I started work I’ve travelled on my own to some fantastic places. Also, as a part time performance comedy poet, I’ve travelled all around the UK, too. I’ve seen some nice place and visited some wonderful cities, and I’ve seen some downright grotty places too. Yet wherever I’ve been, the thrill of travel has been half the fun, and it usually only kicks in once I’m back at home.
It would be a bit naff right now to list all my favorite places, or those in which I have – (and I hate this phrase) – found myself. Tokyo and New York, for example. The rain forests of Australia. A four day train journey I took from one side of Canada to the other in the middle of winter. (I said I wouldn’t make a list, but now look at what I’ve gone and done).
I live in Devon, now. It’s a long way from the suburbs of Surrey where I grew up, and it feels like another world. Yet when I was barely eighteen years old, I took a journey out to Canada to see my Uncle and we ended up visiting a place that has stayed with me ever since. And I have no idea why.
In 1992, I was an enthusiastic traveller, diarist and amateur writer who saw the whole world as a source of adventure. Raised in the dull suburbs, yet defiantly liberal in outlook and, it has to be said, possibly a little camp, I wasn’t totally sure of who I was yet but I know what I liked, and I knew that I was different to everyone else. A holiday with my Uncle in Canada would be a chance to feel slightly independent, yet still under someone else’s care for a couple of weeks.
During my stay my uncle decided we would drive down into the US and just keep going, with the vague idea of going to Roanoke, because it sounded nice. We hired a white van and duly set off, driving all day and then stopping at motels, meandering across the southern states. And one night, when my uncle was too tired to drive, we stopped at a small town called Burnsville, West Virginia.
It was hot. Humidly hot. I’d never felt a heat like it. The moment I stepped from the air conditioned van, the humidity would cause me to sweat, instantly. We pulled up at a motel called the 79 and booked in. I remember thinking that it was the hottest I’d ever been.
I couldn’t sleep that night. The noise of insects kept me up and the small town had a rather unsettling feel to it, with valley sides and hills and forests, bleached white grass, hot car parks, and a deep starry night. Soaked in sweat, I decided to go for a walk.
The town was so quiet, except for the sound of traffic on the highway. I didn’t see a single person as I walked, in a kind of zig zag pattern. There was a bit of a valley behind the hotel with a stream in it which seemed to have dried up, and a bridge over the stream, and the sound of insects was quite loud. I think my allergies were possibly playing up. I saw a cat and I wanted to say hello to it, but my uncle had warned about diseases, and when I got closer to the cat I could see that it was badly injured as if it had fallen off of something. I felt really bad.

Kind of feeling that I should get help, I wandered around the side of the motel and saw light streaming out from a room beneath, in the basement. There seemed to be a laundry there, whether it was the laundry for the motel or a town facility, I did not know, but there were two young men in there of my age, shirtless, doing the washing. The moisture and the sweat made them appear to glisten in the fluorescent light and, well, you know me, I just had to stand and look at them for a while. It was the first time I’d thought about sexual matters for weeks, and this combined with the heat and the injured cat and the incredibly long day to make me feel strangely dissociated from everything.
I went away, sat for a while next to the road, which was mostly traffic free, looking at the woods on the slopes around the town feeling like a very small person in a very bit universe. Away from my family and from the comforting blanket of suburban Surrey, I suddenly realized that the person I was would stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter where I happened to be. Yes, I was in a strange new place, and there was the horror of the injured cat, but the glimpse of the sexy young men in the launderette reminded me that I had a culture and a life of my own.
I think we left fairly early the next morning.
As I grew up, and as I’ve travelled to other places, the town of Burnsville has stayed with me, always there at the back of my mind. Every time I feel hot or humid, like today, I’ve thought of Burnsville. Every time I’ve doubted myself I’ve remembered the motel and the launderette.
Lately, I found a Facebook page for the township of Burnsville and I’ve befriended a couple of people from there. They do not share the same beliefs as me and some of their Facebook posts can be quite infuriating for a suburban city liberal performance poet, but I can’t get angry, because this is their culture and this was the town where I realized something rather big about myself. It’s better to change the world slowly by example. And if I can’t sleep tonight, I know where my imagination will take me once again. 

The Singular Conundrum of High Concept Poems

It’s funny the way things go. Poems, I mean. I often feel that the best poems are created when two or more ideas come together, and this always excites me. And indeed, some of my best loved poems and the ones I love performing the most are these types.
Yet lately I’ve had a trouble with three or four poems which have been perplexing me greatly. And these are conceptual, a conjoining of several themes and ideas. Indeed, part of the problem seems to be that they are purely ‘concept’ poems and as a result they exist more as mathematical experiments, scientific poems with no heart.
Take the one I’ve been working on lately. It’s called Poem’, but it also has the subtitle, ‘I can’t believe you would rather go rock pooling than come with me to the circus’. The moment I started working on this I felt rather proud of it and several verses seemed to write themselves, and at the end of each day I’d relax, happy with my efforts and my intellectual prowess at having created something so wonderful as a poem about a couple arguing over going rock pooling or going to the circus.
And then I put it aside for a while.

And then when I read it again, it felt me cold. I mean, the whole idea of it, the poem seemed too forced.
I think the problem was that it was not speaking from my heart. I have no interest in either circuses or rock pooling, I just liked the idea of these concepts being forced together. I didn’t care about the characters in it. All of the references to rock pooling and circuses seemed forced.
This doesn’t mean that the poem is dead. Far from it, the whole thing is very much alive, even if it currently resembles an old car in a garage, in several bits all over the floor. It’s become like a puzzle which has to be solved, and I’m looking forward to getting underneath its skin!
There are two other poems. They are so old that they’ve been following me around for years. Indeed, one of them gave me the title for my first book. ‘Sofa Phobia’ is a true poem about my own phobia of common sofas, and ‘Moist Robot’ is about a robot which sweats a lot. It seems that every few months I might rewrite one or both of these. The problem, again, is that they seem too high concept.
But I’m plugging away at them.
So for now, here’s another high concept poem which I might come back to. It’s about tortoises.

Bringing the tortoise out of hibernation.

Wake up tortoise wake up.

Four months of slumber now he’s ready for the summer.

Wake up tortoise wake up.

Enmeshed in hay, time to see if he’s okay

Wake up tortoise wake up.
All winter tiptoeing around the bastard.

Don’t wake the tortoise, that’s what I kept repeating,

Shaking my fist at low flying planes

And castigating anyone who sneezes loudly

That amorous couple upstairs

Whose lovemaking wakes me,

Banging on the walls shouting, Don’t wake the tortoise!

To which she shouts back,

That’s what I’ve been trying to do all night!

And he replies, That’s it, you’ve put me right off, now.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Your life is a mystery, Mister Tortoise,

You don’t tell me anything about yourself.

All those years I spent

Trying to get you to come out of your shell.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Your such a good imparter of wisdom.

We hang on your every word.

I’ve never forgotten the lessons that you taught us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or those shopping expeditions,

The things that you bought us,

Mr Tortoise.

Or the fishing trips to the riverbank

The things that you caught us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or the myriad of times we were lost

And you sought us

Mr Tortoise,

Or the times that we fell out

And you fought us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or that lovely iron gate

That you wrought us,

Mr Tortoise.

You look nothing like a porpoise,

Mr Tortoise.

(I’ve run out of rhymes).

Wake up tortoise wake up.
I hope you don’t mind

But my mate Jeff borrowed you

Mid January

And gaffer taped you to his forehead

So he could go to a Star Trek convention

As a Klingon.

He met Uhura.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
You just sleep there,

Don’t worry about me.

You just have yourself a little snooze,

I’ve got figures to crack on with,

And a job and rent to pay

And a boss who’s got a face like a 

Warthog with a slapped arse

And an ex who keeps

Sitting outside my flat

In his Mazda

You just sleep there tortoise tortoise 

Slumbering through Christmas which means

You missed my aunt getting drunk on sherry

For the eighth straight year

And all those repeats

You just sleep there

I’m okay

Because the earth it spins on it’s axis

And the stars align one more time

And the seasons crack on as if fate

Were but a ghost hanging with a finger

Outstretched saying, hey, you,

Your life on this earth is but a fraction of a second,

A minusule nothing in history.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Wakey wakey

Tortoise tortoise

Reminds me

I must go out some time

And buy a 

Cornish pasty.

A poem for now.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at the world and think that things are getting better for those in the lgbt community. There are still places where ignorance and superstition reign.

I recently read an article in Time Magazine about the struggle for gay rights in Africa. Indeed, it’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And of course, the current situation in Russia seems more ludicrous every day. It makes me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where such things are not a big deal.

This poem, which I hope to perform soon, is an attempt to understand such issues.

The doors.
For those who are the exquisite hidden in cupboards.

For those who fortune denies because they refuse to shout.

For those who would otherwise shine so bright were it not so dark and needlessly so.

For those who are conscious ever more obviously than the jaded so called moral imperative.

For those who multicolor the beige.

For those who feel that burning pounding quick-tempo heartbeat tick tick ticking absolute proof down deep within.

For those who don’t want to upset anyone.

For those who are being true to themselves.

For those who love.

For those who would dearly like to love but never will so long as they’re fumbling in the pitch dark.

For those who would spread compassion if given the chance.

For those who stand tall and proud in the face of ignorance.

For those who challenge the invented with the blinding torch of truth.

For those who caress and whisper sweet nothings and then open their eyes to find an empty bed.

For those who don’t want to shock and close the door voluntarily.

For those who care too much.

For those who feel they have no brothers or sisters.

For those who feel they are the only person ever ever ever ever to feel this way.

For those who make a thousand tiny differences a year.

For those whose revolution will knowingly take longer than their own lifetimes.

For those who would otherwise be flogged or hanged or stoned or cast from the safety of decent thought by those who profess to know the truth of words written fluently yet deliberately twisted ambiguous in order to hide the cultural anger seething beneath.

For those who delete their browsing history.

For those who try to prize open a door knowing that it will be slammed shut but keep on trying nonetheless.

For those who paid the ultimate price.

For those who resort to secret languages and those who give in and try to decipher filled with the eager promise of just knowing.

For those who are afraid.

For those who never will.

For those who see the world quivering ecstatic and reach out with trembling fingertips ever so eager to be a part yet knowing deep down they never will because they are really not as brave or as fortunate as those who color the world with love. 

For those who hide behind masks of dubious preferences just to make it look like they are one of the crowd.

For those who are furious.

For those who are curious.

For those who log on with an alias.

For those who dance ecstatic the most writhing sexual beautiful hypnotic dance but only to themselves alone alone alone in the mirror.

For those who feel that everything is hopeless faced with ninety six percent against, newspaper editorials, fuming spitting evangelists, political bullies, idiots with guns and clubs and religious texts, charismatic spirituality, cultural commentators and peddlers of hated.

For those who burst out so fast that the world never could catch them.

For those who burned up too soon.

For those who took a chance and flowered briefly then disappeared leaving behind them the hint that if done differently it might actually work.

For those who are vehement in their love.

For those who are just plain unlucky.

For those who are scared.

For those who are scarred.

For those who would otherwise be sacred.
You are the real

And your time will come

When superstition loses and common sense takes over.

Pile up your love right now

So that when the doors finally open

It will all come tumbling through.

A funny thing happened on the way to the poetry recital.

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.


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

Somehow contravened.

So I had a cola and sat outside.

You should see my Mount Fuji.

It’s huge.

The doctor has given me a cream

For it.

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.


‘Poetry is not as important as Hollyoaks’. An interview with Robert Garnham

Last month I was interviewed by Exepose Magazine by Nickie Shobeiry. Below you will find the full, unedited version in all it’s glory. The original interview can be found here:

And yes, the title is deliberately provocative. I don’t mean it really!

Interview – Robert Garnham
 • What inspired you to begin writing poetry? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?

Hello! I started writing poetry by accident. I’d always written short stories, more for my own amusement. I also wrote a play, ‘Fuselage’, which was rehearsed read at the Northcott Theatre in 2009, but it was all just as a hobby. I went to a night of performance poetry in Torquay run by Chris Brooks and I was inspired to give it a go.
My first poem was about my family, and it’s a little embarrassing to read it now! It had some good rhymes in it. I don’t usually use rhyme much now. Anyway, I made my debut at Poetry Island with the family poem, and people loved it! Chris asked me to come again, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
• Do you have a specific place you go to for writing? Any particular habits?
Yes, weirdly, I do. I always write at my desk every morning and every night, but on my day off I go to the Quiet Room at Paignton Library. There are no distractions here, unless someone comes in with a packet of crisps. Also, I spend weekends at my parent’s house and they have a room at the back of their garage which, like the Quiet Room, has no distractions. It’s my own private place!
I’ve used the same pen for every single thing I’ve written since 1995, so I suppose that’s a habit of sorts. I write everything in long hand first, then type it up.
• Where does most of your inspiration come from?
I have no idea! Poems are usually when two or three concepts seem to merge together. One of my poems, ‘Poem’, is about an ostrich queuing at a buffet on a train to buy some crisps, but he’s slowly metamorphosing into a wheelbarrow. I have no idea where the idea for it came from!
Often, though, people say funny things and the words come back to me when I sit down to write. None of my friends like poetry. Not one single one of them! So they don’t come and watch me perform, which means I can use the silly things they’ve said freely without repercussion. It also helps that most of my friends, in their own little ways, are incredibly eccentric. I’m fairly normal.
• Your performance at the Bike Shed Theatre’s Slam Poetry event last year had everyone in stitches, hanging onto your every word. How would you describe your own writing?
Thanks! I work hard at every single line and once a poem is written, I put it aside, then come back to it and pretend to be the audience. Some times I look at a poem and I think, ‘This has to be 33% funnier’. Often the best time to write is when you’re feeling relaxed, but the mind kind of has to be almost half disinterested in the outcome. This is when the silly stuff kicks in, or the unusual connections. If I concentrated on being funny, It would probably end up sounding forced. So the mood to write is hard to conjur up.
• You work as the host of Poetry Island in Torquay – can you talk a little about your experience there, and some of your favourite performances?
I was host for three years or so. I took over from Chris Brooks, who’s now off being a comedy genius, and if had a great time booking acts from the national scene and nurturing new talent locally. We had some great performers come down to Torquay, such as Ash Dickinson, Matt Harvey, Byron Vincent, (a hero of mine), Liv Torc. I think Chris Redmond was one of my favourites. (Am I allowed to have favourites? I suppose now that I’m no longer host, I can admit to this!). 
The best nights were when you see someone who you’ve helped and encouraged go up and be amazing. I gave  headline slots to Joanna Hatfull and Tom Austin, who are huge local talents. I don’t think either had had paid gigs before, so it was a nice feeling.
I’ve handed Poetry Island over now to Ian Beech, and he’s doing a much better job than I ever managed!
• You perform a lot of spoken word poetry – is this your favourite mode? Can you share some of your most memorable performances?
I’d like to have another crack at writing a theatre script, and I’d love to have a book published. I have a novel which I finished recently, if anyone’s interested! But I can’t act or sing or dance or do comedy, so I suppose it’s spoken word all the way for me.
As for memorable performances. Well! There’s loads. My first paid gig was at Jawdance, a regular night in London, and it was amazing because a London friend came to watch and then I was recognized on a tube station platform a couple of hours later! And London again, supporting the wonderful John Hegley at Gongoozled, will also be a cherished memory. I got lost on the way to the venue and panicked that they’d be angry, I got there, and Mr Hegley had also got lost on the way!
Any night that goes well is cherished. Performing to my sister for the first time in Guildford at Pop Up Poetry was great. She’d never seen me do my thing before. And the Edinburgh Fringe was a fantastic experience. Performing to one person on a wet Monday afternoon. Oh, the romance!
• Could you talk a little about the inspiration behind your poems beginning ‘a friend of mine thinks he might be straight’ and ‘people think your beard is weird’?
The ‘straight’ poem is based on a composite of several friends and it was just a chance to explore some cliches about straight men and what they get up to, like building sheds and watching Top Gear. It was just a chance to turn the whole thing around and make it feel as if straight people were the minority, something weird that has to be studied so that we can understand their ways. As for the Beard poem, well. There are so many people around with beards at the moment and I always think, ‘He’d be quite good looking if it wasn’t for that beard’.

• I recently saw you perform at the Phoenix’s Taking The Mic event. Your poem – hilarious as always – was about a bald man, and you had a lit-up box to boot. Could you share the story behind the poem? Do you often use props on stage, and what do you think it brings to the performance?
Funny you should ask about the bald man poem, because the whole thing just came to me, at almost midnight when I was in bed. Completely from nowhere! I suddenly thought that it might be quite funny to write a poem about something entirely meaningless and small, something everyday and commonplace, and what more commonplace thing can there be than seeing a bald man walking in the street? I’ve also written poems about unrolling a new bin liner, vacuuming a carpet and losing a pen in the lining of a coat. I think this is my minimalist phase.
I used to use props all the time, at every performance. Over the years I’ve built a theremin from two Wellington boots and a feather duster, and a large hadron collider out of garden hose and a custard cream biscuit. Indeed, I was known for quite some time just as a prop poet. But then, when you start getting invitations to perform all over the county, you have to lug these props on buses and trains and the joke kind of wears off, especially when someone sits on your theremin. But I like props, generally. One of my favourite poets, Rachel Pantechnicon, uses props to hilarious effect, and if she’s ever performing in your neighborhood, then I urge you to go along.
• Do you have a favourite of your own poems?
I like performing ‘Poem’, because of the energy that I put into it. ‘Poem’ is also good, I wrote it when I was on holiday in Australia and it kind of stayed with me, it always conjurs up a specific time and place. But I suppose it has to be ‘Poem’, even though I’ve performed it countless times. It’s still one of my favourites even after all of these years!
• What was the last poem you wrote about?
Losing a pen in the lining of my jacket (see above).
• Why do you think poetry is important?
I’m not sure that poetry is important. It’s not as important as the news, or Hollyoaks. But that’s because it’s now more of a niche interest. Often, though, poetry gives people a chance to take the audience somewhere. Dean Atta writes about his experience of being a black gay man in contemporary London, for example, and AJ McKenna writes about being a transgender poet. Poetry has also been used as a form of political release, airing views and grievances. I’m thinking of such people as Atilla the Stockbroker and Pete the Temp, Bob Hill and Exeter’s very own Tim King. Poetry is the medium by which they raise political concerns and encourage debate about certain issues. Tim’s poem about FGM is amazingly powerful.
• Who are your favourite writers? If you had to pick your top three favourite poems, what would you pick and why?
My favourite poet is Frank O’Hara. He was active in the 1950s and early 1960s and wrote poems about city life and the experiences of being a gay man in 1950s USA. Yet there was nothing political about him, his poems had a matter or fact ness about them, almost a flippancy about big issues. He demonstrated that you can mix high and low culture and hold either in high esteem so long as you are earnest in your beliefs. He’s the poet whose ethos I’m closest room though I’ve now outlived him. He died aged 40 after being run over by a beach buggy. He was drunk at the time.
I also like poets who use humour and language in unexpected ways. I absolutely adore Byron Vincent and Rob Auton, both of whom I’ve met and worked with. They never cease to amaze me with their output. Also Rachel Pantechnicon, hilarious and life affirming. She’s a big influence on me and was one of the people who were instrumental in getting me going.
Favourite poems? I suppose Frank O’Hara’s ‘Getting Up Ahead of Someone’, Byron Vincent’s ‘Hold the Pickle’, and ‘Spherical Man’, by Mighty Mike McGee. These poems are inventive, funny, with great use of language and incredible humanity. Every time I read them I get something different from them.
• What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a poet, that you think is relevant to people from all walks of life?
Well, there’s ‘never be a prop poet’, which is the advice Rachel Pantechnicon gave me. This can’t really be translated into everyday life, unless you think on terms of doing away with the baggage that we always carry around with us. 
My closest colleagues and friends in the world of poetry are Tim King, Chris Brooks, Ian Beech and Dan Haynes. I see the way they commit themselves to poetry and performance and to being moral people and I try to apply this to my own life. It’s not advice, as such. 
So I suppose the biggest piece of advice has to come from Frank O’Hara, who said the one must act with ‘grace to be born and live as variously as possible’.  Which I suppose means, cram in as much as possible!
• What can the world expected next from Robert Garnham?
I’ve got a book coming out some time towards the end of this year with Burning Eye, who are the biggest publisher of spoken word poets in the country. It’s a huge honour! In the mean time I’m working on a second novel, which is about retail management, and I’m planning a one person show, the provisional title of which is ‘Static’. I’m also poeting all over the place, I’ve recently been doing shows with a comedy group called Jocular Spectacular and we have a show coming up in Exeter during the LOL festival supporting Arthur Smith, and I’m also off to Manchester in a couple of weeks to do a gig up there. So it’s all go at the moment!