On getting, or not getting, gigs.

On getting, or not getting, gigs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got lots of dates going up and appearances which I’m really looking forward to, and lately I’ve been concentrating on my new show and rehearsing and learning lines rather than hunting out performance opportunities. In fact I’ve got a little mini tour lined up, and three dates over three nights in three parts of the country. However, there’s nothing worse than the possibility of a gig slipping through your fingers. It happens every now and then, and it’s happened twice this year already.

But today. Oh my. Today . . .

Now, I don’t really mention spoken word around my family. And to be honest, I don’t think they know exactly what it is that I do. Hell, sometimes, I don’t even know what I do! They know that it’s something to do with poetry, and that it might be funny, but, like my friends too, they’re not that interested. It’s like knowing someone who works in risk management, or caravan cleaning. You’ve got a rough idea, but you’re not really that interested, and you certainly wouldn’t want to come to work and watch them.

I was chatting with my mother today and she is on the committee of the local horticulture society. They have events ever now and then, where horticulturalist can let their hair down, and one of these is coming up. She said she had been asked to find a ‘funny local poet’ to do a set at their next shindig. The poet would be paid the full going rate. Excellent, I thought, here we go! Another adventure in poetry land, a gig with the local horticulture society!

The conversation kind of went like this:

Conversation with the muv.

‘I had to book someone for our next horticulture society meeting. We need entertainment so I suggested comedy poetry’.

Me: oh yes?

Mum : Yes. I decided we needed someone good and local. So I’ve found a local comedy poet who’s going to come and perform, and we are paying her a hundred pounds.

Me: Really? Who did you get. Jackie Juno? Shelley Szender? Brenda Hutchings? ( All of whom are famous local funny poets, but by this time I’m also wondering why she hadn’t thought of me).

Mum : No. She’s called Ethel Skidmore. (Name changed to protect the actual person ).

Me: who?

Mum : Ethel Skidmore. Apparently she’s the funniest poet in Torbay,

Me : I’ve never heard of her.

Mum : She was very highly recommended by a friend of mine. Yes, Ethel Skidmore. So I looked her up and she does lots of local amateur dramatics, so she must be good. She’ll do some Pam Ayres for us, and other funny poems like that one about being old and dressing in purple, and she might even do one or two she wrote herself. Can you imagine that! She even writes her own poems as well as performing!

Me : So you want the funniest poet in Torbay and you found someone called Ethel Skidmore.

Mum: yes. We are all very excited! She even plays the ukulele.

I think the moral of this story, really, is that even my closest relatives have absolutely no idea what it is that I do! And also that what people really want, at the end of the day, is a Pam Ayres impersonator. Or at least, the local horticulture society!cropped-img_3625.jpg

Why I really, really rather like Bristol.

I really like Bristol.

No, that’s not a euphemism or Cockney rhyming slang.
Since I started performing poetry all over the place, I’ve had the chance to visit towns which I never would have done for any other reason. I’ve seen Wolverhampton, Swindon and Manchester. Guildford, Berlin and Barnstaple. And all in the name of poetry. 
But there’s one city which seems to have become a talisman, a good luck charm, and that’s Bristol. Good things have happened to be on many occasions in Bristol, poetically speaking. And I have never been there for any other reason than poetry.
When I first started performing around the Torquay and Exeter area, Bristol poets were held in awe by the local hosts and promoters, and we would regularly see people such as Nathan Filer and Byron Vincent, amazing us with their skill and commitment and their sheer brilliance. Consequently, it became a kind of goal to aim for, and Bristol itself stood as a beacon of poetic endeavor to which we should all aspire.
The first time I went to Bristol was for the Bristol Slam. Indeed, this was my first ever slam and there were many names there who would go on to be friends and colleagues in the poetry world. People like Vanessa Kisuule, Tim Vosper and Stephen Duncan. None of them knew me from Adam, and amazingly, I came second in the slam to Stephen. We went for a drink afterwards, the euphoria ensuring that it wouldn’t be able to get to sleep!
The next time I went to Bristol was to Acoustic Night at the Halo. It was a birthday present to myself a little journey away, and some of the Bristol slam people were there and they remembered me. Tim Ledwitch was as brilliant as ever. Amazingly, the host of the night liked me so much that he offered me a co-headline set for a couple of months later on! The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
The next time I went to Bristol was to do the headline set at Acoustic, and it went very well indeed. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
By now I was zooming about all over the country and building up a reputation as a comedic poet, so the next time I came to Bristol was to support Vanessa Kisuule at Hammer and Tongue. I made a little holiday of it and stayed in a nice hotel, and I was just about to leave for the gig when I got an email to say that my first book had been accepted for publication! I remember dancing around the hotel room in my very camp manner indeed.
And then the gig itself went very well. The two Tims were there, and Graham Chilcott, and everyone was most complimentary about my set. The euphoria ensured that I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night.
Last night I was back in Bristol again, headlining at Milk. It was a fantastic night, filled with talent and friendship. All of my Bristol poetry friends were there, and my set was greeted marvelously. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
There is a constant criticism of Bristol poetry, that there really isn’t much variety, and that it is youth orientated, slam-style, three rhymes per line and too deeply serious for its own good. Last night at Milk there was plenty of variety and styles of performance, and it was great to see Samantha Boarer, who I really do admire in a deep and special way. She’s just about one of the funniest people I know.
So Bristol remains for me a city devoted to, and standing primarily for, spoken word and performance poetry. Indeed I cannot see it except through this lens. I’m sure I will be back there again very soon, and when I do, I shall take some sleeping tablets.
I also like it because someone has spray painted, in large letters, the word ‘Arse’ on a wall next to Bristol Temple Meads.

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.


Poem titles. Are they really necessary in a performance?

Last time I met up with some poetry friends we had a big old debate about whether or not, before reading or performing a poem, you should tell the audience what the title is.

We have all been to readings and performances where the poem spends about half a minute explaining what the title is, where he got the idea for the title from, and what other titles he might have used. Then he might compare it to titles by more famous poets. Or he might say that this poem is a homage to a certain theme. ‘This poem is called ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Brian’.
It’s true that the title is important and a mini work of art in it’s own right, with certain strictures and rules of grammar. Titles are pure concentrated literature. But they’re not always necessary.
The way I see it, there are several schools of thought. With some poems, the poem is an integral part of the whole performance and understanding of the poem. It might be called something like, ‘How to Tickle a Badger’, in which case the content of the poem would be meaningless without the poem.
Some poems have titles which are also the first line of the poem. ‘This poem is called, ‘I Went to Basingstoke, 
And there were a lot of people there.
And most of them had hair’.


And so on.
I’ve seen plenty of poets fretting because they have bad titles for their work, or they are not happy with the titles they have chosen, or they can’t think of a title. When I first started performing, I was hopeless at titles, so I called all of my poems ‘Frank’. This seemed a clever strategy, until so many people kept asking who Frank was that I changed all of my poems to ‘Poem’. And this has kind of stuck now, even though the poems have titles which I keep to myself. ‘Beard envy’. ‘Camp cat’.
Professor Zazzo Thiim once opined that the point of going to a poetry night was to luxuriate in the titles and then get rat arsed in the bar. He explained that the titles are the only thing he can remember when he gets home. This is not terribly helpful advice and merely adds pressure to those who fret over titles.
Some of the most convincing performances are those where no title is given. The poet just launches straight into the poem. It’s not as if people will cheer when they hear what poem is going to be read out. Poetry crowds aren’t like that, although I did once almost cause a riot at a Pam Ayres performance.
So the thing is, it’s not compulsory to read out the title. It’s too much like a school essay reading competition if everyone does it. It’s great to have some variety. And of one or two here and there don’t do it, we can all get home a couple of minutes sooner.

I never knew, he said,

You’re not flamboyant, or anything.

In fact you look like a normal bloke,

Jeans and a Tshirt,

That’s what normal blokes wear isn’t it?

Jeans and a Tshirt.

Maybe not a Gloria Gaynor Tshirt.

I thought your proper ones were in the wash.

So we’re still going to be friends, right?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

So you’re still going to like


And action films?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

You’re not going to start dancing to

Kylie, and wearing foundation,

Are you?

You’re not going to start baking quiches,

Are you?

You’re not going to start

Wearing scarves

And buying cushions

And calling people ‘darling’,

Are you?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

Are you?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

I mean that’s disgusting.

Isn’t it?

I always suspected it.

I could tell by the way you eat sausages.

I could tell by the way you fondle tangerines.

I could tell by the way you would stop talking

Whenever Adrian Chiles came on the tv.

I could tell by the way you knew instinctively

What colour lampshade to buy.

That can’t be taught.

It’s genetic.

I could tell by the way you would

Dance like a camp dinosaur

Flappy handed

Floppy fringed camp dinosaur

Side step shuffle floppy floppy

Camp camp dinosaur

That’s how I could tell.

Hello, I’d say to myself,


What’s going on here, then?

Camp camp dinosaur.

I could tell by the Gloria Gaynor Tshirt.

Have I already mentioned that?

I don’t know why you told me, though.

Things were fine the way they were.

It explains why you weren’t so keen

On that film last week.

That excellent film.

That excellent lesbian porn film.

That excellent classic of it’s genre,

Hot Girls Gagging For It

During which you did the crossword.

I couldn’t understand why

You didn’t like the lesbian porn film.

I understand now, though.

But I’ll still be your friend,

Your buddy, your mate.

We’ll still do the things

That normal lads do.

All the usual japes and hi jinks,

The usual mucking around,

The usual rough and tumble,

The same old playfulness and manly

Shenanigans, the same old

Roister-doistering, the same old

Mock-serious play fighting,

Rolling and tumbling,

Hand to hand physical matey

Bonding that we always did,

The same old faux-serious

Slap and tickle and giggling

Like exhausted schoolgirls floppy tired

Little puppies slumbering together

On your bed semi naked

Because it’s so hot

Why couldn’t you tell me?

You’re not flamboyant, or anything.

How was I to know?

Foibles in Guildford and Other Poetic Adventures

This week I felt really badly. For the first time that I can remember, I cancelled going to a poetry gig and performing. Taking the Mic in Exeter is a brilliant event which I love. But I was just so, so tired! I asked Tim if I could phone it in from home, but I was too tired even to do this!

The reason was that I had a gig the night before in Guildford at the excellent Pop Up Poetry, run by Janice Windle and Donall Dempsey, two enthusiastic and lovely people who I first met a couple of years ago on a previous visit. This time they asked me to do a twenty minute slot, and even better, my sister came along to watch. It was the first time she had ever seen me before, and I’m glad that I didn’t suck that night.

The audience were amazing and receptive and my set was greeted with applause and laughter in all the right places, even if I did emit a loud belch halfway through one of the poems!

The one drawback was that I had to get up at half four the next morning to get the train back to Deb’n. Hence my fatigue the next night when Taking the Mic rolled around.

It had been a week of performing. The Friday before I’d participated in the poetry tent at GlasDenbury. Yes, you read that write, a music festival in the small Devon village of Denbury. There were young people there, and they played the music terribly loudly, and the headliners were those mighty rock leviathans Dr And the Medics.

The best part of performing at a festival was the wristbands. I wore mine for two days afterwards to show everyone that I had two wristbands. The first said ‘Artist’. The second was proof that it over 18. You know, just in case it wasn’t too obvious.

And then the next day I was performing at Paignton Green for the Family Fun Day. I was with two poetry friends, Ellie and Brenda, and we all decided we would do family friendly material. Which was ok, except Brenda decided to edit as she went along, and quickly had to change a very dodgy line mid-poem from explaining exactly what she did with the cheese-cutter knickers to ‘and then something else happened’.

It was good performing in my adopted home town. Especially because there was just a two minute walk home. Unlike the Guildford gig.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the last few days. And now I’m working on the Poetry Island Anthology, which will be available very soon!