On the road- and looking after an office block in London

So I’m on tour at the moment. I didn’t really think these things happened in spoken word, but indeed, I’m actually being paid to go around to six different cities and perform whimsy at people. And I’m having the most amazing time. The reason for this is that I’m seeing the whole thing as an adventure and really, that’s the best way. Because otherwise, it would be complete madness.

Last night was the first stop on the tour, Hackney, and I decided that I would stay somewhere a little different, and, it has to be said, cheap. Over the years I’ve had a habit of finding quirky accommodation, particularly in Edinburgh, but even the annual lottery of Edinburgh accommodation had nothing on the place I found to stay last night.

A bit of internet research led me to a phenomenon known as the pod hotels, where you basically get a bed and, if you’re lucky, a bedside table. I’d stayed in similar places before in New York, so I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for. I was also hoping that it would be the same as the Japanese pod hotels, where you get a tiny cabin and nothing else.

The hotel was on the first floor of a six storey office block. I arrived yesterday afternoon slightly early, my check in time being six PM. I was let in, and the lady on reception was whispering. And why was she whispering? Because the pod hotel during the day caters for tired Londoners who need a nap. It’s a nap pod hotel. And someone was still having a nap. ‘They’re due to wake up just before six’, she said. And sure enough, at six o clock the lights came on and the napper woke, thanked the receptionist, and off he went out into rush hour.

The receptionist showed me how to operate everything. The lights, the door, the shutters, and then she told me where to leave the keys, and that was it, she was off. I was given a tiny pod, with a bed in it and, indeed, a bedside table. And then I thought, hang on. I’m the only person here.

So now I started feeling somewhat anxious. I was due at a gig around seven. Should I put the shutters down? What if I put the shutters down and shut in other guests? What if they put the shutters down while I was at the gig and locked me out for the night? I texted the receptionist and she confirmed, amazingly, that I was the only guest.

And that’s when it struck me. I was now effectively in charge of a whole six storey office block in the middle of London!

I went to the gig and it went amazingly well, the audience were responsive, young, vibrant and up for a laugh, and I was very pleased indeed with my performance, but the whole time, at the back of my mind I was worried that something had happened to my office block. And even more scary, once I got back, let myself in, and pulled the shutters down behind me, I had trouble sleeping. The slightest noise got me jumping. Was someone trying to break in? Is there someone upstairs? Is that someone moving around that I can hear? And then I started to relax. Whatever happens, I told myself, this is just another crazy spoken word adventure.

So I’ve just booked out and nothing bad did happen, and the office block was unscathed. I did think about having a snoop around, (the receptionist said that there was a kitchen on the fourth floor that I was welcome to use), but I could imagine them reviewing their CCTV and seeing me dancing around the empty offices. Mind you, I did sit at the receptionist desk for a while, you know, just for something to do.

Anyway, next step is Bristol and as it’s a city I know really well, I’m not envisaging any more weird adventures. Unless, of course, they just happen . . .

Incite, LGBT poetry in London, the city as a beacon

Last night I performed a set at Incite, the LGBT poetry night in London run by Trudy Howson. And what a brilliant night it was, a happy and positive showcase of LGBT voices and concerns.

Trudy makes everyone welcome, greeting every audience member and matching up people who are sitting alone. She encouraged several people to sit together and they spent the night chatting and enjoying the poetry. This led to a very friendly atmosphere in the room, of acceptance and bonhomie.

The gig took place at the Phoenix Artists Club on Charing Cross Road, a fantastic venue in the heart of Londons west end surrounded by theatres, with Old Compton Street, itself the heart of gay London, just across the way. A friend of mine, New York drag act Margoh Channing, performed here a couple of years back and has fond memories of doing so, so I was particularly looking forward to following in her high heel footsteps.

I was also a little bit nervous, as I’d been to this night before as a spectator, and the headline acts were earnest and passionate supporters of LGBT rights and their work tinged with a deep seriousness. And while I’m an LGBT artist myself, I am aware that LGBT rights is just a small part of what I do. I’ve always seen myself as an entertainer rather than a poet, and I wasn’t sure if the audience would get my act at all.

As it happens, it all went rather well. The first couple of minutes were a bit tentative, you could tell that the audience really didn’t know what to think, but halfway through the first poem there was a change and people began laughing along with it. This was helped by the fact that the table at the front of the stage was a trio of lovely more mature ladies who laughed in all the right places, and afterwards thanked me for bringing some comedy to the night.

The other acts were amazing and life affirming, and I found their poetry incredibly inspiring, to hear about so many lives and diverse backgrounds and communities but all with the same motivations, the same problems, the same concerns. Trudy herself spoke of moving to London to find love and acceptance, and it seemed that most of the room had also done the same. There was a glorious cohesiveness to the audience, brought together at the Phoenix Artists Club for the same reason. It’s a shame that the gig was only a couple of hours long.

I left to get my train back to Woking. Walking from Charing Cross Road to Waterloo station, I crossed the bridge and saw London itself, its iconic skyline and skyscrapers lit up, and I thought of all those lost souls who drift into the capital in search of love and fulfilment.

I’m really looking forward to Edinburgh!

Last year I went to the Edinburgh fringe with my show, Static, and lots of things happened simultaneously. I lost my passport on the first day, (I was due to fly to New York just a few weeks later), didn’t know where my accommodation was, and I had a show that depended on a lot of mime and movement and moments of silence, that was put in the corner of a noisy bar. I became very philosophical while I was there, but by the end of the run I was questioning everything and I was ready to consider giving up on spoken word. The usual fringe madness, then.
Last year was a learning experience. I went in softly with Static, an autobiographical piece which I’m still proud of. Indeed I performed the show one last time earlier this year. But on the whole the experience had been a negative one, and I wrote about it in a blog. 
This year, I feel completely different. I have a brand new show, Juicy, which is a completely different beast. Rather than set out with a story and an idea, I just opened up my mind and threw everything at it. The result is a show which has the potential to be different every day, with different poems and different linking material. It’s adaptable, loud and doesn’t rely so much on props and long quiet set pieces. It’s also, I hope, very funny.
But the other thing that’s different this year is that I know more. I know exactly where my accommodation is, I know how it works, I have the travel all sorted out, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to lose my passport. The other difference is that my venue is more suited to the kind of show I’ve written, and I’m really looking forward to performing at Banshees Labyrinth every day. Last year, I didn’t know what my venue was like until I arrived, late, breathless, straight off the plane. This year, I know everything about the venue, and I shall be there a day before.
A lot of people helped me over he last year get the new show together, too. At the end of the fringe last year I had a breakfast meeting with one of the top fringe performers, who was good enough to impart all of his wisdom, which I have used to make this show. In particular he told me the importance of music, and this is where my long time colleague Bryce Dumont comes in. He’s helped create a soundscape for me to perform against, and made me familiar with the technology to do this. There has also been support from Melanie Branton, Jackie Juno, Margoh Channing and the mysterious fringe performer, all of whom have offered advice and their own voices for the soundscape of the show.
But the biggest difference this year is that I will know more people there. More friends than ever will be up there with their shows and I aim to see all of them, perhaps several times!
So I’m looking forward to Edinburgh this year!

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!

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 .

Poetry Takeaway and Bang Said the GunĀ 

It’s been one of those weeks. One of those surprising weeks. To be honest I’ve crammed so much in that I really have been waking up wondering where on earth I am. But that’s the life of a modern performance poet, it seems. The hard part has been fitting it all in with a normal nine to five job!
On Sunday I went up on the train to London to help out with the Poetry Takeaway project at the Camden Roundhouse. Run by Michael Bolger, this is a unique happening in which poets are tasked with writing poems on demand for members of the public. It usually operates out of a takeaway burger van, the poems being wrapped as if they were burgers or hot dogs.
I felt very privileged to be asked to contribute to this. My shift featured Peter Hayhoe and Jemima Foxtrot, both of whom I hold in very high esteem. Indeed it was a huge joy finally to meet Jemima.
My own stint started well enough with a young lady who wanted a poem for her boyfriend because she loved him so much. It was all very touching, and she loved the poem that I wrote for her. The second person wanted a poem to help her decide which of the two men she was currently involved with that she should choose to spend the rest of her life with. It’s quite a tall order for a poet to decide on such matters, but I took all of her information and I wrote a poem which did it’s best at least to describe the situation.
And it seems that this is a by product of the project. The poets get told things that nobody else would hear. People feel that they can open up to poets, and tell them their deepest, darkest secrets and fears. At times I felt like a psychoanalyst, or even a detective, piecing together the relevant information.
The stint over, I caught a late night train as far as Bristol and stayed overnight in a hotel next to a Mexican restaurant. When I opened the curtains at five AM, footage of a mariachi jazz band was being beamed on to the wall of the restaurant. I wondered where the hell I was. I caught the early morning train in to Paignton, and work.
That night I guest hosted the Artizan Comedy Night in Torquay. I even debuted some comedic material. I thought I’d be pants, but people quite liked it. The comedians were all very good and I felt honored to be associated with them.
On Thursday I caught the train up to London again for my guest slot at Bang Said the Gun. When I first started spoken word in 2011, people kept saying that Bang was the place to aim for, and that you only arrived as a poet once you’d had a slot there. For years I kept trying to win a slot there by entering the weekly slam. On one occasion I happened to win, but because it was running late and I had a train to catch, I had to leave before the end and only found out the next day. The second time I entered I felt very ill with a virus and again, had to go back to the hotel. The third time I entered I came second to a guitarist.
I felt incredibly honored to be asked, even more so that Laurie Bolger, the evenings host, played a game with the audience called ‘Robert Garnham Or Judy Garland’, in which an audience member had to decide whether a quote was from Judy Garland or myself.
The night was the usual mix of noisy mayhem and energy, spellbinding poets and spoken word types, comedy and laughter. Just how they manage to keep it all up week after week remains a mystery. It really is the best poetry night in the country. Headliners Candy Royalle and Inua Ellams were fantastic, professional, and almost hypnotic.
My set was greeted fairly well. I was unusually self conscious, in a way that I hadn’t been while performing for about four years, and even worse, I performed the wrong version of Beard Envy! The audience must have wondered who the hell I was, inflicting such material on them, but I had a great time. The way that some of the poems were greeted with hooting and the rattle of the shakers made me feel that anything in life is possible. It was a wonder I got to sleep that night.
Thanks to everyone at Bang for the opportunity. It means more to me than you’d ever know!
And then a night in a cheap hotel followed by a cheap flight back to Exeter the next morning, for another day at work. My mind really does feel like it’s been in a blender this last week.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow I performing twenty minutes at the Respect Festival in Exeter. In a field. In a tipi.

Here are two of the poems I wrote at Poetry Takeaway. I’ve changed the names of the recipients.
 Poem for Matthew from Natalie
How can I express my love for you, Matthew?

How can I express the fulfilling

Breath of life you instil in me

That I should feel so entirely complete

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I want to show you in a poem

The joy that keeps on going

But you know and I know and it’s the

Knowing that keeps on growing,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express the absolute

Peace I feel in your company,

The fact we are both wired in to the

Very real was of now

And I know it’s weird

But I really like your beard,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I love you lots and lots

My heart is tied in knots

Like a room scattered

With discarded yoghurt pots

I gaze in them and it reminds me

That our love is meant to be,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express my love for you, Matthew.

I hope this poem will do.
Poem for Rem from Ben
Have you ever noticed football referees?

have you ever noticed football referees?

Refereeing, that’s their job,

They’re football referees,

Running around but not getting a

Single shot on goal.

Have you ever noticed that

They’re frequently bald?

Have you ever noticed

How angry they are?

Have you ever noticed football referees?
Probably not.

But if they didn’t exist

There would be chaos.

Nobody to call the shots.

There’d be an empty gap,

A referee sized gap.
Rem, when you left,

When you moved away I felt the

Same chaos inside.

You were my referee, I based

Everything on the feelings I had

Within.

You weren’t on my team but

I Could always sense you

Running along beside me.
I couldn’t tell you.

I couldn’t express myself.

And now you are gone.
The opposition is in their

Predictable attack formation

I keep towards the side,

Away from the game

Away from the game.
What were you thinking, ref?

What were you thinking, Rem?

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.
Poem


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

Cheeseburgers?

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,

Hello,

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?