An ode to Darts

Darts.
Nightly pub-sport spectacle.
Like rhinos line astern gripping tungsten spears.
Darts.
Chunky-reaching cheek-wobbling darts.
Beer belly a-quiver overhanging too wide tee shirt unsolicited stomach glimpse darts.
Spherical hysterical measures out in trebles.
Darts.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Cocky oche-jockeys crafty cockneys dressing sloppy.
Sports-upholding team mate-scolding beer glass-holding.
Carpet shuffling fart-muffling comes away with nothing.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Double-chaser bullseye-maker opponent-hater third-rather.
Forefinger fling-flourish free-form darts throw panache.
Board-seeker tip bounce wire hitting kerplink.
Unlucky, Trev.

Thud. Thud. Kerplink.

Great big belly-man darts-land Leviathan takes a stand.
Meaty meaty clap-hand (nurses darts like baby chicks),
Arrow-flinging darts board-singing double-trimming
Guess who’s winning?

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Trophy-doting low-score-gloating show-boating local scrote
Boozy-wobbling woozy-toppling lazy darts-fling treble twenty
Bar staff aghast, darts stars laugh, fast darts dance, last chance,
Bust.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Last game, the same again, self-same blame game.
In the team lean, seeming so keen, trophy a gleam, he’s a darts machine!
No pain no gain, no gain, no fame, oh, the shame!
Sudden-death shootout, league-topping bullseye-aiming,
Thud, pretty nifty, scores a fifty, more’s the pity,
Geddin my son quivering tentative there the dart itself hanging like a
Swan so graceful in its beauteous flight betwixt chubby
Sweating fingers slow-mo revealing the under belly wobble
Suspended in mid air aerodynamic like the philosophic truth
Writ large straight into the exact centre of the board!

Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.
Unlucky, Trev.

See you all next week?

On a poet discovering he’s dyslexic just before his 47th birthday

So I always knew there was something amiss but in all honesty I just assumed I wasn’t very bright. Yet I have a Masters degree, and an Undergraduate degree, and several A Levels, so I knew what I was capable of.

In the latter part of 2020 I decided to have a look into this and take some tests, especially as I have always had short term memory problems and hey presto, along with one in five people, I was diagnosed as being dyslexic.

But then so are Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey, so was John Lennon, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and even Albert Einstein.

So in other words, it’s no biggy. And if anything, it helps with problem solving. Dyslexic people have an amazing ability to see through the faff and get to the truth because that’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives.

Anyway, I thought I’d write a poem explaining how it feels.

On a poet discovering he’s dyslexic just before his 47th birthday

It’s not that the words danced around,
It’s just that there were too many of them,
Some sentences so convoluted
My head would shut down
Like a fizz of static on an old TV,
I’d overheat,
Sweat pouring from my brow.

I’m a poet, right?
Words are meant to be my playthings.
But it just felt more that they were
Playing with me,
Toying with me,
Hiding the truth behind the very words
Which the more competent people around me were using
To convey that very truth.
Doesn’t a bad worker
Always blame his tools?

In management meetings,
Words,
Too many of them,
Too many concepts,
Too much abstraction
Piled and peppered in paragraphs on the page,
They’d bland themselves into the blandground
And I’d try to pick them out,
Catch them, these
Multisyllabic monsters plucked
Between thumb and forefinger,
And I’d scream,
‘I know what you mean individually!
But together,
It’s all nonsense!
For goodness sake, just behave!’

And I’d leave the meeting,
The lesson, the symposium, the convention,
The workshop, the lecture, the presentation
Hot and sweaty and thinking
Everyone around me were superheroes
Because they understood everything at the very first attempt.
‘And now we come onto
‘Socio-economic considerations in means tested arts funding
Community-based stakeholder applications’.
And I’d
Have absolutely no idea,
And I’d ask someone
And they knew every nuance
So I’d pretend that I did too.

Perhaps I always knew something were amiss.
I could never take directions, or phone calls,
Or even simple instructions without
Writing it down and re-reading it five, six, seven times.
Now just slow down, slow down,
Let me write this, let me make some notes,
What do you mean you’re not going over it a second time?
Those bloody words again!
You’re meant to be my friends!

Sure, I can write like no-one’s business,
And tap dance on the precipice of literary expression.
But open my mouth
And I’m as erudite as a stunned slug.
You see that line that I just wrote, there?
I could never have uttered that in real life.
It takes me the best part of the morning
To come up with something so spontaneous.

This whole time,
I thought that words were my friends.
But close my eyes and they dance.
It turns out
They were always there.
They were only cheating on me.

The day my underpants caught fire

Poem

The day my underpants caught fire
Is one I recall
With tears in my eyes.

Someone said,
‘Stop your whingeing’.
I said, ‘I can’t.
There’s some serious singeing.
My boxers are aflame’.

There I was
Acting all nonchalant
When WOOF!
(I saw a dog).

The troubles of the world
Which I am shouldering
Are as nothing compared
To the smouldering
Of my crotch.

How I wish that someone
Would tackle the blaze
Before my tackle
Were ablaze.
This unsolicited Y-front inferno
Is no work of fiction
It was caused
By friction.
Some serious consternation
Caused by this conflagration.
Cheap nylon.
Climatic variables
And a fair amount of chafing
When I ran for that bus
Excuse me, no smoking in here,
Said the driver,
Wisps emanating from my trousers.

For the safety of other passengers,
Please take care
As you alight.

Sometimes they don’t come back

Sometimes they don’t come back

And the community
Close knit at best
Comes together.

A friend of a friend
Went to sea
And he never returned
And nor did his mate
And it felt
Like everything
Was closing in.

There’s a statue on the quay,
Man and Boy.
It became a focus
And everyone left tributes.
This town
Has no secrets.

Flames flickered
In the autumn breeze
Under overcast skies.
Floral offerings
Heartfelt outpourings
The town
A shoulder.

And the grief
Never seems to go.
It’s unimaginable.
You can’t even begin.

Souls entrust in each other
That every boat which sales
Carries an extra presence
Acknowledged but never seen.

Because
Sometimes
They don’t come back.

Seaside Soul : A Poem for Paignton

New poem! I performed this a couple of weeks ago at Paignton Palace Theatre and people have been asking to see it online. It’s a love letter to my home town of Paignton. It’s also featured in my new show Yay! The Search for Happiness, and my forthcoming book Yay!, to be published by Burning Eye.

Seaside soul.

This town is not torrid, nor tainted nor brazen,
This tornado of flavours,
Chip shops and chopsticks and packets of Quavers,
Savour its layers and nautical sailors.

Barbers and harbours and car parks and mars bars
A beer at the Pier Inn while peering at the pier thing
A stride and a stroll
But hide from the gulls your hot sausage rolls
It’s the way that we roll
With our seaside soul.

High tide drip dry nick nack paddywhack
Picnic and a packamac
Promenade flapjack
Sand in your rucksack
Sand in your flapjack
Sand in your arsecrack
Let’s go to the pub.

Cinema chick flicks
Candy floss, pick n mix
Fish n chips, kiss me quick
Think I feel sick!

Ring road surf shack seaweed stink
Caravan holiday
It’s worse than you think
Dodgy dodgy plumbing and a blocked up sink.
Big bands and jazz hands, gleaming sands and
One night stands
You probably will not understand
It’s ain’t no hole
With your seaside soul.

Amusements, bemusement,
Soup of the day
The all day breakfast
Only served till midday
Have you paid and displayed?
Grab your bucket and spade!
You’ll never be dismayed
Memories fade
But your heart will always stay.

This frisky town this sea breezy town
This cream tea scene of green seas and freezing dips
Donkey rides and cheesy chips
Ice cream by the bowl
We’ve got seaside soul.

Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain
The hot pulse of life adding fire to my brain
The legs of the pier stride deep in the brine
Let’s dance once more time, say you’ll be mine
We laugh and we grin and we howl at the ships
The night is afire and it smells just like chips
You bend for a kiss like a child with a doll
You asked what’s for dinner, I said, seaside soul.

To the ghost ships

An ode to the ghost ships

Through the mists of a calamity
In a year we never asked for,
The long arm of our shoreline bay
Offered you anchorage at first only
For commercial reasons.

Yet your streamlined sleek and tower block decks
Formed a fleet of imaginary towns,
Dark horizon Christmas trees with an
Imaginary population, new neighbours.

In a world of sudden restrictions you became
A local secret, an impossibility of the soul,
A solace as onerous as the mournful horns
Adding an extra solemnity for remembrance,

Seeing out this accursed year, or those
Poor fishermen who would never return.
We can sing sweet lullabies, dainty and plaintive
Though none can compare to your industrial symphony,

A blast of the horn as unsubtle as anything!
On foggy mornings you layer the imagination,
Ethereal in the gloom your hulking gross tonnage
A link to a world beyond immediate geography,
Ghost ships, haunting the present with voyages past.

Image Ian Williams

What is ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’?

In 2018 I toured the fringes and festivals of the UK with my show ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. It was something of a gamble at the time to write and rehearse an hour long poem which took me away from the comedy and whimsy and into a strange territory of myth, folk-lore, atmosphere and storytelling. The show had taken a few years to write, from around 2015, and almost a whole year to learn. I was hugely pleased with the outcome and I got the chance to perform it everywhere from Edinburgh to London, the GlasDenbury Festival to Surrey, and then with a live jazz band in Totnes. It is the piece of work which I’m proudest.

Performing the show was a weird experience. Over the Edinburgh fringe, I suddenly became aware that the characters were almost friends, and that I would look forward to performing them again when their part of the show arrived. Indeed, it was something of a shame when the run ended and I felt genuinely sad not to perform these characters for a while. Almost immediately I began to think of a possible sequel to the show, yet I knew that it would not be the same because I didn’t want to spoil the mythology that I had built up around the show. ‘

‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’ took place on a sleeper train heading north, filled with circus performers, and stalked by the mythological entity the Neon Yak, loosely based on the folklore tales of Herne the Hunter. I decided that a follow up show would have a similar structure, (characters telling their tales), but I wanted to go deeper and move the focus of the show to the actual situations in which these characters found themselves. I wrote three new pieces and also ‘borrowed’ the long poem ‘Bulk Carrier’ from my 2018 book Zebra, and then wrote a kind of framing narrative to bind all of these together. I envisaged an LGBT astronaut, flying to Venus, being consoled throughout his long journey by stories which would remind him of the importance of his community, until the final story details his own adventure when he finally gets to the planet.

The individual sections which make up the show could easily stand alone as performance pieces: ‘Bar Code Blues’ takes place in a supermarket in the 1990s with a character who is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. ‘Bulk Carrier’ takes place on a container vessel in the middle of the ocean which is haunted, (Why not?), by the ghost of Marcel Proust. ‘Much Ado About Muffins’ is a modern retelling of the Shoemaker and the Elves, taking place in a bakery which refuses to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding. And the final piece, ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’, takes the astronaut to a planet where every desire and hope are granted.

And as a special link to its predecessor, the voice of Ground Control is none other than Tony, previously the Train Manager from ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. A change of career, perhaps, but he’s lost none of his humour.

I’d hoped to perform the show all over the UK during 2020, but world events put paid to that. With a show already written for 2021 and the publication of my new book to tie in with it, I knew that Electric Dragons would probably have to be mothballed for quite some time. So this autumn I set about making it into an audio play, a monologue delivered with musical interludes and sound effects, which I might unleash on the world this Christmas.

It’s been an amazing journey working on this show. Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t get to see the light of day in 2020. But without the constraints of having to fit the show into an hour slot, I was able to stretch my legs a little with the audio version. I do hope you will like it, and let me know what you think of it.

‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’ will be released on 23rd December.

Performing ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’, Edinburgh, 2018

Juicy – the album

Over the last ten years I have had the privilege of performing all over the UK (and Berlin and New York), at some of the biggest performance poetry nights in the country, as well as fringes, festivals and theatres. And during this time, invariably, I have recorded my set, except for the times when I was too nervous and I forgot to press the on button. (Which usually happens on a night where things have gone amazingly!)

Like every other performer in the country, I have really missed going out and about and standing on stages this year, so I’ve used the time as an opportunity to plough through all of these recordings and find the very best ones. With the help of Bryce Dumont, I’ve crafted these into an album named after my show, Juicy.

While I was putting the album together, I realised not only how much I missed performing, but also how wonderful some of these nights had been, which I probably didn’t recognise at the time due to my usual performance nervousness. Nerves was the reason why I forgot to press play during my gig in New York, but it did go very well indeed. You’ll have to take my word for it!

Featured on the album are a couple of amazing recent gigs. The first was at the Arnolfini in Bristol, supporting Disraeli at Raise the Bar. There was an audience of over two hundred and they seemed to like what I did. Indeed, rock and roll animal that I am, after the gig I went to a 24 hour supermarket to do my shopping and met some audience members in the bread aisle, who were very complementary.

Another cracker of a gig included on the album is Scribal Gathering in Milton Keynes, a big audience who were very reactive and welcoming. However perhaps the most special gig was in my home town of Brixham, at the theatre. It was a rainy night and when I walked out on stage, there were two hundred people. It went amazingly well.

Right now, in the depths of the Covid crisis, performing on a stage in front of people seems a long way off and something that happened in a previous life. I can’t wait for things to get back to normal again so that I can be up there once more.

And just a word on the title. ‘Juicy’ was my solo show from 2017 which I took all round the UK and to the Edinburgh Fringe where it received lots of press and radio attention because one of the lines from it being mentioned in the Guardian as one of the funniest of the fringe. And yes, that line is included on this album.

The album is a tribute to those comedians who I used to listen to when I was growing up, their vinyl albums conjuring a world which I wished I were a part of. Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Shelley Berman.

I hope you like it. You can order the CD here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/juicy

Or you can download the album or stream here:

https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/album/juicy?fbclid=IwAR2rCkbMvjjjk4s2eiKjpcvjDB60Gls4fxByg5S5RbmFaXgDhPf0e1JFhY4