Builders in Sicily found these ancient texts. You wouldn’t believe what happened next!

As you know, I have always seen myself as something of an innovator in the field of poetry. Aided by the eminent Professor Zazzo Thiim, I have explored the heights and the depths not only of poetry but also spoken word. Interpretative methods and matters of composition have been prodded and poked, rattled and dissected until there’s nothing left but random punctuation and a hell of a mess all over the dining table.

But now this inquisitive mind of mine has dived deep into the past and ushered by Thiim and a few of my local poetry colleagues, I have not only discovered, but resurrected a form of poetry long lost.

In a farm in Sicily recently there were excavations linked to the famed missing pearl necklace seemingly the inspiration for that worn by Marge in The Simpsons. Two teams of competing bounty hunters dug day and night around the barn and next to the cattle shed but no pearl necklace was found. However, one of them dug up some ancient manuscripts, and opining, quite rightly, that these weren’t nearly as exciting as the pearl necklace, flung them on the compost heap.

Yet these manuscripts contained the world’s first scribblings in the long forgotten poetic style, the decadocahedronic double quatrain.

By means of donkey and a backhander to their boss, these manuscripts were obtained by Thiim, who verified them as work of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello, the eleventh century monk and scribe whose poetry also resulted in the invention of the sonnet, and also, in culinary circles, the egg whisk.

The decadocahedronic double quatrain is relatively simple in construction and the rules for their composition are easy to remember. The rhyme scheme is ABAB BABG. Where the G comes from is anyone’s guess, but Capello was known to be a maverick at a time when most mavericks were burned at the stake. The meter is iambic, of course, because anything other then iambic pentameter was thought to cause madness in goats. It is the syllable stipulations where the decadocahedronic quatrain comes into it’s own.

1st line 5 syllables

2nd line 6 syllables

3rd line 16 syllables

4th line 11 syllables

5th line 2 syllables

6th line 18 syllables

7th line 63 syllables ‘or as closeth as one might reasonably fathom’

8th line 3 syllables.

Capello is known only to have ever written one poem in this style, the famous ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But he added one other stipulation, and this is that the decadocahedronic quatrain must always mention someone called Mandy somewhere in it’s content.

The fact that he only ever wrote one decadocahedronic double quatrain provokes many in the poetic community to conjecture that he only came up with the syllable count once his own poem was finished so that it automatically conformed, and that then he just couldn’t be arsed to write any more. Alas, due to copyright reasons and a promise of a knuckle sandwich from the curator of the British Museum, I cannot publish here the ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But fret not, for I have had a bit of a bash at writing a decadocahedronic double quatrain myself.

So sit back, and let this remarkable verse take you once again to Sicily, and the genius of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello.

Poem


I shall go to Kent.

It is a place I like.

It’s about time I pulled my finger out and packed my bags and went.

I shall then ask my really good friend Mike

Or Brent

If they would like to go to this magical place and ride a motorbike

Because I’ve often wished it would be beneficial to many in the wider artistic community to gather ones objects and belongings and make a pilgrimage to a place where small annoyances are, and stay in a two man tent.

Or not.

Ok, so I’ve only just realized that I missed out the obligatory mention of Mandy. But it’s not bad for a first attempt and Thiim himself said that it brought a tear to his eye. He’s off for a lie down, now. I hope this becomes viral. I’ve got washing up to get on with.

  

I get nervous. I used to get nervous. I don’t get nervous.

I’ve been performing poetry now for about five years up and down the country. I’ve been to parts of Britain that I wouldn’t normally go to, like Wolverhampton and Swindon, Salisbury and Cheltenham. And I’ve met some great people who have become friends. But there’s one constant which won’t ever go away, and that’s the state if nervousness I get before a poetry night.

It’s been there since the start. I thought it would go away with practice, but it doesn’t. It starts as a dull ache in the chest and a funny feeling in my stomach, and then as the day goes on it increases.

I don’t think this is necessarily about the performance, either. Yes,it is scary to stand in front of strangers and do poems about ostriches and goats, and to tell jokes which they might not laugh at. But the nervousness which I get usually comes from realizing the logistical details of getting somewhere, finding the venue, arriving at the right time, performing, then spending the night somewhere.

Because I’ve got one of those minds which always thinks of the things that can go wrong. And while I try to plan in as many escape routes and procedures as possible to negate the effects of Something Going Wrong, there’s always the chance that Things Might Go Terribly Wrong.

I remember taking part in the Wolverhampton Love Slam in 2014. By chance it was the same day that the railway fell into the sea at Dawlish. It took almost twelve hours to get to Wolverhampton from Paignton. The first person I bumped into was Jonny Fluffypunk. That’s when I knew that everything would be okay. But the whole day up till that point had just been one huge nervousorama.

I used to be the host of Poetry Island. I loved the nights themselves, there was so much energy, it was the poetry equivalent of being in a tornado. But there was so much organizing to do, and so much worrying about all the minor details, that in the end it wasn’t worth doing. I would spend the hour before going to the venue lying on my back on the floor and staring at the ceiling, trying to calm myself and run through everything in my head. That can’t be normal behaviour, now, can it?

I’m sure it’s the same for other performers. But the results far outweigh the nervousness. I’ve been to such wonderful gigs this year already, and I’ve got loads planned for later in the year, that I’m not even thinking about the nervousness.

Lately, I’ve been pursuing a new tactic. It’s called Operation DontThinkAboutIt. The day before a gig, I just carry on as normal. And even when I’m changing into my poetry outfit, I’m not thinking about what it is I’m about to do. And then I lie on the bed and I listen to pop music on my iPod. Loud, disco beat kind of stuff. The upshot of this is that it all makes the act of going to the gig and performing almost natural, and it seems to work. I’ve been having much more fun when I get there, less nervousness, and I reckon I’ve been performing better, too. If I stress too much over the minor details, then the actual reason for being there gets left behind. But now I don’t stress so much at all and it’s cleared my mind, made me focused on what it is I am meant to be doing.

Having said that, I’ve got some gigs coming up further up the country. So I shall see how it goes! And as long as the railway line doesn’t fall into the sea at Dawlish again, things should be okay.

Anyway, for no reason whatsoever, here’s a poem I wrote late summer while staying in Brixham.

Poem

Too hot out
For serious contemplation.
I sit in the cool of my room
At my parent’s
Bunga
Low.

Window open,
Net curtains twitching on the slightest breeze,
Car tyres on the concrete road surface,
Apolo
Getic.

The stipples ceiling has cracks.
Little roads through a mountain landscape.
But instead of being round the world is
Rectangular
( Except for a slight recess in the east).
The capital city is the light fixture.
The explorers are ever so brave
Who reach as far as the
Archi
Trave.

Outside in the summer heat,
The plaintive honking
Of something that honks.
I’m a city boy so I don’t really know
What kind of animal honks.
But I wish it wouldn’t.
It gives me the willies.

I imagine the room filled with
Albino
Ocelot
Octopuses
Cool
Coral
A
Drinks
Vending
Machine
PepsiCo

It’s so hot
I try to visualise somewhere cool
Like an airport air conditioned coffee shop.

Actually the honking is probably
Just the shed door
Creaking in the breeze.

Why I Am Not A Surrealist

When I was younger some of my favourite artists and musicians were surrealists. Salvador Dali and The Beatles, for example. Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower. That sort of thing. The imagery and the language of these were exciting and daring and I couldn’t get enough of the thinking behind such overtly provocative works. But as my adventures in art and music progressed, I started to realise that while the effects of these were immediate on the first viewing, they quickly wore off.

I don’t want to see another damn melting clock.

It took a while, but I began to realise that surrealism in small doses is okay, but there always has to be some kind of grounding in the familiar, in real life. It has to be relatable. Maybe it’s just the way I look at the world, but I’ve got to a stage in my life where surrealism is deeply unsatisfactory to see or read, particularly in poetry.

Let’s make a hypothetical poem. It’s going to be a surreal one, so we’re going to look at imagery. I see a plum. The plum has a moustache for some reason. The plum has a moustache, that’s the first line of this poem. Okay, so if this poem was a Robert Garnham poem, I’d then go on to follow the plum around for a few stanzas to see what life is like being a plum with a moustache. In such a way I ground the poem in the every day, in the humdrum. The plum has a problem eating soup because of the moustache. The plum can’t get a date because every plum he meets doesn’t like moustaches. You know, run of the mill kind of stuff.

But if I were a surrealist, then in the next verse, I’d move on from the plum with the moustache. I see a tap dancing horse called Mona, and the King of South Dakota is there, waving a cricket bat. And yes, this is all rather whimsical at the moment and a little but humorous, but if I read this again tomorrow I’d think: yeah, whatever.

I have, therefore, identified the moment, the junction, where a poem can go either way. On the left, full blown surrealism, all sunny and stupid and a bit dizzy. And on the right, the kind of tempered down-to-earth surrealism that people can relate to. This Point of Realist Return (PRR) is immediately divisible by the interest of the reader (I) and responds well to Repeating Reading (RR). I divided by PRR times RR equals a Satisfying Read (SR). A surrealist poem may also have a PRR but there the I is, unfortunately, not equal to the RR, and therefore the SR is of a lower outcome than the less surrealistic piece.

I hope that this has cleared things up.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that the poems which work best for me are those which have some kind of bearing on my life. My hero, Frank O’Hara, wrote poems based on his own life, his famous ‘I Do This I Do That’ poems. Yet he, too, dabbled in surrealism earlier in his career, and these poems are stodgy and hard work to read. You could tell that he was having a lot of fun writing them, but as a reader, well, there’s ironing to be getting on with.

I’m not against other poets being surreal. The performance poetry community is wide and varied and this is what makes it so vibrant. If every poet was the same, then we’d be better off not turning up. And who knows, perhaps someone might come along and surprise me with a set of sheer surrealist excellence.

Or perhaps my life is just so strange that I can’t possibly deal with any more of it!fun front

An Interview with AJ McKenna

Hello, AJ. You’ve had a busy couple of years, it looks like. What have been the highlights, both in terms of your poetry, and personally?

I think the two biggest highlights professionally have been my film, ‘Letter to a Minnesota Prison’, about the case of CeCe McDonald, which was shown at the Royal Festival Hall as part of ‘Architects of Our Republic’, an Apples and Snakes project – and, more recently, working as Deputy Editor at the online LGBT magazine So So Gay, which I did from last spring until I stepped down at the start of this year to concentrate on my own writing. The great thing about that role was the opportunity it gave me to amplify other trans voices, by commissioning work from people like J Mase III, Elaine O’Neill and Jude Enroljas.

– You’re a wonderfully outspoken person, fighting intolerance in all its forms. Do all poets have a duty to highlight the things that make them angry?

We live in very angry times: the news reports over the past week have been enough to confirm that. But equally, they’ve been very interesting in giving us space in which to consider what kinds of expression of anger are artistically worth it. If you look at the stuff that Charlie Hebdo was publishing, there is undoubtedly an anger behind it, but it’s a kind of spluttering, obvious, one-dimensional anger. No-one deserves to die for producing cartoons like that, but equally, they aren’t worth dying for either. If you think about some of the great free speech cases, stuff like the suppression of Ulysses, or the Lady Chatterley trial, or the Howl case, it absolutely would have been worth dying to have produced works like those. They were all to some extent motivated by anger, but it seems to me that they made something out of their anger which is beautiful and arresting and three-dimensional. So I think the question you have to ask is – can I make something worthwhile of my anger? Can I turn it into something which has space in it? That’s what you should ask yourself.

– Can you tell us a little bit about transphobia?

Well, it’s obviously the main thing I get angry about! Transphobia is the irrational prejudice people have against trans people – I don’t want to say it’s ‘the same as’ homophobia is for cisgender (non-trans) gay people, but obviously there are differences. Transphobia is still a lot more casually tolerated in this society than homophobia, for one. For another, you often encounter cis gay people who can be horribly transphobic, which really makes me angry, because you’d think if you understand what it’s like to be a minority you would hope people wouldn’t inflict the same hurt on other people.

– I see you are putting together a one hour show for the Edinburgh Fringe. Can you tell us anything about it?

The original idea for the show was to do an extended version of one of my 20-minute sets, a set which focuses on performing pieces which are inspired by the worst things people have said to me. It’s still based on that initial premise, but gradually other themes are emerging – politics (gender politics particularly), family, my years as a teenage anorexic, and a large helping of what I can only refer to as sex and violence. Hopefully people will find that a heady enough combination!

– Which poems do you consider to be your ‘greatest hits’?

The two poems people ask for most at gigs are ‘You’re fucking dead lol j/k’, which is my anti-banter poem, and ‘My revelation will not be trivialised’, which is a poem I wrote in response to transphobic labels. And the video of mine which has had the most hits on YouTube is ‘The Bathroom Thing’, my poem about anti-trans bathroom panic. So yes, I see your point about being outspoken…

– What aims do you have when you sit down to write a poem?

I tend to write in one of two ways – either something will make me very immediately angry, in which case I’ll write something as a kind of rapid response. Usually with these I don’t really have an idea of where the piece will end up – I’ll start with a line and then riff on it from there and see where it gets me. ‘My revelation’ was written in that way – I’d been annoyed by being referred to as a ‘TV’ and so I started riffing on the phrase ‘I am not a TV’, coming up with ways in which I’m not, which of course led me to think about Gil Scott-Heron and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and so I thought I’d carry on in that fashion and…eventually the poem was pretty much written, and only needed a few tweaks thereafter.

The other way I tend to write is that I’ll have an idea in my head which worries away at me for ages, unconsciously, then eventually I’ll find a way into it and come up with something. ‘Letter to a Minnesota Prison’ went like that: I’d wanted to write a poem about CeCe McDonald for a while – indeed I’d made numerous attempts and none of them had really came off. I’d heard about her being wrongly imprisoned for defending herself against a transphobic, racist attack, and I’d initially tried to write a poem about it in the style of that Bob Dylan song, ‘The Ballad of the Hurricane’, but…well, it worked out about as well as you can expect.

Then I was commissioned to do a poem for ‘Architects of Our Republic’, an Apples and Snakes event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. I had no idea how to proceed with it – in fact I found the commission quite daunting. So I decided to start by reading over the speech – the whole speech, not just the peroration, the ‘I have a dream’ bit, which everyone remembers. One of the interesting moments in the earlier part of the speech is a point when he compares the Declaration of Independence to a bad cheque. The interesting thing about this in the context of the CeCe McDonald case was that one of the key pieces of evidence used against her in her pre-trial hearing was that she’d written a cheque that bounced. So this gave me a way in. I began with ‘Your cheque bounced, CeCe…’ and the poem flowed from there. Then it was just a matter of editing.

– Who are your heroes, both in literature, and more widely?

In contemporary poetry my heroes are, in no particular order, Joelle Taylor, Sophia Walker and Angela Readman. More widely I adore the work of Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist who wrote Fun Home, which was a key influence on my decision to come out; Laverne Cox, who’s used her fame from appearing in Orange is the New Black to help advance trans rights; Fallon Fox, who’s done similar work in a much more dangerous environment as the world’s first out trans mixed martial arts fighter…and I’ve always been a massive, massive Tori Amos fan. I don’t think I’d actually write poetry if it hadn’t been for Tori!

– And who are your villains?

Now that is a much longer list! But you could probably sum it up as Tories, transphobes, and Ukip supporters.

– There seems to be a thriving performance poetry scene in Newcastle. Who are the other notable poets who perform regularly there?

That’d be another long list then! But we are blessed to have some amazing poetry and spoken word artists in the region. There’s Jenni Pascoe, who runs Jibba Jabba, Kirsten Luckins, whose show ‘The Moon Cannot Be Stolen’ is an amazing blend of poetry and music…Rowan McCabe is a massive rising star too, who’s also done an amazing show called ‘North East Rising’. Degna Stone, winner of the Verb new voices award…Amy Mackelden, who…her shows are not pure poetry but as spoken word they’re amazing. I remember seeing a performance of her show the ‘Seven Fatal Mistakes of Online Dating’ which finished with her performing a poem to a random guy on Chatroulette, after which the entire audience gave him a big wave. Such an amazing, risk-taking moment. And so nice, too! There’s Ira Lightman, as well, who I consider Britain’s most avant-garde poet, though he doubtless knows 18 different people doing even more experimental stuff than him. Ask him about the clown t-shirts. There’s Asa J Maddison, whose performance poem, ‘Boom’, is one of the most powerful things I saw last year; Sky Hawkins, Chris Harland…there are loads of us. Just move up here already! All of you!

– What are your plans as a poet for the next couple of years?

There is no plan!

AJ is performing at Stirred in Manchester on Monday 23rd February, Talking Heids in Leith on Tuesday 22nd, and at ‘Do Us Proud’, a special event to mark the end of LGBT History Month in York, on Thursday 25th

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South Devon kicks ass when it comes to performance poetry!

For a while now I’ve had this thought that the South Devon poetry scene is one of the richest and most vibrant in the county, when you take into consideration the scarcity of the population in most of it, what with all them fields and things.

Torquay is a resort which has, admittedly, seen better days, but even here there are two vibrant performance poetry nights a month. Poetry Island is long established, first under Chris Brooks, and lately under Ian Beech, both of whom have done amazing things to bring big names down to the bay, and now there is a night at the Artizan Gallery, too. Exeter isn’t that far away and there are three regular monthly nights as well as an amazing array of one off events thanks to venues like the Phoenix and the Bike Shed. Plymouth has two regular nights, and even Totnes has events at the Kingsbridge Inn.

But it is the sheer variety of styles and performers which makes the scene so vibrant. It is impossible to come up with a definitive South Devon style, because there are so many different interpretations of what makes spoken word and performance poetry so engaging. Daniel Haynes is droll, funny, serious, human, everything which a Bard should be. Which is good, because he is the currently Bard of Exeter. Tim King is experimental, political, also very human. The most human of all humans is James Turner, who exiles literary excellence and a fantastic understanding of the importance of performance and voice, as did the late and very much missed Rodney Bowsher. Joanna Hatfull is impossible to categorise, fusing theatre and monologue, humor and reality into her poems which never stray too far into surrealism. And then there’s Ian Beech, whose poetry is heartfelt, honest, occasionally ranting, often fierce, always well meaning.

Add to this people like Jackie Juno, Ziggy Abd El Malak, Chris Brooks, Gavin McGrory, Morwenna Griffiths, Solomon Doornails . . .

So what flavor is there to this excellent scene? Are there any common traits? Most of the performers have developed parallel and each event serves to drive each participant on to find deeper modes of poetic expression and audience engagement. Yet there seems to be a willingness to perfect this individualism in a way that may not be the case somewhere like Bristol or London, where a similar style dominates. The rhythms are different from one poet to the next. You might get the excellent Marc Woodward with his fast paced calm delivery, followed by the enthusiasm of Chris Brooks, and then the calm, slow, assured delivery of Dan Haynes.

There’s a great thing going on down here in South Devon at the moment and it makes me glad to be a part of it. And now some of us are starting to get recognition from further afield, strange parts of the country who can only be intrigued by the creativity and art which seems so normal. When I first started performing at Poetry Island, Chris Brooks would end each evening with an appeal for performers. Yet now there are so many that there is a strict rota and waiting list! And that has got to be a very good thing.

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a couple of new poems.

Poem

You said you’d do a magic trick.
Is this your card?, you asked.
Or is this your card?
Or this?
And then you reached into my pocket
And you announced,
This, this is your card!
And then you looked at it and saw
That it was my one day megarider bus ticket
And a tiny tear formed
In the corner of your eye.
In any case,
I hadn’t even picked a card.

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On saying ‘Thanks’ at the end of a poetry performance

Hello, today I thought I’d talk about what it is we say when a poem has finished.

I’ve been to many gigs all over the place and it’s true that the nature of these events is defined by the sort of poetry thats performed there. It’s not uncommon, at a page poetry event where poems are ‘read’ rather than performed, that there should be no clapping at the end. People sit there in a respectful silence. And that’s ok. That’s the culture that these events have created for themselves. And in any case, the poems are usually about the seasons or wildflowers or ennui.

Performance poetry nights are a different beast entirely. They are hipper, more energetic, more like entertainment than poems about agriculture and hedges, and the audience becomes a part of the whole performance. That’s why it’s often somewhat disconcerting when a poet finishes a poem and says absolutely nothing. The audience doesn’t know what to do.

We’ve probably all seen it. The poet stands there, having finished their poem, and there’s no acknowledgement whatsoever from the audience. And then they say something awkward like, ‘That’s it’. Or ‘That’s the end’. And then there’s a bit of muted clapping.

The vast majority of performance poets build up a rhythm as they go along and the final words, usually, ‘Thanks’, or sometimes ‘Cheers’, if the poet is a bit blokey, signals to the audience that their wait is over and that they are free to cheer, clap, whoop or should ‘Yeah!’. It becomes a part of the performance. And it helps the evening flow along.

But are there alternatives? Do people get tired of the same old ‘Thanks’? The wonderful local poet Simon Blades built a whole routine around this and would signal that a poem had finished wins lavish arm gesture which was both funny and a humorous aspect of his act. Every now and then I do something similar. Perhaps I might blow on a harmonica or whistle or something. But the essence is just the same. I’m telling the audience that the poem has finished and,if they’re not clapping already, the audience should damn well clap now.

Another aspect is the comedic acknowledgement that the poem has finished and that the next one is starting already. I’ve done this a few times. I’ve signaled that the poem had ended by announcing that ‘This next poem is called . . .’. In such cases I’m sacrificing potential applause for a comedic response. Hopefully laughter. It doesn’t always work but it’s very nice when it does.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, anyway. The acknowledgement that a poem has finished is part of the act. Unless the poet doesn’t want applause, and that’s fine. They might purposefully build themselves a reputation as a serious page poet, and the audience might be glad of an opportunity not to clap. Deadly silence at the end of a poem is a response in itself. It’s just a little embarrassing when the poet has read something that they hoped would elicit applause. The audience probably still likes them just the same, it’s just that they never got the chance to show it.

Anyway. That’s the end of today’s lecture. Next week we shall be discussing clearing throats on stage.

http://youtu.be/EkMmsv4OjqM

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Voidism : And Why I Don’t Want To Know Who Mytho Geography Is

A few years ago I came up with a philosophy, or rather, a method of living which I called ‘voidism’.

It started on a trip to Plymouth. Arriving back at the railway station to catch the train home to Paignton, I passed through a tunnel to get to the proper platform only to become aware of a door leading off the tunnel. I knew that it was probably a staff store area or some other vacant part of the station infrastructure, but a part of me still wanted to have a quick look and see what it was.

I didn’t. Indeed, quite the opposite, I made a conscious effort not to even look in the direction of the door, and to carry on walking through the tunnel. And it was only when I reached the platform and got on my train that I decided that this was just emblematic of the way I live my life.

There are areas of the world, geographic, intellectual of otherwise, which I want to keep distant from myself not so that I feel perpetually ignorant of such issues or places, but because I want them to maintain a certain level of mystique. Yes,I can make educated guesses as to what they exist for or are like to visit, but it don’t actually want to find out. I create a void over a certain subject or place so that they will always maintain their mystery, and a better version of them can exist in my imagination, probably better than the actual place themselves.

Another example of this is the German city of Koblenz. I once passed by on the motorway during a thunderstorm, half asleep on a coach heading south. And as the thunder and the lightning lit the sky, the city of Koblenz appeared as a collection of lights in the distance. I made various guesses as to what the city might contain,and what it might be to live in or visit Koblenz, while simultaneously deciding that I would never go there. Never, ever. As a result I have a huge interest in the city of Koblenz without even doing a Google search about the place. It seems nice.

The same happened in Canada, crossing the great prairies past the city of Regina in Saskatchewan. I saw it as a collection of lights on the horizon and I have decided that I should never go there.

A few years ago I became Facebook friends with a mysterious fellow by the name Mytho Geography. I had no idea who he was, as he hid behind his alias, but we have chatted and made jolly small talk by way of status updates and comments and the occasional message, and all the time I was distinctly aware that here was another void, a person I would have so much fun guessing about that I would never want to meet him. The version I had of Mytho Geography was of an intellectual figure, a wanderer, someone seeing the world through new eyes yet pointing out what we knew all along. I decided that one of my voids should forever mask him.

Alas, it was not to be, as Facebook decreed that all aliases should be unmasked, and Mytho Geography became Phil Smith. And worse still, I would then see him in the flesh for the first time at the launch of the Broadsheet Magazine, for which he has written an excellent introduction. A void has been lost, and with it, all the romance and adventure of the imagination.

I have never really publicised voidism. There are two main reasons. The first is that people might think I’m quite mad, the second is that I am aware how such a philosophy of purposeful ignorance might be used for negative means, by people using stereotypes and a lack of imagination to justify their own narrow mindedness. The aim of voidism is to bring magic and mystery back to a life in small doses, not to give up on intellectual inquiry all together.

I see myself as a scholar, a man who likes to get to the root of most issues, but these areas of mystery sustain me and keep me enthusiastic about the world. It’s like reading such writers as Borges or Juan Goytisolo, revelling in the journey without totally getting it. It’s like conceptual art. It’s the not knowing which gives such things their magic.

On a completely different note, here’s a poem about wine.

Poem

I put down my glass of wine.
The border of Devon and Somserset
Went right through it.
Shimmery non existent man made
Political boundary
Dissecting my merlot,
Which knows neither the gruff side burned
Yokelism of Somerset
Or the soft Devonian burr
Of the barn-weary milk maid.
I nudged my friend Jeff
To tell him this
And he spilled his lager
Right on the same county line.
And then two workmen
From competing councils arrived
To clean it up.
Their fingers, momentarily, fumbling
Together
Like mating octopuses.

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Post Edinburgh Musings

It’s been a week now since I returned from Edinburgh. A week of being back in the daily grind of work and things. In fact I have work for the next eleven days now, so Edinburgh, and all of those shenanigans, seems such a long way away.

But it’s been a week of developing ideas and concentrating on other poetic projects, and getting ready for the next Poetry Island, and performing in Totnes, and revelling in the freedom of performing other poems. You know. Not the ones that I did in Edinburgh, day after day.

Edinburgh was a kind of exquisite madness. It’s kind of the performance poetry equivalent of being in the army. Everything was so structured and so far removed from every day life that it was an incredible relief, almost, when we did the last show. By the end of the week the audiences were large and enthusiastic. In fact there were two wonderful highlights on the last day: one chap in the audience told us that we were the best thing he’d seen at the Fringe. And then the next day I was contacted on Twitter by someone who said that they could have watched us for hours!

It’s all a far cry from the day when we had two leave before the end, a man who kept yawning, and a Chinese lady who fell asleep at the back of the room.

So now I’m filled with ideas for next year, and a one man show that I’ve been developing. I spoke to a colleague the other day who’s possibly going to be doing some original music for it. And I have very clear ideas on the tone of the project. How exciting is that!

The weirdest thing about coming back early is the thought that a lot of my poetry friends are still there, still pumping away at it. They keep putting pictures on Facebook. So I come home from work and immediately I’m right there. I’m with them.

There’s one thing that I wont miss and that’s the camping. I’ve not been camping for 30 years. I’d quite forgotten how hard and how cold and how cramped it is. Standing up becomes such an exquisite joy. Sitting down becomes heavenly, especially in a chair. Night attacks of cramp and of being so cold that you use anything at hand to keep out the cold. I bought a hoodie on the second day. It became my most treasured item because it kept me warm. I was sleeping with the hood up. This is for my art, I kept telling myself. That, and the strange looks people gave me in the communal bathrooms the next morning while I was spiking my hair. Campers. Miserable lot.

I’ve got loads to get on with. New poems, for example. For some reason I have this annoying habit of working on several poems simultaneously. And a couple of projects which I can’t tell you about at the moment, but will become apparent very soon.

But for now, I’m fully integrated back into normal society.

Here’s a new poem for you:

Poem

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It’s official.

There’s no-one in Taunton named Jeff.

And I’ve checked.

I counted all the Jeffs in Taunton and

There were none.

I thought I found one but she

Was actually called Beth,

Not Jeff.

I checked both spellings,

Jeff with a J

And Geoff with a G

And there were neither of each.

I checked the floor tile warehouse

And every burger van

And I couldn’t find a single Jeff anywhere.

My notebook entry says

‘Number of Jeffs in Taunton, one.’

And the one is crossed out and amended to zero

Because as I say I accidentally counted Beth.