An Interview with Melanie Branton

One of my best friends in the world of spoken word is Melanie Branton. Best friends in that we chat about things that aren’t to do with poetry or spoken word. She’s a wonderful person who I really admire, and I also think she’s one of the funniest people I know. Her poetry mixes page and performance, and is widely acclaimed. She has been published by some of the top publications and has headlined at some of the top nights in the country. Not only was she the Hammer and Tongue regional winner last year, but she came second at the Bristol Poetry Slam the year before. Only the best spoken word artists come second at the Bristol Poetry Slam. The really, really good ones who everyone loves and admire come second at the Bristol Poetry Slam.

I was so glad when Melanie agreed to be interviewed because I wanted to get to the root of what it is that makes her such a distinctive, funny and heartfelt performer.
1. Your poetry is distinctive, funny and heartfelt. How important is it to draw on personal experience in your work?
Very. It’s been both very therapeutic for me in dealing with dark moments of my life that were still casting a shadow and a way of engaging with audiences in a deeper way. If you have the courage to expose something private about yourself, if you make yourself vulnerable before an audience, they will usually connect with you.

I didn’t always write like this. I started writing traditional light verse about “funny ideas” that were very far removed from me. But, 9 times out of 10, “funny ideas” are clichés, aren’t funny, and entrench dodgy, discriminatory world views (Mothers-in-law are dragons! Menopausal women are kooky and hysterical!) and it was a way of avoiding saying anything meaningful that might expose my own personality and history to scrutiny. Spoken word forced me to open up about myself more, take greater risks and made my poetry much better.
But that’s just me – not everyone has to write like this. Ultimately poetry has to be judged on its emotional impact and the quality of the writing, not its truth: I can’t be doing with all these “scandals” where slam audiences feel “cheated” when they find out that the poet they gave 10s to for his/her heartrending personal story doesn’t really have inoperable cancer/a dead twin brother/a history of childhood abuse (delete as applicable). Judge on the quality of the work, not on who’s got the biggest sob story, then maybe people won’t feel compelled to make stuff up.

2. You have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the modern poetry scene. In terms of page poets, who are your influences, and who do you admire?

Well, it’s more of a Dummy’s Guide-ic knowledge, actually.

There are some writers I admire and would love to write like, but know I never will (e.g. Emily Dickinson, Seamus Heaney). Then there are some writers that I used to read a lot of when I was a teenager. I’m not so into their work anymore, it’s not where my taste is now, but I can still see their influence in what I write (e.g. John Betjeman, Roger McGough).But there are some writers I love whose influence on my work is obvious – Selima Hill (who’s probably my favourite living poet) being a particular case in point. 

Writers I’ve been reading a lot of lately include Miriam Gamble, James Lasdun, Clare Pollard, Katherine Pierpoint, Penelope Shuttle, Philip Gross, but I have no idea if they’ve influenced me.
I lived in Poland for 4 years and I think I’m also influenced by Polish poets, from the stark attempts of Tadeusz Różewicz to construct a new poetics, after a Holocaust that had debased all that had gone before, to the playful, rather Dr Seuss-like absurdist, Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński

If this has not already become obvious, I am totally obsessed by poetry

3. And what about performance poets?

One of the first spoken word artists I ever saw was Stacy Makishi and I am in awe of people like her, who are multidisciplinary performance artists, not just poets. Chanje Kunda has massively impressed me, in that total performance way.

It’s unfashionable to say so, but I like the traditional, rhymey-rhymey, almost music hall performance poets, like John Cooper Clarke and Pam Ayres. And people like Luke Wright, who I suppose are keeping this tradition alive.

I very much admire both Anna Freeman and Harry Baker. I think Harry’s breathtaking, ostentatious technical skill is a welcome corrective in a scene where the content cart is often put before the form-and-language horse. And I like the fact that he writes about nerdy things that no-one else does, like the vagaries of the German language and the joys of Maths.

I also very much admire you.

4. You’ve had success both in slams and in publication. What plans do you have for the immediate future?
I never have plans – I bumble along in a permanent state of vagueness. But I have a hazy aim to get a collection published in the next year or so and to get enough bookings to at least be able to convincingly pretend my job is poet on my passport. I’d also like to have a go at putting a one-hour show together, possibly on the subject of language, which seems to be a recurrent theme in what I’m writing at the moment.

5. A lot of your poems are very, very funny. How important is being funny in a performative context?

Thank you! I rarely set out to be funny (and when I do, I’m invariably not). Because I have a reputation mostly as a comic poet, audiences often want to find me funny and will laugh at poems I actually intended to be serious. 

Then again, I think most really funny poetry has a serious core. I see that a lot with your stuff – the reason it’s so funny is because it touches on profound human truths and fears. Most of your poems have very serious ideas about loneliness, being afraid of not being good enough or not fitting in, or gay politics lurking somewhere behind them. Real belly laughs come, not from a clever pun or rhyme, but from people recognising something about themselves in what you’ve said.
I’ve been to some events where funny poems were clearly looked down on as being trite, unworthy, so last century, which annoys me. I think you can often make a serious point more subtly and effectively through comedy than you can through being all earnest about it. And even if it is just fluff, what’s so terrible about that? Writing effective fluff still takes a lot of skill and it makes people happy.

The poems of mine that get the biggest laughs are usually ones where I’m emotionally offloading. Like “Everything Reminds Me Of You”, which is barely a poem at all – it’s just random stream-of-consciousness. I was long-term unemployed when I wrote it, had just had a really harsh rejection letter for about the 50,000th job I’d applied for and was trying to take solace in a creepily intense, one-sided crush on a man I slightly knew and had friended on social media. It’s ostensibly about a crush, but it’s really about the thousand and one desperate, delusional ways we try to create some happiness for ourselves in a world where nothing good ever happens.
Both the best and the worst thing about funny poems is that it’s easier to gauge how well you’ve gone down. If the audience laughs very loudly, you know your poem hit the spot. If they receive it in stony silence, you know you’ve failed miserably. Whereas, with serious poems, it’s all a lot more mysterious. Is that silence the pregnant silence of an enraptured audience hanging on your every word? Or is it the silence of 200 bored people simultaneously letting their minds drift onto whether they left the gas on and whether Tesco Express will still be open when they leave the venue and if there’ll still be any cat food left?

One thing I like to do is to switch to a serious poem after a string of comic ones. Audiences usually hate this. They start off laughing, because they assume I’m still trying to be funny, then as the penny drops, the laughs start to dry up and they look deeply, deeply uncomfortable, because they can’t work out what I expect of them and they feel stupid for having laughed in the first place. And this is exactly how I want them to feel. Because if I’m doing a poem about my mental illness or having been raped, I damn well want the audience to feel uncomfortable – I don’t want them to be sitting there having a feelgood moment, smugly congratulating themselves on how right-on and compassionate they are, which I feel happens way too much in spoken word.

6. How do you rehearse and memorise your work?

I don’t rehearse enough – I spend a lot of time on trains and much of my rehearsal consists of running through lines in my head while on the Taunton to Bristol Parkway line. Or pacing around mouthing the lines sotto voce on a draughty platform. 
Fortunately, I have always had a near-photographic memory, so memorisation has rarely been a major challenge (although I have dried on poems I knew well when nervous and the first outing for any poem is often a hit-and-miss affair). It helps if the poem is a narrative one, especially if it’s in chronological order, because it’s pretty obvious that C comes after B. Rhyme ought to help, but it’s also much more obvious when you get wrong.

7. What would you say was your best gig?
That’s a hard one to answer, as every gig is special in its own way (unless it goes badly, in which case it’s hideous).
The Bristol Slam in 2014, where I came second, has a special place in my heart, though, because it was about six months after I had taken up spoken word and was the first event where I felt I got taken seriously as a poet. I’d done a few slams before then and even won one of them, but I’d never felt I’d had more than a lukewarm reaction from the audience and the last couple had gone very badly (as in, I got given 6s when everybody else was getting 9s). I was on the verge of accepting that I just didn’t have what it takes and giving up. And then I turned up for one last hoorah, expecting to come last and totally humiliate myself again, and it was like a fairy tale (or, at least, a cheesy made-for-TV movie) – the audience treated me like a rock star, the expert judges gave me incredibly flattering scores and people seemed to assume I was a pro who knew what I was doing. It was the first time I really believed I might be somewhat good at this. I was so overwhelmed, I kept trying to hug the woman sitting next to me, in the emotion of the moment completely forgetting she was a total stranger. 

Both times I’ve appeared at Raise The Bar have also been amazing. Danny always manages to attract an enormous audience. It’s also a very young audience – I felt a bit like Ronald McDonald – but an insanely enthusiastic one and one which really listens and thinks about what it’s heard and is open to all kinds of poetry. It’s definitely my favourite night in Bristol at the moment.
8. What would be the overriding theme of your poetry, if there is one?

I’m probably best known for my poems moaning about my epically rubbish lovelife. I do write poems about other things, but those seem to be the ones that are the most popular.

9. How do you write? Do you have a specific time and place and set of procedures, or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

No, I don’t have any kind of system. I usually just wait for inspiration to strike, but I do sometimes give it a helping hand – I attend a brilliant poetry group where we’re given a set theme every month; if I know there’s a write-in at a café near me, I’ll try to go along; and I find that nothing coaxes the muse out of hiding like a deadline, so I will look up calls for submissions and force myself to produce something by the cut-off date.

Some of my poems come very easily, others take months of agonised tinkering.

10. One of your poems is a hilarious critique of slam poetry styles. Do you see a certain dominant style at such events? Does it help to be distinctive?

People often interpret that poem as a damning critique of slam poetry, but I actually wrote it when I was preparing for a major slam and was putting myself under enormous pressure to come up with the perfect poem, that would tick all the right boxes. Of course, I produced nothing but shit during this period, as I wasn’t being myself – I was trying to manufacture poetry with cynical, mercenary intentions, and be who other people wanted me to be. That never works. It’s not so much a critique of slam poetry as a critique of my own Machiavellian ambition and cackhanded slam tactics.
That said, there are things in slam poetry that piss me off and it does come out in that poem. In particular, I hate the amount of virtue-signalling that goes on at slams – people writing safe, anodyne poetry that preaches to the converted and doesn’t attempt to tell people anything they don’t already know. Yes, there are too many racists and homophobes in the world, but by and large they don’t attend spoken word events, so if you’ve come to tell people racism and homophobia is bad, you’re probably in the wrong venue.
Going back to your question, I think it helps to be distinctive with expert judges and with promoters and publishers, who are heartily sick of seeing Tesco Value versions of Kate Tempest and Shane Koyczan and want to see people who have their own things to say.

Some slam audiences, though, really don’t want you to be distinctive. If you don’t sound like a carbon copy of every other slam poet they’ve ever heard, they think you’re doing it wrong. That’s something that frustrates me. Fortunately, though, those audiences are in the minority – most spoken word audiences are very embracing and eclectic.


New York Poems 

New York 1.
They say that Manhattan is a state of mind

But I’ve looked on the map

And it’s definitely there.
It doesn’t stop,

Not even in the dead of night,

The rumbling, the growl,


No wonder they look so angry.
I went into Starbucks at five in the morning

And there was already a queue.

Shuffling jittery city dwellers,

The insomniacs and the early risers,

The boy who cannot sleep in

The city that never sleeps,

Nothing more offputting than a

Mardy pre-caffeine New Yorker.
Don’t take coffee, I take

Well actually I do take coffee,

Thanks for asking,

And maybe one of those tarts.

I’m English, you know.
Sitting in the window and watching

The cyclists,

Weaving, open-mouthed.

Stop lights mean nothing to them,

Life seems so tentative,

These two-wheeled mosquitoes,

How many of them end up 

Plastered on the front of those

Big-assed delivery trucks that you see,

Or some nobhead’s Humvee?
I thought the barista was only being nice

When he asked me for my name.

He repeated it with a smile, all

Rhotic on the consonants,

Elongating the vowels in a way

They don’t normally get pronounced,

Making my heart all fluttery

Until I notice he’d written it on my cup.
It’s the familiar things 

That make me feel at home.

Crushing disappointment,

And the fact that they

Also have McDonalds over here.
New York 2.
I need one with a shot of espresso.

You’re the newbie, you’ll need this.

There’s a whole bunch of confidence there.

She never told anyone

But she likes attention.

She’s like that with every guy, trust me.

And then she can cut him out, say uh-oh,

It’s like oh, it’s bad, she’ll go far,

She got green locker room doors,

She won’t try to apologise.

I don’t have an issue with her.

Every time I told her she gave me the one two.

I used to consider you a friend

And I was your friend whatever.
(Found poem, three NYPD police women chatting in a coffee shop at the next table).
New York 3.
The way he’s sitting

And what he’s wearing

And his hair

Those are the definites.

His sensitive eyes

His long eyelashes and the

Way he just looked 

At that jogger,

Those are the peripheries.

And the hoodie,

American Dance Theatre,

Alvin Ailey,

Whatever that is.

(I will google it later).

It’s all mostly symbolic

I feel

I know him.
New York 4.
She took my hand and danced with me

Amid the noise and clamour and cacophony 

Of Times Square 

As the skyscrapers whirled in their

Concrete and glass delirium,

She yelled

Above the engines and the horns and the

Shouting and the hooters and the sirens and the roar

And the buzz and the energy and the excitement

And the rush and the glee and the pulsing rhythms

Of the city in all its brash omnipotence,


I thought you were my husband.
New York 5.
(Amid the Abstract Expressionists, MoMa)
He, who isn’t here

Would have haunted these

Very pictures,

Broken nose to canvas

And a ready opinion.

Losing himself

In the Pollock

And it’s intricate action,

Felt a spark of the very now,

And would have known everyone

On first name terms.

Jasper. Jackson. Elaine. Robert. Mark.
The boy with the red trainers,

A sly flitting nonchalant phantom

Who will blond my dreams

With his purposeful demeanour

Right now here and

F would have approved.
New York 6.
I’ve only got one joke about denim.

A one liner about crinoline.

I’ve only got a couple of puns about nylon

And a quip about silk


I’ve run out of material.
New York 7.
(Written in Tom’s Diner)
I wasn’t sitting near the window.

I was at the counter.

But it was still the diner on the corner

And the burger was mighty fine

On a drizzly Manhattan Saturday.
And there’s a ball game on the tv screen,

Notre Dame are playing NC State

And I’m not sure what the sport is

But they’ve all got helmets and shoulder pads.
There’s a picture from a magazine

Of Jerry Seinfeld on the wall and he’s

Kind of looking at me imperiously

As I eat my burger which,

As I said, is mighty fine.
I’ve got that tune in my head now,

You know the one.

The Seinfeld tv theme music.

I probably wouldn’t have come here

If it wasn’t for, you know,

These two things.
New York 8.
The Staten Island ferry 

Everyone is merry

They’re all waving at me!

Am I a celebrity?

Have I been recognised?

Am I famous here?

No, they’re

Wiping mist from the windows

Of the inside seating area.

I’m depressed now.
New York 9.
She purred

Hold on there, honey,

I’ll just put you through

On to line number three.

There was barely a click.

No static.

She’s such a

Smooth operator.
New York 10.
I want to go out with Rhys.

I want to have a date with Rhys.

I want to spend quality time with Rhys.

I want to get to know Rhys.

I want to be with Rhys.

I want to make out with Rhys

I want to express my love for Rhys

I want to have relations with Rhys

I want to be at peace 

With Rhys.
I say to Rhys





Please please please

Rhys Rhys Rhys


Come on

Don’t be a tease

Put me at my ease

I haven’t got flees

You are the bees



What do you say?


What of it, Rhys what of it, Rhys what do you reckon?

You and me Rhys please Rhys what do you think Rhys

Me and you Rhys you and me Rhys us together Rhys 


Us together Rhys us together Rhys us us us

Together together together 


Rhysie babes.

Oh dear!

Rhys has gone walking off.

Rhys has gone walking off.

Rhys has gone walking off.

Rhys has gone walking off.

Rhys has gone walking off.

Rhys has gone walking off.


Has called the police.
New York 11.
The big pancake. The big muffin.

The big nausea. The big nothing.

The broad one. The tall one.

The big fella. The concrete devotional.

The prostrate giant. The cosmopolitan.

The metropolitan. The big breakfast.

The all day lunch. The concrete funnel.

The distorted mirror. The seismic cherry.

The license to chill. The delicatessen.

The bad boy. The big bad boy,

Cavernous potholes so deep you’ll 

Lose yourself for a week.

The big dependable. The three-way delicious.

The exuberant fruit. The hungry papa.

The pumping beehive. The big badger.

The big glacial. The big crazy.

The big security. The big despicable.

The big beat. The big Apple.
New York 12.
No ghost dance

On these gentle hills

Nor ceremonial gatherings

On the granite outcrops, 

Central Park no wilderness,

Just the whisper of

Other people’s conquests

Too rooted in the now

To wander successfully.
New York 13. 
Melissa loves her new boyfriend

She was telling me 

He’s got it all and she’s fallen for him

And love is a tentative thing,

It makes her heart sing

That just a glimpse of him

Makes her all tingly inside.

Tell me more, said I.
His name is

It’s amazing,

It’s true love.

We haven’t actually been on a date,

But we shared the taxi home

From a Eurovision Song Contest party

And he was so nice.

He didn’t even touch me.

What a gentleman.

I’ve already changed my

Facebook relationship status.
He’s not like other men.

He doesn’t try to impress you

With a list of all the blokey masculine 

Macho things he’s done.
He’s ever so retro.

He likes antiques.

Old things. Ancient things.

He loves Cher.

He has a big droopy moustache

The kind that women in the seventies

Used to love.
He works on boats.

You never see him without his sailor’s cap.

But he also likes the countryside,

He loves camping.

And cottages.
He’s so manly

Yet he’s not afraid to show his emotions.

Just the opening chords of I Will Survive 

Has him in floods of tears.

He has the soul of a rebel,

And a connoisseurs appreciation

Of the female form

In all it’s beauty.

Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, 

Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland

Barbra Streisand.


He’s a punk demon tearing up the road with his


Which I haven’t seen

But he wears lots of leather 

And he says there’s nothing better than a 

Big one throbbing between his legs.

He’s the man for me!
He’s so caring.

He doesn’t want to upset whoever 

Gave him the Tshirt that reads,

It’s Raining Men.

But he wears it all the time.

And on the back it says

He’s coming round tomorrow night,

I’m going to tell him the way I feel

Over quiche.

He says he’ll do my nails

And watch a box set of the Golden Girls.

I might put the football on.

He was telling me

How much he likes footballers.

And ball sports in general.

He’s the man for me!
I’ve got him some whiskey.

He says he likes a stiff one 

Before bed.
So what do you think?
And I said, well,

First the good news is

I can’t see any problem looming with his

Red blooded masculine urges,

And the whole time you’re together

He won’t even look at another woman.

He’s not the sort of man

Who’ll force himself on you

Unless you’ve got the latest issue of Vogue,

And he’ll make your flat spotless.

You’ll be up to date with all of the

Latest celebrity gossip

And he’ll be genuine interested

In how much you hate your work colleagues.
And now for the bad news.

There will be no kids

I can guarantee it.

Try as you might

You’ll never break his heart.

And be prepared to meet a lot of

Impossibly handsome young men who have all

Inexplicably missed the last bus home,

One by one, on consecutive nights.
It’s not going to happen, sister.

It’s not going to work.

Take your mind off this man, this

Aesthetically pleasing man, this sensitive

Teasing perfumed perfect

Moisturiser tube squeezing

Eyebrow tweezing 

Salad seizing

Wit so cold it’s

Almost freezing man

For whom the dance of life

Is to dance all night

With the kind of type

He likes to like

Which I’m afraid, honey,

Is not you.
That’s a shame, she said,

He’s coming round tonight to pick up his 

Black and Decker Angle Grinder.

Oh, I said,

In that case I take it all back.
I met a wizard, a sage,

A man of his age

Whose wage was to lift

His spells from the page,

Engage with souls and enrage 

As if locked in a cage,

Mix emotions, persuade, rampage,

Oh, how I would gauge

With a hint of outrage

As I performed on the stage,

He was an old man

So he wasn’t teenage,

His name was Adrian

But his friends called him Adge.
I said,

Wise man,

Tell my why people are suffering,

For when my heart is fluttering

I hear a low muttering,

It’s happening right now

Over the coughing and spluttering,

Like a YouTube clip

That won’t stop buffering.
Why is this world filled with hate and with

Torture, and hunger and greed,

People who don’t get what they need,

It’s like hatred has planted a seed

Which won’t go away

Until we are freed,

Plus a lot of people

Routinely lose their car keys,
And soldiers,

Dressed in their khakis,

So glib their humour, so sarky,

So cold outside, it really is parky,

It’s a lark, see.

Oh wise man, I beseech thee,

You could teach me,

I’m out of reach, see.

If I was a germ you could bleach me.

Oh wise man, unleash me.
He opened his mouth to speak, see,

Thought about it deeply,

Cleared his throat and said,

And I said,

Give me all your learnings, I’m yearning

To feel that burning

And the world turning,

Life is unfurling

Like ideas thrown in the air

I’m hurling

Concepts at ya,

What philosophy can we capture,

Or otherwise enrapture.

Tell me wise man,

Have you got it beat?

Is the street your retreat to make

Your life complete

Like a celebrity reTweet

Tell us why

Life ain’t so sweet.
He pondered and said,

The trouble is
And I said,

I crave the truth quell the horror in my brain,

The souls I fear who die in their millions,

The humanity of which we are all a part,

I no more fear the truth, let it blaze like a bonfire

As it wells from deep within, for I cannot help but cry

At all the lies that blind us,
And he said, the thing is

And I said,

Blinded by the clap trap,

I’d rather eat a flapjack,

Drive around in a hatchback,

Wear a backpack,
And he said, if I might interject

And I said 

Back catch

Sack crack



Luggage rack

Quarter back



And he just walked off. 

Some new poems I’ve been working on.

Check in desk one is closed

And check in desk two is closed

And check in desk three is closed

And check in desk four is closed

And check in desk five is closed 

And check in desk six is out to lunch


Check in desk seven

Is manned by a chicken.
Did you pack your bag yourself

Did you have your bag all the time.

Have you any liquids or

Small firearms

Did you book your ticket on line.

I’m still alive

There are so many things.

That can kill you

But none of them have

Killed me yet

Unless you’re reading this

In a posthumous collection.

I’m very much alive.
My chakras may be misaligned

Like wonky buses in the bus station

And my feng shui

Might be all too much feng

And not enough shui

But I’m still alive

And when I saw that chicken

Operating the airline computer

And issuing boarding passes I


Good for you.

Good for you, chicken.

Good for you.
And I want to live and I want to fly and I want to have a real good time and i want to make this life the best I can I want to be a real man that’s the plan 

I want to live the life ecstatic I want to be the absolute best I want to breathe the sweet sweet air I want to feel the wind in my hair.

I want to live.
At that moment.

A representative of the airline arrived.

And she said

Sorry, is this chicken harrassing you?

It doesn’t represent the airline or any

Of its associated companies.

We’re so sorry.

We’re calling security.
Check in desk one is closed

And check in desk two is closed

And check in desk three is closed

And check in desk four is closed

And check in desk five is closed 

And check in desk six is out to lunch

And now we’ve got to just stand here. 
Since you left me

I’ve been able to get so much

More done.
I painted the skirting board.

Put up a shelf.

Learned some rudimentary expressions

In Cantonese.

Cleaned the oven.

Planted some hanging baskets.

And I finally got round

To cataloging my cd collection.
I can’t believe

It’s been thirteen and a half years.
At night

The lighthouse syncopated flashes she translates

In morse.
Irregular yet beautiful words,

Strange juxtapositions,

Poetic devices and

Postmodern cut-ups

Beamed to her coastal cottage.
Who might be this

Mysterious lighthouse keeper?

This poet of the senses?

She strikes out across the shale

In a trance-like state,

Those breathtaking words 

Spurring her on
Only to find

An automated lighthouse

And a restless cormorant. 
My friend Ben is monotone.

He says things and they’re monotone.

He speaks to me he’s monotone.

He laughs at things in monotone.

When he has sex he’s monotone.

Unmoving and quite monotone

No tonal shifting monotone

Call him on the telephone

And wait there for the dialling tone

Then he comes on all monotone.

My friend Ben is monotone

He drives a Toyota.
My cousin Phil

Slipped at the top of Box Hill

Bounded end over end

In a never ending cartwheel

Right from the very top,

Then straight through the middle

Of a loving couple’s picnic,

Damaging a sausage roll

And two scotch eggs

Virtually beyond repair

Falling at such a velocity

His shoes flew off

And one of them clouted a nun

Who shook her fist at him.

He, er, he, huh huh, he died.
People always ask me

What I think

Might be

The meaning of existence.
I cheated on my eyetest.

I remembered every line.

I cheated on my eyetest.

The optician said I was fine.

I cheated on my eyetest

It felt so good to do it.

I cheated on my eyetest.

I breezed my way right through it.

I cheated on my eyetest.

This morning I walked into a bus stop.
They said it was full of monsters and guns,

Hot humid nights and mist hung over verdant valleys,

This ain’t no place for a stranger.

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
A one stop truck stop on a highway heading south,

Too hot to sleep in an un-air conditioned motel,

Nothing on the tv, no Ant and Dec

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
A glowing Coke machine attracts moths and flies,

Throws out its glow on the melted Tarmac road.

I’m probably thousands of miles from the nearest Lidls.

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
There’s a Bush in the White House

And bumper sticker pro-gun slogans.

When I ordered in a diner the room went very quiet.

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
There’s an ice machine on the motel verandah

And everyone’s drinking Mountain Dew, though

It’s a relief to see they still have McDonalds over here in the US

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
Country music on the radio, preachers on the radio,

Jesus is out to get me with his AK47

And now on channel 53 for some reason, ‘Are You Being Served?’

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
The motel laundry doors lit bright fluorescent

Shining hot shirtless lads operate the tumble dryers

I linger in the doorway just a fraction too long

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
Hot drip sweat rolls under my Arsenal tshirt 

A low moany groan emanates from the woods

I’m probably not going to get the latest cricket results

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
The highway sighs as if it’s all too much

The long grass crickets fill the night with sound 

The whole place seems to have a malevolent intent

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
The hillsides loom and

The neon buzzes and

The passing trucks growl and

The world smells of creosote

And disappointment,

Something sticky and

Unsettling in the

Heat of the night,

Restless dreams in wooden homes,

This covered fold, this

Hidden valley,

And I start to wonder, to empathise,

Try to imagine those who spend their lives

Hidden in closets and churches,

Daring to love only in their imagination,

Peering out through fly screen doors

At total strangers,

I, without that frontier spirit,

An ethos without a Jesus or a Bible,

Being different just by being,

Plus you can’t get a 

Decent cup of tea anywhere.

I’m scared. I’m scared,

I’m so very very scared,

Scared out my wits in Burnsville. 
The next morning

I had breakfast in a diner

And the waitress

Made me read her the menu

Because she liked my accent

And the man at the next tab,e

Asked if I knew his cousin

In Clapham.

There’s a circus in the town.

The big tops on the green

There’s s circus in the town

The biggest one I’ve seen

There’s a circus in the town

But I am not so keen

There’s a circus in the town

The clowns are really mean.
Six of them this morning.

In the beach front coffee shack

Sadly stirring their cappuccinos 

With the face paint flaking

The whole place reeked of

Caffeine and stale disappointment.

One of them was reading the Daily Mail

And nodding in agreement with

The letters to the editor.

He’s trying to park his car.

Not getting very far.

He’s worked out all the angles wrong
He’s got

The car stuck in first gear

He’s getting nowhere near

The place he wants the thing to go
And now

The traffic’s building up

I guess he’s out of luck 

Drivers are shaking their fists
At him

They really are appalled

And now he’s gone and stalled

The sweat is rolling down his brow
And now

The satnav’s voice comes on

She says he’s got it wrong

And now it is recalculating

Cares not one iota

For his grey Toyota

He wishes that he had a bike
It’s like

His life is on the blink

He finds it hard to think

Things now are so complicated

The car into reverse

He couldn’t have chosen a worse

Moment to do such a thing 
He scrapes

His car against a van

It’s owned by a big man

With tattoos and a sour expression
That night

He gets home to his wife.


She pats the bed

Next to her and says,

Over here, big boy,

My brave warrior.

He leaps on to the mattress,

Misses, collides with the bedside cupboard,

The lamp stand slowly spinning around 

As he lands in a crumpled heap on the floor.
That dream again.

All hot and humid in the sultry night,

Me in bed, and he’s there,

The prince of darkness,

Olympic diver Tom Daley,

Preparing for a back flip on to the duvet

He’s wearing Superman boxer shorts and,

Inexplicably, a cowboy hat.
He comes often between the hours

Of two and three, 

Bathed in an ethereal glow,

imparts his wisdom,

Says things like,

‘The best way out of Basingstoke

In the rush hour

Is the A331 heading towards Farnham.
Love is an accident, pure chance,

A private dance

Skipping on fate 

And being brave, it comes

Deep from within.
We’re talking about professor Brian Cox

And how his tv shows, informative as they are,

Might be half an hour shorter if he didn’t 




The cat wants to be put out, and Tom


Come here Kevin, he says,

Come here.

The cats called Kevin.
Mists swirl and time does that thing it does,


I’ve only ever wanted companionship,

A guide through life,

A small banana farm in northern Queensland 

And Olympic diver Tom Daley

This afternoon I bought the latest

NewYorker and a packet of custard cream biscuits

And Tom immediately chided me for

Eating too many.
What an appetite you have.

Why is it so untidy in here?

When was the last time you went

Around with the duster?

That picture’s crooked.

When you walk wearing those trousers,

(Those ones, there),

I can hear a shushing sound.
Softly, dusk fell,

Just like the Ukrainian who

Tom defeated in the European quarter finals,

Yet without that big belly flop that became

An Internet click bait Youtube hit,

Dusk, hiding with it the pain and the paranoia

As well as his classically handsome features,

Trained, toned physique,

Winning smile, you know how

People have often said we could

Be twins.
When Frankenstein’s monster tore himself

From the angst and ennui of the

Mer de Glace in Chamonix he passed

Right through Surrey on his journey north,

Just like Tom Daley on his way from the

Bournemouth diving championships 

To an exhibition he undertook in

Milton Keynes

Whereat I nabbed a pair of his pants.
My friend Anne once opined that

True love is not caring when your sweetheart 

Leaves a floater in the toilet bowl

After having a dump.

My hand reaches out,

Fumbles for the custard creams,

Finds nothing there.


I felt incredibly privileged, yesterday, to sample the fantastic array of poetry in Manchester, and to perform a feature slot at Evidently.

I’ve been to a few vibrant poetry nights up and down the country, and Evidently is definitely one of the best. The show is hosted by Kieran King with such energy and gusto as to be wholly infectious. His enthusiasm for every single performer radiates out and ripples across the audience like a Mexican wave. Every open mic poet is greeted with cheers and clapping and whoops, which must be especially exciting for a first-timer. How wonderful it is to see fresh talent being encouraged in such a way!

The venue is amazing. Google Maps sent me to a light industrial estate somewhere in Salford. I wondered if there had been an error, and as the mist began to roll in from the moors, (or wherever the mist rolls in from in these parts, as I’ve virtually no knowledge of Manchester or it’s geography), a strange magic overtook the night. Neon became blurred, the tower blocks loomed like tombstones, late night garages glared fluorescent light out into the gloom, and then, all of a sudden, the Eagle Inn appeared.

A beautiful old pub, preserved against the neighborhood, with brown tiled walls and architectural flourishes, fireplaces and flagstone floors, the place seemed perfect to evoke a Manchester of the past. As if to reinforce the image, a jukebox was playing The Smiths, and a young man at the bar was singing along, every now and then apologizing to me by saying, ‘They’re just wonderful, the Smiths, and this is my favourite song’.

Evidently is held in the back room of the pub. The back room has a stage and a balcony. The magic is reinforced by the subtle lighting of the room and the way it fills with souls coming in from the dark to spill their words to an appreciative audience. You could smell winter clinging on to their overcoats as the room filled to the brim. Others went upstairs and watched from the balcony.

My own set was a typical blend of Surrey whimsy and pink puppet shenanigans, the audience seemed to enjoy it very much. And then the open micers came on.

One thing that always strikes me about my own local scene in South Devon is the sheer variety. I’ve been to other towns, and each one seems to have its own style, but little variety. In London there’s rap, and it’s good rap, but after eight or nine rappers you begin to tire a little. In Bristol there’s the three-rhymes-per-line lets-all-be-nice-to-each-other style which is also very good and very effective but a little wearing after a while. But Evidently last night was different. It had variety, it had energy, it had humour and it had serious poems.

I wish I’d taken some names down. A poet did a wonderfully effecting piece about civil rights and police brutality which almost made me want to video it and show it to everyone. A young lady of 17 made her debut and recited a fantastic poem about what it means to be 17 and finding your place in the world. There was a chap called Alabaster (I believe), funny and engaging. Jamie Harry Scrutton was hilarious and energetic and I just wanted to take him home with me. Indeed,there were too many to mention here, and then to top it all off, Tony Walsh did a quick set about empowering women and women’s rights. Fantastic stuff!

Rose Condo did a brilliant set, too. Geography, the human spirit, bus stops, Winnipeg. She was hypnotic, truthful, she made me see the world through different eyes. In fact, everyone did.

So my first experience of Manchester was certainly positive and I feel that I should spend more time there. And yes, there was much derision over the fact that I flew up, further demonstrating that this poetry malarkey is just a glorified hobby for me rather than a business, but it only added to the sense afterwards of having had a very perculiar and very pleasant dream.

Here’s a poem I wrote while I was there.


I’m writing this poem in Manchester.
I’ve never been here before.
I didn’t know what to expect
But I wanted to find,
While I was here,
The real Manchester,
Something tangible and local that I
Can build on
As definitive proof,
(Apart from this poem), that
I have been to Manchester.

I found a Starbucks.
I found a Waterstones.
I saw on Google Maps
That there’s a Weatherspoons.

A man on the train said he was
‘going down tut pub’.
I saw another man
And he was wearing a flat cap.
I saw an advert for Yorkshire puddings.

Everyone sounds like
Daphne’s mum, from Frasier.
I feel like I’m
A long way from Guildford.

Ps, bit late now, but I’ve only just worked out why the night was called Evidently.

Which Performance Poet Are You? Take this quiz! You just have to look at what happens next!

OK, the title of this post was misleading. I just thought I’d mess with ya. It’s just my blog. That’s all it is.

So it’s been a mammoth of a week full of exciting things. The highs and lows of performance poetry. On Tuesday I performed in Exeter at the Bike Shed with All Of Our Poets Are Musos. I really enjoyed the variety and mix of music and spoken word, even if I did have to look up what a ‘muso’ was. The highlight of the night for me was the wonderful Chee, who makes me laugh somewhat uncontrollably with her excellent and funny songs. She’s amazing and I think I’m developing a non-sexual crush on her. My own set was accepted with laughter and hilarity, which is kind of what I wanted. And afterwards, she leaned across to me while the next person was performing, and she whispered, ‘You had sex with an octopus’.


On Thursday I hosted my last ever Poetry Island. It’s been an amazing three years, but I knew that I couldn’t do it forever. The nights are fun and brilliant and euphoric, but there’s so much organisation goes in to the promoting and administrative side, and then I get incredibly nervous before hosting. I have to lie down on the floor of my flat and stare at the ceiling. I’ve never really told anyone about this nervous side of me before, but it becomes almost crippling. Ian Beech will be taking over, he’s a great chap and has an encyclopedic knowledge of performance poetry, as well as many contacts. The nights will be amazing under his control.

It was an emotional night, full of good humour. I did the dance for the last ever time. We put the poets in the cinema because there were so many people wanting to come in and watch, and it was great to listen to their reactions from the other room! I will certainly miss hosting, but I wont miss all the other things that go around being a host and promoter.

On Friday night, Tim King and I drove out to Salisbury to appear on the main stage at the Rest Festival. We got lost. Then we hit a kerb. Then we almost hit a rock. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam. Then we got stopped by the police. We finally arrived with about ten minutes to spare, to find the act before us was an amazing band, and when it was announced that the music had stopped for the night and that next up were two poets, the crowd kind of drifted away. Quite quickly. Nevertheless, we performed very well, even if we did scamper away as quick as we could! Got back to Tim’s house in Exeter at three in the morning. We had cheese on toast and red wine.

So that’s been my week. Oh yes, and I did that dreaded ice bucket challenge thing. The results were too embarrassing to broadcast, but if you want the video I can always send it. It was cold. Obviously. And I was not very manly.



Edinburgh Fringe, days three and four

Well I’m starting to get into the swing of it now. The rhythm. Leaflet and smile. Leaflet and smile. Poetry death match, madam? Leaflet and smile. And then go to someone else’s venue and leaflet and smile. Poetry death match, sir? And then get to your own venue and hope they damn well turn up.

‘Yes. Sounds great. I’m busy today but I will definitely come along tomorrow’. That’s what they say. But then they hear that there’s an act at the same time involving tightrope walking badgers. How can poetry possibly compete against tightrope walking badgers?

We had our best audiences over the last two days, six at a time. Yesterday was weird, though. Two of them left before the end, and one of them fell asleep. That’s never a good sign, is it? Mind you, she looked absolutely pooped. And I know how she feels. Festival fatigue set in yesterday and I just had to go to a book shop for a bit and pretend I was elsewhere. Just for a bit.

I’ve seen some really good comedy, though. Ever since last year I’d wanted to watch John Kearns, and sure enough he was brilliant, funny, inventive, harmless and likeable, and I was very glad that I went even though everywhere I go I have to lug around a big cardboard envelope containing the shows props. You have to stow it, you see. Stow it in the corner whenever you get to someone else’s show.

But the funniest thing I’ve seen is a comedy motivational show by Ken Do. Hilarious stuff, physical, character driven comedy which made me laugh like nothing else I’d seen for months. I wanted it to go on for much longer than it did even when Ken invited me up to help him illustrate some of his confidence building measures.

Everyone should go and watch this show, it’s at Pivo at seven each day.

Been performing elsewhere, too, at an event called Jibba Jabba. The audience is generally bigger than ours. It’s a confidence thing, you see.

There’s something weird happening, too. I mean, weirder than walking round in a tshirt which has a picture of your own face on it. People keep saying, ‘I’ve seen you before, were you here last year?’ And someone asked me if I was married to Sarah Millican. I’m not. I did a Google picture search on ‘Sarah Millican’s husband’. It was scary. Try it.

One day to go, now. I feel for my fellow poets who are here for the month. Jack Dean, Rob Auton, Tina Sederholm, Dominic Berry, it must be so, so tiring and emotionally draining. On the plus side, they’re probably not staying in a tent. Forty year old and I’m camping. Never again!

Home tomorrow. I’m typing this at a picnic bench on a campsite at seven in the morning. How I long for simple comforts, like doors and a roof!


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!



A busy week. And a new poem.

The week started weirdly and then it just got weirder as it went on. But that’s what happens when you’re a performance poet, apparently.

You know that crazy hazy place you inhabit just before you wake, when dreams and reality kind of combine until you don’t really know what’s going on? I dreamed that I was at a poetry night watching Simon Williams, and he was reciting a poem called ‘There’s A Penguin In My House’. It all seemed so vivid and real and I had his voice right thee in my head. And when I woke, I could still remember the words! So the first thing I did was to write them down.

Nothing like a parrot though I’m told
Nothing like a parrot though I’m told
Though it’s got a dainty beak
every now and then a squeak

There’s s penguin there’s a penguin there’s s penguin in my house.

The next weird thing to happen was that Chris Brooks phoned me at work to say that he wasn’t feeling too good, and could I take his performance poetry workshop that night in Torquay? I said yes, and then only afterwards thought how I could possibly get away with leading a workshop and professing to know something about a subject through which I have bumbled in the most part.

But the group was excellent and enthusiastic, and the next thing I knew was that I ha dispensed with the lesson plan that Chris had sent me. Indeed, we all probably had too much fun. Apparently there was a lot of giggling.

Tuesday morning I went to the library quiet room and had a good writing session, coming up with two great new poems which I shall no doubt perform somewhere, some time.

Wednesday passed without incident.

On Thursday, I was asked to do an unannounced three minute set at Chris Brooks’ comedy night, Jocular Spectacular. On these nights, I usually do the door for him, so to throw people off the scent I wore a t-shirt and shorts for my door duties before changing into my performance clothes once the show had started. Chris informed the audience that I was only there so that the comedy night could apply for an arts council grant by proving that it had other art forms. The audience was amazing, really receptive and warm, the two poems I performed, ‘Titanic’ and ‘Baton Twirling Eel’, going down very well indeed. The headliner was Mitch Benn. I’d heard of him. I sat in the green room with him after my set. He didn’t say anything.

I left the venue to find my train home was delayed. And then when I finally got home at midnight, I discovered that I was locked out! I had to go to the shop where I work and borrow blankets and pillows, and then go to the flat I’m currently moving in to and sleep on the floor all night.

I say slept. I didn’t get much sleeping done. Hey fever, for a start. Secondly, it was damn uncomfortable. Thirdly, I’ve slept with earplugs ever since I was a teenager and I didn’t have any for the first time in years. All of a sudden I had superhearing. I could hear cars three roads away. Birds. Trees. It was very disconcerting.

Saturday, and rehearsals in Barnstaple for Spectacular Vernacular. Yes, it’s confusing being in two shows, one called Spectacular Vernacular, the other called Jocular Spectacular. In searing heat,I took the train to Exeter and shared the journey, by chance, with actor and comedian, star of stage and TV, James Cotter. We chatted about theatrical matters and it felt kind of good to hear about his career. At Exeter, he got off and Daniel Haynes got on, and so did fifteen drunk England fans, who spent the rest of the journey singing such classics as Minnie the Moocher and American Pie.

Rehearsals went well enough. A tin of tuna kept falling out of my flasher’s overcoat. That was the only setback.

Tim King offered a lift home to Paignton, and Saskia came along because she was going clubbing in Torquay. Tim’s sat nav diverted us into the sticks and, as the sun went down on a very hot Devon evening, we kind of drifted off the face of the earth. We passed a cheese factory. Then the road was closed for unspecified reasons, so we had to go back past the cheese factory. It was a very camp little factory. It had big chimney stacks. I wondered why a cheese factory should need chimney stacks, but there you go. By the time we got to Torbay three hours later, the streets were crowded with revelry makers, what with their being Football On and a UB40 concert on the sea front.

Arrived home knackered, and felt somewhat for Tim, who now had to drive all the way back to Exeter.

So it’s been a very busy week, and next week promises to be just as busy with nine shows over four days in Exeter, and a gig on Wednesday night too. But that’s the life of a performance poet, apparently.

Anyway, here’s one of my new poems.


For years
My parents didn’t know their neighbour’s names.
One day their neighbours walked past and said hello
And their dog got it’s head stuck in the
Slats of the gate.
My parents forever then referred to them as
Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman.

Oh look, they’d say,
There goes Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman
As the two of them walked past
Exercising their dog.

I thought how strange life is
And the certain barriers which we create
Such as names and other niceties
That this amiable couple should
Forever be defined, after a lifetime,
As Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman
Forever imbuing that one lame incident
With all kinds of semantics.

One day I visited
And Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman past
Without their dog.
‘Where’s Dog’s Head Stuck In Gate Man And Woman’s dog?’
I asked
And dad said, ‘it died, unfortunately’.
And I said ‘so what do you call them now?’
And mum said, ‘Philip and Beryl’.


Who are we and why do we do it? (Perform poems, I mean).

This week I was asked by someone who the ‘persona’ was that I adopt when I’m performing. The person asked this because whenever I perform I tend to wear the same shirt and trousers and I told them that this was my ‘costume’. The person I told this to is in the theatre so they took this to mean that I became a character whenever I performed.

Ah, I said.

And then I got to thinking that maybe she was correct, and that the person who stands up and does things into a microphone is not the same sort of person who does everything else that I do. The Robert Garnham who gets trains and goes to work and eats a flapjack and goes to the supermarket is not the same Robert Garnham who performs poems about orgasms and trousers.

The question then came up again during rehearsals for a show that I’m involved in. ‘Who is the narrator of this poem?’, I was asked. And to be honest, it’s not something I’d even thought about. (The poem is about orgasms).

Anyone who does anything performative it always a different person in front of other people. And yet this persona is bound to have qualities of the person underneath. Whether or not this is an unexplored side of that person, or an exaggeration, depends, I suppose, on the act itself. I’d always thought that my ‘character’ of ‘Robert Garnham’ was a bit of an academic buffoon whose poetry aims for the deep while accidentally provoking much sniggering and laughter. Which, I suppose, is a pretty fair summation of what I do, but also of who I am underneath.

I’m always saying the wrong thing.

I looked at all of my favourite poets and performers. John Hegley becomes somewhat school-teacher-ish when he does his thing. On the one occasion that I worked with him, he was a completely normal chap before he went on stage. (Mind you, we’d both got to the venue late because we’d both got hopelessly lost on the way). Rachel Pantechnicon is very clearly a constructed character who bares very little resemblance to the person who plays her. Yet there is still a slight resemblance of sorts. Both have taken aspects of their normal character and infused them into their stage presence.

But there’s also a form of wish-fulfilment. In the case of Robert Garnham, there’s a sense that he becomes the sort of person on stage that he wants to be in real life. He doesn’t usually get everyone’s attention in any situation apart from when he’s behind the mic.  He’s always the one who gets spoken over during staff meetings at work. Yet he’s always the one who’s proved right. He hates staff meetings.

So why does he do this strange performance every now and then? Because he can? Because there are underlying issues? Because he just wants to entertain? Because he’s always been incredibly jealous of Pam Ayres? It’s probably a combination of all of this. Plus, it’s really good when people laugh.

I told the theatre director that the persona I adopt himself has a persona which changes with every poem. There are many meta-layers and semantic possibilities within this. Robert Garnham becomes ‘Robert Garnham’ who then becomes “Robert Garnham”.  This explanation seemed to satisfy her and then she asked the same question to another poet.Image

April Poem A Day Poems So Far (Week Four)

April 14 Poem A Day 4


For the last few months
I’ve been
Poet in residence
At the paper clip factory.
I get five free cups of tea
And as many paper clips as I need.
( I usually use a stapler,
But I’m not telling them that).

Debs from accounts
Keeps giving me coy waves
From her glass partitioned office.
I pretend I haven’t seen.
Yesterday she offered to buy me
A prawn cocktail sandwich
In the staff canteen.
I found a paper clip in it.
Yesterday she thrust her
Bahzooms at me.

every morning
the cleaning lady vacuums
the offices
paper clips rattle and scattle
in the vacuum’s plastic tubing
rattle skattle clibber flibber
kottle skittle clatter clonk
clibber flibber skittle skattle
quite a pleasing sound, really.

A list of alternative uses for paper clips

A. Hanging Christmas cards.
B. Impromptu chain to keep glasses attached round neck.
C. Classroom projectile w/ elastic band
D. Tie clip.
E. Replacement zip pull.
F. To remove peanut from iPod earphone socket.
G. Attach notices to a washing line (like ‘Beware, Washing Line’)
H. Zip wire for an Action Man (also on a washing line).

All night long the automated paper clip manufacturing machines go
Each KLUMP resulting in a new paper clip,
Each CHING as it rolls into a big plastic tub
Which Phil empties the next morning.

Excerpt from the Chilliwick Corporation Paper Clip Brochure:

Here’s a photograph of two major celebrities endorsing the Chilliwick Paper Clip:

Kelly Jones (pictured, left), from the Welsh band The Stereo O Phonics, says, ‘I never go anywhere without a paper clip, and Chilliwick make some damn fine paper clips’.

1996 World Darts Champion John Part said, ‘I always use a paper clip to clip the papers that I want to gather around me’.

Lately, we have hied a poet in residence, Rupert Grantham, (pictured right, with two paper clips). His commitment to paper clips and the paper clip industry are without reproach.

(They spelled my name wrong).

And nervous
As I unveil
My iPad.

I asked the managing director
What the sales forecasts are
For the next quarter
And he said, ‘Stationery’.

I bend round and round and I’m like
Zoo my round round bend back on
Myself in the abstract way that
I bend round baby right round.

Jubilation when an order comes in
From China
For a box of 1000 paper clips.
The boss makes everyone
Dress as Geishas in honour of this.
No one feels able to correct him.
Dave gets his elaborate kimono
Caught in one of the paper clip machines.
They took him up to First Aid,
He’s ok now.

A potential customer
Inquires whether he should leave
His email address
And an attachment.
Everyone laughs.

Oh crazy skin shot metal
Bendy raucous ravenous paper clip
Simple machine bendy new fangle
Dangled the simplest
there possibly could be.

Paper clip
Power trip
Paper clip
Cheesy dip
Paper clip
Orange pip
Paper clip
Paper clip
Coach trip
Paper clip
Back flip
Paper clip
Cheap trick
Paper clip
Pierced lip
Paper clip.


We had a day out in Okehampton.
In one of its more trendy bars
I met a winsome young lady who showed me
How to operate a milk churn.

There was a stillness in the air
And a crack of magic like static like thunder
As if the tops of the tower blocks
Might ignite
With St Elmo’s Fire.

Vibrant coffee shop etiquette.
Hyped up het up on caffeine
And over excitement at the Milk Churn Museum
And a sudden outbreak of giggles
Over the word ‘churn’.

We couldn’t remember which multi storey
We’d left the car in.
The one near the art gallery
Or the one near the cathedral
Or the one near the stoat sanctuary
And then we got side tracked by
The house Obama visited
During his state visit.
We found the car, eventually.

Peak mugging hours
Passed without incident.

I almost bought some trousers.

All the great and important issues of the day
We debated in the debating chamber of the
Elected representatives who we sat and watched
As they argued over the disabled parking bays
At Asda.

I almost won a tender on the lottery.

Dean said that the afternoon heat was
And that it was making him come over
All queer.
We hung out in Chinatown
Next to the chippy
And Dean drank a coca cola
And then said that he felt better.

I must a admit
I got a little tipsy
And announced that I wanted
To show everyone how to use
A milk churn.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Fran began speaking like a native.
Only been here five times, I said,
And you act as if you own the place.
I bought a stapler in the stationers.


A Saharan wind flaps the tent sides.
More like a marquee, carpeted, ten
Nomad poets enmeshed in a deep discussion
On how to defrost the refrigerator.

Subtle word play and the dance if language.
Exquisite, tender nature and the environment
A tradition handed down through the generations.
A second hand fridge bought from a bloke in Fez.

It judders and if shudders.
Someone’s left a bowl of fuchsias on top.
They jitter and they totter.
A camel moans outside, it can sense bad tidings.
The freezer compartment is getting bunged up with ice.

An elder tells a story
Of mystery and magic and the
Rotation of the planets.
It does little to address the
Situation beyond reminding the
Nomad poets that all this time
Faffing around with the fridge
Is time they could be writing.

The fridge is hitched up to a
Diesel generator
Whose black smoke stands stark
Against the blue sky, the yellow dunes.
It makes the camel cough.

It’s full of Sunny D
And Doctor Pepper.
The fridge,
Not the camel.

And there’s triangles of Laughing Cow
Bought from a man in a fez
For two haiku and a limerick,
‘There once was a man from Noualdibou’.

It is foretold in local mythology
That there will be a time of deep reckoning.
You see, if you turn the fridge off
You’ll lose all the stuff inside
Even though it blatantly need defrosting.

Plaintive camel honking.
Bloody things!

One of the younger poets,
Yet to lose his worldly wonder,
Bright eyed, tells the tale
Of a sultan who guilt a sauna
In the middle of the Sahara,
A place so gently hot he could
Raise his body temperature and then step outside
And feel cold for the rest of the day.
But one fateful morning a giant Eagle
Swooped down and ate him.
(It’s true, his story kind of fizzled out
At the end, and was full of holes,
And had no bearing on their
Immediate predicament).
‘Try kicking the fridge’,
He suggested.

The kettle is all furred up, too,
All that
Saharan hard water.


Advancing now
You can see the determination
And the way she slithers
Between the gaps.

The forest of
She’s getting nearer now
Looming like
Unwelcome weather.

Here she comes, ever closer,
Tedious in her intent.
No-one wants a part of this
Odd transaction.

She doesn’t want to do it.
We don’t want her to do it,
It isn’t culture and it isn’t social.
Just corporate ethos.
Pursing her lips, now.
Ever closer.

And here it is.
And here she is.
And here it comes.
‘Is everything all right
With your meal?’


Been struggling now
For various reasons
To get bus passengers to
Write haiku.

They point out that:
A- the bus journey is tedious enough
B- poetry has no relevance
C- leave me alone
D- there are no pens these days, just iPads.

The big burly bloke,
Whose licence they took,

Prancing up the bus aisle
Like a Stagecoach road nymph
A teenage girl
Describes exactly where I can stick my haiku,
In, admittedly,
The most immaculate, poetic language
I’ve heard all day.

Bus driver checks his mirror,
Shakes his head, sadly.

‘Hey, nob head.’
Pies up a precocious scamp of a lad
With trendy hair and an ironic t shirt.
‘You’ve got to subvert the strictures and rules
Of literature
In order to improve it for the next generation.’
He holds up a Mars bar and says,
‘This is my haiku’.

The bus goes over speed bumps.
I crack my head on the ceiling.

Doreen, deaf as a post,
Thinks I work for the council.

Syllable demonstrations
Mean nothing
In a traffic jam.

Wise-ass at the back of the bus
Says he’ll do everyone’s haiku for them
But he’ll charge
And he calls it ‘line rental’.

The little voice inside me says,
‘You’re getting somewhere, James.
With each insistent unsolicited lesson,
You speak to their souls and their lives
Fill with poetry’.
I have no idea why the little voice
Calls me James.

A youth with big hair
Takes a video of my on his smart phone
And it becomes an instant internet sensation
Not because of my majesty with words
But because I fell


Don’t you come at me with your hydrangea shit
Cos once you’ve seen a fuchsia then you know you’ve been hit
It’s flowers are prettier than a girl who’s quite fit
And they’re hardy annuals too so they last for a bit

I’m a hard ass gun and I don’t feel no pain
Like the petals of the fuchsia in the early evening rain
Like the same old song you hear again and again
My roots don’t go rotten if the compost’s well drained

So dig up that fuchsia man dig up that fuchsia
Cos you and me honey we ain’t got no future
Dig up that fuchsia girl, put it in a pot
Cos when I’m here with you girl I feel I lost the plot

I’m a kicking mother sparkler and I know how to party
Coming at you with the beats and a bottle of Bacardi
I don’t feel no cold cos I’m mostly frost hardy
So when you’re out and your chilling then you gotta wear a cardy

I’m a fit fat hip hop sexy damn mo fo
Hanging at my pad with my bitches and my hoes
And my trowels and my rakes and my petrol driven lawn mow
A big bag of mulch and some compost make me grow, yo

So dig up that fuchsia man dig up that fuchsia
Cos you and me honey we ain’t got no future
Dig up that fuchsia girl, put it in a pot
Cos when I’m here with you girl I feel I lost the plot

When I see you coming girl you light up the room
Like a late summer fuchsia as it comes into bloom
With its delicate petals, you make my heart boom
And not only that but I really like your bahzooms

In a world filled with pain and with hatred and with greed
I’m a delicate flower not a dirty stinking weed
Cos I’ve felt this ache inside since I was a little seed
I’m a funky mother fuchsia and I get what I need

So dig up that fuchsia man dig up that fuchsia
Cos you and me honey we ain’t got no future
Dig up that fuchsia girl, put it in a pot
Cos when I’m here with you girl I feel I lost the plot

I got delicate petals in the hue of summer fruit
And a purposeful demeanour from my sternum to my root
But when I look at you girl you really are so cute
Like the homies in my hood, you gotta be my side shoot

When I’m here with you girl I never question why
I just sit here in my border bed and gaze up at the sky
Try to weed me out girl, I’d like to see you try
You’re more irritating than a nasty case of greenfly

So dig up that fuchsia man dig up that fuchsia
Cos you and me honey we ain’t got no future
Dig up that fuchsia girl, put it in a pot
Cos when I’m here with you girl I feel I lost the plot

Dig it up
Dig it up
Dig it up
Change the pot

In da club
In da club
In da club
The horticultural society club


You press my buttons in all the wrong order
And because of that I miscalculate.
My figures are erroneous.
Your figure is marvellous.
Tippity- tappity, tippity-tappity,
The number of times you whisper sweet nothings
I work it out on the calculator.

The square root of this and a percentage of that,
One and one becomes two.
It’s the most simple addition that you can do.
Come over here and I’ll demonstrate,
Or shall we work it out on the calculator?

The divisible percentage of your longing.
Add to that an approximation of yearning,
Add to that the little smile you gave me just then
Add to that the deep deep
Vicious absolute soul-controlling pound pound fury of my heart
Add to that the ten minutes it took us to do it last time,
(Which, by the way, was a new record for me),
Tippity- tappity, tippity-tappity.
Hmmm, it just says ‘error’.

Last night in bed you did that thing
Where you turn the LCD screen upside down
And random numbers become words.
It blew my mind.
Ha ha, I said, very funny.
Right there on the screen if the calculator.

Subtraction is the cruellest blow.
Taking things away until you end up with nothing.
I want to work it out on the calculator.
What’s the to work out?, you asked, it’s zero!
Nevertheless, I figured out all the percentages
And I tried to do some sums in my head
And it have me a migraine
And now I know why you always say you’ve got a headache.


(An A-Z of the Large Hadron Collider)

A – And then it was decided
That there should be a large hadron collider.

B – Bravery is needed to operate it
As there might be a Black Hole
Or a Big Bang.

C- Catastrophic would be the consequences
Of a Big Bang.
It would wipe out everything
As far as Colchester.

D – Don’t ask me how to explain
The scientific side of it.

E – Everything’s all right with the world,
If you put your trust in science.
E =mc2
Still has to be explained to me.
Good old Einstein!

F – Few people realise
How big it is.
If you dropped a pencil clip in it
You might never find it.

G – Geniuses theorise.
Great things materialise.

H – Hadron. Hardon.
Ha ha.

I – It’s round.

J – Jambon is French for ham.
A seagull once dropped a baguette Jambon
Into it’s machinery.
And that’s why they couldn’t
Use it for a bit.

K – Can’t think of anything for K.

L – Large hadron collider.
Much larger than a
Average hadron collider.
But not as big as an
Extra large hadron collider.

M – Moon. (See P)

N – Nothing quite prepares you
For the sheer circumference of it.
Dave wonders why they didn’t build it
On the Circle Line.
I said actually, yes,
That would have done it.
I asked a scientist if that was possible
And he said

O – Is the shape of it.

P – Peter was convinced that
The large hadron collider was a giant magnet
Designed to pull the moon closer because
The moon’s orbit is significantly further away
Than it used to be.

Q – Queues to get into the large hadron collider
Have started diminishing now that
The excitement of it has started to wear off,
Though there’s a nice little gift shop.

R – Right, there are several theories of what might happen, some theorised by Higgs Bosun (which I should have included under H in this list) and it’s all to do with the bits that break off from the initial impact of the matter that’s fired around the collider. Or at least that’s what the man on Horizon said. At least it wasn’t Professor Brian Cox And His Hair. He seems a nice enough chap but he just seems to speak. Too. Slowly.

S – Stephen Hawking
Would be the man to call
If there should suddenly materialise
A black hole.

T – Ten years after divising his theory that the Large Hadron Collider would, on it’s first run, result in the sudden appearance of ten thousand Tina Turners, Professor Terrance Tipkins burst into Tears when it Didn’t Happen.

U – Underneath Switzerland.

V – Very interesting if you’re
An astrophysicist, probably.

W – What the hell
Do we do
With a Higgs Bosun particle
The moment we get one?

Waiting . . . Waiting . . . Waiting . . .

X – X +/- n= 4

Y – You spin me right round
Baby right round
Like a record baby
Right round round round

Z – Zurich is nearby.


Dear Goldilocks.
We are investigating reports
Of a break in
And malicious damage pertaining to
Some porridge, a chair, a bed
And a Toyota Yaris,
Which took place in the residence
Of the Three Bears
In the magical forest
Near the mystical fairy land brook
Just outside of Guildford.

Your actions provoked
Psychological damage on two of the victims
Who wish to remain anonymous
Though a third member of the family
Did maul the chief detective.

Our investigations are keen to ascertain
Who, in the words of the victims,
Has been sitting in my chair,
Has been eating my porridge,
Has been sleeping in my bed
Has been shuffling my iPod,
Has been detuning the Freeview
Has left the sunroof open in the rain
In my Toyota Yaris
And generally stealing my wifi
Without expressed prior consent.

It is also alleged
That at the same time you did
De friend the entire family on Facebook.

Ms Goldilocks.
The nub of the matter.
The crux of the issue.
The whole angle on which
This investigation rests
Is the degree by which
Your actions were motivated
And provoked by the facts
That the victims were bears.
Was this some sorry of hate crime?
Have you recently joined UKIP?

The bears do not wish to sue
But Mummy Bear is undergoing counselling
And Daddy Bear
Has had to disinfect the bathroom
And put some extra locks on the front door
And Little Baby Bear has told his mother
That when he grows up
He wants long golden hair now, and a pretty
Summer dress.


Today I went to a meeting
In which the main topic of discussion
Was what we will talk about
On tomorrow’s meeting.

It was decided that tomorrow’s meeting
Would begin to reading the minutes of the last meeting,
The meeting before this meeting.
The last meeting had also begun
With the minutes of the previous meeting
And the meeting before that
And this will be included in the minutes if the last meeting
And also the minutes of the meeting
Of the meeting tomorrow,

So we finished our meeting about tomorrow’s meeting
And we decided that someone should take
Some minutes of this meeting
So that tomorrow’s meeting would feature
The minutes of this meeting as well as the minutes
Of the previous meetings,
The minutes containing nothing but the minutes of the meetings
Previous to this meeting and the meeting today,
In tomorrow’s meeting
(And all subsequent meetings).


Contents of poem:
1. No
2. Making a living, the shire horse way
3. Poem
4. Memories of a suburban upbringing
5. I’m not immune to failure
6. Looming in the office
7. A Paris misadventure
8. Poetic justice (Literally!) and Tim Vine
9. A general appreciation of shire horses
10. Breeds of heavy working horses
11. Height
12. This just in
13. Meanwhile outside of Keflavik
14. This poem was sponsored by
15. Repetition of the words ‘shire horses’
16. The time of the shire horse is gone

1. No

I will never be a proper poet
So long as I can’t appreciate
Shire horses

2. Making a living, the shire horse way

They work, shire horses.
They work for a living.
They work work work work work
Trudging and pulling heavy loads
And tugging and pulling and trudging
And doing paperwork and things.
Jeff trained his one to nick microwaves
From Currys
And to get refunds under false pretences
Without receipts.

3. Poem

Flared nostrils
As if permanently disgusted
But they get on with it anyway.
Stoic beasts, the shire horse.

4. Memories of a suburban upbringing

When I was a kid
Every year the school trip
Used to be to the flipping bleeding
God-arse awful boring
Shire Horse Heritage Centre.
And then I joined the Scouts
And we had a trip to the
Shire Horse Heritage Centre.
And then we had my aunt come over
From Canada
And we took her to the Shire Horse Heritage Centre
And yet when I informed my parents
That it should be called the ‘ “Shite” Horse Heritage Centre’
Bizarrely, it was me who was reprimanded.

5. I’m not immune to failure

I went to a poetry slam and the poets were brilliant and did poems about family, relations, drug addiction, sexual abuse, the history of black culture from slavery to the present day, social issues, politics, countering the rise of the right, ill treatment of animals, ill treatment of immigrants and the trials and tribulations of being a youth in the 21st Century, and I did a poem about shire horses and I did really badly.

6. Looming in the office

my chiropodist had a shire horse
at the bottom of each leg it had a tuft
now it’s dead but you can still see it
because she’s had it stuffed

7. A Paris misadventure

The French avant gard
Jean Jacques Pipe
Trained a shire horse
In the art of mime.

It used to stand still
And not move a muscle
And not say a word.

And Jean Jacques would explain,
‘Now it’s impersonating a donkey.
Now it’s impersonating a zebra.
Now it’s impersonating a mule.
Now it’s impersonating a regular horse’.

8. Poetic justice (Literally!) and Tim Vine

Tim Vine had already done the
‘Shyer’ horse joke.

But he nicked a joke off me
About Cadbury’s Wispas.

And now it’s in his show.
Ironically he was beaten

At a one-liner competition
By an acquaintance of mine, a poet

Who had his own Cadbury’s Wispa joke
Which was much funnier.

In honour of this I am not going to repeat
The ‘shyer horse’ joke.

9. A general appreciation of shire horses

Shire horse.
Never tyre horse.
Such a tryer horse.
Never dire horse.
Keep matches away
So seldom on fire horse.
Could be taller,
A little higher horse.
Looks nothing like
Danny Dyer horse.
Tells the truth
Seldom a liar horse.
Doesn’t so washing
So not a tumble dryer horse.
Or cook chips
So not a deep fat fryer horse.
A little bit bashful
Couldn’t be any shyer horse.
Shire horse.
Shire horse.
Shire horse.
Shire horse.

10. Breeds of heavy working horse

Cleveland Bay
Clippity honker
Progressive honker
Regular honker
Devonian crisp
Old cabin
Beard poker
Unspoked clapper
Subliminal pencil

Where might I purchase any of the above?
Any reputable pet shop.

11. Height

According to the website
The average shire horse
Is 17 hands high.
I asked a shire horse breeder
How big one hand was
And he said
About as big as your hand.

12. This just in

Both Jeff
And his shoplifting shire horse
Were accosted
In Costcutter.

13. Meanwhile outside of Keflavik

Shape shifting shire horse
Tireless worker berserker
Norse legend horse legend
One moment Icelandic
Gray bray pulling heavy loads
The next
A real kick ass impersonation
Of Allen Carr.

14. This poem was sponsored by

Have you seen those shire horses?
Those shy shire horses?
Those sly shy shire horses?
Those sly shy give it a try see one before you die
Why oh why not give it a try shire horses?
Have you seen those shire horses?
POP along to the Shire Horse Heritage Centre
And you’ll see loads!

(A little in- joke there for the shire horse community in that last line).

15. Repetition of the words ‘shire horses’

Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
Shire horses
From the shire.

16. The time of the shire horse is gone

And in the time of the shire horse there
Would be shire horses aplenty
And they would work and trudge
And trudge and work
And all that was holy
Could be found in the shire horse
And all that was sacred
Could be found in the shire horse
And all that was good for the garden
Could be found in the shire horse
(Or at least in their manure)

And the rustic sun would set
Over rustic rooftops rustic barns and rustic
And still the shire horse
Would keep on working
And nobody ever thought about

And the annual final of Britain’s Got Talent
Would invariably be won by a shire horse
Because they were so fucking talented
And none of the shire horses
Were foreign.

And people just got on with things
Inspired by the plucky shire horses
And the ploughman was king
And there was shire horse manure all over the place

And you couldn’t sodding move for sodding shire horses
And if you made a joke about “shite horses”
You’d end up in the stocks.

And there would be shire horses in the fields
And shire horses in the barns
And shire horses in the cottages
And shire horses in the farms
And shire horses in the municipal swimming baths

And everyone would say
‘How great and mighty Britain is
Because of all these here shire horses’
And then someone came along with a tractor
And someone else said
‘At least tractors don’t poo everywhere’.

And then the decline of Britain’s society began
And then Ant and Dec turned up
And it’s all been downhill ever since.