So I often get asked to write poems about issues and an issue was recently brought to my attention. I usually write about human rights and political matters but in this case I was asked by the Plumbing Standards and Water Supply Appliance Regulatory Commission to promote a campaign raising awareness of the contamination and pressure issues which come with unregulated backflow systems. The trouble was, before contacting me, they’d been watching videos of American slam poets, you know, those really big-voiced shouty ones. So they asked if I could grow a beard and wear a check shirt and come up with a poem for them.
It’s there all the time,
That drip drip drip,
That rhythm which colours my life,
This drip drip drip
Like my life is a hip hop,
It’s a drip hop
It’s a drip drip drip
It’s a clogged drain in a chip shop
Like a clock tick tock counting down
The seconds to the next time
I have to do the washing up.
And he’s tired.
And he’s got a strange stain on his trousers,
A kind of waxy residue.
He said, no pressure.
How dare you tell me there’s no pressure!
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
I’ve known pressure since before you were born.
I’ve walked under stormy skies.
I’ve asked such questions, the where’s and why’s,
Life can be a disappointment but it’s seldom a surprise
You can see it in my eyes
You have no right to tell me that there’s no pressure!
And he said,
I meant water pressure.
The pipes, they rattle,
Like the plumbing in France.
You never get a chance.
It’s like a Broadway musical,
You should see the tap dance.
It’s a hotspot, it’s like hopscotch,
I’ll show you where you can find the stop cock,
Start a stopwatch
I’ll time you
It’s you and me,
It’s a violation of regulation six
Slash four seven dash three,
The two of us
Brothers in arms
Brothers with arms
We can fix this leak together
And be ever so clever
Don’t tell me whatever
The world is improving
This really is moving
But I tell you what isn’t moving -
The water in these pipes.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used an isolation valve.
Don’t tell me you haven’t used a tap back nut spanner.
Don’t tell me you don’t know your way around a pipe vice
That’s not nice
Like cooking a chicken tikka
And then running out of rice
Don’t you understand
This stanza is so long
I might possibly pass out!
The way I passed out from plumbing school.
I ain’t no fool.
Pass me that pipe deburring tool.
You’re a tap squirty bloke,
You’re a basin filling jerk
You’re a water meter cheater
You’re a low flow joke
I ain’t going sixty foot down a well
To fix a pipe,
I ain’t plumbing the depths!
It’s heart skipping
It’s reality tripping
And all because the pipes are dripping
I’ll leave a gap now
For some audience finger clicking.
And now the emotions
Are getting to me.
Because no one understands that
Let’s not succumb to the backflow.
It’s a blowback.
Like a distant memory, a throwback.
Everything has been inverted,
Like getting hot water from the cold tap.
Like that time I managed to persuade my life coach
On a change of career.
He’s now a chiropodist.
I’m an optimist.
You’re a Sagittarius,
Needs no wonder
Nor hearts to plunder
This is going to take more
Than a sink plunger
And it’s why
Industry regulation in the plumbing and water supply
That’s it for me now
It’s the end of the poem
Because just like the pipes
Tag Archives: poems
In the Glare of the Neon Yak
In the Glare of the Neon Yak is a rip roaring piece of spoken word storytelling set on a sleeper service in the middle of winter. A train full of circus performers are being stalked by a mysterious entity which seems to mean more than just its eerie manifestation. A portent, an omen, the Neon Yak symbolises dark times. Will our hero find love? Will Jacques, the tightrope walker, get back together again with his ex, the circus clown? Does the secret of the Neon Yak lie in the hands of a randy old lady? Has the buffet car run out of sausage rolls? Will Tony the Train Manager find where they’ve put Carriage F?
An hour show combining poetry, storytelling and music, In the Glare of the Neon Yak is by turns delightful, magical, disturbing. It’s a veritable modern fairy tale!
Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)
I don’t get asked to do workshops very much. But every now and then someone will say, oh, hey, erm, someone cancelled, is there any way you can lead a workshop on humour in poetry? Below you will find the notes that I use when I’m doing one of these.
Due to dyslexia, workshops aren’t something that I feel comfortable providing, because I can never successfully answer any questions which might come up. So I have these notes with me which I read from. I hope you find them useful!
Finding the Funny (and what to do with it when you’ve found it)
This workshop gives us a snapshot on how to formulate ideas to use in poetry (or comedy) and how to expand on a theme. The second part of the workshop covers the attitudes we apply to those themes.
The purpose is not to create deep philosophical page poetry. That can take months and possibly years, though it may be a start along that route.
By its nature comedy has the ability to say more than can be said through serious poems, or at least, gives the poet a platform in which they might easily bring to the surface serious themes. These themes can then be explored in a comedic manner, for example, homophobic bullying, gender expectation, heteronormativity.
However comedy is only funny when you’re punching up. If you’re in a minority or an under-represented part of the community, comedy poetry can be a way of connecting with a wider audience, because everyone enjoys a laugh no matter what your background.
Punching down, though, is not funny. It’s downright mean and it enforces stereotypes.
While this workshop might not necessarily result in a fully-formed completed poem, it will hopefully give you the tools and the impetus to get working on something funny and compelling.
So what is performance poetry? What do you understand by that phrase? (There are no wrong answers).
Discussion five to ten minutes, possible discussion points:
- A juxtaposition of ‘high’ art of poetry and it’s usual ‘serious’ tone with the mundane, therefore elevating the mundane to high status.
- The surprise which comes with elevating the mundane to high status.
- Saying what nobody has ever noticed, but through a poem.
- Saying what everybody has always noticed, again, through a poem.
- The communal fun of a shared experience, including content, rhymes, rhythm and the atmosphere in the room which comes from these.
- Breaking up the tone of a poetry recital or gig which isn’t necessarily comedy-focussed.
- Hiding serious messages and social concerns behind the veneer of comedy.
- The surprise which comes with the juxtaposition of rhythms and expectations of poetry and the conversational tone of words and phrases. (Lidls, muffins).
- Punchlines and jokes to make the audience laugh.
- Exaggeration and attitude.
- Creating tension and then relieving it with humour, punchline, tag, afterthought.
- Using language, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, metaphor, simile, repetition, vocabulary and sounds for easy aural consumption.
- Non-verbal communication.
- Ideas and material generation
Pick a subject to write about. Tricky, huh? It can be something mundane like turnips or teapots, or something abstract, like ennui or clumsiness. Or a place, or a memory, or a year. Or just an interesting word that you might have heard. Write the subject in the middle of a sheet of paper. (Two minutes)
Add around the subject some free associations, once again ignoring the social editor, and the links can be as tenuous as you like. Just write the first thought that pops into your head. (Five minutes)
Go around the word again and add a second layer of free associations to the first ones. Again, write the first ideas that come to mind. However more than just words, these will be more like statements or ideas. (Five minutes)
Choose one or two of these ‘branches’ and add three, four, or as many new associations as you like. Each one could follow the logic of the last one or it could be an ‘afterthought’ – like a comedy punchline. (‘I like my nephews. But I could never eat a whole one – unless they were served with roast potatoes – however I’m trying to cut down on my carbs’. (Five minutes)
If you’re really lucky, the last association might be a punchline or some kind of method of drawing all of these together neatly. If so, then you’ve probably got the basis of a joke. In any case, you’ve now got the structure of a pretty weird poem.
Just concentrating on one of these ‘branches’, free write a poem, ignoring the social editor.
The social editor is the part of the brain that tells you that you can’t say or write something because it isn’t proper. Part of writing comedy is learning to ignore the little voice that says, ‘Hey, that’s not logical, you wouldn’t find a duck driving a bus’, or, ‘In real life, people would certainly not try and have a conversation with an elephant about prunes mistaking them for a supermarket manager’.
Often when you ignore the social editor, several disconnected themes suddenly connect. Writers have been trying to think of methods to achieve this over the years. Some take to drinking, some take to drugs. My own method is to kind of take my brain out of gear, relax, free-write and see what emerges. (Fifteen minutes)
(Read examples people have come up with, ten minutes).
This is the ‘what to do with it once you’ve found it’ part of the workshop.
There are many attitudes that you can take while writing or performing. You can write in praise of a subject, or you can rant against it. You can be angry, venting, quizzical, perplexed, speak from a certain authority, you can be in awe, laughing at it, laughing with it, having fun, or you can be surreal or just plain weird. There are many different attitudes.
Others include : fun, surreal, plain / neutral, angry, ranting, in character, monotone. A lot of these depend on your tone of voice, facial expressions, movements and gestures.
Think about what kind of attitude you might like to apply to what you have written. (Five minutes).
(Let people demonstrate some of their attitudes, five to ten minutes).
Now look at these attitudes again and choose what you would consider to be the complete opposite. For example, ranting might become fawning, fun might become scared, angry could be enthusiastic. Or just pick a completely different attitude at random just to play around. (Five minutes).
(Let people demonstrate some of these attitudes, five to ten minutes).
Whimsy in the Woods Episode Eleven
Robert goes to the viewing platform at Brixham trawler basin and recites a poem about being a tightrope walker,
What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara
What Jack Kerouac said to Frank O’Hara
The last couple of weeks, I’ve been re-reading Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. When I was a teenager, I read a lot of Kerouac and kind of fell in love with the idea of freedom and movement, jazz and friendship that his books described. Consequently I grew up with the idea of the Beat Generation being this mighty art form of expression and culture which has gone on to inform the literary movements of the present day.
Naturally, this idea was just the romantic side of me attaching importance to something I really liked. Because when I was a teenager, I wasn’t into sports or football or anything like that. The big names of literature were the equivalent of major league football teams. I didn’t care about Liverpool FC, or Real Madrid, or Bjorn Borg. For me, the big names were Kafka, Camus, Dorothy Parker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And of course, Jack Kerouac.
As I grew older I had to get a job, and real life kind of intervened, and this meant that I didn’t read, or dream, quite so much. Around the year 2000 I decided to study with the Open University, and this led me to the poetry of Frank O’Hara.
I hated poetry. I always enjoyed English Literature at school, but I hated poetry. It left me cold every single time, from what’s his name with his bog bodies, to Byron going on and on about how much he liked Napoleon. Wordsworth was just a pain in the arse. Poetry never spoke to me the way that prose did, and most poems seemed to be a puzzle that had to be solved, but never would be solved, or at least, never by me. Some of the words were pretty, but really, who had the time?
I was very excited when I learned that one week, we’d be studying Allen Ginsberg. A-ha! Wasn’t Ginsberg a friend of Kerouac and William Burroughs? Sure, he was just a boring poet, but wouldn’t he be saying something as exciting as the saintly Jack?
And sure, the beginning of Howl was great, but then it just became words again. And my mind started to drift. And I’d re-read lines. And the text would say, ‘Look how exciting this next verse is!’, and I’d read it and think, ‘What?’ The whole week was very disappointing.
The next week we were due to study Frank O’Hara, and I thought, oh jeez, not another bloody poet. But perhaps this defeatist frame of mind was just the ring thing at the time, and it has probably changed the entire course of my life. Expected to be bored arseless, I was instead completely captivated by this slightly camp fresh new voice writing poems about drinking cola, eating hamburgers, calling up friends of the phone and watching B-movies. And of course, sexual acts in train station toilets. Frank O’Hara, I said, where have you been all my life?!
If you’re reading this, then you’ll probably know all about Frank, and how he was a member of the New York school of poetry in the 1950s, allied to the abstract expressionists and employed by the Museum of Modern Art. I liked New York, and I liked abstract expressionism, and I’d been to MoMA several times. More than that, Frank seemed to be talking just to me. Sure, everyone who reads his poems probably thinks the same thing, but I sensed in his voice the sort of personality that I could easily become friends with. Who needs those Beat Poets with their beards and their sandals and their grimy treks across the continent when this urbane, funny, whimsical precursor to Warhol, who hung around cafeterias and galleries and burger bars, (and station toilets), existed and elicited more or less the same artistic response from the reader?
It’s been 22 years since I discovered O’Hara and I’ve read almost every textbook, biography and anthology you can think of. Because O’Hara showed me that poetry can be about anything which you want it to be about. There doesn’t have to be something metaphysical or metaphorical about it. Sometimes a poem about eating a sandwich at lunchtime can just be about eating a sandwich at lunchtime. And it can be funny! Who else could end a poem with the words, ‘Lana Turner we love you, get up!’, the poem in question being ‘Lana Turner Has Collapsed’.
When I first started performing and writing performance poetry fourteen years ago, O’Hara was my reference point. He helped me find my own poetry voice. This would be before I was introduced to the work of people like Ivor Cutler or Salena Godden. It’s probably fair to say that if I hadn’t read O’Hara, then I’d never have taken up spoken word.
There are literary stories which I love. These are usually about writers meeting, and some of these may be so mythological as to not actually have happened at all. One of my favourite stories involves a cab ride shared after a Parisian party by those two giants of the literary scene, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. And apparently, they sat side by side in the cab, completely silent the entire journey, and when they arrived at the first dropping off place, Joyce said, ‘Evening’, and that was it.
But there’s another literary meeting of world which I enjoy, and this involves Jack Kerouac and Frank O’Hara. Representatives of the two different schools of poetry, the Beat Generation and the New York School, they apparently did not get along.
Now this was a shame. It’s like discovering that two of your uncles don’t like each other. I tried to stay neutral in this battle from seventy years ago, but while I liked Kerouac, and while Kerouac was a big part of my formative years, I decided very much to put everything behind Team O’Hara.
It’s not quite clear how this enmity existed. There have been some who have accused Kerouac of homophobia, though a lot of his friends, and a lot of the content of his work have been concerned with homosexuality and very non-judgementally so for a time that was significantly more conservative in these matters. There have even been some who suggest that Kerouac was simply jealous that Frank could be so open about his sexuality. Others suggest that Kerouac’s antagonism towards O’Hara was because his friend, Gregory Corso, was a big fan of O’Hara’s oeuvre, which made Jack jealous, and Ginsberg was also an admirer.
Whatever the cause, word has it that at a poetry reading in New York, while O’Hara was reading some of his poems, Kerouac is supposed to have shouted, ‘You’re ruining American poetry!’ To which O’Hara is said to have responded, to much laughter, ‘That’s more than you’ve ever done!’
I’d love this story to be true. Especially as Kerouac is later meant to have apologised a few months later, by visiting O’Hara’s flat, saying nothing, but typing out an apology on his typewriter. Something along the lines of, ‘Sorry for what I said that time’.
How I would love to have been there. I can imagine Frank afterwards, probably at a party, bitching about Kerouac. He would probably have found it hilarious.
Blimp – Live in Bristol
You can now download a recording of my gig in Bristol last month. This was an amazing evening at the Wardrobe Theatre in front of a lovely audience.
I did a few old poems, a few new ones, a cover version and a really old poem from when I was about 4!
You can stream the album for free, or download it for a fiver. I hope you enjoy it!
Seven Golden Rules to Enjoy Life, for Pete’s sake.
Some golden rules to start enjoying life, for Pete’s sake.
By Robert Garnham
Being a cheerful, optimistic sort of person, but also a poet, people often ask me for advice to get through the day. So here are my top golden rules which, hopefully, will benefit many of you.
1. No one is ever worth writing a poem for, though every now and then you’ll meet someone who’s worth a limerick, particularly if they come from Chard.
2. It’s easy to get a personalised number plate, according to my friend PUV 621R.
3. A two-day old baguette will stop your car rolling down the street.
4. Hold on to your nostalgia, otherwise you’ll have nothing to be nostalgic about, except possibly for the time you used to be nostalgic about things, so maybe you can be nostalgic about that.
5. Every fear can be overcome. Do it with a smile! (Unless your fear is crushing loneliness).
6. It’s never too late to learn. It’s never too early to forget.
7. Only concentrate on that which requires no thought.
8. You might not mention the elephant in the room, but you can certainly wonder how it got up the stairs and through the door.
9. Look at the mirror every morning and say, ‘I am loved, I am loved’. At least this way you’re prepared for any other claptrap that comes along.
10. Everyone you see or meet or talk to has been born. Even Avril Lavigne. And if you think being born was difficult, try getting a dentist during the weekend.
11. Go on, help yourself to the last cake in life. Living is all about grabbing the last cake. Go on, have it. Enjoy it. The dog licked it.
12. Get up early one morning, when the dew is still on the grass, and go for a walk barefoot in the park. Let me know when you’re doing this so that I can come round and borrow your vacuum cleaner.
13.Do something that excites you every day. Subvert the rules. Turn things on their head. (Naturally it’s best not to attempt this if you’re an airline pilot.)
14. How do we know that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck? Who was the first person to discover this? How many similar things do we do which are good or bad luck without us knowing? Brandishing a vase on a Thursday? Sitting on a pouffe just after lunch? The mind boggles, Mrs Trubshaw, the mind boggles.
15. Give as much joy to the small things in life as you do to the large. Which is why me and my ex split up.
16. If at first you don’t succeed, then maybe catching bullets between your teeth isn’t the job for you.
17. If you don’t think you can get it out, don’t stick it in there in the first place.
Whimsy in the Woods Episode Nine
Today’s episode comes from the centre of London next to the Science Musuem. Robert reminisces about working in a social history museum and the philosophical questions he would ask about looking at old photos of Victorian rural workers, then performs a poem about someone called Justin Trubshaw.
Juicy – The Video of the CD!
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of performing at many venues and entertaining audiences. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of these filmed, either as snippets, or the whole show. Collected here are some of those which I didn’t put on YouTube, fearing that to put my best work on social media would leave me with nothing to perform in public.
So here, for a limited time, are the recordings of some of my favourite poems. The audio from these and others appear on my CD, Juicy, which can be ordered here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/juicy
I’d like to thank those who have filmed me including Laura Jury and Danny Pandolfi
Whimsy in the Woods Episode Eight
In today’s podcast, Robert catches a train to London and recites a poem about a macaque dressed as a postman.