I had a lovely gig in Bristol the other week. The venue was a theatre on an old lightship in the harbour. It was moored to the quay almost totally static but even so I kept lurching sideways. The boat wasn’t even rocking, it was probably just something psychological going on deep within me. Boat = movement. What a nob, I expect people thought.
I’d fretted a lot over my set for the gig. I often get Set Fret but this was something else. I wanted to do some of my old bangers, of course, but I also know that I can’t keep hold of them forever, and that the new stuff has to be unleashed on the world at some point.
But there’s also another thing going on. Over the last couple of years I’ve begun to assess what it is that I like in a performance and I’ve been trying to translate that to what I do on stage. Humour and timing, of course, are things I’ve always had an eye on, and hopefully been got at, but lately there are one or two thinks that I’ve been tinkering with because, well people change over the years, don’t they?
One of these things is volume. I’ve begun to appreciate volume. Or rather, I’ve begun to appreciate it less.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many Ivor Cutler videos. Or Bob Newhart. Or, come to think of it, almost all the people I watch for enjoyment. Laurie Anderson. Edith Sitwell. Alan Bennett. They’re all quiet, somewhat reserved, and seldom loud. Yet they’re funny and they’re clever and I want to be both of those things. I’ve been to plenty of poetry gigs where the poet - and it’s usually a young man, though I don’t want to develop stereotypes- suddenly starts bellowing into the mic halfway through a poem. That sort of thing’s not for me. I’d feel I was bullying. If you’re going to shout, then at least stand back from the mic. I feel it also changes the dynamic of a performance from enjoyment to hostility. I know that some people may enjoy this, and may appreciate this in a performance, because a performance is what it is and what we’re all there for, but we’re all different, and hooray for that. For me, though as soon as a performer starts shouting, I feel that I want to Get Out Of There. So I come away from these performances hoping that I don’t annoy people in the same way.
So this means that I’ve been trying to adopt a more relaxed, conversational tone when delivering my linking material. And I’ve been working hard at this, because it’s hard, after a lifetime adopting something of a more performative tone. But I’ve been having a bash at it. Here’s my little secret as to how I’ve been conditioning myself to be slightly more conversational and less forced: I start my set with the words, ‘Hello, there’. It’s impossible to be loud or forced when the first thing you have said is, ‘Hello, there’. And if I feel myself getting more forced or desperate or less conversational, then I say to myself, ‘Hello, there’.
One of the other things I’ve been concentrating on is sex. No, not in that way. I mean, the sexual content of a set and the effect that this, too, has on an audience.
In the early years of my comedy poetry career, I relied quite a bit on content of a sexual nature. Naturally, this was a comedic version of sex, performed (the poem, I mean), by someone who you’d think was probably not very good at it, and therein lay the humour. Indeed, my first collection with Burning Eye, ‘Nice’, was about relationships and more specifically, sex, in the most part. I remember someone writing in a copy of it that had found its way into a poetry library in Manchester, ‘Not nearly enough mention of sex’.
The thing is, I was in my thirties when I wrote some of those poems, and possibly just about passable enough to seem naive and comfortable with such relationships. But now I’m very nearly fifty and the idea of me being on stage talking about sex seems, well, creepy. I’m aware that many in the audience will be thinking the same thing.
I’m not alone with this idea. I was chatting with an LGBT performance poet who’s much higher up the spoken word ladder than me, and he was saying that he is going through a similar process of removing the sexual content from his sets because, as he gets older, he feels it less and less appropriate. I felt that this vindicated the unease I also feel these days of standing at the mic and talking about orgasms and the such. It also maximises the humour when I might mention something vaguely sexual during a set.
So it feels that I’m becoming much more mature as a comedy poet, and gosh, that’s taken it’s damn time. I’m more aware of the audience and more aware of what it is which makes me feel, after a performance, that I’ve done something I can be proud of. This has come about through several years of studying what it is that people laugh along with (as well as laugh at). It also means, hopefully, that I’ll not be stereotyped, just like the words written in that copy of Nice.
We all change. In fact, that was the subject of my very first solo show, ‘Static’. But right now, I’ve never felt so relaxed as a performer, and so at one with my material. Another friend of mine, the American fringe performer Dandy Darkly, once said to me that you can be as silly and as weird as you want to be, so long as you do it with conviction, and that’s definitely what I’ve been aiming for of late.
Tag Archives: slam poetry
On poetry slams in the age of Zoom – and an idea for a new kind of poetry slam!
This week I took part in an online poetry slam, and as ever, I was blown away by the quality of the performances and the sheer poetic talent of those taking part. By the wonders of Zoom, participants in many parts of the country, and further afield, poured their heart out and took the audience to the darkest places of the human psyche, taking in every part of lived experience along the way, from death, to rape, to misogyny, genocide and personal angst. They did so using language and imagery which stayed with me long afterwards, painting pictures using words which imprinted on my imagination the emotions of what it means to be human. The slam was won, rightly, by the performer who’d performed the best, written the best, and absolutely nailed the format.
I was lucky enough to get out of the first round with a poem using humour to tackle the weighty subject of homophobia. My strategy, however, had been then to revert to a couple of comedy poems. However I knew that the mood of the night was to embrace the deeply serious, and that comedy poems certainly wouldn’t cut the mustard, so I did a semi-comedic poem about death in the second round, my hand kind of forced by the dynamics of the evening. In the event, I was incredibly happy with my performances, and happier still that the strategy I’d picked would probably work well at another event.
But then I got thinking: Just when did poetry slams in the UK become so serious? My performance career now spans three decades, (okay, so I only performed in two years of the 2000s, and we’re only one year into the 2020s, but who’s counting?). And when I started slamming all those years ago, the one certainty was that audiences, judges and fellow competitors alike were up for a laugh. If you could write well and with humour, and perform it well and with humour, then the chances were that your chances were good. And this is something I’d always admired about the UK slam scene. People like AF Harrold and Jonny Fluffypunk were winning slams all over the place when I first started, and it felt wonderful being a part of such a very welcoming scene in which comedy was rewarded and regarded well in an art form, (poetry), which I’d always seen as snooty and stuck-up. The fact that comedy poets won slams also felt like the whole scene was somehow ironic. Sure, I’d been on the internet and watched American poetry slams, which were all about identity and big themes, where the serious poet, or, god help us, the poet who turned on the waterworks, was acclaimed as the winner. While over in the UK, AF Harrold was winning slams with poems about cats being better than dogs.
Sure, there were serious poets. Of course there were. At my very first slam, in Bristol, I made it to the final with my poem about beards and was (rightly) beaten by Steven Duncan, who did a wonderful poem about the black experience from Windrush to the present day, taking in racism and police brutality. But it was still a fifty fifty shot that a comedy poem would do the biz, and probably around fifty percent of the poets at the slam were comic poets.
And yes, I managed here and there to win the occasional poetry slam. It always felt ironic doing so. Because I’ve never seen what I do as poetry, and a poetry slam seemed the ultimate American and trendy thing to take part in. The fact that I could do so with poems about jellyfish and badgers and, of course, beards, seemed to drive a truck straight through such pretensions.
Naturally, over the last year and a half, most events have moved online, and one could argue that in so doing, they have made them more accessible and democratic. Online events have opened slams up to people who might never have been able to get out to events in far flung corners of the UK. (And to think, once a month I used to go to Bang Said the Gun in London just to take part in their weekly slam). With this increased online community, it seems that the American idea of what a poetry slam in has, stealthily, increased and encroached on the more traditional UK version. Obviously, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just the nature of these events, and the world has definitely become a more serious and, one would argue, less equal place over the last few years. Various movements have rightfully given voices to those who before might not have had a voice, or encouraged them to do so with bravery and gusto, and the poetry slam is the ideal place where this can occur. From Black Lives Matter to the #metoo movement, people are finding the courage, the depth, or the anger to draw attention to issues, and this is a wonderful thing.
So what is the point of this essay? Well, here’s my big idea. Understanding that the poetry slam genre has evolved, yet also feeling nostalgic for the days when comedy was almost an expectation of the poetry slam, I would like to propose a brand new type of poetry slam: a comedy poetry slam. While the rules and format would be roughly the same, there would be one or two tweaks. Such as: Yes, you are allowed props. Yes, you are allowed costumes. And yes, you can sing, or dance, or incorporate music. Judging criteria would be the same – performance, audience reaction and writing – but there would be scope for laughter and this could be taken into account. (This is another reason why, I believe, comedy performance poetry doesn’t work in the Zoom age in which everyone has their mic muted). In such a way, this will help poetry slams become entertainment again and reward those who experiment with the three minutes that they’re given. It’s time to draw attention to the performance aspect of spoken word, (after all, it was still called performance poetry back when I started, with the emphasis on the performance), and marvel in the inventiveness of so many fertile minds.
I had to de-tangle the cable (Poem written for Tonic scratch night)
This week I took part in Tonic, a lovely spoken word night in which poets write new material from prompts. The one that I chose was ‘I had to de-tangle the cable’. This was my effort.
I had to de-tangle the cable
And then I’d be able to plug in
And bask in musical delights,
The earphones a jumble of wires as tightly bound
As the curator at the Museum of Spirit Levels
When I told him that I had no interest in spirit levels
And he hit me over the head
With a spirit level
But I guess that’s my fault for going
To the Museum of Spirit Levels.
And you, sir, you with your eyebrows,
Wondering why I don’t go hands-free
Bluetooth hands free wireless Bluetooth
Hands free wireless connection WiFi WiFi
Whacka whacka boom boom,
To which I might reply hey, buster,
You’ve got a point.
Last night Ben came round,
Ben with his quiff,
And I said, tie me up, big boy,
Benny boy, Big Ben, and do with me
As you see fit,
But he couldn’t untangle my earphone leads
And started to pick away at the knotted wires
And said, this might take some time,
So we watched Pointless
And then had a row.
I had to de-tangle the cable
That ball of wires existed only to mock me
When I wanted music to rock me
Mock me for being human
Mock me for shouting out ‘The Krays!’
When the pub quiz host asked which brothers
Undertook the world’s first powered flight,
Mock me for that time I said
‘I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous’,
Mock me for not saying to the curator in the
Museum of Spirit Levels
‘Are all your ghosts perfectly horizontal?’,
Damn damn damn,
That’s what I should have said.
I had to de-tangle the cable
Just like I did fifteen years ago
Which caused me to miss my audition for One Direction,
Which I was going to do dressed
In beekeeping nets
You know, with the big hood,
To which my partner at the time said,
‘That’s a very distinctly demographic you’re
Aiming for right there, Robbie Bobbie Doo Dah’,
And I said,
‘There’s a whole community devoted to it,
They call them Buzzers,
And by the way
My name is Sebastian’.
I had to de-tangle the cable
While standing at the bus stop
I looked at the bus times table
It said, once times bus is bus.
I had to de-tangle the cable
Were the world’s first football club,
Then who the hell did they play?
I had to de-tangle the cable
A friend asked if I’d like some chocolate
From the shops.
I said, Wispa?
(Would you like some chocolate from the shops?)
I had to de-tangle the cable
I had to de-tangle the cable
I’ve got seals and a walrus
And a narwhal
But my life lacks porpoise.
I had to de-tangle the cable
I had to de-tangle the cable
I had to de-tangle the cable
In the shower in the bath
In the shower in the bath
The end is near
And so i face
The vinyl curtain.
An ode to Jeremy Wade
Today’s daily poem podcast is an ode to TV fisherman Jeremy Wade.
<div style=”font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;”><a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham” title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/a-poem-for-jeremy-wade-wav” title=”Daily Poem 33 : A Poem for Jeremy Wade” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 33 : A Poem for Jeremy Wade</a></div>
Looking back at my first solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the Edinburgh Fringe and what a big part of my life the festival has become. This summer was due to have been my ninth visit, and my fifth with a solo show.
The current situation means that everything at the moment is up in the air, and several reports have mentioned the precarious position the Edinburgh Fringe might be in. I can’t now imagine a year without the fringe, and if it were to no longer be a part of our lives, then this would be a very big shame indeed.
Each year at the fringe, I keep a blog and this year I looked back to 2016, the year I took my show Static to Edinburgh. This was my first year with a show on my own, having been there in 2014 with Poetry Ping Pong, and 2015 doing guest slots at other shows and performing at the Burning Eye showcase with Monkey Poet.
What I didn’t mention in the blog, (maybe I was too embarrassed!), was that I left my passport on the plane flying up and it was lost. And I knew I was going to New York a few weeks later to perform, and at the back of my mind I was thinking, uh-oh, I won’t be able to do that now. So this was eating at me all the time during the fringe.
But there were good moments, too. Breakfast with a world famous performer who told me how to go snout the whole process properly. Killing it as a guest at a comedy night and then being recognised in the street by someone who’d seen me at that gig. It was a rollercoaster of emotions!
The other thing was that my show had moments of silence and prop work, performance art and movement, and my venue was the corner of a bar. So it was impossible to perform the show the way that I wanted it. By the end of the week, I really was thinking of giving up spoken word. I remember my last show was as a guest at Boomerang Club, and I genuinely went into that gig thinking, wow, this is my last ever performance!
Things turned out well in the end. Static at Edinburgh in 2016 was a turning point because it showed me that I had to work harder at performance poetry, and make it a career, and that I needed to be way more professional. The meeting with the famous fringe performer, which you’ll read about below, certainly changed my whole way of working and mindset towards the whole process. Indeed, maybe that was the turning point of my career. I still use his methods now, every single day!
So anyway, here we go. Time for a crazy adventure!
Well here I am then, on a train heading to the Edinburgh Fringe. Well, almost. First of all I’m going to Woking to spend the night in a room over a pub, and then tomorrow morning I will be flying up. It was either that, or fifteen hours on a coach. In fact it’s cheaper this way than getting the train. How ludicrous is that?
So how am I feeling about all this right now? There are several emotions. I’m nervous, naturally, that everything is going to go tits up. Nobody will show up for any of the gigs, and when they do, I fall into that age old trap of being crap. I’m excited, because this is the Edinburgh fringe and a lot of my friends will be there. I’m also grateful that I am able to spend an entire week immersed in art and culture.
I’m also nervous that the logistical arrangements I’ve made will fall apart. The accommodation, the travel, the train, the plane.
So here so am, then, on the train, and I’ve managed to get a high profile seat in first class. It was a whole three quid extra to get in here, and I feel privileged, because they don’t just let anyone in. That three quid means a lot.
And I’m the only one in here as the train leaves Exeter, which makes me feel kind of poncey. But then a lusciously blonde muscular lad sneaks in and plugs his mobile phone into the charger. A minute or two back he’s later to look at his phone. Then he slides in, commandeers the seat for himself. Good move!
And oh mamma, what a good looking chap he is. Amazingly he offerere me a Fruit Pastel, and then we get talking. Where are you going? Woking? Me too! Where do you live? Paignton? Know it well! What do you do? Spoken word artist? I’m a property developer. And we chat for ages, about books he’s read, his love of To Kill a Mockingbird, his skills as a weekend surfer, and then it starts to get embarrassing. Whenever I try to relax he asks something else, and all the time I’m looking at those luscious legs.
At Honiton he gets off and meets a man on the platform who gives him a suit in a bag. He gets back in and looks at the suit, the tie, spreading them out on the table. Very smart! We chat some more, and then the man comes to check the tickets.
You’re in the wrong section, he says. Please move back to the standard class.
I’ve still got two hours of this train ride to go, but I’m already thinking, ah, yes. The adventure has begun!
And will I still be thinking of this blond lad in seven days time?
So here I am now at Heathrow Airport Terminal Five. I stayed last night in Woking, which is one of my favourite towns and a place where I’ve spent a lot of time. When I booked into the hotel I asked if it was okay to pay with a debit card. We accept anything, the receptionist said, apart from goats.
It seems kind of unreal at the moment that I shall be performing this afternoon in another country. Okay, that country is Scotland, but when you’re used to Torbay, anything north of Newton Abbot is dodgy ground. The coach driver from Woking to the airport was incredibly jolly and rather envious of my old suitcase, which forms part of the show. You don’t see many of those, he said.
I expect the baggage handling crew are saying that too, right at this moment.
It was a weird day. I mean, they talk about the madness and the insecurity which hit some more than others. Has it already hit me?
The flight was fantastic. The stewardess who found me an empty overseat locker advised me to use it quickly as those who bring suitcases on board will nab it. She was one of the jolliest people I’ve met in a long while with an evident love of life and a loud booming laugh which echoed from the galley all round the plane.
The flight was 45 minutes. It took 30 to get my case at the baggage reclaim. I caught the bus to the city centre straight to my venue, arriving ten minutes before my show. The audience seemed to enjoy it, (both of them), but I treated it as a rehearsal and afterwards pondered on a raft of changes I might make for the rest of the run. I also need to be louder. Tomorrow will be an entirely different matter.
I walked the mile out to my student accommodation, then realised that I’d left my jacket at the venue!
It was great to see Dominic Berry and Chris White, and later on I bumped into Rose Condo, Dan Simpson and Rob Auton.
It’s going to be a mega week!
I am deep into the Fringe, now. Yes, I know that sounds weird. But I’m into the rhythm of the Edinburgh Fringe and what it means to be here, which is to say, the usual routines of flyering, exit flyering, chatting to people, finding out when other people’s shows are, and that big contentious issue, the Bucket Speech.
What is the Bucket Speech? Well, this is the free fringe, so we don’t get paid to perform, but we don’t have to pay the venue either. Because of this, we are not allowed to charge visitors entry, but we are allowed to pass round a bucket at the end. Now I was having serious philosophical thoughts about this and I decided not to do a Bucket Speech, (the bit at the end of each show where you ask for donations), and instead make the whole thing free. Yes, really. Absolutely free.
I’m not yet sure if this is a good strategy. For me the joy is sharing the words and meeting people. There’s no way that I’d recover the costs of coming here. Now it must be said that I might change this philosophy, depending on how things go.
I have been flyering. But I haven’t really done that much. Yesterday I did lots of flyering in the Royal Mile, but then got bored, so I went to the museum and I had an excellent time.
I’ve met so many friends up here, people who I know from so many different parts of the country, like Rose Condo, who I met in Manchester, Dan from Bristol, and Sam Webber, who I know from Barnstaple. Today a friend is coming up from London. It’s like the annual meeting place of performance poetry.
The plan for today? More flyering, and I’ll be performing on the Royal Mile with some other poets. I haven’t even thought about open mic nights yet, or anything like that.
And the Fringe Flu? I haven’t caught it yet.
My student accommodation is down the hill past the Scottish Parliament, turn left, then walk halfway to Glasgow. It’s a brand new building with one or two snags, the first snag being that it’s bloody hot even with the windows open, the second snag being that the sensor light in the bathroom stays on as well as the extractor fan for about an hour after use, the third snag being that it’s so far from the centre of Edinburgh. But that didn’t stop me being waken at seven this morning by what I thought was thunder, turned out it was a bloody cannon being fired. Is that normal, or are we at war? It sounded like they fired it right next to the building.
I’ve reached an odd point in the fringe, now. I don’t care if I don’t get anyone to come and see the show, now, because I’ve done it a few times and I’ve had an amazing time doing so. If nobody turns up, then I get an hour off! I mean, the way I look at it is that I’m offering to do a show at three o o’clock every day, and if no ones up for that then, OK, I’m all right with that.
I went to a few shows last night. Gary from Leeds, funny and as human as ever. Dominic Berry,enthusiastic and genuinely inspirational. I wore a tshirt advertising my show, and I thought, that’s a good move. The moment I stepped out the building someone yelled, in a. American accent, ‘Hey buddy, like the tshirt. Naaaahhht’. He’s probably a Trump supporter.
The agenda for today is a few more shows but first I’m off out in search of some modern art. Modern art is my passion and I want to see something inspirational.
Another early night tonight. I’m such a lightweight. The other night I went out with Dominic and Chris White, feeling like an old man. We didn’t even get to where we were going before I apologised and said that I really had to go home to bed, it was almost ten o’ clock. In fact, compared to all the other spoken word artists, I feel like a very old man. Even Gary from Leeds, baldies that he is, is ten years younger than me. I don’t drink, and I really can’t take these late nights. There’s an open mic at eleven pm every night by which time I’m usually in bed. Maybe that’s what’s keeping me sane?
I’m using the wifi in McDonalds to write this. I’m trying to see as much local culture as I can.
Outside my venue
Well that’s another day done and dusted. I’m really into the rhythm now. The rhythm of expectations being cruelly dashed. Yesterday’s audience was a very minimal two. I asked them beforehand if they were there to see my show and they said, no. But do carry on. Don’t mind us, we’re just here for a drink and a chat. I did a couple of poems without any microphone and then took a couple of selfies. Can’t let an opportunity like this go to waste!
I made the mistake yesterday of going to the modern art gallery instead of flyering. I mean, I’m on holiday. There was an exhibition of Joseph Beuys, one of my favourite artists. I couldn’t spend a whole week here and not see it! The only trouble with Edinburgh’s modern art gallery is that it’s such a long walk from the centre of the city. So the whole trip took about two and a half hours.
Then an offer of a gig came through, representing Team Poetry at Stand Up And Slam, which is a poetry verses comedian slam. Everybody there was so young and whoopy, and the music was so incredibly loud, and the MC shouted and wailed and I couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but I went up and performed and the place went mad, I won my round and helped the poets win the whole contest. At the end we had to come out with slick jokes or short poems on a given theme and the theme was drinking, so I did the following haiku:
The man with no arms
Fighting in the local pub.
He was kicking off.
Which also brought the house down, and it was only afterwards, like, seven hours afterwards, that I thought about the Fringe joke competition and how it might have stood a chance in that. Had they not already done the competition at the beginning of the week.
So here I am, about to go out flyering and stuff. My legs are aching and it feels like I’ve lost two stone. It doesn’t look it, but it feels it.
Just a quick word about the show I saw last night, Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. It was flipping fantastic! Storytelling and humour, camp wonderfulness and a celebration of the joy of living. Go and watch it!
My view while flyering
Some of my performance colleagues here have been in Edinburgh for the whole three weeks and the fatigue is starting to show. There’s a certain numbness to them, as if they are kind of ever so dissociated from the world around them, a weariness, and most amusing of all, a slight loathing of anyone who’s just arrived. Last night I went to see AF Harrold at Hammer and Tomgue. AF is one of my favourite performers and a jolly decent chap too. He’d just arrived in Edinburgh and he was sharp, articulate, funny, alert. You could sense the love in the room.
I’ve only been here a week, of course, but a fatigue of sorts is finally starting to manifest itself. Having said that, I’ve finally got the art of flyering down to a tee. I spent the first few days oblivious to the fact that you have to make an impression and sell your show in about 2 and a half seconds. I’d spend the first two seconds of that time by saying hello. By which time they’d walked on. But now I just blurt out, ‘Free poetry show? Free poetry show? Free poetry show?’ And then act very relieved when someone takes a flier.
My legs ache like anything, I’ve been up and down that sodding hill so many times. I found a short cut the other day, it cuts a minute off the journey, and it was like the best thing that has ever happened. I’m starting to feel like a local. I see people making fundamental navigation errors and I’m thinking, Pffft, tourists! I’ve also built up this witty repartee with the man in the newsagents near my accommodation where each morning he pretends not to recognise me from the day before. Oh, how we laugh.
So there are two more Statics to go. But already I’m thinking of new projects, ambitious ideas gleaned from watching so many wonderful shows. I haven’t seen much poetry: the spoken word shows are storytelling in the main part, and very funny at that. However, I’ve found poetry in the best of places, such as Dandy Darkly’s fantastic Myth Mouth, which I really, really recommend. It’s perhaps been the most inspirational show I’ve seen while in Edinburgh, and the one that has really spoken to me.
It was misty and cool yesterday and I felt right at home. Today it is hot and sunny and I’m not looking forward to it.
I still haven’t seen any of my flat mates and the same packet of pasta has been in the fridge now for five days.
So the good thing about the fringe is that you see all kinds of different acts and the potential for being inspired is heightened. I’ve seen so much while here that I’ve got a very clear idea of where I need to be and how the show can be massively improved with just a few small tweaks. Yesterday I was very privileged to have breakfast and a long chat with one of my favourite performers, (who wishes to remain anonymous because of the trade secrets that he divulged thereat). We met at a coffee shop in the new town area and he took me through every aspect of putting on a show, from the logistical detail of publicity and accommodation, to the more fundamental aspects of rehearsal, writing, learning the damn thing. It was the most enlightening couple of hours I’ve spent in a long time, as he imparted information which an artist might ordinarily have to cough up a lot of money for. I bought him toast and coffee to say thank you. In fact, I was so inspired that I went away and did a little bit of writing right then and there.
Now, obviously I should have been flyering. And I did a lot of flyering yesterday, both in the Royal Mile and Cowgate. I flyered like you wouldn’t believe. And while I was flyering I was thinking, I shouldn’t be doing this. But it’s a necessary evil. Spoken word show? Hello madam, I’ve got a show today at three. Spoken word show? Spoken word show?
It’s a lonely business, flyering, even though you’re surrounded by people. You’re surrounded by all the other flyerers. And they’ve all got various degrees of annoyance, like the pushy ones, or the cheeky ones, or the ones who are just plain rude, and even those who insult anyone who doesn’t take a flyer. What’s that all about?
So I did all this flyering, and what do you think happened? No audience. I could only be philosophical about it, of course. I’m at the fringe, yes, but really I’m not that well known in the slightest. My show is on directly after Harry Baker, and he’s a world slam champion. And I’m also a slam winner. Well, second at the Swindon slam, anyway. Later on in the day I watched Gecko’s excellent show and he did a song about the painting that shares the room with the Mona Lisa and I thought, hmm, I know exactly how it feels!
But it’s all a great experience and a valuable learning opportunity. I’ve seen so much that has inspired me that I know exactly the manner and tone that I shall be adopting in my writing. And yes, I’m probably the oldest performer on the spoken word scene up here by quite some margin, but I feel all new and eager to get on with it.
So that’s it, then. I’ve done the fringe at Edinburgh with my first solo show. And I managed to combine it with a holiday, my first for a year or so. I think it was only in the last day when I thought, OK, better work at this. And wowzers, I spent four hours flyering. I flyerered in the Royal Mile. I flyerered in Cowgate. I went to other people’s shows and flyerered on the way out. I flyerered by mistake when I went in a shop to get some water and left my flyers on the counter. I flyerered like a machine which has been built just to flyer. And if all paid off, seven people came to the last show and they gave me money even when I did my ‘don’t worry, there won’t be a bucket speech’ speech.
Last night I had a feature slot at Boomerang Club. I’d been feeling a bit weird all day before that, what with all the flyering, and I even thought, hmmm, what if this is my last ever performance? I mean, last ever. What if I called it a day after this, after the Boomerang Club? It was only a fleeting thought, and it kind of mixed up with the knowledge that I would be going home, to make me feel unusually emotional. Plus if you’ve read my blog you’ll know that I’ve been having vision problems, which makes life difficult at times and has affected my ability to perform and read at the same time. So I did a set of all my favourite poems and finished off with my most favourite of all, ‘Plop’, which seems a good summing up of my performance career. But I also started the set with a brand new piece, which I call ‘Introduction’, a piece I wrote after my meeting the other day with a top fringe performer who really inspired me. And I thought, ‘If this is to be my last ever performance, ever, then why a, I writing new material?’ As I say, it was only a fleeting thought!
So here I am at Edinburgh Waverley station. I’m in Starbucks. And I’m feeling chipper about the future. Static is done and dusted but I’ve started rewriting it and I have a very clear idea of how it will evolve. It might still be Static, or it might be something entirely different, but it will be a different beast, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of rewriting it, rehearsing it, learning it.
This has been the most incredible week and a huge learning experience. I’ve had so many adventures along the way and seen so much good stuff, and I’ve felt younger than I have in years, and also older than I’ve ever felt. I’ve got one or two projects on the horizon that I can’t wait to work on, performance art pieces and a multi-disciplinary piece which I’ve written and is very funny indeed, the music project, the novel, there’s so much on the go at the moment! It all makes me wonder what the next year will bring till I’m back here again.
And I remembered. Yes, I remembered. Do you recall my first blog, the one I wrote on the way to Edinburgh? I remembered the lad who came and sat with me, all those days ago, who charged his phone and we chatted. I thought I’d forget all about him, but I remember. I hope he’s had a good week, too.
This is an old poem from 2013 which I’ve only just got around to recording. It was great fun to make this video. I hope you like it!
I was abducted by aliens!
New video ‘UFO’ by Robert Garnham
Robert Garnham’s 17 Golden Rules for Getting the Most Out of Life!
Robert Garnham’s Words of Advice
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. If someone tells you that they love you, it’s not always a test, it’s an affectation of the status quo, a joy delivered in the beauty of a relationship which actually works, so it’s best not to answer with, oh, that’s good.
3. Shrimp will always give you raging guts ache.
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. Look at your life. Isolate your fears, your demons, and anything else that gives you the willies. Engage with them and dance, and banish them with a smile and a wave and a cheer. Unless, of course, the thing that scares you the most 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 ever mention the elephant in the room, but you can certainly wonder how it got through the door, and up the stairs.
9. Look at the mirror every morning and say, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. At least this way you’re prepared for any other bullshit 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 mortgage.
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 this does not apply 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 Henderson, 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 with your teeth isn’t the job for you.
17. If you don’t think you can get it out, why the hell did you put it in there in the first place?
Poetry has no relevance.
Poetry has no relevance. That’s what I hear a lot. Oi, knobhead! Your poetry has no relevence! That’s a hell of a heckle. From my publisher.
But it does. Poetry is useful. Honestly.
I was in an airport. Just minding my own business. Just browsing. Hanging around the arrivals gate with a sign reading JUSTIN BIEBER, you know, just on the off chance. When all of a sudden is call comes up. ‘Is there a poet in the building? This is an emergency! We need a poet!’
Turns out this plane was in trouble. The pilot had collapsed at the controls having had an allergic reaction to a Pot Noodle. And then the co pilot, on hearing that the plane was full of zither players on the way back from a zither convention, succumbed to an undiagnosed zither phobia and became a gibbering, incoherent wreck.
So I’m up in air traffic control and they’ve got a zither player in the cockpit and I’m relaying to him the types of controls that he should be operating.
The aerilon speed flaps are the colour of fine Devonshire cream in the early evening sun.
The throttle control knobs are kind of shaped like a veteran Shakespearean actor stooping to pick up a 20p coin
The rudder pedal is broad and flat like a clumsy child’s first attempt to draw a map of Utah.
The undercarriage lever looks like ennui.
And we did it, we landed that plane, between us, soothing it down to a very smooth landing lulled by sonnets and iambic pentameter, just a classy addition of enjambement on its glide slope, we landed it, oh yes, we did, and everyone was saved!
And at that moment I saw the potential of poetry in all its glory to affect the world as a power to be used for the greater good, elevating ordinary souls above the gods and deities, for are we not all messiahs of the modern age, we poets, we brave poets, pens aloft like spears of triumph!
Poetry. Is. Useful.
And then I got home to my normal life of crushing loneliness.
A few years ago now I was running Stanza Extravaganza, a night of poetry and spoken word based in Torquay. One month the regular night coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe and I was unable to host, so I asked my friend Tim King is he could do it for me, and he did. A couple of days later I received an email from a poet by the name of Becky Nuttall, asking if she could have a slot. She had been writing poetry for a while but had not yet read any in public.
The day after Stanza Extravaganza I asked Tim how it had gone, and he said that it had been an amazing night, because there was a new poet called Becky Nuttall, and she was brilliant. Oh wow, I thought, I can’t wait to hear her for myself!
Within a year or so Becky had become a regular reader and performer on the local scene, and a staunch supporter of the arts locally, as she had always been. Her poetry, measured and precise and beautifully atmospheric, is delivered in an equally measured tone which captivates the audience. Her work is timeless and draws on religious imagery, rock music, autobiography, the work of David Bowie, and the workings of the universe.
Becky’s first collection, Nick’s Gift, is a book as beautifully constructed as her poetry. The poems range from the autobiographical, such as The Puffin Man, such recounts a childhood encounter with an author who was blatantly grooming young children, to Protestant Girls in Catholic Schools with the exquisite line, ‘love the devil in me!’ The title poem is a beautiful and brief piece which uses sparse language to deliver the emotions of a life lived with the memory of that one special person with a last line, which I shall not repeat here, which explains just how long someone can influence a life.
For me, the most haunting and beautiful poem is one of the last. Spaceflight was written for a very special night in which the theme was the moon and its impact on culture and art. It again revisits an encounter with someone in 1973, a deep friendship which resonates, but this time outwards into the universe itself, riding on the language and imagery of David Bowie and that special magic which comes to all of us at odd moments of our life. ‘We are poets of the full moon’, Becky writes, ‘setting our words to the music of the spheres’.
Nick’s Gift is a remarkable book, deep in imagery and life and yet easily readable and relatable. Indeed, I have read it three times now and it lives on my desk where I can easily dive in and steal a couple of minutes in its presence.
Two months ago, I caught a late night bus from Plymouth and arrived at Paignton bus station just as the clocks struck midnight. And there on one of the benches I saw two people, teenagers, dressed trendily and just chatting and smiling, and my first thought was of one of the encounters Becky writes about. Because no matter what happens, life is timeless and emotion too.
If you are a fan of poetry which has emotion, nuance and humanity, then I thoroughly recommend this book!