Slam Poem to Raise Awareness of Unregulated Backflow Systems in the Plumbing Industry

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.

He said,
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.
I said,
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.

He said,
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 insanity
It’s you and me,
I said,
It’s a violation of regulation six
Slash four seven dash three,
You see.

Because
Because
Because
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!

Huhhhhh! (Pant!)
The way I passed out from plumbing school.
I ain’t no fool.
Pass me that pipe deburring tool.
But you,
You’re a tap squirty bloke,
You’re a basin filling jerk
You’re a water meter cheater
You’re a low flow joke
And me?
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
I need
To

Tighten

A




Nut.

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.
And me?
I’m an optimist.
And you?
You’re a Sagittarius,
And this?
This?
Needs no wonder
Nor hearts to plunder
This is going to take more
Than a sink plunger

And it’s why
We need
Industry regulation in the plumbing and water supply
Appliance sector.

That’s it for me now
It’s the end of the poem
Because just like the pipes
I’m drained.

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

My New Year’s Resolution: To have more fun!

So today I performed my annual New Year’s Day poetry extravaganza. And as I’m staying in Brixham at the Muv’s, this took place in the room at the back of her garage where I normally rehearse, a place I have nicknamed the ‘Sunrise Rehearsal Studio’. I can make as much noise as I like in there and nobody can hear me, because the room is not attached to or near any other building.
The day before, I’d kind of made a New Year’s Resolution, which had two parts to it. The first is to concentrate more on comedy poetry, the second is to have fun performing. The first part of this resolution has come about because I feel that, over the last couple of years and especially since lockdown and the pandemic, I have spent most of my time doing things other than comedy poetry. And yes, while it’s great to experiment and try other things, I was just kidding myself that any of these were worth unleashing on an audience. Serious poems, serious pieces of writing, various artworks and ideas which had at least taken me out of my comfort zone, were the speciality of proper artists and proper poets who have made a career out of such a manner of expression. The one thing I’m good at, hopefully, and known for, is making people laugh through poetry and performance. And I hadn’t done nearly enough of this since the end of 2019.
The second part of the resolution is to have fun performing. I know this sounds a bit weird, what with my performance being very silly, comedic and clowning, but I’d spent far too much time concentrating on performance and theory and effect and not nearly enough on enjoying the process.
So today’s gig in the Sunrise Rehearsal Studio allowed me to have fun in the silliness of what I was doing and, hopefully, in such a way, connect with the audience. And once I’d made this pact with myself to enjoy what I was doing, well, wouldn’t you know, I started to really enjoy what I was doing!
2022 is here, now. And I have no idea where it will go or what will happen. I have a couple of projects on the go which might lead to something wonderful, or then again, they might not. But I’m determined that I shall have lots of fun along the way. I hope to see you out there in poetry land, too.

Happy new year to everyone, and here’s to a better future!

Of pirates and conveyor belt toasters

Poem

You know those
Conveyor belt toasters you get
In buffet breakfast bargain hotels?
My mate Brian
Has one of those in his kitchen.
It’s kept on all the time
On the off chance that
Someone might fancy some toast.

Brian is a pirate.
He’s proud of his toast conveyor.
I’ve seen him plunder a frigate.
I’ve seen him
Butter a crumpet.
The toast falls off the bottom
Of the conveyor belt
And he says,
Har harrrrrrrr.

We met on the high seas.
I was first mate on the poop deck.
He threatened me with his big blunderbuss
But after that we got on fine.
You must come round for dinner
Some time,
He opined.

I brought a fine Merlot.
I’d like to propose a toast, he said.
Would you like some too?
And we sat like lemons
In an awkward silence
As we waited for it to trundle through.

Four slices.
Cut in two.
Pieces of eight, he said.

London – A Poem

London

Hark, doth London linger.
In lingering humdrum exhaust fume longer
Doth it linger
With that sweat tang white van traffic jam
Lingering in the humdrum London.
River bridges glower tower block
Chock a block gridlock London.
Overcast mellow weather does it settle
Yellow smog hacking hacking Hackney cab London.
London fun with traffic tang
On the tongue
Coming undone I might succumb
Lingering loitering London.
Sunday parks car parks Cutty Sarks
Torn apart grabbed my heart
Seedy humping in London fun parts.
London looming in surly amid the
Hurly burly London fog so swirly
You never get there early
In London.

Sweaty set sweat stains
Train seat sweat stains and the
Sweaty armpits tube hanging
Sweat stains hanging from that
Tube strap sweat stains
Tube strap pulsing veins
Very much like the tube map.
Mind the gap.
Sweat stains armpit blotch like
Map of Greater London.

Drunken wine bum
Drunk on London
London low life lowdown lurking.
London terminus ominous terminus
Probably verminous
Not cleaned since Copernicus.
Charge by the hour
Ever so sour looming tower
And I hover likewise
I have the power
Eardrum thrum in London.

City city pretty scape
Skyscraper cityscape
Mass escape city pretty
Sitting pretty cityscape.
London undone fun run
London squares and bars and fairs and cars.
Kick that burn that kicking in
Floating high on fog bank London.

I hover tentative grey sky
Square mile London longer
Doth it linger deep within
My city my thing my
History my place my dream
My London.

Shakka Lakka Boom

I’ve been working on the new show and collection for months now so this poem has been stuck in my head for absolutely ages, and yet the weird thing is, it’s not been out into the big wide world yet. Until now!

Behold! Enjoy this brand new video of my poem Shakka Lakka Boom!, taken from my forthcoming collection Yay!, and my solo show Yay! The Search for Happiness. I hope you like it!

Shakka Lakka Boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Gotta get through the day,
Gotta do your thing.
Gotta get through the day,
Feel it deep within.
Gotta get through the day.
People, make some room.
Say into the microphone:
Shakka lakka boom!

Go to bake a cake one day.
Go to bake a cake.
Go to bake a bake one day,
Hope I don’t make a mistake.
Add all the ingredients,
Stir them with a spoon,
A little salt and a pinch
Of shakka lakka boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Made my Broadway debut
In a Shakespeare play.
I know all my lines by heart.
I know, just want to say.
‘To be or not to be,’ I said,
And, with a sense of doom,
Forgot what came just after that,
Said, ‘Shakka lakka boom!’

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Go out on a hot date,
Small talk and a chat.
Go out on a hot date
And then back to his flat.
Making lots of small talk.
Hope I don’t peak too soon.
All he did was stroke my arm
And shakka lakka boom!

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

And then I went to the funeral.
My aunt had passed away.
Such a lovely funeral
On such a dismal day.
I went to give the eulogy.
The coffin lid went zoom!
My aunt, she suddenly sat right up,
Said, ‘Shakka lakka boom!’

Shakka lakka boom boom,
Shakka lakka boom.

Life is a cabaret! (Or it used to be, in the quirky world of 2000s performance poetry, and some of the utterly bizarre things I did back then).

There has been talk lately in spoken word circles of the direction that the movement has been taking over the last decade and how it has shifted away from the scene that existed in the 2000s and before. Many have cited the influence of slams and American slam culture, others have pointed out that spoken word has become more literary and closer to page poetry, with the emphasis very much on words and use of language. And while neither of these are bad things – (my own philosophy being that it is what it is) – I do ponder every now and then on how it used to be.

I’ve spent the last twelve years or so performing all over the UK and during this time I have honed my regular ‘set’ down to what seems to work best on stage. My poems are mostly humorous, and rely on conventions of stand-up comedy and a certain approximation of what poetry should be contrasted with what my poetry actually is. There’s a bit of prop work and an awful lot of silliness. And some awful silliness. And people seem to like it.

As Pete Bearder pointed out in his wonderful book about the spoken word scene, ‘Stage Invasion’, ‘Many older poets I have spoken to have lamented the loss of diversity in British performance  poetry that was previously known for its humour and cabaret quirk’. He goes on to mention performers such as Rachel Pantechnicon, Chloe Poems and AF Harrold, who were at the top of their game back then and were the zenith of the performance poetry scene. Reading between the lines, the question seems to be, ‘when did performance poetry get so serious?’

Over the last year I’ve been working on a spoken word / music collaboration called Croydon Tourist Office, led by my friend Bryce Dumont, who used to run the Epicentre Cafe in Paignton where there was a monthly spoken word night. It was at this time that the spoken word scene was still heavily influenced by a cabaret style where anything went, where most performed created a character on stage, and authenticity wasn’t as important as it has now become. Or indeed, maybe the creation of stage personas actually accentuated the authenticity of the performer. Who knows?

Anyway, Bryce had been diligently recording every set that I performed back then and he emailed me a link to all of the material. Several things struck me. First of all, the poems weren’t as good as I remember them, but hey, I was only just starting. Secondly, my linking material was much better than I remember it being. Thirdly, my performance voice was much, much slower than it is now. (This was before I’d even heard of poetry slams and the necessity of cramming everything into under three minutes). And fourthly, wow, I certainly did some weird things on stage!

When I first started performing back in the late 2000s, the local scene was heavily influenced by comedy and surrealism in south Devon, and I soon joined in with a bizarre mix of my own, of prop-based avant gard and whimsical verse which, at the same time, mocked the whole idea of poetry performance. And for a while, this was my Unique Selling Point.  And although I wore seemingly normal clothes on stage, I was very much a persona, the Professor of Whimsy, an exaggeration of my actual self.

So here are some of the incredibly bizarre things that I did back in those formative years, 2008-2012:

1. Used a mobile phone to deliver my set from a cubicle in the toilets.

This was fun. I set up a mobile phone I’d borrowed from a friend behind the mic. I put it on speaker phone and then called in my set while pretending to have raging stomach ache from the toilet at the rear of the premises.

2. Built a cardboard robot called Robot Garnham on stage and let him do my performance.

This was also fun. I operated the robot via a fishing rod from the side of the stage. And then at one moment I sat down and read the paper while the robot performed. It was really weird. People were facing the robot and laughing.

3. Phoned a friend halfway through a set to ask him what my next line was.

I had no idea if this was going to work. Again I used the speaker phone. A friend was at home with a copy of my poem. He fed me the lines down the phone.

4. Performed a set of Pam Ayres poems through the window from the street.

So the premise of this was that I’d orchestrated a row with Bryce. I said that I was going to perform some Pam Ayres poems and he pretended to physically throw me out of the cafe. I then proceeded to do a whole set of Pam Ayres poems through the glass windows from the darkened street. And people were walking past and I’d interrupt my performance to say hello to them.

5. Pretended to drink Pam Ayres urine after pretending to choke on a cream cracker.

Just the usual performance. I’d started the set by announcing that I’d gone to the doctors and Pam was in the waiting room, and that she had misunderstood when I said that I was a fan of her work. She got in a mood and left, but accidentally left behind her urine sample. I then performed a poem while eating a cream cracker and halfway through faked that I was choking. Of course, the only thing to hand was the Pam Ayres urine, and down it went in one gulp. The audience reaction was amazing. It was actually cold tea.

6. Performed a whole set with a tea bag sellotaped to my forehead.

Still no idea why.

7. Performed the same poem twice in a row with no explanation.

Which was fun but then at a gig a few years later one of the performers was so drunk that she actually did this, so now I’m a little embarrassed. Perhaps I should perform the same poem three times?

8. Tried to get inanimate objects to race each other.

OK, so this was my performance art piece, ‘Static’. I’d start by tuning a radio to static, and then placing these objects in a line on a table. I’d line them up and then wave a flag while keeping my finger on a stopwatch. Obviously the objects did not move. I tried this three times, then removed the objects, turned off the radio, and went and sat down in my seat.

9. Built a large hadron collider on stage.

Taking a length of garden hose, and a custard cream on a saucer. I’d eat half the biscuit, then pick up a crumb, and blow it through the garden hose, putting the two ends together and then taking a photo with a digital camera. I’d repeat this three times, and then use my laptop to show pictures of the atoms smashing together.

10. Got a poet to dress as a spaceman and pretend to interrupt my set as visitors from the future intent on making sure my rise from obscurity did not occur,

You read that right. 

11. Got an eminent and well respected page poet to perform Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance as a poem.

That was a beautiful evening. James Turner was the well respected poet. He did his research thoroughly and even sent me a critique of Lady Gaga’s lyrics.

12. Stood behind another poet as he performed and ate crisps, noisily, while staring straight ahead.

Not much else to add here.

13. Performed while standing on a hip exercise swivel disc.

That was fun, because the more I swivelled, the more I turned around to face the rear, so I kept having to frantically swivel to face the audience again. I’m still not sure why.

14. Performed through an iPad which I held up to my face while wearing a large box on my head.

The box was covered with fairy lights and tin foil. The iPad was showing a video but it was just my face. It was surprisingly effective. I’ll have to do this again some time.

15. Dressed as a crocodile, which had nothing to do with my set.

Nor did I refer to it during my set.

16. Wore a fake moustache which slowly moved around my face.

Halfway through the set I took out a large piece of paper and held it up and subtly moved the moustache every time I hid behind the piece of paper, which I was pretending to read from, and then pretending that I didn’t know why the audience were laughing every time I looked out from behind the big piece of paper.

17. Performed the Pet Shop Boys song Two Divided By Zero on a talking calculator.

You’ll find this funny if you know the song.

18. Used an Elefun toy game to blow small pieces of crepe paper with poems written on them into the air.

This worked amazingly well. Elefun is a plastic toy elephant that has a fan in it so it blows pieces of paper out of its long tubular trunk. And it was fun because the pieces of paper blew up out of the toy elephant’s trunk quicker than I could read them, plus I was catching them in a small net so most of the time was spent flailing around with this tiny net trying to catch and then read the small pieces of paper on which the poems were written.

19. Hired out my five minute set to another poet who wasn’t on the bill.

Inspired by a ‘gallery within the gallery’ which used to be at Tate Modern, if you’re interested. I can’t even remember who the poet was. I mean this was back in the day, so it wasn’t like anyone had come just to see me. But you should have seen the look on the host’s face. Plus I made ten quid.

20. Read a poem from an incredibly large piece of paper.

And I mean, really, really big. Which meant I’d spent the previous evening sellotaping together six incredibly large pieces of paper to form one huge humongous piece of paper.

Maybe I should be more adventurous and go back to these days. It certainly was fun. When I first started performing I received a lot of wisdom, advice and encouragement from Rachel Pantehcnicon and she told me that if she could change anything about her career, it would be that she would have less props that she had to lug around the UK. I suppose this was struck home for me when I had the pleasure and honour of supporting John Henley at a gig in London. Indeed, it would be just the two of us all evening. Willing to make a good impression, not only did I cart up on the train the biggest box of props you’ve ever seen, but also a table to put them on, which I then had to transport across London on the tube! After the gig I was so knackered that I just left it backstage at the theatre. I wonder if they ever wondered where their extra table had come from . . .

As I say, times have moved on, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Or maybe it is. Who am I to judge? I do pine for the days when an evening out at a performance poetry gig (as they were called back then, no ‘spoken word’), could entail anything from performers getting absolutely naked to reciting poetry while standing in a paddling pool filled with jelly. Both of which, incidentally, I’ve seen. It was all a little rough around the edges, and most of the performers had stage names, and everyone was absolutely unique in their own quirky way, and the emphasis really was on comedy and spectacle, and at the end of the night you knew you’d seen something amazing. Audience expectations may be different these days. I just hope I somehow remain myself as a kind of bridge between the past and the present.

Feel free to support the work I’m doing by leaving something in my tip jar or buying me a coffee right here https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

Cocky

Here’s today’s Daily Poem Podcast. I hope you like it. It’s a poem about unrequited love and receiving a Facebook friends request from a figure from the past. It’s a brand new poem!

<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&#8221; title=”Robert Garnham” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Robert Garnham</a> · <a href=”https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/cocky&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 5 : Cocky” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 5 : Cocky</a></div>

You can tut all you like

You can tut all you like

You can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
This queue ain’t moving any faster
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Ain’t gonna make the queue go faster

He’s an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
He’s a mean low thing who lives in the gutter
But he ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

You can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
I’m gonna take my own sweet tine
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
I’ll make sure you’re still stood in line

He’s an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
He’s talking to himself and the queue can hear him mutter
But he ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

Youuuuuuuuuuuuuu
Can tut all you like Mr Pinkerton
I’m sorry if I disappoint
Going tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Mind you, he’s got a point.

Hes an uptight tutter he’s a bread without butter
It’s clear we’re in the way and they think we’re just clutter
And we ain’t gonna get any place soon
By going tut tut tut tut tut

Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut
Tut tut tut tut tut tut tut
Tut kyaw tut kyaw tut kyaw tut

Oh for goodness sake now one of them’s gone to lunch.