All about my new book, ‘Yay!’ (Due May 2021)

Robert Garnham’s new collection Yay!, will shortly be published by Burning Eye.

Yay! , is a selection of what Robert calls ‘upbeat, happy poems for a world in which there doesn’t seem to be much to smile about’.

‘When I first started planning this collection, I decided that every poem would be something positive and optimistic, yet with depth, a serious undertone beneath the surface, and yet a positive outlook, something cheerful which might take people away from the humdrum. There’s also an undercurrent referencing mental health, and an acknowledgement that a lot of people are struggling at the moment.

Of course, I started planning this book in 2018, just before things suddenly became even more depressing, with the global pandemic and human rights abuses coming to light.

I initially saw the book the way people might see a pop album, something bouncy and cheerful which colours their summer and brings back happy memories. Like Proust with his madeleine. It’s also something of a ‘concept album’ with a deliberate seaside feel. The first two poems, and the last poem, are all about living in a seaside town. The rest of the poems are about LGBT issues, relationships, superhero pug dogs, scratch ‘n’ sniff Egyptian hieroglyphs, and a rap about tea.

I took two weeks off in 2019 and took a scalloper to an Icelandic peninsula, and there, in a low stone hut with a turf roof, I laid out the poems and tried to whittle them down to a collection’s worth, but only ended up writing more poetry! It was there, with the scent of sulphur from the volcanoes on the breeze and the sound of the sea crashing on the hardened lava floes, that I wrote the poem about a young man on a double decker bus trying to use his mobile data to watch porn.

I then went down to the Amazon, to the city of Manaus, and stayed in a wooden cabin on the outskirts of the jungle itself. And there, amid mosquitoes and with the sound of the rainforest a constant buzz, I laid out the poems on the forest floor and decided on their order. Some of the pages got squashed insects on them, and the air was so humid that the ink began to blotch. And yet still the muse was calling to me. Surrounded by such biodiversity and the pungent aroma of the peaty earth, I wrote the poem about being trapped in the toilet at a motorbike museum.

I am so looking forward to unleashing this book on the world! There will be a show to accompany the book, and book launches planned both online, and for real!

(The book will be accompanied by a new solo show, Yay!: The Search for Happiness, which you can find out more about here : https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/03/21/yay-the-search-for-happiness-2/

On the road (The 2019 Hammer and Tongue Tour)

I was going through some old blogs recently and daydreaming about the days when a performance poet could travel anywhere and life was pretty much normal. Though to be honest, my life has never been normal! In 2019 I was asked to do the Hammer and Tongue tour, appearing in six different cities over nine days, and it was the most amazing adventure. I’d spend the day travelling, zigzagging across the UK, and in the evenings I’d perform to a different audience every night. I met such wonderful people. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have decided halfway through to spend the weekend at home in Devon! It probably would have been easier and cheaper to stay in Surrey with relatives.

So here are the blogs I wrote during that magical period, from Hackney to Bristol, then Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton, with an inexplicable hiatus in Devon halfway through!

The first blog was written in a Wetherspoons in Hackney the night after the gig, the night after sleeping in an office block!

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/03/on-the-road-and-looking-after-an-office-block-in-london/

The second blog was written the day after the gig in Bristol. I was on the train to Brighton when I wrote it.

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/04/thoughts-from-on-the-road-2/

The third blog was written in a hotel in Cambridge while I was at the buffet breakfast, watching what was going on around me and laughing at all of the foibles of human nature. I think by now, some kind of madness had set in!

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/06/more-thoughts-from-on-the-road-the-buffet-breakfast/

The last blog was written at my bed and breakfast in Southampton before the final gig.

https://professorofwhimsy.com/2019/04/10/final-thoughts-from-on-the-road/

The thing about lockdown is that it’s brought a very real sense of what living means to me. And this is the accumulation of memory and experience, and meeting people on the road. I can’t wait for things to get back to normal, but a part of me is worried that they never will be quite the same. As well as the Hammer and Tongue tour, 2019 also saw me at the Edinburgh Fringe, and fringes in Guildford, Reading and Barnstaple with my show about tea, and with my regular poetry set in Newcastle, Petersfield and Milton Keynes. Little did I know what 2020 would bring!

Ink to the Pen

Here’s an avant gard sound poem I used to perform back in the early 2010s. I was particularly pleased with this one, and then for some reason, promptly forgot about it for over ten years. While putting the Juicy album together, I went through some live recordings made by Bryce Dumont and found a version of it I’d performed at the Epicentre Cafe in Paignton.

Audio version: https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/ink-to-the-pen

Subsequently, Bryce has also incorporated the recording onto a Croydon Tourist Office track on the Epicentre Nights album.

Poem

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the pen to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the pen to the page to the mic.
Jink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Jink to the zinc to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.

An ode to sausage rolls

I’m a crusty pastry muncher,
I’m a bakery flakery luncher,
You can see the crumbs on my jumper.
I’m all hyped up on those fast food blues
I’m a king size two-for-one cruncher.
I’d lift a door right off its hinge,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

I’m the man Greggs warned their staff about,
A mad-eyed sneeze-guard lurker,
Jabbing a finger at that one, that one, no, that one,
You don’t understand, this is what a lunch hours for,
Just give me more.
Not on ounce of my life has a regretful tinge,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

The lad in the bakers gives me a wink I wonder why he’s so chummy
The sausage rolls that I just bought now deep down in my tummy
Baked pastry line astern crunchy and yummy and scrummy
Hyped-up whacked-out het up my trousers so very crummy
I stand in the bakery window very much like a clothes store dummy
Too hot from the oven, just don’t want to singe,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

I’m not one to stall
While on a bakery crawl
But they often close at five
It’s not fair and it’s quite cruel.
I often lose my cool
Like the sausage rolls which retain their heat for quite a while,
As a rule.
I’d consume them intravenously, delivered by a syringe,
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

Crumbs in the bag,
When it’s just the dregs
Basted with eggs
Like the ones in Greggs
But the questions begs
Have you got hollow legs?
Is this normal behavior
Or something from the fringe?
No!
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

It’s a calorific quite terrific
I’ve eaten so many I’m definitely prolific!
It’s a quite specific, scientific,
Mentioned by Egyptians on their hieroglyphics
Photographic, telegraphic,
What I’d like to do to one is borderline pornographic
In fact it would probably make you want to cringe
I’m on a lunchtime sausage roll binge.

Yay! The Search for Happiness

Robert is a poet. And he’s happy. Or is he? After the death of a favourite aunt, he decides to find out exactly what it means to be happy. He ends up as a poet-in-residence on a fish factory ship in a search for contentment on the high seas. What could possibly go wrong? Comedy and poetry collide head on in this new show from the Professor of Whimsy’.

Interview

Comedy performance poet Robert Garnham has been writing a show about happiness. It’s a project he started back in 2018.
‘It seemed to me that there was a lot of negativity around at the time’, he explains. ‘And let’s be honest, the news was always really depressing. It’s hard to be upbeat at times but I thought it would be nice to at least try. Of course, then things started getting even worse’.
During this time he was also preparing his third collection, ‘Yay!’, due to be published by Burning Eye Books in May 2021.
‘The agreement was that I would write and perform a show which I could tour in support of the book. Mind you, this agreement came about before the global pandemic and the various lockdowns’.
‘I started work on the show in April 2020. At the back of my mind was the cheerful thought that maybe by the end of the year, everything would be back to normal. Ha! But I kept writing, and then in September 2020 I started the process of learning the script and rehearsing, all the time unsure when it would ever see the light of day’.
So what is the show about?
‘The show tells a story of the main character’s search for happiness. He’s happy enough, but when his Aunt dies he realises that he needs to get to the root of happiness. He asks himself, can we ever be truly happy if we’re only going to snuff it? He becomes a poet in residence on a ship and interacts with the crew, all the time looking for those moments of happiness. Of course, things don’t go to plan, but he learns what works for other people. Relationships? Humour? Alcohol? Being kind? A sense of belonging?’
‘The show touches on matters of mental health, identity, kindness, and learning to listen. But not in a preachy kind of way. It’s a comedy, but there are serious undertones’.
‘The show is interspersed by poems from the new collection. Also, I’d made a conscious decision at the start of the process not to have any props or sound effects. I’d spent most of the last ten years touring the UK, lugging a big box of props around, and seriously, I’m getting too old for that kind of thing! But I thought it would be an amazing challenge, just to stand there with the mic, the words, and nothing else.’
‘Naturally, the show does not solve any of the problems of modern society. I just hope audiences will enjoy it as an hour of amiable poetry and storytelling, a bit of silliness and wordplay, and perhaps think about what it is that makes them truly happy’.
Yay: The Search for Happiness will be appearing throughout the UK and also be available to stream online in 2021.

Yay! Videos

I have a new book coming out in May published by those good people at Burning Eye, and with a lack of actual gigs, I’ve been making some videos of the newer poems to get them out into the world. And it must be said, I’ve had a huge amount of fun doing so! There are still a couple more ‘in the can’, as they say, but here are the one’s I’ve released so far. I hope you like them!

Seaside Soul

Shakka Lakka Boom

Dry-Stone Walling

My Mother is Banksy

My Mother is Banksy

All of those years I spent
Assuming that my mother was not Banksy
Were completely nullified
When I found the spray paints and stencils
In the potting shed.
No, I’m not Banksy,
My mother said,
And I hadn’t even been thinking that she was.
But I only thought that she was
When she said,
No, I’m not Banksy.

It’s the gritty urban depictions of life
In all it’s rich variety
Which previous to this she had only ever
Had cause to depict
In her crochet and flower arranging,
Now ingrained on those artistic
Renderings
On brick walls, she’s the
Voice of a generation, the
Conscience of a society
Feeding minds and souls the same way
She feeds with sausage rolls
And crisps.

Tracing s development of Banksy pieces,
They’re all on her bus route.
She has a stepladder for the tricky bits.
Why didn’t you tell me you were Banksy?
I asked.
I didn’t think you’d be interested, she replied.

And where did you get the name from?
Oh, I was in the bank, see.
I came this close to being called
Post Officey.

She had afternoon tea with Stormzy
The other day.
And he did the washing up, bless him.
And then she free styled with some hip hop
Grime lads
Incorporating a cracking recipe for steak pies.
I’m well jealous.
She never brings out the good China
When I pop round.

It’s hard being an iconic figure of mystique
And social conscience,
She sighed,
And keep up with my soaps.
But don’t you go telling anyone, now,
I’ll be ever so grumpy.
You can mention it in one of your poems, though.
They don’t get the same kind of exposure.
No offence.
Thanks, Muv, I replied.

She’s off again to Bristol this morning,
An early train, her tartan shopping trolley
Full of spray cans and it
Rattles on the cobbles, all those little
Bearings in the cans a symphony of hope.
It all started twenty years ago
When she wrote the word Bollocks
On the wall of the bus station for no reason.
Don’t get arrested, I said.
Coming round for a roast on Sunday?
She asked.

Lily Allen phoned.
Is your mum in?
She’s popped out, I replied.
Say no more, she said, wink wink.

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic

During 2020 I collated some of the hundreds (!) of hours of recordings I’d made since 2010 of my various performances all over the UK, and I put them in the form of a CD. It was a wonderful process revisiting some of the many gigs, especially the special ones, such as Raise the Bar in Bristol, or Scribal Gathering in Milton Keynes.

The process was helped somewhat by the fact that my friend (and fellow Croydon Tourist Office band member) Bryce Dumont had recorded some of my earliest appearances at his monthly Word Command events in Paignton, at his vegetarian cafe, Epicentre.

During this time I was much more experimental than I am now, veering from comedy to sound poetry to poems which made a lot of use of rhythm, word, syllables and sound. One of these early examples was a poem called ‘Ink to the Pen’, which, for reasons I’m still not sure, I only ever performed once. Indeed, I used a massive book in which I’d glued my poems and for an even weirder reason, I tore this poem out of the book to make way for a new one, and consequently, forgot about it for over ten years!

Hearing the poem again was remarkable, because it was like a present from my past self. And I must admit, I’m rather pleased with how it sounds! I included it on the album and you can hear it right here.https://robertgarnham.bandcamp.com/track/ink-to-the-pen

Poem

Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the pen to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the pen to the page to the mic.
Jink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the pen to the page to the mic.
Link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Zinc to the link to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.
Jink to the zinc to the kink to the drink to the pink to the sink to the wink to the think to the ink to the page to the mic.

Gasp.

Jonathan removed my antlers and said, ‘Not in here, the clientele are mostly Dutch’.

Yay! The show diaries (2.2.21-6.3.21)

This is what I’ve been up to for the last month or so with the show, if anyone’s interested!

(For progress up to this point see https://professorofwhimsy.com/2021/02/02/yay-the-search-for-happiness-diaries/ )

2.2.21

Line learning Sunrise.

3.2.21

Line learning linking material.

5.2.21

Line learning linking material. Also worked on the ‘poetry workshop’ scene and explored options of hearing or showcasing the poems. Thought about an audio section much like the ‘You Dunked Your Muffin . .’ Section where I say that I recorded the fishermen on my mobile phone. Decided to write the poems on paper and keep them folded in my pocket, (cleverly with the before and after lines written on the paper too!), thereby whizzing through a whole page of the script.

8.2.21

Rehearsed and went over last third of the show. Did a ‘table read’ of the final piece of long linking material, then re-wrote to shift the focus away from the Robert character ‘coming out’, and more to a confession of his love in keeping with the tone of the show. Tidied up and tightened the rest of the linking material which comes after the Sunrise poem.

9.2.21

Line learning linking material.

10.2.21

Chatted to film director John Tomkins about performing the show in Paignton to a select socially-distanced audience and him filming it and editing it professionally for streaming services and online fringe festivals. Also, line learning linking material.

11.2.21

Went out this morning in freezing wind with Mark to try and take some publicity photos for the show. Edited them. Spent the afternoon rehearsing and line learning. Just a couple of paragraphs to go!

12.2.21

Line learning linking material.

13.2.21

Line learning linking material.

14.2.21

Ran through almost the entire show from memory, with the exception of the last couple of minutes. Running time 55 minutes. Decided on a couple of ‘light’ rewrites.

15.2.21

Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material and more line learning.

16.2.21

Contacted Emily Appleton about taking some publicity photos for the show poster and to publicise the show and the book. Arranged for Sunday morning, weather permitting. Rewrote the last paragraph of linking material yet again! Line learning linking material.

17.2.21

Line learning Happy.

19.2.21

Line learning Happy.

20.2.21

Line learning Happy.

21.2.21

Looked at the end of the show, rewrote the last paragraph of linking material again. PThen looked at the last poem, wrote a new poem, ‘I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy’, and decided to make a medley with ‘Happy’ for the last words of the show, more fitting with the tone. The idea being I might put this poem on a postcard as an extra / bookmark for anyone who buys the book. Ran through sections of the show. Then off to Victoria Park skateboard ramps for a photo shoot with Emily Appleton for the show promotional material. Home, and re-worked the ‘You Dumped a Muffin in your Cuppa’ song, making it almost a minute shorter. Long day!

22.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m Happy.

23.2.21

Full show run through from memory, for the first time! 54 minutes. Decided to end the show after the final linking material but then carry on with I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy afterwards. This gives the option of substituting another poem.

25.2.21

More subtle rewrites to the end of the final linking material to make it sound more like an ending.

27.2.21

Line learning I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy.

28.2.21

Practising random parts of the show.

1.3.21

Full show run through, 53 minutes.

2.3.21

First real rehearsal session rather than line learning, played around with using a chair as a prop, marked up the scripts at moments where the chair will feature.

3.3.21

Exchanged emails with Paignton Palace Theatre about the possibility of using their black box space to film the Yay show without an audience for online fringe purposes. They emailed back to say yes, and free of charge!! (Well, they want some work off me in exchange).

4.3.21

Chatted to filmmaker John Tomkins about arrangements to film the show without an audience at the Palace Theatre and agreed terms, then chatted about the logistics. Next got in touch with the Palace Theatre and they said they could offer the actual theatre auditorium for filming purposes and let us use their sound / lighting engineer.

5.3.21

Worked on the publicity images sent by Emily Appleton to choose two or three as possible poster images for the show and images to send out with press releases. Then chatted to John Tomkins about the film version before listening to various bits of music as opening and closing music for the film version of the show. Had another rehearsal with the chair as a prop and also tried some choreography for the last poem, I Don’t Know Why I’m So Happy / Happy. Finally pondered on the idea of signing the ‘Becky’ poem myself and ran through it a couple of times.

6.3.21

Full run-through of the show singing the You Dunked a Muffin in your Cuppa song rather than playing the audio, and doing the whole show with movement, choreography and using the chair as a prop. Also chatted to Bryce Dumont about the possibility of using Croydon Tourist Office music for the start and end of the filmed version.

Squidbox

I spent the summer of 2020 getting to know the town of Brixham and its fishing industry, and what that industry meant to the people of this evocative Devon port. Meeting people whose lives and livelihoods depended on the catching of fish, and learning about historic events, wartime exploits, the role of women and the emotional and family effects of such a perilous industry, I wrote a series of poems which were published by Torbay Culture as ‘Squidbox’.

It was a particularly evocative project and one which is close to my heart. As a comedy performance poet, I don’t often get the chance to concentrate on serious matters, and it was a privilege to become part of a community. As a bit of background history, I moved to Devon in 1996 with my parents initially to the fishing port of Brixham, a place which, at the time, I knew very little about.

During the course of the project I met with trawler operators, fishing folk and other people who work in the industry, as well as the curator of Brixham Museum, where I spent time in the archives looking at the role of women, and the Belgian refugees who were welcomed into the town during the Second World War. I also spent time researching events from the First World War and the role that the trawlers played including skirmishes on the high seas with German U-boats. It was fascinating.

One of the more fun days was spending some time aboard the Adele, a small one person trawler operated by Tristan, who told me all about his job, the difficulties and risks, and also the biodiversity and environmental effects of global warming.

On a drizzly, wet and windy day at the start of the winter, I went down to Brixham harbour with film-maker John Tomkins and my producer Clare Parker, and we filmed general scenes of the harbour and myself reading some of the poems from my Squidbox collection. This really was a case of suffering for my art! Wearing two coats, and soaking wet, and with the rain rolling down my neck, I was filmed in a variety of locations around the harbour. The film can be seen here:

Soon after the project finished, Brixham was hit by the tragedy of the sinking of one of its trawlers with the loss of two crew members. I revisited the poems and wrote two new works, which reference the sinking, as well as a third new poem about the natural sea grass environment of Fishcombe Cove.

If you would like to order a copy of Squidbox, you can do so here: https://robertgarnham.bigcartel.com/product/squidbox

It’s been a wonderful summer being paid to write poems, which is not something that normally happens. I’d like to thank Torbay Culture for the opportunity, and the Arts Council who provided the funding. It was fascinating learning all about the history and culture of Brixham and the importance that the fishing industry has on the town and the people who live and work there.