Yay!

‘Yay’ is the title of my new book, to be published by Burning Eye, and my new solo show, both of which are due to come out in the Spring of 2021. I’ve been working on both of these projects for a couple of years and I thought I would explain what I’ve been up to.

‘Yay’ will be a collection of upbeat poems, most of which tell a story or deal with a very specific place. Some of them are a little bit silly, some of them are somewhat life affirming, some of them are downright weird! And all of them are comedic in tone. The whole collection has been designed to make you laugh or smile.

The collection was devised a couple of years ago when it seemed that the world couldn’t get any more depressing. Naturally, after I started working on the project, it then suddenly did! The book contains poems from In the Glare of the Neon Yak, and Spout, my two solo shows, as well as material from my new upcoming show which will accompany the book.

The show will be called ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’. It was written in the first few months of this year and I have begun the process of trying to learn the thing. Indeed, I have been working with a director, the wonderful Dr Maggie Irving, with some funding from Torbay Culture, and she has been instructing me in the art of mime, movement and body expression. Unlike my previous shows, ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’ will have no props at all, just myself and a microphone. So in other words, I need all the help I can get! The reason for this is simply that I wont have to lug bags and boxes of props all over the country.

I’m still working on the collection. At the moment I’m in the process of deciding which poems will definitely be included. And of course, new ones keep arriving. It’s a very exciting time at the moment!

I’m looking forward to getting the book and the show out there into the world. Fingers crossed, of course, that there will be a fringe circuit next year. But if not, I’ll find a way to bring Yay! to your town.

In the Glare of the Neon Yak

In the Glare of the Neon Yak was written between 2016 and 2017 having gone through several incarnations, starting as a show called Vestibule Dreams, about people standing at the end of a packed train and sharing their stories.

The story of the Yak is based on that of Herne the Hunter, the mythical ghost who used to haunt several places including Windsor Great Park, near where I grew up.

I took the show all over the UK to various fringes and festivals culminating in a run at Edinburgh. And in 2019 I did a live version with the Totnes jazz band Shadow Factory.

I’m thinking of dumping Sherlock

Today’s daily poem podcast is about someone deciding to end a relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

<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/im-thinking-of-dumping&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 48: I'm thinking of dumping Sherlock” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 48: I'm thinking of dumping Sherlock</a></div>

Arable Parable – On making out in a field

A saucy poem about the various things that can go wrong while making out in a field. For those who are that way inclined.

<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/arable-parable-making-out-in-a&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 47: Arable Parable – Making out in a field” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 47: Arable Parable – Making out in a field</a></div>

Some useful tips for performing performance poetry at performance poetry performance nights.

1. Sit at the back. Don’t sit at the front. If you sit at the front, when it’s your turn to perform you’ll be performing to an empty chair.

2. Also, if you sit at the back, the audience will clap for longer while you’re walking to the microphone.

3. If you are a prop poet and you bring a cow to the stage, don’t point out that you’ve brought a cow to the stage, because people can see that you’ve brought a cow to the stage.

4. Don’t milk it.

5. If you bring books to sell, beg the host for a slot in the first half. That way you can sell books during the interval and still have time to run off and get the train. Make sure you can change a twenty.

6. If someone says they like your stuff, they usually mean it. Sometimes they say it so that you’ll automatically reply that you like their stuff, but not always. Sometimes they’ll say it because you were awful and they feel sorry for you, but not always. But most of the time they mean it.

7. I mean, I think they do.

8. I’m pretty sure of it but you’ve got me thinking, now.

9. If it’s an open mic, spell your name legibly on the sign-in sheet. I usually end up being announced as Rupert Graham.

10. If you’re performing haiku, for gods sake, we all know what haiku are, so you don’t have to explain what a haiku is. Syllables and stuff. The explaining is usually longer than the haiku. Sodding haiku. Same goes for acrostics and villanelles.

11. Don’t get rat-arsed.

12. If you’re using props, check for light fixtures and obstructions.

13. I mean, is it me, or do haikus always seem like they should be longer?

14. If you want to have a laugh while performing, make eye contact only with one audience member, then glare at them, give them the old state, really freak them out.

15. It’s not a competition.

16. Well, except for slams. I forgot about slams.

17. Don’t give away all your poem in the introduction.

18. If you bow to the audience at the end of your set, don’t bang your forehead on the microphone. It bloody hurts.

19. The long walk back to your seat is still part of the performance. Maintain your aura. Try not to trip over handbags. And listen out, because the compere might make some wise-arse remark about you.

20. Always leave them wanting more. Try to do less than the time allocated. The host will love you for it.

21. Make sure your flies are done up.

22. Sitting at the back gives you a sense of mystique.

23. If you really want to infuriate the host, turn towards them almost at the end of your set and ask, ‘Have I got time for another two poems?’ They will always be too polite to say, ‘No, sod off’.

24. If there’s a mic, then don’t say, ‘Oh, I think I’ll perform without the mic. Can you all hear me?’ The people at the back who can’t hear you won’t hear you say ‘can you hear me’. For goodness sake, use the damn mic!

25. Not everyone enjoys the phrase ‘this poem requires some audience participation. Let’s practice, shall we?’

26. But poems with audience participation get stronger applause because the audience is clapping themselves, and most of them are relieved that they don’t have to do any more audience participation.

27. There really is no subtle method in plugging a book.

28. I reiterate, if you’re using props, then check for light fittings.

29, Don’t hold a massive folder in front of your face while you’re reading.

30. Practice at home, time yourself, and aim to do less than your allocated slot.

31. Talk to the other poets.

32. Look for the following: a poem about a cat, a poem in which the performer uses the expression ‘You have no right to tell me how I must feel, how dare you tell me how I must feel’, a poem in which the poet turns on the waterworks halfway through, a poem about some Ancient Greek myth which you’ve never heard about but then everyone laughs knowingly and you laugh too even though you have no idea what they were going on about, a poem which finishes with everyone just going, ‘Mmmmmm’, a poem about being a poet, a poem with a modern cultural reference or metaphor which everyone laughs about and again you join in even though you have no idea what they’re talking about, a poem in which the poet does that strange thumb and forefinger pinched motion as it plucking a finely tuned delicate word from the ether, another poem about a cat. There’s no wrong way to do it, but give yourself a point for each of these!

33. Enjoy the whole experience!

Poem for a friend who has come off the rails

Today’s daily poem podcast is about a friend who has come off the rails somewhat.

<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/videotomp31595319290691-m4a&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 38 : A friend has come off the rails” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 38 : A friend has come off the rails</a></div>

Asking for a bag at the checkout in the supermarche in Paris

<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/at-the-supermarche-in-paris&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 30: At the supermarche in Paris” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 30: At the supermarche in Paris</a></div>

Today’s whimsical poem is about asking for a carrier bag in a French supermarket.

An interview with Mary Dickins

When I first started performing I would travel up to London every month or so and perform at open mics. This was a great way to meet new people and see other poets. One of the biggest and noisiest nights was Bang Said the Gun, which took place at the Roebuck pub near Borough, and I would go often, sometimes just to sit and watch, and sometimes to perform.

It was at one such evening that I first saw Mary Dickins. I fell in love with her poetry immediately. Joyous, funny, an delivered in a deadpan that added to the comedy. We would later work together making TV adverts for a certain building society, and at one or two corporate events. Mary’s poetry has a joyful playfulness which masks a serious subtext. Well observed descriptions of every day life combine with a true poetic sense of wonder.

Mary’s book, Happiness FM, has just been published by Burning Eye, and I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to interview her.

How did you get into writing poetry?

I have a distinct memory of writing my first poem when I was four. It was a nonsense poem called “The man wrapped up in a Pin” and it rhymed. I was much more excited about it than the rest of my family. Throughout my life I’ve used poetry and creative writing as a therapeutic outlet but I saw it as more of a hobby and I never thought my work was ‘good’ enough for performance or publication until much later.

I’ve seen you loads of times performing on the London spoken word scene. How did you start performing live?
I have always been interested in the performance aspect of poetry and in my professional life was a conference speaker and lecturer but it wasn’t until I was 60 and attended an Arvon course run by Matt Harvey and Kate Fox that I got the confidence and self-belief to give my poetry a try. This led me to do open mic at the brilliant Bang Said the Gun and for the first time I experienced a really noisy and enthusiastic response. I thought that was wonderful and I wanted more.

Who are your influences as a poet and artist?
My influences are many and varied. I was very taken by the Liverpool poets and the irreverent breath of air that they brought to the poetry establishment in the 60s..  I was an early and devoted fan of John Cooper Clark and John Hegley and also poets such as Maya Angelou and Grace Nicholls. I am now an avid reader of all kinds of poetry and I think I probably take a little bit from everyone I like.

Your collection Happiness FM has a bright, upbeat feel. Was this a conscious decision at the start of the project?
I do feel that the best poetry is usually uplifting in some way so I suppose I do aim for that. I guess this evolved as I thought Happiness FM made a good title poem. My daughter Hannah designed the cover around that and together we aimed for an eye catching joyful feel. I was worried about the irony bringing out  a book with this title at a time when the vast majority of people were feeling singularly unhappy then I thought maybe it could bring a little joy into my readers lives.

You have a wonderful knack at finding the eccentric and the odd beneath everyday reality. How did you develop this quirky worldview?
Is it me that’s quirky? I always think it’s everybody else. I think that feeling excluded while growing up (long story) made me into an acute observer and gave me the ability to step back and view reality objectively. Let’s face it there is plenty about the world that is eccentric and odd so there is no shortage of ideas.

Your poetry can also be deeply serious. Do you think it is a poet’s duty to look at the bigger issues in society and life?
I’m not sure about the word ‘duty’ as this rather saps the enjoyment out of it. Poets describe and interpret the world around them and also chronicle the times they live in so the bigger issues are pretty hard for any of us to avoid. Exploring identity, for example, inevitably leads to us to examine and challenge existing values and systems. Poetry can be a powerful tool for change and personally I do like my poems to contain some kind of social comment however oblique. I think anyone with a public platform has a responsibility to try to make the world a better place and that includes poets. I want the poets I admire to have integrity and be truthful. But they should be allowed to express themselves as they choose.

What is your writing process? Do you have a specific time and place for writing?
I’ve never been very good at keeping to a self-imposed writing schedule although I can be disciplined and dogged if the situation calls for it. A lot of my writing takes place in my head and I find that 2am in the morning is the time when random ideas and solutions suddenly emerge. This means that the kitchen table is often littered with strange and obscure post it notes to self in the morning.  I find poetry courses and writing groups very useful as they give you homework deadlines and a reason to persevere.

What was your best ever gig as a performer?
It has to be when I won the Golden Gun at Bang Said the Gun a few years ago. I performed a somewhat blasphemous poem called “The Richard Dawkins Delusion by God” and Andrew Motion who was Poet Laureate at the time and also performing said how much he liked it. I floated home on the tube that night.

What are you working on at the moment or what will your next project be?
Well this is the rub. At the moment my biggest challenge as someone in a vulnerable category for Coronavirus is how to maintain a poetry presence and promote the book. Luckily there are online opportunities at the moment and I hope these continue as there are a few of us who might be stranded if they don’t. I have a number of new poems up my sleeve so I am looking towards the next collection.

What advice would you give someone who would like to follow on your footsteps and be a poet and a performer?
Don’t wait as long as I did but at the same time it’s never too late to start.

A poem about meditation

Poem

Every now and then I need to chill
Relax and be calm
Or so people say.
But I’m a placid fellow
And I don’t get easily stressed
And if anyone says I do
Then I’ll punch them.

Sometimes though, I get miffed
And I just want to hit a pig
With a tennis racquet
And watch it run off squealing
Through TK Maxx.
But we’ve all felt like that.
Pardon?
Yes!

A mate said I should meditate.
Meditate? Meditate!
Do you mean sit still for a bit?
(No, I mean meditate)
So it’s not just sitting there,
I can do that!
I can do bugger all
I can keep my month shut
If that’s what it is then I can do it
I can sit perfectly still
I can sit perfectly still while standing on me head.
James.
If that is your name.

He said
Concentrate on your place in the world.
I said,
You mean like when you’re queuing for the bus
And someone pushes in?
Oi, what you playing at?
Bastards, aren’t they?
Oooo, I hate it when they do that,
Honestly I do.

He said, no!
Meditate!
Just shut up for five minutes, listen.
I said, do I have to go OOM
He said, you don’t have to go OOM
I said, I went to go OOM
He said, fine, go OOM then,
Jeez, you’re hard work!

Just meditate,
Obscure the hate
Let out a sigh
And hold your head high.
Fall in to the zone
And hold your own.
I said, I’d rather hold someone else’s.
He said, that’s not helping!

Meditate, don’t say you can’t.
Think of a word and make up a chant,
A phrase which brings an instant relief
Now tell me that this chant might be.
And then I said to he:
If it hadn’t been for cotton eye joe,
I’d be married a long time ago.
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, cotton eye joe?
Do do do do do do do do do do!
And he said,
You’re a bastard, aren’t you?

Meditate!
Sit cross legged on the floor.
I said I can’t, the money
Keeps falling from my pockets.
He said, good,
Change must come from within.

Just meditate,
The way to mindfulness
Is to empty your head of all thoughts.
I said, how can it be both simultaneously
Full and empty at the same time?
He said, I know,
Weird isn’t it,
Though in your case
An empty mind won’t take too long.

Meditate, just meditate,
For goodness sake just meditate,
Why don’t you meditate, you
Feckless Bulbous eyed burger chomper,
Just meditate,
Why can’t you do it?
Just close your damn eyes
And bloody meditate!

I said, oooo,
Someone’s a little stressed aren’t they?
Now let’s have a nice cup of tea.

<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/just-meditate-dammit-wav&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 14 : Just meditate, dammit!” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 14 : Just meditate, dammit!</a></div>

The Lighthousekeeper

Today’s poem is about a quite randy lighthousekeeper. This poem is not for the faint hearted!

<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/robert-garnham-poems-trim-trim&#8221; title=”Daily Poem 10: The Lighthouse” target=”_blank” style=”color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;”>Daily Poem 10: The Lighthouse</a></div>