Uncut Poets, Exeter

Ok, so it was like this.

I went to Uncut Poets last night in Exeter. And it was good. Very good. A page poet night of ‘readings’ rather than a performance poetry night, the quality of writing was amazing.

The only trouble was, I took a friend.

I tried to put him off. I told him how ‘dreary’ it would be. ‘Not at all like Poetry Island’, quoth I. ‘You wont enjoy it’. Because I knew he wouldn’t. He’d sit there grumpy and moaning all the time about how slow people talked and how nobody would be doing any comedy poetry.

And how nothing rhymed.

So we get there after an hours train journey and I get him a lager and the night begins. The poets are brilliant. Astounding wordsmiths, worthy and heavy, deep emotional, plaintive, everything was going on. But Mark played computer games on his phone.

Now, as off putting as this was, I at least thought it would help him get in to the seriousness of the night. Next thing I know, the headliner is on and Mark is snoring.

The interval began. We arranged to split up. Mark would wait for me in the bar, I’d stuck it out with the Uncut mob. And indeed, we did do this. I stayed and listened to the poets, Mark sat in the bar and got bladdered.

As the night drew on I realised that I would have yo leave before the end to get the last train home. As quietly as I could, I began filling my bag, putting things away, putting on my coat. Only I didn’t realise that Mark’s lager had spilled slightly and made the floor sticky. When I lifted up my bag, right at a moment if poetic introspection from the current reader, my bag made a sudden and very loud ripping sound.

I met Mark in the bar. He was quite merry and a bit wobbly. We got the hell out of there.

But it was a good night. The poets were amazing and inspirational and I can’t wait to go back and perform again. ( I perform rather than read). Only this time I might go alone!

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

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.

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.

My biggest poetry influence : Professor Zazzo Thiim

I owe it all to Professor Zazzo Thiim

I’ve been writing poetry now for the best part of ten years. Yet my foray into the world of ‘comic’ verse did not come completely by accident.

There is one man who came before who showed me that performance poetry was a real art form and worthy of investigation. Indeed, when people ask who my influences are, (which, come to think of it, has only ever happened once), I often reply ‘Frank O’Hara, and to a greater extent, Professor Zazzo Thiim’.

Who is Professor Zazzo Thiim? Notwithstanding several attempts by many in the Californian poetry community to attribute the invention of performance poetry to their particular clique, or the claims of those within the British poetic movement to assign invention of this genre to those from various diverse backgrounds both cultural and symbolic, there remains a theory within the English departments of some major university establishments that the invention of ‘performance’ poetry can be traved to the moment in June 1953 when Professor Zazzo Thiim accidentally sat on a harpsichord while reciting the works of Tennyson. Indeed, it was seen as the most whimsical and amusing moment of the Basingstoke literary season, mainly on account of the audience reaction – (sheer disbelief mixed with a fair amount of loathing) – and the apparent embarrassment not only of Thiim himself, but also the Mayor, and Arthur Miller, to whom the harpsichored belonged. There were immediate appeals for a repetition of Thiim’s groundbreaking (and harpsichord-breaking) work. Indeed, he was asked to perform it on the radio (to general acclaim), and before the Ambassador to the United States, (who turned out to be just a man in a hat who was passing by). Performance poetry was born.

Thiim was astounded by the fact that he had invented an entire new genre. He began writing his own verse, which he would perform either sitting on a harpsichord, astride a harpsichord, while playing a harpsichord, while lying on a harpsichord, and finally, while lying underneath a harpsichord. This lasted for six years, until a colleague is said to have inquired of him, ‘What is it with you and all these bleeding harpsichords, anyway?’ He turned up at the next poetry event with a mouth organ. Throughout this time, not only did Thiim write poems to fit in with his harpsichordsmashing regime, but he also began to dissemble and play around with the poetic form. Working in unison with the University of Staines, he looked at poems in more detail than any other literary practitioner until he acquired a reputation as a literary and poetic experimenter. Poems were shot from cannons. Poems were jumped up and down on. One poem was whispered to the Queen, who was asked to ‘pass it on’. (She didn’t). One poem, entitledFrank (23 ½ Seconds of Silence)’ was performed as twenty three and a half seconds of silence. And another, ‘Frank (23 ½ Seconds of Silence with a Brief Interlude)’, was an extended version of the first but with a slight clearing of the throat in the middle. ‘Frank’ was a poem performed with a tambourine with the eminent professor repeating the word ‘scones’ over and over, finally ending the consuming of a whole scone live on stage, while ‘Frank’ consisted of the Professor shouting out the words ‘I do not believe in Aberystwith’ while pouring yoghurt over his head. One of his most famous poems, ‘Frank’, received some notoriety when it was discovered that it had been the last work read by Tony Blackburn before his debut on Radio One. And of course, who can forget the stirring moment when one of his better known poems, ‘Frank’, was included in the first space probe sent out by the Belgians?

There has been of course some question as to why the Professor should have , entitled all of his poems ‘Frank’. But as the good professor has pointed out on numerous occasions, all titles are essentially meaningless and spoil the anticipation of a poem or a work of art. Just look at ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. ‘Frank seemed as good a name as any. Do we enoy the Professor’s poems today? Naturally. As the performance poetry scene goes from strength to strength, the work of Professor Zazzo Thiim has been cited by many, including myself, as their main inspiration for taking to the stage. In areas where performance poetry is popular, there has also been a marked increase in sales of harpsichords, and there can be no other reason why this is so than the enduring legacy of Professor Zazzo Thiim. It also helps that he was something of a nutter

On being forty.

Tomorrow I shall be forty years old.

This is very scary not least because I remember my Dad being forty. I was a Scout at the time, and my Dad was one of the Scout leaders. One day after Scouts my mother came to pick me up, and she made sure he wasn’t looking before writing on a blackboard in big letters, ‘Bosun is Forty in January’.

It’s never struck me as unusual that I share the same birthday with my dad and my uncle and also my Grandfather. That’s three generations all born on the same date. In different years,of course. But 2nd January has always been ‘Birthday Day’ in our family and for me it seems somewhat weird that people have their birthdays on other days. My friend the performance poet and comedian Chris Brooks also has his birthday on this day. Which kind of just proves my point.

But forty seems very old. Especially that I feel much younger. I spent the whole of the last decade in academic work, with a-levels, undergraduate and postgraduate, which all ended in 2012, and now my time is taken up with writing comedy poems and performing them while wearing silly hats and dressing as robots. As a result of this, all of my friends are much younger than me, which in turn makes me feel younger. I’m down with the yoots. I can high five with the best of them. I know who’s at number one in the charts and I’ve seen Family Guy.

A result of this is that people are getting old all around me. The people I went to school with are mostly slap heads now. Yet my hair obstinately refuses to recede. I worked out that a lifetime of hair products, hair cuts and shampoo will cost me several thousand pounds, money which the slap heads won’t have to fork out for. It’s just not fare.

Forty years old. It’s frightening. Everyone has been very kind and saying things like, ‘it’s not that old, not really’. And the one of my yoot friends texted yesterday to say, ‘Ha ha, you are so old!’ I was so grateful to him.

So what’s my plan for next year? To get even younger? No. Just to keep plodding along. Write some poems. Wear silly hats. Make the occasional wisecrack.

Anyway. Here are some poems I’ve been working on. Best wishes for the next year, everyone. See you soon!

Poem

Today I feel very distracted.
I like greenhouses.
I wonder when my
Is that a rhododendron?

Poem

Piers are great, I love the way they elongate.
Pies are great, I love the way they taste.
Pi is great, I love the way it goes on and on
Unlike this poem.

Poem

Duck, I said.
I know, he said.
Quack quack, he said.
Knocked him on the head.

Poem
Helen’s got an X-ray goat.
It’s just like a normal goat
But with X-ray vision.
Or so Helen said.
She keeps it in a shed
To protect the modesty of the other goats
Some of whom object
To its X-ray vision.

I asked Helen
How she came about
This goat with supernatural clout.
She said she found it in a field
Looking at a horse
Strangely.
And later it turned out
That he horse had eaten a flip flop.

What are you going to do
What are you going to do
What are you going to do
With an X-ray goat, I asked.
And Helen beamed that famous grin
And said she was hiring it out
To Exeter Airport
In order that it search for bombs.
I asked what it would do
If it found a bomb
And she said
‘It will probably run away’.

It also shoots lasers
Out of its horns, she said.
Last Thursday it ignited a barn.
I had to remove the combine harvester
And two roosters.

That night we made sweet love
But I was put off by the X-ray goat
Glaring up at the bedroom
All night long in the yard,
Just staring up, staring up, staring up
At our bedroom.
It does that, she sighed.

In the morning, she continued,
Remind me to show you my fire-breathing donkey.