My hero: Professor Zazzo Thiim

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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, but 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 harpsichord smashing 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, entitled ‘Frank (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.

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Foibles in Guildford and Other Poetic Adventures

This week I felt really badly. For the first time that I can remember, I cancelled going to a poetry gig and performing. Taking the Mic in Exeter is a brilliant event which I love. But I was just so, so tired! I asked Tim if I could phone it in from home, but I was too tired even to do this!

The reason was that I had a gig the night before in Guildford at the excellent Pop Up Poetry, run by Janice Windle and Donall Dempsey, two enthusiastic and lovely people who I first met a couple of years ago on a previous visit. This time they asked me to do a twenty minute slot, and even better, my sister came along to watch. It was the first time she had ever seen me before, and I’m glad that I didn’t suck that night.

The audience were amazing and receptive and my set was greeted with applause and laughter in all the right places, even if I did emit a loud belch halfway through one of the poems!

The one drawback was that I had to get up at half four the next morning to get the train back to Deb’n. Hence my fatigue the next night when Taking the Mic rolled around.

It had been a week of performing. The Friday before I’d participated in the poetry tent at GlasDenbury. Yes, you read that write, a music festival in the small Devon village of Denbury. There were young people there, and they played the music terribly loudly, and the headliners were those mighty rock leviathans Dr And the Medics.

The best part of performing at a festival was the wristbands. I wore mine for two days afterwards to show everyone that I had two wristbands. The first said ‘Artist’. The second was proof that it over 18. You know, just in case it wasn’t too obvious.

And then the next day I was performing at Paignton Green for the Family Fun Day. I was with two poetry friends, Ellie and Brenda, and we all decided we would do family friendly material. Which was ok, except Brenda decided to edit as she went along, and quickly had to change a very dodgy line mid-poem from explaining exactly what she did with the cheese-cutter knickers to ‘and then something else happened’.

It was good performing in my adopted home town. Especially because there was just a two minute walk home. Unlike the Guildford gig.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the last few days. And now I’m working on the Poetry Island Anthology, which will be available very soon!

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Two Great Gigs

The last twenty four hours have been very busy for me. And do you know what, it’s actually quite good to be busy. Especially now that I have moved house, it feels like I am ready to tackle all sorts of things.

On Friday night I had the honour of hosting the Aesthetic Clarity annual awards and birthday party. Part of my chores for the event was to add up the votes for the various categories, so it was a bit of a responsibility, and one which I was very surprised they left to me. You know. I case I cocked it up. But I didn’t.

I did a couple of poems at the start of the evening. They were both well-received, which was good because it was a youthful audience full of talented singers, dancers and models. Either that or they were being sarcastic, but as a scientific research indicated this week, sarcasm is a sign of intelligence. They genuinely seemed taken by my work, which was nice.

This is the third time that I have worked for Aesthetic Clarity. The company is a modelling agency run by a friend of mine, the indefatiguable Toya Harvey. She is the most wonderful person, incredibly busy and ambitious, and because of this she is something of an inspiration to me. She regularly works to three in the morning, which is perhaps why she told me to man up when I complained that I was working on the script till almost eleven o clock! Toya has created a company which exists to fill its models with a sense of self-worth and to improve their esteem, and this happens. It actually happens. People with issues and problems are welcomed, and it really is delightful to see the transformation.

The evening also allowed me to work with The Freakboi, a good friend of mine and a fellow band member in Croydon Tourist Office. He played me his new rap. It mentions filou pastry.

And today, I did some street poetry out in the open in Torquay with Ellie Davies, Graham Chillcott and Brenda Hutchings. Our audience may have been small and fleeting, but we had the most amazing time, poeting away while some Spanish language students played football next to us in the hot sunshine. There were a few weird moments, like when Graham was interrupted full flow by a student who wanted to sell him a packet of crisps. And when a tourist advanced with their camera, only to ignore us and take photos of the town crier!

The town crier liked my Titanic poem.

It was all a part of the Riviera Fringe Festival, a brand new event for this year which is hoped will go from strength to strength. It’s co-run by an enthusiastic and hard working chap called Jay Fortune.

I caught the ferry home afterwards. I think it’s the only gig I’ve been to in which I could catch a boat there and back. I resisted the temptation to stand at the bow of the vessel and do that ‘I’m the King of the World, wahoo!’ line from Titanic.

I’ve got a busy week ahead, with Chris Brooks’ performance poetry course on Monday, the comedy night on Thursday, (in which I have a small slot), Glas-Denbury Festival on Friday and Family Fun Day in Paignton on Saturday. And as well as all that, I shall be putting the Poetry Island Anthology together!

So, here’s a poem for ye.

Poem

Being gay was all right,

But now I’ve discovered

Steak nights

At the Wetherspoons.

I think it’s solely responsible

For the fact that

I’m not nearly as homosexual as I used to be.

No more Gloria Gaynor!

No more Glee!

No more Chihuahuas!

I can’t remember the last time I

Bought some moisturiser

Or baked a quiche.

The excitement, risk and dare

Of dating and dancing and anonymous

Sex and rampant nights of

Hot hot heat pulsing actions and

Dextrous skill

Is not as overwhelming as the thrill

Of ordering a mixed grill.

I’m not as gay as I used to be.

It may sound like a mistake

But I feel just great!

For a start you don’t have to

Stay up so late.

Looking down at a plate

And seeing a steak

Makes me think I could almost

Pass as straight.

Almost.

I’m not as gay as I used to be.

I used to spend all night on the dance floor,

Spinning and gyrating, begging for more,

Dancing and prancing, I liked my sex raw

(Unlike steaks

Which I prefer medium rare),

Athletic men in their skin tight tops

Moving to the beat, soaking up the heat

So hot and saucy and fizzling and sizzling

And oozing various juices.

That’s it, over here, table 23

I’m not as gay as I used to be.

When people see me, they say I look ‘well’

By which they mean instead

That I look ‘well fed’.

A genial bloke, a jovial mucker,

A gay man trapped in the body of a trucker.

My promiscuous days may be history,

I’m not as gay as I used to be.

Instead of spending my nights

Giggling and gossiping and bitching

I now spend them

Mostly in the kitchen.

Instead of cuddling up on the sofa

Cooing and laughing and loving

My ultimate aim now is for

A sausage and egg McMuffin.

Instead of looking for the ideal man

I’m looking for the burger van.

Instead of making love

I’m making pizza.

Instead of handcuffing and whipping a man

I’m whipping up a meringue.

Instead of a one night stand

I’ve got a cake stand.

With lots of cakes on it.

Instead of feeling that buzz of excitement

In my groin

I’m ordering a sirloin.

The only thing that’s the same, I suppose,

Is that I really like sausages.

I’m not as gay as I used to be.

Last night,

For the first time in ages

I met a man

He was called Phil

We started to have some fun

But halfway through he suddenly left

At the exact moment that I asked him,

Phil,

Is everything all right with your meal?

I then changed the oil on a Ford Focus

And watched some football.