Poem titles. Are they really necessary in a performance?

Last time I met up with some poetry friends we had a big old debate about whether or not, before reading or performing a poem, you should tell the audience what the title is.

We have all been to readings and performances where the poem spends about half a minute explaining what the title is, where he got the idea for the title from, and what other titles he might have used. Then he might compare it to titles by more famous poets. Or he might say that this poem is a homage to a certain theme. ‘This poem is called ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Brian’.
It’s true that the title is important and a mini work of art in it’s own right, with certain strictures and rules of grammar. Titles are pure concentrated literature. But they’re not always necessary.
The way I see it, there are several schools of thought. With some poems, the poem is an integral part of the whole performance and understanding of the poem. It might be called something like, ‘How to Tickle a Badger’, in which case the content of the poem would be meaningless without the poem.
Some poems have titles which are also the first line of the poem. ‘This poem is called, ‘I Went to Basingstoke, 
And there were a lot of people there.
And most of them had hair’.

  

And so on.
I’ve seen plenty of poets fretting because they have bad titles for their work, or they are not happy with the titles they have chosen, or they can’t think of a title. When I first started performing, I was hopeless at titles, so I called all of my poems ‘Frank’. This seemed a clever strategy, until so many people kept asking who Frank was that I changed all of my poems to ‘Poem’. And this has kind of stuck now, even though the poems have titles which I keep to myself. ‘Beard envy’. ‘Camp cat’.
Professor Zazzo Thiim once opined that the point of going to a poetry night was to luxuriate in the titles and then get rat arsed in the bar. He explained that the titles are the only thing he can remember when he gets home. This is not terribly helpful advice and merely adds pressure to those who fret over titles.
Some of the most convincing performances are those where no title is given. The poet just launches straight into the poem. It’s not as if people will cheer when they hear what poem is going to be read out. Poetry crowds aren’t like that, although I did once almost cause a riot at a Pam Ayres performance.
So the thing is, it’s not compulsory to read out the title. It’s too much like a school essay reading competition if everyone does it. It’s great to have some variety. And of one or two here and there don’t do it, we can all get home a couple of minutes sooner.
Poem


I never knew, he said,

You’re not flamboyant, or anything.

In fact you look like a normal bloke,

Jeans and a Tshirt,

That’s what normal blokes wear isn’t it?

Jeans and a Tshirt.

Maybe not a Gloria Gaynor Tshirt.

I thought your proper ones were in the wash.


So we’re still going to be friends, right?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

So you’re still going to like

Cheeseburgers?

And action films?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

You’re not going to start dancing to

Kylie, and wearing foundation,

Are you?

You’re not going to start baking quiches,

Are you?

You’re not going to start

Wearing scarves

And buying cushions

And calling people ‘darling’,

Are you?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

Are you?

You’re not going to start fancying me,

Are you?

I mean that’s disgusting.


Isn’t it?


I always suspected it.

I could tell by the way you eat sausages.

I could tell by the way you fondle tangerines.

I could tell by the way you would stop talking

Whenever Adrian Chiles came on the tv.

I could tell by the way you knew instinctively

What colour lampshade to buy.

That can’t be taught.

It’s genetic.

I could tell by the way you would

Dance like a camp dinosaur

Flappy handed

Floppy fringed camp dinosaur

Side step shuffle floppy floppy

Camp camp dinosaur

That’s how I could tell.

Hello, I’d say to myself,

Hello,

What’s going on here, then?

Camp camp dinosaur.

I could tell by the Gloria Gaynor Tshirt.

Have I already mentioned that?


I don’t know why you told me, though.

Things were fine the way they were.

It explains why you weren’t so keen

On that film last week.

That excellent film.

That excellent lesbian porn film.

That excellent classic of it’s genre,

Hot Girls Gagging For It

During which you did the crossword.

I couldn’t understand why

You didn’t like the lesbian porn film.


I understand now, though.


But I’ll still be your friend,

Your buddy, your mate.

We’ll still do the things

That normal lads do.

All the usual japes and hi jinks,

The usual mucking around,

The usual rough and tumble,

The same old playfulness and manly

Shenanigans, the same old

Roister-doistering, the same old

Mock-serious play fighting,

Rolling and tumbling,

Hand to hand physical matey

Bonding that we always did,

The same old faux-serious

Slap and tickle and giggling

Like exhausted schoolgirls floppy tired

Little puppies slumbering together

On your bed semi naked

Because it’s so hot


Why couldn’t you tell me?

You’re not flamboyant, or anything.

How was I to know?

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Poem (for Katie Hopkins)

Poem (Katie Hopkins)


Once upon a time

There was an evil monster

Whose ferocity was fed

Not by those it maimed

But by the pumping buzz

Of publicity and sound bite,

Controversy and sheer big-headed

Attention-seeking desperation

And it was called 

Katie Hopkins.


And the more it fed the more

It scratched at the surface of

Polite society hoping that the

More damage it inflicted

The greater it’s substance would be

Only to find with each

Deep vicious cut

That people merely laughed at it.


How it scowled at the world

Like a mardy shark

Spoiled not by circumstance

But by the slow drip of publicity

Which it mistook for adulation.

How it fed so ravenously

On the eternal circle of

Jaded misguided opinion and response,

Prejudice disguised as truth.


Oh, Katie Hopkins,

Like a bad busker on the

Pedestrianised high street of proper debate,

A sad singer wailing at the world

Having only made 10p.


You’re like the kid in the quiet cul de sac

Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Starting to become a nuisance.

Looking out from the window,

There she is again.


Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Back and forth, hither and thither,

Whizzing up and down on her skateboard

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.

Get off that skateboard, Katie Hopkins.


I like to think it’s an act.

No-one can be so stupid.

I like to think that you

Meet up with your friends

And you’re perfectly normal,

As easy going as the rest of us, 

Hoping that one day we will all realize

That it’s a silly joke,

A grotesque parody,

Somehow revealing our own

Misgivings and

Actually adding something to the world.


Oh, Katie,

You vain fickle brained warthog,

You gloating flap mouthed pimple,

You xenophobic motley-minded weasel,

You rank vomit-inducing ne’erdowell

With a face like a permanently surprised frog,

You toxic, provocative, class-conscious, 

suspiciously orange

Arse.

It’s like you’ve seen that Farage bloke and thought,

I’d like a piece of that,

Though he’s far too left wing for my liking.


It can’t be like this, surely,

It can’t be.

Yet a part of me suspects that it is.

If you didn’t exist,

Then we’d have to invent you.

And that, I suspect,

Is what’s already occurred.



   

Flying in to London. Double lush!

Flew in to London yesterday from Exeter. Amazingly, it was cheaper than the train. The secret of this is not to have any luggage.

But there’s also a childish delight for me in flying instead of getting the train. I’ve always been a fan of flying, whether short haul or long haul or just popping up in a small Cessna. I love flying and everything to do with it.

It wasn’t the worlds longest flight. Within ten minutes we were over the Isle of Wight, and within fifteen minutes the pilot announced that we had begun our descent into London. The pilots name was Captain Shackleton. Could there have been a more appropriate name for a pilot? Kind of neutralized the effect of seeing that the aircrafts registration was G-JEDW, which immediately made me think of Jedward.

There were only 23 people on board and I was one of them. There were only two of us sitting anywhere in the front ten rows. I’d booked a seat where I could look at the engines and the wings, but the book in desk asked me to move to the front of the plane with special responsibility for the emergency exit door. The stewardess gave me a run down on how to use it. Pull down on this handle, she said, while pulling down on the handle. Remove the door and then throw it out of the aircraft. I couldn’t help noticing, once she’d finished, that the handle was still pulled down a bit and I spent the rest of the flight wondering if the door would suddenly open. Not that we ever gained enough altitude for depressurization.

The stewardess and I bonded and I really did wonder what would happen if I’d been one of my straight friends, for she was undoubtedly very beautiful and a lesser man would have taken her constant chit chat as flirting. Indeed, she chatted to me while Captain Shackleton made an announcement about being early. ‘We’re early’, he said, ‘Which is good news. So we are just going to wait for four minutes so that we are on time’. ‘Well then’, the stewardess said to me, ‘We’re not early then, are we? Captains are always saying things like that’.

We flew over Bognor. It reminded me of summer holidays as a child to Bognor. Sitting in a car with the windscreen wipers going,looking out at an angry sea, drinking tea from a flask. We flew over Hever Castle, and then the suburbs of London. And then London itself, swinging over the centre in a wide arc, skimming over the top of Canary Wharf and that silly cable car thing they’ve put in. ‘Nice, isn’t it?’, the stewardess said to me, as she strapped herself in. And then Captain Shackleton kind of flumped us down on the runway at London City.

It’s sunny in London and the world seems a place full of mystery and magic. I know that this will soon wear off but I’m wondering how much of that has to do with the fact that I got here on a Bombadier Dash 8. 

Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work

Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work. 

Earlier today I posted this message as a blog:

“I shall be having coffee in the coffee shop on the harbour in Brixham. I will be the one with the notebook.

But you already know that. “

 The reasons for this weren’t that I’d lost my mind. In fact, it’s quite simple. It was a message to the future, to future generations who might be looking at my various writings and journals and trying to decide on a good moment to go back in time and meet up with me.

Indeed, going to the coffee shop this morning might have been the start of something big. An experiment combing poetry and literature with physics and science, logistics, perhaps even religion. Time travelers from future generations would come in, in their tens, perhaps hundreds, and I’d buy them all a decaf cappuccino and chat about life in general. And then perhaps they’d let me pop back with them a bit further and go disco dancing with Dorothy Parker. How fun it would be! So when I left for the coffee shop this morning down to the harbour in this strange little fishing town, I took a bag with me and an extra pair of pants, just in case.

And do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Nobody turned up. I even ordered an extra flapjack in case at least one person arrived, but there was nobody. The only other people in the coffee shop were Welsh holiday makers, and nobody was wearing bright space clothes or futuristic fashions. Unless the Welsh holiday makers were from the future, in which case it looks like flat caps are making a come back in the year 2525.

Nothing.

The only thing I can deduce from this is that in the future I become so well known that people don’t want to meddle in my time line to ensure that I really do stand over the world with my arms folded, omnipotent, wise and celebratory.

If there are any time travelers reading this, you mucked it all up. I will be lingering in the car park at work tomorrow for five minutes but I’m not holding my breath. And if you want a flapjack when you arrive, well, you can just bring your own.

While I was at the coffee shop, I wrote a poem.


Poem


In a rocky cove,

With a bonfire,

The surfers have one of their

All night sex driven drug fueled raves.


Alright, lads?

Mind if I just

Squeeze myself in here.

No joint, thanks,

But I wouldn’t say no

To a nice cup of tea.


Orange quivering light

And silhouetted dancing

On rock formation outcrops.

Beach-bronzed, board-weary,

They fumble in the rucksacks

For PG Tips

And one of them confides to me

That he likes the way I think.


I retune their radio,

Blotting out their techno pump

And we listen to Bed At Bedtime.

He soft burr of Richard Wilson

Reading Graham Greene’s

Travels With My Aunt

Wisping out across the

Flat calm sea.

Builders in Sicily found these ancient texts. You wouldn’t believe what happened next!

As you know, I have always seen myself as something of an innovator in the field of poetry. Aided by the eminent Professor Zazzo Thiim, I have explored the heights and the depths not only of poetry but also spoken word. Interpretative methods and matters of composition have been prodded and poked, rattled and dissected until there’s nothing left but random punctuation and a hell of a mess all over the dining table.

But now this inquisitive mind of mine has dived deep into the past and ushered by Thiim and a few of my local poetry colleagues, I have not only discovered, but resurrected a form of poetry long lost.

In a farm in Sicily recently there were excavations linked to the famed missing pearl necklace seemingly the inspiration for that worn by Marge in The Simpsons. Two teams of competing bounty hunters dug day and night around the barn and next to the cattle shed but no pearl necklace was found. However, one of them dug up some ancient manuscripts, and opining, quite rightly, that these weren’t nearly as exciting as the pearl necklace, flung them on the compost heap.

Yet these manuscripts contained the world’s first scribblings in the long forgotten poetic style, the decadocahedronic double quatrain.

By means of donkey and a backhander to their boss, these manuscripts were obtained by Thiim, who verified them as work of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello, the eleventh century monk and scribe whose poetry also resulted in the invention of the sonnet, and also, in culinary circles, the egg whisk.

The decadocahedronic double quatrain is relatively simple in construction and the rules for their composition are easy to remember. The rhyme scheme is ABAB BABG. Where the G comes from is anyone’s guess, but Capello was known to be a maverick at a time when most mavericks were burned at the stake. The meter is iambic, of course, because anything other then iambic pentameter was thought to cause madness in goats. It is the syllable stipulations where the decadocahedronic quatrain comes into it’s own.

1st line 5 syllables

2nd line 6 syllables

3rd line 16 syllables

4th line 11 syllables

5th line 2 syllables

6th line 18 syllables

7th line 63 syllables ‘or as closeth as one might reasonably fathom’

8th line 3 syllables.

Capello is known only to have ever written one poem in this style, the famous ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But he added one other stipulation, and this is that the decadocahedronic quatrain must always mention someone called Mandy somewhere in it’s content.

The fact that he only ever wrote one decadocahedronic double quatrain provokes many in the poetic community to conjecture that he only came up with the syllable count once his own poem was finished so that it automatically conformed, and that then he just couldn’t be arsed to write any more. Alas, due to copyright reasons and a promise of a knuckle sandwich from the curator of the British Museum, I cannot publish here the ‘Ode to the Rear End of my Prize Cow’. But fret not, for I have had a bit of a bash at writing a decadocahedronic double quatrain myself.

So sit back, and let this remarkable verse take you once again to Sicily, and the genius of Ivan ‘Papa’ Capello.

Poem


I shall go to Kent.

It is a place I like.

It’s about time I pulled my finger out and packed my bags and went.

I shall then ask my really good friend Mike

Or Brent

If they would like to go to this magical place and ride a motorbike

Because I’ve often wished it would be beneficial to many in the wider artistic community to gather ones objects and belongings and make a pilgrimage to a place where small annoyances are, and stay in a two man tent.

Or not.

Ok, so I’ve only just realized that I missed out the obligatory mention of Mandy. But it’s not bad for a first attempt and Thiim himself said that it brought a tear to his eye. He’s off for a lie down, now. I hope this becomes viral. I’ve got washing up to get on with.

  

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