I’m a poet and I’m not at Glastonbury.

Hello.I’m a poet, and I’m not at Glastonbury.

Not many poets are at Glastonbury so it’s really not a surprise that I’m not there, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I want to be there because it’s all on tv anyway. It’s a bit like going to a motor race. You miss most of it if you actually go, and then there’s the traffic jams to contend with, and the last time I went to a motor race the person in front of me kept smoking a pipe.

But afterwards I was able to tell everyone that I’d been, and there was something about the sounds of the cars that made it all worthwhile.

Glastonbury comes round every year. And the tv schedules fills up with coverage and there are some damn good bands but most of them I’ve never heard of. That’s probably because I’m getting old, and Ken Bruce only plays certain types of music these days. I’m rather excited about FFS performing on Sunday, but I expect they won’t put it on tv.

The thing is, though, there’s a poetry stage there, and the poets who get picked are always seen as the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the up and coming and the big names, and part of me wants to be listed among them even though another part of me knows that I probably aren’t as good as they are. They’re all young and trendy and enthusiastic and I’m only one of those things, or they’re older and more established and worshiped and I’m only one of those things, too. 

So they haven’t asked me to go and perform at Glastonbury. They wouldn’t even let me be the person who says ‘One two one two’ before the proper poets come on. Because apparently that counts as a poem.

So I’m caught in this weird mix of not wanting to be there at all, and wanting to be there. I know that if I was there, I’d probably show no interest in the music or the camping or the activities or the subculture or the alcohol or the whole ethos of it, though I probably would make a handy reference map for the other performers of where the best burger vans are. Is probably just mooch around the poetry area like a ghost. Muttering under my breath. 

I’m not at Glastonbury this year. In fact, I’m at work tomorrow, and I’ve got to do the Saturday figures and there’s loads of stuff needs doing in my day job, and I think there’s some motor racing on tomorrow on ItV4.

I’m not at Glastonbury.

But I went past it on the train, once.

The Singular Conundrum of High Concept Poems

It’s funny the way things go. Poems, I mean. I often feel that the best poems are created when two or more ideas come together, and this always excites me. And indeed, some of my best loved poems and the ones I love performing the most are these types.
Yet lately I’ve had a trouble with three or four poems which have been perplexing me greatly. And these are conceptual, a conjoining of several themes and ideas. Indeed, part of the problem seems to be that they are purely ‘concept’ poems and as a result they exist more as mathematical experiments, scientific poems with no heart.
Take the one I’ve been working on lately. It’s called Poem’, but it also has the subtitle, ‘I can’t believe you would rather go rock pooling than come with me to the circus’. The moment I started working on this I felt rather proud of it and several verses seemed to write themselves, and at the end of each day I’d relax, happy with my efforts and my intellectual prowess at having created something so wonderful as a poem about a couple arguing over going rock pooling or going to the circus.
And then I put it aside for a while.

And then when I read it again, it felt me cold. I mean, the whole idea of it, the poem seemed too forced.
I think the problem was that it was not speaking from my heart. I have no interest in either circuses or rock pooling, I just liked the idea of these concepts being forced together. I didn’t care about the characters in it. All of the references to rock pooling and circuses seemed forced.
This doesn’t mean that the poem is dead. Far from it, the whole thing is very much alive, even if it currently resembles an old car in a garage, in several bits all over the floor. It’s become like a puzzle which has to be solved, and I’m looking forward to getting underneath its skin!
There are two other poems. They are so old that they’ve been following me around for years. Indeed, one of them gave me the title for my first book. ‘Sofa Phobia’ is a true poem about my own phobia of common sofas, and ‘Moist Robot’ is about a robot which sweats a lot. It seems that every few months I might rewrite one or both of these. The problem, again, is that they seem too high concept.
But I’m plugging away at them.
So for now, here’s another high concept poem which I might come back to. It’s about tortoises.

WAKE UP TORTOISE WAKE UP
Bringing the tortoise out of hibernation.

Wake up tortoise wake up.

Four months of slumber now he’s ready for the summer.

Wake up tortoise wake up.

Enmeshed in hay, time to see if he’s okay

Wake up tortoise wake up.
All winter tiptoeing around the bastard.

Don’t wake the tortoise, that’s what I kept repeating,

Shaking my fist at low flying planes

And castigating anyone who sneezes loudly

That amorous couple upstairs

Whose lovemaking wakes me,

Banging on the walls shouting, Don’t wake the tortoise!

To which she shouts back,

That’s what I’ve been trying to do all night!

And he replies, That’s it, you’ve put me right off, now.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Your life is a mystery, Mister Tortoise,

You don’t tell me anything about yourself.

All those years I spent

Trying to get you to come out of your shell.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Your such a good imparter of wisdom.

We hang on your every word.

I’ve never forgotten the lessons that you taught us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or those shopping expeditions,

The things that you bought us,

Mr Tortoise.

Or the fishing trips to the riverbank

The things that you caught us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or the myriad of times we were lost

And you sought us

Mr Tortoise,

Or the times that we fell out

And you fought us,

Mr Tortoise,

Or that lovely iron gate

That you wrought us,

Mr Tortoise.

You look nothing like a porpoise,

Mr Tortoise.

(I’ve run out of rhymes).

Wake up tortoise wake up.
I hope you don’t mind

But my mate Jeff borrowed you

Mid January

And gaffer taped you to his forehead

So he could go to a Star Trek convention

As a Klingon.

He met Uhura.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
You just sleep there,

Don’t worry about me.

You just have yourself a little snooze,

I’ve got figures to crack on with,

And a job and rent to pay

And a boss who’s got a face like a 

Warthog with a slapped arse

And an ex who keeps

Sitting outside my flat

In his Mazda

You just sleep there tortoise tortoise 

Slumbering through Christmas which means

You missed my aunt getting drunk on sherry

For the eighth straight year

And all those repeats

You just sleep there

I’m okay

Because the earth it spins on it’s axis

And the stars align one more time

And the seasons crack on as if fate

Were but a ghost hanging with a finger

Outstretched saying, hey, you,

Your life on this earth is but a fraction of a second,

A minusule nothing in history.

Wake up tortoise wake up.
Wakey wakey

Tortoise tortoise

Reminds me

I must go out some time

And buy a 

Cornish pasty.

The Shivering House

Here’s a happy little short story I wrote a long, long time ago when I was a member of Paignton Writers’ Circle. I hope you enjoy it!

The house keeps on shivering.

I’ve called for a builder in order that he might assess the problem, and he recommends a doctor. The doctor didn’t know what to do himself, although he prescribed some pills because of a nasty rash in the kitchen near the microwave, and he also wondered why there was a patch of stubble in the hall.

‘Do you ever shave the floors?’, he asked, somewhat accusingly.

‘Of course not!’, I laughed. ‘Why would I do such a thing?’

‘I just thought you might be one of those house-rights activists. They have such weird beliefs. Shaving a house, they often say, gives it some dignity’.

I pointed to the floor of the living room where we were both standing and I indicated that the carpet had not yet had a chance to grow, though the previous house-doctor had stipulated a month’s wait at least until the shag pile had developed. ‘Would I have willingly ordered carpet’, I asked, ‘If I were in the habit of shaving the floors? Now I understand that stubble on the floor might be the next big thing in interior decoration, although I’ve heard that it can be quite painful on the feet. But I can assure you that the house, in all purposes, is allowed to follow its own developmental path’.

‘Hmm’, the house-doctor said. He wrote out his prescription and he passed it to me. ‘I’ll look into this’, he said, ‘But I’m not promising anything’.

The house kept on shivering all through the night. I wondered if it was anything to do with me. Bad luck seems to follow me around, or maybe it is that I take to heart anything that goes wrong in my life, that I take things so personally. I have, however, never been happy in my new home. There was a curious burping noise when I first moved in, which was revealed to be a build-up of installation gasses in the main bone structure, and a nasty lump had to be removed a few weeks later, under aesthetic, a process which meant that I had to stay with my parents until the house recovered. But now this constant shivering, which, eerily, occurs more often at night, seems to confirm that such matters are completely out of my control.

I go through the next few days with a grim determination that the problems of the house should not ruin my enjoyments of life. At work I am personable and polite and all conversations regarding the developments of my living space are answered with an airy grace, underscored by a ruthlessness in not inviting any of my colleagues home to view the place. I describe to them the exact colour of my carpet – when it finally grows – and they applaud me on the colour that I have chosen. ‘It is obvious’, I am told, ‘That you have a flair for decoration. Maybe you would like to work on our office, when the next budget comes through’. But I look around at the plain, glass and steel building, and the whole place gives me the creeps.

‘It just doesn’t seem alive’, I whisper. ‘How can one ever get a bond with an inanimate object? Who hasn’t fallen asleep at night lulled by the heartbeat of their own house? I’m sorry, but brick and mortar have nothing for me’.

I do not hear from the house-doctor for a while. Yet the shivering gets worse, a continual flexing and spasm evident in most of the inner walls. At last the rash on the kitchen wall clears up, although the house-doctor was correct, a path of stubble on the hallway floor would hint to me that a razor was being applied to it in a methodical fashion. One night on television I learned of a horrible disease affecting houses of a certain period, and a whole street in Basingstoke closed down and condemned, the houses coughing and spluttering, the walls braking out in cold sweats. The programme made me think and I wondered if my house, too, had caught such a disease, though it comes from a healthy stock and good breeding and is the result, I was informed at the time of its purchase, of a natural, free-range house-to-house courtship. The only problem I could see is that there was, in its heritage, a quarter bungalow, that its grandfather was a seaside shack by designation, and by their nature, single-storey houses have long been prone to infection.

One night the shivering became so bad that I could not sleep. The bed kept on moving with each involuntary shudder, and I found myself walking the neighbourhood. The night sky was clear and I could see the stars above, and even the Coca-cola moon shining bright with its red neon laser glow. I could see beauty in the world, and for the first time I wondered if this beauty came from nature. Could it be possible? I remembered the years of my youth when I once saw a squirrel, and as my mother hurried me away from it in case I caught its diseases, I was entranced that another creature could also exist on this planet without having been designed or tested for usefulness. I remembered how wonderful this squirrel had looked, how sure of itself it was, and how there were once trees and the squirrels had lived in the trees. Heavens, they had even eaten nuts and still survived without succumbing to some allergy! But the stars, despite everything, were still there.

I returned to my house. I could see it convulsing at the end of the driveway. As I reached out to open the front door, it seemed to shrink back from me. When I breathed out a sigh of relief in the hallway, the walls broke out with chicken flesh bumps, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s almost as if the house is repulsed by me . . . ‘ . It was only when I got to the kitchen that the moaning started.

A deep, deep throated yawn. Which was most strange, because the house was not installed with a throat. I clung on to the furniture as the house swayed from side to side. Ohhhh, it said, ohhhh. It was as if there was an ache somewhere within it, and I thought about applying a paracetamol to its bloodstream, but then thought better because it would invalidate my warranty. Ohhhh, the house said. Ohhhh. The swaying got worse, as if the house were drunk, and I started to slide down a wall. Such a stench! Of stale sweat, and I could feel a clammy odour seep from the skirting boards. Then the heart beat started accelerating. No problem, I thought. Houses often suffer cardiac arrest. My Uncle’s house had three bypasses before it finally expired. But this was a pounding, a rushing of blood, and I could see veins underneath the wallpaper. The house was rocking from side to side, now, as if in the throes of some primeval dance. I wondered if its bungalow ancestry was coming to the fore, or the impetuosity of the maisonette. But this was worse, much worse. At last I fought my way back into the hallway to see something horrific, something so tremendously appalling that I have never set foot in such a house again.

A pair of arms had sprouted from the walls. The house-doctor told me later that in just two generations – and no doubt accelerated by the chemicals used to speed up the growing process – the houses had evolved, and grown inner arms by which they could amend themselves for maximum personal comfort. And what were these inner arms doing? They were shaving the floor, right where I had decided to grow my new carpet. Scrape, scrape, scrape. I ran into the night and I hid until morning in the shade of my garden shed, my only comfort coming from the red neon glare of the Coca-cola moon.

A poem for now.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at the world and think that things are getting better for those in the lgbt community. There are still places where ignorance and superstition reign.

I recently read an article in Time Magazine about the struggle for gay rights in Africa. Indeed, it’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And of course, the current situation in Russia seems more ludicrous every day. It makes me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where such things are not a big deal.

This poem, which I hope to perform soon, is an attempt to understand such issues.

The doors.
For those who are the exquisite hidden in cupboards.

For those who fortune denies because they refuse to shout.

For those who would otherwise shine so bright were it not so dark and needlessly so.

For those who are conscious ever more obviously than the jaded so called moral imperative.

For those who multicolor the beige.

For those who feel that burning pounding quick-tempo heartbeat tick tick ticking absolute proof down deep within.

For those who don’t want to upset anyone.

For those who are being true to themselves.

For those who love.

For those who would dearly like to love but never will so long as they’re fumbling in the pitch dark.

For those who would spread compassion if given the chance.

For those who stand tall and proud in the face of ignorance.

For those who challenge the invented with the blinding torch of truth.

For those who caress and whisper sweet nothings and then open their eyes to find an empty bed.

For those who don’t want to shock and close the door voluntarily.

For those who care too much.

For those who feel they have no brothers or sisters.

For those who feel they are the only person ever ever ever ever to feel this way.

For those who make a thousand tiny differences a year.

For those whose revolution will knowingly take longer than their own lifetimes.

For those who would otherwise be flogged or hanged or stoned or cast from the safety of decent thought by those who profess to know the truth of words written fluently yet deliberately twisted ambiguous in order to hide the cultural anger seething beneath.

For those who delete their browsing history.

For those who try to prize open a door knowing that it will be slammed shut but keep on trying nonetheless.

For those who paid the ultimate price.

For those who resort to secret languages and those who give in and try to decipher filled with the eager promise of just knowing.

For those who are afraid.

For those who never will.

For those who see the world quivering ecstatic and reach out with trembling fingertips ever so eager to be a part yet knowing deep down they never will because they are really not as brave or as fortunate as those who color the world with love. 

For those who hide behind masks of dubious preferences just to make it look like they are one of the crowd.

For those who are furious.

For those who are curious.

For those who log on with an alias.

For those who dance ecstatic the most writhing sexual beautiful hypnotic dance but only to themselves alone alone alone in the mirror.

For those who feel that everything is hopeless faced with ninety six percent against, newspaper editorials, fuming spitting evangelists, political bullies, idiots with guns and clubs and religious texts, charismatic spirituality, cultural commentators and peddlers of hated.

For those who burst out so fast that the world never could catch them.

For those who burned up too soon.

For those who took a chance and flowered briefly then disappeared leaving behind them the hint that if done differently it might actually work.

For those who are vehement in their love.

For those who are just plain unlucky.

For those who are scared.

For those who are scarred.

For those who would otherwise be sacred.
You are the real

And your time will come

When superstition loses and common sense takes over.

Pile up your love right now

So that when the doors finally open

It will all come tumbling through.

Poetry Takeaway and Bang Said the Gun 

It’s been one of those weeks. One of those surprising weeks. To be honest I’ve crammed so much in that I really have been waking up wondering where on earth I am. But that’s the life of a modern performance poet, it seems. The hard part has been fitting it all in with a normal nine to five job!
On Sunday I went up on the train to London to help out with the Poetry Takeaway project at the Camden Roundhouse. Run by Michael Bolger, this is a unique happening in which poets are tasked with writing poems on demand for members of the public. It usually operates out of a takeaway burger van, the poems being wrapped as if they were burgers or hot dogs.
I felt very privileged to be asked to contribute to this. My shift featured Peter Hayhoe and Jemima Foxtrot, both of whom I hold in very high esteem. Indeed it was a huge joy finally to meet Jemima.
My own stint started well enough with a young lady who wanted a poem for her boyfriend because she loved him so much. It was all very touching, and she loved the poem that I wrote for her. The second person wanted a poem to help her decide which of the two men she was currently involved with that she should choose to spend the rest of her life with. It’s quite a tall order for a poet to decide on such matters, but I took all of her information and I wrote a poem which did it’s best at least to describe the situation.
And it seems that this is a by product of the project. The poets get told things that nobody else would hear. People feel that they can open up to poets, and tell them their deepest, darkest secrets and fears. At times I felt like a psychoanalyst, or even a detective, piecing together the relevant information.
The stint over, I caught a late night train as far as Bristol and stayed overnight in a hotel next to a Mexican restaurant. When I opened the curtains at five AM, footage of a mariachi jazz band was being beamed on to the wall of the restaurant. I wondered where the hell I was. I caught the early morning train in to Paignton, and work.
That night I guest hosted the Artizan Comedy Night in Torquay. I even debuted some comedic material. I thought I’d be pants, but people quite liked it. The comedians were all very good and I felt honored to be associated with them.
On Thursday I caught the train up to London again for my guest slot at Bang Said the Gun. When I first started spoken word in 2011, people kept saying that Bang was the place to aim for, and that you only arrived as a poet once you’d had a slot there. For years I kept trying to win a slot there by entering the weekly slam. On one occasion I happened to win, but because it was running late and I had a train to catch, I had to leave before the end and only found out the next day. The second time I entered I felt very ill with a virus and again, had to go back to the hotel. The third time I entered I came second to a guitarist.
I felt incredibly honored to be asked, even more so that Laurie Bolger, the evenings host, played a game with the audience called ‘Robert Garnham Or Judy Garland’, in which an audience member had to decide whether a quote was from Judy Garland or myself.
The night was the usual mix of noisy mayhem and energy, spellbinding poets and spoken word types, comedy and laughter. Just how they manage to keep it all up week after week remains a mystery. It really is the best poetry night in the country. Headliners Candy Royalle and Inua Ellams were fantastic, professional, and almost hypnotic.
My set was greeted fairly well. I was unusually self conscious, in a way that I hadn’t been while performing for about four years, and even worse, I performed the wrong version of Beard Envy! The audience must have wondered who the hell I was, inflicting such material on them, but I had a great time. The way that some of the poems were greeted with hooting and the rattle of the shakers made me feel that anything in life is possible. It was a wonder I got to sleep that night.
Thanks to everyone at Bang for the opportunity. It means more to me than you’d ever know!
And then a night in a cheap hotel followed by a cheap flight back to Exeter the next morning, for another day at work. My mind really does feel like it’s been in a blender this last week.
And tomorrow? Tomorrow I performing twenty minutes at the Respect Festival in Exeter. In a field. In a tipi.

Here are two of the poems I wrote at Poetry Takeaway. I’ve changed the names of the recipients.
 Poem for Matthew from Natalie
How can I express my love for you, Matthew?

How can I express the fulfilling

Breath of life you instil in me

That I should feel so entirely complete

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I want to show you in a poem

The joy that keeps on going

But you know and I know and it’s the

Knowing that keeps on growing,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express the absolute

Peace I feel in your company,

The fact we are both wired in to the

Very real was of now

And I know it’s weird

But I really like your beard,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
I love you lots and lots

My heart is tied in knots

Like a room scattered

With discarded yoghurt pots

I gaze in them and it reminds me

That our love is meant to be,

My lovely boy, Matthew.
How can I express my love for you, Matthew.

I hope this poem will do.
Poem for Rem from Ben
Have you ever noticed football referees?

have you ever noticed football referees?

Refereeing, that’s their job,

They’re football referees,

Running around but not getting a

Single shot on goal.

Have you ever noticed that

They’re frequently bald?

Have you ever noticed

How angry they are?

Have you ever noticed football referees?
Probably not.

But if they didn’t exist

There would be chaos.

Nobody to call the shots.

There’d be an empty gap,

A referee sized gap.
Rem, when you left,

When you moved away I felt the

Same chaos inside.

You were my referee, I based

Everything on the feelings I had

Within.

You weren’t on my team but

I Could always sense you

Running along beside me.
I couldn’t tell you.

I couldn’t express myself.

And now you are gone.
The opposition is in their

Predictable attack formation

I keep towards the side,

Away from the game

Away from the game.
What were you thinking, ref?

What were you thinking, Rem?