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?

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