Lately I’ve been trying to write poems that are almost exact copies of those by another poet. In fact it’s been an obsession these last couple of years. I’ve been taking his poems, breaking them down line by line, syllable by syllable, to see how he gets the desired effect, then subtly changing bits here and there and adding distinct touches so that they don’t look too much like the original. The poet I’ve been copying so deftly is Robert Garnham.
I should explain that I am Robert Garnham. You probably know this already. It’s a little trick I was playing on you. But I should also explain that my work, my oeuvre has, inevitably, changed over the last few years. I know more about writing now, more about poetry and comedy and what makes people laugh. I now sit down and write poems with a specific idea and target in mind. I want this poem to make people laugh. I want this poem to be serious, I want this poem to be short, sharp, funny and with a pounding rhythm. And all of this has advanced me beyond those early years when I’d just write a poem for the thrill of writing a poem.
I’ve finally cracked it. And how have I done it? By disengaging my brain while I write. It’s an amazing system. I come up with the idea and then I just write, ignoring the inner censor, the inner editor who wants a specific, desired effect, and it really is most liberating. The poems of the last few years have been some of my best work, but they’ve been more like tightly structured pop songs rather than jazz improvisations. There’s not much wriggle room. I’d also been trying to write in order to fit in with certain types of poem rather than be myself. I’d see poets on YouTube and at gigs and I’d think, hmm, what can I adapt from these wonderful people?
For the last few months I’ve banned myself from thinking along such lines. This has had a profound effect on my enjoyment of performance poetry, it’s let me sit back and enjoy or relish other people’s performances without analysing every small detail. When I first started performing I had never seen any other performance poets, and this gave me an incredible freedom to do what I liked. By disengaging my brain and cutting out the inner editor, I’ve been able to reconnect with this part of my voice. It also puts me under less pressure to write.