How Sultry the Night that is Ours

I was coming back from a gig in Taunton last night and I had to change trains at Newton Abbot, with a  half hour wait. So I decided to set up my camera and film this, the poem I’d spent two weeks learning. I didn’t realise that the waiting room was next to the station office with staff still in there, but hey, I’m sure they enjoyed it!
https://youtu.be/9k72hubbjRg

Advertisements

‘Hearth’, by Rose Cook, A Review.

One of my favourite performers of poetry is Rose Cook. Listening to her perform her poems – for indeed, she performs, rather than reads – one is lulled almost to a state of trance, her mesmerising delivery soft, insistent, almost plaintive. Every single syllable becomes a perfect moment, each word carefully chosen, I have seen rooms filled with people silent in rapt attention.

Rose has a new book out. Hearth is published by Cultured Llama, who also published one of her previous collections, Notes from a Bright Field. As ever the themes range from nature to the family to those everyday matters which affect us all, living, breathing, and indeed, dying. Yet they are done so with assuredly and often with humour. In one poem she muses on the steep incline of the local high street, pondering on whether to get a donkey, ‘She can have the shed . .’. Another poem, ‘A Situation Arising from a Complete Inability to Master Any Language but her Own’, hilariously works on the scenario of the title.

The family is at the core of this collection. Many of the poems are meditations on her relationship with her mother, or the shock of a life-threatening injury to her own son. At such points there is real emotion, though never overblown or overwrought. Rose has the most deft of touches and can, with a very simple or honest phrase, provoke real emotion and universal sentiments.

‘When I was a child, my mother would say,
if you get lost, don’t go looking for me.
Stay put. Stay there and I will find you.
She’s gone now.’

There are also remarkable descriptions of nature and the natural environment, from opening a pomegranate, to meditations on elephants and whales. Rose is an astute and inventive observer of the world around her, a talent used in those poems which describe paintings and photographs, or listening to a conversation on a train about an injured crow and imagining it in a cardboard box.

The world is a better place with Rose in it, from the turns which bring truth to the fore throughout her poems, to the humour she brings to the everyday. And if, like me, you’ve been lucky enough to hear her perform, her voice will stay with you throughout this wonderful collection.

Duck fight.

The other day I came through the park
And there was a duck fight,
Two male ducks going at it,
Quacking in the most boisterous manner
And flapping their wings.
Duck fight.

When people are insulted and they don’t care,
It’s said to be water off a duck’s back.
When ducks are insulted they
Are less inclined to be poetically philosophical.
They don’t take it lying down.
They don’t lie down.
I stood at the pond and I pointed and laughed
At the fighting ducks.

One duck was up for it.
The other was a well ‘ard mallard.
One duck showed a lack of respect.
He was pecked
By the other duck.
It was like watching Daffy arguing with Bugs
Only it was two Daffies
And nobody had a carrot.

A woman walked past and I said,
Duck fight!
She looked at me weird
And quickened her pace.

Peck flap quack flap peck flap quack.
Quack peck flap flap peck peck flap.
Flappity flappity peckerty perkerty
Quackety quackerty quack.
Peck flap quack flap peck flap quack.
Moo.
There was a cow nearby.

It made the pond
Awfully turbulent.
It was all kicking off.
I expect at the end of the fight
They would’ve both been cream quackered.

Wait for laughter.

I wondered what had started it.
Perhaps a transaction gone wrong,
A dispute with the bill.
Perhaps they were playing snooker
And one of them did a fowl shot.
Perhaps one of them said quack,
And the other replied,
I was going to say that.
Perhaps they were fighting over a chick.
Perhaps someone threw a frisbee
And shouted, duck!
But instead of ducking the ducks looked up
Because they were both ducks.
Perhaps it was none of these things.
Perhaps one of them
Made a wise quack.

I wanted to stop it.
I wanted to stop the duck fight.
But it’s never a good idea
Just to wade in.

I wrote in my diary that night,
I wrote,
And they’ve info the firmament of my rigid
Imagination,
Forgoing all but the sweetest dreams
Of nature divine and the privilege of
Which I have been thankfully prone,
Did I espy, in the park,
A duck fight.
Also, I went to Lidl and bought some fish fingers.

In the eighties I invented an
Alternative to My Little Pony.
It was called
My Little Duck
It was a My Little Pony
With the nose sawn off and a beak
Welded on.
It had too many legs.
Which gave it stability but was
Anatomically incorrect.

The park ranger put
His hand on my shoulder and said,
Just let them get on with it, son,
Let them sort it out between them,
And I said,
Why have you got your hand
On my shoulder?
And he said,
Why don’t you come back to my shed
And watch some duck fight DVDs with me?
And I said,
Ok.

On learning poetry from memory.

I’ve spent the last week learning a new poem. This might not seem like the most startling revelation from a spoken word artist, it’s what they do. I know lots of my poems from memory, especially the short ones or the ones which rhyme, a process I started when I got an eye problem and had difficulty in reading the book on dark stages. What makes this one different is that it’s a brand new poem which I haven’t yet performed.

I have a shocking memory for learning material. A long while ago I was in a play at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, it was a production of Sarah Kane’s Crave, and it felt almost impossible to learn because none of the lines made any logical sense compared to the line before it. I can’t remember how I managed to do it in the end.

The reason I’ve learned a new poem is that I’m taking part in a theatre writing showcase in London tomorrow and the director wants the poem to be performed from memory. So I’ve spent the last two weeks learning it, and using all kinds of techniques to make sure that the lines go in. So what I’ve been doing is making crazy associations between the end of one line and the start of the next.

For example:

. . .when he gets distracted by the cricket results.

So we’re walking on the beach, me and Brandon . .

I visualised cricket on the beach.

For ‘butt blocks in the rigging,
Man the head!’

I visualised someone getting their head caught in the rigging of a ship.

And for ‘whales both hump back and sperm,
First mate officers . .’,

I visualised . .
Well, someone would really have to be your mate to do anything with them and sperm.

I’ve also been practising the poem all the time, in the shower, at the gym, in the sauna, and while walking through town. I must have looked like something of a loony, walking along and mouthing words to myself, but it’s working. The poem is currently locked in place and I’m feeling rather pleased.

So the next step, of course, is to memorise a whole hour show. A three minute poem took two weeks, so a sixty minute show should take . . . Well, it should be ready by 2018!

Here’s the poem:

Poem

It must be hot,
My mars bar’s turned to mush,
The sound of melting tarmac
In the late night hush.
Bread in the packet has already turned to toast,
My neighbours pet chicken is now a Sunday roast.
Now I don’t like to boast,
Because I’ve got Brandon, oooo, Brandon
Basking on my bed in his boxers,
Both of us pining for something fresh
Other than the obvious
Like the steering freeze of truth,
The cool, cool wash of contentment,
Or a vanilla ice cream.

Bung a flake in it, good fellow.
Bung a flake in that thing!
Grab it, twist it, thrust it in,
Now how much do I owe you?

We’re making our way through this
Seaside town now, me and Brandon,
He’s promised something hot and long and sticky
The moment we get back.
It’s been years since I had a kebab.
Past shop clad shutters and graffiti denouncing
Tracey as a slag,
To the neon buzz moth hub
Of the prom prom prom
Tiddly om Pom Pom
Last night in bed he said
It isn’t  very long
Tiddly om Pom Pom
And it’s very limp.

And I said,
It’s seen a lot of tourists over the years
And it’s prone to erosion
And longshore drift.
Half of it was swept away
By a giant squid.

The rash on the side of my neck
Is caused by Brandon’s stubble as if scrapes
Sandpaper scrapey sprapey scrape
When he gets distracted by
The cricket results.

And now we’re walking next to the beach and his face is
Lit up like that of a cartoon ferret on a box of cheap own brand
Rice Krispie knock offs
The spoon filled with ricey goodness
Hovering inches from his cavernous gob 

And the salt air late night sea breeze
Caresses our manly frames
Imbuing in us all kinds of nautical hi jinx
Naval seriousness, merry little frigates,
Dolphin blowholes, bottom feeding mullets,
Whales both humpback and sperm,
First mate officers, salty sea dogs,
Able bodied seamen, bow thrusters,
Butt blocks in the rigging, man the head,
Bump head gurnards and bottle nosed lumpsuckers.
And chub.

Do you see the ice cream van?
Do you see the ice cream van?
An oblong of light spilled out on the
Sand flecked concrete,
It’s refrigeration generator
Throbbing the sir with a sudden intensity,
Chugga chugga chugga
Do you feel it throbbing away there?
Chugga chugga chugga
Window stickers advertising all kinds
Of things to lick and nibble and crunch down on
Cool and ever so creamy.

The moon beams on high like someone from Dorset.
In the glow of it’s madness we dance.
Oh, Brandon, I want to do things
To certain bits of you
For most of the night,
Though I’m conscious you’ve got an early shift
At the Lady Remington Smooth N Silky
Cordless Rechargeable Hair Removal Facility factory
And the ice cream man,
Oh,
The ice cream man,
Did I mention he’s also a magician?
A sparkle in his eye,
He starts waving his magic wand at us, and

Poof!

All is gone.
The ice cream man is gone.
The ice cream van is gone.
The neon and the stats are gone.
And Brandon is gone.
None of them ever existed.
It’s just me, and the prom
On a sultry night in a sleepy coastal town,
And the kebab shop is closed,
And the rash on my neck
Is just a fungal infection
And Tracey is still a slag, apparently,
And I walk sadly home,
I walk sadly home.

We’re sending our thoughts and our prayers.

Hey there Mister President, it’s happened again,
What shall we tell our tax payers?
We could jump into action, but action costs money,
Let’s send out our thoughts and our prayers.

Guess what, Mister President, a hideous happening,
World leaders and other big players
Have pledged their assistant, so I guess that means
We can just send our thought and our prayers.

Omg Mister President, you’ll never guess what’s
Been committed by some mad doomsayers,
We could be brave. Or perhaps just cave
In and send our thoughts and our prayers.

An island community hit by a hurricane
Melting ice and sea level layers
We could put a stop or just contribute
But let’s just send our thoughts and our prayers

The vocal minority is righteous and loud
And they foam and they spit, they’re such bayers,
For mercy for those who think that they know
So let’s just send our thoughts and our prayers

When the obvious is called for and various choices
Deep thinkers and other conveyors
Can make such great changes and go with their hearts
So we’ll send them our thoughts and our prayers

It’s hard to seem righteous when appearing so wrong
It’s hard to seem like a soothsayer
But acting with solemnity and a smidgen of balls
And the tiniest amount of knowing bravado
And the minimum amount of presidential clout
And not even sending out thoughts
And not even sending out prayers
But just the expression,
‘We’re sending our thoughts and our prayers’
At least makes it look like all of the above.

You’ve got a golf match
At two o clock, by the way.