Why I am Not a Poet

My fellow poets, for some time now it has been evident that I have been moving among you, observing the way that you operate, and infiltrating your performances and book launches. Indeed, I myself have now been performing for almost ten years. I’ve been doing it for so long that I am performing in my sleep. Which is the exact opposite of the usual audience, who sleep while I am performing.

During this time, as I operate slyly and behind the scenes, I have been able to make the casual observer believe, thanks to my jacket, my book of verse, and the fact that I am single, that I am, indeed, a poet too.

Yet on closer inspection, even the most broad minded of literary critics will be inclined to point out that, no, this is not the case. My rhyming couplets have all split up. My found poems were hidden for a reason. Nobody has ever stuck around long enough to tell me what the Rhyme scheme of my poems might be. I have never once worried about enjambement, those I know that those who like it, do go on a bit. And once, I got very conceptual and sent off a blank piece of paper to a poetry journal. They wrote back promptly, congratulating me on my excellent blank verse.

Dear poets, I have moved among you. Yet it has to be said that you live in an environment in which I have started to feel at home. A poetry gathering is the kind of place where, for some reason, I suddenly feel very tough. I know that generally I am quite butch and masculine in any case, but I feel even more so in a poetry crowd. And when I took the money on the door of a comedy poetry night not long ago, I certainly made sure that there was no funny business.

I am the poetry interloper, a phantom who skulks the festivals and fringes, whose name creeps into journals and publications. Even my name helps with my anonymity, it’s such a plain, boring name with none of the more exuberant vowels or letters of the more exciting poet. My name makes me sound like a parking attendant, or a geography teacher. Google my name and the first thing that comes up is a former mayor of Cheltenham.

But I’m proud not to be a poet. And I’m even more proud to be thought of as a poet, usually by people who haven’t read any of my work. The delicious groan at a comedy night when I’m introduced as a poet is a good sign as it means that the audience has already lowered their expectations, after which, anything is a bonus.

So if I am not a poet, then what am I? Yes, there’s an existentialist crisis if ever there was one. But to be honest, I don’t even think about it. I am a. . .. performer . . .an entertainer . . . A performance artist . . I am none of these things. And do you know what? That makes me feel really happy!

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Snowed in at Sunrise

Snowed in at Sunrise

This past year has all been about a number of projects, the most rewarding one being the writing, development and touring of my first purpose- written solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak. There have been many magical moments along the way, particularly the week in October last year where I sat down and wrote the whole thing, and of course, the joy of taking it to new towns and meeting new people. It’s still an ongoing concern, with a couple of projects in development which I’m really excited about.

But for me, the biggest achievement was learning the whole thing. Previous to this last year, I could not even remember a three minute poem, so it seemed hugely ambitious, initially, to decide to memorise a whole hour show.

For a while, this took up all of my time. I would run over lines constantly, whether at the gym, or swimming, or walking, or even doing other things, the script of the show was with me for several months and I would aim to memorise half a page a day.

One weekend I decided to go and stay with my parents at their bungalow in Brixham, and the only project I had to work on was the show. My parents had a large room at the back of their garage which I use as a rehearsal space, and the idea was just to plant myself in there and continue learning and rehearsing the show. However, by the time I arrived, it was very cold indeed and the idea of spending two days in an unheated room during the coldest temperatures for many years in Devon did not appeal.

And then it started snowing. Snow is unusual in certain parts of Devon. I’ve lived here now for over twenty years and had never once seen it snow and settle. And it was an eerie time. I placed my script on the windowsill of my bedroom at my parents house right next to the radiator, and watched the snow falling, great big clumps of it which soon settled and coveted first the lawn, then the road, all within a very short space of time.

And as it snowed, I worked through the script. It was the first time that I felt comfortable with the material, the first time that I’d realised that yes, it was possible to learn the whole thing. And a very strange sense of wellbeing overtook me, the absolute comfort of being warm, safe, and with my parents, and with a project that seemed to be working, and the snow falling outside, this temperate area of palm trees and bungalows now covered in a thick, white blanket, while my parents chatted amiably and the central heating purred.

I had a gig that night at the Teignmouth Poetry Festival, but it soon became apparent that I would not be going. The roads soon became undriveable and as a dull grey sky lowered over the bay, I realised that I would be staying in Brixham for another night. But nothing seemed to matter, I had my script and my solo show and I had warmth and everything felt so weirdly serene.

I’m sure many people have had such magical memories of a very specific time and place, a moment where everything has combined. It was almost comforting to know that even in this modern age, nature can still affect the way we behave and the things that we do. Within a few months, my father was to pass away, and this adds a further dimension to my memory of the weekend, that it would be one of the last times I would spend with him, and the knowledge that I will never again feel the strange sense of wholeness and absolute family comfort from being with my parents in such a situation.

But most of all, I remember it as the weekend when my show became a reality, when it became clear to me that I would be able to fulfil whatever ambitions I had with it, and while it would then go on to tour all over the country, it would be born right at that moment, in a bedroom in a bungalow in Brixham during the Beast from the East.

Juicy

Happy Christmas one and all! If you’re looking for something to watch, here’s my solo show from last year, Juicy.

It was filmed before a packed audience at Torquay’s iconic Blue Walnut CafĂ©, just before I took it to Edinburgh and ended up on BBC Radio Five Live and in the Guardian Newspaper because of it.

It will only be available a few days over the festive period, so have a butchers now before it disappears!

All the best for next year,

Robert

https://youtu.be/xp-mnfrFWM8

A poetry performance risk assessment

Poetry performance risk assessment

Hello, many thanks for allowing me to hold a poetry event on your premesis. Please find below my risk assessment. Just to put your mind at rest, yes, I do have insurance, and this covers every aspect of a poetry performance. I have been performing for ten years and I have never once had to make a claim, though the lady who I hit around the head with the microphone lead that time two years ago did come close. Once we found her glasses, she was somewhat placated, and she says now that the ringing in her ears has subsided.

The way I see it, there really cannot be much that could possibly go wrong. The room will be set up with chairs facing a microphone and it is here that the different poets will stand. We are going to fix the mic lead to the floor with hazard warning tape, because nobody wants a repeat of what happened to that poor waitress at the gig in Barnstaple. There’s still a nasty stain on the wall of the venue where the soup landed. It’s just a shame that the poet on stage at the time was delivering a eulogy for his recently deceased uncle. The moment of silence in between deep, meaningful stanzas, during which the waitress let out a stream of foul obscenities and four letter words, has now become a part of spoken word folklore.

So, as per your instructions, I have pondered on any eventuality which might occur and the risks associated with such.

1- Coma. The blissful or serene nature of our performers may induce audience members into a sleep like state which, under certain circumstances, could mask the onset of a coma. Should an audience member slip into a coma, this might not be realised until a more raucous poet hits the stage. For this reason, long sticks will be employed to prod audience members who show no signs of movement after five minutes.

2- Fainting. One of the risks attendant to poetry nights, particularly those revolving around slam poetry culture, is of excessive gasping from the audience, particularly when faced with such spellbinding poetry and wordplay as to deprive the room of oxygen. Because of this, we will leave the windows open.

3- Fainting (performer). Due to the high energy nature of some slam performers, there is always a risk of fainting due to an inability to slow down and actually breathe. The host will be on stand by at all times with an oxygen cylinder should a performer faint.

4- Injury sustained during a fall. Some of our performers are pretty funny. There is always a risk that audience members will laugh so hard that they fall off their chairs. Due to this, seat belts will be used and audience members will be requested to wear them at all times.

5. A fight. Poetry audience are generally not known for their rowdy behaviour but there is always the possibility that a troublemaker might intervene. Someone, for example, for whom Rhyme scene and syllable counts are more important than the performance of a poem. Who can forget the riot that broke out during Pam Ayres’ last tour? Security guards will be hired at all times to monitor such rowdiness, and poets will be told to make sure that their work conforms to whatever set of strictures they have adopted.

6. Stampede. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a poetry set or performance is so bad that people will need to extricate themselves from the room as fast as possible. The door to the venue will always be a funnelling point, particularly if the performer is so bad that a hasty removal is the only possible action. The management will therefore insist on trigger warnings not only for content, but also for style and delivery method. Performers who are somewhat flaky in their delivery will be required to announce this in good time. Which brings us to . .

7. Trigger warnings. Lately there has been an overuse of the phrase ‘trigger warnings’ and some poets are issuing trigger warnings for poems about sunflowers and bumble bees, just in case. This has diluted the whole trigger warning system. For this reason, trigger warnings will be issued for every single poem, and if a poem actually warrants a trigger warning, then a hyper trigger warning will be issued. However management understands that just the mention of the phrase ‘trigger warning’ is enough to trigger an audience member, so therefore trigger warnings will also be issued for trigger warnings, with the phrase, ‘just to warn you, I’m about to issue a trigger warning’.

I hope that this risk assessment puts your mind at rest, particularly after the events of last month and the damage sustained to your refrigerator.

An Interview with Shelley Szender

Shelley Szender is a fantastic and funny poet whose work was transcends both comedy and poetry. She has been a regular on the Torbay poetry scene for the last few years and has begun to become known further afield. As well as comedy, she also writes and performs serious pieces of heart and subtlety, pure emotion and beauty. She is also a wonderful person whose company I very much enjoy.

Lately she has been hosting Stanza Extravaganza, using her trademark wit and charm to create a very jovial and happy atmosphere at the Artizan Gallery in Torquay.

The chance to interview her for my website is one that I could not pass up!

How did you first get in to spoken word?

I have always loved Poetry and I use to write as a teenager but would only show my Mum. She suggested I show to my English Teacher but is was the 1980’s and I didn’t want to admit to liking Poetry. Throughout my life I read and wrote poems but it wasn’t until Xmas 2015. I was at my Friends House and I saw you perform with Ian B, Ken B, Ellie D and Lucy Lepchani and I thought they write poetry how I write Poetry. I then went to Poetry Island and was a regular audience member. Then, my friend Sue Cose wrote to you and you wrote me a Poem to go and perform and I did in July 2016 and never looked back. It has been the making of me.

Who are your influences?

I have a number of influences my favourite poems are Rudyard Kipling ‘If’ and Maya Angelou ‘Still I Rise’ I also love Wilfred Owen and Siegfreid Dawson but also John Cooper Clark and Roger Mcgough.

What is your process for writing a new piece?

To write a new piece of Poetry. I can be out running or walking, driving in my car or at work. As soon as I can I write the words down sometimes it becomes a finished piece other times the words sit in a book and then morph into another poem.

Do you have a specific time and place for writing?

I usually write in the evening it helps me relax after work or Sunday morning when the house is lovely and quiet. I am either in my bed or on the sofa.

You’ve done a few poems now based on different parts of Paignton. Where next?

I have another poem about Paignton that needs more work. I have a Poem’s about Cullompton, Bideford, Newton Abbot and a couple on Devon however I do have one brewing about Exeter although it’s at a very embryonic stage.

What does the future have in store for you?

I would love to write as a full time job but I would love to have a try at Presenting. However I am open to offers. I am just waiting for Lady Luck to knock on my door.

An Interview with Jamie Harry Scrutton

Jamie Harry Scrutton is one of my favourite spoken word artists. I first saw him in Manchester at the wonderful Evidently show, where I was co-headlining. Jamie got on stage and performed a poem about Mr Muscle, and it was so utterly unlike anything I’d ever seen. We soon became good friends and I have invited him down to Devon to perform on numerous occasions, where he always wins new friends with audiences with him whimsical musings. Jamie also combines animation with his spoken word, creating a wonderful and very unique mix which has to be experienced.

How did you first get in to spoken word?
I have always had a passion for creative writing but I have never adapted my work in to performance material. I catered my work for publication opposed to physically showcasing them through performance. I have been sending my writing off to various publication outlets since I was twelve years of age. My first submission and first rejection was from The Parragon Publishing House based in London. They responded by letter, reverting me to the book “The Writer and Artists Yearbook” at my local library, where I discovered various other outlets to try and place my work. At the time, I was submitting a Short Story Collection titled “The Complete Short Diary Tales,” which was based on various fictional characters, portraying their life experiences, contained in a diary form. At the age of 15, I fell into Poetry. By the age of 16, I found myself writing rather whimsical verses, which I subsequently began performing at the of 18 and still continue to perform to this day, at the tender age of 29!

When you think of ideas, do you see them initially as poems or animations?
Sometimes, I do write for the purpose of adapting the anecdotes in to Stop Motion Animations but more often, the process is about creating a concept to marry with the character, which would materially be based on observational life.

How long does it take to make an animation?
It depends. I would say between 2-4 weeks. My first Animation which I created titled “MANBUN” took me just over a week to make. The process was consistant 12 hour shifts, delved in to the art of making.

How did you learn the processes to make an animation?
The process came naturally, really. I wanted to create a Short Film which would be different to what I originally would create. I wanted to represent my Fine Art craftmnaship and produce a Film which would visually tell the narrative through a literal fictious character. This is where “MANBUN” rooted from. I filmed a side profile of me narrating the Anecdote and then Sketch by Sketch, I traced over the video to make the Short Film. In the end I must have produced apporximately 900 sketches. I am still learning, adapting and progressing the Art of Animation through to this day. I always birth new processes, in order to be different from my previous Animation.

Who are your influences?
Pam Ayres is definately an influence. I am always inspired by life, pretty much all of the time. Obviously Robert Garnham is a huge inspiration and a very good friend of mine too!

Do you think of the character first, or the story which they tell?
Usually, the story would be the seed and the character would be the plant. I would take a situation from everyday life and then create a character which would then morph the whole narrative of the Anecdote. More often, it could be the other way around.

What does the future have in store for you?
I will be releasing a DVD titled “The Animations of Jamie H Scrutton – Volume One” sometime in January 2019, which contains all 12 Animations of mine. I will be releasing an Animated Music Video I have produced for a brilliant Spoken Word Artist and very good friend of mine named Lence. The Animated Music Video is titled “Heard” and we will be releasing it on the 8th January 2019 at Kino 101, based in London. Another Animation of mine titled “My Husband Has Booked Our Funeral” has been selected to be screened at The Horror On Sea Film Festival on the 13th January 2019, based in Southend On Sea. I am in talks of creating a comedic Music Video for another good friend of mine in the new year. Also, I am planning to take a bit of time out from spring 2019, in order to create new future projects. I am planning to visit Leicester again and refilm three of my student Short Films at the end of 2019 in commemoration of 10 years working in Film. One of the Films will be “Havisham,” where I will be reprising the role of the deluded Miss Havisham. They will be a twist of Animation in all three pieces and the processes I have learned within film over the past decade!

Three Christmas Poems

Poem

There’s nothing under the tree
Nothing for you and nothing for me
At least not a thing that I can see
Since Santa fell down sizewell b

Rudolf has got the night off
And donner and blitzen have a nasty cough
The sleigh is now wrapped around a tree
And Santa fell down sizewell b

A large concrete chimney silhouetted against the sky
Santas dodgy tummy from a bad mince pie
He’s run out of tea and he needs a wee
And now he’s fallen down sizewell b

To the boy in the window who waved
To the elves in the factory who are all enslaved.
A Christmas elf dreams of liberty
And santas fallen down sizewell b.

The sleigh is all covered in tinsel.
The cars and the houses are covered in tinsel
I can’t think of anything to rhyme with tinsel
And now santas fallen down sizewell b.

Marjorie wants world peace
Dave wants an end to starvation
Gemma wants less underrepresentation in the media
Francis wants a more transparent banking system
Lisa wants a respite from the crushing oblivion which awaits us all
Jim wants a cheap pair of socks
But none of them will get what they need
Cos santas fallen down sizewell b

He’s down there!
He’s down there!
You can just make out his face a glower
From the bottom of the cooling tower

Poem

Amid the tinsel of a November Weatherspoons
A cold air nip as the log fire cracks
Alone at table 67, traditional breakfast
No one to share the superfluous hash brown with.
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

Twenty years of solo meals and microwave Christmas puds
And naps in party hats and texts from exes
And pondering on paperwork to pass the time
Or at least the polishing or painting of skirting boards
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

You can’t put fake snow on despair
You can’t hang angst on a tree
You can’t parcel up and shrink wrap disappointment
You can’t fill a stocking with ennui
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

A mardy face sneering under a felt red Santa hat
Randy nights of crackers pulled, curtains drawn and candles snuffed
Christmas Eve spending the day at your mothers, as a ‘friend’
Unwrapping just the one present and finding its a tea towel
It’s the thought that counts
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

Here he comes now, Josh, duty manager,
Yes everything’s all right with my meal, tell me how you’d feel
These cold mornings just expose the emptiness of the galaxy
And the dichotomy between companionship and the briefness of our existence,
Yes, everything’s all right with my meal, but
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

Table for one, sir?
Leave a coat on the chair so that
Some other loner doesn’t nab your seat
While you’re ordering at the bar
The all day breakfast is only served till eleven
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

Back amid the tinsel of a November Weatherspoons
Flimsy cardboard card advertising overpriced turkey
And the promise of not having to do the washing up
We timed our orgasm for the stroke of midnight
Rhythmic with sleigh bells like a radio jingle xmassified
You can’t put tinsel on loneliness.

Poem

The bus driver is wearing a Santa hat
So that’s alright, then.
He’s as surly as ever, bless him,
Drums his fingers on the steering wheel,
A sea of red tail lights matching
The red of his Poundland felt hat.
He’s made the effort.

The teenager in the supermarket
Didn’t know if they had any more Utterly Butterly.
He looks nervously, left to right,
Light a rabbit in the headlights, like it’s all a test,
And I want to reassure him, but it’s ok,
Because he’s wearing a Santa hat.

The genial geography teacher
Drones about longshore drift,
And the formation of spits.
There’s something vaguely creepy
About the way he always picks on Kyle
And makes Kyle the butt of every joke,
But it’s ok today because, gosh,
He’s wearing a Santa hat, and so is Kyle.

There’s a doo wop choir in the high street
Singing up tempo versions of Christmas classics
As shoppers stress over single use bags,
A gust of wind and their felt Santa hats
Flip up into the air like a red and white wave,
At the exact moment they belt out the final note
Of Santa Claus is Coming To Town.
Be good, for goodness sake.

I’ve never owned a felt Santa hat.
They make my forehead itch and I’m really
Not as jolly as the sort of person who could
Pull it off,
But there are those who aspire to joviality
And others who wear them because it’s what you do,
Isn’t it?
Every night I go home to an empty flat.

The lady behind the counter in the coffee shop
Has just cocked up an order and her boss
Is explaining company procedure right there,
In front of everyone, while Christmas songs play
On the speakers, and wouldn’t you know it,
But both of them are wearing felt Santa hats,
So that’s ok, then.