Anatomy of a gig

  Before the gig:
At this precise moment I’m on a train and I’m going to a gig in Bristol. Indeed it’s quite an honour to be doing this gig because it’s a fundraiser for Poetry Can, an organisation I rather like, and it’s part of the Bristol Poetry Festival, and I’m one of two main guests. I thought I’d write this blog to tell you exactly how I feel.

The answer is mega nervous. My mind keeps running over the small things that can go wrong. And then it runs over the big things. The main concern at the moment is ‘will I be crap’? I know that the organisers have asked me because they like my stuff, and also because I’m cheap and available. But what if tonight’s the night where it all falls apart like a cheap microwave lasagne? What if I’m so preoccupied with other things that I don’t have my mind on it and I seem withdrawn and distracted? What if tonight’s the night that something really bad happens in the news and no one cares about my own particular brand of whimsy?

Just writing this adds to the nerves!
And what about the other things. Will nobody turn up? Will I not make it to the venue? Will I spill my drink over someone important? Will I get drunk for the first time since 1991 and upchuck over the first row during my performance? Will I have a sudden attack of the willies and run out of the room screaming? Will nobody laugh?
I’m already in costume, if you can call it a costume. I’ve got the glasses on and spiky hair, a nice jacket, some sensible shoes. I’ve got a card with me in which I’ve written the set and what I’m doing and in what order, and I’ve read it so much that it’s started to look a bit crumpled. Even so I keep having last minute jitters about the poems I’ve chosen. The set is a comfortable mix of old and new, funny and one deeply serious one which I’m worried people will laugh at. Maybe that might be a good thing.
I’m also listening to music. I listen to the bands who inspire performance rather than writing, so it’s Pet Shop Boys, Sparks, Erasure. The train has just passed through Tiverton and I’m wondering if I should turn the music off and concentrate. 
It should be a good evening. In fact it probably will. But that doesn’t make me feel any better and part of me is wondering why I do this kind of thing at all. I’m sure it will all feel much better when I’m at the venue.
After the gig.
Yes, it went very well indeed. The audience was not huge but I knew a lot of people there. I was worried initially that they might not have appreciated my oeuvre. The open mic element of the night showed a bias towards weighty, traditional poetry, and the other co-headliner was Claire Williamson, a wonderful poet, deep and meaningful and totally human, she went down very well with the audience.

But there were plenty of friends there: Melanie Branton, for one, a poet with a similar sensibility to me yet much, much better. She did her poetry to huge acclaim, and that’s when I thought that they might like me after all.
There were a few young people in the front and a young man with a big bushy beard, I’d already singled him out to be the one I point to during the Beard Envy poem. He wandered off halfway through the evening and I felt a bit of a panic that I’d have nobody else to pick on. As luck would have it he came back just before my set, and he laughed and clapped all the way through, which made the whole night that much better for me. There was a big grin on his face, and afterwards he came and chatted and said how much he’d liked my set.
As ever I don’t know what it is I’d been worrying about. If anything I worry now that it’s done that I could have done more comedy poetry, as I did a couple of serious ones halfway through. I also wonder what the night had been like if the young people weren’t there, and whether the audience would have had the same dynamic. But it doesn’t matter: it was a good night, and I really enjoyed it, and the audience enjoyed it, and that seems to be the main thing. There’s no sense in overanalysing.
At this moment I’m in my hotel room in Bristol, looking out over wasteland towards the station, and the mist is hiding the sun and making everything monochrome. Life is certainly weird at times. Next week I have to do this all over again, the exact same set yet this time in London. No doubt the same old paranoia and nervousness will kick in once more!

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Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work

Sodding time travel doesn’t sodding work. 

Earlier today I posted this message as a blog:

“I shall be having coffee in the coffee shop on the harbour in Brixham. I will be the one with the notebook.

But you already know that. “

 The reasons for this weren’t that I’d lost my mind. In fact, it’s quite simple. It was a message to the future, to future generations who might be looking at my various writings and journals and trying to decide on a good moment to go back in time and meet up with me.

Indeed, going to the coffee shop this morning might have been the start of something big. An experiment combing poetry and literature with physics and science, logistics, perhaps even religion. Time travelers from future generations would come in, in their tens, perhaps hundreds, and I’d buy them all a decaf cappuccino and chat about life in general. And then perhaps they’d let me pop back with them a bit further and go disco dancing with Dorothy Parker. How fun it would be! So when I left for the coffee shop this morning down to the harbour in this strange little fishing town, I took a bag with me and an extra pair of pants, just in case.

And do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Nobody turned up. I even ordered an extra flapjack in case at least one person arrived, but there was nobody. The only other people in the coffee shop were Welsh holiday makers, and nobody was wearing bright space clothes or futuristic fashions. Unless the Welsh holiday makers were from the future, in which case it looks like flat caps are making a come back in the year 2525.

Nothing.

The only thing I can deduce from this is that in the future I become so well known that people don’t want to meddle in my time line to ensure that I really do stand over the world with my arms folded, omnipotent, wise and celebratory.

If there are any time travelers reading this, you mucked it all up. I will be lingering in the car park at work tomorrow for five minutes but I’m not holding my breath. And if you want a flapjack when you arrive, well, you can just bring your own.

While I was at the coffee shop, I wrote a poem.


Poem


In a rocky cove,

With a bonfire,

The surfers have one of their

All night sex driven drug fueled raves.


Alright, lads?

Mind if I just

Squeeze myself in here.

No joint, thanks,

But I wouldn’t say no

To a nice cup of tea.


Orange quivering light

And silhouetted dancing

On rock formation outcrops.

Beach-bronzed, board-weary,

They fumble in the rucksacks

For PG Tips

And one of them confides to me

That he likes the way I think.


I retune their radio,

Blotting out their techno pump

And we listen to Bed At Bedtime.

He soft burr of Richard Wilson

Reading Graham Greene’s

Travels With My Aunt

Wisping out across the

Flat calm sea.

Why I Am Not A Surrealist

When I was younger some of my favourite artists and musicians were surrealists. Salvador Dali and The Beatles, for example. Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower. That sort of thing. The imagery and the language of these were exciting and daring and I couldn’t get enough of the thinking behind such overtly provocative works. But as my adventures in art and music progressed, I started to realise that while the effects of these were immediate on the first viewing, they quickly wore off.

I don’t want to see another damn melting clock.

It took a while, but I began to realise that surrealism in small doses is okay, but there always has to be some kind of grounding in the familiar, in real life. It has to be relatable. Maybe it’s just the way I look at the world, but I’ve got to a stage in my life where surrealism is deeply unsatisfactory to see or read, particularly in poetry.

Let’s make a hypothetical poem. It’s going to be a surreal one, so we’re going to look at imagery. I see a plum. The plum has a moustache for some reason. The plum has a moustache, that’s the first line of this poem. Okay, so if this poem was a Robert Garnham poem, I’d then go on to follow the plum around for a few stanzas to see what life is like being a plum with a moustache. In such a way I ground the poem in the every day, in the humdrum. The plum has a problem eating soup because of the moustache. The plum can’t get a date because every plum he meets doesn’t like moustaches. You know, run of the mill kind of stuff.

But if I were a surrealist, then in the next verse, I’d move on from the plum with the moustache. I see a tap dancing horse called Mona, and the King of South Dakota is there, waving a cricket bat. And yes, this is all rather whimsical at the moment and a little but humorous, but if I read this again tomorrow I’d think: yeah, whatever.

I have, therefore, identified the moment, the junction, where a poem can go either way. On the left, full blown surrealism, all sunny and stupid and a bit dizzy. And on the right, the kind of tempered down-to-earth surrealism that people can relate to. This Point of Realist Return (PRR) is immediately divisible by the interest of the reader (I) and responds well to Repeating Reading (RR). I divided by PRR times RR equals a Satisfying Read (SR). A surrealist poem may also have a PRR but there the I is, unfortunately, not equal to the RR, and therefore the SR is of a lower outcome than the less surrealistic piece.

I hope that this has cleared things up.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that the poems which work best for me are those which have some kind of bearing on my life. My hero, Frank O’Hara, wrote poems based on his own life, his famous ‘I Do This I Do That’ poems. Yet he, too, dabbled in surrealism earlier in his career, and these poems are stodgy and hard work to read. You could tell that he was having a lot of fun writing them, but as a reader, well, there’s ironing to be getting on with.

I’m not against other poets being surreal. The performance poetry community is wide and varied and this is what makes it so vibrant. If every poet was the same, then we’d be better off not turning up. And who knows, perhaps someone might come along and surprise me with a set of sheer surrealist excellence.

Or perhaps my life is just so strange that I can’t possibly deal with any more of it!fun front