Advancements towards a more wholesome punctuation method

Advancements towards a more wholesome punctuation method

(In April 1967 Professor Zazzo Thiim published his paper on the formation of a new mark of punctuation, the ‘collard’. Initially controversial, the collard was adopted to a small degree in some institutions and in the literary magazine ‘Madam What Are You Doing With That Haddock? (MWAYDWTH)’, before being quietly rejected just a few months later. The following is a transcription of the original presentation in which Thiim’s new system was unveiled.)

Ladies and gentlemen of the faculty. My fellow scholars and students. Your highness. (Sorry, Debs, I thought you were someone else). For a while I have been concerned with the variety of punctuation and the necessity within the act of writing itself not to bore the pants off people. And while some see this as merely the responsibility of content and editorial control, in my estimation, punctuation, too, must play its part. Hello? Hello? Is this thing switched on? Imagine, if one will, that one is reading a chunk of text. Now compare this to eating a sizeable flapjack. We all know that most flapjacks are plain, especially the ones from Tesco’s, and that some have a coating of various flavours. The coating, if you like, is the subject matter. It can be sweet and it can be sour and sometimes it falls off and crumbles for no apparent reason. And you have to get the dustpan and brush out. And at my age, that’s no laughing matter.
But what of the flapjack itself? The main content, the oats and the syrup and the . . whatever the hell it is that goes in to a flapjack. These are the words. Sometimes the mixture is dense. (Madam, if you’re going to cough like that, I shall have to ask you to leave). Sometimes the mixture is dense, sometimes not so. But whatever happens, it’s hard on the old gnashers, and for this reason the occasional raisin, nut, chocolate chip or – heaven’s above! – lump of apricot, can be a pleasant and diverting surprise which does not detract from the whole flapjack eating experience, from the very flapjackness of the flapjack in question.
How can punctuation mirror this? There can be no mistake that the majority of all written text is boring and uninspiring. I’m sorry, I shall read that again. There can be no mistake that the majority of all written text is aiming for conspiring in the acquisition of knowledge, in the same way that the flapjack is aiming for the suppression of appetite, or as a healthy snack, or as some kind of weird fetish the manner of which must be best left to those who enjoy their flapjacks in private. But the eye, just the same as the tongue or the various taste glands at the back of the tongue – bear with me, I know where I’m going with this – needs its sustenance to be broken down by instances in which the mind – or in the case of the flapjack, the throat – can rest, glance away from the page, think about something else for a moment.
For this reason I have taken it upon myself to devise a system of little red Volkswagen going up a hill into the sunset – ah – sorry, I seem to have lost the next page. Now where the hell is it? I had it this morning when I was talking to that wacko from the University of Basingstoke – ah, here it is. For this reason I have taken it upon myself to device a system of punctuation in which a random symbol might be inserted willy-nilly within the text as a means for the tired mind or eye to find its bearing. Indeed, this very paragraph is filled with collards. Here’s one. And here’s another. And this line here, the one I am reading now, has several. This line doesn’t, but that’s okay because I feel rested and refreshed after the collards of the last sentence. So do you see? The act of reading has actually refreshed me.
What are the benefits of the collard, I hear you ask? The page will look exciting. Imagine, if you will, a page filled with collards. How interesting this will be! How very intriguing to the enquiring mind! How easy it will be for the eye to glance down and gauge by the application of collards exactly where one is. And perhaps we might even break down the rhythm of collards so that the mind can, on a subconscious level, pace itself until the end of the paragraph. Collards and semicollards! Quarter collards! Inverted collards! The applications are truly exciting!
And what of the corporate world? The collard has many possibilities. With no formal design or standardised font, the collard can be printed as tiny logos advertising corporate images, tiny advertisements inserted into the text. The ink industry is particularly excited over the collard’s development, anticipating quite avidly the extra ink that will be needed to print hundreds, thousands of new characters per book. I do believe that everyone will walk away from the collard experience enlightened, happy, refreshed.
And that is why, ladies and gentlemen – woh! What was that? I know you might not agree with my research but there’s no reason to throw things! And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, I have done hundreds of hours of research in laboratory conditions on Peruvian reader-monkeys, comparing the results of those who have been left uncollardised texts such as Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, and those who have before them the newly collardised versions. In every case there were reports, amid the book-chewing that one would expect, and the rampant urination common among their species, of a more placid and accepting frame of mind among those who were given the new versions. That is why, ladies and gentlemen – (I told you not to throw things!) – I am particularly excited by the collard and its many possibly applications.
Thank you for your time and patience – I said – thank you for your time and patience, scholars and students – and I’m sure that, with the collard on board, we might – Owww! That hurt. I’m down. I’m down. Medic, over here. They got me. Bloody hell, that hurt.

Bulk (A very short story)

Out with the lads, Friday night, Jake all lairy and Tom all leery and all of them pretty beery, darts, pool, lager, perving over women, playful shoulder punches and heterosexual hugs, rhythmic belching on a hot summers night.          And Jake says, ‘Here’s Pete’.

          And you know past midnight the bars still open and the goodness the dwells within every soul, open minded and ready to accommodate this new friend, Pete.

          ‘Alright, Pete?’

          Bloody hell!

          Pete is a fifty six tonne sperm whale.

          ‘Pete’s famous’, Jake says, ‘Cos he can drink like a fish. Can’t you, Pete?’

          Pete grins.

          His polo shirt only just fits.

          ‘I’ve just been playing pool’, he says. ‘But I leaned on the table and the legs broke. Completely collapsed! But I won the game anyway because all of the balls just happened to go down the holes in the exact right order. We had to leg it’.

          I want to ask him how he can leg it when he has not got legs.

          ‘Up till then’, he says, ‘It was going swimmingly’.

          I also want to ask him how he can hold the cue with his flappy little fins but I’m afraid he might give me a slapping.

          ‘Let’s go out and get a curry’, Jake suggests.

          ‘Or a kebab’, says Tom.

          ‘I don’t know about you guys’, says Pete, ‘But I’d love some krill. I think there’s an all night plankton place near here’.

          At this moment we hear some loud mouthed skinhead at the bar tell a joke in which the punchline denigrates certain sea-based large mammals.

          ‘Just what did you say?’, Pete asks.

          The skinhead looks somewhat taken aback.

          ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t realise you were a whale. I couldn’t tell from the accent’.

          But now we’re beginning to warm to Pete and plans are made to get a taxi back to our place. Helpfully, Jake suggests we might need a six seater, without drawing attention to Pete’s bulk, the elephant in the room.

          ‘We could watch a dvd’, Pete says. ‘But not something sad. I always start to blubber’.

          ‘You could stay over’, Tom says. ‘I could make up some beds’.

          ‘That’s fine, I can always sleep in the bath’.

          At that moment a fight broke out at the pool table. One of the combatants lobs the cue ball, it sails through the air and goes straight into Pete’s blowhole, where it lodges, and he dies.

The Shivering House (A short story) 

The house keeps on shivering.
I’ve called for a builder in order that he might assess the problem, and he recommends a doctor. The doctor didn’t know what to do himself, although he prescribed some pills because of a nasty rash in the kitchen near the microwave, and he also wondered why there was a patch of stubble in the hall.
‘Do you ever shave the floors?’, he asked, somewhat accusingly.

‘Of course not!’, I laughed. ‘Why would I do such a thing?’
‘I just thought you might be one of those house- rights activists. They have such weird beliefs. Shaving a house, they often say, gives it some dignity’.
I pointed to the floor of the living room where we were both standing and I indicated that the carpet had not yet had a chance to grow, though the previous house- doctor had stipulated a month’s wait at least until the shag pile had developed. ‘Would I have willingly ordered carpet’, I asked, ‘If I were in the habit of shaving the floors? Now I understand that stubble on the floor might be the next big thing in interior decoration, although I’ve heard that it can be quite painful on the feet. But I can assure you that the house, in all purposes, is allowed to follow its own developmental path’.
‘Hmm’, the house-doctor said. He wrote out his prescription and he passed it to me. ‘I’ll look into this’, he said, ‘But I’m not promising anything’.
The house kept on shivering all through the night.
I wondered if it was anything to do with me. Bad luck seems to follow me around, or maybe it is that I take to heart anything that goes wrong in my life, that I take things so personally. I have, however, never been happy in my new home. There was a curious burping noise when I first moved in, which was revealed to be a build- up of installation gasses in the main bone structure, and a nasty lump had to be removed a few weeks later, under aesthetic, a process which meant that I had to stay with my parents until the house recovered. But now this constant shivering, which, eerily, occurs more often at night, seems to confirm that such matters are completely out of my control. 
I go through the next few days with a grim determination that the problems of the house should not ruin my enjoyments of life. At work I am personable and polite and all conversations regarding the developments of my living space are answered with an airy grace, underscored by a ruthlessness in not inviting any of my colleagues home to view the place. I describe to them the exact colour of my carpet – when it finally grows – and they applaud me on the colour that I have chosen. ‘It is obvious’, I am told, ‘That you have a flair for decoration. Maybe you would like to work on our office, when the next budget comes through’. But I look around at the plain, glass and steel building, and the whole place gives me the creeps.
‘It just doesn’t seem alive’, I whisper. ‘How can one ever get a bond with an inanimate object? Who hasn’t fallen asleep at night lulled by the heartbeat of their own house? I’m sorry, but brick and mortar have nothing for me’.
I do not hear from the house-doctor for a while. Yet the shivering gets worse, a continual flexing and spasm evident in most of the inner walls. At last the rash on the kitchen wall clears up, although the house-doctor was correct, a path of stubble on the hallway floor would hint to me that a razor was being applied to it in a methodical fashion. One night on television I learned of a horrible disease affecting houses of a certain period, and a whole street in Basingstoke closed down and condemned, the houses coughing and spluttering, the walls braking out in cold sweats. The programme made me think and I wondered if my house, too, had caught such a disease, though it comes from a healthy stock and good breeding and is the result, I was informed at the time of its purchase, of a natural, free-range house-to- house courtship. The only problem I could see is that there was, in its heritage, a quarter bungalow, that its grandfather was a seaside shack by designation, and by their nature, single-storey houses have long been prone to infection.
 One night the shivering became so bad that I could not sleep. The bed kept on moving with each involuntary shudder, and I found myself walking the neighbourhood. The night sky was clear and I could see the stars above, and even the Coca-cola moon shining bright with its red neon laser glow. I could see beauty in the world, and for the first time I wondered if this beauty came from nature. Could it be possible? I remembered the years of my youth when I once saw a squirrel, and as my mother hurried me away from it in case I caught its diseases, I was entranced that another creature could also exist on this planet without having been designed or tested for usefulness. I remembered how wonderful this squirrel had looked, how sure of itself it was, and how there were once trees and the squirrels had lived in the trees. Heavens, they had even eaten nuts and still survived without succumbing to some allergy! But the stars, despite everything, were still there.
I returned to my house. I could see it convulsing at the end of the driveway. As I reached out to open the front door, it seemed to shrink back from me. When I breathed out a sigh of relief in the hallway, the walls broke out with chicken flesh bumps, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s almost as if the house is repulsed by me . . . ‘ . It was only when I got to the kitchen that the moaning started.
A deep, deep throated yawn. Which was most strange, because the house was not installed with a throat. I clung on to the furniture as the house swayed from side to side. Ohhhh, it said, ohhhh. It was as if there was an ache somewhere within it, and I thought about applying a paracetamol to its bloodstream, but then thought better because it would invalidate my warranty. Ohhhh, the house said. Ohhhh. The swaying got worse, as if the house were drunk, and I started to slide down a wall. Such a stench! Of stale sweat, and I could feel a clammy odour seep from the skirting boards. Then the heart beat started accelerating. No problem, I thought. Houses often suffer cardiac arrest. My Uncle’s house had three bypasses before it finally expired. But this was a pounding, a rushing of blood, and I could see veins underneath the wallpaper. The house was rocking from side to side, now, as if in the throes of some primeval dance. I wondered if its bungalow ancestry was coming to the fore, or the impetuosity of the maisonette. But this was worse, much worse. At last I fought my way back into the hallway to see something horrific, something so tremendously appalling that I have never set foot in such a house again.
A pair of arms had sprouted from the walls. The house-doctor told me later that in just two generations – and no doubt accelerated by the chemicals used to speed up the growing process – the houses had evolved, and grown inner arms by which they could amend themselves for maximum personal comfort. And what were these inner arms doing? They were shaving the floor, right where I had decided to grow my new carpet. Scrape, scrape, scrape. I ran into the night and I hid until morning in the shade of my garden shed, my only comfort coming from the red neon glare of the Coca-cola moon. 

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!

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