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.

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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.

A Day in the Life of a Spoken Word Artist

So yesterday I decided to have a creative day and just see if I could get some bits done without being bogged down with admin and emails and things. In fact it was a day I’d been looking forward to because there was a poem I’d been working on which wasn’t yet quite right. The poem was a hypothetical account of being astounded by a young spoken word artist , but it didn’t seem to have the rhythm or the ability to hold my attention as performer. I was looking forward to having a good old poke around on it. Here’s how the day went.

6-8AM: It’s my day off. Why am I up so early? What am I doing today? Oh god, the poem. Where is it? Here, let’s upload it on to the September Poem a Day site and see what people think. It’s not perfect, but people might give some constructive criticism.

8-9AM: Go to a coffee shop and stare at the poem. Decide that it’s best to put it away for a short while and concentrate on other things. Decide to use headphones and the coffee shop wifi to watch performance poets and spoken word artists on YouTube. It will be good research. Get sidetracked by watching videos of aircraft taking off and landing.

9-12AM: Go to the Quiet Study Room at the library. And just in case it’s not quiet enough, I use earplugs. Get out several poetry books and the poem that I’ve been meaning to work on. Can’t get the enthusiasm. Spend the first hour reading other poets, Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule. Spend the next hour staring at a blank sheet of paper because I’m not as good as Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Start work on the poem. Completely remove the last three verses and replace them with silly one-liners and jokes. It seems to work. Spent the last hour getting very excited because this now looks like the best poem there’s ever been. It’s amazing. It’s astounding. It’s far better than Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger or Vanessa Kisuule. Treat myself to a trip to the toilet. Come back and look at the poem. What was I thinking? It’s nothing like Salena Godden, Laurie Bolger, Vanessa Kisuule.

12-2: Go to the gym and ride the bicycle for half an hour. As I’m riding I keep thinking of the poem and lines that are so, so good that I will always remember them and jot them down when I get back to the changing room. Go on the treadmill too and watch MTV on the screen, following the lyrics on subtitles as I exercise all the time thinking, hah, my poem has much better lines than these lyrics. Get back to the changing room. I’ve completely forgotten the new lines. Go to the sauna and take a notebook with me to try and remember the lines. Nothing. I sweat all over the notebook and the pen dries up in the heat and becomes unbearably hot to touch.

2-4: Decide to rehearse. Decide that it should be a dress rehearsal with the new costume I bought which I want to use for the Edinburgh show next year. It feels a bit weird rehearsing in the costume and anyone walking past can just look in the window and see me. Decide to add a Venetian mask to the ensemble but it needs repairing. I superglue the feathers back on, then get my hand attached to the Venetian mask. Manage to free myself but feel lucky that I did not put it on with the superglue still wet. Try and put on some guyliner but I can’t see without my glasses to do it and it looks awful. Pop out to Superdrug to buy some really bright liptstick to finish the ensemble. Decide on bright pink. The lady on the checkout is very chatty and points out that I’ve picked up the tester. Do you know, she said, how many germs are on the tester?

5-7: Type up the revisions to the poem. It looks ok. Send it to Melanie Branton and she says it’s ok. She asks who it’s about and I tell her. In a mad moment I send it to the young poet that it’s based on and then immediately regret doing so. Spend the next hour with my data turned off so that I cannot see his response.

7-9: Prepare my set for the gig in Exeter tomorrow. Plan it right down to the second with opening remarks, costume, poem, linking material, spontaneous remarks. Fret that I haven’t rehearsed enough and rehearse the opening remarks a couple of times. Check my diary. The gig is actually next week.

9-10: I get a message from the poet. He likes the poem. I then go on to the September Poem a Day website and the old version of the poem is widely liked and someone even suggests that it’s one of my best ever poems. I look in the mirror and see that I’ve still got one eye half guylinered.

Do you have a personal philosophy?, I asked. 

Last night I interviewed Ian Beech live on Soundart FM, the Dartington-based community radio station. It was the first time I’d ever interviewed someone and I was really worried before that I would sound more like the boss of a company asking questions without having any back up questions. But Ian is a good friend and an engaging person and the whole hour zipped past, apart from an uncomfortable moment when I asked him about his personal philosophy and he said that he hadn’t got one.
Twenty years ago I wanted to be a writer of worth, a serious heavy hitting literary figure, and while these days I’m only one of those things, (heavy), I now find myself in a position where I can interview people and engage with artistic types on a regular basis. Twenty years ago, I would daydream about being interviewed because I was so famous, and one of the questions I’d practice an answer for was, ‘what is your personal philosophy?’
And I’d say, ‘live to live each day without regret, and teach the world how to love’.
Ok, so it was a crap answer, and so far, nobody has ever asked this question.
I’ve been at a loose end since coming back from the Edinburgh Fringe. The Juicy show took up a lot of time and thinking and now that Edinburgh is done and dusted, I’ve had a lot of free time to faff around with other projects. The trouble is now that I’ve started so many new projects that I’m kind of swamped. A book, a novel, a play, some new poems, a lot of new material and an art project all within the space of a week. So really I don’t know what’s going on.
As I wrote this in a coffee shop in Paignton, a friend has just come in and she’s told me about a project she’s involved in, a multi sensory multimedia performance happening ever half hour right here in town, and I didn’t even know about it. It seems amazing that art can squeeze itself into every day life. Paignton has never been the cultural capital of the world, although it did have a spate of yarn bombing a couple of years back which has fizzled out, the yarn bombed lamp posts now looking decidedly mouldy, but it gives me hope that art will always prosper in spite of geography and economic climate.
I wanted to ask her about her personal philosophy but she didn’t have time.
So life post fringe has been slowly returning to normal and the whole adventure now seems like something that happens to other people.

Thoughts from the fringe 

The question arises: am I the least ambitious Edinburgh fringe performer in history? It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Scotland’s capital, about to go out flyering, yet I’ve already achieved everything I wanted from the fringe. I have performed Juicy. If I have a week of no shows and missing audiences, I have already hit my target, which was admittedly not very adventurous. I’ve performed Juicy at the fringe.
Just getting here has been an adventure. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, but my luggage didn’t. And in my luggage were all of my flyers, posters, technical equipment, costumes, music stand, everything I needed for the show. As luck would have it, the luggage turned up on the Sunday afternoon, waiting for me at my student accommodation, but I had to do the first show with no props or music or costume. These sorts of things are character building.
The thing is, I really hate flyering. I’m awful at it. I hate speaking to people at the best of times. I hate doing linking material in between poems and it’s taken years of practise just to do the very small amount of material I now have. Talking to people, making eye contact, all that kind of thing, goes against the my Surrey suburban upbringing of being ever so polite and never being an inconvenience.
Yesterday I had two valuable lessons. The first was from Melanie Branton, my closest friend in the spoken word world and one of my inspirations as a performer. She showed me how to flyer successfully, where to stand, how to stand. How to do it. She even helped me for a short while and I was ever so grateful. I go in to Today now knowing more than I did. The second lesson came from Dan Simpson, whose show I am tech-inn for the next few days. He told me his method of getting as many guest spots as possible at poetry, comedy and cabaret nights, anywhere where people might see you.
So I’m hoping for bigger audiences for the rest of the week but I have already reached my target, so anything is a bonus from now on. I’ve got thousands of flyers to give out, so my inspiration at the moment is not having to lug them back to Devon!
And meanwhile, I’m having the most amazing time!

I’m really looking forward to Edinburgh!

Last year I went to the Edinburgh fringe with my show, Static, and lots of things happened simultaneously. I lost my passport on the first day, (I was due to fly to New York just a few weeks later), didn’t know where my accommodation was, and I had a show that depended on a lot of mime and movement and moments of silence, that was put in the corner of a noisy bar. I became very philosophical while I was there, but by the end of the run I was questioning everything and I was ready to consider giving up on spoken word. The usual fringe madness, then.
Last year was a learning experience. I went in softly with Static, an autobiographical piece which I’m still proud of. Indeed I performed the show one last time earlier this year. But on the whole the experience had been a negative one, and I wrote about it in a blog. 
This year, I feel completely different. I have a brand new show, Juicy, which is a completely different beast. Rather than set out with a story and an idea, I just opened up my mind and threw everything at it. The result is a show which has the potential to be different every day, with different poems and different linking material. It’s adaptable, loud and doesn’t rely so much on props and long quiet set pieces. It’s also, I hope, very funny.
But the other thing that’s different this year is that I know more. I know exactly where my accommodation is, I know how it works, I have the travel all sorted out, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to lose my passport. The other difference is that my venue is more suited to the kind of show I’ve written, and I’m really looking forward to performing at Banshees Labyrinth every day. Last year, I didn’t know what my venue was like until I arrived, late, breathless, straight off the plane. This year, I know everything about the venue, and I shall be there a day before.
A lot of people helped me over he last year get the new show together, too. At the end of the fringe last year I had a breakfast meeting with one of the top fringe performers, who was good enough to impart all of his wisdom, which I have used to make this show. In particular he told me the importance of music, and this is where my long time colleague Bryce Dumont comes in. He’s helped create a soundscape for me to perform against, and made me familiar with the technology to do this. There has also been support from Melanie Branton, Jackie Juno, Margoh Channing and the mysterious fringe performer, all of whom have offered advice and their own voices for the soundscape of the show.
But the biggest difference this year is that I will know more people there. More friends than ever will be up there with their shows and I aim to see all of them, perhaps several times!
So I’m looking forward to Edinburgh this year!

On new material 

So here I am in Exeter, and I’m early for a gig at the Phoenix Arts Centre, and I’m sitting outside with a Coca Cola while going through my set and practising everything in my head. The event is Taking the Mic, and I’ve been coming here for seven years or so. When I first started coming, Liv Torc was the host, and I was crap. Things have improved since, to the extent that i feel comfortable enough to try out new material at this monthly event.
But I’ve been spoiled, over the years, by good audiences. I’ve had fantastic audiences at different ends of the country, and there have been nights where the audience was so good that I just could not get to sleep afterwards, pumped up and enthused. The downside of this is that I have now become very choosy when preparing for monthly gigs where people have seen me countless times before.
I write a lot and I try to write new material every day. It varies in quality, of course. And the pressure to come up with a good set, and good material at nights such as this, is almost all-consuming. The memory of all those wonderful gigs means that I’m eager to maintain the quality, and feed off of the audience reaction. And if it doesn’t work, or if it doesn’t feel right, then that can be quite depressing indeed.
As a result of this ruthlessness I now have countless poems and pieces which have never made the grade. They sit in my poetry book and I just know that some of them will never get performed. Some of them have been worked over several times, such as the one I’ve been prodding today about a doomed relationship, or the one about having a sofa phobia, which I’ve been working on, on and off, for about six years. I have no idea what I’m going to do with these poems.
I know I should take a risk. I know I should do some of the material that I’m not totally at ease with, the audience will show me whether I should continue hiding such works away, but a part of me doesn’t want to take risks. So as I sit here underneath an umbrella in the rain at the arts centre, I’m going through the set again, just making sure that I’m totally at ease with it. I spent last night rehearsing the new poem and I’m pretty sure it’s ready to roll. But there’s only one way to find out. I shall know the answer in a couple of hours time!

On having a ‘costume’ when performing 

I’m a spoken word artist. I’m a performance poet. But right at this moment, as I write this, I’m just Robert Garnham. And the reason I’m just Robert Garnham at the moment is that I’m not wearing my performance clothes. I’m not in my uniform, I’m not in my costume.
When I first started performing I made a conscious effort to wear a kind of uniform for the purposes of standing on stage being whimsical. I have no idea why. I should really have taken the time to create a character, perhaps give myself a different name while on stage, too. But it’s too late now. I’m still Robert Garnham whether I’m on stage or not.
I thought that every spoken word artist had a uniform, a certain look to which they adhered. And perhaps they do, but it seems that my self-imposed uniform is more blatant than most. Every gig now begins with he ceremony of putting on the shirt, tie, jacket, chinos, converse all stars and glasses, then spiking up the old Barnet. And then I travel out to wherever the gig might be.
These are not my everyday clothes. I’m much more casual in ‘real life’, and I’m starting to wish I’d left room for a bit more flexibility when performing. This weekend, for example, I’m at a festival with two performance slots, and it’s going to be outdoors and hot, and yet I feel obliged to wear the usual uniform. The young, trendier poets will be in tshirts and shorts and they’ll quickly jump from non performance to performance with nary a blink of the eye. It takes me about fifteen minutes to get into character as Robert Garnham, Poet.
So. Would it make any difference if I didn’t dress up? Probably not. The word I’m looking for here is authenticity. I’ve seen so many wonderful poets wearing their everyday clothes, being absolutely marvellous at the Mic, an impression heightened by the authenticity of their words and their look. They don’t need to pretend to be someone else.
Which leads me to wonder if everything I’ve done has lacked authenticity because it’s been done from the perspective of an invented persona. Possibly. But as a performance artist, I’ve always attached a lot of importance to the visual as well as the audible. Or perhaps I’m at my most authentic when I’m wearing my performance clothes, and that I’d be strangely inauthentic if I were to start slowing around in what I wear on a normal day. Tshirt, shorts, hoodie, hair all over the place, different glasses. Or maybe still, those who like my work – Robheads, as I call them – wouldn’t accept anything delivered without a certain touch of aesthetic effort.
Or maybe none of this is particularly important at all.
So I’m doing this music festival tomorrow, and you know what? I’m just going to wear something sensible.

Fun at the Barnstaple TheatreFest Fringe

It’s been a couple of years since I was last at the Barnstaple Fringe and I’d always had good memories of it, in particular it’s manageable nature and the camaraderie of the other performers. Coming back this year, I can see that it has grown, and this just adds to its excitement and the variety of shows on offer. 
This is my first time here with my own show. I don’t mind admitting that the whole process has been nerve wracking and I was incredibly jittery on the train here the other day, that crazy single line track between Exeter and Barnstaple which seems more like a throwback to the 1950s. This is the first show that I’ve invested a lot in, from rehearsing almost every night to having friends and professionals help out with voice, music and movement. Yet I still had no idea how it would go.
The technicians and the people running the fringe have been very helpful indeed and my mind was put to rest after the technical rehearsal in which it appeared that the technology I was using actually worked! Indeed, the technicians were also pleased because they said that i was, and I quote, ‘low maintenance ‘.
And then the fringe craziness kicks in, the familiar faces you see around town and at other gigs, performers and friends from the local and national circuit all coming together in this small town, this Devonian Edinburgh. And my shows had an audience! Last nights was a classic, for example. On the spur of the moment the technicians suggested using the smoke machine, which certainly added a layer of mystique to the performance and perhaps further adding to the ridiculousness of it.
Bizarrely, the show was reviewed and the reviewer praised my dancing!
Last night I stayed in a venue. By which I mean, Bryony Chave Cox had been performing a production in a hotel room, which she then hired out to me for the night. It was certainly a very strange sensation, having an audience in your hotel room and having to wait for them to leave before getting a good night’s sleep. 
So I’ve got one more show to do, and I’m going to try and get out and see as much as possible. I’d really like to thank the organisers of this whole festival, it’s been homely and artistic and everything that a fringe should be. I really hope they let me come back again next year!