Five New Poems

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I’m Not Ken Bruce

I don’t want riches or acclaim,
I don’t want to deliver a Ted Talk.
I don’t want to be a big shot movie star.
I want to be Ken Bruce.

I want to be mellow,
A jovial fellow,
How comforting his voice, it’s
Smooth vowels
Oozing through the sublimity of my
Subconscious,
The ennui to which I’d been lately
Plagued, suddenly loose,
And all because of Ken Bruce.

I look in the mirror.
I’m blatantly not yet Ken Bruce
Though to be honest I don’t
Really know what he looks like,
He sounds like he should have a beard.
And when the phone rings I want to answer,
Hello, this is Ken Bruce.
Popmaster!
Seriously though,
It’s Robert.

My ex broke up with me
Said it was because I was nothing like
You know who
Give me the juice,
It’s the ultimate truth
He phoned up and said,
Are you Ken Bruce yet?
I said, no.
Not yet.

I want to strut like Ken Bruce,
Hold my head high like Ken Bruce
Feel that the only thing greater than me
Is the sky Ken Bruce,
Hold an informative chit chat with Jamiroquai,
Ken Bruce
I want the wit of Ken Bruce,
The passion of Ken Bruce
I want to be on nodding terms with
Paul Weller
Just like Ken Bruce
I want to stand in the middle of the
Supermarket and shout
Look at the dates on these biscuits,
They’re ONE YEAR OUT!

But I’m not Ken Bruce.
And I never will be.
And I’ll never own the mid morning
And I’ll never own a bus
And I’ll never hand over to Jeremy Vine
At midday
And I’ll never play
An incredibly long Meat Loaf song
When it’s time to go to the loo,
Because really, it’s the truth,
I’ll never be Ken Bruce.

Menage a Trois

Poem

I was asked to be part of a
Ménage a trois.
I had to look it up.
I thought it was a type of meringue,
No wonder they looked at me weird
When I asked to bring my egg whisk.

It was all very exciting.
It certainly beats me normal love life
Of a ménage a one.
And it’s not even a ménage,
It’s a maisonette.

Oh, Steve, said Andy.
Oh, Andy, said Steve.
I’m here too, I said.
I’m your lion, said Andy,
Hear me roar.
I’m your tiger, said Steve,
He’s me roar.
And I’m a chicken, I said,
Bakuuuuurrrrp!
Nobody said anything.

The most exciting thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that I could tell people
I was in a ménage a trois.
The worst thing about
Being in a ménage a trois
Was that when I put it on Facebook
Autocorrect changed it to
Milton Keynes.

This is so fun.
This is so hip.
Let me know
If you need a whip.
To be honest right now
I could do with a kip.

It’s all about experimentation.
I’ll put my hand to anything.
The slimy sweetness of sensual skin
In the gap between their bodies
My fingers exploring the depths
Of that fleshy canyon
Trying to find the Malteaser I dropped.

Sing to me, Steve, says Andy.
Sing to me, Andy, says Steve,
And I replied,
I can sing too!
‘There is
A house
In New Orleans.
It’s caaalllleeed
The riiiiising son!. .’.
That’s not what you meant, was it?

There was something amiss about the night.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I felt left out.
It was less a ménage a trois
And more a ménage a
Whatever the French for two and a half is.
Why did they even invite me?
What do I get out of this?
Why did they make me wear a
Giant panda onesie?
It’s just not fair, chaps,
It’s just not fair.

Steve, you look like a potato.
Andy, sex with you would be just like
Folding up an ironing board .
Abracadabra.
Rhododendron.
That’s it,
I’m off.

Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos With the Dalai Lama

Poem

I was playing Hungry Hungry Hippos
With the Dalai Lama
And the bastard was cheating.
He kept distracting me,
Pointing to things in the room,
Then manually manipulating the banks
With his hand
Scooping them in to the plastic hippo mouth,
The absolute wanker.

It’s all about gobbling up the little balls,
The cheap plastic rattling
With frenetic energy.
The hunger comes from desire,
The Dalai Lama said,
And desire without love is meaningless,
And you are going down,
Cos there ain’t no one better at
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Than me.

He had quick reflexes for an old man.
I’d never seen someone so
Absolutely devoted not only to victory
But the absolute annihilation of his opponent.
And when he got annoyed,
It really showed.
Oh, you make such a drama,
Dalai Lama.

He turned on the table lamp.
He turned on the standard lamp.
He turned on the main ceiling light,
The recessed lighting, the bedside lamps,
The fluorescent bulb in the kitchen,
He turned them all on.
It’s all about enlightenment, he said.

He told me his belief
That if you did something bad in life,
You get chicken curry.
For every bad deed,
Chicken curry.
He called it, korma.

Bang bang bang bang bang
He’s not aiming at the balls at all,
There’s no strategy,
He’s just going for it,
Yet it seems to be working.
He even has the nonchalant self belief
To look up at me as he’s
Banging away, and says,
Suck on that!

And oh for goodness sake,
Now he’s doing it one handed,
Showboating to an imaginary audience,
Bang bang bang bang bang,
The little plastic balls
Drawn to the gaping mouth of his
Cartoon hippo
With an almost supernatural force.
Jesus Christ!, be yelled,
I mean, Buddha.

His hand is steady
His eyes are keen
He’s the meanest mink
You’ve ever seen

He takes no crap
Don’t you forget
He’s the sickest dude
This side of Tibet

He ain’t no god
Surrounded by fools
His Hungry Hungry hippo
Is full of plastic balls.

Yo wassup homeboy,
As a young person might say.

And now we’re in the closing stages,
One ball left, he’s already won,
But he wants it,
Clicks his fingers and in rush
Four Tibetan monks who
Lift up the table at my end,
Tilt the game,
The lone plastic ball rolls,
Gom!
Straight into the gaping mouth of his
Hungry Hungry hungry Hungry
Hungry Hungry Hippo.

The game is over.
He places his palms together in prayer,
Then says,
Best of three?

Made for Each Other

Poem

They were always meant to be together.
She was a Pisces
And he liked fish and chips.
She was a vet
And he looked a bit like a pug.

I love you to the moon and back, he said,
Which varies depending on its orbit.
He said it with a twinkle in his eye.
Which he was due to see the optician about.
He said, I am an artist,
A visionary,
The brush sings in my hand.
She said, great,
I need the bathroom painting.

He was a locksmith.
She held the key to his heart.
The other was left with a neighbour.
Let’s make sweet music, she said,
And they wrote a song about Haribo.

They had such similar interests.
He read War and Peace
And she posted a lot on Twitter,
Both have 280 characters.
And each night they’d go home
And Netflix binge on the weather forecast.

She’d had such a sad life.
Times were hard growing up.
Food was scarce.
They had to eat the cat.
Cook a curry,
At least they knew it was
Made from Scratch.

I’ll provide for you, he said,
They give you free food in McDonald’s
If you wear a deliveroo uniform.
He’d lie awake at night wondering
If anyone’s ever had to give
A trigger warning for a spoiler alert.
And why the song
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover
Only mentions about six.
And why it’s called instant coffee
When you’ve still got to boil the kettle.

She’d practice yoga,
Holding her legs at ninety degrees.
He’d sigh and say,
Heaven must be missing an angle.
She took him to an exercise class.
He wore a fake beard and
An eyepatch and a parrot.
No, she said,
It’s Pilates.

She said, I’ve always been an optimist.
He said, so’s my sister, she works
At spec savers.

One day they went on a picnic.
He hired a plane and
One of the best pilots
But a terrible speller.
It wrote in the sky,
Will You Mary Me?
She hired a hot air balloon
And painted on the side, Yes!
He hired a plane to pull a banner
Which read, Fantastic!
She hired a hundred drones to spell out the words,
Well, that’s settled then.
He hired a flock of pigeons
To spell out,
What’s for dinner?
Soup, she said.

They were always meant to be together.
That night he said to her,
The world is our oyster.
And she went into anaphylactic shock

Eccentricity, and Ivor Cutler

I’d been performing for a few years as a spoken word artist, oblivious to those who had come before. And I must admit, wilfully obvious. The only big names I knew, with the exception of Pam Ayres, were those who I’d seen at gigs where I was also performing. The reason that I was oblivious was because I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else. I knew that once I saw poets I liked, I would start to emulate them, look at what they were doing and try it for myself, like seeing someone in a fashionable hat and thinking hmmm, I wonder if that would suit me? And sure enough, this happened. I would see poets and spoken word artists reduce a room to fits of laughter, or stunned, awed silence, and I would then look at what they’d done and try to analyse it. I became a spoken word nerd. A spoken nerd,

But this knowledge was only good for those who were active at the present time. And one day, after a gig, someone asked me if I’d heard of Ivor Cutler. They said that they’d seen parallels between my own oeuvre and that of Mr Cutler. No, I hadn’t heard of him, but that night, unable to sleep due to the pumping adrenaline of having just performed at an open mic in Brixham, I went on YouTube and iTunes and knocked myself out on anything I could find of his work. Needless to say, it immediately appealed, but much more, and in a very strange sort of way, Ivor reminded me of my grandad. Not only was there a physical resemblance, but the humour, which almost sways into surrealism yet always stays grounded in truth and the human experience. I was immediately hooked.

This all happened close to ten years ago, now. My other poetry hero at the time, and major influence, was Frank O’Hara. But now it seemed I had two poets whose works I could memorise much easier than my own, two outlooks on life which I could also adopt, two poets who I can ask, as I sit down to write or stand up to perform, what would they do?

Ivor Cutler’s eccentricity seems to be something lacking these days. I go to plenty of spoken word events where the performer wants to be cool, to be liked, to get a message across, to make people laugh while still retaining the veneer of ironic and knowing cool, yet nobody seems to be genuinely eccentric. Or if they are eccentric, then this is not something which then carries over into their everyday life. Sure, I might aim for eccentricity myself, but I don’t wear the pink feather boa while going about my daily chores, and the eccentricity stops the moment I’m in a supermarket queue or on a bus. But with Mr Cutler, his whole life seemed a performance, wearing his distinctive hats while cycling, or handing out stickers with mottos on them. His genuine mission seemed to be to spread joy all the time, while basking in his own personality of glum duty. The best YouTube videos, incidentally, are those in which his mask slips and he gets an attack of the giggles during a poem.

Ivor was influenced by many factors. His Scottish upbringing, while exaggerated for comic effect, and his Jewish roots assured him the status of an outsider. The communal songs of his childhood and his appreciation of folk music formed a love of music and singing. His job as a teacher gave him the ability to talk to people, and children, at their level without pontificating. Ad as a result all of these influences combined to create a very distinctive act.

The world is a scary place. Life is meaningless. There are people who spend their time adding to the stresses and inconveniences of others. And there are people, just a few here and there, who aim to add a little colour along the way. Artists and singers, poets and writers, comedians, all of which Ivor was certainly was. Yet there was a certain underlying tenderness and love of life to many of his works which certainly stands as an example to those who are struggling to make sense of the modern world. Mr Cutler certainly remains, and increases, as a personal inspiration, and I would recommend his work to anyone.

An Interview with Robert Garnham

(I was recently interviewed by a university student to help with her dissertation and I thought I’d share the text of her interview, minus the questions.)

It’s quite long, so feel free to read if at your own pace!

Interview:

I’d always written when I was younger. I wrote comedy short stories and silly little bits which made me laugh, and I continued writing these into my adult years. I then went through a phase where I wanted to be a deeply serious literary author. By the time I got to my thirties, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to happen!

I did literature at both A Level and at university and the courses covered poetry but most of it noted me rigid. It’s probably better to read such things for pleasure rather than to write an essay. The only poet who appealed to me was Frank O’Hara, who I didn’t even see as a poet, as his work seemed to talk to me.

When I finished my postgraduate degree, I decided that I needed to see more culture. The only problem with this is that I live in Torbay, so really there wasn’t much around. I looked in the local paper and it said that there was a night of performance poetry at the Blue Walnut Café. I went along, and Byron Vincent was the headliner. The whole night inspired me to have a go myself. I asked the host and he gave me a slot for the next week. Which meant that I had to go home and write something.

I wrote a couple of comedy poems and the next month, the audience laughed at all the right places, and that’s when I thought, wow, this is what I want to do!

As a kid my only knowledge of poetry was Pam Ayres, who my mother loved and whose books were in our house, and John Hegley, who I had seen on television. I also liked the poetry of Robert Service, as I was obsessed with anything to do with the Yukon.

My father was in to music and comedy and by some kind of osmosis, I got in to them too at an early age. The wordplay associated with comedy and stand-up informed my writing, and when I started writing poetry, it was to music that I turned, to pop groups especially and their succinct use of language. Neal Tennant, David Byrne, Bob Dylan, Morrissey, Kirsty Maccoll, Kate Bush, Jerry Seinfeld, Alan Bennett, Bob Newhart, these were the people who introduced me to poetry.

My knowledge of the poetry scene has always been somewhat sketchy. Naturally at college and university we studied a good array of poets, but the canon was always a bizarre array of straight, white old men.

However, as a performer on the national spoken word scene, I find it to be dominated overwhelmingly by much younger poets. Spoken word is a relatively new art form with its basis in YouTube and Slam or battle rap culture. I go to poetry events around the Uk and find myself, at forty five, to be the oldest person in the room.

However I have also been to events where I am the youngest person in the room, particularly those aimed more at page poets. I am often booked at such events as some light relief!

I get up early and I try to do an hour of writing between seven and eight. This is just playing around with words and ideas. I have used the same cartridge pen for everything creative I’ve written since 1995, mostly because I write out everything Long hand. At nine o clock I might do some reading or research, which is just a flimsy pretext to watch comedy or listen to music. At ten o clock I will have a very specific writing session for a couple of hours, working on whatever my project is at the moment. At lunch time I might go to the gym and when I’m walking there, on the machine, or in the sauna or the pool, I’m trying to memorise poetry or my show. The afternoon is for more performance related playing around. This can be the most rewarding time. My hero is the performance artist Laurie Anderson and she suggests being loose, going in to a session with an idea of being creative and playing around with props, ideas, words, performance aspects. From four till six I will work on admin, emails, submissions, online forms, all that kind of stuff.

If I have a gig in the evening I get very nervous and I have to lie on the floor for a bit or shut myself off from the world. If I have to travel to the gig, I’ll listen to music, in particular, Pet Shop Boys, or Sparks. Something that matches the effect I want to have on the audience.

If I haven’t got a gig, then there will be another writing session in the evening, which lasts until around nine PM.

Even after all these years, I love writing. The feel of the pen in my hand, and having bits of paper scattered everywhere with snatches of poem on them, which I then have to somehow glue together, and the really good feeling when you make that connection. My biggest motivating factor I to write something which hopefully I will find funny.

The weather also plays a factor. There’s nothing better than a rainy, gloomy day, and sitting at my desk with the rain streaming down, a window open, and being in the middle of a really creative period. Time seems to stand still and the words flow smoothly.

It’s very rare that I have a day off from writing, rehearsing, performing or admin. I think my work ethic is mainly to know that I’ve done a good job, or as much as I could. I do have lazy days, though!

I would read absolutely anything when I was younger, from Jack London to Dickens, Douglas Adams, biographies of comedians or astronauts, non fiction books about Canadian history or motor racing. I am influenced today mostly by the comedy books, from cartoons such as Garfield, which gave me a wonderful sense of suburban ridiculousness from an early age, to Woody Allen, Les Dawson, Ivor Cutler and the aforementioned Pam Ayres. I didn’t care who wrote the book, so long as it was funny, and this has translated to my work today, the urge to use the wonderful tools language and it’s effects to make people have fun.

I love to read contemporary novels, particularly Haruki Murakami, Ali Smith, David Mitchell and Paul Auster. Recently I read Dan Rhodes’ book, Gold, and I thought it was so funny that I was rationing the number of pages I read a day so as to prolong the process! The writers I like are those that take you away from the present moment but always ground their fantasy in the normal, recognisable world. The Spanish writer, Juan Goytisolo, who passed away last year, wrote the most mind boggling humorous yet political novels which played with language and the form of the novel itself.

I read a lot of contemporary spoken word artists, such as John Hegley, naturally, but also Monkey Poet, Byron Vincent, Vanessa Kisuule, Dominic Berry. It just so happens that too of my best friends are also amazing contemporary poets, Samantha Boarer and Melanie Branton, and both have amazing books published in the last year.

Writing is a form of artistic expression. I believe that most people wish to express themselves in creative terms. My sister paints pictures and plays the flute, and my mother is a flower arranger who dabbles in ikebana. My dad used to paint, too, and my grandad was an inventor who would toil away in his workshop like some kind of comedy mad professor.

I can’t sing, dance or play an instrument, though I have tried all three. Writing and performing are the two things which bring me joy and, in a funny sort of way, help me to make some kind of sense of the world and the human condition.

The moment you pick up a pen and write something, then you’re a writer. There’s no ceremony or procedure. If you want to be a writer, then write.

My advice would be to keep writing and rehearsing, watch other poets, play around, be comfortable with your material, have fun as you’re rehearsing, try to be different, and most of all, write and perform to please yourself first and foremost. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, or what success it might seem they’re having, or what you think the audience might like. Just play your own game. And have fun. If you’re having fun while you’re performing, then the audience will have fun, too. And play around, and be loose.

I spent the majority of last year working on my first purpose written solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, an hour long poem which I performed all over the Uk. I’m currently making a film of this with a film maker friend of mine, who is making his own interpretation of my work. At the same time, i am working with a jazz band to make a new stage version of the show, which is currently being written and will be rehearsed and finally performed probably towards the end of 2019.

My father passed away a couple of months ago, and I have written an hour long poem about his time working in the Australian outback, which I hope to perform just once, accompanied by a friend who is a violinist, it should be a good evening.

My new solo show for the festival and fringe circuit next year will be called Spout, and if is a set of poems and comedy material about the subject of tea.

On top of all this, as if I’m not busy enough, I’ve been working on two collections, one of serious pagey poetry, the other of upbeat comedy poems.