On haiku.

You know, I was thinking the other day. Why does the word monosyllabic have so many syllables?

And naturally, this got me thinking about haiku. You know, the short from Japanese poems.

Do you know what makes me really annoyed? It’s when you go to a poetry recital, and a poet announces that They’re going to perform a haiku, but first they remind us What the rules of a haiku are. And the explanation of what a haiku is Takes longer than the haiku they read out, All that build up, and it’s over.

It’s just like sex. Except it’s something I can do, too.

I wrote one the other day which I was Really proud of.

The man with no arms,

Fighting in the local pub.

He was kicking off.

So shall we bask in its glory?

Note the syllables. Five, seven. Five, It’s a work of art.

I was so pleased with the haiku that I put it on Facebook as a status update. And I got the following comments.

Edna – Nice haiku

Steven – Great haiku.

Gary – Your limerick is missing two lines.

Mike – Like it, mate. Smiley face.

Paul – Love it, lol.

Greg – Great stuff, lol.

Paul – Hey Greg, how’s it going? Lol.

Greg- Not bad, Paul, lol.

Paul – You out tonight? Lol.

Greg – Staying in tonight, lol.

Paul- Saving up for your holidays? Lol.

Greg – Yeah, lol.

Paul – Minehead again this year? Lol.

Greg- Yeah, lol.

Paul – Camping of hotel? Lol.

Greg- To be honest we thought about taking a tent but after last time with Dawn’s bad back I thought we’d better not risk it what with that and it being allergy season, you know she does suffer, the poor thing, so we’ve booked in to a nice hotel for the week, lol.

Paul – Lol.

Greg- Hey Robert Garnham, did you write this on an aircraft? Lol.

Me- Yes, as a matter of fact.

Greg – Then you’re a member of the mile haiku club.

Lol.

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Robert Garnham Live at Brixham Theatre

Here’s a video of a gig I did at Brixham Theatre in September 2018. I hope that you enjoy it.

On discovering my audience demographic

I’ve often written that my ideal demographic seems to be people above the age of seventy. This is an unusual position for a spoken word artist to be in. Most of my contemporaries are edgy and youthful and perform poems about social issues with anger and verve and bravery. And as a result they are feted by audiences and social media, and their videos go viral, and they are surrounded by youthful acolytes and admirers. This is fantastic, of course, and I would do anything to have a similar audience. However, the gigs where I have gone down the best have generally been to those of . . Well . . Octogenarians.

The good thing about this is that these are usually people who have disposable income and want to buy books as a result. They have the money to buy the books and the time to read them. The bad thing about this is, most of them aren’t on social media. So this means that they are not exactly likely to go searching for me on the web after a gig. As a result I rely on word of mouth.

I also tackle social issues, of course, using the medium of comedy poetry. I was chatting to a comedian on Monday night and he laughed when I told him that I saw myself as a safe LGBT poet for a straight audience. But I wasn’t joking. I’ve done LGBT gigs and while they’ve gone ok, the biggest reaction always comes from straight audiences. It’s rather satisfying to be quietly subversive, slyly introducing concepts such as gay rights and representation of minorities through the medium of comedy poetry to an audience who one would assume to be more conservative in outlook. But not necessarily. I believe that most of the audiences I’ve performed to are open minded and not the stereotypical Daily Mail readers that one might imagine. Except in Tiverton.

So last week I did a variety show at a theatre in Brixham. It was great to have a big stage to play around with, greater still to have a huge audience who laughed in all the right places. They loved what I did, and I loved performing to them on a rainy night at a Devon fishing port. The demographic, again, was somewhat mature, which I didn’t realise until I left, as the stage lights were so bright. But it went down a dream and I enjoyed every minute.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up performing to young people. I love young audiences, as they do weird things like whooping and clicking their fingers, which when I first heard I thought was an attempt to summon a waiter. And then afterwards they come up and say things like, wow, that was totes amazeballs. But lately I’ve grown to accept and then love the fact that people over a certain age are still up for a laugh and a bit of naughtiness.

Here’s a video of what I got up to

https://youtu.be/CyVrd7Z-X_8

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

Spoken word as fun : The peculiar Torbay spoken word micro climate

I don’t know what’s happening with spoken word in Torbay at the moment, but there seems to be a remarkable increase in energy and interest which is quite thrilling to see. This last month, both Stanza Extravaganza and Big Poetry, the two spoken word nights in Torquay, were standing room only and sold out. Both had audiences that were bigger than the actual venues, which is certainly a nice problem to have.

I was chatting with Brenda Hutchings as she gave me a lift home, and she was of the opinion that spoken word audiences in Torbay now see it as normal that they should come to such a night and expect comedy poetry. I believe she’s right, and that this is a local thing, a peculiar speciality just of the Torbay scene. Audience members in Bristol, London, even Exeter, do not automatically expect that what they are about to see will necessarily make them laugh, and that if this happens, then it’s just a bonus. However, Torbay’s audiences expect to be entertained and to have a laugh. This is not to say that serious poetry and serious issues are not tolerated. Indeed, serious content is magnified by such expectations. Witness, for example, the rapturous response to Melanie Crump’s poem about women’s rights and empowerment.

Not only do there seem to be a lot of comedic poets in Torbay, but they are diverse and funny in their own unique way. Melanie Crump and Brenda Hutchings can both be hilariously funny and also deeply serious and emotional. Steve O uses props for incredible effect, Tom Austin uses props and costumes, Joanna Hatfull uses rhyme and storytelling, Shelley Szender explores her material in a relaxed and relatable manner. Both myself and Samantha Boarer, my co host at Big Poetry, look at life and relationships and erotic issues within our work juxtaposing the everyday with the downright filthy.

Part of the success of the local comedy poetry scene is the curating policy of Big Poetry. Each night is put together with one eye on the holistic effect of so many diverse performers, but a big philosophy of the night is to include comedy poets. As well as the local Torbay performers, we invite the funniest poets from Exeter and Plymouth, Totnes and further afield, such as Julie Mullen, Ross Bryant and Jackie Juno, and they become as much a part of Big Poetry as the venue itself. Each has their own loyal following.

I’ve written before of the perculiar nature of the local scene. The poetry nights at the Blue Walnut started almost ten years ago and the emphasis was always on experimentation and comedy, thanks to performers such as Chris Brooks, Bryce Dumont, and the previously mentioned Tom Austin, who would push the performance envelope and be as downright weird as they possibly could be. It was this atmosphere that attracted me to performance and it was with these people that I crafted my own act and stage persona. I can think of nowhere else in the country where these elements hold sway in such a tight geographical location.

We are also very lucky to have some fine poets whose styles are so different and diverse as to add a singular touch to any evening, such as Becky Nuttall, who does an enormous amount for the local art and spoken word scene, and Jason Disley, whose jazz influenced beat poetry is utterly unique. Jason has just started running a new night in Paignton called Speaky Blinders, which is also going from strength to strength and is imbued with the whole Torbay ethos of spoken word as fun. Becky is working hard on various projects bringing art and poetry together, while also running the Stanza Extravaganza poetry nights at the Artizan Gallery.

It’s a thriving scene down here in Torbay, and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it. Our audiences are amazing and without them and their encouragement, the scene would not be quite as vibrant as it is.

Incite, LGBT poetry in London, the city as a beacon

Last night I performed a set at Incite, the LGBT poetry night in London run by Trudy Howson. And what a brilliant night it was, a happy and positive showcase of LGBT voices and concerns.

Trudy makes everyone welcome, greeting every audience member and matching up people who are sitting alone. She encouraged several people to sit together and they spent the night chatting and enjoying the poetry. This led to a very friendly atmosphere in the room, of acceptance and bonhomie.

The gig took place at the Phoenix Artists Club on Charing Cross Road, a fantastic venue in the heart of Londons west end surrounded by theatres, with Old Compton Street, itself the heart of gay London, just across the way. A friend of mine, New York drag act Margoh Channing, performed here a couple of years back and has fond memories of doing so, so I was particularly looking forward to following in her high heel footsteps.

I was also a little bit nervous, as I’d been to this night before as a spectator, and the headline acts were earnest and passionate supporters of LGBT rights and their work tinged with a deep seriousness. And while I’m an LGBT artist myself, I am aware that LGBT rights is just a small part of what I do. I’ve always seen myself as an entertainer rather than a poet, and I wasn’t sure if the audience would get my act at all.

As it happens, it all went rather well. The first couple of minutes were a bit tentative, you could tell that the audience really didn’t know what to think, but halfway through the first poem there was a change and people began laughing along with it. This was helped by the fact that the table at the front of the stage was a trio of lovely more mature ladies who laughed in all the right places, and afterwards thanked me for bringing some comedy to the night.

The other acts were amazing and life affirming, and I found their poetry incredibly inspiring, to hear about so many lives and diverse backgrounds and communities but all with the same motivations, the same problems, the same concerns. Trudy herself spoke of moving to London to find love and acceptance, and it seemed that most of the room had also done the same. There was a glorious cohesiveness to the audience, brought together at the Phoenix Artists Club for the same reason. It’s a shame that the gig was only a couple of hours long.

I left to get my train back to Woking. Walking from Charing Cross Road to Waterloo station, I crossed the bridge and saw London itself, its iconic skyline and skyscrapers lit up, and I thought of all those lost souls who drift into the capital in search of love and fulfilment.

Much Ado about Muffins

Much ado about muffins

A stark yellow light bends oblong from
Faux Edwardian windows
Illuminating each individual cobble of the
Pretend medieval street.
A sign hangs and creaks in the autumn breeze,
An antiquated font black on white,
Much Ado About Muffins.

Derek Dubbins is on duty, dour, he damps down
The desk with a bleach soaked dishcloth,
Rain-macked tourists huddle in the doorway
With rucksacks the wrong way round,
Derek sneers, scrubs harder, his knuckles whiten
While his regular clientele read the Daily Mail
And nod in agreement with the letters to the editor.

This is not the sort of place
Where you might ask for soya milk,
A traditional establishment
Harking back to a past that never was,
A display cabinet of scones,
Jam tarts, a framed photo of Margaret Thatcher
And another of that mad orange-faced gibbon,
You know the one,
And Derek himself, gammon red and
Incensed by subjects as diverse as breast feeding,
Health and safety regulations,
The rights of minority groups,
Croissants.
Nothing makes his blood boil more than the expression,
Live and let live.
In short, he’s a bit of a cock.

But Brad does not know this, Brad,
Eager and carefree and delicately attired
In a plain white tshirt and three quarter length trousers,
Converse all stars with no socks, Brad,
Sunny demeanour, a fervent believer
In the goodness of other souls,
Though quite possibly wearying after the
First ten minutes,
Brad lays his slender and manicured fingers
On the freshly bleached desk and says,
Would it be possible to order a wedding cake?

Why of course, says Derek,
Who’s the lucky bride to be?
Oh, replies Brad, that would be me!
Then let’s out a laugh,
Or my partner, my love, my other half,
Bradley.
What?, Derek asks.
Yes, I know, I call him Bradley
Because otherwise we’d both be called Brad
Nothing worse than shouting out your own name
During an orgasm!

No, he replies,
No, he replies,
No, no, no.
I don’t need your custom here.
I don’t need your cash.
Your ways and whims
Make a mockery of my beliefs,
Just go, just dash,
Before I call the police!
And brandishing his stainless steel cake tongs,
Derek watches
As Brad takes leave.

Silence descends upon Much Ado About Muffins.
Nervous cleared throats
And the occasional rustling
Of the Daily Mail.
All
Is as
It should be.

The dead of night.
A moonless midnight,
A silence so deep it stuns.
The kitchen refrigerator
Quietly hums.
Derek slumbers under his duvet,
Dreaming dreams of a new day
Where people know their place,
How great life would be
If everyone were like he.
He imagines a world without . . .

Fairies
Appear at the kitchen window,
Their dainty wings beat softly on the pane,
Each one emits an iridescent glow
Which sparkles, moves,
They let themselves in
And flutter round the room,
Twelve of them
Waving their magic wands,
Light as air.
Gary, Bruce, Dave, John, John, Roger,
John, Dave, Bruce, Gary, Roger and Sebastian.

They land on the marble work top.
Ok, girls, says Bruce,
You know what to do.
We’re here to celebrate
A love that’s true.
Let’s use our fairy dust
And bake with all our might
And feel proud of our efforts
At the end of the night.
Let’s get to work, let’s light the lamp,
It’s like then shoemaker and the elves
But a little more camp!

Ok, girls,
Let’s do this!

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

The fairies sit back and gaze at their efforts.
A triple tiered masterpiece with icing gently
Soulful like a rococo palace,
By turns baroque and stately, it stands as a
Testament to the love which
Propels the planet itself throughout its lonely orbit.
We shall bring Brad first thing, says Bruce,
Show him his cake, and then,
Our work here will be done.

At that moment the fairies hear
The trundling lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Fe, fi, fo, fum,
I’m off to have a dump.

Derek spies a suspicious sparkling,
Creaks open the kitchen door,
And there before him, the wedding cake
In all it’s majestic splendour,
The words Congratulations Brad and Bradley
Spiking his heart with a vengeful angst,
He goes bloody ballistic.
Tears into the fresh frosting and flings it, frantically,
Out the back door and into the yard
Where it lands next to the recycling bins.
He turns and stamps back up the stairs,
Stampy stampy stampy,
What an absolute bell-end.

Well, ladies, says Bruce,
No use standing round here all night
With a face like a slapped arse.
You know what to do, my lovelies.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

Again, the fairies stand back to admire their efforts.
In divinity does the cake
Seem to defy gravity, its delicate frosting
Reminiscent of a winters forest,
And equally ethereal the finely spun sugar lacing,
Like dew on a spiders web,
As tentative and timeless as love in all it’s glory ,
Less a cake, and more a hymn to matrimony.
We shall bring Brad first things they say,
So that he can pick up his cake, and then,
Oh then, our work here is done.

At that moment, bugger me,
The trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase, and his
Baritone voice booming,
Hey diddle dee dee,
I’ve come to have a wee!

A moment or so later the second cake
Joins the first in the back yard next to the recycling bins,
Which he never uses anyway,
And most of the fairies can see a pattern forming.

Alright, says Bruce,
We’ll have one last crack at this.

They make the base
They drain the dregs
They roll and kneed
They beat the eggs.

They laugh and joke
They take a risk
They craft and cook
They cut and whisk

They stir and mix
And prod and bake
And ice and fill
The wedding cake

And there it stands
So tall and glad,
Congratulations
Brad and Brad. Ley.

For a third time, the fairies stand back,
For the cake is a corpulence of crusted creams,
Daintily drizzled with delicious dustings of sweetness,
White with ice frosting, a triple layered dream
Held up with Corinthian columns, finely sculpted
Decorative dainty Daisy chains,
It stands as a hymn to love, a monument to
The deepest adoration, the passion
Which keeps us all from going insane.

A door opens upstairs,
Followed by the trundling, lollopping footsteps of Derek
On the old rickety staircase,
Tiddly om pom Pom,
I think I’ve got the runs!

There’s silence.
He pushes open the kitchen door,
He sees the cake in all it’s majesty,
Congratulations Brad and Bradley,
And just as he’s about to lunge,
Bruce, the fairy,
Suddenly appears right in front of him,
Lit up in ethereal light in the dark of the kitchen light.

Arghhhh!, says Derek.
You!, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
What the fuck are you, I mean,
Seriously!

I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, says Bruce.
Really?, says Derek.
Naaah, says Bruce.
Keep away!, says Derek.
Keep away, keep away!
Just what do you want from me?

The fairies surround him, but there’s no menace.
The glow of their wings flits across the ceiling,
Iridescent magic reflecting back from pots and pans.
We want you to love, says Dave.
We want you to cherish life, says Jim.
We want you to open your eyes, says Bruce,
And see that there’s so much else beyond
Your faded jaded introspective worldview.

Love is a dream for many.
Love is a ludicrous nonsense.
Love is the aim of every soul.
Love should never be banished.
Love is a celebration!
Love is the glue that keeps us all sane,
Love is more than just a game.

And love does not care for labels.
Love is a miracle whenever it occurs,
A passion shared is doubled, and it spreads,
Soars, fills the world and builds it up.
There were generations who couldn’t,
The world rattled with their silent screams,
It happens today in places less free,
Hearts torn in twain by the thunder of disapproval,
Lives ruined amid the scream of self righteous bullies.
He who stands against love
Stands against life itself.

There’s a magic in the air
As Derek feels a weight lifted.
He sees the world anew, then stares
Deep into his own soul,
Shudders at what he sees,
Deafening and darkness and the Daily Mail,
Hatred dictated by front page opinions
And the need to appear big.
You’re right, he whispers,
Love shall be celebrated,
And I’d be proud to play my part.

At that moment, a lonely sunbeam
Slants through the window, signals
The dawn of a new day,
And In walks Brad, accompanied by
Gary, Roger and Sebastian.
Proudly, and with a tear in his eye,
Derek announces, here,
With all the blessings of my humble tea shop,
And with honest and newfound best wishes
For a happy life together,
Please accept this
Splendid wedding cake.

Brad smiles, and leaps for joy,
Then bends down and inspects the cake carefully.
That’s very sweet of you, he says,
And it’s a beautiful cake,
But I have a wheat intolerance
And Bradley is allergic to dairy products.

One year as a semi professional spoken word artist

So it’s been almost a year now since I went semi professional and things are going well. I’ve done some amazing things and had some great opportunities, and I’ve glimpsed what it’s like to be a professional self employed artist, and how tentative the financial side of things can be. I feel like I’ve never worked harder. Every decision has to be made with a financial head rather than the usual emotional impulse to do something, whatever the consequences. The admin has taken over my life, in that there are days when I spend hours on end just filling in forms and understanding how things work.

All of this has left me with a deep admiration for those who are full time self employed creatives. We only seem to celebrate them when things go well, when they win big commissions or competitions, when they appear on Britain’s Got Talent and amaze the audience, or win poetry slams, or get parts in plays and films. What we don’t see is the frantic administration behind the scenes, the hours of self doubt and the incredible practice and industry these people put in to get something back.

For me, the result of being self employed is the idea that I have to choose my projects carefully. Every now and then something comes along which I really want to do, but I have to weigh up whether or not if will be a good use of my resources and money. I can no longer flit to a gig the other side of the country just to do an open mic slot like I used to in the old days, because if I did then I wouldn’t have enough money for the rest of the month. However, if I could combine it with another project which makes it financially viable, then I would.

One of the most surprising aspects of being self employed is the fact that I get commissions every now and then. I’ve written bespoke poems for people, for weddings and anniversaries, christening and parties. This week I had a commission and while I was in the shower, some great rhymes came. I went to my desk and spent an hour carefully crafting a poem in memory of someone’s grandmother and was just about to send it to them when I checked the original email. I’d got the name wrong. The real name didn’t even rhyme with anything I’d written. Looking back now, iT was rather comical.

So over the last year I have put together a brand new show with all new material, and taken myself out of my comfort zone with storytelling, serious material and a one hundred percent polyester ringmaster outfit, and then toured it around the UK. I’ve hired small theatres and venues and put together the gigs myself. I’ve taken over a regular spoken word night in Torquay. I’ve become the editor of a comedy online journal, and I’ve been employed as the social media manager for a more serious poetry magazine. It’s been quite a year.

So of course, I’m still semi employed. I still have a job for most of the week, which is where I’m off to now. But the progress I’ve made over the last year fills me with hope, all I need now is to build on what I’ve done, and who knows, there’ll be no stopping me!