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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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!

On the creative process behind my new solo show

The genesis of my new solo show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak, goes back two years, on the train from Edinburgh back to London from the Fringe. I knew that I had to write a whole hour show, and as I looked around the train I pondered on using it as the location to set the show. My original title, indeed, was Vestibule. I wanted a show about the different people standing in the vestibule of an overcrowded train, and what stories they would share.

The idea for a show with one story came from some of the performers I saw that year, in particular the wonderful Dandy Darkly, whose blend of cabaret and storytelling really struck a chord, and the storytelling of Matt Panesh. I wrote a fifteen minute long piece called Mr. Juicy, which I learned, as a basis for something longer.

The next year I went to Edinburgh with a greatest hits package of my poetry, which I called Juicy, and it did rather well, exceeding my own expectations. Yet I’d not done any of the things that proper performers do. No director, hardly any publicity, no mention of the show in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide. I knew that Juicy would be a stop gap. Mr. Juicy was the last fifteen minutes of this show, and despite its ad hoc nature, the show was performed at other venues around the UK.

Last autumn I took a week off to think about the next show. I had three elements, initially, which I wanted I combine: the idea of a show set on a train, a ringmasters outfit, which I’d bought from Amazon, and a title: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I sat down with a pen and paper, intent on beginning the story and taking the four months up to January in writing it. Amazingly, I wrote the whole script in one frantic week.

My attention went back to Juicy for a couple of months, as I was still performing it at various places, but as soon as the last performance was done, I started the process of memorising Yak. Until a year ago, I’d never been able to memorise even a three minute poem. However, with a bit of perseverance, and the knowledge that the only way to do it was through hard work, is begun committing several of my poems to memory. I used the same techniques with Yak.

So over the last four months I have managed to commit the whole hour show to my brain. The script has accompanied me everywhere, in particular to the gym and the sauna, places where I can just go over and over the lines. The swimming pool is an amazing place to run through certain scenes. During the snow storms over the winter, snowed in at my parents bungalow, I rehearsed the show while looking out at the fat flakes falling from the sky. And two days ago, in a hotel room on the Atlantic coast, I memorised a whole section while watching the surfers.

I have also employed a director. This is the most scary aspect, as it means that someone else, other than me, is as serious about the project as I am. My friend Bryce has helped with the music for certain moments of the show. And I’ve booked a mini tour, taking in Exeter, Gateshead, Bristol, Guildford, Torquay, Denbury, Barnstaple and, of course, Edinburgh. Indeed, the whole show has taken over my life.

So there’s not much time for anything else. My normal rhythm of poem production and rehearsal has taken a back seat, at least, until September. I’ve been doing less gigs, except for local ones. Everything has condensed down to the show.

The scariest aspect of it all is that the show is different. My usual style is to break the fourth wall, interact with the audience and draw attention to the manufactured aspect of reading poetry in front of people. Yak does not allow me to do this, it is a self contained piece, serious in places, whose sole aim is not just to make people laugh. I’m really looking forward to the first performance, and yet at the same time, I’m very nervous indeed!

So I hope you will be able to come along some time, and see my new show. I just hope that it will all be worth it!

Modern art and me.

Art and me.

By the time I got to my twenties, I decided to give in and like modern art. This was because most of the classical art of antiquity, architecture, landscape and portrait, historical scenes, statuary, left me deeply unimpressed. You know what young people are like. And it was also because I was a rebel, and I could see that most modern art was about rebellion. I rebelled, by taking an evening class on A-Level Art History, and then immediately regretted it, because the things that I liked only took up a very small amount of the course. It only seemed to perk up by the time we got to the abstract expressionists. Fauvism, Art Deco, modernism, cubism, all seemed too contrived, and I still have no idea what the Pre Raphaelites was all about. Abstract expressionism did it for me.

My taste in art has always been about sixty years out of date. After twenty years of being besotted by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Elaine de Kooning, etc, I decided that abstract expressionism was now somewhat passé. Pop Art was now my thing. Andy Warhol was a genius and I’m sure that we would have got along fine. OK, so I may have been caught up on the romance of The Factory, and it’s swinging vibe, and the Velvet Underground popping round, but Pop Art seemed to say more to me than the abstract of abstract expressionism, even if the ideals of Pop Art seemed less a social commentary, and more an abstractness than abstract expressionism. The throwaway essence of Warhol, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and, indeed, Gilbert and George, spoke more of the world I saw, in much the same way as the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

I call myself a spoken word artist. The first reason for this is that I don’t really call what I do ‘poetry’, even though the pieces that I write, I invariably call Poems. The second reason is that the term has the word ‘artist’ in it. I have a feeling that if I theorise my approach in the context of movements and art history, then I’ll no longer be able to do it properly, but the words ‘avant gard’ have been banded around in the context of my work, along with ‘performance art’ and ‘conceptual’. One of my biggest influences is the po-faced conceptualise of the Pet Shop Boys, who, along with their designer, Farrow, have created a certain unique brand of arch irony. You can do what you like, they seem to say, just as long as you do it with sincerity, integrity.

I’ve often heard it said that comedy and art do not mix. If I wear a hat, and people laugh, then it’s comedy. If they don’t laugh, then it’s art. I’ve done a lot of art over the years. That’s another reason why I am a spoken word artist.

But my biggest influence, and my favourite modern artist, is Laurie Anderson. Laurie is incredibly prolific and uses narrative as well as performance art. She invents instruments,engages with multi media work, creates pop music, and has even written a concert for dogs. Her incredibly inventiveness is an inspiration and through reading her words or listening to her music, I find the energy to embrace different projects and collaborate with different people. I’ve made two short films with film maker John Tompkins, provided spoken word for the avant gard jazz rock group Croydon Tourist Office, worked with photographers and artists in a project called the Trios, collaborated with Jo Mortimer on a set of prints, embarked on an art project of my own called The Most Insignificant Full Stop, and now I’m working on a theatrical spoken word show called In the Glare of the Neon Yak. My previous show, Static, combined long periods of silent prop based performance art with poetry, while my second show, Juicy, was a set of comedy poems. I’ve also written a novel, Reception. I wouldn’t have had the impetus or the inspiration to work on so many diverse projects were it not for the inventiveness of Laurie Anderson.

Going to the Wazza in the Wetherspoons

Poem

A fond and fatalistic farewell,
Sweet fingertips touching and the sickly embrace of souls,
So teary-eyed, this overwrought scene played out
Amid plush furnishings, boozy background chatter
And pro-Brexit propaganda,
Two sweethearts parting, like lovestruck badgers,
Like swans mated for life,
Indeed, like nations
Pulling out of economic and socio-political union.
With a heavy heart, and a heavy bladder,
Does Brad’s long expedition begin, for he is
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A varnished plywood sign points the way and gives his heart hope,
As he waddles like a pregnant duck
Past tables piled high with triple decker burgers,
Through this labyrinthine, eccentrically carpeted converted sock factory
This utopia of rhythmic belching and exquisitely crafted fart jokes,
How grave this soul, like Shackleton,
Like Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing, he’s
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

An anonymous door next to the serving hatch hell hole
Through which chefs sweat over the bolognese
And churn out searing hot synchronised steak pies,
Leads to a flight of zig zag carpeted stairs up,
Up, to a landing, then on to another landing,
Then up to another landing, how our hero
Hums to himself as the pressure builds, accumulated
Through several coffees, diet Cokes, Apple and Raspberry J20s,
A gallon of water glugged at the gym,
Oh my god, why didn’t anyone stop him?
He goes up to another landing,
Then through a door behind which is another landing,
And then a corridor, and then a flight of stairs,
Until it seems that this accursed maze should
Somehow subvert physicality itself,
And become psychic, subconscious,
Or maybe they just want you to be sober
By the time you get to the bogs,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A flight of stairs.
A landing.
A flight of stairs.
A landing.
A corridor.
Bizarrely now, a flight of stairs going down,
Immediately followed by a flight of stairs going up,
WTF,
A landing,
A flight of stairs,
Vision blurring, the zig zag carpets
Beginning to resemble swastikas,
The walls melt like a wedding cake
In a jet engine,
There’s no mobile signal,
No sign of human life,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

Around the next corner he finds a haggard straggler,
Stooped for oxygen against the wall.
Go on, the old man says, you go on without me,
Tell my wife and kids I love them dearly.
Another door, another flight of stairs,
He thinks he hears the howl of a distant wolf
Or maybe it is time itself, mocking him,
He imagines his fate relayed to those who loved him,
They whisper his name on rainy afternoons,
The man who wanted a wee in the Wetherspoons.

Delirium comes to every soul.
A survival instinct kicks in.
How he pines for the gleaming porcelain of the urinals,
That he might lovingly caress their shiny brilliance
And lose himself to the lemony goodness of the urinal cakes,
A mirage ahead gets his hopes up
But turns out to be the mop cupboard,
He feels like crying, collapsing,
Scrawling his last message on the wall,
My name is Brad, I only wanted a slash,
Going to the wazza in the Wetherspoons.

A final corridor turns back on itself,
Reveals a door with faux gold embossed lettering, Gentlemen,
And he crashes through, almost sobbing with relief,
A journey done, a quest fulfilled, like Homers Odyssey,
Like Jason and the Argonauts,
Like those sodding Hobbits in Lord of the Rings,
He runs to the urinal and fumbles with his fly
At the exact moment that the fire alarm goes off.

Promotional video for my new solo show

Here’s a link to a short video I have made about my new show, In the Glare of the Neon Yak

https://youtu.be/VKEXMdGwDME

And the latest tour dates are as follows.

See you soon!