Friday, 31 August 2012

Mellow Yellow

I went to the Forest Poets open mic night at Walthamstow Library yesterday.  There were two good reasons behind my visit – firstly, Rob Auton performed some of his Edinburgh Show “Yellow” for the benefit of his fellow local residents for the first time, and secondly, it’s very rare for me to get a chance to see the talent in my local area showcased.

With regards to Rob Auton, if you haven’t seen him perform by now, you really should do.  Anyone with even a passing interest in how comedy poetry can be inventively and brilliantly performed and delivered should either drop by at “Bang! Said The Gun” to see him read, or make an effort to attend a full-length gig of his. Kate Copstick recently gave him a good review at the Edinburgh Festival which nonetheless frustrated me in that it actually appeared to undersell his abilities, and I made a rather terse comment on Facebook to that effect.  Faced with the same challenges, however, I can sympathise with her predicament as a critic.  His style is incredibly difficult to put into words without making him sound like another whacky novelty poet with some puns attached.  In reality, Auton’s world is innocent, child-like, clownish, surreal and idiotic (with perhaps a dose of idiot-savant attached), and just as it’s difficult to explain to somebody who has never seen Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper or Vic and Bob perform what they do or how it works, his style sets endless challenges for critics.
The “Yellow” show, then, is an entire comedy poetry set based on the colour yellow and the humour, appreciation and oddness that can be derived from that hue.  Auton’s riffing and punning around the topic really shouldn’t work across two poems, never mind more, but he’s inventive and imaginative enough to roll with it and succeed, baking up ludicrous scenarios about hiding himself away behind a fortress of Shredded Wheat boxes in a supermarket, or philosophising around the general worth of the grapefruit. His performances are always great room-dividers with audience members either loving what he does or being utterly confounded by it, but in a world of cut-and-paste, slick and fashionable young panel show wannabes, he’s an absolute eccentric gem, a rare example of a comedian (and indeed spoken word artist) who is willing to go out on a limb and managing to succeed whilst doing so.

The open mic session that followed was terrifying in that it suddenly revealed a whole host of talent which obviously hasn’t made it to many of the open mics or poetry shows in Central London yet.  Twelve years ago when I first began my journey into live poetry, open mic sessions were predictable and familiar affairs – poets roamed like herds of wildebeest from one event to the next, and you would frequently see the same faces in Earls Court that you saw in Islington the previous week, often honing exactly the same material.  It’s a testament to the increased popularity of live poetry events now that localised pockets of talent seem to have developed, meaning scores of different faces are guaranteed at each event.  There were very few examples of bad poetry on display last night (apart from perhaps my misguided attempt to introduce my interesting “Princess Diana” poem to the proceedings) and I suspect that the Zone 3 location of Walthamstow also put some of the circuit's most talentless attention-seekers off attending. If a journey is involved and there’s not likely to be any promoters to impress in the audience at the other end, it seems to act as a good deterrent. 

I’ve lived in Walthamstow now for twelve years (on and off) and whilst I often want to take pride in my local area, certain aspects – the questionable activities of the local council, the lack of arts or entertainment venues, some of the worst neighbours I’ve ever had in my life, dodgy landlords – have pushed me close to phoning Pickfords to move elsewhere.  Events like this open mic reminded me that there is a huge groundswell of talent in the area, as well as some very friendly and engaging people. It’s also useful to remember that areas like Walthamstow are actually where a lot of the least cynical and calculating creativity happens.  The new-found competition and careerism in spoken word can sometimes feel burdensome too, even if I acknowledge that it is necessary to an extent.  Events like this take live poetry back to its community roots and hopefully do a good job of reminding us all why it felt so good to be involved in the circuit in the first place - a win/win situation.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Collector's Riddle

And in the sixties
with the music
and the youth explosion
came greater
freedom of choice.

So now you’ve
found that one –
that album
with depth
where notes
volley up on
bass notes to
elevate you
beyond these
four beige walls,
where rhythms
surprise like
de-railed express
trains jolted
from certain
commuter paths
and into the
dark, exciting,
wild wood beyond
will you
always play it?

Will you stay
with it, will
you cherish it as
much when the
marks, the
scratches pop,
crackle and
click like
arthritic limbs,
when the needle
has scraped
away the
soft subtleties,
when the grooves
lock and fail to
progress fluidly,
skipping over
coherent ideas and
repeating themselves?

Or will you
leave it on the
shelf, longing to
be slapped awake by a
younger, newer
noise, or
something daintier,
lighter, the
work of someone
who never grew
with you, was
never there
when you needed them,
and never formed the
backdrop, the
answer to your life?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Behind The Yellow Line

(I think I'm right in saying this was one of the few poems I wrote whilst I was gallivanting around Australia. At this point the creative juices really weren't flowing very well, and there was nobody about who was willing to give me the necessary kick up the backside.  

I ended up reading this a couple of times when I returned to London, then forgetting all about it.  Should I have?  Well, should I have?  Oh, who knows?)

…and she muttered something
about missed opportunities, then
she said: “sometimes
I think the lines on my
face are old battle trenches,
or perhaps nonsense
words of X, Y and Zs
scraped by an
illiterate child on an
empty English beach,
and sometimes I think I
speak no more sense
than those.

And sometimes, when I
gaze at myself in the
mirror under the
overcrowded, blonde
antiseptic light, I
see forgotten numbers to
disconnected phones
etched into my scalp.

And I have travelled so
much I hear their voices
taunt me all the time.
They say
‘stand behind the yellow
line, another train will be
along shortly’, and ‘just
think, if you lived
here you’d be
home already’”.

Sunday, 5 August 2012


I place my money on nothing anymore.
I have reached the stage where I
don’t expect or anticipate
even the unexpected, I just
sit waiting to drift across the
soundwaves of others
talking in this room.
They fill it until it is one
dense block of chopping
blabber, the note of people
telling extraordinary stories in
very ordinary, polite ways
being a drone of Middle C.

I just pray that one day
these tones will push me into the
trance that delivers the
key moment – that the
conversations about last night’s
television, this year’s lust
figure, and expletive-spittled
observations about idle Chairmen of
various Boards, these things will
ascend me to higher
Western knowledge, then I
shall be fit to walk these streets.

I believe in nothing
anymore, and I still drift
through the city unnoticed
living on sheer chance.
It is actually nothing to
write home about,
but I frequently do.