Sunday, February 22, 2009

First Birthday of Oliver's Poetry / The Pi House

Mural in Leamington Spa, UKTomorrow is the first birthday of Oliver's Poetry Garret - and what a strange 12 months it has been!

Looking back, it is hard for me to get my head around some of the things that have happened. Also, at times, I have to confess it's not easy for me to see why I created this blog.

My interest in poetry started back in December 2004 when, under not entirely happy circumstances, I was leaving a job in London.

I won't go into the details of what happened then, apart from to say that for the first time in my life I turned to poetry.

During my last week in that job, I attended a poetry night in a bar in Brighton. The following day I wrote a poem about my situation at work and my feeling about the previous two-and-half-years working there. From that point I have not stopped writing poetry.

In the meantime, I had moved to a new day-job out in the countryside, and was initially living during the week in a converted woodshed in Cotesbach, Leicestershire (see flashback below). Eventually, I moved to Warwick and then Leamington.

The blog I instantly found addictive. Long before it was even launched, I was 'blogging' every day on a computer I had installed in my bedroom in Leamington.

The idea dawned on me of the blog moving forward and backward in time simultaneously. With regular blogs and flashbacks to my past (called backblogs). It all coincided with strange things happening in my personal life in Leamington, making the blogging all the more compulsive.

And, of course, there was the poetry. I had to write enough poems to put on the site and also to encourage other poets to submit their best work.

It was all most exciting for me. The problem was I soon found myself spending more time blogging, taking images for the site and doing technical stuff, like HTML, than actually writing poetry! This is an issue I have never truly resolved.

Pavement dwelling childHowever, an anniversary is always a good opportunity to reflect. And for this first one, I decided to return my  focus to poetry - and have re-read and revised all of my poems.

I was amazed to find that I had written 110 poems, although in a way this alarmed me. A poet needs only write a few great poems in a lifetime, and this high production of mediocrity in the first 30 months - while working full-time and doing numerous other tasks - struck me as excessive.

I have also written 48 blogs and, therefore, 48 flashbacks or backblogs and taken many of the images on Oliver's Poetry Garret. (I have picked out some of my favourite photographs from the first year to illustrate this anniversary blog.)

The blogs and flashbacks started out on the same day, of course - 2 June 2006 - but are now some 20 months apart. Writing the backblogs or flashbacks has become more difficult because now I am relying on memory or what few notes I have of my mis-spent history.

Image of silhouetted man on bench at Hove seatfront, UK The past year has been an interesting ride for Oliver's Poetry Garret which to a large degree reflects my personal journey.

What happens to me in life is my main inspiration for all the poetic writing I have done for this site and elsewhere.

And it has been through promoting the site that I have come to realise the link between the live comedy world, in which I was active for more than a decade performing and running a comedy club, and the burgeoning performance poetry scene.

Indeed I even ended up reading some of my poems at Leamington's uniquely brilliant comedy club, The Reckless Moment, in one of the gigs I have enjoyed most this year.

Sign of the Reckless Moment comedy club, Leamington Spa

Drinkers boycotting the Lewes Arms, Lewes

Sitting here in the Leamington Garret, overlooking the Pump Room Gardens, as the sun sets, I can see what a strange year it has been. In Leamington and Lewes, so many memorable things have happened.

The remarkable boycott of one of my favourite pubs, the Lewes Arms, in Lewes, by its customers - because the brewery removed their favourite ale - was subject of one of my blogs.

After running the famous public house virtually without a clientele for several months, Greene King realised they were never going to win and caved in.

Also in Lewes, being approached at random by a woman who asked me to be Father Christmas at a school fair was another strange occurrence.

Up in the Midlands, the death of my old friend Sam Towers, in Cotesbach, Leicestershire, was profoundly sad.

After the funeral I wrote a poem and blog and thought nothing more of it.

I was surprised to find Sam's relatives from around the world visiting the site to read them, and, touchingly, emailing to thank me.

I even received a missive from a youngster also called Sam Towers who said he was unrelated to the Sam Towers I had written about but 'was proud to share this gentleman's name'.

Also in Cotesbach, the estate dog Bruno died. He had been a great friend during the years I lived there (from 1999-2002 and 2005). Whenever I visit, it seems sadly strange not to have his great hairy, loving bulk jumping up at me, trying to lick my face!

All in all, the past 12 months have been rich in events and experience. I have greatly enjoyed my poetry slots at the tremendous PureandGoodandRight club in Leamington, and my other performances at Six of the Best in Birmingham, Word in Leicester and on the Warwick Words pub tour.

Yet what I am struggling to get my head around is what I really want to do with poetry. Reviewing comedy shows up at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, I gave it a lot of thought. I saw the buzz around the Pleasance Courtyard of an evening and thought that I wanted to be part of it, but as a poet.

When I see my friends and mates branching out creatively - as comedians, musicians, poets, artists or whatever - I wonder what I am doing artistically.

ceramic artist Chris Bramble
Even when I get hooked into an art form, I feel myself hopelessly waylayed into a geeky backwater such as web design, digital photography or blogging!

Sunrise in Chester, UK

I often wonder why it is I have written 110 poems in 30 poems but only committed three or four of them to memory.

Or why I am currently terrified of standing in front of an audience without a piece of paper in my hand.

Sunset over Foulden Road, Stoke Newington, London N16

The Pi House (Flashback to Saturday, 15 October 2005)

The Pi House, Cotesbach, Leicestershire, UK This is my last night in the Pi House - so-called because one of its windows is hewn in the shape of a Greek letter Pi - after almost 10 months. I am sad to be leaving but, with winter round the corner, it is definitely the right time to go.

I have loved living in this converted woodshed from Spring onwards (despite its lack of bathing or showering amenities).

It is a remarkable, ingenious building, with the shelter afforded by the indoors but the feel of the Great Outdoors.

In the winter, however, it is too tough for me. I have never known such cold as I experienced in this sweet little abode in January, February and March this year!

I recall awaking one morning thinking I had been frost-bitten, the ice forming on the inside of the windows.

Tonight I am going to the Sickle & Stick for a valedictory drink and traditional game of Staghorn. I know I shall miss my friends here as I prepare to move to Warwick and who knows what.

I am rather proud to have lived in the Pi House.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Bleak Mid-Winter

Blimey O’Reilly! What an absolutely depressing beginning to 2009!

I cannot recall a more miserable start to a year. If I was still working up in Leamington I’d be suicidal.

What with ranting Robert Peston's recession (soon we’ll all be brassic lint and speaking in silly voices), the ceaseless bad weather, obnoxious outpourings of Jeremy Clarkson and Jonathan Woss (why is it the rich and famous who are dishing out the abuse? What have they to moan about?), and general bad-temperedness of commuters on the train, it has been a ball-buster.

Apart from gushing Kate Winslet, is anyone feeling happy about their life?

To compound matters, I have not been particularly well, a cocktail of minor complaints that make my life uncomfortable.

I was so knackered by the end of last week that I just lay in my bed in the early with the electric blanket on attempting to keep warm. I wish hibernation was an option.

Let’s look on the bright side.

I succeeded in not drinking a drop of alcohol during January, and the Poet Chef kept up his roasting of various joints (pork, lamb, beef, chicken) during the month.

The January gig at Lewes Poetry was great.

Lewes poet Catherine Smith read well and pulled in quite a decent crowd as well as a respectable number of open mic poets.

It was an excellent evening even though, or perhaps because, I was as sober as a judge.

And there was a hilarious moment when her performance was interrupted by the entrance of two boys asking for their tennis ball back! (They thought it had somehow magically made its made in from outside through a closed window.)

With the help of hypnosis, I have been gradually memorising a selection of my poems to help to improve my live performances.

My first outing without my poetry book, at the Poetry Café in London, went amazingly well.

I recited a couple of poems word perfectly and they actually went down much better than they would have done if I’d read them.

And, yet, there is so much wrong with our dysfunctional country it is hard not to feel down at heart.

Every day I see the misery etched on the faces of the people on the train to London: the abject penpushers toiling pointlessly for this department or that; the no-longer-deluded financial service posse wondering if that day will be their last of paid employment; the ragged-jeaned builders soon to return to their eastern European country of origin which is now no poorer than Third World Britain.

“The end of boom and bust” – what a lie that turned out to be.

How long how Golden Brown keep up the ludicrous claim that the economic mess we are in has absolutely nothing to do with him, despite him running the economy since 1997?

People I see around London every day are getting seriously depressed.

The trains were delayed every day this week because of suicides.

Most of the passengers don't care; they behave like animals in their panic to get a seat.

Britain is becoming a nastier place, from sick people celebrating Jade Goody's apparently imminent death to the horrible toilet humour that passes as comedy with the likes of Clarkson, Woss and the rest of that overpaid BBC shower; from the BMW bastards who sacked thousands of workers an hour's notice to the union bosses who did nothing to the Labour Government that passed the laws allowing it to happen.

Half of Britain is in a day-dream. For instance we have been trying to buy a new radio for our VW van and made the mistake of going to Halfords in Newhaven.

We selected a suitable CD radio but last week the assistant refused to let me buy it, insisting I return to talk to the guy who fits the radios.

This I did, a week later, only to be told by the radio-fitter that it would cost 120 quid to fit the radio and the speakers we wanted and he did not have time anyway.

He told us not to buy from Halfords but to go to their rivals, Road Radio of Brighton.

What a waste of time.

No doubt the man was trying to save us money or himself a task, but if Halfords go bust and he is out of a job, he only has himself to blame.

Doesn't Halfords bother to train or motivate its staff?

Doesn't anyone have any pride in their work any longer?

If the Newhaven branch is typical, I very much doubt Halfords will survive the recession.

I find myself living increasingly in the past.

As always at this time of year, I start to wonder what happened to the numerous friends and mates I have lost touch with over the years.

The list is a long and chequered one.

I always yearn to get in touch with people but am held back by:

1. Lack of time to track them down (my contacts book was stolen at Finsbury Park Station in 2002),
2. Lack of time to meet them, and
3. Concern they won’t want to meet me (or, horror of horrors, even remember me).

The whole business of retracing the past plays large in my daydreams and nightmares.

Poetry-wise it has not been a bad time, I suppose.

Surprisingly, I have completed the first draft of my long, narrative poem, having written 200 stanzas.

Now for the challenging business of revising it.

And planning for the first birthday of Lewes Poetry – on Tuesday, February 24 – is going well.

The great Elvis McGonagall – recently slam poetry’s World Champion and a star of BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live – is headlining, performing a double set.

It should be a tremendous night (and only a Lady Godiva (fiver) in door-tax).

Another welcome development is that the legendary Frogmore Press approached me and asked if I would put on their published poets at a special night of Lewes Poetry on April 30.

It will be another good evening.

Its founder Jeremy Page pushed a copy of an old edition of Frogmore Papers through letter box. I have read it cover to cover - some excellent poetry.

I went to see Lewes FC play Wrexham at the Dripping Pan last Saturday.

On the terraces I bumped into Attila the Stockbroker and his charming wife who had come to see the Mighty Rooks battle the Mighty Red Dragons who, sadly, triumphed by 2-0.

I have written up this latest humiliation for the Rooks for my column High on Spring Water in The Mighty Rooks’ fanzine, Ten Worthing Bombers.

Anyway, Attila introduced me to stand-up comedian Mark Steel who was there to make a programme about Lewes for BBC Radio 4, and I ended up being interviewed about the glory days at the Pan, when the bar was open and we won our matches.

I felt a bit of a fraudster as I have never been an avid attender of matches, though those I have been present at feature large in my memory.

There I go again, living in the past.

At any point I can slip into a sepia existence.

My old schoolfriend Russell Tandy has written to me of his current odyssey in south-east Asia.

It is good someone I know is doing well.

The snow here was fun was a day but, after that, just made life harder and more miserable.

Here, the River Ouse has burst its banks in Lewes and as I left London the other night it was snowing again. Horrible wet snow. I wished I could escape.

But there is always something to put a smile back on your face.

I went to see the amazing American Jared Louche's Lewes Art Lab, Experiments in Darkness, Distortion & Delight at the Foundry in Lewes.

It was weird with a capital W, and also bloody cold. I could not honestly say I understood it.

It seemed rather random to me. Nonetheless I enjoyed it and take my hat off to the amiable Jared for promoting such a totally way-out event.

In tribute I have randomly littered this blog entry with images from it.

I look forward to seeing those of you who can make it at Lewes Poetry.