Category Archives: Poetry

Steve From Up North says: “It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy”

Steve Taylor reflects on his new poetry book

Steve Taylor – aka ‘Steve From Up North’ – was last mentioned in this blog in October 2011.

I think he was given his geographical nickname by the late comic Malcolm Hardee.

In fact, Steve is from the North West of England. 

From 1981 to 1989, Steve was landlord of the Royal Oak pub in Chorley, Lancashire.

In March this year, he told the Chorley Guardian:

“In the 1980s, no comedy clubs existed outside of London. In 1982 Chorley comedian Phil Cool came into our pub. Because I was into comedy I recognised him.

“He was about to make it big time and said he wanted somewhere to practise and work-in his routine. So I started a comedy club downstairs in our cellar called Laughingas Comedy.

“We had this idea that every other Monday night there would be a guest comedian and anyone else who wanted to try out their material.

“Then I went to London and brought some acts from there, such as Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy from Radio 4, Arnold Brown from The Comedy Store, Phil Cornwell from Stella Street, Felix Dexter, who was one of the first comedians on the circuit, and Jenny Eclair.”

Now Steve has written a poetry book – Reflections.

So I talked to him via Skype.

Steve Taylor with his then wife Kim at The Royal Oak, Chorley, in the 1980s


JOHN: You got into comedy back in the 1980s at the right time. Is this the right time to get into poetry?

STEVE: (LAUGHS) Well, I stopped promoting comedy just as it became popular and there was money to be made out of it. 

JOHN: And poetry?

STEVE: You can’t make money writing poetry, unless you write verses for Christmas cards and birthday cards. Who pays you for poems other than comedy nights? – If you’re lucky.

JOHN: So why the career change – writing poetry?

STEVE: I would never be arrogant enough to call myself a poet. Being ‘a poet’ is like you do it for a living. It would be nice to do it for a living, but it will never happen.

JOHN: Why?

STEVE: It just won’t.

JOHN: So why poetry now?

STEVE: I’ve always written stuff but never kept it. Then, about three years ago, I wrote something on holiday which I really liked and I thought: THIS could be performed! It was a poem about Magaluf. So I tried doing a few poems at a couple of open mic nights and they went really well. 

I thought: I’m going to save the poems. And, as time went on, I just felt myself in the frame of mind to write. When I started writing more and more and including them in stand-up gigs and putting some on Facebook, people started saying: Why don’t you put them in a book?

JOHN: Are they written as performance poems?

STEVE: In the book, perhaps about 30% are performance poems. There’s 100 poems in there.

JOHN: Is there a poetry circuit in the North West of England?

“Comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect poetry”

STEVE: I’m not keen on the poetry circuit. I feel more comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect to get poetry.

So I might play to an open mic night where it’s 90% musicians. Or a folk music club where it’s musicians and singers.

I feel better there because I don’t feel I’m competing against people who are doing the same thing.

I have a very low opinion of my ability and I worry that I won’t be good enough.

I’ve not done anything outside Lancashire yet.

JOHN: Could some of them be turned into songs?

STEVE: Maybe 20%-25% of the ones in the book were written with a tune in mind.

JOHN: An original tune?

STEVE: Yeah. But, as I can’t sing or play an instrument…

JOHN: You mention Bob Williamson in the book.

STEVE: Very, very funny bloke, Bob. He was a good friend. A great friend. I carried his coffin, sadly. He and I set up a comedy club in 2000. It was called Laughingas. The same name I had used before. Peter Kay did the opening night. He had done That Peter Kay Thing and was just writing and filming Phoenix Nights at the time. He packed the place; he did an hour and a half for his 20-minute set.

The trouble was, when we set that club up in 2000 and I phoned up all the Names I used to know, they said: “Oh sorry, we can’t do it now. We’re tied-up with Jongleurs.” Or “We’re tied-up with the Comedy Store. They won’t let us do other gigs…” Well, at least, they said they had to be available for them. If I booked them and, say, the Comedy Store had a drop-out and phoned them, they had to do it.

JOHN: Why are you not running clubs now?

STEVE: I keep losing money on them  Too many people are doing them now.

JOHN: Have you been influenced by anyone in poetry?

The inspirational Northerner John Cooper Clarke

STEVE: Not particularly, but I love John Cooper Clarke. When I was into punk music in the 1970s, I thought: He’s a poet… But he is cool and trendy and listenable… It made me feel it was more acceptable to write poetry and it didn’t have to be arty-farty. My very first performance poem – it’s in the book – was I Want To Be a Ranting Poet. It was a put-down of ranting poets and now I am one at times. He is mentioned in it. I think John Cooper Clarke made poetry accessible to anyone.

JOHN: I suppose Wordsworth was a Northern poet.

STEVE: I’m not particularly interested in poets. I know very little about poets. There was a great poet on the circuit, sadly currently dead – Hovis Presley. There’s a lot of good Northern poets – like Tony Walsh.

JOHN: So you are writing poetry for ‘ordinary folk’ – but ‘ordinary folk’ get embarrassed by poetry, don’t they? They think it’s a bit arty-farty and ‘not for me’. Is there a problem about finding the audience?

STEVE: Yeah, but I run a pub, as I have done for 30-odd years. I did a launch party for the book in my pub – full of football fans, builders, rough ’n’ ready and I can’t believe how many of them bought it and liked it.

JOHN: Well, once people give themselves permission to read ‘poetry’ with an open mind…

STEVE: I sold out the first print run of the book quite quickly – I covered my costs and made a small profit – and I’m now in the process of seeing if I can get it in Waterstones bookshops. 

JOHN: Is it available on Amazon?

STEVE: No, you can only get it through me at the moment.

JOHN: Is there a website?

STEVE: There’s a list of contacts in the book – My phone number, my Facebook page, my email.

JOHN: Isn’t that a problem? If you want to find out where to buy the book, you have to buy the book. This might slow sales.

STEVE: I also have a Facebook Poetry Page: Steven P Taylor Poetry.

JOHN: If you get on Amazon, you might find you become a cult in somewhere like Western Australia or Guatemala.

STEVE: The book is quite parochial to Lancashire.

JOHN: You think? I think it has got general appeal.

The Brook pub in Ramsbottom, near Bury, in Lancashire

STEVE: Well, the back section has poems about my home town of Bury, my time at college in Bolton, my love of Manchester and the village of Ramsbottom, where I am now.

JOHN: I don’t think The Beatles’ Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields only appeal to people from Liverpool, though.

You didn’t tailor it to a specific audience?

STEVE: I have written stuff to order. Someone asked me to write something for a wedding, to put on a plaque. And someone else wanted something about Bonfire Night. (It’s in the book.) It took me 45 minutes all in one go to write this quite long poem about childhood and Bonfire Night, which I was really pleased with.

Sometimes I can do that; other times I think over them forever. Most of my best poems come out in one go. I think the hardest thing about poetry is not the writing of it. It’s the coming up with the idea of what to write about. When I’m telling myself I have to write ‘some stuff’, it doesn’t really flow the same. It’s when I get an actual idea and a theme: that’s when it flows. It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy. It’s about what you see and how you interpret it.


I WANT TO BE A RANTING POET

I want to be a ranting poet,
I’ve got the accent right, I know it,
Aggressive delivery of my own,
And talking in a monotone,
I’ve got no talent and want to show it,
By being,
A ranting poet.
It’s easy when you get the hang,
You don’t use big words just slang,
You don’t have worries trying to fit,
All the things you want to say on one line because in ranting poetry it doesn’t matter anyway and no one gives a shit.
No one laughs and no one smiles,
At poems that go on for miles,
So how can I make my name,
With poems that all sound the same,
Johnny Clarke did it, he showed the way,
A living legend still today.
I have to think of something new,
And give it my political left wing view,
Talk about things that have happened to me,
Nostalgia’s not what it used to be,
Or wars and crime and unemployment,
Dole queues, bus queues
Snooker cues ? Disappointment .
Walking the streets up and down all day,
Depressing everyone going my way,
No this ranting poetry’s not for me,
I thing I’ll have to leave it be,
I had a go I had my try,
I think I’ll sod off home now
Bye.


(SINCE THIS BLOG WAS POSTED, STEVE HAS BUILT A WEBSITE WHICH IS… HERE)

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John Dowie on Bowie, Bolan, bicycles, drinking, drugs, poetry, prose and book

John Dowie is not an easy man to describe even without a hat

I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.

His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.

John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe. 

He is a man of many hats.

Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:

“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”

Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative. 

We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:

“Great cycle of life and love and death”

“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”

Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…


DOWIE: This book my first prose work.

FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.

DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.

FLEMING: So why now?

DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.

FLEMING: Picaresque?

DOWIE: Is that the word?

FLEMING: I dunno.

DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.

FLEMING: How has the book done?

An early John Dowie Virgin album by the young tearaway

DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.

FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?

DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?

DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?

DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.

FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.

DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.

FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…

DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.

FLEMING: To distract them?

DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.

“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”

“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”

“You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time…”

It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.

FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?

DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.

FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…

DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.

FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.

DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.

FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)

DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.

FLEMING: A great name, though.

DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.

FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.

DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.

FLEMING: Eh?

Warlock of Love: “It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written”

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.

FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?

DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.

FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.

DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.

FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.

DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.

FLEMING: I don’t know that one.

DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”

FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?

William Blake’s soulful Ghost of a Flea

DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.

FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?

DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.

FLEMING: On stage, though?

DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.

FLEMING: I think that might just be you.

DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.

FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.

FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?

DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.

FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

John will be in North Berwick, near Edinburgh, during August

DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.

FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?

DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.

FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?

DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.

FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?

DOWIE: Depends how long I live.

FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.

DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!

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Mr Twonkey pays tribute to Ivor Cutler, “embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

“Embodiment of the Scottish eccentric”

Influences are always interesting.

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Paul Vickers is currently preparing for his new show – Twonkey’s Night Train to Liechtenstein – at the Glasgow Comedy Festival next Friday (9th March). Paul performs as Mr Twonkey, definitely one of the more eccentric acts in British comedy.

He reminded me that today (3rd March) is the anniversary of the death in 2006 of Ivor Cutler – Scottish poet, songwriter, humorist and arguably the eccentric performers’ eccentric.

Mr Twonkey phoned Mr Cutler in the winter of 1995

Paul says Ivor Cutler was “the embodiment of the Scottish eccentric.” His rider in contracts stated that he had to be provided with a two-bar fire and marmalade sandwiches – “Which,” says Paul, “is reason alone to love him. I would like to keep his name alive. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.”

In the winter of 1995, “feeling slightly hung over”, the future Mr Twonkey interviewed the then Mr Cutler by telephone for the music magazine Sun Zoom Spark.

This is what Paul/Mr Twonkey wrote.

I have edited it slightly for length.


STOP THE GAME THERE’S A HEN ON THE FIELD

An Interview With Ivor Cutler

By Paul Vickers

Mr Ivor Cutler drawing by Grant Pringle to accompany the article in  Sun Zoom Spark

In the heart of World War 2, Ivor Cutler held the position of navigator with the R.A.F, fiddling with maps and charts between 1941-42. He was de-ranked to first aid and store man for the Windsor Engineering Company when his peers noted he had other things on his mind.

He, however, was more suited to teaching movement, drama and African drumming.

He didn’t start writing poetry until 1942 and his creative waters didn’t really flow until he was forty-eight. But, since then, he has been a prolific songwriter with a chest full of wisdom spanning three decades; classic album releases (Dandruff, Jammy Smears and Velvet Donkey) and many books of poetry (Private Habits, Fresh Carpet and A Little Present From Scotland). He has also found time to carry out his numerous duties as chairman of the London Cycling Association.

He has made a name for himself by being a true original with perfect spoken word performance skills and graceful, offbeat sense of comic timing; a difficult man to predict; an impossible man to write questions for; a bona fide enigma, the man behind a huge assortment of atmospheric, melancholy laments.

“How are you doing?” I bellow in the voice of a Yorkshire mining town skivvy.

“Oh… I don’t know… I’m coming to life.”

“Could you give me a brief summary of what a day in the life of Ivor Cutler might consist of?”

“You ought to make yourself known to me…”

“NO. I think perhaps you ought to make yourself known to me don’t you think?”

I stammer and stutter a makeshift introduction. “Oh, I’m really sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Paul. I wrote something about you a year or so ago.”

“Yes… I was very touched by that. You turned out to be unique in saying you laughed yourself sick initially but then began to see there was stuff underneath and I bless you for that. It’s the first time anyone has ever spoken in that way about my work. I’m sure I’m not just seen as one of those belly laugh comics, but the way in which you did it, I think was very revealing”

“Would you like to be taken more seriously?”

“I like to be taken seriously although I use humour as a medium it’s just the way I’m made. It is a way of instantly grabbing people. Yes, of course but not everyone cares to have that happen to them which means 50% of the people who come across my work think it’s great and the other half think I’m a lunatic. I resent that very much.”

“Do people actually get quite aggressive about it?”

“Well not with me but people in positions of power. People who are able to give me gigs or work. A lot of such people think Cutler’s an idiot and we’re certainly not going to put him on our programme. But I don’t want to be seen as complaining about this. It’s very nice to be controversial rather than have the total acceptance of everybody. I mean I worked with the Beatles once – on the Magical Mystery Tour – and I was so glad such a thing never happened to me. This ‘treated like god’ stuff. It would have turned me into a more unpleasant person than I already am,” he giggles heartily.

“I did a tour with Van Morrison some years ago so I got playing all these big places. I’m not crazy about it when it gets over a thousand, because I like to see the audience. I get them to turn the lights up so I can see their faces. I don’t have such a desperate ego problem that I need to play to masses of people. I remember doing a gig in front of three people. It was snowing that night. It was very early in my career and it was a great show… But I prefer more than three actually”

“You seem to find great humour in the cruelty of situations – cruelty in the ways of nature, like the way animals behave.”

“Stick a knife through a tomato –  Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice!

“Well yes. They’re busy killing one another. If people weren’t to be cruel then the only thing we’d be able to eat would be salt. I mean, all these plants. You stick a knife through a tomato and it goes Owcchh! Spllllcccchhh! That wasn’t very nice! One has to be cruel to survive.”

“But your humour is, at times, very dark”

“Yes, the person who totally changed my way of creative thinking was Franz Kafka who is seen by many to use very black humour indeed.

“The nature of laughter is very often fear. One is glad it’s not happening to oneself. I mean the man slipping on the banana skin gets people laughing. People are glad it’s not them.

“By the way,” he interrupts himself, “I’m not a surrealist. I get that stuck on me a lot. I’m somewhere in between surrealism and realism which makes it difficult for people to know whether to laugh or not. A friend of mine, Phyllis King, used to get dead silence when she performed because people didn’t want to hurt her feelings by laughing.”

“I think your most beautiful song is Squeeze Bees from Jammy Smears. It conjures up this sleepy image of a little girl and a little boy being completely content, sitting in silence and just enjoying the sound of the beehive; very tranquil and romantic.”

“I struck a bee-type noise with the harmonium to get the right emotion. I’m an emotional man. I think people who like to hear emotion get themselves fed by my stuff but of course not all my songs are so emotional. I’m a happy man and I’ll punch the man who says I’m not!”

“What makes you happy?”

“Well I used to collect stones but I’ve grown out of that. People go through life and do something to make them happy for a while and then it becomes boring. In fact boredom has been a very big part of my life. People look at me and think: How can a man like him be bored? Well… I just am, I suppose.”

A Stuggy Pren was a chance to peep inside Mr Cutler’s unique drawers

A photographic exhibition to promote his poetry book, A Stuggy Pren, gave people a chance to go through the keyhole and peep in his drawers, count his cushions and revel in his sentimental attachment to battered and bruised ornaments that litter his home. He is one of the last, great romantic eccentrics and, as the modern world slowly closes in on him, Ivor is slowly pushed out. He rarely plays live nowadays and when he does it’s always in the afternoon, allowing him to return safely home to get a good night’s sleep in his own bed. Anything less than a familiar mattress to Mr Cutler, just won’t do.

“One last question, Mr Cutler. What would you like to see yourself doing at the end of the century?”

“Oh crumbs! Dead, I suppose! The way I find civilisation presently I’d be very happy to be in another world. Life can be very unpleasant for me. I’d be quite happy to shuffle off after doing all one can in a lifetime. You see there’s too much rock music around and I hate loud music. It makes my ears hurt and it interferes with my body clock. I’ve got a lot of fans through John Peel and I’m sure they all like loud music and when I think what they do to me compared to what I do to them, it seems very unfair. I’m a member of the Noise Abatement Society.”


Ivor Cutler: born 15th January 1923; died 3rd March 2006, aged 83.

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Polly Trope organising a book fair in a fluffy booth at the back of a bar in Berlin

Polly Trope (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

indieberlin’s Polly has bridged cultural gaps in London
(Photograph by Joe Palermo)

Polly Trope is literary editor of the German online arts magazine indieberlin.de and author of the autobio-novel Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway – a Guardian Best First Book Award nominee last year.

I blogged about her in April last year.

She lives in Berlin but occasionally turns up at Il Puma Londinese‘s Italian-language comedy shows in London. I have no idea if she understands Italian.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from her saying:

We are organizing an indie book fair and meetup for authors in Berlin. Since some authors are abroad and can’t join us we thought of having them phone-in like a radio show. But then we came up with… The Literophone!

We were partly inspired by an iOS app which lets you be phoned-up by a random stranger by way of an alarm clock every morning.

At the book fair, we will set aside a little soundproof cubicle for one-on-one readings. But also, now, it will be the private booth where guests can call up poets and get a poem read to them down the phone.

So, obviously, yesterday I Skyped her in Berlin.

“When exactly is the indie book fair?” I asked.

“Next Saturday – 7th November,” she told me. “It starts at 1.00pm (German time) and goes into the night. We are doing the Literophone roughly between 5 and 8.”

“Where?” I asked.

“In Neukölln, the trendy part of town, where everything is going on. It’s the Shoreditch of Berlin.”

“Why are you doing a book fair?” I asked.

Polly Trope - rotary phones and a mini-Socrates cast upon the background of a Tanguy painting poster.

Polly Trope sent me her photograph of rotary phones and a mini-Socrates bust set against the background of an Yves Tanguy painting poster.

“Because there are so many young people who come to Berlin, who end up staying here for no reason and then they become authors. They’re all very fashionable and cool and they’ve written a chat book or a collection of three stories but none of them have a venue to do their thing in.

“So we’re working with them and also have some of the cool older guys like the Berlin faction of the punk scene from the past… indieberlin is not mainstream. It’s a lot of cool types and we just want to have this party with readings. So many people are going to be doing readings, it’s crazy.”

“Are you telling me,” I said, “that Berlin at the moment is like Paris in the 1920s? Loads of literary people roaming around being creative.”

“Yes,” said Polly, “though I dunno if it’s gonna go down in history like that. But it’s trying to be that.”

“What’s the object of the book fair?” I asked.

“The object?” Polly replied, sounding slightly surprised. “A weird and wonderful experience of poetry and stories and flash fiction. There are gonna be talks in the afternoon but it’s mostly gonna be a party.”

“So it’s not a literary fair at all?” I asked. “It’s a piss-up.?”

“Yeah, with lots of literary types. We call it a networking event.”

“So basically,” I said, “you are going to have a literary piss-up with drunken authors and invite people to phone in from foreign countries who can’t be there to drink with you.”

“Well,” Polly suggested, “they can get drunk on the phone or on Facebook.”

”So what is the Literophone exactly?” I asked.

“A fluffy booth located in the back of the bar.”

“The bar?” I asked.

“The bar where we are doing it: one of these rock ’n’ roll venues. They have a little soundproof cubicle in the back where they can do stuff without disturbing the neighbours.

“At first the thought was we would have one-on-one readings where authors who want to can read their work to just one person in an intimate booth setting. Then it evolved. We thought: Oh! All these poets want to come and they can’t make, so maybe we can have them phone in. So we’re gonna phone them from the fluffy booth. Members of the audience can step in and phone a poet, who will read a poem down the phone to them. We will pay for the phone call.”

“How,” I asked, “are you going to make the booth fluffy?”

Polly Trope on fluffy bedspread (Photo by Iain McKell; fox mask by Cecilia Lundqvist

Polly Trope sitting on fluffy bedspread (Photograph by Iain McKell, with a fox mask designed by Cecilia Lundqvist)

“With blankets and fur coats and other furry things. My mum has a very beautiful fake fur bedspread which I’ve stolen. You know when you go to a London phone booth and you can see all these cards for ‘escorts’? It’s going to be a bit like that, except it’s going to be fluffy and it’s not going to be escorts, it’s going to be the names of poets. I’m going to get a rotary telephone and stick my iPhone in it.”

“Who is taking part?” I asked.

“Loads of people,” said Polly. There’s Penny Goring…”

“Not another of Hermann Göring’s relatives?” I said. “I had a blog chat with his very interesting great niece Bettina two years ago.”

“No,” said Polly. “Not Göring with an umlaut. Just with an O. This is a London Goring. And there’s Lucy Furlong: she’s a fantastic poet. I mostly asked poets if they wanted to do it – though there are storytellers of all kinds. We have so many people from America, England, Israel, all over, all going to be available for a couple of hours. I think it’s gonna be awesome.”

“Only Americans can be awesome,” I told Polly. “British people can’t be awesome.”

“But British people can be soo-perb,” she suggested.

“What would Germans be?” I asked.

“Super,” said Polly. “but with a soft S – szuper. Would you like to go into one of those fluffy poet phones if you could?

“I don’t know what I would say.”

“You don’t say anything. You phone up a writer or a poet and they say the things. But you would have to be in Berlin.”

“Someone in Berlin,” I suggested, “could phone me up and I could read one of my blogs to the person sitting in your fluffy booth in Berlin. I could read the Polly Trope blog to him or her.”

“Indeed you could,” said Polly. “I could put your card up in the booth. Will you send me one?”

“Yes. Is there any sequel to Cured Meat on the horizon?”

“I’m finished with Cured Meat,” said Polly. “I’ve run out of copies. I’m doing a new book now.”

“About?” I asked.

“It looks like it’s going to be a set of inter-connected short stories about smoking and ageing.”

Looks like?” I said.

Polly Trope (Pt=hoto by Joe Palermo)

Polly Trope with cigarette (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“Something like that,” said Polly. Stories about smokers and bars and womanhood and ageing and the quest for eternal youth. It starts with a smoking lounge that I used to go to and the people I met in there.”

Polly’s blog gives a hint of what the book may be like.

“What is a smoking lounge?” I asked.

“Just a part of a bar or a cafe where you can smoke.”

“Over here,” I said, “you can’t smoke indoors in public places. You have to go outside. In Scotland, all the smokers will slowly be killed off by hypothermia.”

“Berlin is very lenient for cigarette smokers,” said Polly.

There is a video promo on YouTube for the indie book fair.

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An Edinburgh Fringe Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane – maybe

Paul Eccentric signing a boom last night

Strawberry Statement: Paul inscribes a book

Last night, Paul Eccentric was back in London for his book launch, having performed at the Glastonbury Festival, where he fell off the stage for a second time – I think the first time was three years ago, but the people in the medical tent still recognised him and, as someone said last night:

“It is not good when the people in the medical tent recognise you.”

Paul is a man of many festivals. He even has a catchy performance poem about it.

Last night, he was launching his new book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshell which is somewhat optimistically subtitled A Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane at the World’s Biggest Arts Festival.

The first part – staying solvent – might be possible after reading this book. The second – staying sane – might be a fantastical step too far.

Julie Mullen

Julie Mullen looked normal last night

Last night’s book launch also included performances from, among others, Rob Auton (who, at one Edinburgh Fringe, managed the impressive feat of getting a 5-star AND a 2-star review of the same performance of the same show), multi-award-winning poet Paul Lyalls (who one year tried to sell the exhaust from his car at his Fringe performances) and Julie Mullen (who looks sane and ‘normal’ but looks can be deceptive).

I should point out other Fringe books are available:

Critic Mark Fisher’s The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success (2012) which includes theatre as well as comedy shows… And performer Ian Fox’s How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show (2014, now in its second edition).

“So why did you write your book?” I asked Paul Eccentric last night.

“I have no idea, really,” he told me, “but someone during the Fringe said to me You seem to be very angry and I said I’m just a bit pissed-off with myself.”

“Why?” I asked

“For badly managing my day, for taking too many bookings in too short a time and forgetting to eat and drink. The guy said: You should write this down to stop other people making these mistakes. So I did.”

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

“Someone,” I said, “ told me they thought the book was fascinating to read even if you’re not a performer and not thinking of going up there.”

“Well, people have sai…” Paul started to reply.

I added: “…although it was your father who told me that.”

“He wants to know where his money went,” laughed Paul.

The book’s sections include:

  • How To Do It
  • The Show Itself
  • Travel and Accommodation
  • Publicising Your Show
  • Adventures on The Fringe

with advice from producers, performers, venue runners, publicists, reviewers and even me (I seem to have turned into a ‘Fringe commentator’ according to this book).

If nothing else, it is worth reading to see that even a wise participant like Paul Eccentric who has excellent and highly practical advice to give can be conned into thinking I know what I am talking about.

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A Brazilian computer turns my Tweets into poetry… after a fashion. Maybe.

A new website called Poetweet has gone online, created by the Brazilian Contemporary Art Centre. aka the B_arco Cultural Center.

You type your Twitter name into the text box, choose what type of poem you want and the software then allegedly tracks “the data of your inspiration” while, it claims, “analysing your deepest thoughts”.

Analysing my own superficial 140-character thoughts via my own Twitter account, Poetweet came up with this sonnet:


AUDIENCE MEMBER
by John Fleming

Singing, vomiting & fisting
Into over 100 million stars…
But it must be something
And the sexual use of Mars Bars

Forget comedy and turn to crime
Drugs, creativity, mental health.
2016… Everything takes time…
And turned to Beautiful Filth

At my worldwide blog statistics
In brain is mainly in the plain
Of British alternative comics

This weekend, literally underground
Church in the Middle East…
Is that a bra in the foreground?


There may be more development needed in the Poetweet software.

It also came up with this Rondel…


ORIGINAL TRAILER
by John Fleming

The World Egg Throwing Federation
Parlours and marijuana plantations
Winkleman pops up as a suggestion
Dead British television stations

Norwegian sex act in 2004. Honest.
Mad Frankie Fraser & feminism
And Lesbians in the Forest
The French for liberal Fascism

There are intentional emergencies
Now targeting Fringe comedy acts?
World aid is a holocaust of lies
Shot is real – not special effects
But have some vile Fringe memories


Make of that
What you will
I think I’ll wait
Until
Computers are more
Like Vivienne Clore

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My view of life was inspired by the film Lawrence of Arabia and by Rameses II

Yesterday, I posted my blog very late.

Today, I am posting it fairly early, to get it out of the way.

I have still not transcribed the troublesome blog chat. Well, in truth, I have two-and-a-half yet-to-be-transcribed long chats for potential blogs. This one is simpler.

Someone asked me a while back if I had a visual simile for life. They must have been on drink, drugs or recently joined some obscure cult. No-one asks that sort of question. But this person did.

I may have mentioned this visual simile in a blog before. If so, I have forgotten. My memory is notoriously shit.

Omar Sharif appears, as if in a mirage in Lawrence of Arabia

Omar Sharif appears, as if in a mirage, in Lawrence of Arabia

There is a famous scene in David Lean’s movie of Lawrence of Arabia – the first appearance of Omar Sharif. My visual simile is different… but imagine you are alone and dehydrated in a desert. You have been there for day upon dry, searingly hot day. There is no water for hundreds of miles in all directions. You are going to die from lack of water.

Then, with the heat haze rising and distorting straight lines, you see a shimmer on the horizon, like a mirage. As the minutes go by, the shimmer becomes an abstract, moving shape. After more minutes, it becomes a shimmering, fluid single shape and, as it approaches closer, you can see it is the mirage of a man on a camel.

Except it is not a mirage.

As the shimmering image approaches, it starts to solidify into a real shape. It really is a man riding slowly towards you on a camel. And, as he comes closer, you can see he carries a water bottle on the side of his camel. In fact, there are several water bottles.

The man and the camel come closer until, eventually, they reach you.

And they pass you by. The man does not even look at you.

And then the man and the camel get smaller and smaller as they move away, until their sharp outline starts to disintegrate in the heat rising from the ground. The shimmering, fluid shape slowly breaks apart like black mercury blobs separating until they become abstract, moving, shimmering shapes and they merge into the horizon until they disappear completely and until nothing is left except the horizon itself, distorting in the heat haze.

That is my visual simile for life.

It is probably influenced not just by Lawrence of Arabia but by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, much quoted by the pretentious:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

My much-used photograph of me standing on Blackford Hill (photograph by ME-U-NF)

A legless photograph of me atop Blackford Hill in Edinburgh (photograph by M-E-U-N-F)

I go up to the Edinburgh Fringe every August and, at least once in that month, I try to walk up the Blackford Hill in the south west of the city for a bit of tranquility and to see the view – the castle rock (the plug of a onetime Ice Age volcano) rising up to the left and Arthur’s Seat (another onetime volcano) rising up to the right. Behind them, especially at dusk, with the lights of the city starting to come on, you can see the Firth of Forth glittering beyond and I imagine what that view might be like centuries and millennia from now. Standing on an island, looking at the small island on the left with the castle on top of it and, to the right, the bigger island of Arthur’s Seat, separated by the expanse of water beneath which lie the streets of the old town of Edinburgh.

You can look on the face of Ozymandias at Abu Simbel

Look on the face of Ozymandias at Abu Simbel

Apparently Shelley wrote his poem Ozymandias in competition with his friend the stockbroker and political writer Horace Smith. For their poetry-writing competition, they chose to elaborate on a passage written by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted its inscription: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”

Ozymandias is the Greek name for Rameses II

The real Ozymandias/Rameses, King of Kings

The real, dead,  Ozymandias, King of Kings aka Rameses II

Horace Smith’s poem is less well-known than Shelley’s Ozymandias – possibly because it is not as good or possibly because his was titled On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below. But it has an interestingly different ending. It reads:

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great Ozymandias,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

So there you have today’s blog.

A little bit of pretentiousness, some poetry and a few photos.

It is a bit short on laughs, but you can’t have everything.

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