I’ve just been harangued. That’s either an Oooooh, Betty moment (no, I don’t know why it was so screamingly funny now either, but it truly was) or something odd is still going on with the stuff I don’t call poetry.
When I first started doing stand-up in pubs three months ago, although it seems like a lot longer than that, I came up with this intro, just to let people know that luckily for them, I hadn’t forgotten my guitar so nobody was going to lend me one.
I called it Words Without Music and I still use it sometimes to introduce the set, mainly because I can remember it, but also because to me at least, it says ‘this is a bit of fun, there might be some serious, even maybe moving themes in the stuff I’m going to be doing, it might make you think but let’s face it, if you want therapy or deep insight I’m not Oliver Sacks.’
Some people say that poetry should rhyme,
But there’s more to words than that.
Sometimes rhyming just produces doggerel at worst;
Very often you could hardly call it verse.
It’s not, let’s be honest, Shakespeare. Is it? Actually, some of Shakespeare’s rhymes were just as crap as that, but I’m not claiming that’s anythingbut what it is, something mildly amusing, to be heard in a pub when you’re out having fun, ’twas mine, ’tis his and will be a slave to thousands. Oh no, I can feel it coming on again! But seriously folks, that’s all it is. Or that one, anyway.
From the first time I’ve done this stuff outside my own kitchen I’ve been surprised by people’s reactions. Total strangers have thanked me for saying some of the things I write about, several people have been near tears and presumably not because it’s so rubbish, although I can’t be sure. I’ve had good-natured heckling which is all part of the fun and heckling from a woman in her eighties who was incensed that I’d called Mothering Sunday Mother’s Day.
“It’s not Mothers Day,” she said, loudly and clearly.
I think you’ll find that’s what today is. madam, I oiled. I didn’t add ‘actually.’ Should have.
“I think you’ll find today is Mothering Sunday,” said someone’s mum, who’d been taken there by her pink-haired daughter specifically to hear my poetry. Which was nice. Especially as I’ve no recollection of ever seeing her daughter before. Email me here if you like. We can you know, talk about poetry. If your mum doesn’t mind.
I’ve had people hammering on my door demanding I don’t perform any more “drivel,” or in fact anything else, anywhere, ever again. But today, Songs Without Music as I call the little intro piece came in for special attention. Another lady came over to steam in.
“You said rhymes were rubbish and a bad thing. And yet you’ve just rhymed prose. Some people at my poetry group are very sensitive. Why do you say the things they do are bad then go and do them?”
Er well, that’s not really exactly what I said. I explained that some of Betjeman’s stuff, love it though I do, is utter tosh, as he was the first to agree, because sometimes, just sometimes, he chases the rhyme to the exclusion of sense. If you don’t agree, read The Young Executive. Which is funny and biting and lovely, but John, please. The rhymes.
I am a young executive, no cuffs than mine are cleaner,
I own a slimline briefcase and I drive the firm’s Cortina.
And who says he was just chasing the rhyme? Me. Because just a couple of lines later the young exec has to have an Aston-Martin, because that’s more in keeping, although not even Betjeman could find anything to rhyme with that.
But rhymes aside, I was bemused. I’ve got used to pierced and shaved-headed people looming up and grabbing my arm and saying ‘thank-you’ when I thought they were going to lamp me. I’m still not used to the idea that anyone gives two monkeys for any opinion they think they can see in my stand-up stuff. Especially when it’s not what I said.
As it was I had to juggle my dry sherry from hand to hand while having no wish to offend provided this stopped quite soon I tried very politely to point out that actually, I hadn’t said that all poetry that rhymes was rubbish, that I was quite surprised anyone gave a toss what I thought about it in the first place and if anyone had the balls to stand up and do poetry then brilliant, and they shouldn’t give much of a good goddamn what anyone who didn’t had to say about it. Except my haranguer was a lady of a certain age and you just can’t, really.
But I’m still quite surprised. Not that people get things wrong. I’m very used to that. Sometimes it’s stuff in their heads. Sometimes it’s the way I say things. Sometimes, to be honest, that’s even deliberate. What surprises me is anyone thinks there’s anything I’ve got to say in stand-up that ought to change their life. I mean, if that’s true it’s about time I wrote something about going back in time and eloping with Kate Bush. Then maybe she’ll come to her senses as well.