“In the unremembered lessons learned and / heartfelt instincts that we know we know; in sight / and taste, in smell, feelings and sound; in mixed / company and alone; we share our home.
Poetry is toxic. The very word ‘poetry’ is a turn off for all but the hardiest of Edinburgh Festival and Fringe goers. It is more than toxic, actually. It is positively repulsive.
So yes, it is far far more difficult to attract audiences than I thought and with 3500 shows to compete with, it is freaking demanding on the first place.
There is very good news, though. The people that have come to #manandboy @edfringe @thespaceuk (venue 260, 6pm, £6) have really appreciated it. How do I know? Because about 50 percent of the punters have bought one of my books. That is one-hell of a hit rate.
Week one is nearly over. It has been a blast, and one hell of an experience. Yup: I have learned more about what I should not be doing than what I am doing, but that is undeniable a good thing. Roll on weeks two and three!
Carol Ann Duffy. Discuss. (NB I have just seen her at the stand.co.uk @edfringe.)
It is 30 mins to go to the next #manandboy @edfringe @thespaceuk @jurysinn and I am feeling quite vulnerable. Interesting.
#poetry @edfringe is minority thing hidden in the minority category of #spokenword.
As I try to drum up custom flyering for #manandboy I fear I am invariably and immediately judged as promoter of stuff that is inherently bad, disreputable and embarrassing. Maybe in part that my illness talking – and of course many of the people who have come to the gig have proved their appreciation by shelling £6 on the slim volume London Poems. But for the vast majority of fringegoers #poetry seems to be a dirty word.
I saw Frankie Vah by Luke Wright (Underbelly , Venue 61, 9.20pm) last night. It tells the 1980s life story of a post-punk student drop out and goes straight into my top-rated ‘really good’ category. It is beautifully written. It is fast, sometimes furious, often insightful, and always absorbing. It also has a dirty secret – though the cover is blown as soon as the piece begins. This is an hour long poem. Is it advertised as #poetry? Is it heck. Look it up under the ‘spoken word’ and/or ‘theatre’.
Also in my ‘really good’ basket is Cathy (Pleasance Dome, Venue 23, 3.30pm), inspired by Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. The injustice of 2017 housing policy in the UK, especially London, is laid bare. This excellent work made me angry and terarful at the same time.
It is hard to act the part of a shrink because shrinks are usually acting in real life so an actor in a play is acting the part of an actor. All that said, Monica Dolan pretty much nails it in Beasts (Underbelly, 6pm). The script is good too though it may have been better to focus more on ‘Karen’s’ life and background. Beasts is a monologue and I like monologues – I’ve seen Honestly (Space on the Mile, 4.20pm), Shit I’m In Love With You Again (Surgeons’ Hall, 9.15pm) and Beasts. Honestly is the pick of those I have seen so far, IMHO. I really liked Ciaran McGhee last night in the Captains Bar but am wearing of fanny gags.
@edfringe @thespaceuk #honestly #beasts @rachelie @robertcolepoet @wet-zebra @thespaceuk #rspcreviews #manadboy
It’s been bugging me ever since I arrived in Edinburgh, and it is something that has nagged on the past occasions I have stayed here. Don’t get me wrong I like the city a lot – but there is something missing and now I think I know what it is. A river.
Like London there is a north and a south to Edinburgh and there is a place where the river ought to be – along the train lines that run through Waverley. Asking around I heard that water – a loch – did once sit where the railway station now lies. On further investigation (see The Scotsman article linked below) it may have been man-made shitpit/water hole that also served as a place of medieval execution.
The Thames is different in that it is a flowing river as old as ice ages. It is cleaner now than it has been for, what, 2000 years? But my river spent much of that time as shitpit/water hole and place of death. Meanwhile the Nor’ Loch, to quote a line from one of my London Poems is, a “forgotten absence as as hard to reconceive / as the seven windmills that once faced Rotherhithe.”
To be serious and non-self deprecating for a change, I am in Edinburgh for a couple or three reasons. First, I suppose, it is because I have been suffering a nasty debilitating mental illness these last few months. Don’t worry, this is not a cry for help: I am getting plenty of help and, my goodness, am I grateful for it.
Second, it is something I have always wanted to do. The penny did not drop til recently, but I think I have always wanted to do this. Edwina said that was a decent reason to do anything, and she is right.
Third, I am trying to find out if there is an audience for my poetry. In the past, I am not sure I ever really understood peole who talked about ‘creating’ a market. It did not make sense, creating something from nothing. But now I get it. And now I understand how bloody difficult it is.
“In warm rains of summer and the worst / darkness of winter, autumn’s first blackberry / and the last rites of spring, we are versed / in a rhythmical free-flowing history. (from Yeatman’s Farm)
It’s raining here in Edinburgh. And that must be good for ticket sales, right? Festival goers won’t be seduced into sitting around in parks drinking lager in the sunshine. No, they will seek shelter in the reflective dryness of #manandboy @thespaceuk @edfringe. As the last count there were only 35 seats left the 6pm first night. Details here –
That’s Graham Deakin in the pic – one of @wetzebra ‘s other writers. IMHO his work is insightful, unusual and beautiful. Please support his campaign to be published via this link – http://wet-zebra.com/life-style/theres-only-one/
Tilly gave me a big big hug. Beth too. Jojo did the same last night because she said she wouldn’t see me in the morning. “But I don’t go till 11 o’clock”, I said. “So I won’t see you in the morning.” Jojo is now 17. Teenagers need a lot of sleep.
I have now sold 28 tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe show Maurice and I are doing in August. That’s up 2700 percent since my last update.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born at Redhill General Hospital just in time to see England win the 1966 World Cup. I grew up with six brothers and sisters in a house beside the main London to Brighton road. Home was pretty suburban but backed on deciduous woods and open farmland. I attended Reigate Grammar School, read English Language and Literature at the University of Hull and took a diploma in Newspaper Journalism at The City University, London, in 1989. Subsequently working as a financial journalist at The Independent, The London Evening Standard, The Times and Reuters, I lived in Stoke Newington, Highgate and Hertford before moving to Brockley, London SE4 in 1999.
My wife is called Emma. I have four children: Beth, Jojo, Maurice and Tilly. I like to walk, read, write, garden, take photographs, watch some sport, go to the theatre, cook and muck about with the family. I also have a thing about post boxes; I call it Trollopsarianism.
Do you have any life mottos or wise words to live by?
Fear the worst; hope for the best.
I like it. What is your earliest memory?
Letting the handbrake off our 12-seater Bedford minibus when it was parked on the hill outside our house. Mum rescued me. The minibus was racing green with bright orange seat covers. It had sliding doors and, when it was hot, Mum and Dada would open them even as we were driving along.
Oh my goodness, that sounds terrifying. Do you have any phobias or recurring dreams?
Yup. I am a fearful person. I particularly dislike conflict, mindless insensitivity and airports…and yes I have recurring dreams, or at least a recurring dream-theme. The scene changes but the plot never allows me resolve the problem or difficulty I find myself presented with.
Yikes. Do you know any good jokes?
No. But I do know what you should do if you see a spaceman. You should park in it, man.
So, I have to ask: what is your all-time favourite book, that you keep going back to?
The Book of Psalms.
Very interesting. When did you discover you enjoyed writing poetry?
I was a teenager. Back then, however, I very fortunately realised the stuff I was writing was so bad I had to give it up. I did promise myself that I would take it up again later in life, though. So I guess I was in my later thirties when I discovered that I liked writing poetry.
Which writers inspire you the most and how do they influence your work?
Philip Larkin is the one, really. It’s the way he combines form and subject and theme. To me, it is also important that Larkin had what you might call a proper job, because it gave him everyday material to draw on. Now of course he is seen as a great poet, and he is. I think of him as a librarian who wrote poetry and liked jazz.
Describe your writing process. Do you have any techniques you use to get your creativity flowing?
There are no techniques I know of that can force the flow of creativity. If some sort of creativity is flowing, though, I try to do some jotting in my notebook, or on whatever scrap of paper comes to hand. I feel almost undressed if I am not in easy reach of a pen.
Back at my desk I will draft a version on my PC. As I do that, I will see if there is a poem from the canon whose form seems to suit the jottings; or if there is a classic poetic form that seems appropriate; or if it seems right to take a free-form approach. I will then spend many hours writing, defining, rewriting, and refining. Then I will apply polish and repeat the process again and again until I am sick of the sight of the piece.
How does a poem begin for you – an idea, picture, feeling, rhythm, or something else?
It’s like Wordsworth said: ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflowing of powerful feelings.’ I am occasionally successful at capturing the feelings – or impulses – and find the desire to explore them in the creation of a poem. Behind the feelings, usually, are thoughts that I may only discover as I write.
How long have you been working on this collection?
The glib but accurate answer is ‘all my life’. I have been actively writing the poems in this collection since September 2002, and working them up into this book for around three months.
London Poems is a pretty varied collection. Do you write primarily about yourself, or do you often take inspiration from others’ life stories? Or a bit of both?
The poetry is largely observational. I try to avoid writing about myself but sometimes fail in that regard.
What is your personal favourite of the London Poems, if you had to pick just one, and why?
‘Going to Bed’ – because it speaks of the people dearest to me.
How does the collection fit into your life’s work?
It fits in around the edges, in and between my roles as a husband, father, and son, a financial journalist, and a postbox spotter. The poetry is, however, closely intertwined with these things.
Tell me about why you wrote these particular poems at this time of your life. Did any event or circumstance prompt you to write them?
There will be a different story for each of the poems. There are two or three sorts of themes I seem to go back to, though: family, home, and the people and places I love.
In one sentence, what would you want readers to take away from reading London Poems?
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
If you go to Shardeloes Road, near my home in South-East London, you will see a poem on the wall. The steel letters used are three feet tall. All told, it is about 180 yards long. The words are mine.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer, in your opinion?
The best thing is that it beats working for a living. The worst thing is that it doesn’t provide a living.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Publish a book of poems.
Robert, thank you for your delightfully interesting answers, your poetry, and your time.
Robert Cole’s London Poems will be available for you to buy and read for yourself soon. The e-book is priced at £3, and can be downloaded onto your Kindle or other e-reader.
If you can’t wait, you can read a preview of 3 poems in the collection right here.
Feel free to keep voting for London Poems, to show your support and to be notified when the book is ready.