Captains’ Log 07/01/16 13:16
I’m outside Nitram’s house on Wingrove Gardens, dropping off the last of the Fenham poems. It’s my first day knocking since Christmas and I’ve got that weird ‘back to work’ feeling, when you ask yourself how to do the most basic things. I knock on the door and count to 40 in my head. Is that long enough? I wait till 60. There’s no answer. Though he hasn’t got back to me about when I can deliver this, me and Nitram have been in touch a few times since we first met. We’ve been messaging each other about all sorts, including music from the 90’s; he sent me a link to a hip hop group called Souls of Mischief, who I hadn’t heard before. ‘93 ‘Til Infinity’, it’s really good. He’d already been talking about rhymes when we first met, so it made sense that his piece was more of a rap. I take it out of my bag and stick it through the letterbox.
Late Night Mountain Biker
Thick black gloves, I pull a hood over my face.
Late night mountain biker, out in deep space.
A world that many people don’t perceive in their sleep,
the pitch black wastelands, dead city streets.
I peddle uphill, breath thick as smog clouds,
far from the nightclubs and maddening crowds,
see the pavement is painted with sparkling frost
and the silence seeps out of the grey tower blocks.
Twilight Zone, sights of the strange and no good,
where the thieves crawl like centipedes out of the wood
and slither up terraces checking each home
for the ones they can slip in and pick to the bone.
A police car comes round like a flare that’s bright yellow,
the criminals see it then step in the shadows.
It’s a picture postcard of a town with no trouble,
till they’re gone and the insects crawl out of the rubble.
Police at the red lights, see how I’m dressed,
stop me and say I’m the one they suspect.
Take my name and address. They think I’m the thief,
I’m the only one out here who wants to be seen.
I walk across the street to Salman’s house. This time, I don’t know whether I should even knock. If you follow me on Facebook, you might have read about what happened with Radio 4. They wanted to record me reading some poems to people in Fenham; then I was going to do a live interview on the Today programme and they’d play some of the recordings. The reading of the poems was set to happen on Saturday the 17th of December. But I found out 2 days before that there had been a mix up: Saturday was booked as the day of the interview and I was told there was no way of moving it.
This meant I had 1 day to ring around and see if anyone was free to meet me the following day, so there’d be something ready for the day after. Most people couldn’t help. I asked Salman and he said it was his final deadline at college on Friday, so he was pretty busy. Despite this, he offered to do it the only time he could, after 7pm. It meant a lot to me that this 18-year-old lad would be willing to come all the way back after finishing for the holidays, just to listen to someone reading a poem. If it was me, I would have sacked it off and went straight to the pub. But the imam at the mosque could only meet me first thing in the morning and we weren’t sure if Claire, who was recording, would be able to work that late either. So I turned it down.
That evening, another option fell through. Claire sorted a babysitter and I got back in touch with Salman on Friday morning to see if he was still free at 7pm. Now, by this point, I’d asked him if he could do Saturday, then Friday, then turned it down, then got back in touch again. Despite this colossal mess around, he still said yes. Then I found out at 1pm that the whole thing was cancelled; apparently, the show was now full. It didn’t get rescheduled. I tried getting in touch with Salman after Christmas to sort out a time I could drop off his poem. He never got back to me. I don’t blame him.
The whole experience made me question what it was I was actually trying to do. Yes, it would have been great exposure for the project. But this isn’t the first time a feature like this has fallen through for me. I remembered the real point of what I’m doing is to show that strangers can be decent, to prove that anyone can enjoy poetry. Here was a person who didn’t particularly like poetry before I showed up at his door, who took the time to listen, who was interested in having something written. Yet, by the end, he’d been messed about so much he didn’t even want to talk to me. For the second time now, I’d put a third party in charge who, quite frankly, didn’t really care about the people I was writing for. I’ve decided I’m not going to let this happen again. I get to the door and knock because that way, if Salman answers, I can apologise in person. No one’s home. I post it through the letterbox, hoping he likes it and that it helps repair the damage.
In the future
there will be no music genres.
Every single style will be sampled
by all artists at once
and everything will sound the same.
This music will be given a new name:
Poppiedancechilltechrapjazznicalfolkcore will incorporate
every sound you can imagine.
As soothing as Mozart;
as intense as death metal;
as disorientating as Venetian Snares;
as predictable as Coldplay.
There will be no more arguments,
absolutely everyone will agree
this is the greatest music ever made.
It will be played
and at birthdays,
in kid’s TV shows,
at warehouse raves,
shopping in garden centres,
during the narrative peak of every zombie drama.
will be the perfect accompaniment
to literally any life event.
Neighbours won’t even bother to complain
about inappropriate levels of bass.
“Fair enough,” they’ll say.
“But, if it wasn’t poppiedancechilltechrapjazznicalfolkcore,
I might not have enjoyed this.”
Every review of every album will be 5 stars.
“A shining example of the genre,” one will read.
“Whatever that is.”
People will feel an overwhelming sense of belonging
knowing that, whenever you meet a stranger,
you always have one thing in common.
During an awkward silence,
an old man will ask another
if he likes poppiedancechilltechrapjazznicalfolkcore,
although the answer will be obvious.
Last, I head over to Sam’s house. I haven’t spoke to him since we first met, but writing his poem brought up a whole other problem for me, something much more internal but kind of connected. Sam was the first person who stopped to talk on this street. He told me he writes Arabic poetry but, when I asked him for a subject, he didn’t want to give me one. Unlike anyone I’ve met in the past year, he said the most important thing was that I express something that I really feel. But this request didn’t come at the best time.
I wrote Sam’s piece the week before the supposed radio interview, one I spent frantically getting all the poems ready for, so I could pick the best ones. But even before this, since I got my Arts Council grant in October, things have been really busy. On the one hand, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted; it’s my dream job and I’ve been given the time to focus on it for weeks at a time. But I’ve learned over the past few months that even a dream job can have unexpected downsides. The truth is, I massively underestimated how much work was involved here. And I never really factored in what would happen if someone from, say, Radio 4 got in touch and wanted something finished at the drop of a hat. I was writing every single minute I could and I hadn’t had a day off in about a month. I was flaking out on friends and family, the only time I spent with my girlfriend, Rose, was doing housework or sleeping. So when Sam asked me how I felt, all I could think about was that I’d spent so long writing for other people that I didn’t really know who I was anymore. This thought made me feel worse: I had nothing interesting to say, all I was doing was stealing ideas from other people.
In an attempt to find something else to talk about, I did my homework on Arabic poetry. But, strangely, it all seemed to point in the same direction. I learned about the rich tradition of the tribe poets, like Al-Mutaniabbi, who’d write praises for high ranking leaders. I found out about the wandering poets, like Al a’sha, who went from city to city writing poems for people on anything they wanted. I couldn’t help comparing their lives to mine and wondering what it must be like to do this forever. Did these poets ever lose themselves? Did they ever feel like me?
I get to Sam’s door and knock. He’s not in. I would have really liked to explain all this in person, I know full well that the ending isn’t exactly cheery. But I had to be honest. After all, that’s the only thing he asked me to do. Since I started Door-to-Door Poetry, I’ve always thought of myself as a kind of mirror, reflecting people’s thoughts and stories back at them. With Sam it seemed like, for the first time, someone had pointed their own mirror back at me. I didn’t like what I saw.
Confessions of a Door-to-Door Poet
A wandering poet, for one year his feet roamed,
annoying the public outside of their own homes.
He’ll write for you on any subject that pleases.
I know, it’s so humble, he’s practically Jesus.
A painter with words and the picture is you;
he’ll show what you want- even when it’s not true.
It’s not about facts, just as long as it’s funny
and he’s still getting all of his Arts Council money.
So let’s have a think, shall we? What could he put down
to praise you and make you known all over this town?
Perhaps you once journeyed across the Sahara?
Or hold the world record for eating bananas?
Have skills in karate? You’re known through the whole land,
your foes live in fear of your powerful right hand.
With one Judo chop you can take off a man’s head,
then crush up his skull in your palm like an egg.
You what? Oh no, he won’t write private confessions.
It’s not about him, have you not paid attention?
He’s not here to spill out the depths of his own heart.
What do you take this for, some kind of real art?
It’s mainly for show, please, don’t spoil the pretence.
No, give him a topic. Who cares if it makes sense?
Just something to say in his nasally face whine,
some cheesy description to put in a bad rhyme.
But only don’t ask him to say how he feels,
you’ll learn of a boy who’s not sure if he’s real;
who turned himself into a mirror one day,
reflecting the world and the things that they say;
who spends all his time making strangers feel tall,
while ignoring his family and dodging their calls;
who sits up alone writing stanzas at night
and shines nothing back when you turn out the light.
After everything fell through with the radio, I took a holiday. I really needed it. I spent Christmas with Rose in Louth, the little town she grew up in. It’s the perfect place to be this time of year, it looks like something you’d find on a Christmas card. Then I went home to Hebburn, which doesn’t look like anything you’d find on a card. But having some time to catch up with the family really grounded me. When I got to my Mam’s house, my Granda handed me a drone. It’s not something I’d asked for, or ever particularly wanted; he got it for free after someone stole his bank details and ordered it to his house. The bank refunded the money, so there was no harm done, but he still had no use for it. Opening the box, it looked complicated; the instructions were all in Chinese and there was no English versions anywhere on the internet.
The next afternoon, after a night on the rum, me and my cousin, Ryan, took the drone to Hebburn park for a test flight. We put it in the middle of the field away from any obstacles, then turned on the remote. It whirred like a hairdryer, shooting up into the sky. I don’t know what point it was that we lost control, but within a few seconds it was getting higher and higher and we couldn’t make it stop. Soon, it was just a tiny flashing dot in the sky. At this point, I thought it would just float away, like a balloon lost by a toddler. But, suddenly, it fell and, as we ran towards it, we watched it get stuck in a distant tree. I laughed till it hurt.
The tree was massive and the drone was far too high up to climb. We tried desperately to knock it out of the branches by throwing stones, but it was too high even for that. An old man on a mobility scooter and his 10-year-old grandson stopped to help. Slowly, a group of 6 more people gathered.
“What’s going on?”
“Those lads have got their drone stuck in a tree.”
“What’s a drone?”
“It’s a bit like a helicopter.”
“Oh, the poor lad.” One woman let us keep her dog’s tennis ball and one of those special throwing sticks, so we could use that instead of stones. She thought it was the little boy’s drone and I was going to correct her, but that ball looked like it’d really do the trick and I wasn’t sure if she’d give it to us without the pity factor. We established pretty early on that Ryan was the best shot; the boy stayed with us for 2 hours, helping me fetch the tennis ball when Ryan threw it. He missed every time. It started to get dark. Defeated and freezing, we gave up.
The drone must have fell down at some point during the night. The next day, a picture of it got put on Facebook and one of Ryan’s friends shared the post. He went and picked it up from the rescuer’s house and dropped it off at mine. Considering this was Hebburn, and I assumed it was going to be stolen and turned into a device for smuggling class As, the whole experience really restored my faith in humanity. But you’re probably wondering what any of this has got to do with Door-to-Door Poetry. Well, I suppose I’ve learned that there’s only so long you can spend living your life in stranger’s stories; only so long you can go without these little moments of your own, no matter how fulfilling writing for other people can be. And when I went back to work in the new year, I felt ready. I’d remembered who I was: I’m the boy who got drunk and flew his drone into a tree.