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Friday, 12 September 2008

Poem by A.F. Harrold

Eyewear is very glad to welcome A.F. Harrold (pictured) this Friday. Harrold is a poet and performance poet based in Reading. His publications include a book of love poems, Logic And The Heart (Two Rivers Press, 2004), two collections of comic prose and poetry, Postcards From The Hedgehog (Two Rivers Press, 2007) and The Man Who Spent Years In The Bath (Quirkstandard’s Alternative, 2008) and the shortly-forthcoming limited edition collection of nature poems, produced in collaboration with internationally exhibited artist Jo Thomas, Of Birds & Bees (Quirkstandard’s Alternative, 2008).

Harrold has performed poetry, comedy and cabaret in many places – including Paris, Copenhagen, Vancouver and LA – and has been part of the line ups at Cheltenham and Swindon Literature Festivals, Essex and Ledbury Poetry Festivals, Leicester and Reading Comedy Festivals, as well as taking a comedy-oriented rock or roll band to the Edinburgh Fringe (The Most Boring Man In England and Other Love Songs, 2003).

In 2008 he was the Glastonbury Festival’s Official Website’s Official Poet-in-Residence and had more fun than he expected. He runs several regular nights in Reading – the monthly Poets’ CafĂ© at South Street Arts Centre, and, for almost ten years, has compered the open mic music night Bohemian Night in the Town Hall – and is often a part of Oxford-based Slam organisers Hammer & Tongue events, having been their overall Slam Champion for two consecutive years (2005-7). He is also the current UK All-Stars Slam Champion – the regular giant poetry slam at Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

A true fusion poet, he also has poems published in magazines, such as Smiths Knoll, Iota, Pulsar, The Nail, Boomslang Poetry, Smoke, Tears In The Fence and The Unruly Sun, and poems have been Commended, Highly Commended or awarded Merits in the 2005 Bluechrome, 2006 Salisbury House, 2007 Leaf Books and the 2007 Nottingham Open Poetry Competitions.

I was very much impressed (when I finally met him) with Harrold, as poet, person, and emcee - it's rare to find great good humour, humanity, excellent poetic ability, and charming manners rolled into one being - especially a tall being with a funny beard and a hat - but if you're looking for such a rare bird (or beast), then he's your man. I am glad he'll be reading for Oxfam, in London, this December.


A Letter From The Cheltenham Lawn Hotel Sunday 14th October 2007
(for C.S.)

Just grateful to be booked into a B&B
at somebody else’s expense
(finally, the riches of this lifestyle
make themselves known to me),
I never thought to ask, in advance,
for a copy of the chef’s CV,
listing as it might his likes, dislikes
and personal quirks of morality.

There’s one thing that makes these nights
away from home in odd-shaped beds
(and not the sort that, in other lives,
might house exotic, erotic sights),
more sleepless then well-rested…
that makes them all turn out all right,
and that’s the hanging vision there
of breakfast cooking through the night.

The scent of frying fat hangs in the air,
the hiss and squeak and spit of it
(I remember Sunday mornings as a boy,
when dad took charge of kitchenware)
fill what dreams slip in and buffet
the sleeper with taste-buds that dare
to wake expectant, alive, erect,
while the rest is still only half-aware.

So I stumble to the dining-room all set
to eat everything that fits onto my plate
(so long as it’s hot, that is, and not
one of those fortified cereals you get).
I order tea; oh, the tea here is first-rate.
I pour orange juice; cold, fresh, well-met!
And now the landlord has returned,
I order the full cooked English, and yet…

First I should say, generally I spurn
breakfast as a meal when I’m at home
(food and conversation are not welcome
at a time of day that seems so taciturn),
the effort it demands when I’m alone
outweighs any good feelings it might earn.
But let someone else do all the work…
then I’ll happily risk a bout of old heartburn.

So, having had the perfume of bacon lurk
in my thoughts, lingering on from dreams
(not exclusively, I ought to add,
some sausages loomed in the dreamy murk),
I say the words ‘full cooked’ like one who means
to power up a body set for work,
like a builder, say, or a farmer or a bloke
who writes poems and who hates to miss a perk.

I can taste the bacon, taste the bacon smoke,
the sharp succulence, before it even comes
(oh! happy melange with beans piled on,
and egg and mushroom sharing in the joke),
and then the landlord says, ‘Vegetarians.’
I cock an ear. I think that he just spoke,
but I have to stare to get him to repeat it:
‘We’re vegetarians here.’ ‘Oh,’ I croak.

This statement of his, I’m not sure how to treat it.
I’m not evangelical about my need for meat
(unlike some folk we know, who resent
any vegetable they see, who’d just delete it).
There are any number of greens I like to eat:
take celery, say, it’s frankly hard to beat it
for crispness, crunch and scent – oh yes, indeed.
But my daydream breakfast’s suddenly de-meated.

Like a Viking given Babycham, not mead,
I’m confused, all expectations buggered
(a vegetarian cooked breakfast’s like a eunuch:
there might be a sausage, but it won’t fulfil my need).
Christ, what a disappointment! No big nugget
of iron pyrites, movie trailer, religious creed
has ever misled and pissed on its apostles
as much as that righteous landlord’s pissed on me.

Well, to be fair the pain isn’t really that colossal,
but hyperbole is fun once in a while
(as an Englishman I don’t complain that often,
what bile I have’s deep-buried, like a fossil):
so I sing the song of the outraged carnophile.
When my plate arrives I see the mushrooms jostle
with tomatoes and poached egg (‘we do not fry’).
They forget the beans. I don’t bemoan the loss. All

the rest is tasty. The mushrooms give the lie
to anyone who says vegetables are worthless
(although, to be fair, they’re not really plants at all:
to the two kingdoms they’re simply passers-by):
oh, they melt like butter in the mouth! This
breakfast’s not that bad, or so I try
to tell myself, but I know there’s something missing:
with every bite some poor piggy hasn’t died.

Of course, the pig as an individual isn’t wishing
that someone put a bolt straight through his head
(unless, perhaps, he’s been shunned by the one sow
he thinks might stop his heart with kissing),
but the species as a whole might well be dead,
except for some wild boar who find their bliss in
some remote corner of some untrod wood:
but porciculture’s kept the pig from going missing.

Whatever. In conclusion, ‘though I wish I could
have had some bacon on that breakfast table
(crisp-crackled round the edge and still sizzling
(served from the frying pan is always good))
it was only the dashing of dreams that made me quibble,
my expectations missed that said I should
feel grudging, ungenerous and not say ‘thank you’.
But those mushrooms, as I said, oh! they were good.


poem by A.F. Harrold


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