Hello from Robert Garnham, 14th Bard of Exeter

Hello. My name is Robert Garnham, and this week I was appointed the new Bard of Exeter at a ceremony at the Phoenix Arts Centre. If you don’t know much about me, then here’s a brief introduction.

I am a comedy LGBT performance poet with over twelve years experience on the national scene. As the ‘Professor of Whimsy’, I’ve taken comedy poetry shows to fringes and festivals up and down the UK and to exotic places like New York, Berlin and Guildford. In 2017 a line from my show ‘Juicy’ was acclaimed as one of the funniest of the Edinburgh Fringe, which led to a short burst of press interest which fizzled out very quickly. I’ve also made a couple of TV adverts, and had three collections of poetry published by Burning Eye Books. I write a humour column in the Herald Express newspaper, and I have had short stories published all over the place.

It is a huge honour to be elected Bard. During the ceremony, thoughts turned to my friend Melanie Crump, whose passing two years ago robbed Exeter of an amazing Bard. Melanie and I performed regularly around Torbay, and it is an honour to be featured on the same list.

During the next year I am aiming to begin one or two projects which will draw artists and poets together and encourage creativity and inspiration. I have also begun a Bardic Diary, which I will update every now and then, and this will be available at the end of my tenure, detailing what I’ve been up to. Kind of like Alan Bennett’s diaries, only with less emphasis on Cream Crackers.

And here’s my Bardic manifesto:

My main impetus from the Bardic Oath is to encourage inspiration in creatives, and this is something I want to highlight during my time as Bard. I see art, and artistic creation, as something which transcends boundaries and labels, and I would love to encourage dialogue and working relationships between different art forms. Indeed, as someone who is wary to even label their own output as ‘poetry’ – (even though my pieces are all named ‘Poem’!) – I see it as essential that people look beyond narrow confines and become experimental, more audacious in their art. If you’re writing a poem and you feel it needs something sung in the middle, then sing! Or dance! Or stop everything and start to paint a picture halfway through a performance. The possibilities are endless!

As an LGBT performer, I want to continue the work that the Bardship has done in shining a light on those from diverse backgrounds. 

As a comedy performer, I’d interested in seeing what role art can take in helping people address mental health issues. Comedy is all about enjoyment and helping people have a good time, but not everyone is having a good time. I would like to encourage people to talk more, and be honest and willing to help, or at least, to listen.

And finally, I want to have some fun, and help other people have fun, too! The world has been through a lot over the last five years. We are all in this together, and we’ve all had dark times. I want to use the Bardship to allow art to be an escape, a refuge, perhaps even a mirror, inverting everything.

And also, I promise solemnly, that I’ll try and get the toilets near the library sorted out.

Robert Garnham, Professor of Whimsy is the New Bard of Exeter!

A wonderful summary of the beautiful ceremony in which Robert Garnham was crowned as the Bard of Exeter on Oct 20th 2021, written by Exeter Poet Ysella Sims:

“Huge congratulations to new Bard of Exeter Robert Garnham. A low key inauguration last night at Exeter Phoenix with a bit of incantatory jiggery pokery, a ceremonial teapot, a lump of Dartmoor stone in a carrier bag and a rather beautiful cat. Pretty standard #poetry behaviour for a wet Wednesday night. Grand bard of Exeter Kimwei McCarthy thanked Tim King for his exceptional Bardship and stewardship of the Exeter poetry community during the last two challenging years, voicing our collective gratitude for his love, enthusiasm and support whilst having a pretty tricky time of his own.

Robert, Professor of Whimsy, will make an excellent bard and would by all accounts have been the much missed Melanie Crump’s first choice. He’s the master of fun, frivolity (and feather boas) which is just about everything we need right now.

The wondrous Harula Ladd came a very close second and I have no doubt that her time will come. As Tim would say, all the poetry love. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

-Kimwei, Grand Bard of Exeter

Grand Bard at Lakefest, August 12th

This Saturday represents a landmark in my life: I will perform a Spoken Word show for the very first time. I’ll be introduced as The Grand Bard of Exeter – a role in which I am currently serving my third year of seven. The occasion calls for me to create a Bardic Book to read from, and here I proudly present it. I was quite surprised to feel the weight of it in my hand, and to know that the word writing that I have done so far as a Bard spans over fifty spreads.

Those of you who know me will understand what I huge shift it is for me to be performing predominantly as a writer rather than a musician (although never fear, I shall be playing and singing songs as part of my show as well). When I first became Bard of Exeter in Spring 2018 I was the ninth incumbent, but the FIRST who was a songwriter and not a poet. Very quickly that HAD to change because I was immediately asked to write and perform a poem for Exeter Arts week. I began learning to tell stories at Exeter Story Club. I wrote a poem in a workshop during Exeter Poetry Festival that Autumn and performed it the same evening at the poetry slam, which as Bard, it was part of my role to judge. I felt very out of my depth and confused by why it was that everyone seemed to think I was a poet no matter what I did.

In Spring 2019 I became Grand Bard of Exeter, nominated by outgoing Grand Bard Jackie Juno to whom I am eternally grateful. I wrote a series of short stories about Climate Change and performed them. Everyone said how much they enjoyed my poems – it seemed like whatever I did, people thought it was poetry. In one case someone commented on how much they had enjoyed a poem of mine when I was actually I’d just been talking off the top of my head! I later found out that being able to ‘channel’ a poem in free speaking is said to be the mark of a true Bard.

I felt things were getting out of hand when in Autumn 2019 the BBC emailed me saying that of all the poets in Devon they had decided to select me to represent the County by writing a poem to represent Devon for National Poetry Day, along with 12 other poets nationwide as part of a project called “BBC Home Truths”. The email went on to say that there had been some difficulty in locating my poetry portfolio online (!!!!), but that I came highly recommended and that if I could simply direct them to my portfolio of poems we could seal the deal. I was dumbfounded – who on earth could have recommended me as a “poet” and of course no one could find my portfolio because I didn’t have one. I sent them all the poems I’d written since I started in Spring 2018… all five of them… and lo and behold I was accepted. I decided that it didn’t matter if I understood poetry or if my choice of line breaks and form showed that I had no idea what I was doing as long as the soul of the writing was true and honest, represented the land and the people and the words made sense to the heart when I spoke them aloud. The BBC were very happy with it, remarking on the poem’s quality and I performed it on BBC Spotlight, Radio Devon and Radio 4.

From that moment on I felt a real shift in who I was. I became a Bard – someone who puts inspiration at the centre of everything I do, and who serves the land and the people. Something fell away around the focus on technical excellence that had always been a part of my life as a musician.

When the Pandemic began I felt called to write about it, to represent people’s experiences. I contacted the BBC and asked if they were interested and Sarah Gosling picked it up. I’ve now been writing and performing poems, stories and songs for her show for over a year. It’s here I feel I cut my teeth and learned not to be scared or hesitant, but just to keep turning up, putting the work first and to keep on expressing and trusting in the Awen (spirit of inspiration). In the last three months the pieces have all been co-created with local poets, writers and ordinary non-writer people of Devon. To me, this feels like this is what creativity is meant for.

In the shift to becoming a true Bard, and moving the Bardship to the core of who I am, I have gained a great deal but also lost some things. I have spent lockdown focused on creative areas that have nothing to do with my guitar, and because I had always specialised in a technically demanding form of guitar playing (percussive acoustic), like a circus performer off season, I simply can’t play that stuff at the moment. Here is what I think of as one of my best performances, following a year of deep practice after a single, transformational lesson with Jon Gomm https://youtu.be/b07rbdJ-UpA That form of expression, when I reach for it, isn’t there now. But it IS ok to move forward in life, into the future. There are things I never achieved as a percussive acoustic guitarist. I never reached the point where I felt like my performances were really reliable and comfortable. So, ok, it turns out I’m not going to keep going until I reach that level after all. Instead I’m turning in a new direction and moving on.

Life is different now. Inspiration I will seek, inspiration I will give – that is the simplest form of the Bardic oath which I first took in Spring 2018 and which has come to define everything about who I am, even small things that I might not have expected. My oath is with me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. I feel a sense of clarity, and I have lost the sense that I need to be “good” at anything I do, simply that it must come from the spirit of inspiration. May the Awen be with you all. See you at Lakefest this coming Saturday, where I’ll be at the Pen and Parchment Stage. Thank you to Ros Wehner and John Wehner for recommending me and to Laurence Aldridge for inviting me.

-Kimwei, Grand Bard of Exeter

Grand Bard of Exeter features on BBC Spotlight

My poem “Pandemic Reflections” was featured on BBC Spotlight to celebrate a year of my “artist in residence” creative work for Sarah Gosling’s Arts and Culture show on BBC Radio Devon as the Grand Bard of Exeter. “Kimwei McCarthy, who is the Grand Bard of Exeter, created a series of Pandemic Pieces for BBC Radio Devon’s Arts and Culture Show [presented by Sarah Gosling]. Well, 12 months into that process he’s compiled a spoken word reflection on a year unlike any other.” Thanks to Sarah for your ongoing support, and to John Danks for doing an amazing job of shooting and editing this item.  

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Join Kimwei’s Band of Bards!

For a chance to be part of a fabulous creative community AND get your writing broadcast on BBC Radio Devon, come along to my Band of Bards creative writing workshops, every other Tuesday evening from May 25th! The first workshop will be online and will be co-hosted by none other than previous Grand Bard of Exeter, Jackie Juno!

Go to the Workshops page to find out more and book now, as places are limited!

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Tim King to Remain Bard of Exeter until we can have a proper competition for the new Bard

I’m proud to announce that we are celebrating a whole year of enjoying Tim King as our Bard of Exeter, and that he’s been doing such a great job of being a pandemic Bard and keeping Taking The Mic/Forsaking The Mic going online during these interesting times, that we’re going to keep him on as Bard for now, until such time as we can have a Bard of Exeter Competition properly. Three cheers for Tim King!

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard of Exeter

Grand Bard of Exeter on BBC Radio Devon

I have so enjoyed visiting Sarah Gosling’s BBC Introducing show on BBC Radio Devon in the past, as well as featuring with her on Radio 4’s Frontrow last Autumn, so I’m thrilled now to be providing a pandemic poem for each of her fortnightly arts shows during this lockdown. You can listen in every other Thursday (from May 14th) or watch out for my uploads to this playlist:

I’ll also be joining Gordon Sparks on the Breakfast Show at 6.20am every morning next week (beginning June 1st) performing Pandemic themed Pause For Thought pieces.

Warmes of wishes to you in these interesting times

-Kimwei (he/him), Grand Bard

Spoken Word Events go Online!

In these times of Covid-19 and Lockdown our spoken word events and communities are thriving with the help of ye olde internet. Yes, the Bardic scene has gone online, with Bard Tim King seamlessly springing up Taking The Mic open mic sessions on Zoom. Likewise Widsith and Deor’s Exeter Story Club is alive and kicking, as is Chris White’s Spork and Robert Garnham’s Big Poetry. Link yourself up and attend the latest through our What’s On page. Stay safe and keep creative.

-Kimwei

BBC Home Truths Poem for Devon

Each year BBC Local Radio teams up with specially chosen poets to create sparkling new poems for broadcast on National Poetry Day. This year, as Grand Bard of Exeter, I was chosen to represent Devon, to write a poem that challenges stereotypes and celebrates the delights of the County

-Kimwei

Because You Invited Me (full version)

by Kimwei McCarthy

Home Truths poem for Devon

Invite me over to your favourite cafe

somewhere on the river Dart

where it trickles between our past and our future,

or invite me to your house

where it rests like a barnacle on a hilltop

near a stone circle

where we shall take tea together.

In ancient times you moved the earth

turning woodland to moorland,

clearing pastures for grazing

just so you could live together,

allowing the wildness of gorse and heather

to care for itself

whilst caring for you.

Then, you stopped being so careful

and began building cities,

cutting through this county,

cutting through each other with big ideas

until you were burning and hanging women,

Now you are sorry

and honour those killed

and welcome magic back

and remember who you were before that all started

with every moment that you invite me in.

Bring out your finest china

and tell me the story of an outcast wife

who won back her family

by returning from exile

with the secret of clotted cream –

tell me to remind me that this place is my home,

as you take up the butter-knife,

spread a cloud on a scone,

place it in my hand.

I hold it up to the window,

so it seems to twin a cloud in the sky

and I think how similar two things can be and how different

and yet how right they can look next to each other.

How startling it is when we can belong together

because you invited me.