Rumours from the Treacle-Well

Hello hello, and new people too!

The observant among you may have noticed that it is not Sunday morning as advertised, but Monday lunchtime. What a strange and unbalanced world, where the busy are so frantically busy, but the unoccupied have so little to do it takes up all our time just to get through it.

So basically I had a rehearsal yesterday for this week’s Asheville Fringe shows (of which more further on), and it’s been so long since I did as many as two whole things in a day that the stress just defeated me. It’s like juggling in treacle. . .

Literary Gravesendians: Don Juan

Our illustrious literary Gravesendian this week is a fictional character, we have only circumstantial (if compelling) evidence he was even here, that’s a picture of Errol Flynn playing a different character of the same name, and I hope that gives you an idea of the spirit in which to take this.

Lord Byron left these islands for good in 1816, making his way across Europe to his final destination in Greece, and writing as he went the cantos of ‘Don Juan’, the story of a hero making the same journey in the opposite direction.

I say ‘hero’, but Juan is barely more than a literary device; like Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Don Juan does nothing, he just has things happen to him as he bounces across the map like a pinball: from Spain to Grecian isle to Turkish harem to Russian palace and finally across the battlefields of Europe to London. Which means, of course, he has to come through or at least past Gravesend, during the journey described in Canto X (download text here), stanzas 69-80:

X.69 arrives Dover
X.73-5 visits Canterbury
X.76 drives past hop-gardens
X.80 arrives on top of Shooters Hill

I think we are safe, then, to put Don Juan coming past here somewhere in the middle of stanzas 77-79 which, as it happens, constitute an extended grumble about how expensive England is.

Performing bits of ‘Don Juan’ is a thing I’ve been enjoying a while now - it’s not a poem so much as an Gargantuan stand-up comedy routine in rhyme - but the verse is impossible to do slowly, and combine that with the rollercoaster changes in tone and you end up with the spoken word equivalent of a Van Halen guitar solo.

So here’s a rough version of the passage in question - you should know that Leila is Juan’s ward/travelling companion (think Doctor Who), a young Muslim girl whose reaction to seeing Canterbury Cathedral here is one of the best jokes in the whole thing. I feel bad about missing out the stanza I miss out this time round, but I just can’t work out yet how to say it so it sounds like it once meant something. Took long enough to get magnesias” rhyming with “species”.

THIS WEEK: Poetry Cabaret at the Asheville Fringe

OK I appreciate it’s really not the right moment to be looking on the bright side of anything, but. . . one of the brighter sides of the last few months has been starting to work again, via the magic of this here interweb, on the Poetry Cabaret show I helped get going in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, with excellent poetry comrade Caleb Beissert.

In the intervening years Caleb has taken our blend of poetry, performance, music, and dance to fringe favourite status in Asheville as well as in Washington DC; Friday and Saturday we play Asheville Fringe with a hour’s show stuffed with wonder and delights, compered live by me and Caleb on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Tickets here:

And yes dear fellow Brits, that does mean a 3.30am start. We’ll probably be editing together a version to post on YouTube afterwards, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel guilty about not sitting up to see it live.


One of the most vital and inventive seams in modern language is the language of raw consumerism - and one of the most unfortunate effects of the creative-industrial complex and its stranglehold on what gets called “poetry” is that the kind of people who are encouraged to write poems are the kind of people who don’t tend to want to be associated with the world of budget retail. Which is rather a pity; the whole point of Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, remember, is that daffs are a pound a bunch from Sainsbury’s. Anyway, enjoy this, it made me laugh out loud.

Audiobook News

Posted this week, chapter one of “Star Maker” by Olaf Stapledon:

And part two of the 1920s manual of Etiquette, containing the much-trailed “eating an orange with a knife and fork” passage, as well as much useful information on the etiquette of paying calls and, of course, leaving calling cards:

. . . and that’s it for now folks. I know I promised you an account of my quest for the true Gypsy Tart, but that will have to wait till next time. Don’t forget to share this with people if you think they might enjoy it. Keep it spiny now.