Graham Austin, regular performer and attender at A Poem and a Pint events in Cumbria, has died.
He wasn’t expected to go yet. Sometimes it happens this way.
HappenStance published a pamphlet by Graham Austin in 2010. It was called Fuelling Speculation and on the cover there’s a picture of Jonah inside the whale, complaining.
Graham’s pamphlet was one of a pair that were to be the first in a series: the Po-lite pamphlets. The other was by Martin Parker, founder editor of Lighten-Up Online. The series began and ended with these two. Nothing has ever struck me as so funny since. There has been amusement, of course, but rarely a set of poems that had me chuckling.
Graham made me laugh out loud. Of course I had heard him perform, though only once, at A Poem and a Pint event in Cumbria. But once was enough to know this gentleman was unique. He often seems completely serious. He can work without the usual light-verse markers of rhythm and rhyme. And then the penny suddenly drops and you start to smile and then, if you’re me, you start to laugh. Not just me though. Graham had whole audiences in stitches. In Chapter Five of The HappenStance Story I said he was ‘dry as a water biscuit’.
In the bio on the HappenStance website, he wrote about himself: Graham Austin does not have a degree from Ipswich. He was, in fact, a 'good honours' Durham graduate, although he considers himself to be one of the first to go to university who shouldn't have been allowed near the place. There have been, he says, many thousands like him since.
He was a founder-member of a men’s performing group: A Posse of Poets. Graham was a great person to have in any posse. As a poet (like most of us) he was not a household name, though he wrote some fabulous poems and was an unforgettable performer. But he was a name in many households, including this one.
He will be missed, not least by his many grandchildren. So with that in mind, I’m going to quote the poem that first made me want to publish him, though there are several others I am reading and smiling over at this minute. I will slip in ‘Afterthought’ because you can have it by heart in two minutes:
The stable door is bolted now.
The trouble is, of course,
that that is just exactly how
we can describe the horse.
It is not just the facility in words. It is a whole view on life. It is life off-kilter, life as astonishingly odd. Funny ha-ha and funny peculiar unite. He would want you to read him and smile, even from the Great Beyond, I know he would. This is what he’s saying right now in ‘Afterlife’:
My dearest wife, I’m writing this
to let you know I’m safe and well
and living in a state of bliss
in Satan’s offices in Hell.
I work each day from twelve to two
(including lunch, I must admit).
I do not have too much to do;
I’m still in Human Resources.
And finally, the one I promised: ‘Grandson discovers things he didn’t know about his granddad’:
Bikes? Do I like bikes?
When I was four I had a bike and the
back wheel came off and I crashed into a
wall, cut my lip and tore my trousers.
That’s bikes for you. Shouldn’t be allowed
on the road—let alone the pavement.
Dogs? Do I like dogs?
Let me tell you. When I was four I was knocked
face-down in a puddle by a great big chihuahua
and then it sat on me. And you ask me if
I like dogs! No, I don’t.
Should all be in a zoo.
Little girls? I'll tell you something about little girls.
When I was four I stood in the middle
of the room while they all made fun of me and
then ignored me completely until bedtime.
You just wait and see.
And they grow up.
Chocolate! Don’t talk to me about chocolate!
When I was four I ate a full half-pound
at one go and felt terrible. I
couldn’t go to the toilet for a week
and my mother pushed bits of soap up my bottom.
Do I like chocolate? Think about it.
Cake? Cake! You ask me if I like cake!
When I was four we couldn’t afford ‘cake’;
we just had a loaf of bread with a
sultana on top . . .
As a matter of fact, I do like cake.
Have you got some?
Fuelling Speculation is sold out but I have a handful of copies.
If you would like one, let me know. I’ll see what I can do.