No Apologies – How to introduce a poem

I’ve seen it a hundred times. A newer poet takes the mic, prepares themselves to read their work and utters the fateful words “This probably isn’t any good.”

At this moment a handful of things happen. Firstly, the audience switch off and begin talking with their friends or checking their Facebook. Secondly, the host gets a little irritable, wondering why you’re taking mic time if your material isn’t good, and lastly, I, in the back of the room, wince.

People think they’re being humble when they say “this isn’t very good” or self deprecating when they say “this is really depressing” but the truth is by building these low expectations into your set, you give the audience the right to ignore you. Why would people want to listen to bad poetry?

To be a performance poet, you need to have a little bit of an ego. Nothing too crass but enough to justify standing on a stage and saying “these are my feelings and you should listen.” Even if you don’t feel like a rockstar, you have been given that time behind the microphone to wow a room. It’s okay to not rush into performance, to hold back work while you edit and make it better or to only perform when you have new work ready but you should never apologise. There is a validity in everyone’s poetry, including yours.

Another negative point about telling the audience your poem will be bad, you are telling them what to think. The poem, upon leaving the mouth of the poet, becomes that of the audiences. It is there’s to make of it what they wish, to find the notes that resonate with their own lives and the particular wordplay that appeal to them. Not every poem will be for everyone and that’s okay. Even if you connect with one person in the room, you have accomplished something wonderful.

We apologise before a poem because that’s when we are at our most nervous. Some go the other way and deliver long monologues before their pieces exploring the themes and inspirations behind everything. Once this has been done, is there really any reason to hear the poem?

This is done so one can acclimatise to the stage and the audience but it robs a performance of it’s power. Introducing poetry is hard, you don’t want to give too much away but you’re also compelled to show people what you’ve done and why.

Before beginning a poetry performance, I take a second to look out at the audience. I will adjust the microphone properly and then I will say hello. Nothing grand, just a simple hello. The audience is here to share an intimate moment with you and should be treated like a friend. This is all you need, those few moment of comfortable stillness.

Your introduction should be planned before hand. No more than two or three sentences. You are here to perform poetry, not to monologue. The simplest introduction is “This is a poem called…” and it works. The poem should speak for itself. You can say “this is about…” and give away the broad theme. The important thing is to not dwell on specifics and to have a clear idea of what you’re about to say before you say. This is where planning your set is absolutely vital. As you become more confident as a performer, you can start improvising but only once you’ve built that back catalogue of pre-amble and developed your confidence as a performer.

I often tell people the performance poet should be 1/5th a standup comedian. This doesn’t mean you need to be a wacky madman behind the mike, it just means as poets we can draw up the same confidence, story-telling and presence you see in comedians. We’re not given as many performances inspirations as poets outside of those we see live and on the internet. Stand-up comedy, provided you fully analyse the differences between the genre and poetry, is the closest we will usually see in our everyday lives.

Once you have taken the time to intro your piece, clear your throat. Step away from the microphone, give a little cough or sip of your drink and have another micropause. You’re about to switch from one gear to another, and like a car, you can get the engine jammed. Taking that time to refocus your headspace can make the difference between a flawless set and one with a coughing fit in the middle.

Step back to the microphone, take your final breath and begin. You’ve set them up, now knock them dead.


What I’m Learning about InstaPoetry

I wasn’t a very big fan of InstaPoetry, the genre of poetry spawned from the photo sharing app Instagram. Poets like Rupi Kaur and R.H.Sin have built their brands on sparse, singular images, and people have accepted it. Often times I’ve found these poems to be fragments, parts of a whole that will never come to fruition.

I believe being a poet is work. We spend our days ruthlessly self-editing and boiling our creations down long after the initial conception of the idea. There is a dignity to this, the idea that we may not have captured the fleeting image in an instant and accepting that we, as writers, will continue to grow and become better.

By contrast, the InstaPoet seeks to capture the moment as they see it. These errant ideas belong to the moment, sometimes without even the time spent to proof-read. I’ve lost count how often I’ve seen typos in InstaPoems that wouldn’t stand elsewhere. I have seen InstaPoetry as lazy, and arrogant; lacking that time and dedication, and proclaiming that poetry is easy.

That’s the crux. Poetry in it’s simplest expression should be easy. The labour and grinding we put into it is part of becoming a great poet but to just be a poet is achievable to anyone; we just have to allow the barrier down. As social animals, we spend our days filtering our expression and in busy modern life, we have no time to wax lyrical or loquacious on the beauty in the everyday. InstaPoetry jumps this, provides those single snapshots of the moment and celebrates that. It may not be great poetry but it is poetry and to dismiss it, is to limit one’s contemporary influence.

Not every single shred of writing should become an epic. Some tiny scraps of poetry are beautiful in their own right and to drown them out with excess noise is to do them a disservice. The haiku is one of the most beautiful forms of poetry, in my experience, and InstaPoetry belongs to that same mould of capturing beauty where it is found in the most succinct fashion.

Of course, not all writers are beautiful yet. Some have raised issues on identity politics, some have typecast all women as tragic or in need of the love of a man. These issues are not exclusive to InstaPoetry, and it’s short-sighted to believe otherwise. Problematic poetry exists in all forms of writing. What has become troubling is the success of those InstaPoets who exhibit these tendencies.

As the genre evolves, I am almost certain that we will see an evolution in these tendencies. New poets will rise and give way to the next big medium but for the moment, we should be glad that people are still making time for poetry, albeit briefly.

Connor’s InstaPoetry can be found at @connorsansbywriter

So You Don’t Have Time to Write?

Modern life is busy for all of us, especially those who juggle a publishing schedule, blog posts and readings on top of a 9-to-5 job. So how do you manage to get your writing done? For the most part, you have to make the time but here are six tips for getting things done.

1. Think about the time you spend in front of the TV.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of the TV? Many of you will consider this valuable recharge time but having a pen and paper in easy reach can be a godsend. Whether you decide to sketch out a scene or take note of a particular turn of phrase someone on TV has uttered, the time spent watching TV can be valuable “people watching time”

2. Set a daily goal.
Some days you don’t want to do anything, whether you’re looking for that all-important recharge time or you aren’t feeling with it enough to crack on.
It’s okay not to finish something every day, and you don’t have to have a daily word count to be successful. What’s important is making sure you have no “zero days.” That is, there should never be a day when you accomplish nothing. I think this is important for life in general but especially so if you’re trying to forge a successful writing career.

3. Use your phone.
I’ve heard every iteration of the “no time to write” spiel and it’s simply not true. In your pocket is a tiny computer capable of taking notes at any turn. As Nora Ephron said, “everything is copy.” As a writer, you explore life and channel that into an art, taking notes on your phone is a simple way of catching the moment and injecting that authenticity into your work.
I recommend Google Docs or Evernote to sync your notes in one place but the default note app on your phone is good enough if you check it regularly.

4. Don’t stop.
It’s easy to miss a day. Sometimes you’re out the house before the sun’s up and you’re only back home long after it’s set. The important thing is to not let that zero-day become a zero-week. The easiest way to create a writer’s block is to stop writing for an extended period of time. If you have to have a zero day, that has no bearing on the next day, so pick up a pen at the next available opportunity and get back on with the grind.

5. Be efficient with your writing.
Maybe the problem your having isn’t that you don’t have time to write but that you’re not spending your time on the right writing. If you’re novel has been sitting unloved for months on end, maybe it’s time to stop posting to your blog every day.
While some platforms will penalise you for not posting, remember the point of a blog is to promote your work. You can’t do that if you don’t have a product to promote. Your readers will forgive you if it means they get to read something more substantial.

6. Learn the art of “5 minutes.”
Everyone can do something for five minutes a day. You probably spend more time than that in the bathroom or labouring over simple decisions you’ve already decided on.
The world will do everything it can to steal those five minutes from you but it’s up to you to block out the world and JUST WRITE.
You don’t need to write a whole scene in a single sitting, you can come back and edit any discrepancies in your voice later.
Stealing six blocks of five minutes back every day gives you a full half hour of writing each day. That’s a respectable amount of time, and once you add in those times where you “can write”, your word count will be unstoppable.

If you find something that works, stick to it and develop it further. No one wants to hear you talk about how you don’t have time to write or how your writer’s block is in the way. You can’t sell those excuses, so put them aside, pick up a good habit and work it.

So, how do you find time to write?

Thanet Poetry Journal Voume 3: Thanet Writers Takeover Edition – October 2017


We’re back for another spectacular showcasing of Thanet’s writing talent. For this issue we at Neanderthal Beard reached out to Thanet Writers, a local CIC that we work with on various projects. They’re great people who put a lot of time and effort into building and maintaining our local writing community, not just for poets but writers of all disciplines.

Fittingly, as we’ve just celebrated Hallowe’en, this volume dwells on the macabre and ethereal, almost casting Margate as a land of the dead. The name Thanet, it is sometimes said, comes from the “Ynys Thanatos” in Ancient Greek myths. Though there are many tales on how this Island got its name, that’s always been my favourite. On the foggy nights recently, you can almost see the boats, rowing the dead to their final resting place.

Though this may sound dark and gloomy, I think ultimately this is a collection of love, as many things are.

Thanet Writers have been, and continue to be, a blast to work with and I sincerely hope you enjoy this volume of the Thanet Poetry Journal, edited by The Thanet Writers Editorial Team. I hope many of you will find your way to their website and submit content, whether story, poem or even articles on the subject of writing. It’s all part of Thanet Writers mission to build, promote and educate the writer’s of Thanet.

For the next volume, we are proud to welcome Setareh Ebrahimi to the editors chair. Until then, curl up by a fire with this collection and look out over the water and try to find the pale oarsman bringing the dead home on the shores of Thanet.


Quantum Love Notes From A Typewriter Attached to a Phone

Sometimes I think I am writing messages in a bottle
made of ones and zeroes
like there is and isn’t meaning
behind the words I’m using
and I’m throwing them in an ocean
waiting to see if anyone gets back to me

Just because our social media
says we are in sync
doesn’t mean we can feel each other
across this distance
but when we stay up all night,
sharing pictures via wifi
of our pyjamas
it seems like the whole wide world
is just another, big round zero
and we are two ones
on different points of its curve
When I was at school
I was told than an infinite line with a slight bend
would eventually come all the way back round
and touch itself
but the phone lines between us
have been broken by satellites,
so each time we say “I miss you”
it is literally a voice from heaven
made up of ones and zeroes
like there both is and isn’t meaning in it


My girlfriend doesn’t live that far away but it’s far enough that sometimes I can miss her. Recently I went on holiday, away from the internet. It was only a few days but I missed her still and I thought of those people in long distance relationships with people on the otherside of the planey and the role the internet plays in their lives. This made me think of all the people who might be in a relationships if only they were a little closer, for whom that distance is the only thing keep them apart but it still seems so great that neither one will admit they want more than whatever they share with this person.

The Musical Vault of Martin Shkreli: Beatles, Nirvana and Wu-Tang secret works in the hands of an enfant terrible.

There are few men more hated in the world than “Pharma Bro”, investor and recently convicted fraudster Martin Shkreli. His initial rise to infamy was projected by his company’s price hike on the antiparasitic drug Daraprim but he remained in the spotlight after his successful bid on the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”

Conceived as an art piece exploring the commodification of music through channels like iTunes, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was recorded in secret over six years and produced as a single double CD, the work was to be auctioned off, with a legal contract saying that the work could not be exploited commercially but it could be redistributed for free or at listening parties. On August 26, 2015, the final sale was announced “in the millions” to “a private collector”, later revealed to be Shkreli by Blooomsburg Businessweek. Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA later explained the sale was agreed before the controversial drug price-hike and subsequently a “significant portion” of the proceeds had been donated to various charities.

Though the actual track listing remains a secret for Shkreli alone, the auction house who handled the album did provide the working titles of the tracks. For about a year, this was all the information we had and Shkreli showed no signs of letting others hear the album. This was until Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States, when Shkreli promised to release the album if Trump got into the White House. Ultimately, when Trump was announced President Elect, Shkreli streamed the intro and one track.

Intriguingly, along with Wu-Tang Clan, Shkreli promised he’d be releasing his entire unreleased music collection, including tracks from Nirvana and The Beatles. In a tweet after the election, Shkreli teased “Wu, Beatles, 2pac, nirvana, radiohead, Hendrix, brand new, smiths, Elliot smith, Ramones” releases from his vault.

On December 23, 2016, Shkreli claimed he had acquired a two-disc, fully mixed down version of “Tha Carter V”, the long-delayed and rumoured final solo album from Lil Wayne. Recorded during 2013 to 2014, “Tha Carter V” has been the subject of conflict between Lil Wayne and his mentor/label boss Birdman.

During a livestream, Shkreli released two tracks from the project; one track featuring Kendrick Lamar and the other with Justin Bieber. Lawyers from Wayne and Universal Music were quick to issues threats, with Lil Wayne’s camp eventually coming to terms with Shkreli that he would not release any more tracks by the artist.

Shkreli has remained tight-lipped about how he acquired the album, with many believing it to have been retrieved by a hacker who then sold the work on to Shkreli, seeking him out for his history of spending money on music.

It is an undeniable fact that Shkreli is the sole publicly known owner of two of the biggest albums of the last ten years but what of his other claims?

Nirvana is a band that has enjoyed much traffic in tape trading circles, where fans will exchange copies of live show recordings, rare b-sides, radio exclusives and unreleased music. For Shkreli to indicate he has music not found in this community is a bold claim. Despite their brief run from 1987 -1994, the band produced three albums, a b-side collection and a live acoustic album, along with dozens of recordings found in frontman Kurt Cobain’s archives after his death.
So far, Shkreli has streamed a number of songs including “If You Must” (released officially Novemeber 2004 as part of the “With the Lights Out” box set), this track has appeared in the “Outcesticide” bootleg series and the early Nirvana demo recorded in January 1988.

This gives us a hint that Shkreli’s collection is not 100% as impressive as he has made out. Further tracks include “Talk to Me”, “Pay to Play” (an early version of Stay Away), “Spank Thru” (from the pre-Nirvana Cobain project, Fecal Matter), “Born in a Junkyard” (a.k.a Token Eastern Song) and Beeswax (planned for the “Bleach” follow-up) have all seen official release through the “With the Lights Out” box set.

Another band who’ve always been present in the bootleg trading underground, and one of the most iconic musical acts of all time, The Beatles are also alleged to be in Shkreli’s collection. Shkreli has assembled the supposed contents of his secret stash on the website, in which he identifies the Beatles tracks he possesses as “The Esher Sessions”. Once again, this is a widely available compilation.

The tracks in question are the demos, recorded at George Harrison’s house (in Esher), before the recording of “The White Album”. Much of the bootleg, fifteen tracks in all, were properly recorded for “The White Album”, as well as seven tracks being included as part of “Anthology 3”, mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Two tracks, “Not Guilty” and “What’s the New Mary Jane” were eventually cut before release but “What’s the New Mary Jane” did make its way onto “Anthology 3” while “Not Guilty” eventually was re-recorded as a George Harrison solo track after he rediscovered his copy of the Esher tape. The final tracks that did not make their way into the studio, “(I’m Just a) Child of Nature” would be released as “Jealous Guy” by Lennon, “Circles” would become a Harrison solo track and “Sour Milk Sea” would be given to Jackie Lomax as one of the earliest Apple Record singles.

But what of the rest? The music Shkreli hasn’t released in any form yet? There’s a lot of speculation to be had. Many fans don’t believe Shrkeli has the music he’s promising, instead acquiring publicly available bootlegs and paying through the nose for them, for that special feeling that only he has heard them. But what if, Martin Shkreli has been playing us? The man is obviously fairly clever, smart enough to have a quick Google before paying for huge projects. Maybe he really does possess the music he says he does, or maybe he’s just enjoying us run around chasing ghosts and worrying that Pharma Bro might be deleting unheard Smashing Pumpkin tracks.

Shortly before “The Life of Pablo”, Kanye West’s latest album, at a time when he was talking about being £53 million in debt, Shkreli sent an open letter offering $10 million for the rights, so he could keep the album all to himself, later upping the bid to $15 million. In the following weeks, Shkreli claimed to have lost $15 million in Bitcoin to someone pretending to be from West’s camp, followed by an epic hunt for the culprit, culminating in his talks with none other than Satoshi Nakamoto, the shadowy creator of Bitcoin, in order to retrieve the money. The story is an easy one to bust, at no point was $15 million moved in the Bitcoin block chain. Shkreli relishes in his infamy and outrage, and his claims of holding your favourite band’s music hostage might be just another part of his act.

Our Words on Your Lips

So last month, I saw a post in the Kent Poetry Facebook group, a producer, Lenny Bunn, looking for poets to record a compilation album. At first, I tagged Neanderthal Bard to get him to take part but then I thought “why the hell not?” and put my own name foward.

I travelled up with Mark Hollihan, one of my absolute favourite poets, to the farm where Lenny’s Studio lives. When we arrived, we crossed paths with Setareh, a poet I haven’t know that long but whose work I thoroughly enjoy. She had a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest with her. DFW has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration, especially as my own novel begins to take shape.

I was expecting the whole day to be a bit regimented, a changing of poets, a set number of takes and everything timetabled but Lenny isn’t like that. Mark and myself hung out for about an hour, chatting about the project, poetry, music in general before I headed in to the booth. I took a few dry runs of my poems. I chose to do the untitled film poem, I don’t have a title for it but I usually intorduce it with an ever changing pop culture title but for the sake of this project, I chose “Roll Credits” so it didn’t date the piece. I also brought a newer poem, “Ode to an Icon”, about the real life Jack Daniels.

I took two run throughs of each, to make sure there weren’t any weird sounds coming from in my mouth and that my timing was in

After my turn, Mark stepped up to the mic. Mark has one of the  best cadences of any poet I know, and his flow is impecable. As a writer, I often envy Mark’s style. As soon as Mark started reading, Lenny turned to me and said “he’s got the best voice”, and I agree. It’s always nice to just zone in, being still and quiet while Mark does his thing.

Afterwards, we spent more time chatting about music and the poetry scene with Lenny, until the next batch of poets arrived and we left them to do their thing.

The poets who also put their names down represent some of my favourite people and poets from all over Kent. To be listed on an album with them is a privilege I enjoy greatly.




Direct from Lenny: