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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Varder ‘er at Chelt Lit Fest

Polari Writing with the Palones of Chelt Lit Fest

Polari Writing with the Palones of Chelt Lit Crawl

A busy couple of weeks with Cheltenham Literature Festival workshops, amongst other things…

Last Saturday, I hosted What If You Couldn’t Polari ‘I Love You’? at the Lit Crawl event, a fun & poignant session

We started looking at Polari – a quick intro – a bijou clipette of literary-infused Julian and Sandy, got a bit of conversational chat, mixed it in with the special ‘lingos’ from our lives, then created a group poem of what we do or say, instead of those things we can’t say.

Here’s the resulting poem – shared with the group’s permission, and anonymised anyhow. It’s an activity I’ll try again and know that the ‘deflections’ or alternatives to what we can’t say will be so different every time:

Because I Can’t Say It I say I’d love to! and I will do that right now! I get extremely fucking polite. So cold it burns. I smile and nod in sympathy. I resort to social niceties. I say would you like a cup of tea? I nod my head, grit my teeth, and think of Australia. I say to other people what I would say to them. Download! I look at my mate, who I know is thinking the same thing, we both hold our gaze for just long enough to acknowledge each other, but not long. I scowl. I make up nicknames for them. I say I will do it! I sing out loud in the shower. I say Thank you. I say I’m sorry. I say It’s fine (when it’s not). I give him a book or a poem that says it for me. I say Oooh…what do you think? I bring him a coffee, a kiss and a smile. I crack self-deprecating jokes. I make puns that say it unnoticed. I smile and say You’re welcome. I say Does it make a difference? I scream into my pillow.

I only wish I’d remembered the marvellous poem Oral English by Sheenagh Pugh – which is the most elegant treatment of Polari, Julian & Sandy, and the wider implications of it all – in one poem. You can find that in Double Bill: Poems Inspired by Popular Culture.


Today, I hosted a morning session entitled Red Wheelbarrow Beat Club, where we looked at some ‘Buddhish’ and Buddhist poems, especially relating to objects, pointing-out and the Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg.

We wrote our own versions of pointing-out poems such as The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, had a go at Ginsberg’s American Sentences (and invented British Sentences), and explored other poems by Buddhist Lama (teacher) Chogyam Trungpa and contemporary Buddhist (amazing) poet, Chase Twichell.

Here are some of my efforts from the session:

Something Chogyam Trungpa-inspired…

A printer is always frustrated A printer is always frustrated because it stutters. Paper clips are chipper and grippy. A laptop is busy going to sleep. A poet wallows in ink. A window without frame or glass And a house without walls or roof Are inviting in the autumn wind The ink which the sky provides

Something Wheelbarrow inspired…

The Peg so much depends upon the wooden clothes peg nestled with its siblings along our washing line.

A Ginsberg-style 17-syllable non-haiku American Sentence…

Sign reads: 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK. And then: CLOSED.

What was lovely about these poems is how kids could engage with them, too – a session I’ll run again in future.


I’m also looking forward to starting work as this year’s writer-facilitator, on the Beyond Words project with the Literature Festival soon, too – and will aim to write some updates about our writing excursions and incursions, into inspiring locations…

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