I am the world's last barman poet/ I see America drinking the cocktails I make/ America's getting stinking on things I stir or shake." So begins the worst performance-poem ever. When Tom Cruise hopped up on to the bar in the 1988 film, Cocktail, little did he know he was damning a whole generation of young men into believing that performance-poetry was a no-talent-necessary route to getting girls. When Tom rhymes "snazzy" with "kamikaze", a beautiful woman yells: "Give me a kiss you sexy beast!" If we're being generous to the film, it's readable as a critique of both cocktail waiters and performance poets: all flare, no content. At the end of the poem, the bar erupts in to a chant which, in all my years of attending readings, I'm still waiting to experience first-hand: "More poems! More poems!"
The poetry collective Aisle 16 have a history of trying to find inspiration in unlikely places. Their The Last Barman Poet is inviting reinterpretations, rewrites, assassinations, literary criticism, hip-hop remixes, high literary take-offs and any other work inspired by the poor original from the film. It's an opportunity for writers to show off the transformative power of literature, or just to show off. American comedians have a similar project – The Aristocrats – which is an unfunny joke that, with its open-ended structure, allows them to parachute in as much filthy, outrageous, improvised material as possible, always ending with the same crappy punchline.
The blog at last-barman-poet.blogspot.com is the online repository for poetic remakes. There's still time to send in your own contributions. The best of these will be performed at a monthly literary cabaret, Homework, on Wednesday, 29 September, at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club in London. There will also be an attempt to set the world record for the largest number of people simultaneously reciting a poem. And what a poem: collect your Tom Cruise mask at the door.
Joe Dunthorne's 'Submarine' (Penguin) and 'Faber New Poets 5' are out now; 'Submarine' is at London Film Festival, 22 to 27 October (www.bfi.org.uk/lff)
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