This poster run happened in about mid February and I had the able assistance of Brian Howard who is the editor of the Philadelphia Citypaper. Brian is a fan of New Zealand music and we had made contact because of this. He had seen ‘The Clean’ play in Philadelphia and was immediately impressed. We all are fans of ‘The Clean’ and will forever be. Brian had also highly rated the Chris Knox ‘Stroke’ album in the newspaper and this gladdened my heart. He cited that album as being one of 2009’s best. We can’t be fairer than that.
The Northern Liberties/Fishtown area of Philadelphia is more than two hundred years old and is nicely worn in (“There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in” – Leonard Cohen). It’s an area of good music venues and people doing unusual and thought-provoking things. I guess you’d be considered a nutcase if you did some of these things in New Zealand, but many of them relate to art and that’s a valuable exercise in itself. Art (and poetry) is often about challenging ‘norms.’ If no-one pushed the status quo and if society was nicely tied, tidied up, managed and orderly, then I think we’d all die of some kind of heartbreak. Change and movement are what life is about. There is a road ahead. Poetry shows this road clearly. Music does as well.
On this poster run I was carrying posters by several New Zealand poets. I always feel some kind of dignity as I go about stapling and cello taping (Sydney, Australia poster style) these posters to lamp-posts. There’s nothing so human in life as to be putting up poetry posters and (I’ve said this before) people do relate. When you’re putting a Janet Frame Poem poster on a lamp-post in “The City of Brotherly Love” (Philadelphia) then you will connect to people, you will make ‘contact’ beyond superficialities. Janet Frame does that to people and God Bless her. Janet Frame touches people. That is a true blessing.
All of our New Zealand poets touch people. I have some kind of awakening on this run as I watched a bloke go through Michele Leggott’s fine poem “Wonderful to Relate” line by line. This guy was really following what the poem was saying and I just knew it had changed his day. So I now know we can put more ‘content’ into these poetry posters. People will stop and read. There’s something human about all this. Who could not understand a poem poster on a lamp-post?
Aaaah Philadelphia; the city of freedom. This is where Lenny Bruce was arrested in September of 1961. I always think of that each time I visit the city. Lenny was arrested on narcotics charges at the John Bartram Hotel on Broad Street.
Cop to Lenny:
“What’s that white stuff on the dresser?”
“What’s the syringe for?”
“I can’t stand the taste of it.”
Lenny took the rap for us all. Lenny stood up and said things that challenged conventional norms. These conventional norms were giving us all heartbreak and Lenny broke through that. He exposed so much hypocrisy that there should be statues for him everywhere. I think everyone knows how life runs and it’s not how the authorities tell us life runs. Lenny talked about what was really happening and this frightened people – mainly the authorities. Lenny must have gotten hurt as all the criticism and arrests came in. There is no doubt we would not have the society we have now were it not for people like Lenny Bruce. He was a true poet. I take my hat off to him.
In that year (1961) and the following year, Lenny was arrested several more times for saying words that most decent people say to themselves and carefully selected others. What was it Bob Dylan said? “Lenny Bruce is dead, but his spirit lives on and on…” I’ll say.
I went mucking about in old Philadelphia putting up my poetry posters one by one and I just knew I was helping make a difference. That’s got to be the very best feeling in the world. When I finished, I felt really good. I turned around and saw people reading New Zealand poetry. That’s such a good feeling.
Keep the Faith,