Phantom Blog

November 2010

Viewing posts from November , 2010

Diary of a Billsticker – Washington DC and Baltimore, USA

There might be lots of good reasons for going to these two cities to do a poster run of Kiwi poets. A person has to have clear intentions and I always try not to get sidetracked. My job is to try and make people feel better and not to spit and moan all day about what is going wrong. There’s lots of spitting and moaning in these places.

Poem posters I was carrying included works by Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara, Frankie McMillan, Janet Frame, Sam Hunt, and Brian Turner. I only carried a poem of one American with me, Robert Creeley. I find Mr. Creeley pretty hard to leave behind, but I generally think I should put up the works of Kiwis. We know lots about the Americans, but they know little about the Kiwis and our dreams and desires. They’ve never really had a mutton pie to speak of.

I am writing this on the 37th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy. I think you could count the number of Americans on one hand who know who the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in 1963, or any other of our Prime Ministers for that matter. It’s strange because we’ve had a wee few disasters in Aotearoa this year and now I find more Americans know who we are. But it’s a painful way to define a country.

As you might imagine, it’s hard to put up a poster in the centre of Washington DC. In that area, I think you could most probably be arrested for farting. I’d never take Harry Sparkle with me there to poster, because we’d end up in some exotic pokey in South Carolina or somewhere, or maybe in Florence, Colorado. I prefer to Super Max my McDonalds these days.

My spirits were lifted for a moment in DC when I saw a Shepard Fairey ‘Obey’ poster on an under bridge, but in the few square miles around the White House everything has been swept scrupulously clean and the lamp-posts are steel with deep corrugations, so you can’t really put anything on them. America is very concerned and anxious about terrorists right now and so even though you may come to do them a kindness, this can be misinterpreted. It’s all in the way it’s written up and I’d hate to be shot or arrested for putting up a poster. But I swear I am the person in New Zealand who has heard more than any other “you can’t put that there.”

Nowadays I like to think I’ve settled down, but I remember a (good) time when the Phantom Billstickers business card had on it ‘we just don’t know any better.’

But this poster run looked good because just as I left for a true ‘neighbourhood’ in the North West of DC, the Otara Millionaire’s Club (OMC) came on the radio blasting ‘How Bizarre.’ It’s a great thing when you are in America and you hear Kiwi music on the radio, you always feel proud. I put up their posters.

‘How Bizarre’ is a funky little song and it’ll loosen up your poster stapling muscles and dissolve some of the armour that may separate you from true living. No longer roiling in your chains you may go forth, and so, with breathing changed, I walked the neighbourhood affixing righteously on to those cherished wooden lamp-posts. The ones I have come to know and love so well in America.

“Oooh baby…”

Yes, Kiwi music does a lot of good in the world and I think now we even have more musicians than sheep.

“Ooh Baby (ooh baby)
It’s making me crazy (it’s making me crazy)
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face…

How bizarre
How bizarre….”

So I talked to lots of people on this run and including some other guys putting up posters (they were wanting to buy junked cars for ‘up to $200’). I put some posters up right outside the local police station (and could barely stop) and had a very friendly conversation with a cop doing so. There are too many big things in North West DC for the cops to worry about other than someone adding some beauty to a lamp-post and I must say the police station is bigger than the interisland ferry. One day these police stations will be bigger than the North Island and things will be worse….

“Oooh baby…
It’s making me crazy…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face….”

Washington DC is where the Beatles gave their first concert in the USA in February 1964. They opened with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” I think they blew the room down. These things are in my mind as I poster. Two days before they were on the Ed Sullivan show and blew America away.

Anyway, next day it’s was Baltimore’s turn. I love Charm City as it just kind of feels to me to be naturally worn in. There are a lot of reasons you could come here too. There are strong references to Baltimore in at least two Bob Dylan songs, this being where Hattie Carroll was murdered and also where ‘Miss Mary-Jane had a house in Baltimore.’ Gram Parsons wrote a fine song called ‘Streets of Baltimore’ and Tim Hardin penned ‘The Lady Came from Baltimore.’ So the city stands up lyrically. I postered in the Hampden district where the streets smell of ketchup from all the restaurants in the area. I just love the wooden lamp-posts. Once again I met plenty of people and was therefore given an opportunity to talk about Kiwi poetry and music. Oooh baby…

There’s a ‘zine from Baltimore, actually, that features some fine writing and great poetry. It’s called ‘Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore’ and is probably the best ‘zine I’ve seen for years. It is dead close to the street and dead invigorating to read. Google it and have a read, it’s worth it.

“Oooh Baby…
It’s making me crazy…

How bizarre…”
Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

40b 40d 40f

Diary of a Billsticker – Washington DC, USA

 “We are coming Frew!”

This weekend I am away to Washington DC, on active service, to put up poetry posters and there’ll be a side trip to Baltimore, Maryland, as well. I’ve postered Baltimore previously. This city is important, in a sense, to at least one of our poets. Of course, it’s also very important to a lot of people because of the television show, ‘The Wire.’ It’s very rarely these days that you see the truth told like that. The truth now has to be put into fiction because otherwise no one would believe it and they’d be frightened of it. But I think everyone believes “The Wire.”

With poem postering, you can look behind you and see the clear results. People reading the poems. So these people have already voted. When you see people reading a Tusiata Avia poem they just about spontaneously combust, with a half a dozen of our other poets people seem to think deeply, and with some of our poems people laugh. That’s the net result.

There used to be, and maybe there still is, a demolition company in Christchurch, New Zealand, called Frews. It seemed to me they were a force of their own and before they knocked over a building they’d paint somewhere, “We are coming Frew.” They did. I think the same about our poetry project.

Good poetry is often very, very simple and postering is about the simplest thing one can do. The appeal of it to me is that it works and you can see it working. Life, after all, is meant to be about movement and action. First we advance, then we see what transpires. So it is then that our project has taken on life.

When we started the initiative, we thought it was time to take some small moves to bring some truth and beauty to the streets.

We started doing this about eighteen months ago to put poetry posters in the streets of cities and towns throughout New Zealand. Then, because the project excited people, we wanted to place them in as many places as we could afford to internationally. The poems are by Kiwis and Americans. These are two countries that you could say are ‘estranged’ in many ways. But never really are they estranged in the arts. Funny that.

So far, internationally, we’ve ‘poemed’ Glasgow, Paris, NIS in Serbia, Vienna, Sydney, and dozens of towns and cities throughout the USA. Some of these American towns and cities have been: Portland, Seattle, Casa Grande (Arizona), Boulder, Chicago, Baltimore, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, and Cookeville (Tennessee), Clarksdale, Tupelo, Oxford, and seven or eight smaller towns in Mississippi. We also postered in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Newark, Perth Amboy, Princeton, and Lambertville (New Jersey), and a wee sprinkling in New York City. You could poster in the Big Apple day and night for five or six years and I’d love to do that.

Phantom has hosted several ‘launches’ and readings in New Zealand in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin and we’ve put up thousands of posters now. In Auckland, the US Consul came along to read a poem and that chuffed us. In the USA, we’ve hosted a launch in Cookeville, Tennessee and one in Seattle, Washington.

Some of our poets have been (and I usually forget some names and I’m sorry for that): Janet Frame, Jay Clarkson, Frankie McMillan, Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Sandra Bell, Lawrence Arabia, Chris Knox, Otis Mace, Gary McCormick, Michele Leggott, Pablo Nova, Stephen Oliver, Ben Brown, Brian Turner, Jackie Steincamp, Nicholas Thomas, Hilaire Campbell, Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara, David Eggleton, Geoff Cochrane, and Bill Direen from New Zealand. Then from the USA: Robert Creeley, Josie McQuail, Michael White, Jeffery McCaleb, Robert Pinsky, Marcie Sims, Gerald Stern, Joe Treceno, and Roy Smith.

There’ll be others.

In March 2011 we are having another launch at the worldwide head office of Saatchi and Saatchi in New York City and I’d say this will spin the project bigger and further and that’s what we want. I don’t always think bigger and better is best, but in this case, I do.

Wish me luck in DC.

Keep the Faith,



Jim Wilson

Diary of a Billsticker – Perth Amboy, New Jersey, USA

Perth Amboy is a city about the size of Timaru back in old Aotearoa New Zealand. The city sits on a bay on the Raritan River and is about forty miles from the mystical Jersey Shore. Across the bay is Staten Island. John Bon Jovi was born here.

Perth Amboy is kind of a broken down, rust-belt place with about four cops to each city block. As you get closer to the city council offices, you’ll come across five or six cops to each block. The local mayor was recently found guilty of corruption and is to be sentenced in January. It is obvious that someone or some force is trying to scrub these streets clean and that notion just becomes very difficult when there’s a high level of unemployment and manufacturing is now happening someplace else. This ‘someplace else’ where people use their hands to make something apart from fast food, is somewhere far over the rainbow. One of the nicknames of Perth Amboy is ‘Ambush City’ and in a lot of these places, the most alive thing in town is the interplay between the Police and the population. Of course there’s a lot of crime, there has to be.

The town is like a digital tombstone from back in the Old West. The city centre looks like the OK Corral to me. But I’m never afraid of these things. That’s not what frightens me.

In Perth Amboy, I was carrying poetry posters by about six New Zealand poets and a couple of Americans. It is obvious that there once was some heavy-duty industry in Perth Amboy, but a lot of these areas collapsed decades ago and this city is now attempting to claw its way back. Yet there are numerous beauty salons because in life people have to paint something up and to put a face on. People try and make good of bad situations and the vast majority are not criminals. They live in hope and they wait.

The population of Perth Amboy is more than 50% Hispanic, the majority coming from either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. No Hispanic (legal or illegal) has ever insulted me in this country. They are not by nature an obnoxious people. So I felt perfectly safe in Perth Amboy, what frightens me most about America is what happens in the ‘better’ cities and suburbs. That’s where the deals are made.

I just work one lamp-post at a time with my industrial stapler and I place my poetry posters for the best possible impact. I remember as I go what Renoir said about the purpose of art being to enliven the walls. Yes, and in a way, you can even look at all the rust and decay in Perth Amboy and think it to be a beautiful thing. I’m sure Nick Drake would have thought this way. The surrounding sadness is kind of exquisite and as you gaze about you still see people doing a pretty good job of holding their heads up high and living yet another day. So these are people you can easily like and I do. This city is just one more place where the notion of ‘hope’ never arrived in town on a freight train because there are none anymore. There’s very little heavy industry now and I’m sure there’s never enough food stamps. So what are you going to do? You can’t really bail a place like this out beyond a certain point because it has to find the bottom and then start again. These people are starting over each day and they kind of look proud to me. They will find a way out. That’s what people do. I have little faith in endless government programmes and I’m sorry about that. I’d rather people made something again.

But, I put up posters. And I always sing as I go and I think about words and poetry. I see people smiling when they read the posters. That makes it for me. On this day, before I finished and went to Ray’s Hell Burgers, I was thinking about the Tom Waits song ‘Jersey Girl’ as sung by Bruce Springsteen. Because as you’re looking at all this stuff in America and at all the rust and decay, you need to have poetry and a firm rhythm in your head. You could get really angry, but everyone seems to do that and I’m not sure what difference it makes. I’m not sure anger really builds anything anymore; it just seems to be more of a fad to me.

In America (or New Zealand) you can’t afford to have your thoughts and emotions thrown off track by either the news media or politicians. One woman, standing for Governor of California, is spending 140 million US dollars on her campaign. She obviously wants it real bad. That’s where heavy industry and all the action is these days, in politics. You just have to have a good profile picture and a few keywords. I remember they once asked Willie Sutton (famous bank robber) why he robbed banks, and his answer, which was priceless, was “that’s where the money is.” Politics is the new heavy industry and if the politicians were any good, then they’d actually be poets instead. So I’m sure, at the most basic level, it is words and music that get people by, whether in Timaru New Zealand or down by the Jersey Shore. Because people are subject to so much rubbish in spite of how clean the streets are kept.

I think the lyrics to the Tom Wait’s song ‘Jersey Girl’ are a testament to hope in difficult times. The elections (for Congress and Senate) are to be held in America this week. I really don’t think much will change other than a different group of politicians will be doing all the talking. And in a couple of years, some other group of people will be calling for ‘change.’ It will go on because that’s where the money is. It’s heavy industry. At some stage, a bulldozer became an election sign.

“I got no time for the corner boys
Down in the street making all that noise
Or the girls out on the avenue
’cause tonight I wanna be with you
Tonight I’m going to take that ride
Across the river to the jersey side
Take my baby to the carnival
And I’ll take her on all the rides.

‘Cause down by the shore everything’s all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
You know all my dreams come true
When I’m walking down the street with you.

Sha la la la la la la….”

“Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits


Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson