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Diary of a Billsticker – South Philadelphia, USA

We drove into Philly early in the morning of Memorial Day. There were not a lot of people around and it was very peaceful and quiet. This always sets the tone for a good poster run. Later in the day, it would get to be 95 degrees (Fahrenheit), but at just after 8 AM it was around 70 degrees – so it was relatively cool work and it was unhurried. The people you run into on a poster run are usually very friendly and they well understand what you are doing. It is just normal stuff to them. In fact, it is a craven-hearted individual who does not understand another person putting up a poster.

We put up posters by the following poets: Janet Frame, Chris Knox, Sandra Bell, Sam Hunt, Tusiata Avia (all from New Zealand) and Robert Creeley (USA). About 80 or 90 A3 posters were placed in the South Philly area and this took less than an hour. You put two up on each wooden lamp-post with a kind of semi-industrial stapler, you stop and photograph them and then you move on.

South Philly is a very cool and funky area. The local clubs and gigs use posters (of course) and the best I have seen lately are for the Mexican music acts. Their posters are ultra colourful and really do the work they are intended to do: they tell the local Mexican population where the gigs are. They breathe life and vitality into the streets.

Anyway, I was asked to explain how to do a poster run. So here it is:

1. You stand in front of a lamp-post with a heavy industrial stapler and a couple of poetry posters until you decide to do something about it. You always put the posters on the poles at an angle where they will be seen by the maximum number of people. You think of the way people walk past the poles.

2. You look right and then left for signs of the proximity of Homeland Security or anyone else who might think you could be a terrorist. You make sure your hair is short and that you have no beard. You must wear no unusual clothes. You decide that you are the same religion as the person who might question you and you also decide to be subservient. You will go into any difficult encounters by agreeing with the encounterer. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “To get along, go along.” This will be your mantra. You will apologise to anyone if you have to and then you will ‘move along.’ The key is to hold onto your stapler.

3. You hold the poster up against the lamp-post and then you whack it with the stapler with all your might. You think of this as being something like getting rid of the dirty water off your chest. You may grimace. But, if you are putting up a poem poster by any of the six poets who have been mentioned, then you will instantly feel much better. By God, there’s some satisfaction to be had by doing something enormously simple over and over. There’s power in that.

4. After about four or five poles you will begin to loosen up and really get into the rhythm of it all. At that point, you may be able to look back and see people reading the posters and then you know you have done something good. That’s important. It’s just a small step, but it is a step forward. When you really get into the swing of it, you will not want to stop and you are always disappointed when you must. But tomorrow is another day.

5. After about thirty or forty poles (or notice boards in cafes etc), you realise you have made a difference and brought something to the lives of others. That’s the key to it all. But you must keep doing it.

The next launch in the Phantom Billstickers poetry project is in Christchurch, New Zealand on June 17th. It starts at 5:30pm and is at the Addington Coffee Co-op. In this launch we are featuring poems by twenty-eight Kiwi poets (from memory) and one Canadian and one American. You are invited. There will be lots of good poets reading.

 

Keep the Faith,

 

Jim Wilson

45a

Diary of a Billsticker – Trenton, New Jersey, USA

This was yet another poster run in the Phantom Billstickers poetry poster series. It was a beautiful spring morning as we headed off to Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey. I buy ‘The Trentonian’ newspaper every day and I’m not sure why. I think it’s the horror, the horror. There is something appealing about horror.

The banner headlines from the day before screamed out “Killed For Pills” and told the story of a pharmacist being “gunned down” by “an eighteen or nineteen-year-old black man with dreadlocks.” So I kind of knew I had to put up some posters whilst keeping my hair short and not swaggering. The Trentonian reminds me of the dim and dark ages in New Zealand journalism. This was back when all newspapers focused on dawn raids to find Polynesian overstayers hiding under peoples’ beds. When no Polynesians were “playing up,” they’d find similar items to shock and divide and destroy. Thank God all that’s over and most thinking Kiwis appreciate the value of other cultures living in our country and bringing their magic. New Zealand is very rich on this score.

But, now we’ve all found a common enemy in Libya or Afghanistan – so far away as to be meaningless to most people. It’s like we have to find something to dislike. We know we’re right as well, as we’ve been told it and we believe it. We’re keen to buy this new line of journalistic merchandise. Yet, we all know that any war is a wasted enterprise, but it’s good that it’s all so far away and a drone takes care of most things. No need to get our hands dirty. We can stand on the sidelines and scream as the horror grows.

In Trenton, I was carrying poetry posters by Frankie McMillan, Lawrence Arabia, Sandra Bell, Jody Lloyd, Sam Hunt, Chris Knox, and Robert Creeley. The first six are Kiwis, the last an American. All are tremendously good poets who deserve to be heard. Hey, everyone deserves to be heard, but I just wish the voices were as sweet as these poets’ voices.

I enjoy a good poster run and particularly in the morning when the sun is first coming up. I have a mate who tells me that suicide rates are highest in the spring. I’d think this would be because some people are more afraid of the good things in life than of the bad. Nelson Mandela might have said something (he borrowed it I think) about more people being afraid of the light than of the dark. I think there are a lot of people in this life who like to trumpet out the bad as if this makes them better human beings. They scream and moan and try to alert us to all kinds of shit. In the end, often, their screaming and moaning is way worse than the shit they are trying to alert us to the dangers of. I’d rather shoot aspartame in the mainline than be around most of these people for too long.

On a good day and given a good poster run, I always have music in my head. On this particular day, I was moving to the rhythm of ‘Going to California’ by Led Zeppelin. This is a lovely, soft, acoustic track, and yet it really moves. I was also thinking through the bass playing from the Pretenders ‘Stop Sobbing’ and it too was altering my footsteps. It was a lucky day and this is a good way to be. Powerful music (and good expression) can be such a good force in peoples’ lives. Beauty doesn’t sell as well as horror and repulsion, but to move in that direction might be a good thing.

The sun was getting bright overhead and I was stapling posters to poles in a Spanish area of the city. I knew this because I couldn’t understand a single word people were saying and I kept (unconsciously I’m sure) thinking about the Spanish Armada.

“The patient is not cured because of free association, the patient is cured because he can free associate.” – Sigmund Freud

Well, it’s all better than thinking about newspaper headlines, and death and destruction, and political viewpoints and other things that glug up people and stops them moving. Political viewpoints kill people and they’re all about as bad (all of them) as newspaper headlines that screech and holler.  I’d rather put up posters, Jack. I’m not resigned and depressed in life either, far from it. I see good things in the very worst areas. I’ll never like Donald Trump, though. There’s no upside there. And, sometimes, I agree you’ve got to have a good band (or writer) that seems to screech and scream and yet cuts through all the crap and says things at a subconscious level that’ll add more value to society than Bill Clinton ever did or could. Sometimes such a band screams (in a good way). One such band was The Ramones. ‘Gabba Gabba Hey’ was the appropriate response to “I did not have sex with that woman.” It’s also, probably, the appropriate response to the war in Afghanistan.

So this was a good poster run full of joy and promise and sunlight.

“Hey, Gabba Gabba Hey…..”

 

Keep the Faith,

 

Jim Wilson

44a  44b

Diary of a Billsticker – Camden, New Jersey, USA

I was carrying poetry posters by the Kiwi Poets Janet Frame, Frankie McMillan, Tusiata Avia, Chris Knox, and Lawrence Arabia. Then I had some posters by the American, Robert Creeley. Boy, he’s good.

It was a cold Saturday morning at the end of a busy week. Camden, New Jersey, sits five minutes over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Yet, it’s like another world and one that people will tell you has been ignored and then they’ll say that they feel sad for Camden. Most people don’t do much, but oh God they feel sad for Camden. As of now, no Hollywood celebrity has stepped in. People will say that the city has been left to rot: it has an unemployment rate of somewhere around 30-40%, has one of the highest crime rates in America, is full of drugs, high school dropout numbers run to 60%, corruption is rife, and then there are the huge cuts to government and state funding. They’d close the public library, but I’m not sure there is one. There are no movie houses or hotels in Camden. Why would you? Who wants to stay?

Earlier this year about half of the Camden police force was laid off only to be rehired a couple of months later. There was a bit of a furore, but I think it was largely driven by the police themselves and their union. But I guess the state government and the neighbouring state government (Pennsylvania) might have thought that the crime could possibly have crept along that bridge and the interstate if nothing was done. No one likes slime, and criminals are ‘slime,’ right? They ooze. They will move down the interstate if nothing is done. That’s the popular notion. Three of the mayors of Camden have been convicted of felonies in the last two decades. That’s slime. It’s been my experience in life that whilst money definitely doesn’t trickle down, corruption and graft does. It oozes and breathes. The population gets punished because some guy at the top can’t keep a straight face and he is sadistic.

Yes, Camden is some kind of movie of its own accord and is about four times freakier than anything Wes Craven could have come up with. Everything seems to come down on Walt Whitman’s city like a great big hammer. There’s a ceaseless pounding and you can really hear it. But, once upon a time, the city boasted a population of more than 125,000 and now it runs at about 80,000. It had huge ship yards and other major sources of industry thirty or forty years ago.

The Campbell soup people used to manufacture here. It ain’t much, but it’s something to go on. It’s like Christchurch, New Zealand used to have Crown Crystal glass and that gave workers something real to do. All that industry in Camden has gone now and the very sky seems rust like and like no one’s interested. My good mate, the poet Joe Treceno, says that Camden was once a ‘pinnacle’ of American industry. Now, for every wrap of Heroin sold on Broadway, a new building goes up in Shanghai. As Bob Dylan might have put it “people have got a lot of knives and forks and they got to eat something.” Yes, and it’s all a very costly business indeed.

I enjoyed the poster run. I think you can pretty much enjoy anywhere as long as you mind your own business and you call everyone coming your way ‘mate’ or ‘cobber.’ But, you must also look people in the eye and then let them look away first. There are exceptions to these rules of course, but I’ve walked around Medellin, Colombia, at midnight and I’ve got to say the daytime was the dangerous time. That’s when the slamming of civilians seemed to reach a high crescendo. There’s these kinds of little tricky rules and regulations that everyone must live by and which make no sense at all. The ones that make sure the power base stays largely the same over the years and through the lifetimes of successive governments. Charles Dickens wrote of all this stuff and it hasn’t changed much. Hope indeed.

 

Keep the Faith,

 

Jim Wilson

43b  43c

Diary of a Billsticker – New Orleans, USA

Who Dat?

We took off for New Orleans on Boxing Day. Americans don’t have Boxing Day really. They tend to want to gravitate to the malls so that the whole shebang can start up again.  Straight after Christmas, they are selling Valentine’s Day products.

Anyway, there was a huge snow storm and news was that many flights were cancelled, but that some were still getting away from Philly. Airports are dismal places and it’s just kind of a given that if your flight is to be ‘postponed,’ then you won’t get notice of that until a few minutes before the scheduled time. Obviously, this is to bring about the maximum possible heartbreak. Kurt Vonnegut understood these things well.

In management (in airlines and elsewhere) these days, it’s just an order of the day that one mustn’t be too vital as someone may benefit from that somewhere down the track. Airlines are just turgid and swampy affairs and one hopes that some day someone will catch on and things will be dynamic again. But watching how Barrack Obama is getting along, that won’t be anytime soon.

So we managed to catch another flight and arrived in New Orleans fifteen hours later having gone via Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s kind of like going to the shop and wanting to buy a mutton pie and ending up getting beef jerky.

New Orleans is a wild and free town and everyone knows that it has risen above many tragedies and has stormed on through to express itself again. And it does that well. But, on the night we arrived, the weather was unusually cold (near freezing point) and eight kids died in a warehouse fire. Many young kids (‘railroad punks’) jump trains and head for the Crescent City because they’ve given up on the dream and the hypocrisy and they want to live out the notion of ‘Hope’ in their own way.

In New Zealand we’d say “good on you” or just simply “on ya”, and this means that we approve of the basic principle of people following their own dreams in exactly their own way. Music expresses this all best and most of these kids play music and damn good it is too. A person who plays music best has no barriers between her and the audience. So I saw kids in New Orleans (playing on street corners) who should be on major labels, but that would end up ruining their lives entirely. Next thing they’d want to save Africa.

So, the very best thing about New Orleans is the number of people playing music in the streets and there ain’t a force on earth (like a City Council) that can stop them. There are posters everywhere and, of course, I like this. I like to see evidence that people can express themselves in a clear and coherent way. That’s why I detest political correctness. I reckon that the notion (political correctness) has done in more peoples’ heads than aspartame.

So New Orleans is a city where people (well a lot of them anyway) shake off the surly bonds of earth and just enjoy themselves. Ain’t a government on earth likes that. And we must feel real sorrow for those kids who died in that fire. They wanted what all of us want, they wanted to be free. And we all know the feeling of ‘fuck it, I’ll go somewhere else….’ And that feeling is often (but not always) right.

So we postered (in sadness for the kids) with at least half a dozen New Zealand poetry posters. Poets included Sam Hunt, Frankie McMillan, Janet Frame, Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara and Brian Turner. I see putting up each poster as a kind of individual hit for freedom. We postered around the French Quarter (of course) and there’s another particularly funky area close to there, it’s called Faubourg Marigny but no one who’s not a native can pronounce it, and then we postered the Treme and also around Congo Square. Congo Square is where a couple of hundred years ago they used to let the slaves dance for a couple of hours on Sunday (mighty big and white of them eh?) and from that little bloom of freedom we eventually got Wilson Pickett.

I loved New Orleans because there is a feeling of hope springing eternal and I’ve needed that feeling in my life. I could spend all day telling you about the very clever people who lived there or who were born there. The city, with all its feelings of ungovernability or freedom, has nurtured these people. Hell, the airport is called “Louis Armstrong International”. No matter where you are in the city a tour will go past and someone will be saying over a megaphone to the tourists: “On that corner, over there, that’s where Truman Capote and Lee Harvey Oswald went to school and that’s where they played hopscotch at lunchtime.”

I could say all of this (and plenty more) but I just reckon we should think about those kids and listen to the Pine Leaf Boys.

Let freedom ring.

 

Keep the Faith,

 

Jim Wilson

42a 42c

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