25 Jul 2011

Diary of a Billsticker – Baltimore, USA

25 Jul 2011

I think Baltimore is the favourite city of a lot of people these days and this has a lot to do with a certain television show. I think that the show in question probably depicts ‘true’ things in a very real and earthy manner. It brings forward a lot of matters we all knew were going on, but which no one had stated quite so clearly before. Of course, when someone manages to do this simple thing (bring forth the undercurrents) then people are endlessly refreshed and fascinated. It’s that sense of the ‘naked lunch,’ where we can clearly see what is on the end of every knife, fork, and spoon. Sometimes it’s just not pretty and it’s easier to live with it all by ignoring it. Wittgenstein did say something like the best way to deal with a problem in life is to live like it doesn’t exist, but the ‘problems’ in cities like Baltimore have cried so loudly and for so long now that they will be addressed no matter what. It’s a big train that’s coming and there is a payload. However, some people would try and take the word ‘problem’ and soften it back to a ‘situation’….. But whichever word you choose, it’s a big one. That train is hundreds of carriages long and it is pure poetry in motion. Bob Dylan (who also wrote about Baltimore in a fine song) has been saying this stuff, sometimes indirectly, for many years.

Then, Omar Little himself chimed in with that it was all a game anyway and it was either play or be played. I think Omar’s way will win every time because Wittgenstein never slung dope on a street corner and so what did he really know about life? Slinging dope on a street corner is what hundreds of thousands of people do these days, whether they do it from behind a computer screen, from out of a doctor’s office, or whilst working for a major pharmaceutical company in some polite business park. They’re all corners when you think about it and I imagine the language is much the same when all the veneer comes off. So, somehow, doing it on down on an actual street corner with deep and intimate connections to Colombia seems a long way more honest. The whole idea is to keep the public satisfied and people do need more of everything, that has become obvious. There are also a lot of ‘folk’ who have to be paid.

I had printed off fresh supplies of posters before this run. I was carrying poems by Tusiata Avia, Marty Smith, Pat Connors, Elizabeth Smither, Brett Lupton, Dylan Kemp, Roger Hickin, Frankie McMillan, Jeffery McCaleb, Gary Langford, Chris Price, James K. Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Janet Frame, Jody lloyd, Sandra Bell and Keri Hulme.

Some of our poets have actual real connections to Baltimore, Janet Frame being one, and some have merely watched ‘The Wire’ and enjoyed it and been fascinated by it to the utmost. I also think that many other people have what feels like ‘real connections’ to Baltimore these days. These ‘ties’ are often being built via Facebook and through cellphones and on the world wide web and in all kinds of ways that no-one can interrupt. If the government can’t keep Heroin and Cocaine (I deliberately capitalised both to annoy the creative writers) out of the Projects (and they can’t), then what hope do they have in trying to stop the population talking to each other like they do these days?  It’s all very random, but the truth will be out. I guess it must, but we do seem to be waiting a very long time, and, you know, Congress will vote to lift the debt ceiling…. I always have the feeling we are pouring more coal into a runaway train. Not that I am a Republican sympathiser either (heavens no)…. It’s just that I don’t think the problem anymore is either the Democrats or the Republicans, the problem is that people obstruct each other and cut each other down for strange reasons. It’s easier to dig the garden (or put up poetry posters) than to have ‘viewpoints’ because you end up getting feedback from someone who has a different viewpoint and cherishes being louder.

I believe Janet Frame lived in Baltimore for a while and possibly at the home of Dr John Money. I can google this subject if I want and no doubt come up with the answer, but instead I shall dredge through memories of what I’ve read some way back down the track. When I think about Janet Frame for long enough, I begin to think of her working at the Occidental Hotel in Christchurch which is now long gone, but which did have some good gigs in days gone by. There’s a line someplace where she writes about the area I grew up in… I think she either mentions Serpentine Avenue or McLaggan Street in old Dunedin and let me tell you this area would drop very nicely into Baltimore and everyone would get on really fine. When I was a kid, there were ‘corners’ of one kind or another all the way up Serpentine Avenue and McLaggan Street and I was fascinated by those corners.

You can see why it was a absolute pleasure to be bringing Janet Frame back to Baltimore, a city that she really ‘liked’ and not just in a Facebook way. It is her birthday on August 28th and probably a day of which all Kiwis should take note. If she were still alive, I guess she would have been around ninety years of age. She has always moved me and has been one of those writers who helped set the ‘Kiwi Character’ down on the page. That setting the Kiwi character and not just waffling around the exterior has been pure gold for New Zealand. Very few have done that and some have sold tons of books in the not doing of it.

Anyway, lots of famous people came from Baltimore or lived here for a while. H.L. Mencken did most of his work here and I like to think that David Simon (originator of ‘The Wire’) is just carrying on that sort of work for the television age. Old H.L. said some very pointed things, whilst David Simon shows them in a way that everyone can understand. I think one of the basic premises of what they both say or have said is that many things ‘suck.’ And not to put too fine a point on it, they do. It was never going to be fair and I leant that way back in Dunedin or perhaps somewhere out near Seacliff on the Otago Coastline.

Frank Zappa came from Baltimore and gave the world some of its finest music. When I think about New Zealand, I remember people in little towns who too were inspired by Frank. Frank was one to cut right through to the truth, musically and otherwise. He famously (well to me anyway) said “if you want to get laid, go to college, if you want to get an education, go to the library.” Now that’s the truth and the writer Colin Wilson (‘The Outsider’) knew that full well. I think everyone knows that at some level. You will learn more by being down on your luck in a prison cell somewhere for three months, than you ever could possibly learn in a some hallowed halls for fifteen years. But to each his own and there are many ideas on which I have no wisdom.

I’ve always relished being a billsticker, it really has a touch of the old Charles Dickens about it. It is always about the dark and pasting up a wall by car headlights and then the timely hit and run and the don’t look back credo. In recent days it too has become ‘modernised’ and I’ve not always liked that…. I just enjoy helping people to get their voice out there and so this has compensated to some extent for the way that it has all become (and everything has become). But I remember one time back in Christchurch, when I was pasting up a ‘strip’ down by the Farmers’ Department Store on Colombo Street. A band was playing a gig the next day and they needed something high profile and I had to do this run when a lot of people were about and I had to act like I wasn’t embarrassed. It was about 1982 and it was at about 6pm, I was with Harry Sparkle and he’s not afraid of this sort of thing… I mean everyone kicks you so you have to be ‘armoured’…. Someone walking by and said to me ‘why don’t you do that in the daylight?’ (it was winter and it was cold…) and I replied, very quickly I might add, that if I did it in the daylight then it’s possible someone from social welfare might see me and cut my dole.

Anyway, long story short… I did a truly gratifying poster run in Baltimore and got the real word out there for a lot of people. It can be done and it’s very satisfying.

 

Keep the Faith,

 

 

Jim Wilson

50a 50c

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