23 Feb 2010

Diary of a Billsticker – Baltimore, USA

23 Feb 2010

This poster run happened on Waitangi Day weekend. The Phantom crew did the run on the Sunday morning in temperatures of 18 degrees Fahrenheit (32 is freezing). We carried posters by Jay Clarkson, Sandra Bell, Michele Leggott, Janet Frame and others. I always try to have a Janet Frame poetry poster nearby.

We attracted lots of good attention and made some strong contacts within the Baltimore poetry scene. Nothing seems to break the ice like putting up poetry posters. People always seem to relate to a poem. Discussion always opens up.

Baltimore, Maryland is a very creative city. It seems to be just bursting at the seams with artistic activity. To my mind, this is because the city is very nicely worn in and not completely taken over by shopping malls and franchise store operations. The city has a very bohemian feel (this feeling seems to have always been good for poetry) and this encourages people, young and old, to ‘have a go.’ It’s like the texture of the city gives people permission to move in creative ways. Shop rentals are probably quite reasonable in Baltimore and there is a great independent bookstore called Atomic Books. Atomic Books has a wide selection of fanzines that are put out by enthusiastic people from throughout the USA. They break the format of the publishing houses in exciting ways.

But everyone seems to know Baltimore these days because of the TV show “The Wire.” This show has captured attention spans throughout the world as being a true story of what can go wrong within cities. We have the same kind of thing happening within New Zealand cities. It is a cruel and vicious set-up full of hurt, hypocrisy and dismay. Alan Duff writes about it so well.

In time out of mind, H.L. Mencken lived and worked in ‘Charm City’ and worked for The Baltimore Sun. Here was another who saw what was going on in society and chose to write about it rather than turning away. The notion of “Not Turning Away” is a Buddhist concept.

But what I saw in Charm City that really knocked me out was a Presidential motorcade. Barack Obama was in the city on the Friday, talking to local business owners. Local business owners (not the banks) are the engine room of the economy, we all know this.

For Mr Obama’s splendid motorcade they had closed off one side of the I-95 which is the interstate into Baltimore. We were travelling the other way. The first thing we knew, here comes twenty motorcycle cops riding two abreast. A hundred yards back there are the first of twenty black Chevrolet Suburban vans carrying aides and secret service men, no doubt. It is all a very regal and disciplined scenario. Next comes five or ten black limousines, these are probably Cadillacs or Lincolns with extra sheets of steel built into their body shells. They are each flying the Stars and Stripes from the front guards. After that, we have more Chevy Suburbans and a fire truck and an ambulance. At the end are more motorcycle cops and there are a couple of helicopters (‘Marine One’ – the Presidential chopper) in the air.

It all reminded me of seeing Queen Elizabeth II in Stuart Street, Dunedin many years ago.

The last thing I wish to say about Baltimore is that the city features in a song by Bob Dylan. That’s enough of a recommendation to a place for me. In the song “Trying to Get to Heaven” he states that “Miss Mary-Jane has a place in Baltimore.”

When I first heard that song, I knew I had to go and I’m extremely glad I did.

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson
17d

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