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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


Diary of a Billsticker – South Philly, USA

This was a nifty little run with my cobber Brian Howard from the Citypaper again. It used to be that street postering had to have as an element of what Jack London called ‘night-time as an essential condition.’ For many years now I have worked in New Zealand on bringing street postering into the daylight. Street postering is an extremely important form of communication for the arts. It is oftentimes a raw and extremely quick form of communication but usually manages to maintain a very ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ feeling at the same time. I am keen to keep it that way too. Cities need every last bit of that which is real that they can get.

This area of Philadelphia reminds me in some ways of the Sydenham area in Christchurch, but it is less tidy. There are the old brick warehouses which are few and far between in Christchurch now as manufacturing shifts further offshore and the shopping malls set in.

We were carrying poem posters by Janet Frame, Brian Turner and new ones by Stephen Oliver (“The Great Repression”) and Tusiata Avia (“Nafanua, the Samoan war goddess, talks about her friend in Philly”).

We have a new launch of poem posters coming up in Auckland, New Zealand at the end of April. Also we have small events in Seattle, Washington and Lambertville, New Jersey in late March and April.

Stephen Oliver’s fine poem “The Great Repression” is included in this next launch and we are test marketing it here in the USA. Next week I am away to Mississippi to poster and I shall have under my wing poems by Tusiata Avia and Stephen Oliver.

Stephen Oliver is writing about the disintegration of the family unit. He uses very strong words which I very much like. My own personal theory is that every time a city puts in a shopping mall it is doing great damage to its citizens. Don’t get me on to this subject because it splits in every direction, but I will say that marketing as a concept is severely overrated.

Some time ago I asked Tusiata Avia to write me a poem that fitted each individual American city I travelled to. And so she did. Tusiata is another extremely passionate writer. There is a line in this poem where the subject is the notion of ‘peace’. Tusiata says we need a sniffer machine now to find it. Ain’t that the truth? Amen. We are all extremely tired of warfare in its many formats.

This was a boomer of a poster run and as I went back home up I-95 to New Jersey, I listened to the ‘new’ Jimi Hendrix album. Even something that Seattle’s favourite son chose not to release during his lifetime, and something that does not really measure up to other Hendrix material, is still far better than most music released (and marketed) these days. That guy turned a Fender upside down. He did things completely different. That is to be cherished.
Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson