Phantom Blog

November 2009

Viewing posts from November , 2009

Diary of a Billsticker – Chicago, USA

There’s lots of things to think about with a head full of the Blues in the Windy City: The failed Volstead Act and how that applies in this day and age with drugs; ‘Hinky Dick’ Kenna; ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin and other crooked Politicians (“Vote early…and Vote often); Abbie Hoffman; Bobby Seale and the 1968 Democrat Party Convention along with its subsequent riots; Oprah and the failure of television; Nelson Algren; Saul Bellow; Robert Johnson; Tom Petty’s excellent album “Live in Chicago”; the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; John Belushi and the Blues Brothers; John Dillinger and the Biograph Theatre; Al Capone; Barack Obama; Eliot Ness; The Tommy Gun; Carl Sandburg (“Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders”); the Rolling Stones and 2120 South Michigan Avenue; the stock yards; the freight yards; the trains; the 1893 World’s Fair… To name just a few topics of thought.

These are all the images that come to me of Chicago. New Zealand television played the original series of the Untouchables in the early 60s as I was growing up in Dunedin. I was left with wonderful and wild imagery. That’s what television can do. For better or for worse.

Now with all of that it’s probably better to do a simple poster run. I did. A poster run always clears the head and gets the blood flowing. It was very wet and windy on both days as we went out to tape NZ poetry posters to lampposts around Chicago. It was kind of like postering in Wellington with the weather against you. Still, as I’ve often said, nothing beats a good, simple poster run and the knowledge that one is making a difference. I am enormously proud of NZ poets as I go about this. There seems to be a limited system of framed off poster sites in Chicago just as Phantom operates in New Zealand. But there are also lots of lamp-post posters in the Windy City. Going by the posters, Chicago has a lot of very creative people about. That’s how I judge creativity in a new city, by the style and number of street posters I see about. A creative city always has lots of street posters. What craven-hearted type of person would want to stamp this out? To stop people expressing themselves. That’s not good.

Chicago is an exciting city and does not disappoint. For all its crime and bad times, it is a wonderfully vital city. It is obviously very alive. Chicago (say the name over a few times… What a great name) is kind of like the McLaggan Street area of Dunedin in the 1950s and 1960s blown up and maximised to a 10,000% image. In McLaggan Street at the time, almost anything went and most of it twice: the crime, the violence, the Opium houses, the great music in the local pub, the Kiwis just doing their best and working every day. Some of those Kiwis were getting over the experience of the Second World War. They were all good blokes. I remember that. They had a dignity in bad times.

In Dunedin, the wind even came blowing in off the harbour and up the hill just like the wind blows in off the lake in Chicago. I don’t know if either wind actually cleanses, but a bit of bad weather always makes for an interesting city. It certainly did (and does) in Dunedin. Dunedin is a similarly creative city. Obviously, lots of great NZ music has come from Dunedin. It’s the atmosphere of the place. It’s a mixture.

I’ll finish this by saying there is a new Untouchables movie in the making called ‘Capone Rising’. I long for the day when someone makes a movie about McLaggan Street. Janet Frame touched on the area in some of her writing, but there’s more work to be done. New Zealand has just as rich a culture as Chicago and there’s more to be said. Lots more to be said.


Thank you, friends.


Jim Wilson



NZ & US Poetry Takes on the World!

An initiative by Phantom Billstickers* to provoke some thought, while putting some beauty back into the world’s streets, has seen POETRY POSTERS featuring poems by New Zealand and American poets plastered all over New Zealand as well as Sydney, Paris and several American cities including Nashville, Knoxville, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Jim Wilson, founder of Phantom Billstickers, says “Some of the most beautiful, striking and intuitive poetry in the world has been created by Kiwis. Phantom Billstickers feels a responsibility to help New Zealand artists of all types to be heard at home and abroad, so we came up with the idea of the Poetry Posters. A different set of posters is rolled-out nationally each 4-6 weeks, and each poster in the set features a different poet’s poem. Simultaneous to the poster roll-outs in New Zealand, we’re making our way around the world, plastering poem posters as we go and exposing the international community to New Zealand and American poetry.”

The first poster was pasted-up in Auckland on 2 June 2009 at an event compeered by New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate, Michele Leggott. This launched the first roll-out of Poetry Posters by NZ poets Tusiata Avia and James Milne (aka Lawrence Arabia) and US poets J.D. McCaleb and Michael White. For just over a month these posters were seen on all Phantom Billstickers’ sites in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Gisborne, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

A second roll-out, this time launching in Wellington, began on 22 July and featured poetry by NZ poets Bill Direen, David Eggleton, Michele Leggott, Otis Mace and Frankie McMillan and US poet Josie McQuail.

The third roll-out launched in Christchurch on Janet Frame’s birthday on 28 August and featured, as well as a poster of Frame’s poem “The End”, poems by an all NZ line-up: Ben Brown, Hilaire Campbell, Geoff Cochrane, Rhian Gallagher, Gary McCormick, Campbell McKay, Pablo Nova, Jackie Steincamp and Nicholas Thomas.

The fourth New Zealand roll-out launches in Dunedin at 12pm on Monday 16 November at 468 George Street (by Obelisk), with Michele Leggott officiating. The featured NZ poets are Sandra Bell, Jay Clarkson, Sam Hunt and Brian Turner, while the American poets are Robert Pinsky (Massachusetts), Marcie Sims (Washington), and Joe Treceno (New York City).

Wilson says he’s delighted to be launching the latest selection of poem posters in Dunedin, under the gaze of Robbie Burns’ statue. “Dunedin is a real hotbed of creativity,” he says, “and we’re certainly featuring an interesting selection of poets in this roll-out. Alongside some of New Zealand’s best, we’re honoured to have American poet Robert Pinsky submitting his poem “Samurai Song”. Pinsky is one of the foremost poets in the US – aside from being a prolific writer and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and fellowships, from 1997 to 2000 he was the US Poet Laureate, and he currently teaches at Boston University and is poetry editor for Slate.”

* Phantom Billstickers has been giving New Zealand a good pasting for 27 years. Jim Wilson started the company in 1982 and has the rights to the leading poster sites in the country.

Diary of a Billsticker – Seattle and Portland, USA

I’m writing this on the eve of Guy Fawkes’s night and yet I did this poster run a month back in early October. I flew to Seattle and the shuttle bus driver became lost getting me to a Holiday Inn. That’s strange. She also managed to incur the wrath (held back, breathing changed) of several other passengers as she went past their stops. That’s weird. Why would a person do that? I felt incredibly diplomatic as a Kiwi and we always feel the need to patch things up. I did. That’s laborious.

What do we know about Seattle? Well, it’s very easy to tell that it’s a superlative gig town. There are thousands of posters on the lamp-posts for local bands and DJ’s. Mostly these are coloured A3 photocopies. As I was putting up NZ poetry posters (mainly Nicholas Thomas, Pablo Nova, Janet Frame), a cop went past and waved and smiled. I enjoyed that. There was some kind of action in Seattle to ban postering a few years back and this action failed. Good. There is a need for expression, more so now. I think the local poster company in Seattle is called Poster Giant and it looks to me like they do a good job of handling many campaigns simultaneously. That’s required. They obviously maintain the sites.

What do we know about America? Well, just this last weekend I was in Chicago postering. As I left Chicago I noted that the main local newspaper (The Tribune) was in bankruptcy. I was now flying to Philadelphia where the local newspaper there (The Inquirer) is also in serious difficulty. It feels to me like many people in America are now expressing themselves (and their music, theatres, businesses, issues) through alternative ways and this includes posters and fliers. The old reliable stalwarts. The corporate style media has obviously failed. This corporate type of media mainly became about share prices and ignored people. In business, when you cut costs, you also run the risk of cutting your own throat. Of course, the internet features in all of this, but I think the main reason the newspapers are in the ditch is because long ago they lost contact with the population. Mr Hugh Bris came around and arrogance then ruled. Television in America is strange too, everyone has such perfect teeth. Yet there are many good journalists out of work. That’s sad.

There’s something about Seattle and Portland both being highly creative cities. Portland especially is very bohemian and reminds me of Dunedin and also of Cuba Street in Wellington. I had a great time postering in Portland.

Microsoft is centred somewhere around Seattle. Nike is centred somewhere near Portland (in Beaverton). The greatest Rock guitarist of all time, James Marshall Hendrix, was born in Seattle. That says it all. Portland has the greatest bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books and my very favourite author, Thomas Pynchon, worked for Boeing in Seattle for two years in the early 1960s. This was whilst he worked on his breakthrough novel ‘V’. I’ll bet you’ve read it and understood it. Try ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.

But it was in Seattle where Kurt Cobain came through the ranks and changed music at a time when it was dangerously boring. When music is dangerously boring it is also bad for people. Life becomes inhibiting. Here’s what Jim Carroll (who died about a month back) said in a poem about Kurt Cobain:

“And instead you were swamp crawling
Down, deeper
Until you tasted the Earth’s own blood
And chatted with the buzzing-eyed insects that
heroin breeds”
– Fragments for Kurt Cobain – Jim Carroll

And I’ll finish there. Wouldn’t you?


Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson