Phantom Blog

March 2010

Viewing posts from March , 2010

Diary of a Billsticker – Mississippi Delta, USA

The Kid Was From Shake Rag

This was a nice, clean run lasting several days whilst driving through the Mississippi Delta in an old Plymouth Fury procured from a rent-a-junk in Nut Bush, Tennessee. As we got closer to the end, Clarksdale, Mississippi, things became very clear. They ended up being clear as a country creek (Truman Capote).

We (Reggie-John and I) always fly Delta Airlines. We caught a flight from Philadelphia in the morning and were in Memphis, Tennessee, by late afternoon. Americans don’t like to go too far from the house without adequate servings of pizza. I think the plane had extra supplies strapped to the roof. Luckily, a health care bill was going through Congress at the time. There was a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina and I saw many Americans checking that the pizza was still on that roof. Anxiety is a funny old thing. Americans are good people.

There has been quite a bit of debate on the news here lately about how the carry-on baggage situation on airlines has gotten out of hand. Then, a couple of prominent Americans have been offloaded from their flights because they were too fat for their seats. This doesn’t happen in Nigeria.

You can always tell when you cross over the Mason-Dixon Line and into the American South. The very air seems brighter and the energy is completely different. Things that are taken far too seriously in the North are ignored here. It is also as if the Southerners have already found something that people in the North are desperately looking for. We all hope they find it soon before they drive everyone nuts.

I guess the Ukraine is different from Chechnya as well. Then, I think in life, everyone wants to secede from something. Though it’ll sometimes bring a ton of misery on yourself if you try.

Reggie-John and I set up in Oxford, Mississippi as a base camp. This town is about seventy miles from Memphis. I’d dreamed for years of going to Oxford. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is there. I’d often read about Square Books and how it was reputed to be one of the best bookstores in America (it is). The owner (Richard Howorth) was Mayor of Oxford for a while (maybe still is) and that’s got to be a good thing. I mean a bookstore owner as Mayor – I can dig it. It’s kind of like when Vaclav Havel was President of the Czech Republic. A poet as President – I can dig that too. Literature is incredibly important to any community.

I also knew that William Faulkner lived in Oxford and is buried there; but what attracted me most to Oxford were two particular writers, two of my personal favourites, Larry Brown and Barry Hannah. They are both dead now, both unhorsed due to heart attacks. Barry Hannah died only three weeks ago. In their writing, which was always full of intense energy, they were both bull goose loonies. And that’s high praise. To paraphrase Truman Capote again, they ‘walked the plank.’ They took real risks. Someone once described Barry Hannah’s writing as ‘accelerating incoherence’ – it’s that good.

Barry Hannah taught creative writing at Ole Miss and he was famous for other things apart from his writing. One of them being that he once drove a troublesome student home and put a gun to his head. He then told the student to behave himself in class.

Me and Reggie-John stayed at Chester’s Hillbilly Haven and ate breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast. That old Plymouth started every morning and we were carrying poem posters by five or six poets. However, we concentrated mainly on the two new poems by Tusiata Avia “Nafanua, the Samoan War Goddess, talks about going to Washington, DC” and Stephen Oliver’s “The Great Repression.” I never go far without Janet Frame’s “The End” poetry poster being in my kit. That’s what I call company.

Tusiata’s and Stephen’s poems are worded particularly strongly and perhaps they should be. Both are striking works of art and come alive on a wall. There is a beauty there. These are words carved out.

Setting out from Oxford each day, we covered the area around Highway 61 (yes, that Highway 61!) and included Indianola, Yazoo City, Pontotoc, Tupelo, Parchman (where the Mississippi State Penitentiary is headquartered) and then deep into Clarksdale.

The American South is an extraordinary place for music and literature. Clarksdale is among the most extraordinary places of all. The city’s inhabitants have had an immense influence on American culture. In fact, they have affected the world. Among the citizens have been Sam Cooke, Tennessee Williams, Muddy Waters, Son House, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin’s grandfather, Ike Turner, and Jimbo Mathus. Morgan Freeman owns a blues club in Clarksdale. The city is about the size of Timaru. It is probably smaller.

A few short miles away is Tupelo, Mississippi. There was a kid here who loved his mother and who recorded his first song for her. When he was young, his daddy, Vernon, went to jail and they lost the house. He picked up a guitar for the first time at about ten years of age. By this time, he was already hanging around a black area called ‘Shake Rag.’ He was a pretty cool kid (from all accounts) and he listened to the blues and gospel songs and soon he learned to move. He also walked the plank by wearing clothing that he saw black people wearing. They have always known what “cool” was. In high school he wore brothel creepers and lime green socks. Now that was a risk in the early 1950s, but people could relate. And he could turn out a song like no one else.

You cannot listen to the type of music that grows in this area (blues/gospel/spiritual) and not be swayed. Not now, not then. Myself, I’d gone to Mississippi listening to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and I came back listening to Blind Willie McTell. These things happen. You could call it spiritual.

When he was thirteen, Elvis Presley and his family lit out for Memphis and better luck. It changed the world.

We would be absolutely nowhere on this planet were it not for music’s (and poetry’s) ability to connect people. Music and literature transform us. The two make us better people.

So I always take it as the deepest privilege to be driving around America putting up poetry posters by some of NZ’s finest poets. I am always clearer headed for having done so.

Phantom has a new launch of poem posters in Auckland on April 28th. Included in this next round is a fine piece of work by Chris Knox. Also featured are Stephen Oliver, Tusiata Avia, Bill Manhire and others. The job has just begun.

We are always privileged and grateful.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

25c         25e

Poetry Reading: US and Kiwi Poets Take Over the World

Celebrate the launch of an international poetry postering event featuring US poets who will read some poems to toast the arrival in Seattle of the international poetry event that involves postering American, European, and New Zealand cities with poems by American poets (including Robert Pinsky and Marcie Sims) and New Zealand poets (including Sam Hunt).

Cafe Vivace, 532 Broadway Ave E., Seattle, WA 98102 Wednesday March 31st, at 7:00 pm.

US Poetry read poster.fhmx

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


Diary of a Billsticker – Philadelphia, USA

It’s a beautiful day in New Jersey and the temperature promises to get up to 15 degrees Celsius. The official first day of spring is about two weeks away. On the streets here this morning, I met a guy wearing a sweatshirt with ‘Wanganui’ across the back (he was an American) and that felt real good. I got on to a conversation about Michael Laws.

This poster run happened on Saturday afternoon in the area of Philly known as ‘University City’ this is because both the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are nearby. The University of Pennsylvania (‘Penn’) was started by Benjamin Franklin in 1750. Benjamin Franklin was quite a guy and one of the founding fathers of the republic. He seems to have been clever at so many things that it is impossible to list them. He started the first public library in America and the first fire department in Philadelphia. He was a newspaperman and a scientist. He experimented with electricity, lightning and kites. He invented bifocals and he said many clever and witty things.

I was carrying poem posters by Joe Treceno, Sam Hunt, Robert Pinsky, Jay Clarkson and Brian Turner. There are various bollards around the university and I postered them and then moved on to lamp-posts. All in good fun.

On one lamp-post I was accosted by a crazy man. When a government closes mental hospitals and farms people off to small rooms and whatever ‘care’ is called these days… Then people suffer. This is further complicated by a strange health care system that seems to lock out the people who need it most. But, never mind, the man ripped down a NZ poetry poster and told me that we should look after our ‘aborigines’ better.

One thing that Ben Franklin said that makes me laugh every time I think of it is:

“A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.”

I am going to do another poster run in Philly this Thursday. This time, I’ll be putting up Tusiata Avia posters (“Nafanua, the Samoan war goddess, talks about her friends in Philly”) and Stephen Oliver (“The Great Repression”). These two fine poets feature in the next round of Phantom Billstickers NZ poetry posters (launch is in April in Auckland) and this is kind of like releasing a single off the album. Should be fun.

Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson