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Diary of a Billsticker – New Orleans, USA

Who Dat?

We took off for New Orleans on Boxing Day. Americans don’t have Boxing Day really. They tend to want to gravitate to the malls so that the whole shebang can start up again.  Straight after Christmas, they are selling Valentine’s Day products.

Anyway, there was a huge snow storm and news was that many flights were cancelled, but that some were still getting away from Philly. Airports are dismal places and it’s just kind of a given that if your flight is to be ‘postponed,’ then you won’t get notice of that until a few minutes before the scheduled time. Obviously, this is to bring about the maximum possible heartbreak. Kurt Vonnegut understood these things well.

In management (in airlines and elsewhere) these days, it’s just an order of the day that one mustn’t be too vital as someone may benefit from that somewhere down the track. Airlines are just turgid and swampy affairs and one hopes that some day someone will catch on and things will be dynamic again. But watching how Barrack Obama is getting along, that won’t be anytime soon.

So we managed to catch another flight and arrived in New Orleans fifteen hours later having gone via Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s kind of like going to the shop and wanting to buy a mutton pie and ending up getting beef jerky.

New Orleans is a wild and free town and everyone knows that it has risen above many tragedies and has stormed on through to express itself again. And it does that well. But, on the night we arrived, the weather was unusually cold (near freezing point) and eight kids died in a warehouse fire. Many young kids (‘railroad punks’) jump trains and head for the Crescent City because they’ve given up on the dream and the hypocrisy and they want to live out the notion of ‘Hope’ in their own way.

In New Zealand we’d say “good on you” or just simply “on ya”, and this means that we approve of the basic principle of people following their own dreams in exactly their own way. Music expresses this all best and most of these kids play music and damn good it is too. A person who plays music best has no barriers between her and the audience. So I saw kids in New Orleans (playing on street corners) who should be on major labels, but that would end up ruining their lives entirely. Next thing they’d want to save Africa.

So, the very best thing about New Orleans is the number of people playing music in the streets and there ain’t a force on earth (like a City Council) that can stop them. There are posters everywhere and, of course, I like this. I like to see evidence that people can express themselves in a clear and coherent way. That’s why I detest political correctness. I reckon that the notion (political correctness) has done in more peoples’ heads than aspartame.

So New Orleans is a city where people (well a lot of them anyway) shake off the surly bonds of earth and just enjoy themselves. Ain’t a government on earth likes that. And we must feel real sorrow for those kids who died in that fire. They wanted what all of us want, they wanted to be free. And we all know the feeling of ‘fuck it, I’ll go somewhere else….’ And that feeling is often (but not always) right.

So we postered (in sadness for the kids) with at least half a dozen New Zealand poetry posters. Poets included Sam Hunt, Frankie McMillan, Janet Frame, Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara and Brian Turner. I see putting up each poster as a kind of individual hit for freedom. We postered around the French Quarter (of course) and there’s another particularly funky area close to there, it’s called Faubourg Marigny but no one who’s not a native can pronounce it, and then we postered the Treme and also around Congo Square. Congo Square is where a couple of hundred years ago they used to let the slaves dance for a couple of hours on Sunday (mighty big and white of them eh?) and from that little bloom of freedom we eventually got Wilson Pickett.

I loved New Orleans because there is a feeling of hope springing eternal and I’ve needed that feeling in my life. I could spend all day telling you about the very clever people who lived there or who were born there. The city, with all its feelings of ungovernability or freedom, has nurtured these people. Hell, the airport is called “Louis Armstrong International”. No matter where you are in the city a tour will go past and someone will be saying over a megaphone to the tourists: “On that corner, over there, that’s where Truman Capote and Lee Harvey Oswald went to school and that’s where they played hopscotch at lunchtime.”

I could say all of this (and plenty more) but I just reckon we should think about those kids and listen to the Pine Leaf Boys.

Let freedom ring.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

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Diary of a Billsticker – Washington DC and Baltimore, USA

There might be lots of good reasons for going to these two cities to do a poster run of Kiwi poets. A person has to have clear intentions and I always try not to get sidetracked. My job is to try and make people feel better and not to spit and moan all day about what is going wrong. There’s lots of spitting and moaning in these places.

Poem posters I was carrying included works by Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara, Frankie McMillan, Janet Frame, Sam Hunt, and Brian Turner. I only carried a poem of one American with me, Robert Creeley. I find Mr. Creeley pretty hard to leave behind, but I generally think I should put up the works of Kiwis. We know lots about the Americans, but they know little about the Kiwis and our dreams and desires. They’ve never really had a mutton pie to speak of.

I am writing this on the 37th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy. I think you could count the number of Americans on one hand who know who the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in 1963, or any other of our Prime Ministers for that matter. It’s strange because we’ve had a wee few disasters in Aotearoa this year and now I find more Americans know who we are. But it’s a painful way to define a country.

As you might imagine, it’s hard to put up a poster in the centre of Washington DC. In that area, I think you could most probably be arrested for farting. I’d never take Harry Sparkle with me there to poster, because we’d end up in some exotic pokey in South Carolina or somewhere, or maybe in Florence, Colorado. I prefer to Super Max my McDonalds these days.

My spirits were lifted for a moment in DC when I saw a Shepard Fairey ‘Obey’ poster on an under bridge, but in the few square miles around the White House everything has been swept scrupulously clean and the lamp-posts are steel with deep corrugations, so you can’t really put anything on them. America is very concerned and anxious about terrorists right now and so even though you may come to do them a kindness, this can be misinterpreted. It’s all in the way it’s written up and I’d hate to be shot or arrested for putting up a poster. But I swear I am the person in New Zealand who has heard more than any other “you can’t put that there.”

Nowadays I like to think I’ve settled down, but I remember a (good) time when the Phantom Billstickers business card had on it ‘we just don’t know any better.’

But this poster run looked good because just as I left for a true ‘neighbourhood’ in the North West of DC, the Otara Millionaire’s Club (OMC) came on the radio blasting ‘How Bizarre.’ It’s a great thing when you are in America and you hear Kiwi music on the radio, you always feel proud. I put up their posters.

‘How Bizarre’ is a funky little song and it’ll loosen up your poster stapling muscles and dissolve some of the armour that may separate you from true living. No longer roiling in your chains you may go forth, and so, with breathing changed, I walked the neighbourhood affixing righteously on to those cherished wooden lamp-posts. The ones I have come to know and love so well in America.

“Oooh baby…”

Yes, Kiwi music does a lot of good in the world and I think now we even have more musicians than sheep.

“Ooh Baby (ooh baby)
It’s making me crazy (it’s making me crazy)
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face…

How bizarre
How bizarre….”

So I talked to lots of people on this run and including some other guys putting up posters (they were wanting to buy junked cars for ‘up to $200’). I put some posters up right outside the local police station (and could barely stop) and had a very friendly conversation with a cop doing so. There are too many big things in North West DC for the cops to worry about other than someone adding some beauty to a lamp-post and I must say the police station is bigger than the interisland ferry. One day these police stations will be bigger than the North Island and things will be worse….

“Oooh baby…
It’s making me crazy…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face….”

Washington DC is where the Beatles gave their first concert in the USA in February 1964. They opened with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” I think they blew the room down. These things are in my mind as I poster. Two days before they were on the Ed Sullivan show and blew America away.

Anyway, next day it’s was Baltimore’s turn. I love Charm City as it just kind of feels to me to be naturally worn in. There are a lot of reasons you could come here too. There are strong references to Baltimore in at least two Bob Dylan songs, this being where Hattie Carroll was murdered and also where ‘Miss Mary-Jane had a house in Baltimore.’ Gram Parsons wrote a fine song called ‘Streets of Baltimore’ and Tim Hardin penned ‘The Lady Came from Baltimore.’ So the city stands up lyrically. I postered in the Hampden district where the streets smell of ketchup from all the restaurants in the area. I just love the wooden lamp-posts. Once again I met plenty of people and was therefore given an opportunity to talk about Kiwi poetry and music. Oooh baby…

There’s a ‘zine from Baltimore, actually, that features some fine writing and great poetry. It’s called ‘Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore’ and is probably the best ‘zine I’ve seen for years. It is dead close to the street and dead invigorating to read. Google it and have a read, it’s worth it.

“Oooh Baby…
It’s making me crazy…

How bizarre…”
Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

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Diary of a Billsticker – Newark, New Jersey, USA

This was a nice and casual feeling poster run on a warm Saturday in September just as the seasons were beginning to change. The leaves are a beautiful colour here in New Jersey at present and they remind me of the colours of New Zealand’s central Otago when the autumn season is coming along. But then nothing could ever be like central Otago in the way that the light hits those autumnal colours and the sky itself sparkles. The sensation of driving through central Otago on an autumn day will sustain you for months on end. That feeling is what we live for. It is to be on the ground. It is best to be driving a big old Ford V8, that way the light gets in.

In Newark, I was carrying poem posters by at least seven or eight poets and the majority of them being Kiwis (Chris Knox, Janet Frame, Michele Leggott, Mariana Isara), but with a wee few Americans to boot (Mr Robert Creeley, Jeffery McCaleb and Gerald Stern).

It is always a privilege to be putting up poetry posters. I never have to mess with the bad when I’m putting up poetry posters.

Newark is known as a city to be in the deep doo-doo with “boo-coo” social problems. Indeed, I saw more tape stating “Police Line – Don’t Cross” than I had ever seen in a single place in my life. And I’ve been to Russia. I don’t know if one dares to call it all a ‘class war’ anymore or even a ‘drug war,’ but there’s no doubt that some of these places are just plain worn out. They’ve already given. You can no longer get everything you want at Alice’s Restaurant. America is closed. The last orders have gone in and we await the verdict.

The drive down I-95 to Newark isn’t promising at all with many closed strip malls and a fast-food joint every thirty feet. Americans don’t like to go far without constant supplies of food. I’d say that food provides comfort for harrowing times. When you don’t have any control, you can always eat. There’s a huge political system at war with itself here and it’s a very destructive and hungry monster. Underneath this system, people are, as always, good and usually trying to do the right thing. In New Zealand we might think of the old time ‘Kiwi Battler,’ well they’re the same in America too, only fatter. I think William Faulkner in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in the early 1950s talked about people living in a constant state of fear. Well, that’s never changed and it has in fact been amped up for commercial gain.

But we do talk about Phoenixes in this life and especially in America where people often reinvent themselves and quite rightly so. Cities are doing this too and I have in mind that the amount of pain that the USA is going through right now will lead to a much better country and perhaps more grounded in what is ‘real.’ That was the missing element for such a long time as the financial markets were hyped time and again and people correspondingly acted out wild and savage fantasies in strip malls. If you didn’t have it, you could buy it. Extra cheese was never a problem. Motivational artists, (George W. Bush? Bill Clinton?) drove the country on to extreme lengths and people were hurt. Well, I think people have had enough pain. Now there’s just the fear to be conquered. In musical terms (which I often think of), you can sometimes do a lot for a band when a key member leaves and the rest of the band pulls together. They find they don’t really need the hamburgers and the fancy hotels. They sometimes go back to playing the small rooms where everything comes from. They might play the Captain Cook in Dunedin and enjoy it.

And so this weekend as I write this Newark is reinventing itself. The biggest poetry event in North America is happening in the city. The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival is being played out on ten stages with 20,000 expected to attend. Poets are heading there from all around the world and I think four previous US Poet Laureates will be in attendance. As Rita Dove puts it, “Going to Newark is actually wonderful; poetry is used to unlikely settings. It’s time we moved it into the streets.”

Well yes, poetry definitely belongs in the streets. That’s where it will do the most good.

I would say that cities like Newark (and most cities are like Newark in one way or another) really need poetry and all forms of good expression. Janet Frame seems to suit the city, as does Chris Knox. Then, I have never been to a place that I have felt hasn’t been uplifted by a Robert Creeley or Jeffery McCaleb poem on a lamp-post. These are things of the heart and that’s what we need more of. We need simple things. We need the small rooms and lots of poetry. People (all kinds of people) need to be able to speak. The bible says something about that if we bring forth that which is inside us it will save us. If we don’t, it will destroy us. Well, it nearly has.

Newark gave the world Philip Roth and Allen Ginsberg. For this alone we are grateful. Philip Roth’s new book, ‘Nemesis’ is released today. Last week Mark Zuckerberg (of ‘Facebook’ fame) gave the Newark school system one hundred million dollars more than his detractors have. They are giving the world something else entirely. Something we see a lot of these days as people rip each other to shreds.

Automation has made that business of evisceration easier. As Bob Dylan might have put it, well before Facebook was invented, “people got a lot of knives and forks and they got to eat something.”

So I always have a lot of fun putting up poetry posters and talking to people about them. I really think that people are always looking for real ways to connect and then to tell their stories. We’ve heard what the bank and financial institutions have had to say, we’ve heard from the politicians (of all stripes), and we’ve heard all the spin that this sweet old world has got to offer. The media has chimed in a thousand million different and confusing ways. The only thing left is people genuinely expressing themselves and the arts (of all types) offer that very healthy outlet. You can’t beat poetry.



Keep the Faith,



Jim Wilson

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Diary of a Billsticker – Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA

The Stone Pony

I’m writing this on Wednesday 1 Sept. Today is the 64th birthday of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. Now there’s a family that has seen some pain. Also, Jonathan Franzen’s new book, “Freedom” came out yesterday. These things factor in somehow. Now there’s a blockbuster for you (“Freedom”). This book is on its second print run already and this will mean 300,000 copies in hardback. Yes, maybe the internet didn’t kill it all. Maybe you just have to be authentic. This book is real.

Asbury Park is on the Jersey Shore and is quite a famous place. You could quite easily say that this is where Bruce Springsteen got his chance and also from where Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes took their shot at the big time. Did Southside Johnny really want the big time? I’m not entirely sure. This activity, the launching of Bruce and Southside Johnny, all happened from one smallish venue: The Stone Pony. Now there are many other launching pads in their respective careers to be taken into account, but the Stone Pony played a major part. Sony Music launched Bruce to the whole wide world.

Southside Johnny is currently touring the UK and I don’t think he’s playing the biggest rooms and I don’t think it even matters. Some people probably have more friends on Facebook than the number of seats that Southside Johnny can fill. But he’s great/real/authentic and they may well be average. Just everyone wants to be a pop star these days. Southside Johhny is who he is and no more.

On this run, I was putting up posters by Janet Frame (it being her birthday) and Chris Knox mainly. But I had at least, four or five other poets on board: Michael Palma, Robert Creeley and Mariana Isara being three. I dressed the town good and proper. I have never been out on a poster run that I did not enjoy. It was a beautiful and sunny day and I went about this run in a calm and methodical manner.

Janet Frame is my favourite Kiwi author. There are all kinds of reasons for this, but the main one is that she gets inside my head and leaves me with thoughts and feelings that last a very long time. At the moment, she reminds me of a New Zealand that I miss very much, particularly Otago and Dunedin. In “towards another summer” she talks about a long train ride (eight or ten hours if I remember correctly!) between Oamaru and Dunedin. Obviously there were many stops and delays to take on passengers and freight. Then there is the prize of it all, the ‘refreshment stop’. There’s just one line where Grace has ‘cream buns and fizz’ that can bring up for me, in one flash of a moment, a childhood’s valued memories. When I was a kid we talked about ‘sculling the guzz’ (drinking that fizz). I wonder whether Grace’s particular refreshment stop was at Palmerston, Maheno, Hampden, Waikouaiti, or maybe Waitati? Or perhaps I’m completely off track. Palmerston was the best stop for me because there are three war memorials there: The Boer War, World War I, and World War II are all signified. This (the war memorials) is all magical stuff to be taking in with a cream bun when you are six. Then there’s that statue on the hill in Palmerston (a sheep dog?) that just gets you glinting in the sunlight to see it. No place like Otago in the whole wide world.

Also we, as Kiwis, have Chris Knox. I’m sure we all feel we own him because he tells us who we are. He resonates with us. I’ve always loved Chris Knox’s music, whether he was in “Toy Love” (or “The Enemy”), or solo, or with Alec Bathgate (“Tall Dwarves”). I always think that more than 90% of all recorded music or written literature is superficial and mediocre. You can always tell when a real one comes along because it (whether it is music or literature) takes over your body and your thoughts and emotions. Putting up Chris’s “Becoming Something Other” on the Jersey Shore did this to me. It took me over. It was the least I could do to bang up a few posters.

New Jersey is the home of several ‘reality’ television shows and yet I think that people these days need every little bit of true ‘reality’ or ‘authenticity’ they can get. The amount of unreality in the world is what is truly disturbing. Everything else apart from reality is bullshit and it messes with peoples’ heads. I’ve always loved posters because often, but not always, they are real. So I do what I can. Don’t think I’m sad with it either. I find it uplifting.

The Stone Pony? Well, I just bet that both Bruce and Southside Johnny played lots of bad nights where there may have only been ten or twelve people in the audience. That’s how you learn your craft. We must remember that the Beatles played six nights a week for two years in Hamburg before they really hit their stride. Then they had become authentic. Fame (or rejecting fame) is not an automatic entitlement, but hell you could be forgiven for thinking that it was. You can supersize everything these days. Getting real acknowledgement for your craft could take hard work, but often it’s just a marketing campaign away (or a Facebook page). Fame can even be achieved these days based on your ability to rip someone else apart. You may never have done anything in your life except rip someone else apart, and yet you may get to the top because you can do that. Good luck with that. How do you sleep?

The Bee Gees were and are a great band. In the beginning, they had people who believed in them and then there were those great songs. Australia couldn’t contain them.

The management of the Stone Pony stuck with Bruce and with Southside Johnny even though it may have looked (at times) that it didn’t make commercial sense. People (artists particularly) need to be nourished and probably not exposed to adulation before they are ready for it (if ever). They should hone their craft.

There was a dude called Albert Schweitzer who said this:

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

So to me, it was just another day in Paradise down on the New Jersey Shore putting up posters.


Keep the Faith,



Jim Wilson


*Notable New Zealand Musician, Chris Knox, had a birthday this week too. He was 58 on Thursday, September 2, 2010.



Diary of a Billsticker – Tennessee/Kentucky, USA Poster Run

A Hillbilly Fight Club


Delta Airlines mistakenly sent my luggage all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, whereas I was flying into Music City, USA (Nashville, Tennessee). So, my guitar case with broom and paste was no longer available and I felt lost without my heavy-duty industrial lamp-post poster stapler. In fact, I only had about fifteen Mariana Isara poetry posters on me so I set about trying to introduce these to as many people as possible.

One makes what one can of difficult situations and one always looks up to and desires what might and could be. That’s what they’d say in the Blessed South of the USA. In other words, I was as happy as a bird with a French fry; my glass was half full, and in fact, overflowing in a very Anthony Robbins way. Dude (a motivationalist) thinks he can fly and probably also thinks that all banks should be deregulated because that’s freedom! Little does he know how many rats work in banks.

The opposite of this view is that August 20th (last Friday) was the anniversary of the day in 1968 when 500,000 Warsaw Pact Troops (we used to call them “Com Block”) flooded into the Czech Republic when they got wind of the fact that someone was trying to get ahead. Then, you might notice that right now (it’s in the New York Times today), a number of writers in South Africa are jumping up and down as the government (the writers say) is censoring the news. You think?

So, whom to believe?

Don’t tell me: one meets the new boss and he’s exactly the same as the old boss?

In Tennessee, what I did about all of this is I went about the area talking to people about New Zealand poetry and art. This is what I’ve decided to do in life. I try to no longer debate the point (any point) and I just try to commit to some form of action.

There’s just too much loose talk in this old world and Facebook is like the main street of Deadwood. We all know this. As someone once said to Al Swearenge, “First you have the emotion, Al, and then you look around for a reason to be having it.” Well, your emotions are in your blood, Al! They are in John Key’s blood as well. Though hell. I do feel sad for old Aotearoa. God’s own Country, I swear. Today I miss the West Coast of the South Island.

But a month back I was lucky enough to be travelling around Tennessee and Kentucky for a few days, mainly off the beaten track, in the hills. You have to really respect this area because it gave the world so much good music. There’s nothing clearer than that.

It has been my experience that most politicians want to be rock stars. I’ve met a few. Then most rock stars want to be politicians. I’ve listened to them too. But it wouldn’t have been just anybody who could do what Hank Williams did, nor Dwight Yoakam, nor Miss Patsy Cline.  These were people who were not (and are not in Dwight’s case) mediocre.

I have a friend in Tennessee, let’s call him ‘J.P.’ I like J.P. Damn I do. I’ve been lucky enough to know him since he was three or four years old.  I had the best year of my life in Tennessee in 1990 when I worked hauling rocks out of a mountain and J.P. did this with me. Small as he was then. He was tough. They are tough in the South (they’ve had some shit and, as you know, they’ve given it too) and they’re vulnerable too (think Hank Williams). But mostly they are just upfront and they are people of action. They’ve had some stuff in their own behaviour to come to terms with.

In the South, the beauty is that people often think in very simple ways and few of them are “yoga experts”. The whole place is not given over to academics, politicians, and “spin”.  Down there, people more often just say and do what they think. They keep it simple. There’s a lot less discussion, and people are quite up-front, though with incredibly good manners (there are exceptions to every rule). I’d paste up posters with these guys any day. Political Correctness is kept in the outhouse. That’s where it should be as it is the most stifling element of life today. Let’s see action. That’s an old Who song and the lyrics are outstanding and have you ever seen a joker play drums like Keith Moon?

I haven’t.

Mariana’s poem (‘Self-portrait as Anything from the Album: Your Body Above Me’) is excellent by the way. I’m very proud to have her onboard for the Phantom Billstickers Poetry Project. We just try and win over one person at a time with poetry and it’s all one brick on top of the other. Next year we have bigger plans providing the glass is still overflowing. We’d like it to be.

J.P. is a good fighter. He’s a man of action, see. Sometime last year he was at home hoovering and cleaning his house one night. He got a call. J.P.’s a sweet kid. Still is. There was a dude down at a local hillbilly night club (they have these in Tennessee) who slapped $500 on the table and said he’d fight anyone.  J.P.’s mate told him to come down, J.P. said he would. I think he finished his hoovering first. I like J.P. because he puts first things first. He’s not the biggest guy in the world (but he’s not small either), and he said afterwards that if he knew what the guy at the night club looked like, then he wouldn’t have gone down. But he didn’t know and so he went, awfully primal this. J.P. is fast. This is all beginning to remind me of the Clash album “Cut the Crap.” Man, there’s heaps around, crap that is. I put up posters. Other people express these things in different ways, some are pacifists. There’s no point to war, we all know this, but man there’s plenty of wars. Sad that is.

Poetry is uplifting.

You know the end of the story: J.P. went down and blitzed the dude and got the $500. J.P. and the other bloke are friends now and there’s some respect there. They both know where each other is “coming from.” William Burroughs famously talked about the Naked Lunch being where everyone could see what was on the end of the fork. Wouldn’t you like to see it all clearly if you could? But you turn on TV and you see Charlie Sheen and then you see Lindsay Lohan and then it’s followed by some politician ripping off the world and getting away with it.

So I managed to introduce a few people to New Zealand poetry and I really enjoyed it. That’s the kicks and my kicks and hopefully your kicks too, and that’s what makes a difference to me. Hope it does for you too.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

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