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Michele Leggot

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Diary of a Billsticker – New Jersey, USA

There was a break in the weather after basically a month of snow and rain. We just don’t get snow like that in New Zealand (a foot at a time), and it’s kind of difficult to imagine and to get used to. It would be like trying to drive over the Southern Alps. That way you can imagine it. The streets looked like the Himalayas and after a while, you get crazy to do a poster run. People in New Jersey talk about “weather rage”. Everyone’s cooped up and that’s not good for anyone.

I left from Lambertville, New Jersey, which is my base and travelled up I-95 to Princeton. This road is the interstate that features in the intro to “The Sopranos.” Ah, woke up this morning and got myself a gun. Now there was a TV series and so well written.

The journey to Princeton takes about a half hour. I drive down beside the beautiful Delaware River for about ten or fifteen minutes before getting onto I-95. Driving on I-95 is like playing skittles. Everyone is zooming everywhere. I don’t know if that’s good for everyone, but it’s how America is.

Princeton is a lovely and picturesque spot. The town is ruled by the old university which looms most places you look. I’m sure Robert Smith could come here and write some fine Cure type song about the gargoyles on the towers. They are beautiful. The structure of various buildings reminds me of Otago Boys’ High School. The university really is a beautiful sight. It helps my imagination too when I remember that this is the place (Princeton University) which stirred Jimmy Stewart into becoming an actor. Jimmy joined the theatre groups whilst he was at Princeton and the rest is history. I love it. You don’t get actors like that every five minutes and the arts (of all kinds) must be encouraged. People can do small things to help. That’s what I figure I’m doing.

I was carrying with me poem posters by Sam Hunt, Robert Pinsky, Marcie Sims, Michele Leggott and Janet Frame. It is always a privilege to be taking poetry to the streets.

This run was mostly around the various notice boards at the university. There’s a lot going on at this place and you can tell this by the way the various poster sites are jammed with colour and imagination. People are obviously excited and alive. It’s so easy to put up Sam Hunt poem posters, as it really sticks out to me that Sam is, and has always been a vital force for Kiwi poetry. The Sam Hunt poem, ’11 Runes (for Alf, turning 11)’ has many lines that hit me dead centre. To me, Sam Hunt stands beside any poet anywhere in the world:

“I’ll give you what I’ve got
to see you through,
and if I’m not
there, I’ll be waiting for you”

So all this kind of thing (Sam Hunt’s poetry), is really good to think about as you put up posters. The words bring you back to a real ‘core’ within yourself. Sam talks from the heart.

New Jersey? Well, this is where I saw a whole cafe erupt in cheers last week when a Bruce Springsteen tune (“Mr State Trooper”) came on the in-house stereo. These people are tremendously proud of ‘The Boss.’ And he speaks for them so eloquently. This is all how like New Zealand poets speak for New Zealand in such a clear way. They portray our experience or their experience and we can easily relate.

Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. Now there was a dude (a ‘dOOd’) – so much style and charisma and so much a strong voice. Frank put that voice forward with ease.

Yes, New Jersey is a very interesting place. So many influences and so much passion. I’ve never in my life been on a poster run that didn’t make me feel good and this one was no exception.

As I drove back down I-95 to Lambertville, I listened to a tune from ‘The Chairman of the Board’

“When I’m out on a
quiet spree, fighting
vainly the old ennui…”

– “I Get A Kick Out of You” – Francis Albert Sinatra

Well, I get a kick out of postering and certainly for New Zealand (and American poets). It’s 100% Real and I prefer that.

Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson


Diary of a Billsticker – Baltimore, USA

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