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Diary of a Billsticker – Trenton, New Jersey, USA

This was yet another poster run in the Phantom Billstickers poetry poster series. It was a beautiful spring morning as we headed off to Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey. I buy ‘The Trentonian’ newspaper every day and I’m not sure why. I think it’s the horror, the horror. There is something appealing about horror.

The banner headlines from the day before screamed out “Killed For Pills” and told the story of a pharmacist being “gunned down” by “an eighteen or nineteen-year-old black man with dreadlocks.” So I kind of knew I had to put up some posters whilst keeping my hair short and not swaggering. The Trentonian reminds me of the dim and dark ages in New Zealand journalism. This was back when all newspapers focused on dawn raids to find Polynesian overstayers hiding under peoples’ beds. When no Polynesians were “playing up,” they’d find similar items to shock and divide and destroy. Thank God all that’s over and most thinking Kiwis appreciate the value of other cultures living in our country and bringing their magic. New Zealand is very rich on this score.

But, now we’ve all found a common enemy in Libya or Afghanistan – so far away as to be meaningless to most people. It’s like we have to find something to dislike. We know we’re right as well, as we’ve been told it and we believe it. We’re keen to buy this new line of journalistic merchandise. Yet, we all know that any war is a wasted enterprise, but it’s good that it’s all so far away and a drone takes care of most things. No need to get our hands dirty. We can stand on the sidelines and scream as the horror grows.

In Trenton, I was carrying poetry posters by Frankie McMillan, Lawrence Arabia, Sandra Bell, Jody Lloyd, Sam Hunt, Chris Knox, and Robert Creeley. The first six are Kiwis, the last an American. All are tremendously good poets who deserve to be heard. Hey, everyone deserves to be heard, but I just wish the voices were as sweet as these poets’ voices.

I enjoy a good poster run and particularly in the morning when the sun is first coming up. I have a mate who tells me that suicide rates are highest in the spring. I’d think this would be because some people are more afraid of the good things in life than of the bad. Nelson Mandela might have said something (he borrowed it I think) about more people being afraid of the light than of the dark. I think there are a lot of people in this life who like to trumpet out the bad as if this makes them better human beings. They scream and moan and try to alert us to all kinds of shit. In the end, often, their screaming and moaning is way worse than the shit they are trying to alert us to the dangers of. I’d rather shoot aspartame in the mainline than be around most of these people for too long.

On a good day and given a good poster run, I always have music in my head. On this particular day, I was moving to the rhythm of ‘Going to California’ by Led Zeppelin. This is a lovely, soft, acoustic track, and yet it really moves. I was also thinking through the bass playing from the Pretenders ‘Stop Sobbing’ and it too was altering my footsteps. It was a lucky day and this is a good way to be. Powerful music (and good expression) can be such a good force in peoples’ lives. Beauty doesn’t sell as well as horror and repulsion, but to move in that direction might be a good thing.

The sun was getting bright overhead and I was stapling posters to poles in a Spanish area of the city. I knew this because I couldn’t understand a single word people were saying and I kept (unconsciously I’m sure) thinking about the Spanish Armada.

“The patient is not cured because of free association, the patient is cured because he can free associate.” – Sigmund Freud

Well, it’s all better than thinking about newspaper headlines, and death and destruction, and political viewpoints and other things that glug up people and stops them moving. Political viewpoints kill people and they’re all about as bad (all of them) as newspaper headlines that screech and holler.  I’d rather put up posters, Jack. I’m not resigned and depressed in life either, far from it. I see good things in the very worst areas. I’ll never like Donald Trump, though. There’s no upside there. And, sometimes, I agree you’ve got to have a good band (or writer) that seems to screech and scream and yet cuts through all the crap and says things at a subconscious level that’ll add more value to society than Bill Clinton ever did or could. Sometimes such a band screams (in a good way). One such band was The Ramones. ‘Gabba Gabba Hey’ was the appropriate response to “I did not have sex with that woman.” It’s also, probably, the appropriate response to the war in Afghanistan.

So this was a good poster run full of joy and promise and sunlight.

“Hey, Gabba Gabba Hey…..”


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

44a  44b

Diary of a Billsticker – Camden, New Jersey, USA

I was carrying poetry posters by the Kiwi Poets Janet Frame, Frankie McMillan, Tusiata Avia, Chris Knox, and Lawrence Arabia. Then I had some posters by the American, Robert Creeley. Boy, he’s good.

It was a cold Saturday morning at the end of a busy week. Camden, New Jersey, sits five minutes over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Yet, it’s like another world and one that people will tell you has been ignored and then they’ll say that they feel sad for Camden. Most people don’t do much, but oh God they feel sad for Camden. As of now, no Hollywood celebrity has stepped in. People will say that the city has been left to rot: it has an unemployment rate of somewhere around 30-40%, has one of the highest crime rates in America, is full of drugs, high school dropout numbers run to 60%, corruption is rife, and then there are the huge cuts to government and state funding. They’d close the public library, but I’m not sure there is one. There are no movie houses or hotels in Camden. Why would you? Who wants to stay?

Earlier this year about half of the Camden police force was laid off only to be rehired a couple of months later. There was a bit of a furore, but I think it was largely driven by the police themselves and their union. But I guess the state government and the neighbouring state government (Pennsylvania) might have thought that the crime could possibly have crept along that bridge and the interstate if nothing was done. No one likes slime, and criminals are ‘slime,’ right? They ooze. They will move down the interstate if nothing is done. That’s the popular notion. Three of the mayors of Camden have been convicted of felonies in the last two decades. That’s slime. It’s been my experience in life that whilst money definitely doesn’t trickle down, corruption and graft does. It oozes and breathes. The population gets punished because some guy at the top can’t keep a straight face and he is sadistic.

Yes, Camden is some kind of movie of its own accord and is about four times freakier than anything Wes Craven could have come up with. Everything seems to come down on Walt Whitman’s city like a great big hammer. There’s a ceaseless pounding and you can really hear it. But, once upon a time, the city boasted a population of more than 125,000 and now it runs at about 80,000. It had huge ship yards and other major sources of industry thirty or forty years ago.

The Campbell soup people used to manufacture here. It ain’t much, but it’s something to go on. It’s like Christchurch, New Zealand used to have Crown Crystal glass and that gave workers something real to do. All that industry in Camden has gone now and the very sky seems rust like and like no one’s interested. My good mate, the poet Joe Treceno, says that Camden was once a ‘pinnacle’ of American industry. Now, for every wrap of Heroin sold on Broadway, a new building goes up in Shanghai. As Bob Dylan might have put it “people have got a lot of knives and forks and they got to eat something.” Yes, and it’s all a very costly business indeed.

I enjoyed the poster run. I think you can pretty much enjoy anywhere as long as you mind your own business and you call everyone coming your way ‘mate’ or ‘cobber.’ But, you must also look people in the eye and then let them look away first. There are exceptions to these rules of course, but I’ve walked around Medellin, Colombia, at midnight and I’ve got to say the daytime was the dangerous time. That’s when the slamming of civilians seemed to reach a high crescendo. There’s these kinds of little tricky rules and regulations that everyone must live by and which make no sense at all. The ones that make sure the power base stays largely the same over the years and through the lifetimes of successive governments. Charles Dickens wrote of all this stuff and it hasn’t changed much. Hope indeed.


Keep the Faith,


Jim Wilson

43b  43c

Diary of a Billsticker – Perth Amboy, New Jersey, USA

Perth Amboy is a city about the size of Timaru back in old Aotearoa New Zealand. The city sits on a bay on the Raritan River and is about forty miles from the mystical Jersey Shore. Across the bay is Staten Island. John Bon Jovi was born here.

Perth Amboy is kind of a broken down, rust-belt place with about four cops to each city block. As you get closer to the city council offices, you’ll come across five or six cops to each block. The local mayor was recently found guilty of corruption and is to be sentenced in January. It is obvious that someone or some force is trying to scrub these streets clean and that notion just becomes very difficult when there’s a high level of unemployment and manufacturing is now happening someplace else. This ‘someplace else’ where people use their hands to make something apart from fast food, is somewhere far over the rainbow. One of the nicknames of Perth Amboy is ‘Ambush City’ and in a lot of these places, the most alive thing in town is the interplay between the Police and the population. Of course there’s a lot of crime, there has to be.

The town is like a digital tombstone from back in the Old West. The city centre looks like the OK Corral to me. But I’m never afraid of these things. That’s not what frightens me.

In Perth Amboy, I was carrying poetry posters by about six New Zealand poets and a couple of Americans. It is obvious that there once was some heavy-duty industry in Perth Amboy, but a lot of these areas collapsed decades ago and this city is now attempting to claw its way back. Yet there are numerous beauty salons because in life people have to paint something up and to put a face on. People try and make good of bad situations and the vast majority are not criminals. They live in hope and they wait.

The population of Perth Amboy is more than 50% Hispanic, the majority coming from either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. No Hispanic (legal or illegal) has ever insulted me in this country. They are not by nature an obnoxious people. So I felt perfectly safe in Perth Amboy, what frightens me most about America is what happens in the ‘better’ cities and suburbs. That’s where the deals are made.

I just work one lamp-post at a time with my industrial stapler and I place my poetry posters for the best possible impact. I remember as I go what Renoir said about the purpose of art being to enliven the walls. Yes, and in a way, you can even look at all the rust and decay in Perth Amboy and think it to be a beautiful thing. I’m sure Nick Drake would have thought this way. The surrounding sadness is kind of exquisite and as you gaze about you still see people doing a pretty good job of holding their heads up high and living yet another day. So these are people you can easily like and I do. This city is just one more place where the notion of ‘hope’ never arrived in town on a freight train because there are none anymore. There’s very little heavy industry now and I’m sure there’s never enough food stamps. So what are you going to do? You can’t really bail a place like this out beyond a certain point because it has to find the bottom and then start again. These people are starting over each day and they kind of look proud to me. They will find a way out. That’s what people do. I have little faith in endless government programmes and I’m sorry about that. I’d rather people made something again.

But, I put up posters. And I always sing as I go and I think about words and poetry. I see people smiling when they read the posters. That makes it for me. On this day, before I finished and went to Ray’s Hell Burgers, I was thinking about the Tom Waits song ‘Jersey Girl’ as sung by Bruce Springsteen. Because as you’re looking at all this stuff in America and at all the rust and decay, you need to have poetry and a firm rhythm in your head. You could get really angry, but everyone seems to do that and I’m not sure what difference it makes. I’m not sure anger really builds anything anymore; it just seems to be more of a fad to me.

In America (or New Zealand) you can’t afford to have your thoughts and emotions thrown off track by either the news media or politicians. One woman, standing for Governor of California, is spending 140 million US dollars on her campaign. She obviously wants it real bad. That’s where heavy industry and all the action is these days, in politics. You just have to have a good profile picture and a few keywords. I remember they once asked Willie Sutton (famous bank robber) why he robbed banks, and his answer, which was priceless, was “that’s where the money is.” Politics is the new heavy industry and if the politicians were any good, then they’d actually be poets instead. So I’m sure, at the most basic level, it is words and music that get people by, whether in Timaru New Zealand or down by the Jersey Shore. Because people are subject to so much rubbish in spite of how clean the streets are kept.

I think the lyrics to the Tom Wait’s song ‘Jersey Girl’ are a testament to hope in difficult times. The elections (for Congress and Senate) are to be held in America this week. I really don’t think much will change other than a different group of politicians will be doing all the talking. And in a couple of years, some other group of people will be calling for ‘change.’ It will go on because that’s where the money is. It’s heavy industry. At some stage, a bulldozer became an election sign.

“I got no time for the corner boys
Down in the street making all that noise
Or the girls out on the avenue
’cause tonight I wanna be with you
Tonight I’m going to take that ride
Across the river to the jersey side
Take my baby to the carnival
And I’ll take her on all the rides.

‘Cause down by the shore everything’s all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
You know all my dreams come true
When I’m walking down the street with you.

Sha la la la la la la….”

“Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits


Keep the Faith,

Jim Wilson


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

37a        37b

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.