To celebrate National Poetry Day, this month we took poetry out of the library and into the city streets, or more exactly, onto the city walls. The very cool Phantom Billstickers designed, printed and put up nearly a hundred poetry posters featuring works by Michele Leggott, Robert Sullivan, Selina Tusitala Marsh, John Newton, Murray Edmond, Alice Miller, Jack Ross, Ya-Wen Ho, and Makyla Curtis, stars of this year's Poetry Central, the gig we put on every year with nzepc on Poetry Day.
Here's a shot of Rutland St, where I loved seeing the poster of John Newton's poem "Kerouac, somewhere near Billings, Montana" juxtaposed with posters for "Sunset Road".
Summer, 1975. Rotorua, New Zealand … Jimi Hendrix, motorbikes, ika mata and dawn raids… it’s the scene of Tawata Productions’ new play Sunset Road, by Miria George.
Winter, 1949. Billings, Montana... Jack Kerouac, Greyhound bus, the memory of a girl, the night... it's the episode from Kerouac's journals which inspired this poem.
is how John introduced his poem at Poetry Central.
And here is the poem, of which John gave a masterful reading before dashing out the door -- "Off to Moscow!" I heard someone say, and thought it was a reference to Ferlinghetti's "Moscow in the Wilderness, Segovia in the Snow", a friendly salute to John's artistic prowess, but it turns out he really is going to the white stone city. Still, the metaphor would hardly have been amiss.
Kerouac, somewhere near Billings, Montana
Beneath the outline of his face, in the smoky window
of the Greyhound bus, the atavistic continent,
its pitch-black mountains, its steel-grey rivers,
scrolls by him. Knight of the Dolorous Countenance.
Here is the west of his mislaid connections: neighbourhood
softball games under floodlights, a girl in bright denims
with strawberry hair, a fatherly face among the wind-beaten ranchers
at the card tables back in some beer joint in Butte.
In every valley there's a single light, and every light
is a family's love, and the inky night between them expands
in his chest. With his hand in his trousers
he comforts himself, adrift in the darkness and solitary joy
of an epic grief that could almost be real, that
could almost be something else, minor, too painful to touch.
-- John Newton
|The poets with their posters at Poetry Central 2014|
You can read about Kerouac's bus trip through Montana in his journals, published as Windblown world : the journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954. Deftly and unobtrusively edited by Douglas Brinkley, they make a great read for Kerouac fans, or might get you heading down the Kerouac road.
John Newton's books of poetry are Lives of the Poets (2010) and Family Songbook (2013). He is also the author of The double rainbow : James K. Baxter, Ngāti Hau and the Jerusalem commune.
nzepc, which celebrated its thirteenth birthday at our Poetry Day gig, is the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre, an electronic gateway to poetry resources in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific region, based at the University of Auckland.
To learn more about the Phantom Billstickers, visit www.0800phantom.