I started writing poems when I was about 12 or 13. And I only stopped when I was about 30. That break, it’s hard to remember the full timing now, lasted maybe four or five years – and there was probably a poem or two in there now and then. But for the last decade I have been writing poetry more than any other type of thing. If it was a race between album reviews and poems for a while, then maybe the album reviews were winning…for a bit. But no one really cares about album reviews now. So, poetry is the winner for me. I might nearly average a poem a day. And I have a real Neil Young Principle at play here. I publish it all. Put it up on the website. And move on.
I’ve never really tried to hide that my poems come from my real life, are about that, are usually autobiographical in a very overt way. And maybe only poetical in a bruisy, clumsy, passing way.
A few times in the life of this newsletter I have shared some new poems. Today I wanted to share a small handful and give a few contextual notes on each. I don’t usually do this. So, I don’t know if this is helpful – or interesting. Liner notes, eh. Bit of an experiment. Bear with…
Okay, here we go. First one.
There was me and a bottle of
whiskey, in a motel room with
old-fashioned TV. But I found
Smash Palace, so everything was
just fine. I drank more than I should,
but that’s okay – because now I
don’t drink. Sharon O’Neill singing
“Smash Palace” is the finest song
that never quite made it to Nashville
but is instilled with the vibe. I made it
out of whiskey alive, but can still feel
that connection, some nights, some music,
certain movies. The main thing is to
never try to replicate it. Just sit with the
old memories. Embrace the new spirit.
We were in Christchurch for a family wedding. It was my wife’s cousin, so it only made sense that I leave early with our child and leave her to enjoy the rest of it. Oscar was young. And I drove the hire car back to the motel. My in-laws had brought a bottle of whiskey down, partly for whoever wanted a nightcap, but mostly for me to treat myself to since I was missing out on the party-aspect. When Oscar was as settled as can be in a PortaCot in a tiny, strange room, I sat flicking through terrestrial TV and found Smash Palace. Which might be one of my all-time favourite movies. And absolutely the best movie to have on in a tiny motel, practically alone and with a bottle of the good stuff. I only thought about all this recently via the lens of Sharon O’Neill and her excellent soundtrack EP. Her songs for the film are wonderful. Embedded in this memory is the thing I barely wrestle with at all now but had to acknowledge when giving up drinking: Sometimes the music – or movie – or moment feels better when you’re preserving it in and with an amber fluid. It doesn’t take too long to realise you don’t actually need that.
I Dreamed I Met Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell was back in town,
he reached out for a chat; he
remembered the review I wrote
last time, he was a fan of
the podcast. He signed my record
before I could ask. The pleasure
had all been his. And now, I’m awake –
listening to a lesser guitarist, and
thinking even more of Bill Frisell.
I won’t go near what this dream
says about me. I still live
with that, most days.
This one was an actual dream. Just last week. Probably because I have just got the new Bill Frisell biography out from the library. Maybe also because I’ve been listening to a lot of Buckethead. The “review” was real. I wrote about his gig here in 2017. And I guess there’s some anxiety/regret in there that for now I can’t fit the podcast in my life. Mostly I’m very happy not doing it – there are nearly 300 episodes sitting there for anyone to discover (in fact they’re all on this Substack app now). But some days I think of missed opportunities, and it was also so incredibly soul nourishing for me to have those conversations. Maybe I’ll add one or two in the coming months…
Two Decades Of Writing About Music Now Gone
Seven-year cycles are a thing. In the year
2000, I wanted to write about music, so I
contacted the local paper, told them I was
the best – they didn’t believe me but the fire
was lit. I chased them down and got them to submit.
Or perhaps I should say, they allowed me to submit…
I couldn’t believe my luck. My hard work. And luck.
In 2007, on holiday for a family wedding, I start
planning out the first nervous few posts for a daily blog.
It’s a hard slog from there, as when I return those posts
are all planted within two weeks and I have to keep on
fencing every day for just over a decade; never sure what
to write, all the music I loved reduced to mere homework.
So many fights I never planned to start, nor take part in.
By 2014 I can see the writing on the wall, or rather
I can see the writing about to be removed from a
particular wall; I limp along for another couple of years
but I’m already writing about how everything I experience
is just grist for the mill. But there I am, doing it still. I know
that the better half of what I’ve said has just been to fulfil
an obligation. But it’s also signed off on my alienation.
Late 2021 and I realise I’m done. Time to move aside. It had
been heading that way for a long time of course. Now it’s so
obvious even I can see it. I feel it. I breathe it. I need to be
free from it. So I just stop. It was there all along. That option.
The train kept a rollin’ but only because I kept jumpin’ on.
Keeping off the tracks is something I have to do. But also
something I have to be. (Hey, I’ll probably blog the new me).
I was looking through some old blog posts. I do this only every now and then, and only for the reason of repurposing; maybe I can steal a nugget from a previous blog and rework it into something new…and so I was having a quick look through the archives of the Stuff blog (Blog on The Tracks) and I noticed this seven-year thing. It seemed to fit. So I wrote out a summary of my time writing about music.
The Same Plughole After All
I write in the mornings now.
It’s cold. Crisp enough to blow smoke.
No coffee-fuelled, wine-toasted late
Just a few lines before work.
Load the dishwasher, make breakfast
for the family, quick shower – and
Sometimes I leave a wee poem
to trickle and maybe glisten. But it’s
all just for the same plughole
This is the most recent poem I have written. It sums up my approach to writing and particularly to how you have to fit it in. It was also partly inspired by seeing a writer-friend on Twitter bemoaning that his child’s day-care facility was closed for two days last week. And, pearl-clutch, those just happened to be his writing days! I thought, motherfucker, I wrote the first chapter of my first book on the floor with a week-old baby, rocking a bouncer-bassinette with my big toe while listening to Don’t Dream It’s Over on a maddening loop. There is no such thing as The Perfect Conditions. Well, they’re never guaranteed, nor lasting.
She’ll Be Right!
When Dave decided he could fix the car,
Susan got going in the kitchen. She made
scones, she did the dishes, and wiped the
bench; she placed a teatowel in a basket
filled it with the baking, a little cream and
jam in the ramekins, with a spoon. Outside,
in the driveway, Dave grunting, and then
cursing at the god he almost never believed
in. It used to be easier, it was never this hard.
He threw the spanner at the toolkit – and
missed. Spat the crumbs on the front seat –
bullseye! Leaning over to wipe his brow
wondering how he got here, and how the
hell he could leave, the jam still hanging
to the corners of his mouth. Susan
cleaned up as much of the mess as
possible, praying to the same absent god,
suddenly worried for what might never get fixed.
Sometimes you’ll get something out that isn’t autobiographical at all. This attempt is something I rather liked, but I’m not sure if it even really works. And maybe it’s just too obvious, since it’s very clearly an attempt to take from Baxter’s Calvary Street poem, and Denis Clover’s Magpie. I was probably thinking of Don McGlashan too. Which is a good thing to do.
National Party Conference
We were not infected. We were not to blame. We were not chasing. We were not being chased. We were not the control in the experiment. We were not a part of any of it. We sat high on the hill. We watched. We wrote notes. (Like this). We told stories – mostly about our own bravery. We kept our spirits high. We were top shelf. We were not at fault. We were not holding anyone else back. We were not just making history, we were writing it also. We couldn’t see the connection. We didn’t need to. We were not aware of any privilege. We were still wearing the same boots. We had the straps we had been pulled up by. We still laced them through those same boots. We still booted failure into touch. We noticed all of this negative energy. We laughed at it. We didn’t need to know anyone else’s problems. We were not making trouble. We knew the answers. We were waiting for the chance to prove our worth. We worked hard. At the end of the day we would know the truth. We would be only too happy to share it with you. We were sick of being told that we did not share. We would change that one day. We would have the power again. We would make this a great place. We would be happy with that. We would like you to be happy with that as well. We think you’d probably still find something to complain about. We don’t know why that is.
A friend has asked me a couple of times if I’ll ever consider writing about politics – specifically I think as part of this newsletter. I wrote a politics column for a magazine called NZ Today. I managed exactly one column. It was in criticism of the then Key-Government. The editors of that magazine didn’t like that. So it was back to just book-reviewing. The poem above started life as notes for a sci-fi/horror/dystopia story. I liked the repetition of ‘We’ to start setting something up. Then got impatient, plus realised I didn’t really have anything. Cue the title – speaking of people that don’t really have anything. The title (hopefully) makes it work.
There you go. A director’s commentary on some of my recent back pages.
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