Poetry

At base, no matter what else i may do, i’m a poet. There wasn’t a choice; like any true artist, poets are born, not made. And here’s the bit many so-called “poets” simply do not understand: performance is half the art.

I can – and will, when i get around to it (there’ll be a link in a sidebar) – give you a potted history of how that fact became lost as poetry was captured by academia, but for now suffice to say that the reason i am not, currently, well-known for my poetic works is because when i stopped performing, i stopped publishing… and, to a large extent, stopped writing poems.

Sigh. Because like any art, poetry is communication. If you are not out there communicating directly with an audience, getting the whole two-way feedback loop going, you’re dead. So yes, when i stopped performing, a large slice of me died inside. And the words dried up – because they had no outlet.

Before then, though… well, i started performing in 1977, and when i published my first book of poems in late 1979, i hit the road to make what living i could – a damn sparse one, but a living nonetheless – from my words. Fortunately i was pretty good at what i did, and that book, “beginnings”, enjoyed two reprints on the way to becoming the (at the time) 4th-best-selling poetry book by a New Zealander, ever. I’m fairly proud of that.

It was followed by “Explanation and other poems” in 1980, and “Coming Up Hard” in 1983. Both sold well enough as i travelled about for their sales, and my increasingly regular performance fees, to allow me to live off my art. That may seem no great achievement to poets in more populous countries, but in Aotearoa/New Zealand in those days it was a distinct rarity; most of the time most audiences had no concept of what performance poetry even was, let alone whether they might like it.

Sadly, most still don’t. At the time there was Sam Hunt and his off-sider Gary McCormick, and myself… and that was it. Then a few younger ones, such as current NZ poet laureate David Eggleton, started to take up the challenge on the back of the opportunities we three had forged, making my decision to quit (c.1986) that much easier; I thought, well, the art’s in good hands, i can bow out. But what happened? None of them amounted to much at all, in terms of ongoing performing, and if it hadn’t been for Sam just keeping on keeping on, performance poetry would have gone back into the dead space it had previously occupied – the university academics and the small-town monthly knitting circles. Indeed, to a large extent, it did.

Anyway… yes, of course i still did write when the muse took me – just it wasn’t every day, like before: more like maybe once a month if i was lucky. With perhaps two or three a year worth the effort. (Though “effort” is relative, since all my poems are instant, straight out, on the page, that’s it finished. That’s how it works, for me.) So through the lost years I’ve managed to accumulate a body of reasonable work which I hope, soon, to do something with, in book form. So long as i have the energy to perform again fairly regularly, that is.

And because, yes, of course i write for the page as well. My words may be naturally arranged in breath-lines, because every poem is designed to be performed, but I’ll admit some come off just as well (perhaps even better) in their carbon on paper form.

Meanwhile – and particularly of late – I’ve been experimenting with poetry/music fusion. Ralph Bennett and i started doing that back in 1980; my band the Rural Voters, mainly thanks to Peter Charlton-Jones’ arrangements, have been doing more of it the past 3 years or so.

So on these pages you’ll (soon) find examples both of my written and spoken work, and some of my poems-with-music. And maybe one day you’ll get to see the “real” me, live on stage. Meanwhile, i hope you find something here to spark your interest and support. Even if it’s just a momentary spotlight in the dark.


meanwhile here’s a Christmas poem:


and one i wrote in Spring…

and something topical…