Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ode to the audience

Last night's Titus Books-Powertool Records bash at the Kings Arms appears to have actually made some money - that is what I infer, at least, from the fact that Muzzlehatch and Bill are buying me lunch today with some of their door takings. What's in Your Backyard? was a sort of experiment in eclecticism, throwing acts from the Powertools roster like shifty Westie rockers Juan Los Bastardos together with Titus Books scribblers like the clean-cut but dangerous Jack Ross.

Bridging the gap between the stoner's garage and the writer's garrett was Bill Direen, who releases his music through Powertools and his scribblings through Titus. Bill kicked proceedings off with a set of hushed acoustic performances that recalled the glories of last Friday, popped up repeatedly to noodle along to the performances of Titus writers, and brought the evening to an end with a long and decreasingly sober set in which first Muzzlehatch and then a mischievous Chris Knox made cameo appearances.

Highlights of the evening included Bill's performance of 'Iceberg Song', which proved that a broken string is no barrier to a virtuoso guitar solo; Richard Taylor's sobriety; David Lyndon-Brown's decision to set his tale of Auckland's sordid underbelly to whirling dervish music; the loping, jazzy playing of the Blue Wheel Filters, a band which threatens to make the double bass a cool instrument; and the open-mindedness - perhaps I should say tolerance? - of the eighty or so people who were willing to listen sympathetically to everything from punk classics to translations of Cesar Vallejo and Li Ho to Knox and Direen's acapella performance of 'Flip the Fire Engine'.

Reproduced below is a poem I read last night while Muzzlehatch bashed a drum and Bill unleased squalls of feedback on his seven string guitar. (Like I say, that audience was very tolerant...)

Ode to Auckland

The city wall’s condition varies. In some places it stands twenty feet high, and sprouts concrete watchtowers like sea monsters’ heads. In other places it is three strands of rusty wire, supported by warped and splintering puriri posts. In still other places one finds piles of scoria bricks of an irregular shape and size, padded by lichen and moss. The wall is punctuated by gateways at Orewa, in the north, and Mercer, in the south. The gates are never opened, because barbarians camp outside them, in fighting units of indeterminate size. In the evenings smoke from the barbarians’ campfires and the scent of their roasted opossums can be detected in Silverdale and Pukekohe. The barbarians are as necessary as the wall. The barbarians are part of the wall. Though their muskets have rusted and their hostages have expired, the fearsome reputation they won long ago deters more well-equipped and motivated armies from approaching the city.

but now it is time
and the microbes swarm
like stars in a midsummer sky

The city’s law is impartial. Rich and poor alike are strictly forbidden to sleep under bridges, or beg for bread. Young and old alike are strictly forbidden to drag race down Queen Street, or enter nightclubs without ID. Men and women alike are strictly forbidden to breastfeed in public, or buy gin while pregnant. Healthy and sick alike are strictly forbidden to sneeze in cafeterias, or cough blood on city streets. The law is impartial. Wells may on occasion be poisoned, but the city’s fountains must be kept clean. The law must be defended like a wall.

but now it is time
and the secret policeman advances
stooping to pick up butts

The city’s one hundred and eleven registered poets have three common tasks. They must make young women cry at weddings, make young men shout before football games, and prepare the elderly for dignified deaths. To these ends, each poet is supplied with certain meters and rhymes. In lines for young men, the spondaic beat of the agitated heart is preferred. Anapests are deployed at altars and in geriatric wards. Rhyme is encouraged, but it is forbidden to couple manoeuvre with manhole cover, or blackbird with blackbird. Occasionally a poet goes mad and runs deep into the eleven hectares of wilderness at the park, where he carves winking eyes and vaginas on the puriri trunks. On returning, he is asked to write a self-criticism in perfect blank verse.

but now it is time
and the insurance salesman advances
with sherry on his breath

The park covers one and a half square kilometres, and includes eleven hectares of wilderness. At the entrance to the wilderness you pause to watch two park rangers fitting a plastic cord and a label written in Latin around a puriri trunk. You remember the morgue two blocks away, tags tied around the blue ankles of tramps and junkies. You have come to the park to admire the city’s protected bird. The bird’s importance has been noted in several volumes of local poetry. You look up, and listen carefully. According to one of the city's poets, the bird’s song consists of a single repeated note, which can be heard at a distance of two kilometres. Up close, the bird's song is reputed to sound like a hammer beating an anvil. You hear a sudden shrill squeal, and look down to see the bird swooping low and shitting on a grateful ranger.

but now it is time
and all the heroes enlist
in a train station’s rush hour crowd

Above the city, the moon goes about in his white coat, like a doctor walking his wards. Sometimes clouds are rolled in front of him, like the stained curtains that separate beds. After every night shift you park, turn off your engine, and listen to the same waves breaking jellyfish and condoms on Bastion Reef. The moon stares back.

but now it is time
and the billboard shouts
in a language you’re afraid to learn

The city’s first governor civilised the extensive grounds around his mansion, but his successors have had little interest in gardening, and today environmental groups lobby to have the whole site turned into a wilderness reserve. Geese fly low, in formations of six or eight, under the radar, over the scummed surfaces of the four rectangular ponds. A silver-gray epiphyte wraps itself around an ageing oak, like an undercover policeman embracing a heckler in the mansion’s banquet hall. Blackberry bushes grow like barbed wire around a memorial to the war dead.

but now it is time
and the pill is placed in your hand
like a coin worn smooth

The city’s public hospitals were long ago consolidated into one super-facility, whose surgeons are noted for their technical brilliance. A middle-aged woman is raised from the underground waiting room, where she has been shaven and sedated. The operation lasts for seven hours, until the chief surgeon holds a blood-coloured cyst aloft and punches his other fist in the air, before accepting the handshakes of his colleagues. The patient expired four hours into the operation. The cyst will be bottled and handed to her family.

but now it is time
and the hated face congeals
into a blissful smile

Now and then a group of citizens assembles in the city’s central square, in the place of the clowns, jugglers, and karaoke singers who are normally gifted to the space. It is sometimes possible, in the interval between the expulsion of the city’s entertainment corps and the arrival of the police, for a particular citizen to make one or two statements from the stage that occupies the middle of the square. Along the edges of the space, statues of previous governors study his countenance, his gestures. When the police and protesters wrestle, they knock each statue off its flimsy plaster base, so that the city fathers appear to be prostrating themselves.

but now it is time
and the microbes swarm
like stars in a midsummer sky

now it is time
and the hated face congeals
into a blissful smile

Footnote: Skyler has put nice reviews of Bill's Wine Cellar gig and last night's bash up over at Dodgy Hippy Stuff. Thanks to veteran Kiwi blogger Russell Brown for giving us a plug at the bottom of this post, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maps, i was there for the gig and heard this Ode to Auckland... cool, jim morrison meets the epic preacher, the music too, natch. Nevis.

10:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A composite mentality oozing pre-lapsarian charm. A brogue element to the evening. One tall disreputable character (Now is the time??. Gracias Mistro Maps. Winter. Discontent.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mister Hamilton, I have read your poetry, and there is more prose in Proust. You know who.

10:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was there.
bill was simpering.
'give him a banana' someone said, with cruel glee.

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill and Muzzlehatch were buying you lunch eh? Living high on the hard work of the poor writers who made the evening so great! Where did you eat? The Hyatt? You guys need a union.

8:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Where did you eat? The Hyatt?'

Try the uni cafe. I don't anyone's getting rich off Titus.

9:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great gig. I hear that Richard Taylor was on amphetamines, and he wouldn't share any with Jack Ross.

6:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Basically Bill Direen is a complete babe. nuff said.

11:36 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

"Mister Hamilton, I have read your poetry, and there is more prose in Proust. You know who."

He who has read completely of Proust
Can, for forty months, go sans toast.

11:31 pm  
Blogger Olivia Macassey said...

Glad the evening went well!!! Was in the coromandel.

Has to be said though Anonymous, anyone who thinks any of the uni cafes are cheap has probably developed Stockholm Syndrome.

6:34 pm  

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