Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Pity the poets.
While musicians bemoan the fall-off in sales, for decades poets have had to accept that selling 200 copies of a collection is actually a pretty good result. Most have to do with considerably less than half of that, unless they have a very big extended family.
And in the poetic landscape there are the Big Names whose work can be acclaimed but largely unread (the late Kendrick Smithyman comes to mind) or are admired but often the reader can be made to feel unworthy for not actually “getting it” (Bill Manhire).
There have always been the volume dealers (Sam Hunt, James K Baxter) whose lives, personae and approachable work means they can shift the units and every now and again get their compilation out for Christmas.
Poets have been "indie" for decades in that because major publishers don't see a dollar in poetry collections other than by Big Names or those with some cachet (Brian Turner, Hone Tuwhare), they are obliged to produce their own work. It's called vanity publishing in the book trade, and for the most part it is ignored by mainstream media (which actually ignores most poetry anyway).
Spare a thought then for expat Jeremy Roberts who is part of this broad spectrum but doesn't even have the advantage of being around to have a profile.
He is currently teaching in Jakarta where this large paperback – about 70 poems at a guess – had its launch.
Roberts – an Auckland uni graduate way back whose subsequent career seems to have involved doing most things (oyster farmer to picture framer) and time spent in Australia, Canada, the USA, Britain and Europe – has been influenced by the soundtrack of his times: soul, classic rock, punk and beyond.
And it seems in Jakarta he has formed a couple of bands with local musicians.
So he has a lot to write about, from reflecting on films like Surf Nazis Must Die or Warren Zevon's fatalistic acceptance of death in the song My Ride's Here to a Zen-like detachment or quiet, pared-down observations.
He picks up stones and shells from the beach of life, looks at them careful, turning them in his gaze, then places them back . . . but never in exactly the same position.
In Whimsical Vegetables where he contemplates a city of traffic and psychic energy he says, “the moving parts of life swirl in yellow oil/thru car windscreens/& shopping lists ricochet inside skulls of/thought/there's hope in that feeling of sun on the steering wheel . . . turning warmly through choices . . .”
Driving With Terry opens like this: “the cassette tapes I play as I drive around the city/in my1984 Toyota Corolla LE/are a dead man's tapes . . .”
He is in a Spanish railway station, an Irish bar in Takapuna, on a balcony in Indonesia (“sipping vodka with Trotsky in old Batavia”) and on the road to somewhere else.
Musical references pepper these poems: Jimmy Page's soundtrack to Death Wish II, Neil Young, Hank Williams, the second side of Abbey Road, Marvin Gaye and Ian Curtis and the Pet Shop Boys all appear in Cafe List . . .
Pop culture as much as philosophy is here, sometimes in deliberately jarring collision or simply coexisting in harmony.
Rainy Season Poem pulls all those threads and ideas together in monsoon season where the Adagio in G Minor plays in a Starbucks while outside are frogs, rats and monkeys . . .
“it was an old year falling.
& I kissed the residue
Cards on the Table is available through Interactive Press: here.