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Aucklander John Fenton is a jazz aficionado and writer, a traveller into elsewhere and a poet who dedicates this collection to a number of jazz artists, and his friend and fellow writer Iain Sharp . . . and, of course, to family.

Inevitably jazz, travel and reflection on a long life – he admits to having done everything from digging ditches to being a secretary to various MPs – all come through in these works, some of which reflect back on times and artists passed.

A piece by Thelonious Monk, Ask Me Now, prompts thoughts on that

“trickster, daring

us to follow his cues

urging us on, but

it was easy to miss-step”

and from there he goes back to his younger self

“fiercely debating art, politics

life's edges, poetry, Monk.

Our streets youthful,

filled with tomorrows dreams . . .

was it worth it?

Ask Me Now.”

He writes lovely lines about Billie Holiday also, her All of Me heard amidst the noise of a cafe:


leaning into that microphone,

singing that song

knew that

bits of her die with every note

– vanish as she sings

none of us are ever

quite what we used to be

– even then.”

Frequently here there is that escape into music – a nice piece on listening and not thinking about the blather of politics or “ill winds” – and into quiet as in the final piece Of All the Places which opens . . . 

“Of all the places I have been

I like this place best.

Of all the moments, walks,

conversations, this one

pleases, will do nicely . . .”

Where that place might be he needn't say, but in some of his travel poems he feels a man out of place and sometimes out of time. A few pieces reflect on aging and times: “Back then we jostled and roiled en mass/carried our painted banners and yelled/1-2-3-4 we don't want your racist war”.

Perhaps it is drawing a long bow – when recounting an impromptu hitch-hiking adventure with a neighbour decades ago which seems to last little more than a day or so – to style themselves as “Zen monks returning from a mindful journey, each of us lost in the lessons of the road”.

And his Zen And The Art Of is as much like a Yoko Ono Fluxus-period poem as a Zen refection


your breath



scribble again

this is poetry

(or not)”

But there is also unselfconscious – actually very conscious – humor here as in Regulation when he describes his inner voice as policeman keeping him polite and mild -mannered . . . but then he admits it is also “a bloody disgrace” when he confronted by shoppers who block the aisle, people chat at the checkout and discuss some soap opera when all he wants to do is get out of there.

“Easy going, never making a fuss

Rummaging in my bag to pass the time

Pretending to play with my phone

And all the while my inner voice is yelling

Move your sorry arse – FFS – shift it dick head”

We can all relate to that.

DANCING BETWEEN THE NOTES by JOHN FENTON (Xlibris) is available on Amazon and all the usual platforms or from Unity Books in Auckland or through his website here.  $24.99 or eBook at $4.99

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