Sunday, July 1, 2012

The writing is on the wall

Grant Robertson, MP for Wellington Central and Deputy Leader of the NZ Labour Party, pastes up a Janet Frame poem poster in Wellington's Cuba Mall on Friday 29th June 2012.

Sticking Up for Poetry
by  Richard Langston

 Many moonlit nights ago, Grant Robertson crept around Dunedin pasting up posters announcing gigs by bands he managed or his intention to storm the political barricades by becoming the Otago University Student President.

The bands he championed might have long since played their last gigs, but Grant’s political career is still in its ascendancy – you might have seen him stand and deliver across the house as deputy leader of the Labour Party.

But yesterday afternoon he briefly returned to his former nocturnal activity of pasting up posters – this time in Cuba Street Wellington posting a couple of large sheets of words by two of our finest poets, Janet Frame and James K Baxter.

Ben from Phantom helps Grant paste up a poem by James K. Baxter next to the Janet Frame one. As well as being two of New Zealand's most loved poets, Janet Frame and Jim Baxter were also close friends. And the 29th of June would have been 'Hemi' Baxter's birthday so this was fine timing!

Grant was happy to do so to acknowledge the splendid work done by Jim Wilson and Phantom Billstickers in producing posters of the work of our poets and pasting them up in the street and in and on buildings all around the world.

It was also to mark the upcoming National Poetry Day (July 27) which Phantom Billstickers will celebrate in the coming weeks by placing thousands of posters around the country.

 I had a chat with Grant while he got glue on himself, wrestled with broom, bucket, and posters in the wind, and aided by a few lads from Phantom, eventually even managed to get a few on the wall.

R: So a remembrance of things past Grant?

G: Yeah the technique’s still pretty much the same, a bit of glue on the bottom poster, a bit of glue on the poster, and most of the glue on me (laughs).

R: When did you used to do this?

G: Ah, mainly in the early ‘90s in Dunedin putting up posters for bands and putting up my own posters when I was in student politics.

R: What did they look like?

G: They were pretty low tech. They weren’t as well produced as these, but when I ran for student president I had a campaign putting my head on famous peoples’ faces, so I was with the Kennedy brothers and the moon landing I think, and Martin Luther King (laughs).

R: These were good times…

G: Yeah, yeah. The posters were a huge part of campaigning in those days, pre-internet, so this was how you got your message out.

R: Seeing the posters…words on posters, it’s really effective isn’t it…

G: These particular ones (poems by Janet Frame and James K Baxter) are particularly effective. You get a lot of visual imagery in posters, that’s what essentially posters are, but putting the words, white on black in the form of a poem that people recognize is really effective.

R: Do you know much about Jim Wilson and his work with Phantom Billstickers?

G: A little bit yeah but I don’t know him personally, but I’m aware of what he does and seeing his work of putting New Zealand poems around the world is fascinating, all sorts of places getting them out there. I mean I used to live in New York so when the shots come up (on Facebook) from Jim of the posters from New York I think’s that’s fantastic. It’s great.

R: It’s a tremendous service isn’t it, poetry works in certain places, on the Tube in London, and putting them on walls is quite effective…

G: It’s something in Wellington too, there’s public poetry around Wellington down on the waterfront, they have taken the time to have them inscribed in the concrete, this is another method of that, and I think it’s great. Poetry is a public medium, it should be anyway so it’s great to see it out there.

R: Coming down to do this today…

G: I appear to have got nearly as much glue on me as I used to in the old days. These guys it’s much more organized. Phantom Billstickers is a respectable company that does its thing, it’s not guerilla warfare we used to have in Dunedin anyway.

R: Thanks so much Grant.

G: Cheers, Richard.

Grant also mentioned he was delighted to be putting up the Janet Frame poem, ‘The End’ as ‘Owls Do Cry’ is his favourite NZ novel.

Reproduced with kind permission. 
Richard Langston is a poet and freelance journalist who blogs at:

The first Janet Frame poem poster "Before I get into sleep with you" was produced by Phantom Billstickers in 2006, for a Montana NZ Poetry Day poster promotion. Frame's poem was printed on the circle amongst the other red geometric shapes in the snapshot above. Other poets represented were: Tusiata Avia, Hinemoana Baker and Bill Manhire.

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