Title: Sport 39: 2011

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2013, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 39: 2011

Peter Bland

page 188

Peter Bland

Where Were You in ′62?

My first day at School Publications
and they’re taking me up
to see Jim Baxter (as if
he’s a prisoner in isolation
or a local version
of the Mona Lisa). Jim’s in
his ‘rabbit-hutch of a room’
at the top of steep wooden steps,
where he’s visited by angels,
flocks of curious birds,
and the Muse of course—
off and on. We’ve known
each other since ′55
when he read me Barney Flanagan
in the pub. It made me
laugh and cry. (We’d had
six whiskies and Jim’s voice
was booming.) He asks me
if I’d help edit Numbers
and do I know a pommy poet
called George Barker? Jim
wants to reprint
as essay of his
entitled ‘Therefore
all poems are elegies’.
I explain I don’t know
any pommy poets, not
personally, as before I arrived
I lived on a park bench
and none of them left
page 189 their desks at the BBC
to visit me. And anyway,
I prefer the Yanks
and an ex-tennis player
called Pablo Neruda;
but I’ll drop George a letter
via Faber & Faber (Jim
and I both bow our heads)
seasoned with a little flattery
about ‘real feeling’
and how pommy poets
(other than himself
and Dylan) write
class-conscious crap
in stiff imabics
and though they’d a baton
up their bums. Jim
sniggers, and says,
‘That should do it.’ Then
he rambles on about
‘that Auckland mob
and the stranglehold
of their elitist vision’.
I’m going to like it
here at School Pubs
with Jim in the clouds
and Lou Johnson in the basement
and Alistair Campbell
being followed around
by Te Rauparaha’s ghost
like a terrible shadow.
I say goodbye to Jim
and head for my den.
There’s some daylight left
and this poem to begin
before we rush to The George
for an hour’s boozing.

page 190

Early Days

Wellington 1954

I’m visiting Big Mo at the YMCA.
He’s the son of a chief from Fiji
and he’s opened a big wooden box
of landcrabs, sent
by his crab-eating Dad. They’re
huge, and they’re crawling
all over the floor
until Big Mo
boils them alive
in a fire-bucket
flogged from the hall. We
each gnaw a giant claw
and pour ourselves another DB
while watching two lovers
three floors below
through a gap
in some wonky blinds. Try
as they might they can’t
get it right. Big Mo
wants to show them
what to do. ‘I’ll just
knock on the door,’ he suggests,
putting down his giant claw. Thank
god they turn out the light
and leave us to our beer. Next
day I cadge a lift up north
—12 hours on a muddy road—
to visit Maurice Shadbolt
in Titirangi, where
I’ve never been before. I’m
blown away by the palms and pongas,
the giant treeferns
and the little pink parrots
page 191 flying around on his roof. There
are oysters at the bottom
of Maurice’s garden, and an artist
called Colin is decorating the door
with words and numbers (signs
and wonders) using paint
from the garage mixed with sweet sherry
which he quaffs straight from
the jar. Amazingly, the paint dries out
a lovely velvety green. When we
all get drunk and start farting a lot
(mud-oysters and sherry don’t mix)
Colin talks about God, while Maurice
puffs at his pipe until we’re lost
in a vicious cloud of black smog.
Two days of this and I’m off.
My guts are feeling like glue.
So I track down a nurse I met
on the boat (we’re both of us
£10 poms) and I try
to seduce her in Cornwall Park
but she tells me that sex
is tabu. I feel
like asking Big Mo to come over
and show me what to do! Instead
I head back to Wellington’s
big bare hills
and another grotty room. Then
I meet a marching girl
in a tartan skirt
who melts me to the bone. Big
Mo’s gone home. There’s no
landcrab left. But I’ve taken
to saveloys and free-verse
and a Kiwi muse in thigh-high boots
with a baton that twirls and twirls!