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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974



'Freeway' the latest collection of poems from motorbike cowboy Peter Olds. It's also the title of the longest poem in the book, an extended sex-drug-v8 narrative; a crazed speed-trip of words:

"Slept in your arms on Pohutakawa tree. Heme Bay, lushed on wine — cock out — dreaming for a fuck up — Woke in the boot of my v-8, that trusty graveyard friend on credit to demons — is this really the 20th century?"

Yes it is; Ponsonby, Grafton, Parnell, Grey Lynn, Boyle Crescent — the dirty side of Auckland, but also of every city; the life that begins at 3am and ends only when the vein gives out. Or in a black-and-red wreck, as in 'A v-8 Poem for Chris Howard'.

In 'Freeway' and other poems. Olds doesn't so much give us the poet's vision as the eye's sight, whether frenzied or simple, the lines are vividly descriptive. Language in 'Freeway' is fresh and often strikingly new. The uncompromising use of 'cock', 'prick' and 'cunt' make the landscape more familiar, while the drug spiel and jargon gives access to a world that is for most of us both repelling and enchanting. 'Freeway' itself:

3am the dead hour begins,
the bells banged by the black angel
of Nembutal. Murder Mile! Murder Mile!

and Karangahape Rd, and Kingseat:

"In Kingseat Villa 4,
I withdraw for the 10th time
The alcoholics wear the wooden floors down till their knees bleed."

But alongside the chaotic reality of crash-pad and drug squad the poet's ordering mind sits awkwardly 'At Wellington Airport' is a trendy bit of self-indulgence, and the dramatic 'Before the Wandering Wind Finally Dies' ("don't throw me anymore questions — I've had enough of your insane bedroom shithouse!") self-aborts with a touch of romanticism that is, nonetheless appealing:

"Alone at last with my friendly friend Paranoia we dance
before the wandering wind finally dies."

No longer at street-level, the poet's eye is often less sharp. Olds makes clever use of simile in 'Beach Poem' to create a landscape that is attractively sensual, and there is a welcome note of beauty in the restrained and delicate 'Huia Beach'. Experience has given the poet a savage honesty: regular visits to a mental hospital bear out the perfect truth of 'Girl from Ward Ten':

"15 & ugly
cars, drug-fumes are out,
a place in the city?
no, she's too ugly."

Finally for Olds, 'Freeway' is 'a technological mistake': society's ("the 99 point 9 who don't understand") final solution to the few — Midnight Queen, Lady Moss, Eagle Angel, Nutmeg and Marie — who pop phensedyl, coedine and mandrake without prescription or care. The underworld-of-the-few that is described for us as vital and true in this mostly-excellent collection of poems. For Olds there is a sense of loss:

......I cried 'where have
all the mothers gone
who swept blood, piss, laughter, gin,
vomit, tears, broken noses, joy
from gutter to new freeway & clay?'

His only answer lies in embrace, an act which, like the poems in this book, offers no real solutions but which affirms life in an intense, almost paradoxical way:

"we crawled under a Freeman's Bay house & loved —
one eye on the howling road —
the other on the shoulder of Freeway.