Breaking the silence

Breaking the silence


I walk about with ideas in my head, a vague imperative to Leave My Mark On The World, and little to show for it. Until the Ghost of Authorship Past gives me a glimpse of what being a dead famous author might be like.

It’s a shock to me how long this blog has gone without an update. So long, in fact, that the WordPress dashboard has changed, and I can’t even remember what the two drafts sitting here were ever supposed to turn into.

I’ve spent the past few months settling into a new job, which takes a lot of energy even if it’s a good one (which it is).  The past year involved a lot of change – a pay rise followed rapidly by redundancy,  a short stint of teaching, literal bones-of-the-arse panicking, and an employment reprieve – and some new habits.  Kick-starting myself back into a schedule of writing practice has not been one of them.  I walk about, as always, with ideas in my head, a vague imperative to Leave My Mark On The World, and little to show for it.

Late last year the poet David Howard contacted me with an idea for a retrospective look at some of the poetry I used to write 20-odd years ago. It was a intriguing exercise, and also a bit like being dead. You never know what kind of old rubbish might end up being your legacy.  You can read the poems, my commentary, some scene-setting from James Norcliffe and the analysis by Orchid Tierney and David here.

It was enormously humbling, and heartening, to be included in this series.  It’s an odd experience, seeing yourself through strangers’ eyes.

An aspect of the analysis that startled me was the emphasis on sound; I never thought of myself as a spoken-word poet. Like everyone else, I just read the pieces aloud. To be considered a spoken-word artist is particularly weird, because throughout much of my childhood I struggled with speech. I could talk, all right, but far too fast. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher “wittily” told me to slow down, “it’s not a race, you’re not a train”, I’d have – well, nothing, because I’d have spent the kernel of a house deposit on Sante bars and vintage fashion magazines, but you get the idea. I wrote all the time, but I never read aloud. I didn’t think about sound. At least, I didn’t THINK I did.

Somewhere along the line I must have started thinking about cadence. I’ve recommended reading essays and articles aloud for a long time. It’s a great way to pick up awkward transitions and wordy chunks. In retrospect I realise that, up till about 10 years ago, I spent most of my life in jobs where I had to talk to strangers. Something I once hated and feared became pretty easy. Especially when I was writing radio ad copy – the fastest route to client approval is an enthusiastic, rapid read-through over the phone while approximating a radio voice. It sounds like a real ad so they think it must be all right.

It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. I don’t have much desire to revisit poetry in any serious way, but I do want to start producing words. Time to get back into the daily practice, I think.




FLASHBACK: Love ‘n Lazers

In 1988 I was a young, inappropriately dressed reporter on the  Southland Times. When not making cop calls, wrangling unionists and dozing off at  Southland Education Board meetings, I wrote soft and smart-assed colour pieces. Today, unexpectedly – since most of my paper archives met a mouldy end during the quake times– I found some clippings…

It’s Invercargill. It’s the 80s. Internet dating has not been invented. And a reporter – who would subsequently fix changes made by subeditors to her precious copy, in biro – is at the town’s hottest club as Southlanders make … a love connection.

Love Connection goes live


In the smoke and dazzle of a sweaty Lazers Cabaret, eight hopefuls are looking for a shipboard romance.

The DJ’s booth is now the wheelhouse of a luxury liner.

On the back wall an orange sun sinks dreamily behind a cluster of palms.

The bar staff sport crisp nautical uniforms. And on deck, our hosts are reading the rules of the ship.

“Anybody who is not drunk by 10.30 will be thrown over the side!”

Welcome to the Love Boat and to Lazers’ Love Connection.

It’s Wednesday, May 15 and a restless nightclub has packed the small nightclub, eager to see the first episode of Invercargill’s newest dating game.

Afternoon telly fans know the format – contestant A chooses from three potential mates (with help from the audience), goes on a date and then returns to tell them all about it.

Tonight’s crowd won’t hear any gory details, but they do get to help the contestants along, laugh at their mates, and maybe strike it lucky themselves. 

The dance floor clears as MC Dave Connors calls forth Misses A, B and C to the stage.


It’s early yet and they hang their heads and giggle. A screen is lowered and we are introduced to Mr X, whose data sheet claims he looks like Mel Gibson.

He doesn’t.

He too is placed on a stool on the stage, after Dave and sidekick Alan Davis raise the screen just high enough for him to view the misses’ legs (“Whooeer! Should’ve worn a shorter skirt!”)

Mel and the misses are separated by a second screen, the “blind date” approach adding spice to the proceedings.

Unfortunately, Miss A has caught sight of Mel and doesn’t like the look of him. She gives calculated passion-killer answers to all his questions.

“What do you consider the role of a man to be?”

A mentions dog collars and bank accounts and B refuses to answer. Miss C, a demure but sincere sort of woman, replies, “Himself.”

Rapturous applause. Mel is keen but is intrigued by the evasive Miss A. However, that tentative attraction wins through and Mel and Miss C, who will dine romantically at “Highlights” as part of their sponsored date, meet at last.

Neither quite knows what to do. They separate for the safety of friends as soon as they reach the audience.

The lads brush down their acid-wash jackets. straighten Dad’s best tie and leer hopefully around the dance floor.

“Have you ever made lurve in the back seat of a car?” drools a frustrated singer over cowbells and disco beat.

They look embarrassed.

Warmed up

“The next batch will be better,” Dave Connors confides during the break. “They’ll have warmed up more.”

Contestants fill out a personal data sheet which details hobbies and interests as well as vital statistics. The contest organizers try to match “picker” and “pickees” on the basi of what is on these forms.

The next batch is better. This time Miss X is to choose from a bevy of boys, and they are all much more relaxed.

Except Mr B. 

Miss X is in this for laughs – she reveals that friends bet her she wouldn’t – but she asks some tough questions.

Mr A, a compulsive giggler, hopes to meet someone nice.

Tense young Mr B, who immediately wins the audience’s sympathy, is on the lookout for “a relationship”.

The affable Mr C has also entered to have a good time and a bit of a laugh.

“How would you feel about meeting a girl’s family and friends?” asks Miss X.

“I wouldn’t mind, so long as they weren’t girls,” says the motorbike-rider in the line-up.


The audience roars for Mr B, who looks close to fainting. 

But tonight the “Cs” have it and the jokers are united, shy but brave.

All the contestants win flowers, smellies, passes to Lazers and suntan vouchers for their trouble. 

And tonight’s pairs return for the second time in three weeks’ time to discuss their dates.

Later Miss X is seen dancing with Mr A. But Mr C is handing her her flowers and sitting with her friends.

Will attraction bloom for awkward Mel and Miss C among the candles at the Kelvin Hotel? 

Will Miss X and Mr C leave off joking and find true love at Lazers? Or will Miss X run off with Mr A?

Tune in next time….