‘I like to think of myself as the James Brown of New Zealand poetry’, admits the poet, who has been known to start performances to cries of ‘I feel good!’ from the audience. James is a fan of the more ludic corner of postmodernism, the kind advocated by American Don Barthelme.
He near defines co-imagination as: ‘showing rather than telling, indirectness rather than directness, ambiguity and possibility rather than bare facts. Good writing requires the reader’s imagination to participate in the production of meaning’.
He is not only a wizard when it comes to using found aesthetics for poems, but also a dab hand at spotting a bargain: ‘I often go to the New World supermarket in Island Bay. I consider myself an expert; the best deals are always at the bottom.’
He defends poetry’s humble perceptive position outside the marketing continuum, often leading to a preference for scenarios of a mysterious super-real simplicity: ‘Poetry is divorced from the normal systems of exchange; it’s sort of outside of them in a way. And that’s its strength and its weakness. Although some poets are tyrants, frustrated tyrants really, give them an uzi and………They would like their poems to be rules that everybody lived by, I am certainly not that way. I rather like the fact that poetry is kind of ineffectual.’ In his poetry this factual rather than romantic take on the poet as an exceptional outsider with a beneficial defamiliar distance is condensed in the final lines of Pond Life:
what I am
gathers no moss.
I have nothing
James Brown (1966 – ) is a Wellington poet. James was the recipient of a 2000 Buddle Finlay Sargeson Writers Fellowship and was the 2001 Canterbury University Writer in Residence. Brown’s first collection of poetry, Go Round Power Please (1995) was shortlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and won the Best First Book of Poetry in 1996 and he was the 2004 Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence. His most recent volume The Year of the Byicycle is a finalist in the 2007 Poetry Awards.
A guy at school once
told me how he’d buy winegums
for 2 cents each and
sell them to his
little sister, who wasn’t allowed
out to the dairy,
for 4 cents each.
If it was raining – 5 cents.
That about covers it, he said.
The local Anglican church
offers the cheapest photocopying
in the neighbourhood
at ten cents a copy.
But for forty crumpled sheets
you are charged six dollars.
The embarrassed administrator
explains how it’s ten cents for parishioners
and fifteen cents for … ‘others’.
She jokes awkwardly about whether
this constitutes a prejudice
and says you can give what you have.
But you think the rule is fair enough:
you have to pay for your sins
and at fifteen cents a page
the rates remain competitive.