Failing to notice (cold, cold) reality


  1. Writing an adventure story
  2. My seventh form art folio
  3. Being a rock star
  4. Looking cool
  5. Being a poet
  6. Being a playwright
  7. Being an academic
  8. Writing a novel
  9. Having a wildly successful blog

Here is a dull way to start a post:

It shows unemploment rates in  New Zealand from 1986 to 2009.  The green  line is the unemployment rate for people over 19 years  of age, and the blue line is the youth unemployment rate.  As it happens this is a very important piece of information when it comes to my life story.

When I finished  high school at the end of 1990 I decided that I would get a part time job, save some money, and then go to France.  I would do this with a friend of mine,  and while we were in France we would get part time jobs, travel and I would do things like write poetry.   As you can see  this was a cast-iron, well thought out and totally idiot-proof plan firmly based in reality.  Without going  into all of the reasons that this was never, ever,  ever going to work, let’s go back to the graph.

With the exception of right now, the worst time for a youth to look for a job in the last twenty-five years was between  1991 and 1995.  In 1991 I was a fellow with no work experience, questionable fashion sense, a quiet and mumbly personality, and bursary.  The amazing  thing  is that I actually got two job interviews.  One was for the Government Press, and the other for a travel agency.   I was unsuccessful in both cases.  This little brush with job  hunting taught me  two things about failure.  Firstly, you really need to be aware of  your environment before you pour your energies into a project.  It would have been useful for me to have read the newspaper in 1991 and discover the youth unemployment rate’s historic high.   Secondly, on the whole if you are going to do well in something  you need to be able to sell yourself to a certain extent.  This was surprising  new information for me in 1991.  I suppose I had envisaged life as being a series of opening  doors, and was shocked to discover that  you not only had to get off your arse and go and knock at doors yourself, but that most of those doors would remain closed,  and  if they opened at all it would only be a crack and you would have to talk your way in.

So I did what  any sensible chap would do at this point: I went  back to school and stayed there for a long  time.

Actually looking back on these six months at the beginning of 1991 I think I learned a lot about life.  I was on the dole at that time.  I sometimes have students at  my school who tell me they are going to leave school when they are 16 and go on the dole and that it will be sweet getting free money for doing nothing.  In my experience  it was sweet  for about a month and then it was crap.  Mainly it was crap because I had dreams (the  go to France thing), and the dole in no way allowed you access to those dreams, but it was also crap because I lost touch with all of my friends who were off doing exciting things at university while I went stagnant, and  because reporting to my Employment Officer at Work and Income, and looking through the  job listings,  and  getting rejection letters every week was a soul destroying process that made me feel worthless.

Nevermind, in these difficult times before I scurried off to university halfway through 1991, I had recourse to poetry.  For some reason I have  kept the notebook where I wrote out all of the “good” copies of my poems from this time.  My god it is bad.  Bad,  bad,  bad.  It is so bad I hestitate to put any of it here, but this would be cheating.  So here we go.  Two representative pieces.  I had only two themes it would seem (both cliched).  One was unrequited love, and the other was generalised anger at society and feeling that life was meaningless.

Untitled (II)

Do you watch  the games I play            (soccer?)

Did you see what I say                             (did I what now?)

I felt like falling at your feet

If I thought you would see                  (but otherwise forget it)

I can say I love you today

And wait and see what you say

If I’m waiting it’s raining

May I stand in your eyes and shine?      

 (sound of retching from audience)

Sorry.  One  more.  This one is about being misunderstood (man).

I believe

Don’t you come across trying to analyse me

I’m a man  that’s  all I’ll ever be

I don’t even know who I am

How can  you pretend to understand?

Don’t give me your meaningful stares

I’ve got passions, more than you could bear

I feel like a stone with a heart inside

I’m burning up but I’m cold in your eyes.

Oh  boy. 

Firstly let me say that these poems are not addressed to anyone in particular.  Not the horrible, vomit-inducing “love” poem, or the laughable crappiness of the nobody-understands-me poem.  My favourite line is “I’m a man that’s all I’ll ever be”.  It makes me laugh out loud every time I reread it.  The follow up line  is pretty good too giving us the one-two punch  of “this is what I am/I don’t know what I am”.  I also quite like how both poems really rise to the occasion at the end.  That whole rain/shine, stone/heart, burning/cold thing is awesome.

The failure here  is clear.  It is the inexperienced writer resorting to hackneyed ideas.  I abandoned poetry and went into lyric writing  at which I was a bit better  (but not much).

Many years later I went on a creative writing  course  for secondary school students and  their teachers.  Before we went we were asked to write a poem  about a piece of clothing,  and a short story about an animal.  When we  were  there we were split into groups and shared our poems  and stories with each other.  I am a great fan of the poem  I wrote for this exercise, which coincidentally was  about the period that I have covered in the last couple of posts and the leather jacket I am wearing in the Jim Morrison post.  I was sufficiently encouraged by my peers to send it off to a literary magazine, but it was rejected – “quite good of its type, but not original” – which was wounding  enough  for me to retreat completely from the field.  Handling rejection is another thing I am bad at, and a very important  thing you can  learn  from  failure, but this will be in the next post.

Anyway, here is the poem.

I loved my leather jacket

I gave it to my now vanished friend

back when I was a lizard 

king,  back when I  thought

I could do anything

before I got fat, old and bald

before I found I was not at all

the hooligan  I wanted to become

but preferred quiet nights in


10 thoughts on “Failing to notice (cold, cold) reality”

  1. “back when I was a lizard king”

    I knew it!!! You WERE a dinosaur!!!!

    I agree with Richard (of RBB) the poems weren’t bad.

  2. I find this interesting (not the poems obviously) that you have kept such things.
    I’ve lost or not bothered with all the interesting things from my youth. Do you access the Alexander Turnbull Library for them or are they all in a big cardboard box in the basement?

  3. I have been looking forward to this post, and I have to say, JP, I am a little disappointed. I was expecting much, much worse. Teen angst poetry is supposed to be awful. Teenagers who write good poetry are weird, and probably will never grow up. Though possibly I like to believe this, because my teen angst poetry was awful too.

  4. Curmudgeon – box in the wardrobe. Naturally I will donate it to the National Archives when the time is right.

    Helen – I have a whole book of this stuff. I almost can’t recognise the person who wrote it. Whatever happened to that Wellington(?) girl who got a poetry collection published and Bill Manhire said was good? Was her name Laura?

  5. I’ve been joking for some years about publishing an anthology of teen angst poetry – by teenagers, for teenagers. At least I think it’s a joke. One day maybe I actually will.

    Laura Ranger is the child poet you’ll be thinking of – not that she’s a child anymore. A bit of googling let me know that she was a PhD candidate in criminology in 2009, and didn’t seem to be publishing poetry. Laura’s Poems came out when she was 11. Here’s Bill Manhire’s introduction to her book, if you’re nosey:

  6. I listened to a radio interview with Laura Ranger. She is quite extraordinary – very clever without being precocious. Her poetry is good.

  7. Sounds like another book: child poets.

    Yes, I remember that her poems were good just that it made me insanely jealous and I couldn’t admit it.

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