In the Zone by the Alpha Plan

Your future is a junk bond loan,
say monochrome media monotones
datadumping grimbytes by paramilitary drone
on the front step of your no deposit home.
They own the bones
that walk you round this horrordrome
from when you’re small til when you’re grown
and all your neural circuits blown
whence your flesh is soft sweet loam
and stone angels turn from wreckage blown
from nightmare winds that howl and moan.
Pull down the cone, you are alone
In the zone

 

Ambient Terror by the Alpha Plan

a doom pulse on the downbeat

a scream loop on the repeat

a third chance then you’re dead meat

your face sweats wax with cold heat

tribal thunder in the echo chamber of your heart

your chest a hollow drum coming apart

today is finished before you even start

stay under cover if you’re even half smart

caught in the jaws of an amygdala hijack

grinding teeth turning the rack

halfway through a horror attack

by a black hat butcher in a gruesome mind hack

fight or flight, jaws clench, neck tight

barter for silence with coins of bone white

staring down from a terrible height

into a chasm that drops off out of sight

clouded in a nano fog of bad code

no relief in sight, just dread that forebodes

driving your monster with its heavy load

down neural highways on a nowhere road

It sure feels ugly, it feels malign

you’re holding a contract that you never signed

it feels like someone else did the crime

but you are one who is doing the time

The Walking Dead


In this bleak limpet on a blown volcanos lip

there have been those whose shoulders wore a chip,

in past times they have scratched the itch

and in sour verse they had a bitch

and rightly so because it’s required

or else this village makes you tired.

So in respect to those who fought

the fight of warring schemes of thought

I will add a few brief lines

and try to keep it mostly kind.

There is a certain style of bloke

whose inner light is probably broke,

a flat screen holds his eyes on stalks

and he blathers on with grog fueled talk.

He has a team and lurks in a crowd

and sometimes is a bit too loud –

Whaddaya eh? You’re living in Pig Island State

where boys are boys, and mates will be mates.

Yet if his style gives you the creeps

he’ll get a free pass from his peeps

What did she expect from this red blooded stag?

He’s not some mincing PC fag –

It was HER fault, the dirty wench,

so leave our fella on the bench

to sleep off his inner reptile brain

for this basic model feels no shame.

He leads a rather dim lit life

filled with noise and cash and strife,

he listens to the FM buffoons

and cranks up all their shitty tunes

He loves the crook for whom he labours

and thinks his pay check is a favour,

he struts the town tanked up on piss

but finds it hard to land a kiss.

Takes pride in things he doesn’t know,

and swims the way the river flows.

If you feed him pies and games

occasionally some rock star gone lame

he’s happy as a little boy

with a row of matchbox toys.

Votes with the boss and quick to sneer

at greenies, pinkos, blacks and queers

this rugged dude may look self reliant

but everyday is most compliant.

His taste runs to things that make a bang

and drop things dead or go kerrang.

He has some shades and a smartphone,

lives on a card that gives him loans –

he thinks he’s on the winning side

and may think this until he has died,

playing a part that he was handed

with half a brain stamped and branded

he’ll roar with glee about tits and bums

that magnify his cred with chums.

And if some nights he’s so scared he cries

this is something he must hide

from others of his matey clique

because feeling is for weepy chicks.

I’m almost feeling sorry for

this hefty hairy snoring bore,

a real Kiwi through and through

swearing in a McDs queue.

And yet we all share this commonwealth

of moral swamps and rude ill health.

We have to stick it out and to him say,

we don’t like the way you play –

it’s your backward ways we query

because you make things f*****g dreary.

 

The New Zealand Poetry Day

Doctors of lit in sensible shoes,
Rural iconoclasts from the back of Waiku.

Daughters of Polynesia tapping on an iPad,
green ink scribblers who’ve got the bug bad.

Sentimental, romantic or existentialist gloom,
in the House of the Word there are many rooms.

The ghost of James K. wanders George Street
and in neon squiggles a homey rhymez to phat beatz.

Earnest young fellows squinting through spex,
just stick to the landscape and don’t mention sex.

Octogenarian memoirists browse the pastures of youth
and others scratch code on a telephone booth.

Insiders, outsiders and those in between
all play their part on the stage of this scene.

Glossolalians, textophiliacs, poetasters together –
metaphorically speaking, we’re all birds of a feather.

The Sphere

 

Once on, there is no way off.
All paths will cross eventually (in theory),
and gravity clings all to its stony lap.
You often wonder how you got here, or got anywhere.
The answer is never clear.
You walk upon the sphere.

The sphere looks outward,
for its innards are only mineral and hot mud.
There are tasks to be done,
and they are done to varying degrees of success.
Some close to perfection.
We walk upon the sphere.

Our journeys grow longer
but still blink in and out momentarily.
Tasks become ends in and of themselves.
Each day we steal from the sphere.
The weight sucks stronger by the year.

The Brexit (a short analysis in verse)

A human tsunami of Brexicans pours north across the Scottish border,
tax lawyers flee like lemmings through the Chunnel.
NATO warheads swing wildly in ever decreasing circles
while AI checkout machines demand a recount.
The centre will not hold as global markets fold –
origami butterflies squashed flat by the weightless economy.
It’s the pyrrhic revenge of grumpy nanas and chip frying UKippers
over neolib brussocrats and refugee-friendly software developers,
it’s a rising shriek of incoherence translated by Google bots
into free form hate speech and social media mind rot.
Barbed wire fences are erected at Ibiza International Terminal
to hold back surging crowds spilling from budget airliners,
carrying their worldly goods wrapped up in a St George’s flag.
The Mediterranean is drained like a dirty bath,
revealing the legendary continent of Atlantis reborn
to the phat beats of Rule Britannia grime core stylez.
The Thames Estuary drowns under a rising tide
0f ciggie ends swirling in an ocean of flat lager,
the sterling is pegged to the drachma and hung out to dry,
the map of empire is fractured into a thousand competing caliphates,
periphery splinters from hub, down on lucks from in crowds.
Globalisation is sucked into a revolving black hole of hubris
and spat out in a prechewed clot of social glue.
Dave Cameron is smeared like a imploded gnat across the windscreen
as the train of history chunters on into a black tunnel,
gathering speed to the rude chant of a choir of football hooligans.

The Bricks That Built The Houses

THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES
By Kate Tempest
(Bloomsbury/Allen & Unwin)

Kate Tempest is a multi-platform wordsmith working across poetry, music and drama.

Her poems are visceral incantations, challenging and cathartic, and her literary persona is part shaman and part spoken word stand-up, mashing punk attitude with MC skills.

She is also a carrier of the flame for old-fashioned lyrical traditions.

In her debut novel, the London-based writer returns to characters and stories from her poems and songs, detailing a world she inhabits and observes.

It’s not tidy, or relaxing: each paragraph seems to sweat out anxiety, dysfunction, Trouble with a capital T.

Nothing good lasts, and life is stretched to breaking point in the daily grind for millennials south of the river, patching together lives among the detritus of a postindustrial economy.

The focus is on two lead female characters, Becky and Harry, their complicated friendship and their developing relationship.

Becky is nearing her late 20s, trying to hold on to a fading dream of becoming a professional dancer.

Harry is absorbed in a quest to accumulate enough funds to finance a new life.

These ambitions, or dreams, lead them into dark places in an equally sinister and banal underworld of high-end drug dealing and clandestine sex work.

They are the most convincing identities in this novel: damaged, volatile, but driven by some kind of internal agency.

Males swim in and out of focus, less sympathetically.

Becky’s sometime boyfriend Pete (Harry’s brother) is a bundle of swarming neuroses snowballing towards disintegration.

Leon is a cool-dude partner in drug crime, waiting to sweep in and rescue Harry when her coke deals turn bad.

In true old-school rock style, this novel was apparently written in the back of a tour van, which may account for its changes in gear, and some second-tier characters who circle the edges of the plot like Dickensian ciphers.

The narrative moves between the past and the present, excavating around the jagged edges of fractured families through the generations.

The tension seems to relax in the concluding chapters, a slow-burning comedown concluding the jangled amphetamine paranoia of the preceding text.

What’s the payoff?

The poet’s language that seeps up through the narrative, the quiet observations that are slipped between the action set pieces.

In the end, the strongest character is London itself, its “cameras like crows on top of the fencing”, among the “hum of the endless houses”.

Tempest’s intensity is defined by her language, and her sudden, clear-eyed vision of life, compressed into electrifying imagery.

High expectations come with the territory. Kate Tempest’s talents are not on full display in the novel format, yet it points towards a developing potential.

Originally published in the Otago Daily Times, 6 June 2016.

Dr Will Martin writes on the cyber punk poetry of Victor Billot

Guest post by Dr Will Martin

Whether it be rapping lines of verse, standing on a soapbox or playing bass in a punk rock band, Dunedin poet Victor Billot has always had something provocative to say about the source of global inequality in our media-saturated, capitalist society. Although many readers will already be familiar with Billot as a political candidate for the left-wing Alliance Party, fewer will be aware that he also played a significant role in post Dunedin Sound bands such as Age of Dog and Das Phaedrus in the early nineties. In more recent times, Billot has reinvented himself as a poet displaying considerable literary technique, writing two collections of verse that focus on the effects of new technologies on human consciousness in the age of the Internet and Social Media. Currently working on a new book of verse to complete the trilogy started with Mad Skillz for the Demon Operators (2014) and Machine Language (2015), Billot is now unleashing his unique brand of cyberpunk poetry onto the live music scene scene, rapping a number of poems alongside local jazz band the Bill Martin Trio at The Dog with Two Tails café this Saturday night.

Considering his background in Dunedin “post-punk” rock bands, it is perhaps fitting that Billot’s new verses follow in the footsteps of “cyberpunk” writers such as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, writers who have meditated on the powers of new interactive media technologies to transform the structure of society, consciousness and the limits of the human body. In Billot’s latest poem “Ambient Terror” – which will be showcased at the gig this Saturday – the cyberpunk theme is announced with a rhyming meditation on the hypnotic power of a Roland Drum Machine, “a doom pulse on the down beat” reverberating through the chamber of the human body as a “tribal thunder in the echo of your heart”. Just as electronic dance music has the ability to capture your soul with its complex overlaid rhythms, Billot compares the ideological power of a TED-talk or “mind-hack” to a computer program that invades our neural network, suggesting that we might be “caught in the jaws of an amygdala hijack”; a cryptic allusion to a biomechanical computer virus which controls the processing of information between left and ride sides of the human brain. While the tone of such poems might appear to be overly pessimistic, the verbal gymnastics involved in the construction of such poetry is playful and entertaining, constantly delighting us with witty parallels between the real world and its hyper-real computer simulation. Audiences can look forward to the relentless rhythms of encrypted lines rapped to the sound of an improvised drum-beat:

clouded in a nano fog of bad code
no relief in sight, just dread that forebodes
driving your monster with its heavy  load
down neural pathways on a nowhere road.

As a ‘punk’ musician and ‘cyperpunk’ poet, Billot operates as a “hacker of words”, challenging the meaning of phrases as they are shaped by spin-doctors in the public sphere and later rehashed by the masses in the blogosphere. Drawing on his own experience as a communications professional for the New Zealand Maritime Union, Billot reflects ironically on the power of spin-doctors to shape the consciousness of the nation. Billot’s main targets for satire are the political elites and the stream of information they use to keep our heads figurative in the clouds, yet the poet’s verbal pyrotechnics imitate the very propaganda that has become the subject of critique. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the leading lyric from Billot’s first volume of verse, “Land of the Long White Encrypted Cloud”, a poem which compares the virtual domain of “cloud” computing to the real terrain of politics in New Zealand. Reworking headlines engineered by “press secretaries” and “demon operators” to manipulate the masses, Billot constructs a pastiche of catch phrases that paints a disturbing satire of political discourse in Aotearoa:

Flat lining on the level playing field, buzzed on dairy futures
the rock star economy is lying comatose backstage,
tattooed with sponsored e-ink barcodes.

From his staunchly Marxist perspective, Billot presumably believes that New Zealand lacks a solid manufacturing sector to underpin the economy, painting the picture of a “Protein Republic” that remains wholly dependent upon financial speculation on the price of powdered milk on the global market. Laughing at our religious devotion to the pronouncement of the official cash-rate – as if the conservative technocrats have no power to intervene in the “free market” – Billot suggests that the titans of the entertainment industry are now in Kahoots with the NZ political elite who have attempted to control the domain of cyberspace with legislation such as the so-called “three strikes” copyright amdendment act of 2011. Such paradoxes are best exemplified by the bizarre biography of exiled internet Billionaire Kim Dot Com, whose attack on John Key’s credibility over the issue of cyber-surveillance led ironically to an increase in support for the conservatives in the 2014 election. In the prophetic words of poet:

The Central Committee streams a live feed
direct from the rumpus room of the dot com mega mansion,
going out in a razzle dazzle of fruit loop tweet bombs
denouncing Islamophobia in Eketahuna,
before uploading to a secure folder
in the land of the long white encrypted cloud.

As a Joyce scholar and reader of Finnegans Wake, I was instantly impressed by the verbal wordplay contained in collections such as Machine Language, and could see the political relevance of the poetry to anyone who participates in meaning-making in the world of social media (is there anyone who doesn’t?). While the tag of being “self-published” might be taken as a criticism by someone seeking to become part of the literary establishment, Billot is the proud owner of his literary estate and sees the rise of print-on-demand services as the perfect medium for putting out his curious form of anarchic verse. While he remains critical of the power of the social media to distract the consciousness of its users – whose Facebook feeds are constantly being bombarded with political memes, glowing selfies and advertisements for dating sites – he nevertheless sees the internet as a medium for self-expression for artists who refuse to conform to the logic of the publishing industry. As a punk musician, furthermore, Billot believes that the performance of poetry can transcend its publication on the printed page, providing listeners with a unique experience that cuts through the wall of white noise. Considering the emphasis on rhyme and rhythm, Billot’s lyrics lend themselves to collaboration with jazz musicians, the improvisation of each cadence filling the space created by the interaction of piano, bass and drums.

Billot traces his passion for the performative side of poetry to his career as a punk musician in Dunedin during the early nineties. “I was writing all the time I was involved in music,” reflects Billot, “from when I was a teenager. My themes have stayed the same. In terms of how the two feed into each other, I think that with the poetry I approach it subconsciously looking more at rhythm and rhyme, colourful, with impact, reflecting the type of music I was into. It also means that for some, not all, of the poetry I approach it with a live presentation potential in mind. Any readings I do I tend to see more as a “gig” than a reading.” Similarly, he links the provocative side of his verse to the attitude of punk music, with its obvious disdain for the values of the establishment: “I think early on I picked up on the punk attitude that you didn’t need permission to try these things, that is one attitude that has stayed with me, even as I turn into a sedate middle aged character. Song lyrics tend to be influenced by the music, sometimes simpler, although some critics have in the past hated my more literary style of lyrics. Others like them. Who knows.”

As a former candidate and current member of the Alliance Party, Billot feels an immediate sympathy for the working class, and he links his preoccupation with the plight of the poor and unemployed to his own background in a migrant family. “My background is what I would call respectable working class, my parents perhaps a little unusual as they were into some artistic pursuits and quite open minded. My dad is from Jersey. I get on with them really well, my political views crystallized at a time of big change in NZ society, changes which in many ways hurt or disadvantaged working class people, because I saw my parents as quite hard working, responsible people, and they were having trouble with work and jobs, I reacted against that. In terms of where the poetry is aimed at, the honest response is that in the first instance I am writing it for myself, if other people find something in it all the better.”

Billot explores the plight of the disadvantaged in “Dark Water”, a poem which addresses many of the poor souls whom have been left behind by the Global economic system, whether it be the unemployed, the mentally ill, a victim of war or an asylum seeker. Staging a terrifying conversation between the voice of the Neo-Liberal state and a group refugees drowning in the water, Billot begins each stanza with the brutal refrain: “There is nothing here for you.” Putting the reader in the position of the drowning child, these words capture the territorial warfare waged between nation states at the level of the human body – some people have the right to be “here”, others are simply not recognized by the system, and are left to rot in refugee camps. Water, the very medium of life on earth, no longer signifies sustenance to the hundreds of thousands of refugees dispersed throughout Europe and the Middle-East, but rather a poisonous substance that infects everything and sucks the life-blood out of it. As Billot puts it, “Dark water draws the warmth from life | Dark water fills out hearts”.

Billot is particularly concerned that the so-called “social media” generation have become disengaged from politics, their obsession with selfies and sound-bites obscuring any real engagement with the reality of being a worker in the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, Billot sends his own verses into the sea of information in the hope that audiences might find a gem amongst the dross: “In terms of a youth audience it’s a difficult one as the youth who are struggling the most will have little connection with poetry and the more well off educated segment probably identify less with the themes. However I am a political poet, I am inspired and motivated by public poetry that deals with the world as opposed to interior reflection. I don’t think there is one mode that is superior but I think New Zealand writers and art in general has a very weak relationship with the public sphere and politics for some reason, especially the modern generation. There of course major exceptions. In the new generation, it interests me how a lot of the political poetry is actually coming out of the hip hop/spoken word scene which is a non-academic, culturally diverse and more working class scene I guess.”

Billot’s playful poetry embodies the contradictions of consciousness in the age of the Internet and Social media, for his own puns and portmanteaus can be interpreted as digital icons and soundbites that compete for our attention in the stream of information. In “The 21st Century Book of Doom”, Billot links our total immersion in cyberspace to the construction of a doomsday machine that will create a total separation between the simulated computer reality and the world of the flesh. Such poems riff on themes already developed by the Wachovski brothers in The Matrix, yet the motifs of computer-simulated paranoia are updated for a generation haunted by sentient spam-bots and military drones in the post 9-11 era. In “Time Travellers”, Billot takes a more sympathetic view of the hipster generation, the young who are intellectually aware of global inequality, but too green to have experienced the harsh reality of unemployment or the burden of responsibility. The voice of the poet appears as one of “us”, struggling to find identity and authenticity in a world that no longer offers a stable here and now. In this poem, the central metaphor is the “stream” of time; but rather than functioning as a metaphor for the ever-changing structure of consciousness, the river is the endless movement of the city, whether it be the crowd of pedestrians crossing busy streets or automobiles circumnavigating the CBD.

We’re time travellers slipping through evenings and dawnings
and when you’re eighteen you don’t hear shadowed warnings
because you’re in the new and this new has not yet bruised
due to the world and its schemes that transpose the dreams
from rush of hot blood to the ash and the dusts
the world vacuums up and spits back in our cups.

The label of “time travellers” here pertains to those who are constantly experiencing the loss of history, immersed in a flood of cultural commodities that lack any intrinsic references to an historical period or style.

In many ways, Billot’s verses can be seen as a much-needed corrective to the tendency of many contemporary poets to focus on their own private emotions and experiences. Although Billot remains critical of excessive navel-gazing in poetry, he links his own engagement with politics to the success of other local poets who have expressed their views in verse: “I do see this as an issue in NZ writing and culture, although if you look at people like Hone Tuwhare, Baxter and Glover they did some great political or social poetry. Especially in New Zealand music, perhaps more so in white rock music, there has been a horror of trying to say anything about the world, the idea is to string together some mumbling about your “feelings” that is so oblique as to be meaningless, and I have a tendency to run against the grain, so I have reacted against that. Everything has its place, for example one of my favourite bands is Bailter Space, whose lyrics are often buried beneath waves of guitar and are these dream like repetitions of words about space, machines or the future – and it works. I don’t have much to do with the writing establishment, or at least they don’t have much to do with me, so can’t really say why it often seems little insipid. I am a bit of a fringe dweller, which in some ways I prefer but it would be nice to get some more sales and profile of course.”

Victor Billot reads poems and collaborates with the Bill Martin Trio this Saturday Night (April 23) at the Dog with Two Tails Café, 25 Moray Place. The poet will sign copies of his two published collections, Mad Skillz for the Demon Operators and Machine Language.

Will Martin is a professional jazz pianist, English teacher and author who writes about the intersection between music and literature in the age of Internet and the cyber society. He holds a PhD in English from the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and is the author of Joyce and the Science of Rhythm (Palsgrave & MacMillan, 2012)

Will Martin is the leader of the “Bill Martin Trio”, a Dunedin based jazz ensemble that features the elements of piano, bass and drums. His band plays every Friday night at Carousel Lounge Bar and regularly features guest soloists.

A short history of The Future

In order to commemorate the Flag Referendum, a new low in New Zealand’s political incoherence, mashing up neoliberal branding by clip art, patriotic zealotry for a nation of post colonial amnesiacs, and a general sense of sourness, a nation building exercise turned feral …. a poem for the times.

In the fifteenth year of the new millennium,
we will be monitored by virtual pins stuck in Google Maps
while the national insecurity is measured in terror bytes,
lorded over by the eye in the sky Pry Minister.

The State is a self-select committee of corporate Boy Racers
doing it for the lolz and drifting into the economic gravel,
while Leader of the Opposition: Your Choice is secretly pre-filmed
for streaming on X Factor with final decision by 0900 viewer poll.

Smug hipsters facebook for a frack free future
from organic iPads manufactured from flax root and sunflower seed.
The national bull rush team is first amongst equals,
beating out South Vanuatu in extra time,

while the old timers croak Go West young man
as Kiwi refugees flood into Sunshine Coast retirement camps
or telecommute to the Outer Pilbara
from Kaikohe, Johnsonville and Geraldine.

The Trans Pacific data artery is clogged
by fibre optic broadband botulism
as crisis response mobilizes crack focus groups in social media rebrands
to placate the prosumers of our white gold.

In a DIY nation of passionate foodies and celebrity nobodies,
climbing financial snakes and property ladders,
to be initiated in the Reality CV of self-improvement gurus
where who you are is defined by who you want to be.

Te Wai Pounamu is given over to platinum class luxury lodges
(overlooking canals of deodorised effluent)
so the Chief Operating Officers of the weightless economy
can score a hole in one from the summit of Mitre Peak.

All we can do is thumb twiddle YOLO furiously
from inside the GFC car wreck,
deregulated, desensitised, dumbed up and sold out,
reciting the Prayer of Public Private Partnership:

Give us this day our Daily Weetbix,
Give us this day the Cup, the Shield, the Glory;
kids locked in the subterranean car park of Sky City,
100% pure, yeah right, yeah nah,

while an invisible hand remotely controls
the eyeballs of couch bound supplicants.

(First published in Mad Skillz for the Demon Operators.)