1. How have you developed your practice as a poet and street merchant?.
Hmmmm. I started as a poet in the mid eighties when I moved down to dunedin. I already had a love of the photocopier machine by then – from the time they filled entire rooms.
I started to write stuff and then later had the audacity to read them out to audiences. Sometime later I developed a method of randomising the order of the poems by letting audience decide numerical sequences – this kind of kept me on my toes and quashed the performing dog syndrome. I released collections of poems almost annually from 1986 to 1992 as short-run chapbooks in a variety of guises and as a bewildering array of presses – Gung Ho, Onecent Press, Fivecent Press, Kitchentable Press….. I edited and produced other poets and writers works, was active in arts collectives 1987-1993 (Chippendale House / Super 8) – usual stuff.
Anyway, to cut a long preamble short, in 2009 I did a short tour with a cabaret troupe and started to make books as merchandising to sell and give away at readings. Geek Prayers had been published a few months earlier by Kilmog Press in dunedin and sold out so I started with that one first. Got a set of ISBN numbers. Worked out that there was a continual (for now) tide of old books such as Readers Digest Condensed novels that were clogging the waste stream. I bench tested in Wellington one weekend and it hasn’t stopped since.
Now, nearly 4 years later, I have over 50 things in print, maybe 30-40 publications available at one time. Mostly they are single sheet poems, A3 sized, glued inside an inside out old RD cover, badly stapled together and then crudely the covers are title-stamped with the rubber stamp pad set. There are 5 collections in that first list of publications – Mixture of Wishes, Kibble, Grist, a reprint of In Overdraft at the Bank of Human Kindness and a soon to hit the streets new collection called Barcode. There’s other projects now on the go too, the Mirror City Letterpress with Rob and Kitty in Oamaru, which is where I will be semibased for a while and the inevitable recording with Chris in NEV…..
The street merchant thing is part of the evolving poetical practice. The readings are now evolving into events where people read 25-50 or so items in multitasking peace. This means I can theoretically be doing readings in many places at once.
The sit on a bench making chapbooks, the public or street poet – these are historic cliches based around earlier poetical arts practice dating back to the 16th century. They help me posit my workplace into a historical context.
I’m anti consumerist and anti mass production – especially of our own cultures. I occupy a niche poetical world where the normal economics suck. I’m not off to a creative writing course any day soon or want / desire an academic outlook. The bench making process is transparent, requiring only commonly available materials and a degree of gumption to face a public. I’m copyleft and not likely to lawyer up over just about anything – everything I make has the ability to be recontexuralised – either re-copied, reused etc.
Street merchantism is hard obviously. I look homeless and poor. Councils harass you for merchandising and not busking (I say I am a street installation artist). I can’t charge a price for the books on the street for that reason so suggest donations or koha or big coins / small notes . Some places are no go zones – Queen Street in Auckland is not allowed but K Road, a mile up the road, is supportive and ok, in Cuba Street I can’t use a bench, etc. Thats why I’m now developing point of sale bricks and toast racks at selected retail outlets. The folks my age don’t get it to see me making/selling on a bench but in a shop the books do fall into the norms of the shopping / buying experience, Street selling is like fishing. Good and bad days. Conversations and no sales, the WTF looks, the starethroughs, the invisibility as you get older and more looking like a refugee from a kurdistan province.
You can read more of this interview at http://puehu.tumblr.com/post/26944239513/david-merritt-an-interview