Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Johnny by John O'Connor

               He travelled the length of the country
giving concerts for penguins

tickets were free - or koha.

The trick was to get them early /
"Give me the chick till the age of seven

& I'll give you the bird!!" he'd say.

Arrhh /
most nights the mosh-pit filled quickly

the eggs were incubated by DOC & CNZ.

as the events were of national insignificance

the media were ecstatic /

they shouted / "A W E S O M E !" the penguins agreed

& came in their thousands across

shark-infested seas.
Years later he recalled it with a sigh when

he and John Campbell learned to reminisce.

They could never get past a gig on
the Auckland Islands

where the band had wept openly

as a Prime Minister's Award was given
to a ship-wrecked professor for a life-time's study of synecdoche

               & alliteration in the love poetry of Johnny Devlin.

from Aspects of Reality (HeadworX, 2013). Reprinted here with the kind permission of the poet and the publisher.

Tuesday Poem Hub Editor: Tim Jones.

I've recently finished and enjoyed John O'Connor's Aspects of Reality, and this poem particularly appealed to me. I like the way it accretes the details of Johnny Devlin's brief but remarkable career as the "New Zealand Elvis" with the arcana of the New Zealand conservation estate.

Johnny Devlin may not be widely known now, but in his heyday he did indeed have a similar effect on New Zealand as Elvis did in the United States. As his Wikipedia entry notes:

Graham Dent was an employee of the Kerridge Organisation which operated a string of theatres and cinemas throughout the country. Dent had been responsible for making the Rock Around the Clock movie successful in the cinemas. He was promoted to manage a new cinema in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier. On Sunday afternoons he ran concerts for the local youth club and talent quests. Recognising Devlin's potential, he organised a concert there. With its success he approached his boss, Robert Kerridge, about the possibility of using their theatre chain to promote a national tour. After some initial doubt, his boss agreed to a two-week tour with extensions if successful.
Dave Dunningham left the management to Phil Warren, so Phil and Graham put together a schedule. Bob Paris and his band weren't keen on going on the road, so a new backing band had to be put together. Dent asked multi-instrumentalist Claude Papesch if he could put a band together. Claude was a sixteen-year-old blind musician, who was a regular at the Point Chevalier youth club. Papesch recruited guitarist Peter Bazely, bassist Keith Graham and drummer Tony Hopkins. Together they became the Devils, one of New Zealand's first truly rock'n'roll bands.
The tour kicked of at Wellington on 21 November 1958. Over the next two weeks he performed for close to 20,000 ecstatic fans in Wellington, Palmerston North,MastertonNapier, Gisbourne and Tauranga. The press raved and chaos broke out at every performance. The shows exceeded everyone's expectations, with New Zealand having never seen anything remotely like it.

According to Wikipedia, Johnny Devlin is still performing in Australia.

John O'Connor: John O'Connor's poetry has been widely published and is represented in Essential New Zealand Poems (2000) and Essential New Zealand Poems: Facing the Empty Page (2014) and other anthologies. His haiku have been internationally anthologized and translated into eight languages. In 1997 he received an Honorary Diploma, "for contribution to world haiku", from the Croatian Haiku Association and in 2001 a Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Tokyo, for "best of issue" in Frogpond International, a special issue of Haiku Society of America's periodical, Frogpond, featuring haiku selected from 52 countries and language communities. In 2000 his fifth book of poems, A Particular Context, was voted one of the best five books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s by members of the New Zealand Poetry Society. He was co-winner of the Open Section of the NZPS International Poetry Competition in 1998 and outright winner of both the Open and the Haiku sections of the same competition in 2006. (thanks to HeadworX for the bio)

This week's editor is Tim Jones, who in addition to co-editing The Stars Like Sand with P.S. Cottier, is author of books including poetry collection Men Briefly Explained (IP, 2011) and short story collection Transported (Random House, 2008). With Mark Pirie, he co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009).


Janis said...

Hurrah for penguins!

Penelope said...

This poem plays around with expectations; deserves several readings.

I must try to find out if the musician is indeed still performing in Australia.

Tim Jones said...

Penelope has sent me a link to an article which does indeed bring us up to date on what Johnny Devlin is doing now - thanks! http://www.thesenior.com.au/Entertainment/Entertainment-News/John-Devlin