new zealand electronic poetry centre


Alan Brunton



A Letter to Sally and Alan

You know, I really wanted to write the perfect memorial for Alan. 

The most beautiful piece of writing that could’ve been written by Alan himself. 

It would have had more wit than you could fit up your sleeve. It would have invoked romance like you wouldn’t believe, and ten heaped tablespoons of pain and love and smoky bars and lacy bras and smooth running cars and it would have been melodramatic and polysyllabic and music to everyone’s ears… 

It would’ve been…

It could’ve been…

I wish I’d been… 

I’m reminded of the movie Amadeus, where Salieri witnesses Mozart and is jealous, because he has witnessed mastery, and in his snobbish way he feels he can see it better than the rest, like all of the best ‘critics’ he ascends himself not by writing great art, but by recognising it. 

Alan, I wish I could write like you, but I can’t, so I’ll have to settle for Plan B and write like me… 

We’ll never know what material Alan had in reserve, and they say that a short life is more poetic but I say that’s absurd, and we know it’s a career move, you know how it goes: increase the legend, the status, but Alan Brunton didn’t need to die young to be considered one of our greatest, and to all the people of my generation that never saw him on the stage, I can be a real snobby fuckwit, say “yeah, I saw him, he was something else, he commanded that microphone like Frank Sinatra on a bad hair day, his voice was like Johnny Cash with irony, a dash of lemon, a dose of pathos, a purple shirt and a whole lotta love…” 

If Alan Brunton were here I reckon maybe he’d recite a tale about a girl from Hokitika who smoked some marijuana and chopped down a pohutukawa to calm her paranoia and then he’d chew on a cigar and whistle us a tune and Sally would come on in a pair of pantaloons and she’d dance like a Caucasian that had had far too much wine, and then she’d sing like Edith Piaf and he’d drink water from a carafe and he’d whisper softly underneath to emphasize her finer points, and she’d sing loudly and he’d smile proudly as he watched her as she belted out the third verse in glorious first person and when she finished they’d stand side by side against an invisible railing and pretend that it was raining and she’d wait for him to give a cue and he’d wait… 

give the moment space, and she’d smile because she couldn’t help it and he’d let out a little smirk and they’d wait together and we’d wait too, no rush… 

and my fondest moments were those little moments as they’d finished one thing, before they moved on to the next, that moment where they looked at each other, and you knew they were right where they wanted to be, on an invisible boat lost in an imaginary sea, somewhere west of Tennerife, due in Antigua in the very next scene, but just waiting here patiently, enjoying each other’s company, and that’s the moment I want to hold forever, preserve in a jar, show it to my Grandchildren and say look how far you can go when you make the things you love with the one that you love and you’re good at what you do and you fall in love with what you do and the ones you do it for are the ones you love the most and for future generations I’ll call this strange sensation the Brunton Rodwell combination, and if you ever get this in your life make sure you spread it round your friends because that feeling is contagious and it really gets you high… 

Alan and Sally
Up a tree
What are they D O I N G?
Is it a statement?
Is it a play?
Why is she wearing that mask on her face?
Why are they laughing?
Why are they there?
Why am I watching them?
Why do I care?
Who are they kidding?
Are they insane?
What’s that prop she’s holding?
Why can’t they get funding?
And why are they laughing?
Can’t they plan a career?
Find something you’re good at,
Then do it over and over?
Why aren’t they performing at the Festival of the Arts?
And why are they laughing?
And look at them dancing!
And what do they do at the Surf Club?
And what’s the next show?
And how many, how many people will go?
Brunton and Rodwell
Up the tree
Making a S C E N E
Why don’t you get a job?
Be responsible
And help yourselves instead of other people?
Haven’t you read the rules?
You’ve done it all wrong.
You’ve made a big mess.
So pack up your toys
And take off that ridiculous dress
And be normal.
Because in this country
We keep that stuff behind closed doors
So stop encouraging people to play their guitars
and their horns and their bells and applying make up and making masks and saving buildings and colleges
and expressing themselves through collages…
Take those smiles off your faces and stop acting like crazies because this is New Zealand and we all like
the same things and the last thing we need is red moles in our faces so do us a favour and no more
charades or parades or poems or silly plays, because this is a nice place just the way it is, and there’s nothing lame about staying the same, so be polite and stay inside and do what you do somewhere we can’t see you and no more brass bands or bongo drums or wet dreams with primal screams or we’ll phone noise control and we’ll cut off your dole, we’ll cut off your dole and there’ll be no more red mole, no more red mole, no more red mole… 

To which I hope Sally replies… “Stick it up your hole. I ain’t finished yet, just you watch me. Just… you… watch… ME.” 

Alan Brunton, you’ve left a big hole in your wake, and like a wise person once thought but never spoke, it takes a special, special man to make a big, big hole… 

And Sally, when you’re ready, I hope you do what feels right, and if you’re feeling up to it, you better believe that we want to be fed more of whatever it is that is filling up your head.   

To know, know, know you, is to love, love, love you, and we do. 


Duncan Sarkies

Wellington, 26 October 2002



Last updated 03 December, 2002