new zealand electronic poetry centre


P A M   B R O W N 

Tapa Notebooks


Pam Brown is a dedicated professional amateur. Her eighteenth slim volume, Missing up, was published by Vagabond Press in December 2015. A bilingual edition of her poems, Alibis, translated into French by Jane Zemiro, was published by Société Jamais-Jamais in 2014. Pam is a contributing editor for several magazines and independent publishers. Most recently for Vagabond Press where she edited ten international poetry titles - the 'deciBels' series - in 2014.

Tapa 2013

Title page 2013 p16 poetry today & Boofhead/Buster Keaton collage p19 poem & John Cage & Yoda
p20 distraction & digression p21 The Taps p22 The Taps









I was privileged to be invited to spend the month of September 2013 as a Distinguished Visitor at the University of Auckland. During my time there I stayed on campus in a large apartment on the middle floor of the fading colonial splendour of the Old Government House. The building was inhabited by a few guests, a few ghosts and an elegant cat, Governor Grey, named after George Grey, the late nineteenth century governor and premier of New Zealand. I was at the University of Auckland to give a couple of talks and readings, visit English Department classes and participate in a symposium on Poetry as Social Action organised by nzepc.

The beginning pages of the tapa notebook are from my first brief trip to Auckland eight years earlier. In 2013 the notebook was retrieved from the university library and I made some additions. Boofhead, Buster Keaton and John Cage piggybacking his friend Yoda reflect my attitude to any scene of literati in general and my use of montage and collage reflect my process (often one of distraction & digression) in making a poetic gesture in a world that sometimes seems to have gone to hell in a handbasket. The inside out umbrella/nikau simply illustrates New Zealand's always surprising weather.

I wrote a poem in the Old Government House called 'The Taps'. It attempts a kind of notational encapsulation of my various experiences of Auckland and Matapouri on the north east coast. The first version of  'The Taps' is included in the tapa notebook.


Pam Brown Reads in Devonport, 18 February 2015

Tapa 2005


Australian poet Pam Brown made her first trip to New Zealand 12-16 September 2005 to read and talk at the University of Auckland. She spoke about the poetry scene in Australia, and later wrote up the talk for ka mate ka ora. She also recorded seven poems for nzepc archives (video and texts below) and was presented with a Tapa Notebook. Pam Brown is associate editor of Jacket and Australian co-editor for Poetry International.


Pam Brown reading at UoA 14 September 2005

Statement on poetics

A benign compulsion nudges my writing practice. The process is to track lines of thought, to collect and record glimpses, to use snatches of language and try to place them at a slant to a linear norm. I write poetry in the shadows of the twentieth-century post-Modernist idea that after the A-bomb, linearity is anachronistic. Generally though, my continuing aim is intelligibility.

The eruption of innovation in poetry (& every other art-form) in the 1960s, in tandem with a new wave of global politicisation, influenced my generation irrevocably.

For poetry to exist in corporatised western societies, whose undeniable context is power, it has to be sceptical of the status quo, questioning, probably experimental, or at least apply an unanticipated use of language and form – that is, be interesting to be poetic.

Poetry might bring me into nuanced engagement (with a reader). It’s a risky means of making an encounter accompanied as it is by all the doubtful artifice, murmurings and disruptive stuttering of that desire.

My topic is local. The poems rarely leave whatever street I’m on. They are as mobile and as mutable as my daily life.

My attitude, anti-Wordsworthian in a way, can be summed up by a stanza from Joachim du Bellay’s sixteenth-century ballad The Regrets:

Now I forgive the delicious lunacy
Which made me use up all my best years
Without my work bringing any advantage other
Than the pleasure of a long delinquency.



Funk descending
          for Eileen Myles

a wobbly
new world declaration,
I’ve ordered fireworks
& méthode champenoise,
my soubrette’s
been crossed out !
(the mini-series’s set
in an insurance agency)

like grumpy
Jurgen Habermas,
I feel a funk
I miss whisky too,

on Ritalin,
banished by
Ma Po’s tofu’s
in the museum
I stand before
an activity station
& make a wish -
hexed by
an unexpected
power surge

we were all
brought up on
I Love Lucy
wherever we lived,
new worldlies.

every gym buddy
produces a steroid rage
when the strategic plan
becomes the mission statement -
        Our values
        Our vision
        Our mission

in a parallel universe
I’ve ordered a thought-burger.


20th century

When the couch became a sofa
we sat down in front of pay-TV
& replaced our ‘hmmm’ with ‘wow’ -
It’s all just clothes, makeup and hair.
And as we were the tootlers,
we tootled along to the popular
anytime anyplace big brown & orange
inflatable bouncy castle to contest
the awards for untrammelled enthusiasm.



In The New Berlin

it was sad & not so beautiful
between two worlds when jazz
& soul & funk & the Marshall
Plan were going strong
elsewhere & what we had
was communism here
& capitalism there


a sudden storm
turns the street
Gerhard Richter fuzzy,
passengers in yellow trams
stare at us, huddling in a doorway,
the Kantstrasse sign
wobbling in the wind


it seems so complex      & so
terrific       through the smoky air
in the wine-glossed movie-looped
writers’ cabaret at the Podewil
on Klosterstrasse just opposite
the corner of Parochialstrasse,
where dotcom beauties lounge


with the advent
of re-invention,
Nina Hagen, like
Wilhelm Reich,
the orgone box man
    ( but was he
      German ?
      as German as Walter Abish
     [ a literary joke]  
      no, he was Austrian.)
these days believes in UFOs


Jane & Ulrich, enjoying
diet Coke & discourse
at the spicy Merhaba,
consider the semiotics
of Kreuzberg’s satellite dishes,
like po-mo decorations
on plain apartment blocks,
each pointing
in a different direction




little delirium the first

a woozy clarity
all liars -
a nettle lozenge
in peril
of being
found out
(the lowest fear)
& so intensely
maybe       you'll
with each fresh glass
of vile verdelho
& you make
a dark confession
I'd prefer
not knowing


little delirium the second

is nearly
as bad as
a eurovision song contest -
an awful something
grips the crowd
which, turning ugly,
a feathery-minded
his proleptic vision
to a world
of shrunken
everyone's called
& you have to
bring a plate


little delirium the third

a Tibetan jalopy
rolls across
the silvery sky,
the Sea of Tranquillity
& those
make you sick,
your stability
like a stinking
puffy fungus


Another think coming

on time,
speeding into the cold shade
in the mica-blue daihatsu,
hailstone dings patched
with felt-tipped pens
and nail polish,
towards York Street,
the only street
left standing
after two centuries
of demolition –   
its sandstone Victoriana
like a row
of determined invalids
suddenly brought into daylight,
stunned in a gone world.

cement-dusted street corners
draped with orange vinyl netting -
framing the unannounced return
of Bert Flugelman’s
silver shish-kebab.

an un-hoped-for cityscape -
two clocks
on the same building
displaying different times

having,          so far,
dodged all civics conferences -
now, punctually, I attend
seminar rooms -
a beautifully literal
painted-on patinae
of grime and cracks.

buoyed by
this flâneur
drives everywhere,
imaginary ram-raider
skittling that bricoleur
clutching a fascinating
collection of spoils
in a palm organiser.

attention,       attention ,
    may I have your

sorry                 no -
I’m reviewing a few
windows of opportunity
from my workstation desktop,
on the actual desk –
the pale golden colour
of white ginseng
steaming in a china cup
perched on a silvery
compact-disc coaster,
screwed-up pages, red ball-point,
small black radio emitting news -
political party supporters’ dreams
weakened by boom time fluctuations
like comets in a spin  

were ‘we’
not to apply
serious scholarship
to metro profit margins’
most pressing questions -
‘we’ might find ‘we’
another think coming.

money now
determines class,
focus, promise, function
& an era
of boredom
tolerated by
the middle classes

mistaking the ruins
for decoration
the dig reveals
bits of polyvinyl chloride,
ribbons of audio tape,
the usual aluminia –
the site becomes a museum,
the souvenir shop’s
elegant glass counters
house miniature replications
of christianity’s clean spires
carefully erected by
gigantic Russian helicopters
in time for the international
sports event
some time back
in the year 2000


In europe

I’m leaning
on a pillar
under a high
squinch arch,
brown leaves
swirl along
the colonnade,
dust my sandals.
dear palermo,
bella palermo,
dear trastevere,
I’m covered
in commas,
I’m wasting water
cool chalky water
I’m letting it flow,
I’m in science road
by the sandstone
devil fountain
that spouts a trickle,
I’m walking up
viale di trastevere,
I point
to my ‘wound’
my shoulder
my ‘sin’       like
an early christian
for a living,
bones bound
with fraying rags.
my one year
in a thousand years,
dear chrono,
your iron cross
upright atop
a potshard hillock,
I’m there
on the summit,
it’s flat like a mesa,
there I imagine
my balm,
my beauties –
in a kitchen
in europe,
the harissa
in europe
white tiles
to the ceiling,
a sprinkling
of soap suds
in a dark
autumn sink.
dear cerveteri,
I’m standing, quiet
and still,
inside a tumulus
covered in grasses
and wild flowers.
the bus
has broken down,
I’m walking back
to ladispoli,
in the distance
a bird flock swarms
in folds & turns,
in geometric patterns
like a screen saver.
swift evening rain
coming across
from the coast.



born in a de-mountable, there you are now,
             fifty-something years gone by not a disaster,
       in the centre of the car-lined road,
a paper bag
            tucked in the crook of your arm
     with two paperbacks
                                 and a poetry pamphlet.
no longer having much idea
            of earlier versions of yourself
 today bewildered
                by some invented crisis
                                    apparently necessary
                  for a cowardly killjoy
(whom you wish, of course,
                                      to soon forget)
                        to end an already-fraying friendship,
but not so sentimental
          as to crank the handle
                       once the rust has dusted the debts.


you go on vacation
             to an unmodified landscape,
     towards a blackout,       the cause impossible to source,
                       to candle and fire,
                                    to night’s proper darkness,
 you go to the bay
              where sooty grey shearwaters
     come down from Siberia
             to bob stiff on the waves,
                                   dead from exhaustion,
                         a flight from zero to infinity.

taking the news
               from a smart eco liftout -
(international features
               delivering ‘all you need to know’)
of   war dunes and sand dunes
                                    in deserts far away -
    camels superseded
                                 by four wheel drives,
 date palms blown into blue yonder
                 and   uranium-flecked scrapheaps
                                                  mapped as oases


there you are,           back again,     
      at the printer             as covert,
                                reading the back of the recycled paper,
                            cipher and sign,
 vigilant under fluoro
           scrutinising discarded files of dissent -        
                   a single fist raised to the world
expressionist texta
           ‘greetings from the resistance’
 but nobody’s watching,     just shadow,
                                             nobody’s thinking
       that you’re   here        reading reports
 on indiscriminate transmissions -  
             avian flu, Hendra virus, lyssa virus   –
 insensible species’ leaps,
     no clues in the notes from   darkening science


 no further treatment        nothing to lose,  
         man with cancer carries his son
to lay him down in the contaminated ground.
      nowhere left now,
                 moon ripple on the tailings dam
                                    where he used to skip stones.



Last updated 2 March, 2016