new zealand electronic poetry centre

John Dickson 

Friday 23 August 7.30-10pm  once and for all
Saturday 24 August 4.00 – 5.30pm  poetry/music/painting

Descended from the usual mix of Irish, Scots and English, John Dickson was born in 1944 at Milton, South Otago. He attended Southland Boys’ High School and the University of Otago.

John usually works at the Bill Robertson Library in Dunedin. In 2000, he was the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Waikato, and he is currently working on a new book of short poems, Mister Hamilton. He was Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1988.

John is a firm believer in the virtues of personal underdevelopment, and as a consequence he is now mature enough to get married.

He began writing in late adolescence under the influence of Mayakovsky, Baudelaire, and Eliot. However, since he was the kind of youth who sniffed roses with his soul rather than his nose, the results can still make him blush. After many starts, during the late seventies and early eighties, he produced a few poems. He has published two books, what happened on the way to Oamaru and sleeper(AUP,1998) as well as an audiocassette, butan.

John enjoys reading the work of many writers, but his current favourites are Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Tu Fu, Blaise Cendrars, and Francis Ponge. Besides writing and reading, his other interests include, gardening, tai chi ch’uan, chi kung, Shaolin kung fu, driving, house renovation, tobacco, wine, and watching film noir videos at 2am.


on my birthday, the Angel had questions
your performance to date, your career path.
And when he'd finished, I said, Angel
we've been through all this before.
I have everything I need, a desk, a chair
paper and pens. And though I sometimes
hear voices murmuring in the next room
like old people who have lost their past
it's no problem; there's no discrepancy
between what's said and what I hear.
And the view is simply splendid.
Every night, after I close the blinds
the bush splits open the wooden houses
and plank by plank takes them back;
and every morning, the houses are there again
waiting for you to raise the dead.
As for my work, it's obvious to me
you haven't read the job description
you yourself wrote. Must I remind you?
And since you asked, I know nothing now
about life in history, whether it goes round
and round in a great returning circle
(better rise above it friend
otherwise you will drop right through)
or whether like some vast machine
it moves towards a predetermined end
(better join it friend, otherwise
you will get left behind), for all I know
maybe everything that happens
happened in a present time so vast
it's the size of the universe and twice as fast
walk past a Gallipoli veteran
and Troy burns once more, a storm
may be blowing from paradise
piling wreckage upon wreckage
before your feet, and with such force
you can never close your wings
Thermopylae, Rwanda, My Lae
Yellow Tiger, Hitler, Pol Pot
I know nothing about such things
or what could be done for human good
but if I've heard you right, I should go back
and help bring meaning to their carnage.
Angel, who are you kidding?
I'm not an unsuspecting tenor from Oklahoma
singing, Oh what a beautiful morning.
When I wake in my room, I'm nothing
but a shadow on a wooden wall
a minor bureaucrat amongst the angelic orders.
I write reports. I follow instructions
here and there correcting a comma.
I've no need to change eternity
for a place full of colour and life
but where word and thing are not the same.
Leave them to it, they have your gift
the structural unreliability of freedom.
And as for having answers.
Such debauchery of the soul!
Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers
and my face is just my face.
Your choice, he said, and I went back
to my small room and fell fast
into a deep and wakeful sleep

from Sleeper, Auckland UP, 1998.


© John Dickson


Last updated 17 July, 2002