By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features compelling poetry and the poets who create them.
This week we turn our focus to poet, Mark Pirie.
An internationally published New Zealand poet, editor, publisher, and archivist for PANZA (Poetry Archive of NZ Aotearoa), in 2016, Pirie's compilation of selected poems, Rock & Roll, was published by Bareknuckle Books, Australia. Other books include the biography Tom Lawn, Mystery Forward (2018) and the artbook Folk Punk (2020) and the poetry book Gallery: A Selection (2003). He is a former editor of the journal JAAM (1995–2005) and currently edits broadsheet: new new zealand poetry.
We reached out to Mark to ask him about his influences and approach to his art.
AN: How did you come to poetry?
MP: I first started getting interested in words when I was about 17 or 18. I started writing rap lyrics and song lyrics. I was keen to do something like hip-hop or rock and was attracted to the idea of lyrics portraying a message and staying true to realism as opposed to escapism and innocent or naive thoughts on life. My rock lyrics, though, were different to my rap lyrics. They were more surreal. My main influences back then came from listening to rappers like Ice Cube, Paris, and Ice T and also to rock groups/performers like the Rollins Band, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. I was never very interested in "academic" poetry back then, more the pop culture and bohemian element.
The poems I have chosen to share are recent work but inspired by America of the past and present day.
"Jimmy Webb Interviewed" is a poem I wrote in 2019 when I became interested in Jimmy Webb, mainly through the release of Bruce Springsteen’s inspiring album Western Stars that he says owes a debt to the great American songwriter. The poem I sent you shows something of my admiration for Jimmy and his unique songwriting that people have referred to as ”Twelve chords and the truth” rather than the old Country music style of “Three chords and the truth.”
JIMMY WEBB INTERVIEWED
the song ‘Wichita Lineman’
the man of ‘12 chords and the truth’
says it’s about
the ordinary becoming extraordinary
the unknown working man
given a voice of thought and feeling.
beloved writer to Springsteen and many
calls the art of songwriting
the life of a ‘tunesmith’ creating
the great songbook
a sacred conversation.
"Imagine a life without music,"
You can feel the weight of his tears on his breath,
his life lived in the songs.
Of course, my music influences extend to skate/surf/snowboard hardcore music, so I recently watched (stuck inside in New Zealand’s Lockdown) The Crash Reel, the story of snowboarder Kevin Pearce, a touching story of the rise and fall of an athlete in extreme sports, and I wrote a response to the doco film.
AMONG THE GODS
(after watching the film The Crash Reel)
Hard not to think of Icarus
watching the rise & fall of snow-
boarders like Kevin Pearce.
Was there sun to melt
his wings as he fell on
the Half-pipe? Or Sarah Burke
the free skier. Extreme sport
is exhilarating to watch
and electrifying for those
competing. Those who are
cautious tend not to live it.
Kevin and Sarah took
to the air, where fate, injury
is a hair’s breadth away.
Risk rewards, to be the best,
to stand undefeated among the Gods.
Note: Sarah Burke died from her injuries at age 29; Kevin Pearce resumed snowboarding after his head injury but never competed again with the same abilities.
The poem "Nappa Valley" covers the time I was living in America as a small child (ages 3–6, in San Francisco) and visited the wine-making hub of Nappa Valley with my parents and sister. It’s an ode to my “innocent” Californian experience, the “happy childhood” we bring with us in our storehouse of memories.
This sprawling valley of vineyards
rests in childhood dreams.
Old pick-up trucks, grapes, workers,
along the way; the view from the air
would capture this famous industry.
My parents drove us here not long after
the Time article of ’76, and the contest
won in Paris putting California on the map.
To a boy, who was not tasting wine,
it was the scenery, and countryside
that I remembered. Something quintessentially
American and innocent, heart warming and free.