The David Merritt Experience

I met David Merritt late last year when a colleague introduced us. We had a coffee and talked poetry and chickens and politics and I was very impressed by his dry, self-effacing humour and sharp-as-a-tack brain. When you talk to David it isn’t like the tennis of usual conversation: my turn, your turn, my turn, your turn, in measured thwoks….it’s more like chasing a snake through the grass – sometime he is right there, present and gleaming and you’re close – so close! and then he slips off into some elusive (but usually hilarious) tangent and you’ve lost him again.

He’s a poet – a unique one, in that he makes small books out of the waste of other books (usually Reader’s Digest Condensed Classics which he rescues by the box-load from Dump shops because they don’t sell.) He tours the country, sitting on the street, making books, talking to people and selling his books out of a little wooden drawer ‘for the price of a good cup of coffee’.

Last night he ended his latest tour of the country in Palmerston North (he lives kind of near by in Mangamahu) so I went along and it was a grand evening out.

His performance is more ‘experience’ than typical reading, because he shuffles around the room, interacting with people so there is no illusion of the line between poet and audience, taking requests, talking and poking fun, laughing at himself and generally filling the space with his gentle, delightful presence and aroha.

The night reminded me of a parlour performance I attended by the incredible actor Warwick Broadhead – there was the same invitation to people (not literally, but invoked) to engage, to be more present in their lives, to challenge what they are being offered and turn it into something better.

The local ‘support’ act was Rob Thorne who does amazing things with Nga Taonga Puoru and effects pedals. Then David was accompanied by Chris Heazlewood (formerly of King Loser) on guitar playing incidental music between and behind the poems. The guitar playing was subtle and interesting and enhanced the poetry very well.

There is no doubt from his poetry that David is a romantic – nature is beautiful and pure, jobs are for sell-outs, the disenfranchised are heroic, relationships with women are either high-romance or hate – however, I am entirely susceptible to this manner of romance, so heartily enjoyed it and found myself crying at one of David’s ‘barbaric yawp’-style poems exhorting the reader to shoot him if he finds himself in a litany of deadening situations – the kind that probably most of the audience dwell – suburban housing, day jobs etc.

I had a great night and went home fizzy with ideas and inspiration. If the David Merritt Experience passes through your town – I reckon you should definitely make the effort go. It is entertaining, involving, funny, moving and much, much better than anything on the TV.


3 responses to “The David Merritt Experience”

  1. Gosh that photo takes me back twenty-something years… Both Chris and David stood out from the Dunedin creative crowd, not only for their talents but for their kindness and warmth. David’s encouragement and support for me as a very young poet still means a lot.


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