We all know Auckland traffic is appalling -- and it's getting worse. One of the main reasons for living and working on the Shore (at Massey Albany), in fact, is avoiding this sort of thing: the grind across the bridge. Or at any rate having the opportunity to choose one's moment to take the plunge.
So what do you when you do get stuck in traffic, creeping along behind some bozo whose idea of fun is stopping twenty or so yards behind the car in front and then gradually drifting up on them, leaving you unable even to stop and cogitate in peace?
I guess I tend to wish I was somewhere else -- either snouting around some musty time-soaked secondhand bookshop, or lying supine on a sun-baked beach (Mairangi Bay, for instance ...)
So the question is, how do you get from one to the other: traffic-jam to state of inner peace? Well, the obvious solution is to listen to the radio, but there's only a limited number of times you can hear John Tesh dispensing "wisdom for your life" without wanting to strangle the smug bastard, or to those announcers on the Concert Programme who go on and on about every detail of the composer's life before they actually allow you to listen to any music.
Bringing along your own tapes or CDs, and listening to those, is probably the best idea -- if you're organised to remember to keep the supplies stocked up. But here's my own original extra suggestion for mellow, tension-free motoring ...
[I should probably add at this point that everyone to whom I've so far mentioned this solution has reacted to it a bit like Jim Jones's congregation when they got their first big satisfying slug of Kool-aid ... but you never know, you guys might be an exception. It works okay for me, at any rate ...]
What I do is listen to poetry in the car.
"Gaaah!" I hear you cry. "No, no, have mercy -- anything but that."
But wait a second. Jan Kemp and I have spent an awful amount of time over the past few years collecting soundfiles of NZ poets reading their own work (most of which now reside in the vaults of Auckland University Library and the Turnbull in Wellington). We even put out a text/ sound anthology of Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance through Auckland University Press last year (and very successful it's been, thank you very much).
But when can you actually find time to put a bunch of poets on the CD-player during an average day? I mean really, not just that one dutiful listen you give it before packing it away on a shelf forever .... In my case the answer is: in the car.
Not just our anthology, of course (though I've listened to that an immense number of times -- not to mention its sequel, Contemporary New Zealand Poets in Performance, covering the baby-boomer poets, roughly from Sam Hunt to Michele Leggott, and due out later this year).
I guess my particular favourites for traffic jams or long drives in the country are very long epic poems: The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid. I have a number of versions of each, and it's agreat way of comparing the different translations.
Too intellectual? Too pretentious. Well, as the immortal Blackadder once put it, there's nothing intellectual about wandering around Italy in a nightshirt trying to get laid. That's pretty much the essence of most of these epics -- sex, sadism, family feuds, and lots of drinking. Life, as Homer sees it, is a grim struggle punctuated with moments of brightness, and it doesn't seem to make much difference whether you're a mortal or a god.
I like listening to other poets too, the Moderns: Ginsberg is great to crank up loud when you're cruising round campus trying to disillusion people with the life of the mind: "Moloch! Moloch!" Auden has a kind of dry charm. I like the mellifluous blarney of Irishmen such as Paul Muldoon or Seamus Heaney. And it's not long before you find yourself getting to know their poems far better than you ever did when they just sat in front of you on a page.
It's depressing to think that I can still sing the jingles of most of the TV ads which were on when I was a kid ("We are the boys from down on the farm / We really know our cheese ..." "They're going to think you're fine / 'Coz you got Lifebuoy ..." "Kiss me Cutex / Kiss me quick ..."). Wouldn't you rather din into your head the immortal cadences of Homer or Beowulf, or find yourself intoning "April is the cruellest month / Mixing memory with desire ..." instead? Okay, maybe not -- but it's got to be better than bitching about the traffic or (worse) listening to talkback.
[Editor's note (May, 2008): And here's the cover of the latest in our series, New New Zealand Poets in Performance, due out from AUP on Poetry Day (July 18) this year]: