Liam Jacobson’s Anti-Gentrification of Poetry

Slipping onto the scene with a voice equal parts original, audacious, colloquial and mesmerising, Liam Jacobson is sure to carve an impactful niche in the scene with their debut poetry collection Neither. Releasing on Thursday 7 September from Dead Bird Books, this is the sort of wholly unique work you’ll want to explore with meticulous care like a K Road thrift store, like the crevices of the city you smoke up in when you’re sixteen. An urban landscape of language to be lingered in, it exhibits a profoundly creative use of imagery and mastery of rhythm that invites the reader along for the ride, the sort where you take your time to drink in the quirks of the world around you and aren’t in too much of a hurry to grow up.

Jacobson’s style presents an alternative to the uniform traditions of the Institution, envisioning a certain ‘anti-gentrification’ of literature that pokes its tongue out at the rules, at the expectations, at the production line of the industry with its grammatical politeness. Disorderly, passionate, explorative and unapologetic, Jacobson’s poetry is sure to appeal to all poetry enthusiasts looking for something new, for a creative mind that hurls the genre off the rooftops just to see it fly. Devon Webb (DW) speaks with Liam (LJ) about Neither in this interview for bad apple.

DW: The influence of Tāmaki Makaurau is very evident throughout the book. Did you grow up here? How has this environment impacted you and your writing? Are there any particular aspects of the city that inspire you?

LJ: yeah 🙂 i was raised in Manurewa and went to a boarding school in the city, so i ended up having friends and whanau in lots of different crannies of Tāmaki and spent heaps of time wandering through its sparse wee pockets and on trains and buses. i love the distinctions between each spot – the slang, the laughs, the lore, the dress, the music. 

it all talks here, and i s’pose i’m inspired by all the ways our noises/histories/atua/takata relate and play among each other – whispering, shining, slithering, weaving, screaming etc. the rot of cold colonial villas, the thickening Karanga-a-hape, ancient puna in car parks, Hina rising through fat puddles of rain, the volcanic scope of the watching mauka etc.  

in Auckland you need to dig thru the swank and/or tedium to uncover the pretty. idk, there’s something about that that i love.

DW: Where did your writing journey begin? Were there any defining moments or inspirations that led you down this path?

LJ: i remember writing ‘I LIKE POCKETS’ when i was maybe 5 and being real proud of it. throughout primary school i’d write stories and plays. we used to do this thing once a year where you’d have to memorise a poem and present it to your class and i remember hunting for a couple of hours through the kids-poetry section of Manurewa library with Mum.

about 8 or 9 years ago, i read my own poems for the first time, at this spoken word event at Wine Cellar. Michelle Durey was there and she picked me up a couple times to take me to Poetry Live. i kept at it all in new ways.

DW: You were involved in some spoken word poetry competitions early in your career, and I can see this style in several of your poems and their rhythmic patterns. Do you think this experience affected the direction of your writing? Do you have different processes for the spoken and written word?

LJ: yeah, i snuck in through the back door of the spoken word lol. i like the spoken word cause it’s ancient. and yeah, lots of my poetry comes from the rhythms of my mumbling and rambling. saying things out loud is a special sort of witching. 

but there’re heaps of other rhythms i’m inspired by too, and the page brings many of those to light. i love the play between the spoken word, the written word, the sung word, the painted word, the danced word, the drunken word, the carved word etc. it takes whatever it takes to unravel.

DW: Are there any other writers, performers or artists that you would cite as inspirations?

LJ: lightnin’ hopkins, pablo neruda, keiji haino, lily allen, albert wendt’s The Book of the Black Star, whirimako black, marx, tiramōrehu, jonas mekas, cirie fields, sergei parajanov, james chance, hone tuwhare, paul laffoley, merata mita, that akofa akoussah album, that cardi b album, every Shiraz & LSJ album, videos of cirque du soleil clowns, Tāwhirimatea, all the sociology readings from uni that i forgot the names of, all of my friends x (to name just a few :P)

DW: How did you become involved with Dead Bird Books? How have you found the publication process and experience?

LJ: i’ve known Dom(inic) [Hoey] for a while and he’d been on pressing for me to publish with him n Sam pretty early in the Dead Bird Books life-cycle. i finally pulled Neither together after a few false starts, lost work, and a broken laptop. they’ve let me be pretty particular with what i’ve wanted, they’ve made it look all flash and they’ve let me keep true to myself. it’s still kinda daunting for me though, to give my poems bodies like this and to be stood in the world. to accept Te Ao Mārama.  

DW: Tell us a little about the cover . . . It’s very surreal! Where did those ideas come from?

LJ: i’m just a chronic doodler tryna follow the tohu lol. idk, sometimes things arise and then you pursue them, and then you look back later and it either means something or it doesn’t. for the cover i wanted something cheeky and dreamy that would be fun to find at a second hand bookstore. i scribbled it up on a browser version of paint and some free bootleg version of photoshop and then my friends told me what looked good and what looked bad. and then Gabi Lardies helped to sharpen it all up 🙂

DW: Do you have any events lined up for the release? Anything you’d like to promote?

LJ: i’m doing Poetry in Motion on September 7 at Fringe Bar in Pōneke. on September 14th i’m doing the Tāmaki launch at Basement Theatre (8pm). on September 19th i’m doing Poetry Live at Thirsty Dog. i’ll probably try to suss a few more things too, so keep ur eyes peeled if u wanna.

me, Dominic and Isla [Huia] are gonna do a longer tour around a good chunk of the country in December. 

DW: Any advice you’d like to impart to other writers and artists?

LJ: chat with everything. ask interesting people about interesting things. retain yourself. go digging. build a cute nest. 

DW: Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to take your career in its next steps?

LJ: yeah, i wanna write a sci-fi movie for the motion master ride at Rainbow’s End. and write a feature-length radio play. and make a christmas album called Die Hard 6. and get heaps of my friends together to design a mini-golf course. and do a podcast exposing the Les Mills sex-cult. and put together a prison concert. oh and me n stace n gabs are gonna open up a sexy-speak-easy-kinda-thing. i’m also keen to learn cpr and throw some gigs at the roller-rink. and i’m keen to do more books and maybe make brooches idk??? i know i’m gonna go get my reo Māori, and i reckon that’ll probably shake-up my trajectories.

DW: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to say about your book? If you had to sell it in a sentence, what would you say?

if you reckon you’ll like it, then u could buy it. it’d help me pay rent x

Neither releases on Thursday 7 September and is available to purchase online at deadbirdbooks.com and from independent bookstores, including Unity Books in Tāmaki Makaurau and Pōneke. It will also be available to purchase at the promotional live events, listed below. Liam can be further perceived in pixelated form at @liamjacobson on Instagram.

Poetry in Motion, Fringe Bar, Thursday 7 September

Tāmaki Makaurau
Launch event: Basement Theatre, Thursday 14 September
Poetry Live, Thirsty Dog, Tuesday 19 September

Featured image courtesy of Liam Jacobson and Dead Bird Books.


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