Dave Kent

Dave Kent, one of the founding members of the Wellington Media Collective (WMC) which was active between 1978 and 1998, died on Saturday 27th April after a long illness that left his body paralysed but never his mind. I visited him at his home in Wellington a week before his death. He was no longer able to type on the iPad that had become his mode of conversation, but his wife Kathy used the iPad to make sentences from Dave’s minimal thumbs-up responses to spelling questions: vowel or consonant; a?e?i?o?u? – b?c?d?f?g? It was thus that Dave commented on his own appearance, which he compared to a wooden-faced Picasso figure. Given time, such conversations could have been the equivalent of slow-cooked dialogue, seasoned with humour. Sadly I didn’t have enough time for slow-cooking that day. Dave’s description of himself as ‘wooden-faced’ was pretty accurate, but didn’t tell the whole truth. A vestige of his lovely, self-deprecating smile was there, and many will remember it well.

My diary tells me that Saturday 27th April was Resistance Day in Slovenia and Freedom Day in Zambia. These anniversaries have only coincidental connections to the two decades of work by the Collective – and yet it would be hard to find a calendar of such dates that didn’t seem to spell out a slow-cooked statement about the kind of work and commitment WMC is known for; though its focus was local, its comprehension of the politics of engagement was international. When the exhibition of Collective work opened at the Adam Art Gallery in Wellington in October last year (Dave drove his wheelchair up the hill) one of the most striking items on display was a two-storey high banner list of WMC clients and causes; pretty much any cause worth fighting for over the 20 years of the Collective’s life was on that list. The book recording the Collective’s work, We Will Work With You: Wellington Media Collective 1978-1998, published by Victoria University Press in February 2013, was launched when the exhibition closed. Dave was there – he couldn’t drive his wheelchair up the hill this time, but he did sign many copies of the book, which was dedicated to him.

In the book a common theme emerges: the importance of Dave Kent not just as a gifted designer but as a mentor and conscience within the Collective. Though he never asserted or claimed a leadership role, he clearly had a leading influence, even if he preferred to lead ‘from behind’. I wasn’t a member of the Collective, nor one of its clients, but its presence encouraged and challenged me and a great many others, and I was lucky to have known Dave Kent as a friend whose modesty and conviction I admired.

Dave was also a poet, though his modesty meant this has remained a more or less secret activity. With the permission of Kathy, and their two children Kirstie and Eli, here is one of Dave’s poems. Dave was a golfer, and here he’s walking along a beach belting a golf-ball ahead of him with a seven iron. And those commas at the end of each line – each one reads like a whack. As with the driving range set up below the urupa at Ralph Hotere’s tangi, it seems appropriate to remember Dave this way. I’ve never had the golf bug, but there’s something about the flight of the ball, at once chancy and planned; and the combination of mindfulness or Buddhist sati, and its companion state, when the mind empties and rests.

A walk spoiled

Seven ironing along,
The firm sand strand,
I scan the surf circus,
For a ray’s flag,
A beaching whale.
Treading the air,
Beak full,
A black-backed gull,
Cockles a casual eye at the ball,
Drops the pipi,
Follows it down.
Working the sand,
With their scarlet probes,
The oyster-catcher couples,
Gimlet eyed,
Watch the ball roll past,
And variously stalk away,
Shrill with disdain.
A successful strike,
High and straight.
A flowering puff,
Where it pockmarks the sand.
Another and another and,
I’ve driven over miles.
Punctuating the tracery,
Sharp and subtle,
Of lopers and interlopers,
Indigenous and invasive,
Recreationers and miscreants,
Walking talkers and debaucherers
Prey and predators,
Katipo and red-backs.
Between the firm,
Tide rummaged foreshore,
And the sparrow clouded,
Marram built dunes,
Lies a soft desert,
Densely littered with,
A bleached tangle,
Earth’s wrack,
Swept up by storm surges,
A chaotic and seductive decking,
Netting the coastline,
In a sand anchoring matrix,
As it idles westwards,
Narrowing the Ditch,
By centimetres a year,
Or quakes upward,
By metres rarely,
When our chief architect blinks.
Striking my way back,
Over the toes of the land,
A dark and green island,
Humps into view,
Swathed in vaporous trails,
Of death and retribution,
Shrill with songs,
Of waste and restoration.
Following a line of flight,
I see storm ghosts tramping,
Above the Tararua treeline,
Two friends holed in one,
By a wayward slice of winter.
The strand weaves,
Dark and shining,
Light and patterned,
With a shuffling mosaic,
Of foaming sheets.
As they draw back,
Into the spouting maw,
Black iron blossoms and rains,
A two dimensional cloud chamber,
Of sparkling grains.
Spoiling a walk,
With an iron and ball,
Over the earth’s wild(e) floor,
I see so much more.

1 comment:

D.P. said...

In the reassuring
tea-with-milk church hall
Not far from the day’s first drink
At Molly Malone’s
Bob Kerr gave me directions:
“Tasman St… Ghuznee St…
Glover Park…
Down there…
Up here…
Bob’s your uncle.
“—Bute St.”
(Home of the deceased).
“Hmmm,” he said gazing down on me from his great height
“Don’t think that quite
Struck home.”
“What’s it off?” I said
“Vivian,” he said.
“Vivian! That’ll do!
See you in an hour
Or two.”
Took off back to Molly’s
Couple more glasses of house red
Christ’s blood
Watched a televised Bombay 20/20 betting game
Had a window seat
Saw Bob pass by outside, spectrally.
End of the working day
Wetness on the shades of grey
Blown umbrellas
Finally walked back Taranaki
Drizzle coming down like Belfast
Found the Vivian intersection—
Not fucking easy
Have to position cannily
Catch the street light on the painted tin.
There it is:
Walked on up it:
Trades Hall: Pat Kelly,
Knigge St: F P Walsh,
A park.
Must be Glover.
Darkness really coming down
But Bute St?
In the mist and drizzle and dark
A gas station.
Last letter of the alphabet
Last throw of the dice.
“Could you tell me, please,
Am I near Bute St?”
Samoan girl, Tongan maybe,
17, 18,
Wants to help.
“Let’s look at the map!”
Leads me to shelves
A cheap fold-out
“There’s Vivian St… but…”
Bent branches off
A Vivian tree
All unnamed.
“Oh, well,” I say,
“What I’ll do—
Walk round a bit more
Ask round a bit more.”
Her eyes.
“Wait—” she says,
Holds out a hand
“—has there been a passing?”
“Has someone passed on?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Over there,” she says.
“The blue house.”

Green lights on the tarmac.
Into the distance.