Dark Room

after Peter Black’s ‘Getting Better’


And wasn’t it the Fifth Symphony, you said,
was the musical equivalent of

‘You’re under arrest’ or ‘How do you like this
my sinister look’ or ‘Hey

that’s me on the rococo bridge’, and that’s mine:
the head, shoulders and startled gaze

of eternity. At the end of the day — as every day
must end, folding in

upon itself like those colourful vistas that
are put to sleep each night, concertinaed in brochures,

distributed among bridges and off-ramps. As the small print
murmurs, we are all just passing through

this stationary world which, you could say,
makes us tourists, lost in the foliage

of our summer shirts or in the encroaching evening
of these sunglasses which wrap around

everything. Like the best composers, you said, tourists
should travel lightly, never spill anything

in the concert halls and adjoining towns of the inner ear,
where the keyboard is only a picket-fence,

the orchestra a black and white photograph
of the sky, and the pianist’s hand,

mid-concerto, a shop-window
crowded with busts of Beethoven.

Gregory O'Brien is a poet, painter and essayist. He recently curated the exhibition ‘Rosalie Gascoigne’ at City Gallery Wellington, where he works as a curator. His most recent book of poems is Winter I Was (VUP 1999) and a collection of essays about literature and art, After Bathing at Baxter’s appeared in 2002.

O’Brien comments: ‘ “Dark Room” was inspired by an artwork by Wellington photographer Peter Black. The work, entitled “Getting Better”, is made up of 32 black and white photographs, many of which include fragments of language. Details of the work were reproduced in Sport 30, which was a special issue of the journal devoted to the work of Peter Black (and which doubled as the catalogue for a major retrospective of the photographer’s work at the City Gallery Wellington in 2003).

‘Peter Black is a street photographer, picking up on details of life as it goes on around him. The work “Getting Better” is an ensemble-piece, gathering together some of these fragments and orchestrating them into a slightly disconcerting whole. For the poem, “Dark Room”, I adopted Peter Black’s methodology – shifting the viewpoint around, making the linkages – as well as quoting specific images from his work: the busts of Beethoven, the people on the bridge . . .

‘Peter Black is a genius and this poem is my way of saying thanks to him. That is one other useful function poetry can serve.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Photospace Studio Gallery – Peter Black