Man of words tells it how he is

"Raaaaaw suffering," he growls

KASHKA TUNSTALL
Last updated 10:55 18/05/2012
BEN CURRAN

Richard Selinkoff is a voyager, a traveller and a storyteller, performing alongside Fisher in the Hamilton performance duo known as the New Millennium Beatniks.

The beatniks, Richard Selinkoff and Martin Fisher.
The beatniks, Richard Selinkoff and Martin Fisher.

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Richard Selinkoff, who has lived the world over, talks with Kashka Tunstall about his latest 'buzz'.


Richard Selinkoff sifts through his collected pages of neatly typed out poems, a stack as thick as an Alexandre Dumas novel.

He pulls a poem to the front of the stack, sets it down and looks out into the faces of a young, restless crowd.

Idly rubbing his hand over his more-salt-than-pepper beard, the 66-year-old readjusts his glasses, pulls at his blue vest, takes a deep breath and begins.

"Raaaaaw suffering," he growls, then settles into the rhythm of his words.

Performance companion Martin Fisher, looming large over his double bass with equally impressive facial hair, starts plucking away at the strings.

The notes are musical footsteps, they plod heavily and then rush, creeping and weaving in with Richard's words as he espouses about life, literature and the love of a dog named Rhonda.

Selinkoff is a voyager, a traveller and a storyteller, performing alongside Fisher in the Hamilton performance duo known as the New Millennium Beatniks.

He works from home as a copywriter now that age has relieved him of the need to socialise and performing allows him the briefest of respites from a largely reclusive lifestyle.

It was over 40 years ago Selinkoff was singled out as an up-and-comer.

"In about 1965, some people designated me as a `promising young poet'," he scoffs.

"I found myself at some poetry reading with some fairly young poets and it struck me that most of what I was hearing was boring the s... out of me," he says.

"I thought what I'm reading out loud is boring the s... out of everybody else ... nobody outside of the group really would give a s... about it, so I gave up writing what could possibly be called a poem for about 42 years."

Coming into youth at the tail end of the beat movement, Selinkoff had dreamed of becoming a member of that famed generation.

He has lived the world over and it's only when pinpointing a specific year that he can tell you where he is from.

In 1946, he was born in Panama to Russian-American Jews.

Gliding across the continental US through the 1960s and 70s, including a brief stint in Hollywood, where he socialised with an array of writers, he made his way to Micronesia in the 80s, where he worked as a teacher and a journalist in the American-owned territory.

Come the 90s, he had moved on again and found himself in Otorohanga teaching high school students.

For the past 20 years, Selinkoff has called the Waikato home, finally settling down after a life of wearying travel. And it was in the Waikato at the annual Fringe Festival in 2008 that Selinkoff"s desire to write reignited and he found himself surrounded by jotted verses.

Soon after, he teamed up with musician Fisher, who added the tuneful element to his words and they started performing fairly regularly at events around the city.

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"I'd done this verse at a fringe festival thing called `I wanted to be a beatnik when I grew up' and it talks about playing the bongos, but I didn't know anyone who played the bongos. I knew beatniks had bongos when they performed this stuff and I thought Martin's bass might be cool.

"I really gain a buzz out of performing and I'm cranking out all these hundreds of verses that if I don't perform 'em, what the hell am I going to do with them?"

He shies away from the term "poet", asserting that "poetry is the effect it has on people".

"Just because you break things up into lines doesn't make it a poem. I think one of the greatest poets of the 20th century was Raymond Chandler and he only wrote novels.

"The art doesn't exist in the building or the painting or the music or the words. The art exists in the perceiver.

"So what is a poem? Bob Dylan said a poem is a naked person. Some people actually think that I'm a poet, so if a painting or a piece of music or a bunch of words strips you naked or makes you perceive the world in a new and better or different way, or feel or think, if it affects you in that poetic way, then you become the poem.

"The words aren't the poem – the poem is the effect that words have.

"So to say that I am a poet strikes me as the height of pretentiousness, I don't have that in me. If you dig it, then I am chuffed. If you don't, you don't."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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