Review — The Dead Are Always Laughing At Us

Reviewed by Greg Fleming

‘Hoey is making our local literary landscape exciting again and there’s no better proof than this collection…’

Hoey is not your regular Kiwi writer — he hasn’t come up through the various university programmes for writers, has little formal education, is dyslexic and has lived a hardscrabble life around Auckland — working at a variety of dead-end, minimum wage jobs and as a musician (music fans may know him better as Tourettes), performance poet, short story writer, podcaster, teacher and novelist (his latest, Poor People With Money, was one of the best New Zealand novels published last year.)

In a recent poem he describes himself as “a middle-aged man with a small dog and a hybrid” but going by the poems on display here — which he says were written “as a way to stay vaguely sane” during lockdown, after his best friend died and Hoey fell in love — mid-life contentment remains elusive. 

Many of these were originally published on Instagram but are here presented in a striking book designed by Trudi Hewitt. She writes that she set out to challenge “the typesetting conventions of literature and poetry” by playing with “pace, space, size and tension”.

The result is a visually arresting collection, poems are sometimes in oversized font, sometimes there’s lots of space on the page, in others the text curls around itself in graphic knots of repetition.

As Hoey writes in the forward — this is not the sort of poetry you need a 50k education to understand, it’s visceral and immediate (Hoey has said that — "Poetry is like songs — if you don't get them out in a certain amount of time they kind of die.")

There’s humour too. 

   half my life

avoiding work

   the other


about being


Others are confronting — short, sharp jabs aimed at unscrupulous landlords, ex lovers, the capitalist system and privileged literary gatekeepers.

One of my favourites —

If athletes were treated like artists

all the funding would go to croquet

the All Blacks would be forced

to crowdfund their uniforms 

and people would queue outside 

stadiums demanding to be let in for free.

Few creatives are brave enough to challenge our arts funding model, Hoey, who after years of unsuccessfully trying to gain a literary grant recently scored 40 thousand from Creative NZ, doesn’t hold back. 

“hello my name’s Mr Fuckhead

no money for you,

you misspelt desperate 

on your funding application”.

The second part of the collection, Tell Me Something, looks inward with beautiful poems like The Moon And The Night and the title poem about the untimely death of his friend Todd Williams aka rapper Louie Knuxx.

Hoey also tells us why he doesn’t make music anymore.

Making rap music was my life

For 20 or so years

Then one day I thought

“i don’t wanna do this anymore”

The last section Swim Between The Flags — includes poems about tagging a Buddhist centre and the halcyon days of filming skate videos, rolling through the city fuelled on microwaved nachos and cheap sherry. There’s also self-deprecating autobiography in a lovely poem about young love at the Grey Lynn skate park,

 “we’d said all there was to say/ about Bikini Kill and animal rights/ so we kissed in the rain”; 

and a funny, but sad, poem about what happens when you have a fight with your partner when you live in a tiny house parked on your partner’s parent’s lawn.

Hoey is making our local literary landscape exciting again and there’s no better proof than this collection.

My advice? Buy two copies — keep one and give one to a poetry-loving friend for Christmas and then go and see him perform these live —he’s out on the road in December.

Reviewed by Greg Fleming