Monday, December 26, 2011

Notebook 2012

In 2012 I intend to be posting more to Notebook. The posts will be more scrappy and fragmentary--I'll be returning to using the blog more as an online scrapbook.

I'll be including links to information to books I've read, notes, observations, unusual words, etc.

I'll also be keeping up with Tuesday Poem. I think it's worth the effort. Poetry is perceived by many as an elitist literary form and Tuesday Poem seems to be a good way for people to read poems outside of literary journals and anthologies. Please contact me if you'd like to offer a poem for Tuesday Poem.

My main aim will be use the blog to track my reading so I can go back and find links to what I've read. I am still a bookworm: I'm one of those people who really don't watch a lot of TV although the eternal teenager in me is still fascinated by contemporary music--I watch a little of 'Transmission' on Juice nearly every night. I like being old enough to see how sensibilities mutate and change over time--the 'uncool' of LMFAO's videos remind me of Devo and New Wave. There's a sense of fun but also a DIY anti-elitist, anti-consumerist aesthetic at work.

Expect more rambling in the oncoming year. Expect less posts to Facebook (I have just had enough of it and I'm not even sure why! It's only really good for keeping in touch with family overseas).

I wont mention the three books I'm reviewing (more on those later) but I've just finished and enjoyed Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang and Jo Thorpe's in/let.

Poem for today: Jo Thorpe's in/let.

Cy Matthews reviews in in/let (along with two other books) over at The Landfall Review.

I hope that you are all having a great holiday. All the best for 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy holidays and Goodwill to all

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy Hannukah and a happy holidays. May 2012 bring you peace and contentment. Keep well everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rita Dove on Power and Powerlessness

"Power is knowing who you are -- your strengths as well as the flaws -- and being content with what you see while still striving to improve. Powerlessness means you’ve handed that judgment over to someone else and buckled under other people's ulterior expectations."

Rita Dove

Until the Fulcrum Tips: A Conversation with Rita Dove and Jericho Brown

Monday, December 12, 2011

'The last surrealist' in Enamel 3.

My poem 'The last surrealist' has been published in the final issue of Emma Barnes' Enamel along with poems by poets including Johanna Aitchison, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Marisa Cappetta, Megan Clayton, Jennifer Compton, Joan Fleming, Janis Freegard, Helen Heath, Angeline King, Helen Lehndorf, Maria McMillan, Mark Pirie, Vaughan Rapatahana, Meliors Simms, Ian C Smith and Orchid Tierney.

This is the last Enamel and I'm pleased to be included in the ultimate issue. I'm sure Emma will be moving on to new projects.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An interview with Tim Jones

Now, as I'm sure you all know, Tim's a good friend of mine. We met over our writing--Tim was putting together an anthology of NZ SF poetry and I, recently returned to NZ from Asia, was keen to take part. We have a lot in common; we're both born in the north of England, both love poetry, both love SF, and both share a common sense of urgency around the need to take climate change, sustainability, and social justice issues seriously.

I recently interviewed Tim about his new book of poems 'Men Briefly Explained.'

  1. Would you agree that ‘Men Briefly Explained’ presents a contrast to the ‘man alone’ myths of NZ literature?

Only in part. Looking at the book when thinking about this question, it seems to me that there is a tension between "man alone" and "man not alone" poems in the book: there are archetypal loners like the character in the poem "The Outsider", even though he's an Australian rather than a New Zealander", and there is the man who is desperately sad at being separated from his children in "Coverage". On the other hand, the narrator of "Queens of Silk, Kings of Velour" is rather pleased at the company he's keeping.

"Family Man" is the poem where I specifically set out to explore this tension. I split myself in two, the man who's out and about in the world, affecting the course of events, and the one who's at home looking after his son. The man of the world feels the call of home:

... But now he's taken to hanging round the house,
not picking up, showing the boy amusing tricks

and games to play with string. I'm bored,
my double tells me, and:- how can you stand

to live this way? I look into his empty face.
You're the one who chose to fall in love, I say.

Whichever side of the alone/not alone fence one is on, the grass sometimes appears to grow especially lush on the other side. One side holds out the promise of freedom, independence, unlimited time to write - but also the risk of loneliness, disconnection, depression. The other side holds out warmth, love, friendship - but also the risk of claustrophobia, loss of independence, loss of writing time.

I wonder if I should have called the book "Writers Briefly Explained"?

  1. Many of the poems recognise the nostalgia or ‘self-haunting’ middle-aged men feel for their younger selves. Do you think that we need to reconcile ourselves to the younger men still within us?
Men are famous for having mid-life crises - buying a red Ferrari if you can afford a red Ferrari, taking up with younger partners, a sudden desire to go clubbing ... in my case, it's been a renewed interest in new bands and new music, which probably isn't a crisis for anything other than our household data plan, and a renewed commitment to environmental activism. So perhaps that's a little bit of the nostalgia that you refer to coming out.

I think of my late teens and early twenties as the unhappiest time of my life, so I don't feel any nostalgia at all for that period on a conscious level - I would hate to be pitched back into that shy, overly self-conscious, directionless and distinctly gormless lad - but I'm well aware he is still there inside me, wondering whether his Gore High School jersey would be the ideal outfit for an under-age trip to the bottle store.

  1. I like your sense of humour and play in the book. Is humour hard to write?
Humour seems to come naturally to me over short distances - a poem, say, or a short short story - but I find it very hard to maintain over a longer work. I think that humorous writing is a greatly undervalued art, and craft - what someone like Terry Pratchett does is an immensely difficult balancing act to pull off.

In New Zealand literature in particular, I think humorous writing tends to be looked down on as insufficiently highbrow. Many of our literary critics stand at a Puritan pulpit, however much they try to disguise it with fluttering scraps of literary theory.

  1. There’s clear environmental sensibility at work in your poetry. How do you balance art and politics in ‘Men Briefly Explained’?
It's interesting you say this, because I think of "Men Briefly Explained" as being the least environmentally-oriented of my poetry collections, though I guess that does come through in some of the men-in-a-landscape poems.

I think there is a kind of inverse relationship between the level of political involvement in the real world and the amount of politics in my writing: I'm heavily involved in environmental campaigns at the moment, in reaction to the present Government's complete contempt for the ecosystems we depend upon, and perhaps for that reason my writing has tended to focus on other areas. (Having said that, I am writing some distinctly political short stories at the moment - but that's more a case of politics being the subject of some of them.)

I was aware that I was taking a risk, a political risk if you wish, in writing a book called "Men Briefly Explained". First, insofar as it explains any type of men, it explains middle-class, middle-aged, heterosexual First World Pakeha men who are not entirely dissimilar to me; unfortunately, that disclaimer makes for a book title that's hard to fit on the cover.

Second, I didn't want to write an anti-feminist set of poems, and I hope I haven't done so. The book isn't heavy on the worst things that men do in the world - violence, rape and war - but there are some poems at the start of the book's second section that touch on those areas.

Do art and politics need to be balanced? I don't think it's a case of "one or the other". What I will say is that I find writing good political poems to be hard work - they need to be rooted in lived or closely observed experience to work well, I think.

  1. What’s your next project?

I mentioned short stories above: it's taken a while, but I am finally back into writing short stories, with a view to putting another short story collection together. As we all know, to utter the phrase "putting together a short story collection" is to be obliged to fend off publishers, their eyes red, their jaws slavering, assaulting the unwary author with open chequebooks and promises of advances which put bankers' bonuses in the shade ...

... or not. Still, I'll write the stories, and send them off to the short story markets that are still determinedly out there, and think of something when it comes to getting a collection together.

How To Buy A Copy Of Men Briefly Explained

Men Briefly Explained is published by Interactive Press (IP) of Brisbane. You can find out more about Men Briefly Explained, and buy it direct from the publisher, on IP's mini-site for the book:

On my Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Years with a Husband by Tim Jones

Years with a Husband

Stone to her water
his edges eroded slowly
leaving the core in place.
He was immovable
from desk, chair,
or opinion,
the slave and exemplar
of routine.

If she let him
he would wear those clothes —
scuffed fawn trousers,
frayed blue shirt —
till eternity,
till kingdom come.
He would vote the same way,
express the same
lawn bowls, modern art, the very thought
of a Pacific holiday.
Their son
she now saw
was growing stony too.
She blamed testosterone
and private schools.

Still, there was this:
that as she stretched and changed
rode the courses of her life
her husband would always be there,
blunt, imperceptive, abrupt:
her rock.

Tim Jones

Credit note: "Years with a Husband" is included in Tim Jones' new poetry collection "Men Briefly Explained", published by Interactive Press (Brisbane). Copies of the book are available from bookshops and online. You can find out how to get hold of a copy here:

Tim says: The man described in this poem doesn't have my particular likes and dislikes (hey, I like modern art!), but as I get older, I do find myself fighting against a creeping rigidity, and a growing tendency to say things along the lines of "you young people don't know how lucky you are" and "of course, in my day, we had proper [x]" (insert the [x] of your choice).

I notice this tendency to fixed ideas in other men of middle and greater years, more than I notice it in women. Is it a gender-linked trait? Is it all the fault of testosterone? I'm not sure, but I wanted to explore the idea in this poem, then invert the implied criticism at the end.

By the way, I got rid of those fawn trousers years ago - and I only wear that blue shirt when all the others are in the wash.