Thursday, December 29, 2011

Surf training

I found a great way to avoid the sales.
The sand was full of weeny iron bits (iron filings? - a science lesson gone astray?). They stuck to the magnets on my son's train when he buried it. When I dug it up I thought it was a bizarrely similar yet much older abandoned train with anemones clinging to it (...always the most ludicrous explanation is the most obvious seeming one....).

We found the most beautiful dainty shells in bone white and indigo fading to lilac....
...before our attention was caught by a flash of electric blue (photo credit Mike, currently photographer in residence at Muriwai Surf School - my surf pics were tripe).

The beach seems the most appropriate place to end one year and bring in the next; something about
the tide draws me there at the close of the year. And what a year.

I've had a productive one which saw twenty odd publications, starting with Otoliths through Horizon Review, ending in December with The Bactrian Room. I wrote a screenplay, penned a couple hundred poems, got longlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Award and started Escape Behaviours (the poetry for which I wrote this time last year).

Thank you all who've supported me in myriad ways - I feel grateful, and optimistic for the New Year. Here's to a creative and fulfilling New Year for all of you!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oh Christmas three

Three little baubles of happy news to hang on your tree this December:

Firstly - huge congratulations to Isobel J Hillman for getting her first poem published at Ink, Sweat & Tears - I'm particularly thrilled for her as she's my daughter, and she wrote Avalanches when she was nine (she's the grand old age of ten now!).

Secondly - I have a story up at The Bactrian Room. I'd love your thoughts on this one. My thanks go to Russell Streur who has virtually adopted me this year!

Thirdly - the names have gone into the hat - the person receiving a copy of The Juno Charm is:

Congratulations, Dan - drop me an email at teaforthetiller [at] hotmail [dot] com and The Juno Charm will work its magical way to you.

Thanks to all who've read and or followed the blog this year - your support means so much to me. However you choose to celebrate this holiday, I hope you have a relaxing and meaningful time - and a heap of fun ;) You really are the trimmings on the tree for me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tim to dance

I’ve got the tunes on, prehistoric music, bass low enough to get your pulse flummoxed but not so loud as to make your brain feel like the last biscuit in the tin of your head. My dance partner should be here any moment….and here he is!

Hello, Rachel! Thanks for marking me on your dance card! If you hadn't said the music was prehistoric, I would have said it sounded a lot like Warpaint.

Hullo, huge welcome, and thank you for visiting snowlikethought, Tim Jones.

Let me get rid of your jacket – it is waterproof? It’ll still be there when you leave. Nibble? Biscuit? Drink?

Then what are we waiting for? Let’s dance. Mind the toy box, watch out for the rocker leg; not exactly a dance floor but all the world’s a stage, is it not?

As long as there's space for my elbows, I'm happy on the most crowded dance floor.

Now, Tim, I’m so thrilled you’re here to talk about your latest poetry collection, “Men Briefly Explained”.

In a recent radio interview you discussed some of the social pressures men are under to stand “alone” be “staunch”, and “not to show weakness”. ..  that media possibly adds to these pressures by portraying men stereotypically. Could you perhaps give some examples and say how the characterisation of men in “Men Briefly Explained” differs from caricatures of men in the media in your opinion?

The characterization that comes to mind is the "Southern Man" of Speights advertisement fame. I like those ads, but our Speights-loving friend is the New Zealand "Man Alone" stereotype taken to a point just this side of the ludicrous – terse, laconic, giving at most a grudging nod (and a Speights) of praise.

It's a powerful stereotype, because the long-withheld approval of a stern father-figure/mentor is something a lot of boys and men find themselves seeking.

I grew up in Southland, and the stereotype is not entirely without truth – some of those real-life Southern Men populate the margins of a poem like "Men at Sea". But I wasn't born in Southland, or even in New Zealand — I was born in Cleethorpes (that's near Grimsby in Lincolnshire, a fact it's just conceivable some readers won't know), and Cleethorpes Man is a much more emotionally labile beast.

Hopefully you’re warmed up now, Tim, shall we up the tempo?

You began your reading at The Thirsty Dog, in the Auckland leg of your recent tour, by introducing your collection as (paraphrasing) a book for anyone who wants to know about men, including women. You followed “women” with a description that the book is only a slim volume. This struck me as a deliberately provocative comment to make – especially considering your suggestion that more women than men buy your poetry (especially considering I was in the audience!) –  I was instantly aware that my interpretation of your poetry was going to be keener than if I hadn’t had the feminine rag waved at me. So, in light of that altered reception, I wanted to ask you if consider “Men Briefly Explained” a sort of Fight Club for poets?  That is, if it is in any way a defence of masculinity, and do you even think such a defence necessary?

I certainly wasn't using "slim" as an insult, unless it was an insult directed at men — i.e. that it takes only a slim book to explain us – but it seems that didn't come across as intended. So far, at least, women have shown a lot more interest in the book than men, but perhaps that reflects the realities of the poetry-reading audience as much as the contents of the book. In any case, if anyone was offended by my introduction, I apologise!

I don't think of the book as a defence of masculinity — unless to explain is, to some extent, to defend. I do think that the genders are often quite mysterious to each other.

I love the quote from Kathleen Jones on the back of the book: “This poetry is how New Women want their New Men to be – strong, sensitive and empathetic!” Should we add ‘brief’ to that list?

There are so many meanings "brief" could take in this situation, but if it's the meaning I think you intend, that takes us back towards the strong, silent type – the "Southern Man" I started with. There are times when I imagine it's reassuring to have the strong, silent type around, I expect. I hope I am the strong type, at least when that is appropriate, but I struggle with the silent part.

You’ve got some devilish moves, Tim. Right, let’s put something a bit slower on. You can be Björn to my Agnetha.

As an ABBA fan, that's an attractive proposition – but then I remember that my favourite ABBA song, "The Winner Takes It All", was written by Björn for Agnetha to sing, from Agnetha's point of view, about Agnetha and Björn's breakup. Which is very sad, and at the same time, a little creepy.

Of course, the song has now been redeemed by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon singing it at the end of the best and funniest movie about masculinity I've seen for ages, The Trip.

(Yes, I am a nerd – why do you ask?)

Your poems aren’t just about men, though, are they, Tim? The poetry winks to a start with one of the most startling conception poems I think I’ve ever read. 

Curved over islands, the world

dragged me south in a talkative year

slipping Southampton

as the band played a distant farewell.

It was better than steerage,

that assisted passage: ten pound poms

at sixpence the dozen, promenading

in sun frocks, gathering for quoits,

angling, in an understated way,

for a seat at the Captain’s table.

("Impertinent to Sailors", © Tim Jones, 2011) 

This poem has the rare property (though not rare for your poetry) of being funny, cheekily so, yet transcendental, and ultimately very moving. Could you tell me a little about “Impertinent to Sailors”?

Thank you! Like many of the poems in the first section of the book, "Impertinent to Sailors" is closely based on my own life. As I mentioned, I was born in the UK, and my parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand when I was two – the classic "ten pound Poms" on an assisted passage. I remember nothing of the trip, but I've filled in the details – several probably wrongly – from what I've been told about it. The abrupt and disappointing ending is certainly correct: Dad, having been lured aboard by the promise of a job waiting at the other end of the voyage, found when we disembarked in Christchurch that the job had been given to somebody else.

I find that two-line stanzas are good for poems expressing alienation or disconnection: there's something about the way that the lines in each stanza cling together, with a wide space before and a wide space behind.

This poem has found an unexpected second life. I posted it as a Tuesday Poem on my blog, and it was found online by an Australian composer looking for a text for a choral work he was composing called "Brighton to Bondi" – for which I was very happy to give permission. The work was premiered in Sydney in September, and seems to have to been a success – I hope to hear it one day.

Ah the band is growing faint, I fear, Tim. Too soon, too soon. A slow dance to end? No? Let’s go out with a big bang then!

“Queens Of Silk, Kings Of Velour” I imagine will be the sequin of a poem you will never shake off from this collection forward. It’s playful, flirty. When I first read it I scribbled notes. Marginalia: man is geek; to be man is to know and have the reflux reflex to regurgitate facts. Is this “what it means to be a man”?

That's good to hear, because I usually feel that my best poems are those that arrive more or less fully formed, whereas "Queens…" went through quite a few incarnations before reaching its present form.

Knowing obscure facts about seventies bands is only one of the many ways to be a man, but in my line of work (I work part-time in the IT industry to pay the bills that writing, sadly, does not yet pay) I meet quite a few men for whom the detailed knowledge of the arcane of one aspect of life is an important component of masculinity. There is a certain sense of security in knowing that both Elton John (under his birth name, Reginald Dwight) and Bryan Ferry auditioned to be the lead singer of King Crimson. It helps to make sense of a chaotic world – and yet the women are on the dance floor, wondering (or even worse, not caring in the slightest) about why all the men are sitting on the sofa.

Would you look at the clock; we’ve danced the time away. What a blast. Reading “Men Briefly Explained” is to dance through the ages of man, and man, what a dance! I’ve had a wonderful time, Tim, thank you for humouring me. Please, where can I find more copies of “Men Briefly Explained”?

Can there be More Than This? Well, yes – in an abrupt segue from melancholia to marketing – there can:

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, plus latest reader reactions and reviews:

Just before you go, (ah, see, your jacket’s still on the pavement, you won’t get wet feet crossing that puddle) I think I’ve mentioned online before your “Boat People” was the first poetry collection I read when I first arrived in New Zealand four years ago. It felt like I was meant to find that book in particular. It’s wonderful to have another collection from you, Tim, the prequel as it were, I’ll treasure just as much. Thank you very much.

It's lovely to hear that, Rachel! I didn't know that about "Boat People", and that makes your support for my work even more special. Thank you once again! I shall sail out of here with my feet not quite touching the floor…