31 December 2011

2011, year of not as much poetry as I had intended

Sometimes I feel I'm in a time loop. Looking back at a post I wrote in Jan last year, I find I've articulated the very things I'm still feeling: that I keep pushing my own poetry to the bottom of the list. I decided that 2011 was going to be my Year of Poetry. I decided I was going to read a poetry book a week. I decided I was going to finish and polish the manuscript for my next book. I was going to focus more on my own poetry and less on publishing poetry.

So, this year, instead of publishing my average of one Seraph Press book, I published two. They are both wonderful, and I'm glad I published them. But after the middle of the year I did end up feeling that publishing (the two Seraph Press books, plus JAAM) was dominating my time entirely.

I haven't managed to read 52 poetry books this year. I stopped recording them back in May at 16/52. But I've also read these, in no particular order because I can't remember:
  • Cookhouse, by Paula Green (17/52)
  • Spark, by Emma Neale (18/52)
  • The City, by Jennifer Compton (19/52)
  • Thicket, by Anna Jackson (this is her new one, which sent me back to:) (20/52)
  • Catullus for Children, by Anna Jackson (and) (21/52)
  • The Long Road to Teatime, by Anna Jackson (22/52)
  • Hill of Wool, by Jenny Bornholdt (23/52)
  • The Moonmen, by Anna Livesey (24/52)
  • Western Line, by Airini Beautrais (25/52)
  • Men Briefly Explained, by Tim Jones (26/52)
  • Tongues of Ash, by Keith Westwater (27/52)
  • The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls, by Kate Camp (28/52)
  • Poetry Reading at Kaka Point, by Peter Olds (29/52)
  • Pocket Edition, by Geoff Cochrane (30/52)
  • The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons: Prose Poems, by Vivienne Plumb (Ok, so I did publish it, but I had to read it multiple times, so I'm going to count it) (31/52)
  • The Comforter, by Helen Lehndorf (ditto) (32/52)
  • Green Man Running, by Anna Jackson's honours class (I taught them how to hand-bind this little collection one Saturday afternoon) (33/52)
  • 2011, by Anna Jackson (this is a little book of 11 poems Anna put together to commemorate the year) (34/52)
  • The Same as Yes, by Joan Fleming (a Christmas present) (35/52)
  • Nice Pretty Things and others, by Rachel Bush (also a Christmas present, and I haven't actually finished it yet, but I'll make sure I do today). (36/52)
So, 36. Not quite 52, but on the way.

I also haven't quite finished Cinema, the sadly neglected thing that it is, but I have gone so far as to sort it into an order, and hand it over to a trusted friend to read and give me feedback. (Pretty much the first thing she said is that she doesn't think the order is right!) Even though there are still some unfinished poems in there, it has helped make me feel like it isn't too far off being done.

Thinking back on the year, some other cool poetry things have happened. I've been part of Tuesday Poems for its second year (I don't always manage to post or be a good community member, but I try), and we Wellington members had two meet-ups - appropriately at the book-filled Library bar.

I did a couple of readings this year, both of which were really enjoyable - for me at least. In March I read at the Ballroom with Helen Heath and Helen Lehndorf as Helen Cubed. This was a wonderful experience, and one I hope we will reprise. At the end of the year, in early December, I read at Blondini's with Vana Manasiadis, Emma Barnes and Stefanie Lash. Much scarier than the readings was going out to Newlands College, doing talk to a hall-full (well, actually it was half-full) of students (which including reading a few poems, which I found much more comfortable than talking), running a writing workshop (which went really well, to my great relief) and presenting prizes to students who had placed in a poetry competition I had judged.

And I've had a few things published around the place. Most exciting for me was probably Sport publishing a poem sequence 'Nine Movies' (which is from Cinema) in it's entirely - all nine poems. Another big highlight is Paula Green selecting a couple of my poems for a new anthology of love poems that is being published in 2012. Sadly that had to be cut back to one when it got the publisher, who needed it to be a shorter book, but I'm still very excited. And it was also cool when my poem 'If this is the future...', which had been published in issue 2 of Eye to the Telescope, was the Thursday poem in the Dominion Post. (My in-laws still have the clipping stuck to their fridge.)

So, my year wasn't quite as poetry-filled as I hoped it would be, but it also wasn't quite such as failure as I thought it was before I started reflecting. And I'm going to try to make 2012 an even better year of poetry - one where I write more anyway.

20 December 2011

(Very late) Tuesday and Christmas poem: 'Pōhutukawa' by Vivienne Plumb

Vivienne Plumb has just been announced as one of the two Randell Cottage fellows for next year (she's the NZ one in the second half of the year, Florence Cadier is the French one in the first half of the year). She plans to use the time to research and write a novel with political themes set in Wellington. I'm very proud to have published her most recent book, The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons: Prose Poems, from which 'Pōhutukawa' comes, in October.

I chose this because it's a very Christmas poem, a very New Zealand Christmas. Red pōhutukawa threads on the ground, hot asphalt, asparagus, fractures.

And look, I have 10 minutes left of Tuesday!

Check out other Tuesday (and some Christmassy) poems over at the Tuesday Poem blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/

12 December 2011

Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained

In place of a Tuesday Poem this week, I have a Tuesday Poet. Below is a short interview with Tim Jones, about his new poetry book, Men Briefly Explained. It's part of a blog tour Tim's been doing around the interwebs (you'll find more of his visitations here: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/12/magical-mystery-tour-is-coming-to-take.html)

And once you've read this, you'll want to check out all the Tuesday Poems, here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.

Did you set out to write a poetry book about men?

I was going to answer "no" to this question, but a dive into the dusty depths of my hard drive suggests that the answer should actually be "yes"!

Even before my previous poetry collection All Blacks Kitchen Gardens was published by HeadworX in 2007, I had noticed that I had written quite a few new poems about men, and I thought of putting them together in a chapbook which I was going to call "Guy Thing" - I even wrote a title poem. I had in mind the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop Mini Series, which I really like.

The chapbook idea never turned into anything, but about three-quarters of the poems I had planned to include in it made their way into Men Briefly Explained. The rest of the MBE poems were mainly written in 2010, when I had scaled my ideas up from a chapbook to a new collection. By that stage, I was writing with the theme of the collection in mind. These newer poems are mainly in the second and third sections.

I still really like the idea of putting a chapbook together, though - I'd like to do that one day. Perhaps my poem about the final boss in the first Lara Croft game will finally see the light of day...

I'm a bit obsessed with poetry books as collections - as a complete whole, with a structure and shape. Did you put your collection in order, or did you publisher do it, or was it a combination of the two?

It was mainly me, with a few suggestions from Dr David Reiter of Interactive Press, the publisher, who is of course also a very widely published poet himself. The sections stayed pretty much as they were, but there was a little bit of re-ordering within them.

This is my second book published by Interactive Press. The first, Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, was a much trickier exercise to sequence - we shuffled the poems in that around quite a lot before arriving at the final order, and since the book won an award and has sold surprisingly well, it seems the effort was worthwhile.

If you were involved, how did you come to decide to arrange it in this way?

The poems in the prospective "Guy Thing" chapbook I mentioned earlier were mainly about me, and mainly about youth and young manhood, plus I had a number of poems looking at men, real or imagined, in the third person - and those men seemed, when I went back and thought about the poems, to be middle-aged.

A book about men that purported (at least in its title) to explain them, but stopped at the middle years of their lives - the stage I'd reached - didn't really seem adequate, so in 2010, I concentrated on writing poems for the third section of the book, where the protagonists of the poems range from middle-aged to posthumous. Deliberately setting out to write a group of poems on a pre-decided topic was quite a departure for me, but once I got into the swing of it, the remaining poems came quite quickly.

And did you also structure your previous poetry collections?

This is the first of my collection to have one overarching theme. In my previous collections, I've grouped the poems into sections that have had some kind of coherence - for instance, there is a section of my first collection, Boat People, that I think of as the "Russian section", poems either about Russia or strongly influenced by Russian poetry; and in both Boat People and All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, the final section of the book consists of speculative poetry.

What's next for Tim Jones? Are you working on your next poetry collection?

After a long hiatus, I've again started writing the occasional poem from time to time, but my main focus at the moment is on writing short stories. Quite apart from the fact that that's what I want to be doing, I am obliged to do this, because when I was awarded the NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010, it was on the basis of producing another collection of short stories, so I had better bestir myself!

With this collection, I again have a theme in mind from the start, rather than (as with my first two collections) coming up with the theme by finding a commonality within the stories I wanted to include. I have noticed that both publishers and reviewers of short story collections show a strong preference for linked or at least themed collections. Personally, I prefer variety, but since I've thought of this theme it has generated lots of story ideas. Whether I should write the stories based on these ideas, or whether I should simply provide readers with a title, an outline of the story idea, and a few blank pages for them to fill in themselves, is a decision yet to be taken.

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: http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/MBE.htm

On Tim's Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/p/men-briefly-explained.html

05 December 2011

Tuesday Poem: 'Wabi-sabi' by Helen Lehndorf


I was thirty-three before I learned
people stuck in snow
can die from dehydration.
I would melt icicles
on my tongue for you, resist
the drinking down, drip it
into you. Then repeat, repeat
until my lips were raw.

Deep snow squeaks. We
stop on the Desert Road
because of the snow. You
throw snowballs at the
‘Warning: Army Training Area’ sign.
I take macro-photographs of
icicles on tussock.

When we drive up the Desert Road
we lose National Radio, we lose
cellphone reception, we lose
all hope. I was thirty-seven before
I considered not trying to always fix
things. I read an article in the New Yorker
about wabi-sabi – the beauty in the
broken and the worn. The integrity
of the much-used utilitarian object.

But then there was another article
about a woman flying to Mexico
to be put in a coma
so she can wake up mended. It is
like rebooting a computer, said the doctor.

Despite wabi-sabi, I want that.
To live in snow and not be thirsty.
I want good reception all the way
up the country. I want a shiny, clean
version of myself. Closedown,
hibernate, restart.

Helen Lehndorf is the author of the latest Seraph Press book, The Comforter, which I'm very proud to have published. We had two launches for it this weekend, one in Palmerston North (where Helen lives) and one one in Wellington. I've written briefly about them over on the Seraph Press site, but basically they were wonderful and magical launches. As part of her launch speech, she talked about how she had been writing this book for more than a decade - though the poems in it must have changed a lot, as many of them are about things that have happened within that decade. But basically, this has been a book that has been a long time coming for Helen, and one which is the realisation of a dream and the product of a lot of grit, hard work and determination.

Helen has also taught creative writing through Massey University, and so I'm sure she's helped other people along with their dreams.

'Wabi-sabi' is the opening poem in the book - partly because it's one of my favourites in the book (possibly my absolute favourite? But I have other favourites too), and also because it seemed to me to be an anchor of the collection. We begin here in the depths of winter, and we more towards warmer seasons, and back again.

This poem also, as people at the launches will have heard me say, epitomises what I love so much about Helen's poetry. It is sharp-eyed and specific. It introduces a number of interesting ideas and has more than one thing going on at once. When it talks about life and love, it's authentic and fierce, not clichéd. And it is impossible not to be moved by it.

For more about The Comforter, visit: http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/the-comforter.html

And to check out more Tuesday poems, visit the Tuesday Poem blog: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/