Tuesday Poem: Getting By

I’m not
jumping from a burning building with my arms on fire
crawling in the rubble, looking for my hand.
Geography has been so kind.

But a simple wish
can turn a streetscape to a moonscape
turn pink flesh
to whitened ash and bone.

I’m sitting by the window
lofting soundscapes through the heavy air.
Boy racers, parties, sirens — bang!
A bomb? Could that have been a bomb?

I listen harder.
There’s no more sirens, no-one screams.
Just something falling, someone
hitting harder than they planned.

No bomb, no need to worry.
I’m writing
not exploding
getting by
not burning in a burning land.

Credit note: First published in All Blacks Kitchen Gardens.

Tim says: This jittery poem from the early years of the last decade seemed like an apposite one to post tonight.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog – the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week’s other poems are linked from the right-hand column.

Tuesday Poem: No Oil

No Oil

Bad news from the north
and the queues growing longer.
Late winter, I remember,
when the shipments ceased.

There was still oil for some
which showed
where power intersected with need:
The rich.
Ministerial limousines.

The rest of us walking,
riding bikes, taking trains,
as our grandparents had:
valuing land
for what it can grow.

A Great Leap Forwards
in reverse
our faith now
in the wisdom of the old.

The world to the north
turns to poison
a battle
of each against all.

Here we cling on
in the ruins of a false economy
doing to others
being done unto
looking back with angry eyes
on a century of waste.

Tim says: I wrote this poem, which appears in my collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, in 2005 or thereabouts, and it doesn’t seem any less relevant today. “No Oil” is an exaggeration, of course, but as the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico – and its predecessors in many other, less well-publicised places – make clear, oil is becoming harder and more expensive to extract.

Concerns about the peaking and subsequent decline of world oil supply were once easy to dismiss as the ravings of wild-eyes alarmists. But when Lloyds of London and senior figures within the International Energy Agency are raising those same concerns, it may be time for even a government as blithely unaware as the one New Zealand currently possesses to start taking the issue seriously.

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens cover

You can buy All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens online from New Zealand Books Abroad or Fishpond.

Or, even easier, you can order a copy directly from me, by sending an email to senjmito (at) gmail.com. Within New Zealand, that will cost you $15 including postage & packing. If you’re from overseas, please get in touch and I’ll let you know the total cost.

Check out the Tuesday Poem Hub Blog for all the Tuesday Poems.

Tuesday Poem: Good Solid Work

Good Solid Work

We’ll laugh at this world one day.
It was all a simulation, we’ll say –
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles –
why didn’t we spot it before?
Nature could never
have come up with the emu
and the hammerhead shark was clearly a clue.

We talk without moving our lips, mind to mind.
Quantum theory’s the clincher.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, so those in charge
left the edges fuzzy
let the smallest particles
roam where they may.

Still, they did some things well –
the roots that riddled the ground
the rush of wind in the pines
the pressure of our children’s hands.
Good work, we’ll say, good solid work
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles
turning our eager faces to the soft electron rain.

Tim says:

This poem, included in my second poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, was republished in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (Interactive Press, 2009).

It refers to the philosophical proposition, advanced by Professor Nick Bostrom, that we may be living in a computer simulation. You can find more about this on The Simulation Argument, which abstracts his argument as follows:

ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

The idea that everything we do happens in a computer simulation run by a more advanced civilisation is not one that appeals to me – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. One wonders how the characters in video games feel about the world they inhabit.

Voyagers cover

You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from New Zealand Books Abroad, or Fishpond.

You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Find lots more Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

Tuesday Poem: Sex In An Elevator

Sex in an Elevator

Unlike Scarlett Johansson
I have never had sex in an elevator
with Benicio Del Toro, or Guillermo Del Toro
or any member
of the Del Toro clan.

I have never had sex with Scarlett Johansson
though I was there with Bill Murray
right through Lost in Translation.

At the Unemployed Rights Centre in Dunedin
they said there was a ghost in the stairwell.
It certainly was cold
and not somewhere
I’d choose to linger.

I never had sex there either
not with the ghost
not with Scarlett watching.

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens cover

You can buy All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens online from New Zealand Books Abroad or Fishpond, or find out more about it.

Or, even easier, you can order a copy directly from me, by sending an email to senjmito (at) gmail.com. Within New Zealand, that will cost you $15 including postage & packing. If you’re from overseas, please get in touch and I’ll let you know the total cost.

Check out the Tuesday Poem Hub Blog for Emma Barnes’ “come here at once” and all this week’s other Tuesday Poems.

Men Briefly Explained

Men Briefly Explained is the working title of the poetry collection I’m currently putting together – which, when published, will be my third collection, after Boat People (2001) and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens (2007). The poems in it are all about men in some way, even those that aren’t.

My long-haul task at the moment is to take the manuscript of the novel I completed drafting over the Christmas holidays and polish the rough edges off it so that it glows like a bridesmaid’s dress. Though with less ruffles.

But in other nooks and crannies of my life, I’m wrangling the poetry collection into shape. I now have all – or nearly all – the poems I plan to include, some still in rough draft form, others finished, or as near to finished as poems ever get. The tough part is to organise them to best advantage. Should there be four sections, or three? Which section is it best to start with?

The poems in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens mainly date from the period 2001-2005. Some of the poems in the new collection have been with me since before ABKG was published, while others are a few weeks old. I need to make sure that I’m equally comfortable with all of them; I need to finalise the newer poems and send them out into the world in a brief adolescence, to see whether they can find homes as individual poems before I call them back home; and I need to make those final decisions about what goes where.

All that may take a while – and then there is the little matter of getting the collection published – but I am hopeful that, should you or someone you know require a brief explanation of men, one will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.

As a taster, here is one of the poems I plan to include. It was published in the first issue of Enamel magazine, and some more of the poems to be included in Men Briefly Explained will be appearing in the second issue.

The Penciller

She stares up through the ceiling,
sees your hand descend.
You trace the outline of her lover:
the commander, disheartened,
has started sleeping with her troops again.

You draw the beloved form, face
now spent with sex and sweat. You want to add
what you can never have: a few curved lines,
a niche of hair. But she’s too strong.
She tugs the sheet above her breasts.

Rebuffed, you pencil in the floor.
Bras, panties, a discarded teddy: night
of passion and disorder. The two of them curved together
like spoons, like swords, like last night’s impulse
surviving into morning.

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens Takes The New Zealand Reading Challenge

Book blogger and librarian Tosca (aka Catatonia, aka @catatonichic on Twitter) recently decided it was time she read more New Zealand books, and embarked on her New Zealand books resolution.

The third book on her list was my second poetry collection, All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. I waited anxiously to see what she’d think of it – though I was cheered by the news that, as she read it on the bus home, a fellow passenger had started reading over her shoulder. But in the event, I needn’t have worried: she liked it a lot!

Tosca’s full review is on the Manukau Libraries blog, and here is the first paragraph:

A delightful find! This title is a collection of poems covering a variety of topics that are funny, sad, political, reflective, about culture and life, nature, love, relationships – you name it and it’s here, it’s fresh and it’s evocative.

I’m working on the poems for my third poetry collection at present, so a positive review of my previous collection is especially nice to get. Thank you, Tosca, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the books you will read for this challenge.

How You Can Buy All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens

  • Directly from me. I have copies available at NZ$15 + postage and packing. Postage and packing within New Zealand is $2.
  • From New Zealand Books Abroad
  • From Fishpond.

Sample Poems from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens Reprinted / First Light

All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, my poetry collection published in 2007, has been reprinted: a small reprint, but still, it’s good to be in a position to do so.

In case you’ve yet to sample its delights, you can:

Here’s “First Light””, a poem from All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. I planned to read it in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago, but, to Joanna Preston’s disappointment, ran out of time. Until I make an audio file of it, this print version is the best I can do.

First Light

First light on the new sea. Cows
crop hilltops turned islands.
Small boats sound the fathoms
over the family farm.

On sudden shores, survivors
gather to click and point. There’s Aunt Edna.
There’s her house, three china ducks
riding the morning tide.

Sky blue, smell
briny. Somewhere down there, graveyards,
urupa. The divisions, ancestral, cadastral,
that put a human stamp on land.

Aid is coming. Helicopters,
news crews, interviews and articles.
Grief and condescension. Coat,
blanket, a fusilade of cans.

Fog on devastation. Sudden eddies.
The drowned turbines of Te Apiti
blades still turning
mine the new and liquid wind.

Sometimes People Say the Nicest Things

… and it makes all the effort seem worthwhile. It was a real fillip to discover these comments on All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens tonight:

Inflight Reading

Not sure how many copies of Transported are left in the airport bookstores, though …

What I’m Writing

I set up this blog to write about and promote the three books I had published between September 2007 and June 2008 – All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, Anarya’s Secret and Transported – plus post about other writers, books, and matters of interest to me. I’ve been doing all that, and will keep doing it, but I realised a few days back that there was one topic I hadn’t tackled: what I’m writing now.

I write short stories, poetry, and novels. Inefficient, maybe, especially for someone who writes part-time, but that mix doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future – because I’ve got all three types of writing on the go. My main focus is my new novel, but short stories and poetry refuse to be entirely set aside.

First, the novel. I’m prone to calling it “my new novel”, but that’s not strictly accurate. Before I wrote Anarya’s Secret, I had written another novel, with the working title “Antarctic Convergence”. The jumping off point for “Antarctic Convergence” was a story I wrote in 2000, “The Wadestown Shore”, which is included in Transported.


This is the story that begins:

I cut the engine in the shadow of the motorway pillars and let the dinghy drift in to the Wadestown shore. The quiet of late afternoon was broken only by the squawking of parakeets. After locking the boat away in the old garage I now used as a boatshed, I stood for a moment to soak in the view. The setting sun was winking off the windows of drowned office blocks. To the left lay Miramar Island, and beyond it the open sea.

and ends:

The sunken office blocks of the Drowned city were far behind me. The rich waters and virgin shores of Antarctica lay ahead. I made my way forward to greet them.


“The Wadestown Shore” is (in revised form) also Chapter 1 of the novel.

I finished the initial version of this novel in 2004, but was unable to get it published. I decided to shelve it for a while, write something else (that turned out to be Anarya’s Secret), and then revisit the novel and the feedback I’d had on it.

I did that earlier this year, and though there are some valid arguments against rewriting your first completed novel, I felt that the basic idea of “Antarctic Convergence” was still good, but that the novel had major structural problems, especially in its second half. So I’m rewriting it pretty much from scratch, and I’m almost half way through the redraft. More news, I hope, in 2009.

Next, the short stories. I’ve written three new stories since Transported was put to bed, and am currently working on a fourth which I’m trying to finish in time for an anthology submission deadline. That isn’t exactly enough for a collection, and I’m putting completing the novel ahead of writing lots more stories, but I will keep plugging away. When new stories of mine do appear in print or online, I’ll let you know.

Last but not least, the poetry. Although All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens was published in 2007, I completed the manuscript (more or less) in 2005, so I have had three years to get some more poetry written. But, whereas I can decide that I’m going to work on my novel for the next two hours, sit down, and get 1000 or so words written, I have found that I can’t make myself write poetry: it arrives when it wants, and when it doesn’t want, nothing will induce it – yes, it’s that old favourite “the muse” again!

All the same, when checking the other day, I found that I had 29 poems which I’d consider putting towards a new collection – and what’s more, 29 poems that fit a theme. Will I write more poems that fit this theme and assemble them beautifully into a collection, or will I go off on a complete tangent? Watch this space!

Downtuned to Nowhere: A Metalhead’s Journey. Part 2: Too Old to Rock’n’Roll, Too Young To Die

I posted earlier this month back about my long love affair, dating back to my teenage years, with heavy metal in general, and Metallica in particular. Very little of this has come out in my fiction, although I’m sure with a little more imagination I could do something about that:

– Darling, I —
– No, Celia, don’t say anything. Not now.
– But darling, I have to tell you. I can’t keep it a secret any longer. You see, I —
– What? What is it, Celia?
– I’m … I’m leaving you, Clive. I’m leaving you to go on tour as the new keyboard player for Lordi.

Brief Encounter was never like this!

In a classic case of the “return of the repressed”, however, what is absent in my fiction emerges in my poetry, in the form of poems about ageing rockers. Why ageing rockers? I think it’s because there’s something of both valour and pathos in the grizzled hero strapping on his wig of flowing chestnut locks, his armour of leather and studs, and his battered, trusted guitar one more time and going forth to do battle against the night. It’s like Tennyson’s Ulysses with a merchandise table.

In honour of ageing rockers, I present, in increasing order of the protagonists’ decrepitude, these three poems from my recent poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

An Adventure

He put his Steely Dan CDs
in a box under the bed
bought three pairs of baggy shorts
wore his cap backwards
learned to swear like Fred Durst
(or was it Kirsten Dunst? He could
never be entirely sure.)

Took to clubbing. He sought out
young women with black hair
(or auburn — almost anything but that particular
shade of bottle blonde)
and more money than good sense.

For a while it all went well.
With the little blue pills
bought cheap online
he gave them a good time
every time.

Then, in a private moment
one of his conquests
caught him listening to the Moody Blues.
When she spread the word
the good times were over. He hung up his cap
gave the shorts to charity
and subscribed to Sky instead.

Norah Jones or System of a Down

I’m visiting Lemmy from Motorhead.
“Lemmy,” I say, “how did you get that
bass sound in ‘The Watcher’?”
He shows me the fingering on his Zimmer frame.
He’s forgotten most of Motorhead
but he’s frighteningly lucid on Hawkwind.

Unasked questions throng my head.
Lemmy, who was your favourite band?
Lemmy, what drugs do they still let you take?
Lemmy, when did you start growing old?
“Lemmy,” I say, “are you cold?”
He is. I wrap him in my coat.

Visiting hours are over.
I shake the maestro’s hand.
The warts on Lemmy’s ravaged face
stand out like sentinels
defeated by the beat of time.

There’s music piped into the rooms.
It’s Norah Jones or System of a Down.
I take my leave.
I brace myself against the cold.
I embody the presence of silence.

New Live Dates

It’s a meat market in here.
Why girls as green as grass
Should dance to the songs of a man ten times their age
Climb on their boyfriends’ shoulders
Throw their panties and their room keys on the stage
I’ll never know.

They wanted to send me out backed by machines
Some guy in a booth somewhere, flicking switches.
I said no: give me a band, the younger and louder the better.
Let the old man have his Zimmer frame of noise
His crackling fire of guitars
His beating heart of bass and drum.

I’ve lived; no, not lived, let’s say survived
To hear my music cut to pieces, used to sell
Everything from shoes to car insurance
Everything from fried chicken to retirement homes.
It doesn’t matter: nothing matters
But the lights, the noise, the stage

And my women. I drink them up.
I leave them pale and drained.
In the morning, they don’t know themselves
Waking with a shiver to the memory of pleasure
The scents of whisky and old leather
And the sound of curtains flapping in the wind.