Chaps And Chapbooks

In the latest blog tour interview, Wellington poet and publisher Helen Rickerby asks me about the development of Men Briefly Explained as a collection, and I revealed that it started life as a never-published chapbook called “Guy Thing”. It’s all revealed in Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained.

Previous Interviews

12 December 2011: Christchurch fantasy author, poet and book blogger Helen Lowe talks with me about whether men buy poetry, the identity of those mysterious men who write poetry, and what relationship there is between poetry and speculative fiction. Look through the comments for a giveaway I’m offering! A Magical Mystery Tour Through “Men Briefly Explained” — & A Few Side Topics — With Author Tim Jones

7 December 2011: Auckland poet, graphic poet, short story writer and novelist Rachel Fenton asks me to dance: Tim to dance: Rachel Fenton interviews Tim Jones.

6 December 2011: Wellington poet Harvey Molloy talks with me about men, mid-life crises, art and politics: An Interview with Tim Jones.

1 December 2011: Dunedin poet Kay McKenzie Cooke talks with me about Southland, prose poems, and the fabled Gore High School jersey: New Zealand Writer Tim Jones Explains.

27 November 2011: Canberra poet PS Cottier talk with me about hard work, whether the male sex has a future, and Swannis: Of Poems and Men: Interview with Tim Jones.

Tuesday Poem: This is the way the world ends, by Helen Rickerby

This story is about remembering
and forgetting

Not knowing where you are
or if it’s real

But you can die with a martini in your hand


The girl in pink, skating towards you
has an automatic weapon
behind her back

and this drug will take you to Jesus
if Jesus is a chorus
line of short-skirt nurses


There is too much sun in California
for shadows


There are other people
in this story

The bride and groom who laughed themselves to death

the boy who lost hope

the pirate soldier, the man with two souls

the porn stars, the family

the whole city

the whole world


This is an apocalypse

in an ice cream truck


Twiddling his fingers
While LA burns

‘He’s going to die,’ says one blonde, sadly
‘There’s nothing we can do,’ says the other

as they dance cheek to cheek
hand in manicured hand

There’s nothing they can do

Credit note:“This is the way the world ends” was first published in Trout 16 and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

Tim says: Helen Rickerby and I have something more in common than being Wellington members of the Tuesday Poets. We like something that, to many, is a subject to be scorned, feared, or ridiculed. We like Richard Kelly’s movie Southland Tales.

Southland Tales, Kelly’s followup to Donnie Darko, was a critical and commercial disaster, a great, sprawling, baffling, infuriating mess of a movie that goes nowhere and everywhere at once. The thing is, though, that it is full of the most wonderful images and concepts. It’s like someone put Andrei Tarkovsky’s soul inside Michael Bay and gave TarkoBay (Baykovsky?) a few mill to go and play with. It’s the postmodern “Heart of Darkness”. It’s nuts. You should see it.

But that’s enough about me … from this raw material, Helen has fashioned another of her marvellous poems inspired by movies.

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: Queens Of Silk, Kings Of Velour

Queens of Silk, Kings Of Velour

A 70s party: disco, afros, flares and Abba.
I’m dancing with the women,
talking with the men.

Three songs up, strutting my stuff,
the only male dancer, bathed
in unprecedented female attention.

Three songs down, back on the sofa,
our gang of four likely lads
trading facts about the history of punk.

On the floor, I’m surrounded
by silk, smiles, the sensational

On the sofa, we’ve moved on to Yes.
I sing the chorus of “Close to the Edge”
with a man I don’t even know.

This is what it means to be a man: not
the All Blacks, not power tools,
not fighting foreign wars,

but the ability to name
all the members and ex-members
of obscure seventies bands.

“Dance To The Music,” Sly says,
and so I must obey.
But not without a caveat:

“Is this actually from the seventies?”
asks a couch-bound friend.
“From 1968,” I say. “Let’s dance!”

Tim says: This poem has just been published in JAAM 28: Dance Dance Dance, the 2010 issue of JAAM Magazine, edited by Clare Needham and Helen Rickerby.

JAAM 28 has a lovely cover and, from what I’ve read so far, is an excellent issue. It’s definitely worth asking JAAM for the next dance.

You can find all the Tuesday Poems online at the Tuesday Poem blog.

Five Blogs I Like. Chapter 1: The First Five

A week or so ago, writer Debbie Cowens very kindly nominated me for a Prolific Blogger Award, as part of which, all the nominees are invited to nominate seven prolific bloggers of their own.

Although I decided not to go down the Prolific Blogger route (because I’m, like, a rebel), it did remind me that I’d fallen out of the habit of posting here about other blogs I enjoy reading, even if I don’t catch up with them as often as I’d like. So I’ve decided to institute a semi-regular series called “Five Blogs I Like”.

Some of my favourite bloggers are far more prolific than I, while others maintain a posting average of about once a month. You’ll find all sorts in here, and they won’t all be writing blogs, or New Zealand blogs – but in this first instalment, I’m going to feature five New Zealand writing blogs I have liked ever since I first set on eyes on them.

Helen Rickerby: Winged Ink. Helen is a fine poet, a publisher, and a person who always has interesting things to say. Her blog was one of those I modelled “Books In The Trees” on when I began it, and the other such blog was …

Harvey Molloy: Notebook. This blog features news of Harvey’s life, thoughts on poetry & existence, and now and then some of his wonderful poems, like this one: After New Year.

Kay McKenzie Cooke: made for weather. Kay is one of my favourite poets. Her work has an added appeal for me because it’s often about Southland, the province I grew up in and often write about in my own poetry. Not only that, but she illustrates it with great photos as well.

Meliors Simms: Bibliophilia. Meliors is very talented as both a poet and an artist, with her work recently having been a finalist for a national arts prize. Plus, Antarctic art, and discussions of Kim Stanley Robinson!

Graham Beattie: Beatties Book Blog. This blog, which Graham Beattie updates several times a day – he truly deserves the title of Prolific Blogger – is a trade journal for the New Zealand publishing industry, from beneath the surface of which literary disputes occasionally burst into the open. It’s an essential resource for working writers in New Zealand.

An Open Mike, An Open Heart

An Open Mike

Just a couple of days now till the Voyagers Book Tour of New Zealand begins, and we have decided to include an Open Mike for science fiction/speculative poetry at the tour events for which we don’t have a full slate of Voyagers poets reading. Note the highlighted events on the tour:

14 Oct: Dunedin Library, 5:30 pm
15 Oct: Circadian Rhythm Café (72 St Andrew St, Dunedin), 7 pm
16 Oct: Madras Café Books (165 Madras St, Christchurch), 5 pm

19 Oct: Wellington Central Library, 5:30 pm
20 Oct: Paraparaumu Library, 179 Rimu Rd, 5:30 pm
22 Oct: Auckland Central Library, 5:30 pm
24 Oct: Depot Artspace (28 Clarence St, Devonport), 6:30 pm

At these bold events, not only will Voyagers poets will read their own and (in some cases) others’ work from the anthology, but there will also be an opportunity for other poets to bring along their own science fiction/speculative poetry (we won’t be too strict about definitions) and read it at these Voyagers events. I already know at least one poet who, inspired, is setting out to write a poem or poems specially for the event they plan to attend. You can choose to do likewise, or simply to come along, sit back, and listen!

An Open Heart

I have been known to criticise Creative New Zealand on occasions, notably when they slashed the funding of the New Zealand Poetry Society in 2008. But it’s only fair that I should also acknowledge the good things they do: a number of books in which I have had stories published would not have been possible, or would have had a smaller print run, without Creative New Zealand funding.

Last year, I was the guest editor of Issue 26 of JAAM Magazine. I was happy to take on the task because JAAM published some of my earliest fiction and poetry and has continued to be a hospitable home for my work over the years: so it was a good chance to do something for JAAM and for writing in general in return. I didn’t expect to be paid, and I wasn’t.

But, a couple of weeks ago, I received a very nice surprise with my subscribers’ copy of JAAM 27: an ex gratia payment for editing Issue 26. A note from publishers Helen Rickerby and Clare Needham said that the payment to editors had been made possible by an increase in this year’s Creative New Zealand grant for the publication of JAAM, which also allowed an increase in this year’s payment to contributors.

So, thank you Creative New Zealand!

Blackmail Press 25: The Rebel Issue – Wellington launch

One day before Fantastic Voyages: Writing Speculative Fiction comes the Wellington launch of Issue 25 of Blackmail Press. It’s called The Rebel Issue, and among those with poems in the issue who have blogged about the launch are Harvey Molloy, Helen Rickerby and Janis Freegard (who has been having great success with both poems and short stories recently).

I haven’t read the whole issue, but if Harvey’s, Helen’s, and Janice’s poems are any yardstick it will be well worth going to the launch. Here are the brief details – see the blog links above for more:

Blackmail Press presents The Rebel Issue

Please join us for an evening of poetry, which will begin with an open microphone session and be followed by a selection of readings from the current Rebel issue.

Wellington launch: Weds, Sept 16, 2009 – 7.30pm

Upstairs, Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington.

Voyagers for Sale, Stand Up Poetry, Online Voting for the Vogels, and James Dignan’s New Exhibition

Voyagers for Sale

Mark Pirie and I are still waiting for the contributors’ and review copies of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand to make their way to the shores of Aotearoa, so we can start sending them out. But it is already possible to buy – or at least order – Voyagers online, as follows:

  • From as a paperback or Kindle e-book (search for “Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry”)
  • From Fishpond in New Zealand.
  • From the publisher, via the Voyagers mini-site which also has information about and excerpts from the book.

And a poem from Voyagers has already gone cross-platform! (That sounds good – I hope it makes sense.) Meliors Simms has produced a video version of part of her poem “Two Kinds of Time”, which appears in the anthology. You can see it and read about it on Meliors’ blog, and also see it as part of Helen Rickerby’s initiative, NZ Poets on Video. It’s well worth watching.

Get Up, Stand Up

I will be the featured reader at Stand Up Poetry at Palmerston North City Library on Wednesday 3 June at 7pm. Helen Rickerby was the May reader, and it sounds like she had a great time; Harvey Molloy is reading in August; if someone can tell me who’s reading in July, I’ll mention them too. I’m looking forward to it – come along if you are in the Palmerston North area and hear my repertoire of anecdotes for the first time!

UPDATE: As Helen Lehndorf has reminded me, and I should have remembered, Glenn Colquhoun is the June reader. Helen Heath will be reading in September.

Online Voting for the Vogels

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards, New Zealand’s equivalent of the Hugo Awards, will be awarded at ConScription, this year’s National Science Fiction Convention, being held in Auckland at Queen’s Birthday Weekend. There’s a very strong field of finalists, and yours truly has two finalists (Transported and JAAM 26) in the field for Best Collected Work.

Members of ConScription and of SFFANZ, the administering body, are eligible to vote – and if you join SFFANZ (it costs $10 per annum) you can vote online until 27 May 2009. I encourage you to do so.

James Dignan’s New Exhibition

Dunedin artist and reviewer James Dignan has his fifth solo exhibition, “The Unguarded Moment”, at the Temple Gallery, 29 Moray Place, Dunedin from May 15-28, with the opening this Friday (the 15th) from 5.30-7.30pm. I recommend it! You can find out more about the exhibition, James’s art, music and writing, and his past exhibitions on his website.

Five More Good Things: Website, Video, Book, Blog, and Fanzine

It’s only a week since I did my most recent post of congratulations and good news, and there are already more good things to report.

Several of them have some relationship to JAAM, the annual literary magazine based in Wellington. I guest-edited Issue 26 of JAAM in 2008, and since it appeared, I have enjoyed seeing various writers who featured in the issue – as well as some who didn’t – achieve greater prominence. I was also pleased that the issue sold well enough to be reprinted – copies are still available in at least some of the bookshops which stock JAAM.

The Website: The first notable achievement belongs to JAAM itself. In the past, information about JAAM could be found at various places online, and the information wasn’t always consistent from site to site. Now, JAAM publisher Helen Rickerby has created a comprehensive JAAM website, where you can find out about past, present and planned future issues.

The Video: The aforementioned Helen Rickerby is a woman of many talents, among them poet, publisher and blogger. Now she’s a video poet as well. Check out the video she made to accompany her poem Calling You Home – and her explanation of how she made it.

The Book: Michele Powles, whose story “A Body of Land” appeared in JAAM 26, has a new novel out which has been getting good reviews: Weathered Bones. It has Wellington, weather, lighthouses and ghosts. It sounds like my sort of book.

The Blog: Ross Brighton has a blog focusing on experimental poetry and language poetry. Those aren’t things I know much about, so I intend to keep an eye on Ross’s blog and learn.

The Fanzine: After high school, my next ventures into writing and publishing were as the editor of a science fiction fanzine, TIMBRE. (You can find a couple of pieces from TIMBRE in the Articles section of my website.) I’m now somewhat out of touch with SF fandom and fanzines, but I have recently been enjoying a great example of the form, issue 10 of Steam Engine Time, edited by Janine Stinson and Bruce Gillespie.

Bruce has made it his life’s mission to produce what are called fanzines, but are really literary magazines focusing on science fiction, with detailed, well-informed articles about science fiction writers, science fiction books, and the history of science fiction and science fiction fandom. The site is a good place to begin to find out about great sf fanzines edited by Bruce, and by many others.

Don’t let the word “fanzine” put you off; it’s just a word. Go in with an open mind and prepare to find treasure.

Paekakariki City Limits

I spent several hours today engaged in a poetic expedition to Paekakariki, which is a small town on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington – a rather beautiful small town nestled in the sandhills by the sea.

Helen Rickerby, Harvey Molloy and I travelled up in Harvey’s car to rendezvous with Helen Heath at the Paekakariki School Fair and give a joint poetry reading. Helen Heath set up the gig, and the rest of us were pleased to have the chance to take part.

I had very little idea what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day – though the heat was a bit much for my cold-adapted blood; the Kapiti Coast is usually hotter than Wellington, and by the time we got there just after 11am, Paekakariki was sweltering. The fair was big – I’ve never seen a fair with three different types of bouncy castle before, though I’m sure you city slicker types see that all the time. We moved through the fair to the hall, and set out our stall. We all had things to sell:

Helen Heath: CD “Seven Paekakariki Poets Reading”

Harvey Molloy: New poetry collection Moonshot

Helen Rickerby: New poetry collection My Iron Spine; previous collection Abstract Internal Furniture; and JAAM 26 – Helen publishes JAAM.

Tim Jones: Recent poetry collection All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens and first poetry collection Boat People; new short story collection Transported and first short story collection Extreme Weather Events.

We did two reading sessions, half an hour apart, with a fine performance by a Thai dance troupe in between. I found the first session hard going, because most of the notional audience were actually in the hall to eat their lunch; but, by the second session, more of the people in the hall were paying attention – and if they weren’t, Harvey got their attention with the first poem he read! The sales table ticked along well, each of us met some people we knew whom we didn’t know would be there, and afterwards, we had a good time checking out Helen Heath’s craft stall and haunting the book stall, where it was lovely to see Dinah Hawken again.

Doing a solo reading can be stressful, and if the audience isn’t responding, there’s really nowhere to turn. Doing a joint reading with friends was fun, supportive, social, and as it turns out, profitable as well. If you’ve got an event coming up in the Wellington region which could benefit from a visiting poet or three, please get in touch!

An Interview with Helen Rickerby

Helen Rickerby is a Wellington poet, publisher (through Seraph Press) and blogger whose second poetry collection, My Iron Spine, has been released to considerable acclaim. I interviewed her by email to mark the publication of My Iron Spine.

First of all, congratulations on the publication of My Iron Spine. What can you tell me about the book, and where can interested readers find more information, and copies to buy?

Thank you. I’m pretty excited about this book coming out – it’s been in process for a while, and I’m quite pleased with it. Also, I think I’ll be able to move on now to the next thing.

About My Iron Spine: well it’s divided into three sections, the first is autobiographical poems, which are arranged, more or less, chronologically. The biggest section is the middle, which contains biographical poems about women (and one man – sort of) from history. Most of them are written in the first person, and some of them are rather long – the longest is 11 pages. The final section kind of brings the other two together – in these poems I hang out with various women from history – I go swimming with Virginia Woolf, party with Katherine Mansfield, knit with Minnie Dean, and so forth. That section is a bit lighter, with more fun poems. Running loosely through the whole thing is the theme of the ‘iron spine’ – things that constrict or suffocate us, but which also make us stronger.

You can get more info from the HeadworX site, and also I’ve blogged a bit about writing it and the process of putting it togther.

Where to get it? It will be in ‘all good bookshops’, which means most of the independent folks around New Zealand. It’s now on Fishpond, but you could also contact HeadworX. And I have a bunch of copies to sell also, so you can always get one off me (

My Iron Spine is your second poetry collection, after Abstract Internal Furniture (2001). Without sounding too much like an essay question, in what ways are the books similar, and in what ways do they differ?

While I’m still very fond of Abstract Internal Furniture, I think that My Iron Spine is a step up in terms of my development as a poet. It’s more ambitious. I spent more time crafting the poems – tinkering with bits that weren’t working or could work better. I began to appreciate and use like alliteration and internal rhyme – which I’d previously been scared of – and I think the language is more playful. Also, it is more of a whole than the previous collection. It’s kind of hard for me to compare them – I’m sure I still have some of the same concerns, like the place of women in the world, and identity and stuff, and I suspect that the colour red features quite a bit in both.

I know you as a publisher, editor and blogger as well as a writer. Do you find that these different roles fit well together? Does your writing sometimes suffer because of the time and effort you need to put into the other roles (not to mention everything else that’s going on in your life)?

My writing does seem to suffer in relation to everything else – my full-time job is probably the main thing that gets in my way, and I’ve had to figure out tactics to make some time and headspace for creative writing. And sometimes publishing, editing and blogging do take up the time I might otherwise use for writing. But I also find those other things enormously valuable.

My involvement in JAAM Magazine is the most longstanding thing, and that’s been really important in exposing me to the work of lots of writers, and making connections with some of them. My Seraph Press publishing is intermittent, so when I’m working on something it takes up a lot of time, but often I’m not. I’m very proud of the books I’ve published, and think they are all books that really should be out there in the world.

Blogging is quite a new thing for me – I only started my blog late last year when I suddenly realised that blogging wasn’t just a waste of time, as I had suspected, but that it was an informal but public outlet for writing about stuff that I’m into – like poetry and publishing, and writing generally. While it can take a bit of time, I’ve found it really, really rewarding. And I think it’s actually helped my writing, of prosey things at least – made my writing more fluent. When you’re writing a blog post, you don’t have the pressure of writing something more formal, which is quite a freedom. But writing things down also makes you think about what you’re writing about in a deeper way than if you were just thinking about it, or writing about it in a journal, or even talking about it. The other really important thing I’ve got out of blogging is a sense of community from writing and reading blogs – Wellington writing bloggers all seem very friendly, and I’ve also made some poetry blog friends overseas. And I’ve now met some of the more local folks in real life.

One of the things that strikes me about My Iron Spine is that it’s a very clearly structured collection. Did you have the structure of the collection in mind before you wrote any of the poems, or did it evolve as you went along?

It evolved as I went along – it grew out of what I was writing. I noticed I’d been writing some poems about real people, and thought I’d write more. And then at some point I started seeing a structure, and then I wrote some more poems that fitted in with what I was doing. I wrote most of it in a year that I was fortunate enough to be able to take off work (pre-mortgage, you understand), and as well as writing, I was reading a lot of collections of poetry. And the ones that struck me the most were ones that worked as a whole, rather than just being a ragbag of poems, because they set up resonances that made the whole even stronger than its parts. It’s something I’ve become really interested in.

Also, I find it easier to write when I have a kind of poetic project – I guess in Abstract Internal Furniture my series of Theodora poems were a bit like that, and I’m now working on poems which are loosely based around ideas of cinema. It means you don’t have to start from scratch each time, and you can really explore and develop some ideas.

The middle section of My Iron Spine features biographical poems about a number of well-known women, and then, in the third section, the poet interacts with these women. Abstract Internal Furniture also features biographical poems. Why does writing biographical poems appeal to you, and what balance of research and imagination goes into them?

To be honest, I haven’t really thought about that – I’ve thought about why I’m interested in reading biographies, but not why I’ve enjoyed writing these poems. I’m really interested in people’s lives, and in biography, which isn’t quite the same thing as someone’s actual life – it’s an attempt to turn someone’s life into a coherent narrative. I guess a biography is to a person what a map is to place. I suppose these poems are like that too. I think I’ve enjoyed writing these poems because I enjoyed imagining the character, how they might sound. But mainly to interpret them, highlight aspects of their story or personality. I also like stealing ideas from elsewhere – possibly I don’t have enough of my own.

For some of them I did a lot of research, but I found that if I knew too much in the beginning, then in made it harder to make a poem out of it. I wrote some poems before I did research, and then had to alter them. There’s one in the voice of John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield’s husband. I knew a lot about them both when I first wrote it, but then I read his autobiography, and then I rewrote it a bit, because I felt I’d been too hard on him. I’ve tried to evoke these people in ways that might be true, but there’s a lot of creation, especially about what they might have been thinking. You really can’t know.

Which poets have had the most influence on your work, and which poets do you most enjoy reading? (Of course, these might be one and the same.)

Sometimes they’re the same, and sometime quite different. For example, Scott Kendrick, whose work I’ve published, is one of my favourite writers, but we’re doing such different things in our writing – in style at least. There are very few poets that I know are influences on me – Anne Carson is one, and Margaret Atwood another, and I was trying to be influenced something in the style of T S Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ when I wrote parts of ‘Empress Elisabeth’ – but I’m sure many others have been also. Sylvia Plath almost certainly. I’ve also very much enjoyed Anna Jackson, Jenny Powell-Chalmers, James K Baxter, Ursula Bethell, Vivienne Plumb, Dinah Hawken, Anne Sexton, Fleur Adcock, T S Eliot, Stevie Smith, Sharon Olds. You will notice that they’re mostly women, which isn’t deliberate, and many of them are people I know. I guess you put special effort into reading work by people you know, which I think is usually rewarded by getting extra out of it.

How about prose writers?

Again, Margaret Atwood, though I haven’t read as much of work in the last 10 years, because I overdosed by writing a masters thesis on her (‘Fairytale intertextuality in the fiction of Margaret Atwood’). Jeanette Winterson is a favourite, and her novel The Passion is a total inspiration to me. If I could have written any book in the world, it would be that one. Other favs include Douglas Coupland, Charles Dickens, Angela Carter, the Brontës…

What writing projects do you have on the go at the moment? (If you’re prepared to talk about them, of course: I know I don’t always want to talk about what I’m working on right now.)

The main think I’m working on is the cinema poems I mentioned earlier. I’ve written quite a few, but I feel like I’m still in an early stage with these. I’m hoping they will turn into a collection. Once I’d finished My Iron Spine I felt like I needed to go in a different direction, and leave the biographical/narrative poems for a while. I felt the same after Abstract Internal Furniture – I felt like I could write a parody of a Helen Rickerby/Theodora poem, and that it was time to write something a little different. Some of the cinema poems are still narrative, but others are more surreal or impressionistic.

A tough one to end on: if you had to choose three words to describe your writing, what would they be?

That’s very, very hard. I don’t think I know my poetry well enough from the outside to really be able to say. Last week someone I don’t really know, who had heard me read at the Winter Readings, told me that my poetry was like nothing he’d come across before (‘in a good way’ he qualified), and said it was intelligent. And one always likes to be thought of as intelligent, though I don’t always deserve it. Other people have said that my work is accessible, which also isn’t always true. I’d like it to be intricate, beautiful, layered, mythic, and so that’s something to aim for, and that’s more than three words…