At Home He’s A Blog Tourist

Latest Blog Tour Interview

Wellington poet and author Janis Freegard asks me about how Men Briefly Explained fits with my previous books, and what I’m working on at the moment: Interview with Tim Jones.

Previous Interviews

12 December 2011: 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”: Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained.

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: Giant, by Janis Freegard

I got chatting to a Powelliphanta snail at the bus-stop
a few weeks ago – a nicer worm-eating hermaphrodite
you couldn’t hope to meet. Sorry to hear about that
mine, I said. Relocation of your entire species to a
government fridge and all that. State-approved
destruction of the damp tussock home that’s been yours
since Maui fished up the North Island.

And isn’t it terrible about the coral reefs disappearing
because we’ve made the sea too acidic? And the tuna
being overfished and the polar bears running out of ice
floes. I’m ever so sorry about it, and you too, you poor
thing, all that time in the fridge. I kept meaning to write
someone a letter about that. Couldn’t somebody do

S/he shrugged and said
(with a sigh
waving tentacled eyes
from a glabrous shell):
they tried, you know, they tried
at least some people tried
at the very very least
you have to try.

Credit note: “Giant” is republished by permission of the author and of Auckland University Press from Janis Freegard’s first solo collection, Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus.

Tim says: I finished reading Janis’s striking collection Kingdom Animalia on my way back from a meeting about Solid Energy’s plans to mine up to six billion tonnes of lignite (low-grade brown coal) in Southland – plans which would not only despoil the Southland landscape, but lead to a massive increase in New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the same Solid Energy that, in its rapacious greed, relocated Janis’s Powelliphanta and his/her kind to get at the coal beneath.

So I agree that, at the very least, you have to try. But I think, if we and our descendants are going to be around to enjoy poems like Janis’s in 50 to 100 years’ time, we might have to go one better. We might have to succeed.

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.

UPDATE: Having read Janis’s poem, Australian writer PS Cottier got in touch to let me know about her story Trail of Disinformation, which advances a novel solution to a similar problem!

An Interview With Janis Freegard

Janis Freegard is a Wellington-based writer of poetry and fiction. She was born in South Shields in the North-East of England and spent part of her childhood in South Africa and Australia, before her family settled in New Zealand. Her poetry collection, Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, was published by Auckland University Press in May. Her writing has appeared in many journals and anthologies including AUP New Poets 3, Big Weather: Poems of Wellington, Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, The Iron Book of New Humorous Verse, The NZ Listener, Landfall, The North (UK), JAAM, Poetry NZ and Trout. She works in the state sector and lives in Vogeltown with an historian and a cat. She also has a blog:

Janis’ poem A Life Blighted By Pythons was my Tuesday Poem this week.

First things first: why Linnaeus?

I wanted the book to have some kind of structure. As the poems were about animals (or at least had an animal in them somewhere), it seemed like a good idea to arrange them according to their taxonomic classification. I’d learned a little about taxonomy at university and when I worked at the Department of Conservation (trying to prevent trade in endangered species).

Our modern classification system has so many categories, though, that I soon realised it was going to be too hard to write poems for every different class of animal. That’s when I hit on using Linnaeus’ six groupings (mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, insects and worms). Linnaeus was the eighteenth century Swedish naturalist who came up with the two-word classification system for plants and animals that we still use today (such as Homo sapiens for human beings).

Once I started organising the poems into the six categories, I decided to write about Linnaeus himself as well. He was an extraordinary man. I can’t help but admire his commitment and tenacity in trying to categorise every plant, animal and mineral on the planet.

More generally, why zoology? (As someone who can proudly boast of being a BSc in Botany (Failed), I am naturally hoping that the other kingdoms will get a look-in in future collections. I can’t help feeling that the Archaea, for example, are not well represented in contemporary poetry.)

I agree that the Archaea are sadly neglected, and I hope poets everywhere will rise to the challenge of remedying that! I have a Botany degree, so zoology might not seem like an obvious choice. But I do seem to write a lot of poems about animals and I thought the animal kingdom would be a good theme for a collection.

I very much enjoyed your selection of poems in AUP New Poets 3. Is there a lot of continuity between those poems and the poems in Kingdom Animalia, or do the new poems mark a sharp break with your previous work?

Thanks Tim. Several of my poems in AUP New Poets 3 have animals in them (such as the ‘Animal Tales’ sequence) so I do think Kingdom Animalia carries forward some of the strands from that selection. Both books also contain some prose poems and both have elements of surrealism.

If someone described you as a “nature poet”, would you be pleased, alarmed, indignant, or unruffled?

I don’t mind being described as a nature poet, but I’m not sure it gives the full picture. Perhaps I could be a sometimes absurdist nature poet who also writes about life in the city and love.

You are great at running fun, memorable book launches. How do you manage it?

Thanks Tim, and thanks for coming to the launch! I see a book launch as an excuse for a bit of a party – I want people to feel entertained and enjoy themselves. And the planning is just as much fun as the event. I had such a good time designing the invitation, choosing the venue, making the fresh asparagus rolls and dressing up in a bird mask (like the one on the cover of the book). I also had some great helpers on the night.

My knowledge of your work is mainly through your poetry, but it is bookended by fiction; I first heard your name when your story “Mill” won the Katherine Mansfield Award in 2001, and I’ve just received my copy of the Christchurch earthquake appeal fundraising anthology Tales for Canterbury, which includes your story “The Magician”. Have you kept writing fiction as well as poetry?

Yes, I’ve always enjoyed writing both poetry and fiction, although at times one takes precedence over the other. Poetry had the upper hand while I was focusing on Kingdom Animalia and now I’m getting back into fiction a bit more. I haven’t written many short stories over the past few years, though, as I’ve been focusing on writing a novel. Sometimes the lines between poetry and fiction get a bit blurry – I like writing prose poems, which seem to belong in the grey area between the two.

Is being a member of a writing community important to you, or could you work away just as happily in isolation from other writers?

I really value opportunities to interact with other writers. I belong to a long-standing poetry group that meets monthly to share poems and give each other feedback. I often take along poems that aren’t quite working and it’s very useful to hear others’ thoughts on how I might improve them. It also means I get to read everyone else’s excellent poems. I also enjoy being part of the New Zealand Poetry Society and going along to Poetry at the Ballroom Café in Newtown.

I belong to a great fiction writing group too, which has been meeting for about eight or nine years. I could work away quite happily on my own, but it is good having the groups. They also act as a helpful spur to write.

Which poets would you recommend to readers who enjoy your poetry?

People who like my poetry might also like Vivienne Plumb’s work (I know I do) and Mary Cresswell’s (ditto). I have too many favourite poets to list them all (and my poetry mightn’t have much in common with theirs) but I’d have to include (alphabetically) Simon Armitage, Jenny Bornholdt, Selima Hill, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Roger McGough and Bill Manhire. I like punk era performance poets too, like Patti Smith, John Cooper Clarke and Linton Kwesi Johnson. And I’ll go and watch Sam Hunt read any time I can.

Similarly, who are some of your favourite fiction writers?

Jeanette Winterson’s top of the list – there’s one of her short stories (The 24-Hour Dog from The World and Other Places) that I have read over and over and every time I read it, I think: I might as well give up writing now because I’ll never be able to write something that good! Sometimes I just read the first paragraph and sigh because it’s so wonderful. I’m also a big fan of Canadian writer Jane Rule (one my favourite books is This is Not for You), Jean Watson (Stand in the Rain, The World is an Orange and the Sun, The Balloon Watchers, Three Sea Stories), Noel Virtue, Lewis Carroll, Banana Yoshimoto (I’ve just finished reading The Lake), Ronald Hugh Morrieson, Haruki Murakami, Sarah Waters and Tove Jansson (better known for the Moomin books, but her adult fiction is also wonderful, in a very understated, quiet way). I could rave on, but I’ll stop there.

Finally, if you don’t mind me asking, what projects are you working on now?

I’m working on two poetry collections (which may converge eventually) and I’m finishing the first draft of a novel. I’m also planning a collaboration with an artist.

How To Buy Kingdom Animalia

Kingdom Animalia is available from most book shops that have a good poetry selection, such as Unity Books, university bookshops and Te Papa, and many online booksellers, including Fishpond and Wheelers, or people can get it directly from Auckland University Press.

Tuesday Poem: A Life Blighted By Pythons, by Janis Freegard


waiting at the bus-stop
all I can think about
is how my hovercraft is full of eels

but it’s not, of course it’s not
my hovercraft is practically empty
my eels are few

in fact they’re not eels at all
but a netload of whitebait
and it isn’t even a hovercraft

I’ve never owned a hovercraft in my life
I wouldn’t know what to do with one
it’s not even a dinghy

it’s a reusable eco-friendly shopping bag
and they’re definitely not eels
and not even whitebait

the truth is, I’ve never been whitebaiting
they’re just vegetables
and I only have one thing to say:

your eels
my hovercraft
now, baby, now

Credit note: “A Life Blighted By Pythons” is republished by permission of the author and of Auckland University Press from Janis Freegard’s first solo collection, Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus.

Tim says: I am reading Janis’s marvellously entertaining collection at the moment, and I love this poem so much not only because of its intrinsic qualities, but also because of the shared cultural heritage it so vividly evokes. You can catch more of Janis’s wit and wisdom in my interview with her, which I’ll be posting later this week.

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.

Five Blogs I Like. Chapter 2: The Bloggening

Just over a month ago, I started an occasional series of blog posts under the heading “Five Blogs I Like”. Now it’s time for another instalment.

Janis Freegard’s Weblog: Janis blogs about matters that generally relate to her very fine poetry and fiction. A recent article about Poetry and Gender in New Zealand Publishing was especially interesting.

Incidentally, Janis is the guest reader at the next Poetry Café in Wellington, on Sunday 21 March: 4pm – 6pm, Ballroom Cafe, cnr Adelaide Rd and Riddiford St, Newtown. It’s great that Poetry Café has restarted in Wellington, and though I couldn’t make the first session, I’m hoping to attend this one.

Joanna Preston: A Dark, Feathered Art: Joanna’s poetry collection The Summer King won the 2008 Kathleen Grattan Award, and I interviewed her in 2009. Joanna’s blog is frequently provocative. She says what she really thinks – a valuable service to other, more timid souls!

Harvey McQueen: Stoatspring: Harvey is a poet and educationalist whose blog, frequently updated, ranges across Harvey’s long involvement in matters poetical, educational and political. I’m looking forward to the imminent release of Harvey’s new collection, Goya Rules.

Jack Ross: The Imaginary Museum: Jack is a polymath: a poet, fiction writer, critic and academic with a head full of fascinating and provocative thoughts. His blog posts are mini-essays which range freely across the cultural landscape.

Reading The Maps: Like Jack Ross’s blog in breadth of content, but different in tone, Reading the Maps is the work of a trio of bloggers who look at a range of cultural and political issues from a (mostly) non-dogmatic Marxist perspective. Always well-argued, often well-illustrated, and well worth reading.

So far, all the blogs I’ve highlighted have been from New Zealand. Next time, I’ll speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing to foreign parts to investigate five examples of the bloggy goodness to be found there. And that wins the prize for most mangled metaphor hands down.

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.

Book Review: AUP New Poets 3

The books in the AUP New Poets series are an interesting hybrid of a collection and an anthology: they consist of selections of 20 pages or so by three different poets, brought together under one cover. AUP New Poets 3 brings together sets of poems by Janis Freegard, Reihana Robinson and Katherine Liddy.

So, rather than reviewing the book as a whole – except to say that I like it and think it’s well worth reading, which is the first and most important thing to say – I will review each poet’s selection in turn. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say here that I know Janis, and had the pleasure of hearing her read some of the poems in her selection at the book’s Wellington launch; I’ve never (so far as I know) met Reihana or Katherine, although it’s Reihana’s painting that adorns the cover of JAAM 26.

Janis Freegard, “The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider and Other Tales”

Janis’s selection consists of two sequences of prose poems, “Animal Tales” and “The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider: A Selection”, and several other individual poems. Janis’s style is mostly unrhetorical and ironic, with a surface lightness concealing varying depths. The things I like most about Janis’s poetry are her precise, apt, and unusual word choices, and her humour. Her style striked me as being not dissimilar to Bill Manhire’s – and Bill Manhire is one of my favourite New Zealand poets.

Out of all these fine poems, the final stanza of “The Liking” showcases what I like so much about Janis’s poetry:

Today when I woke
I wrapped daybreak round my waist.
I expect she’s awed by my
dawn brightness
my few clouds
a kingfisher on the power lines.

Reihana Robinson, “Waiting for the Palagi”

Reihana’s selection contains a number of individual poems and then a sequence entitled “A Hum for Pitkern”. The words “A Hum” always remind me of the Winnie the Pooh, but the tone here is very far away from A.A. Milne’s whimsy, as the poems uncover the violence that underlies Pitcairn’s origins, the hard labour of life on that isolated rock, and the shameful sexual violence that has had Pitcairn so much in the headlines in recent years. The sequence circles the island and its history, jabbing at it from unexpected angles. I think it’s very good.

Of the individual poems, I especially enjoyed “Noa Noa Makes Breakfast for Caroline and Me” and “Waiting for the Palagi”. Once or twice, Reihana uses words which I think are hard to make work in a poem – ‘immortality’, ‘portentous’ – abstract nouns which, for me, detract from the immediacy and vividness of the rest of the poems in which they are embedded, especially when they’re used to conclude a poem. That’s my only, small, complaint.

Katherine Liddy, “A History of Romance”

I found Katherine’s selection the hardest to get into, but I also found it rewards a second and a third look. “A History of Romance” is much more formal in tone and content than the other selections: after a tremendous opening poem about the Crab Nebula, it’s a series of poems about mythology and history, moving forward through time to the present: the last few poems are less distanced, more overtly personal.

Most of the poems are rhymed. I have to declare a personal prejudice here: in modern English-language poetry (serious poetry, at any rate), I usually find rhyme distracting. In languages such as Russian, word endings vary according to the use of words in the sentence, providing a wide range of potential rhymes to the poet. In English, on the other hand, word endings are largely invariant, apart from plurals: whether it’s “the cat sat on the mat” or “the mat sat on the cat”, the spelling of ‘cat’ and ‘mat’ doesn’t vary. This means that poets writing in English work with a smaller range of potential rhymes, and often leads to English rhymes appearing forced, or syntax being distorted to make a rhyme – whereas, in Russian, the word order in a phrase or sentence is almost irrelevant, as the word endings make it clear what function each word is performing.

I’ve already mentioned the opening poem, “Crab Nebula”. This is rhymed, but such is the strength of the imagery in the poem, and the subtlety of the rhymes, that I didn’t notice this until I’d finish reading it. By contrast, at the end of the first section of the “Delphi” sequence, this couplet distracted from my enjoyment of the poem:

Bronze statues line the way and oversee,
through the air thick with sacrifice, Delphi.

Given her formal abilities and her interest in the Victoria era, I would love to see Katherine Liddy emulate my hero among the Victorian poets, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and write more poetry in blank verse.

But despite this caveat, largely a matter of my personal preference, I find myself wanting to return to these poems to tease out their subtleties.

Three poets, then, with quite different styles, themes and concerns. It makes for an intriguing and rewarding collection.

Snippets: Earthdawn Sale; Readings and Launches; Valley Micropress; Likeable Things

Earthdawn 15th Anniversary Sale

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the roleplaying game Earthdawn. To mark the occasion, publishers RedBrick have discounted the prices of Earthdawn products until 4 September, so you can get my novel Anarya’s Secret for a little bit less until then (in hardback, paperback, or e-book via RPGNow or DriveThru).

Readings and Launches

From the social pages: here in Wellington, it’s been the season of readings, launches, and both combined. I wasn’t able to make the launch of Sue Orr’s Etiquette for a Dinner Party: Short Stories, but did attend the Wellington launch of AUP New Poets 3 – Wellingtonian Janis Freegard is one of the three poets included in this volume, together with Katherine Liddy and Reihana Robinson, and Janis ran an enjoyable launch at Mighty Mighty.

I was also an apologetic no-show at the first instalment of the annual Winter Readings Series, which featured the launch of three books by Mark Pirie, including Slips which I reviewed a while back. There’s an excellent report on Helen Rickerby’s blog.

I’ll be there next week, though, when Helen’s new book of poetry My Iron Spine is launched with Harvey Molloy MC’ing, and the following week sees the launch of Michael O’Leary’s Paneta Street.

I’ve had a sneak peek at My Iron Spine, and it’s excellent.

And the launches don’t stop there: Harvey Molloy’s Moonshot is not far away from lift-off!

(Enough capital-centrism: there’s lots of readings and poetry events right round the country, such as Kay McKenzie Cooke reports on from Dunedin.)

Valley Micropress

I took part recently in a Montana Poetry Day event in Upper Hutt, and organiser Tony Chad kindly sent me a copy of the “Poetry Olympics” booklet arising from the event, and also a copy of the magazine he edits, Valley Micropress. This is a monthly – that’s right, monthly – poetry magazine which Tony produces. Subscriptions cost NZ $30 per annum, and contributions are mainly from subscribers, but also include other work at the editor’s discretion. If you’d like to know more, please email Tony, tony.chad (at)

Likeable Things: Second Instalment

maps, a poem by Jill Jones

The Bibliophilia shop, which sells the handmade books of Meliors Simms

Blackmail Press 22

Strange Horizons

Eating Greengages, a beautiful piece of writing by Fionnaigh McKenzie.

A few things I’ve learned about writing poetry, a very useful and interesting blog post by Janis Freegard.