Poetry Day Post

Today is New Zealand Poetry Day. As a Tuesday Poet, I should have put up a post on this theme on Tuesday, but I, er, didn’t. (Never explain, never apologise – or wait, isn’t that Rupert Murdoch’s credo?)

Anyway, I thought I’d use the occasion to direct your attention to the excellent work of those who did. Renee Liang did double duty by both posting a wonderfully phrased poem about Christchurch on her blog, and editing the week’s post on the hub Tuesday Poem blog, with poems from the three finalists for the 2011 NZ Post National Book Awards. If if you look in the sidebar to the right, you’ll find Poetry Day posts from lots of the Tuesday Poets, with poems and news of poetry events.

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s a long time since I have written a poem – what writing time I have had lately has been going into writing short stories – but I’ve had quite a bit to do with poetry nevertheless.

First, I’ve selected the poems by Australian and New Zealand poets for inclusion in Eye To The Telescope 2, and should be able to deliver the introduction, poems, and bios for this to the Science Fiction Poetry Association by my self-imposed deadline of 25 July.

Second, planning is proceeding apace for the book tour at the end of October which will launch my collection Men Briefly Explained and Keith Westwater’s collection Tongues of Ash, both published by Interactive Press. Once we have all the details settled, we’ll start to spread the word about the details of the tour – but, right now, we have venues confirmed in four centres.

In the meantime, enjoy Poetry Day!

Tuesday Poem: The Aliquot Brothers

Boys in men’s shirts, the Aliquot Brothers
have come to town. They are

backing us into corners, mopping up
the fragments we leave behind.

They are the perfect combination.
The redhead paints his toes. The honey blond

streaks highlights through his hair.
They go café to café, dividing

to rule, smearing tablecloths
with froth and melted cheese. (The rest of us

confined to quarters, mumbling
over cold porridge and twice-strained tea.)

No use complaining: they’ll leave
when they’re good and ready,

with no remainder, nothing
but the hiss of their departure,

the closing door that splits
this world from its neighbour.

Credit note: “The Aliquot Brothers” was first published in Issue 14 of Interlitq, “A New Zealand Literary Showcase”. This issue has stories and poems by a wide range of New Zealand writers – it is well worth checking out. It will also appear in my forthcoming poetry collection Men Briefly Explained, published by Interactive Press of Brisbane.

Tim says: An aliquot is a number that divides another number evenly and leaves no remainder. That’ll be an NCEA Level 1 numeracy credit, please.

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. I’m very pleased to be this week’s Tuesday Poem editor on the main blog.

Tuesday Poem: Men Briefly Explained – the title poem of my new poetry collection

Men Briefly Explained

My friend and I are talking to
the most attractive woman in the room.

My friend and I are talking at
the most attractive woman in the room.

We’re talking big: theories, hypotheses,
each wilder than the rest.

How huge our brains must be!
How fit our genes, to allow

such brilliant and superfluous display!
The most attractive woman in the room

smiles at us each in turn.
She is clearly impressed, and her sisters

are smiling too. We are gibbons
swinging through the trees. Chimps

waving sticks and bones. Gorillas
in the mountain forests,

beating hairy chests
as the poacher Time takes aim.

Tim says: “Men Briefly Explained”, which is previously unpublished, is the title poem of my third poetry collection, which will be published by Interactive Press of Brisbane in late 2011. Interactive Press also published Voyagers, the anthology which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, in 2009.

Naturally, I’m very excited that this collection is going to be published – and also very pleased that, all being well, I’ll be doing some joint launch events with Lower Hutt poet Keith Westwater, whose debut collection Tongues of Ash won Best First Book in the 2011 IP Picks Awards.

You can see all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog (the hub poem in the middle, and all the other poems on the right-hand side).

Tuesday Poem: Down George Street In The Rain

Down George Street In The Rain

I talked to the shop signs
down Cuba Street
down Cashel Street
down George Street in the rain.

I sidestepped the shoppers.
Take that, Phil Bennett!
Take that, old lady with a limp
and orthopaedic shoes.

We were as Gods
as eighteen-year-old Gods
who wore our Gore High jerseys to the bottle store —
they wouldn’t let us in.

We smiled upon our people.
People, we said, we walk among you.
Don’t bow, don’t scrape, don’t even step aside.
In gratitude, in wonder, let us pass on

to our destinies, our mortgages
down Cuba Street
down Cashel Street
down George Street in the rain.

Tim says: “Down George Street In The Rain” was first published in broadsheet 3 and is one of the poems included in my forthcoming collection, “Men Briefly Explained”. As the notes to that collection explain, Phil Bennett, the No. 10 in the 1977 British Lions rugby touring team to New Zealand, was famous for his sidestep.

I turned eighteen in 1977.

For non-New Zealanders: Cuba St, Cashel St, and George St are central city streets in, respectively, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog.

Status Report! Status Report!

Unless I’m spruiking a new book, this blog sails along in parallel to my writing, sometimes close but never together.

So it feels like time to give an update on what’s been happening with my writing, and what’s coming up.

The Immediate Past

I started this year aiming to finish two manuscripts: my third poetry collection and my second novel. I’ve met one of those two goals: my third poetry collection, the one I’m calling “Men Briefly Explained”, has now been completed and sent out to its first port of call (I hope it’s the final port of call, but it is never wise to get one’s hopes up too far in such matters.)

The novel isn’t quite so far along: I have put it through several revisions, and I have some more revision tasks to do before sending out to those who have kindly agreed to be first readers for me – of which more later.

A lot of what normally qualifies as my writing time in the second half of last year was taken up with doing promotional work for Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, the anthology co-edited by Mark Pirie and myself. The work – notably the book tour organised by Voyagers’ publisher Interactive Press – paid off: Voyagers has sold well for an anthology of its type, and it made the Listener “100 Best Books of the Year” list for 2009.

This year, my writing time has indeed been taken up with writing – OK, when I haven’t been distracting myself with Twitter – but I did have a very enjoyable change of scene with two visits to Newlands College over the past couple of weeks. The first was to present the prizes in a Poetry Day poetry competition I’d judged, and the second, with the financial assistance of Creative New Zealand, was a full-day Writers In Schools Programme visit arranged through the New Zealand Book Council.

I’ve been on the books of the Writers in Schools programme for a while, and had even done some school visits outside that programme, but this was my first “official” school visit. I spent the whole day at the school, running mini-workshops and giving talks. And, despite a nagging cold which necessitated the frequent intake of Strepsils, I had a really good time. The teachers were friendly, the students were interested, and if given the chance, I’d love to do it all over again.

The Foreseeable Future

My main writing focus for the rest of the year will be to get the novel manuscript to the point where I can send it to those kind souls who have volunteered as first readers – at least one of whom has been waiting for an unconscionably long time now! Right now, I’m on the last few chapters of the third full revision. After that, I need to:

  • take all those pesky square brackets which say things like [check this] and [add para here] and replace them with things that a reader might want to read. (Or maybe I should just leave these square brackets in and “crowdsource” the answers? What would Jane Austen do?)
  • do a “dialogue run”, in which I’ll go through each character’s dialogue in turn and say it out loud to check that it sounds like them and not like me.
  • and read the whole thing through once more for luck.

Also, maybe I should finally give the novel a title. I’m given to understand this can be terribly effective.

Once that’s done and out to the readers, I’ll be able to turn my attention to the short story ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for a while now, waiting for their turn. I haven’t written many short stories since Transported was published, and it’s high time I did.

There’s also Au Contraire to look forward to at the end of next week, with its full hand of literary events including the launch of short story anthology A Foreign Country; the October launch of New Zealand cricket poetry anthology ‘A Tingling Catch’; and a poetry reading I’ll say more about soon. It should be a good few months.

Tuesday Poem: Impertinent To Sailors

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 —

while I, a child, roamed decks, became
impertinent to sailors.

And the heat! My dear, there never were
such days — rum, romance,

the rudiments of ska. Panama beckoned,
locks pulsing like the birth canal.

We passed through, to be rocked
on the swells of the quiet ocean,

its long unshaded days
of trade winds, doldrums, Equator —

then a cold shore,
a bureaucratic harbour,

and the half of a world
it would take to say goodbye.

“Impertinent To Sailors” was published in JAAM 27 (2009), edited by Ingrid Horrocks, under the title “Over Islands”. I plan to include it in my forthcoming collection “Men Briefly Explained”.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog – including the poem by Kerry Popplewell I’ve selected as this week’s “hub” Tuesday Poem.

Tuesday Poem: Shostakovich In America

Shostakovich in America

1959, November. The plumed De Soto
hammers on, freshman driver
burning up the plains.

Freedom! The Kappa Gamma Beta boys
can never catch him now. They’re back east
in the studio, where Ormandy

shrugs and starts recording.
Dmitri has better things to do. This is
his jazz age, his lost weekend.

An upstate college, denuded branches
scrawled across the moon. He nestles
in a co-ed’s bed. Dreams

drag him back to the Kremlin:
always the bottle of Georgian wine,
always the black telephone.

Dawn is coffee, hesitant smiles,
the wordless bond of night
knotting itself into language.

She is summer, America, forgetting.
“You were flailing your arms,”
she says. “Conducting.”

He kisses, disentangles, turns the key.
His car roars over the siloed plains,
eastwards into the morning.

“Shostakovich in America” was originally published in Issue 11 of Bravado magazine, and is one of the poems I plan to include in my forthcoming collection Men Briefly Explained.

Dmitri Shostakovich did visit the USA in 1959, and did record with Eugene Ormandy. The rest is imagined.

Author, poet and blogger Mary McCallum has started an initiative called “Tuesday Poem” on her blog, and suggested that other poets do likewise – posting a poem, by themselves or anothr poet, each Tuesday. I’m not promising to post a poem every Tuesday, but it sounds like a good plan to me for those who can manage this. If that’s you, then go for it – and check out Mary’s blog for news of others who are doing so.

UPDATE: I had a pleasant surprise a day after this Tuesday Poem was published – an email from the editor of the world’s only journal devoted to Dmitri Shostakovich, asking permission to reprint “Shostakovich in America” in the journal, which I was very happy to grant.

I’m beginning to come round to the Tuesday Poem way of thinking…

New Order: Sections, Statistics And Sequencing A Collection

There are good things and bad things about being an author who works in more than one format. On the downside, it takes longer to get any individual project finished. But on the upside, when I’m feeling blocked on one piece of writing, I can always work on another.

This past week, having temporarily worn myself out on my novel revisions, I’ve been doing some more work on the poetry collection I’m putting together, which I’m calling Men Briefly Explained.

The sticking point, which it’s taken me quite a while to resolve, is what order to put the poems in, and how (if at all) to divide them into sections. There may well be well-organised people out there who work out the order of their poetry collections, or short story collections, before they sit down to write a word – and I’d be interested to hear if you’re one of them – but for me, the idea for a collection emerges from looking at what poetry I’ve been writing and what I think I’d like to focus on writing next.

I’m looking for two, partially contradictory, things when sequencing a poetry collection: a flow from one poem to the next, and some division points which allow poems with similarities to be grouped together. If possible, I like the overall shape of the collection to have some kind of arc, to suggest a narrative.

My original idea was to divide the manuscript into four sections (and, off the record and on a strictly “need to know” basis, these were I: Men In The Wild; II: Men in Love; III: Men Under Construction; IV: Men Overboard). But the more I looked at this division, the more unsatisfied I felt. Where was the flow, where was the arc?

So, after a lot of hemming and hawing over the section titles, I decided to start from scratch and re-sequence the whole thing, on the entirely unscientific basis of which poems felt like they belonged early, middle, and late in the collection. Within these, divisions emerged, rather like the points of a compass rose, so that poems acquired designations such as “early middle” and the even more problematic “early late”. Then, put them all together, et voilà! A reordered poetry collection.

Now the love poems are up the front, followed by the “growing up” poems. The wild men, and indeed a number of the tame men, cluster around the middle of the collection, while the late period charts the long decline towards senescence, with occasional excursions to Haast. (I may still move the excursions to Haast.)

There’s still plenty of work to do. Some of the poems, especially those previously published in literary magazines, are finished – I think; some are fairly stable, but still need some tidying up; while others are rough drafts with encouraging little notes to myself like “more stanazas here!” This instruction should probably be removed from the final version.

When it comes to the age of the poems, there’s a bimodal distribution – almost half of them are three or more years old, and have had a fair crack at being submitted to literary magazines, while most of the other half have been written within the last few months. The poems in this latter half deserve their chance at individual glory too.

Somewhere down the track, I have a third short story collection in mind. Daringly, I’ve already come up with the theme and most of the story titles, if not the order. Whether this will encourage me to actually write the stories remains, as yet, unknown.