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Tim says: “Men Briefly Explained”, which is previously unpublished, is the title poem of my third poetry collection, which will be published by Interactive Press of Brisbane in late 2011.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).

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.

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.

An Interview with Iain Britton


Iain Britton had his first collection of poems, Hauled Head First into a Leviathan, which was a Forward Poetry Prize nomination, published by Cinnamon Press (UK) in February 2008. Interactive Press (Australia) is about to publish his second collection, Liquefaction.

Iain, let’s start with Liquefaction, your new collection. What would you like readers of this blog to know about it?


Liquefaction is a collection of 35 poems following no specific theme, although I would like to think my work does have connecting lines of thought that can be identified when one reads through it. Each poem should be approached as a portal for the eyes to ‘walk’ into, for the reader to pass through and hopefully experience something different and then elicit pictures, images, word associations that they will find interesting.

The collection will be released on 15 May and is available through www.amazon.com or it can be ordered directly through Interactive Publications – www.ipoz.biz/Store/poetry.htm.

At the moment, my understanding is that the collection will be launched in New Zealand in July 2009, when Interactive Press will also be promoting two other NZ publications – Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, editors Mark Pirie and Tim Jones, plus The World Cup Baby by Euan McCabe. I presume the three books will then be available in bookshops in New Zealand.

You have been extensively published overseas, and your previous collection, Hauled Head First into a Leviathan, was published by Cinnamon Press in the UK and nominated for the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Have you published primarily overseas by choice, or is that just how things worked out?


As a poet, I enjoy the challenge of publishing offshore and watching how my poems are accepted or rejected and also observing how NZ poetry is generally received overseas. We have many fine poets pushing their poems around the world and it’s great to see we are prepared to promote this aspect of our culture internationally. It’s a huge and essential learning curve to try and stand beside the best poets in the UK and US and elsewhere. I see everything ‘right’ in that.

How long have you been writing poetry, and what motivated you to start?

I have been writing poetry seriously since my first NZ publication in 2000. Prior to that I had a long haul through years of writing – completing 5 very unpublishable novels, all now consigned to some bin. I also had a number of years spent writing plays in the UK. I really enjoyed writing plays and even had the audacity to try to get major repertory theatres to accept them … of course, they didn’t! However, poetry has always been a real life force within me, so it was only a matter of time till mind, body and soul coalesced and began pushing the pen with a degree of success.

Can you identify poets, or poetic movements, that have influenced your own poetry, and if so, who or what are these?

Learning to be a good poet requires total commitment and an inner sense of belief in oneself, that this is what you want to do, combined with a feeling of allowing yourself to be driven by it. I have had the privilege of seeing/hearing such great poets as Thom Gunn, WH Auden, Robert Lowell, Octavio Paz, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Robert Graves and many others during years spent in London. It is also where I first heard Fleur Adcock read her poetry. Once I had decided that poetry was what I wanted to do, I was hooked.

My reading has been wide and varied and I have involved myself in most movements of one sort or another. The Americans of the middle and latter part of the 20th Century impressed me with their willingness to experiment and push literary boundaries. Many poets have influenced my writing over the years and each one has contributed to my ability as a poet eg T S Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Rae Armantrout, Robert Creeley, Seamus Heaney, John Ashbery, August Kleinzahler, Charles Bernstein, Jorie Graham, the NZ poets Allen Curnow, James Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Bill Manhire and so on. Even the great Romantics have a place in my learning. Perhaps, my small knowledge of Te Reo and Tikanga Maori and all they entail has been vital to the sounds and rhythms of my writing also.

Consequently, you can see the field of influence is huge and those groups of individuals associated with poetic movements are part and parcel of this learning process too.

Your poem “Departing Takaparawha” is included in the forthcoming anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand. Do you write much poetry that falls within the “speculative poetry” genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror), or were your submissions to that anthology fairly much a one-off?

This is an interesting question for me to answer as my poetry probably does at times verge on the fantastic. For many poets the metaphor is an integral literary device and this can lead to highly imaginative pieces of work. My poetry could be said to tend towards the surreal sometimes. It is open to many interpretations but I don’t write with any exclusive kind of poetical form in mind.

Do you regard yourself as an “Auckland poet”, or is it simply the case that you are a poet who lives in Auckland? Is there such a thing as a distinctively Auckland poet, and if so, what makes an Auckland poet distinctive?

My sister-in-law, who is based in the UK, once asked me a similar type of question after a poetry reading I had given at the London School of Economics a few years ago – whether I considered myself a poet (for everyone) or a NZ poet. My answer was ‘a poet first and foremost’. This applies also to the idea of being an Auckland poet or not. I don’t think of boundaries when it comes to poetry. Although I am aware of these city differences, I don’t particularly espouse to any of them. Good poetry should cross borders and touch hearts regardless.

Do you enjoy performing your poetry, and are you planning launches, readings and so forth to mark the publication of Liquefaction?

Yes, I enjoy the challenge of reading my work, rather than performing it. Reading is never easy. The inner voices are an interesting mob to deal with when you stand and deliver. They determine the sound, rhythm and nuances and I feel I must do justice to the poem that has been channeled through me. It is a big responsibility to get it right. But that is what being a poet is all about for me.

I hope to promote my poetry collection with readings at the launches, which are to be in July. The timing will be important to enable this to happen. As yet, I have no dates, but I know Interactive Publications are well into the planning stages.

On a final note relating to Liquefaction, I wish to express my gratitude and thanks to Gretchen Albrecht, for providing the incredible cover image from Chorus 2008.

Boat People, my first poetry collection

Boat People is my first poetry collection. It was published in 2002 by HeadworX, the year after my first short fiction collection, Extreme Weather Events. There are forty poems in Boat People. The book is divided into four sections. As the HeadworX publicity blurb says:

“Boat People” is in four sections. The first is inspired by the poet’s childhood in Southland and adolescence in Otago. The second focuses on the Wellington region, and includes poems about the poet’s experiences of fatherhood. Section III takes in Russia – Tim Jones speaks Russian and has a longstanding interest in the country – while Section IV journeys to the alternate world of time and space also depicted in “Extreme Weather Events”.

A number of poems from Boat People dealing with parenting have already been posted on this blog. Here’s one more poem from Boat People, a personal favourite.

1917

A hard day’s plotting gives a man a thirst.
For Lenin, it’s something dark and strong,
a Black Mac for his blackest moods
Trotsky can’t decide: maybe an Export
maybe something brewed with ice.

“V. I. -“
“Wait on, Leon, just the dregs to go.” A pause,
the glug and swish of beer. “Aaah. That’s better.
You were saying?”

Trotsky looks up, face serious
above a thin moustache of foam. “V. I.,
why don’t we just take over?
The Tsar could never stop us. He’s
still chugging Lion Red from cans.”

It’s settled. Trotsky will inspire the workers
Lenin will fuel the revolution
with crates of Lowenbrau
smuggled in from Zurich by sealed train

Drink deep, Leon. Bottoms up, Vladimir Illyich.
Life will never look this simple or this clear again.

Boat People got some good reviews and I usually read a selection of poems from it when I do poetry readings. If you’d like a copy, you can order it from me for $5 plus postage & packing (in NZ, p&p will be $2, making a grand total of $7 for the book. I’ll need to work out the postage & packing for other territories). Please send an email to senjmito@gmail.com saying you’d like a copy, and we’ll take it from there.

UPDATE: One of the poems in Boat People, “Fallen”, is appearing in Wildes Licht, ed Dieter Riemenschneider, an anthology of New Zealand poetry translated into German. It should be coming out in October.