07 July 2015

Tuesday Poem: 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.

Credit note: "Shostakovich in America" was originally published in Issue 11 of Bravado magazine, and was subsequently included in my 2011 poetry collection Men Briefly Explained.

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

Tim says: I posted this poem once before, in 2010 - around the time the Tuesday Poem began. I'm posting it here again because I have recently finished reading Sarah Quigley's novel The Conductor, which is set during World War 2, and covers the composition and Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh ("Leningrad") symphony. While I'm not as sure that the novel "manages to light up something of the Russian soul" as the Observer reviewer, I do think it's a fine portrayal of what it takes to create under adverse - in this case, among the most adverse - of circumstances - and if you are at all interested in music, or creative work of any kind, I encourage you to read it.

01 July 2015

Travelling The Paper Road

Paper Road Press's first Shortcuts series of novellas, "Strange Fiction of Aotearoa New Zealand", features six novellas, one being released per month. Here's the sequence:

Mika Lee Murray and Piper Mejia
The Last Grant Stone
Bree’s Dinosaur AC Buchanan
Pocket Wife IK Paterson-Harkness
Landfall Tim Jones
The Ghost of Matter Octavia Cade

My novella "Landfall" is fifth in the series, and is due to be released in August. You can find links to buy each published ebook on Kindle or Kobo in the descriptions, and they are also available on Nook, iBooks and a few other places. Don't miss out!

16 June 2015

Tuesday Poem: Kraken, plus entry details of the Interstellar Award for Speculative Flash Fiction

TL;DR version for flash fiction writers: head on over to https://interstellaraward.wordpress.com/interstellar-award-for-speculative-flash-fiction/ for details of the competition.

I'm very pleased to say that my poem "Kraken", reproduced below, won second prize in the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry, the results of which were announced on Friday. You can read the excellent winning poem, by Kevin Gillam, and the judge's comments on the Interstellar Award results page. Congratulations to Kevin and to all the Highly Commended and Commended poets!

(Incidentally, Kevin is one of the poets whose work is represented in The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, which Highly Commended poet P. S. Cottier and I edited.),


Millennia of sunlight passed the Kraken by.
He slept where he had fallen, each molecule
bound up in water ice, kept safe by permafrost
or the pressure of the deep. Kraken lay
unmoved beneath the waves, deep in his dreams
of fire and air, while the ice sat heavy on the poles
and the clever, clever apes, fizzing with language,
trudged northwards out of Africa.

Unperturbed slept Kraken as the glaciers withdrew.
Lapping at their tongues came the clever apes,
furred, speared, striding on. Wintering in caves,
they met and mated with their slow-tongued cousins,
gaining their immunities, their thicker skins.
Tinder sparked to flame in the wolf-howled night,
each tribe protected in its ring of fire,
but Kraken took no notice of such things.

Light disturbed Kraken’s millennial dreams,
sunlight no longer reflected by protective ice
but slanting down into the depths, unchecked,
warming the shallow seas, permafrost
proving to be less than permanent. In his sleep,
Kraken rolled over, farted, belched. Siberia trembled,
craters forming where none had been, methane
bursting skyward across the Arctic night.

The clever apes looked, and shrugged, and looked away.
They had bigger fish to fry: death, war,
their endless clawing at the Earth for fuel. Kraken
had been banished from their world. He was a relic of myth,
terror of the Greenland Sea, muse to Tennyson,
John Wyndham antagonist, large-boned
inhabitant of green-screened Greek epics,
set free to give Perseus something to kill.

The old Norse knew his nature well. Hafgufa
they named him, sea steam: and so he rose,
bubbling up beneath the circumpolar seas,
so much methane rising to warm the skies
that it roused him more, the loop reinforcing,
unstoppable, his coils releasing, sea floor gaping open,
undersea landslides lashing crowded coasts with waves,
the clever apes at last obliged to pay attention —

but too late. The Kraken is awake.
Flares light the Arctic night to write his name.
His is the fire that heats the deep, that scours the land
clean of everything that flies and walks and crawls —
the few survivors, vainly fleeing south,
hearing his voice forever louder at their backs.
The Kraken roars, and as he roars
soon every trace of clever ape is burned away.

This poem refers to “The Kraken Wakes” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830).

Credit note: This poem was published for the first time on the Interstellar Awards website on 12 June 2015.

Tim says: Competition judge Joanne Mills makes some very kind & perceptive point about "Kraken" in her Judge's Report, so I suggest you check those out. I'll just add that, while I still have hope that the apocalyptic scenario of this poem can be avoided if the right steps are taken - and in particular, if fossil fuel use is swiftly reduced - it is nevertheless the case that the destabilising effect of climate change on Arctic methane deposits is cause for major concern - whether one takes a mainstream climate scientist or very worried indeed perspective.

The Tuesday Poem: The Tuesday Poem this week is "Grave secrets" by Helen Bascand, selected by Andrew Bell: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/…/grave-secrets-by-helen-… - a fine tribute to this stalwart of the Canterbury poetry community, who died in April

The Interstellar Award for Speculative Flash Fiction

This competition has a generous word limit, for flash fiction, of 1200 words. Entries open on 1 July and close on 1 October, and the prizes are also generous: $500, $150 and $50. Head over to the Interstellar Award site for all the entry details.

09 June 2015

Book Review: Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around The World, compiled by Elaine Chiew

When Rachel Fenton asked me if I'd be willing to review Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around The World, I had my doubts - not about reviewing a book featuring Rachel's work, because I already knew what a fine writer she is, but because I don't boast strong credentials when it comes to the culinary arts. I can cook, if it's simple and straightforward and repeatable, but I am neither gourmet nor gourmand.

But it turned out that my failings on this score didn't matter. The food in most of these stories is an enabler of story, serving to bring characters together or push them further apart, and it was the one piece in which food was front and centre that seemed a little out of place among the rest of the stories.

As befits a New Internationalist anthology, the range of authors and countries represented is wide. The anthology starts with a short-short (a "stoku" - story + haiku) by Ben Okri, which didn't grab me at first but which I like more on re-reading, and then traverses continents and cuisines before ending with a story by the compiler of the book, Elaine Chiew.

My favourite stories in the anthology include:

Krys Lee, "Fat" - a young man's efforts to get out of military service through overeating reach an ironic conclusion
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, "Mrs Dutta Writes A Letter" - probably my favourite story in the book, a moving story of an elderly woman's emigration from India to the US to be with her children, and the difficult adjustment that confronts her
Rachel Fenton, "Food Bank" - a sharp-edged relationship tale which showcases the author's ability to pack a lot of story into a limited space through drawing out the implications of her characters' behaviour
Elaine Chiew, "Run of the Molars" - not a million miles away from "Mrs Dutta Writes A Letter", but seen from the perspective of the children who must deal with the visit of the elderly relative from home.

There's a lot of other very good stories in here, and the anthology as a whole is definitely worth reading. (I was slightly puzzled by Diana Ferraro's piece, which appears to be a non-fiction discussion of changing times and changing foods in her Buenos Aires - but maybe there is a metafictional element here too subtle for me to notice!)

This anthology is well worth your time.

02 June 2015

Interstellar Award Shortlist plus this week's Tuesday Poem

I got the very welcome news yesterday that my poem "Kraken" has been shortlisted for the Interstellar Award for Speculative Poetry.

There are some fine poets on the shortlist, including two poets represented in The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry: they are P. S. Cottier, my co-editor on the anthology, and Kevin Gillam. Congratulations to Penelope, Kevin, and everyone else shortlisted!

In other news, I'm the overall editor for the Tuesday Poem blog this month, so I won't be posting Tuesday Poems here during June. The Tuesday Poem this week is "Chernobyl Wedding, 1986" by Naomi Guttman, selected by Eileen Moeller: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/2015/06/a-poem-by-naomi-guttman.html

26 May 2015

Tuesday Poem: Lot 165, by Marty Smith

No one has come to look at my teeth.
Flies licking the weep of my waxy lashes.

‘The heavy horses are quiet fortresses.
Dependable,’ the grandmother huffs,
settling on her knotted legs. She feels my tendons.
Her perm from the Swan Lake Hair Salon.
To her floral blouse, matching pleated skirt
I appeal, I try not to creak.

She means cart-horses and draught horses.
Those horses pull wagons, not race for Sheiks.
If she knew her history.
I’m a light-boned Arab, my pedigree
goes right back to Saladin. I carried Sultans,
we ran rings round Crusaders on big heavy horses
to haul big clanking knights. We left those horses for dead.
I’m looking right at her, carrying my gift from the past.
For the want of a nail.
I make my eyes soft and sharp.

‘Getting old,’ she says. ‘Maybe time for cat food.’
She’s looking for heart room, I breathe out dark red air.

She could carry me in her arms.
She could bed me down in straw.
I’m near to my knees, pleading.

Credit note: "Lot 165" is from Marty Smith's collection Horse with Hat and is reproduced by kind permission of the author. Horse with Hat is available from VUP.

Marty Smith says: Horses have large round eyes like billiard balls set in the sides of their heads, which means they can see behind for danger. So the horse might as well tell the story of the long relationship between men and horses, in which horses always end badly. The poem also takes a gentle poke at the way horses are often represented in a mawkishly sentimental way.

Tim says: I've been nervous around horses ever since John Meredith's fifth birthday party. John lived along Glengarry Crescent from me. The feature of his fifth birthday party was a large and placid horse in the back garden, on which the partygoers were offered rides. When my turn came, I lasted partway round the ride before sliding off the back of the horse and falling to the ground - and though I have since ridden horses without repeating that indignity, I have never quite conquered those early nerves. So I am glad to present a poem seen from the horse's point of view, from a poet with infinitely more confidence around and knowledge of horses than I - and a wonderful ability to express that in her poetry.

The Tuesday Poem: This week, I'm the Hub Editor, and the poem I've chosen is How They Came To Privatise The Night by Maria McMillan.

19 May 2015

Tuesday Poem: A Left Hook, by John O'Connor; In Memoriam John O'Connor

David Howard has alerted me to the sad news that Christchurch poet John O'Connor died recently. I didn't know John well, but I enjoyed talking with him when I was in Christchurch, and he kindly gave me the opportunity to feature his poem Johnny as a hub Tuesday Poem. It comes from his 2013 collection Aspects of Reality (HeadworX).

A few years earlier, I'd published John's poem "A Left Hook" on this blog, and I'm republishing it today as a tribute to John. In 2013, John made his own selection of his poetry available online, and an adapted version of his bio from that site is below:

John O’Connor was a Christchurch poet and critic. He was co-winner of the open section of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 1998 and winner of both the open and haiku sections of the same competition in 2006. In 2000 his fifth book of poetry, A Particular Context, was voted one of the five best books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s by members of the NZPS. He was an editor for Canterbury Poets Combined Presses and was founding editor the poetry magazine plainwraps, co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group, occasional editor of Takahe, Spin and the NZPS annual anthology. 
He was a past chair and long-term committee member of the Canterbury Poets Collective. His poetry has been widely published and is represented in Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House/Godwit, 2001). His haiku have been internationally anthologized and translated into eight languages. In 1997 he received an Honorary Diploma from the Croatian Haiku Association and in 2001 a Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Tokyo, for “best of issue” in Frogpond International, a special issue from the Haiku Society of America, featuring haiku from 52 countries and language communities.

A Left Hook

an early experience
of the left hook (admirably

tight if open-handed) came
at the beatific hand of

Monseigneur O'Dea - too
old to be a parish priest - who

about to impart the very
body & blood of Christ found I

was not holding the paten
correctly. a few years later

an equally irascible boxing
coach imparted impeccable

advice on how to throw it,
though he didn't know the bit

about feinting with Jesus.
when the good monseigneur

had his final photo taken
he bestowed a copy on our family

- old friends should be so blessed -
for a decade it sat on the mantelpiece

between a bunch of plastic grapes
& a glass bowl that snowed if shaken.

This poem is from John O'Connor's recently published Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-Class Verse 1996-2009 (Post Pressed, Queensland, 2010), which I also reviewed.

The Tuesday Poem: This week's poem is Albert Park by Alice Miller, a finalist in this year's Sarah Broom Poetry Prize (won by Diana Bridge).