14 February 2017

Tuesday Poem: How We Walked Back The Bad News


The report was detailed, unambiguous
And powerful. That was their first mistake.
The second was its clear alignment with the views
Of certain interests, who had been banging on
About this issue for far too long. We were tired
Of listening to their whining. It’s not the sort of thing
A go-ahead country wants or needs. It’s
Negativity, and our polling has shown New Zealanders
Have had enough of that. The All Blacks
Are winning, while across the nation
Dairy herds continue to grow. Rebounding sales of trucks
And utes are all the proof needed to show
That we are on the right path.

Paul Henry and Mike Hosking were our first line
Of defence, manufacturing contempt,
Their intellectual attainments formidable, their scorn
Something only the most practised of politicians
Could be expected to withstand. The report’s authors
Were like lambs to the slaughter, their clothes, their manner
Betraying deep discomfort. And it was soon established
That the authors were academics, a potent critique
In itself. Henry attacked the way the authors dressed. Hosking
Went after the source of their funding. The report’s message
Was lost in the shemozzle. In the morning papers, the
Prime Minister’s photo opportunity with Beauden Barrett
Took pride of place, while on the business pages the report
Came under sustained attack. NBR even suggested
That a sulphurous whiff of economic treason
Might hang over the whole affair.

The report had been discredited without its findings
Ever being discussed. At their respective institutions,
The authors were called in by deputy vice-chancellors
For a quiet word. The importance of academic
Reputation was repeatedly stressed. Funding,
It was implied, could rapidly be redirected
To research efforts more in tune with the nation’s
Wants and needs. Science communication
Was plainly something that should be best be left
To communicators rather than scientists.

A storm in a teacup, a seven days’ wonder
That failed to last even one news cycle. No surprise
That around the Cabinet table there was a general air
Of self-congratulation. The public of New Zealand
As polls and focus groups repeatedly reveal
Do not want to hear bad news, and as the guardians
Of the public mood, let there be no doubt that we,
No matter how great the temptation, no matter
How pressing the need, will not waver in our resolve
To provide ever-more-elaborate circuses
Well after we’ve scoffed the last of the bread.


Tim says: Most of the poems in my latest collection, New Sea Land, were written in 2015 and early 2016. While working on those poems, though, I did take the occasional detour: I wrote some poems about music, a number of which will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of takahē, and I wrote some political and satirical poems that were a bit outside scope for New Sea Land.

"How We Walked Back The Bad News" is one of those poems. It's dedicated to all the scientists who bravely stand up for the truth of what the data tell them against the spin, mismanagement and ridicule of bureaucrats, University senior management, and politicians.

07 February 2017

Dan Davin Literary Foundation – Short Story Symposium 1-3 September 2017


Here's a callout I'm really pleased to share:

The Dan Davin Conference on the New Zealand Short Story – its traditions and departures – will be held in September.

The conference is an opportunity to celebrate Southland-born author Dan Davin as one of the fathers of the modern New Zealand short story, and the development of the New Zealand short story to today.

In conjunction with the Dan Davin Annual Lecture, the two-day conference will be held in Invercargill from September 1-3. Author Vincent O’Sullivan is working with the Foundation to develop the conference programme.

The short story has always been of significance in New Zealand literature, and continues to be an important form of writing. Papers of 25 minutes are invited on any aspect of the tradition, its contemporary practice, and on the work of individual writers.

Some of New Zealand’s foremost writers of the genre including Owen Marshall, Dame Fiona Kidman and Tracey Slaughter will attend. Janet Wilson will also be key note speaker. It will be the first conference for many years devoted entirely to the short story and its place in New Zealand literature.

The conference will include an opportunity to experience the unique south, as well as attend the events which will be held in two outstanding southern venues.

Enquiries and abstracts of up to 200 words can be sent to the Dan Davin Literary Foundation, PO Box 29, Invercargill 9840, or dandavin@xtra.co.nz

[Note from Tim: There will be a mixture of formal academic papers, and informal papers - in other words, writers, readers and critics as well as literary academics can submit papers!]

We also welcome expressions of interest of attending the Symposium and can provide assistance with discounted accommodation.

As part of the Symposium we have an opportunity for visitors to see and experience some unique Southland experiences. And it is our hope that these experiences might be a catalyst for writings inspired by the south whether it be short story, poetry or blogs.

Rebecca Amundsen
Chair, Dan Davin Literary Foundation

Tim says: A few years ago, I was invited to take part in Southland's annual Dan Davin Literary Festival - an experience I enjoyed very much, for the discussion, the hospitality, and Becs Amundsen's excellent organising skills. Now the Dan Davin Literary Foundation has organised this Short Symposium, which looks like a really good opportunity for writers, readers, critics, academics - and who knows, maybe publishers and booksellers! - to get together and discuss the form.

I'm hoping to attend, provided I can sort out a potential clash of dates - and I hope you'll consider attending too!

01 February 2017

Booksellers NZ Says Very Nice Things About "New Sea Land" In New Review


It's a relief to post about writing again - and in this case, to highlight a very positive review of New Sea Land by Elizabeth Morton, published on the Booksellers NZ blog.

Elizabeth Morton says:

You can lick the salt off this poetry, half expect sand to spill from the centrefold. Tim Jones’ latest collection, New Sea Land, is part history, part rattling fortune-telling. It is a slap on the face by a wet fish, a digging up of heads-in-the-sand. Jones has spied a calamity from the shoreline, an oncoming deluge. History is repeating on us, and this time the tide is coming in full.

and:

The world is falling apart at its seams. This is a New Zealand where climate change is playing out. The sea floods Lambton Quay, rolls over childhood homes, and meets householders at their doorsteps. People are left with new geographies of which to make sense. Jones gives us a periscope to a time where myopic vision has crystallised into something tangible. It is only once the impact is ostensible that we realise we ‘backed the wrong horse’.... This is poetry that knows what’s coming, and insists you ‘keep your life raft close at hand’.



I'm delighted not only to get such a positive review, but also that Elizabeth Morton has 'got' what the book is about. Thanks, Elizabeth!

As Booksellers NZ says, New Sea Land is available in selected booksellers nationwide (the link is to their directory of booksellers).

If the book isn't in stock at your local bookseller, you should be able to order it using this information - especially the ISBN:

ISBN 978-0-9941299-6-3
Publisher: Mākaro Press
Paperback, 150x190mm, 74pp poetry collection
RRP $25

and overseas readers can also order the book from Mākaro Press.

29 January 2017

How The New Zealand Government Should Respond To Trump: Six Proposed Actions

At the end of this post is a long list (thanks to a Facebook friend for that) of the many appalling things Donald Trump has done since he came to power.

And now we can add the fact that, at US airports, Green Card holders from the seven Muslim-majority countries targeted by Trump (curiously, those where he doesn't have business interests) are being forced to pass religious tests before they can enter the country - if they can convince the examiner they're not Muslim, they make it in. (Note: I have cited one Tweet here, but there are multiple independent sources for this very recent development.)

Religious tests, at the American border. Just let that sink in for a moment.

And that's after just one week. Trump has barely even gotten started yet on, for example, his threatened attacks on the environment.

I think there is now ample evidence to justify the view that Donald Trump is a fascist, and he is imposing a fascist regime on America which, unless he is stopped, is highly likely to lead to misery, war, and death for many millions - just as the rise of fascism in Europe in the early 1930s led to world war a few years later.

("But isn't it going too far to call him a fascist?" - no, I don't think so. Rather than "fascist" being a generalised insult, fascism is a specific authoritarian and nationalist economic, social and political system with which I believe Trump's regime, and his worldview, have a great deal in common.)

But the point of this post isn't about how appalling Trump is. It's about how New Zealand should react.

So far, our track record isn't great. NZ Ambassador to Washington Tim Groser has been bragging about the access he enjoys to the Trump administration. It turns out that the odious billionaire Peter Thiel - a man who regrets that women can vote - was granted (bought?) NZ citizenship under, at the least, highly irregular circumstances in 2011, and now owns great swathes of the countryside. And NZ executive Chris Liddell is proudly enabling the Trump train to run more smoothly.

In ordinary circumstances, perhaps we should be pleased about our level of access to the new administration. But these are not ordinary times. Here are six steps that I believe the New Zealand Government should take in response:

1. Ban any members of the Trump administration from entering New Zealand, at least so long as the "Muslim Ban" persists.
2. Launch an independent investigation of the circumstances into which Peter Thiel was granted NZ citizenship, and if there were any irregularities, revoke his NZ citizenship.
3. Refuse to accept the credentials of the replacement US Ambassador to New Zealand, who is due to be appointed by the Trump administration.
4. End all joint military exercises with the US, and refuse to accept any further US ship visits to NZ ports.
5. Review whether it is any longer in New Zealand's national interest to belong to the "Five Eyes" signals intelligence agreement with the US, Britain, Australia, and Canada, or whether New Zealand's national interest and security would be enhanced by withdrawing from this agreement.
6. Increase NZ's refugee quota.

And here's that list of Trump's "achievements" in his first week.

 On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
* On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
* On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
* On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
* On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
* On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
* On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
* On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
* On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
* On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
* On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
* On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
* On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, Director of the Department of Health and Human Service nominee Tom Price characterized federal guidelines on transgender equality as “absurd.”
* On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
* On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources.
And since then: the wall and a Muslim ban.

30 November 2016

Windy Wednesday Poem: The Wind Blows Back Biff Byford's Hair

I'm writing some music poems at the moment, and that, plus Wellington's windy weather (check out a typical Wellington November day in cartoon and video formats), inspired me to re-post this poem, first posted here in 2012. Wellington is a great city for hair metal, because you can cut costs by dispensing with the wind machine.


The Wind Blows Back Biff Byford's Hair

We stand in the face of the wind, of the wind machine
Our stylists ready with product and comb
We take up our stance and seize our guitars
In the face of the wind, of the wind machine.

We sing in the face of the war, of the war machine
Our stylists ready with product and comb
We watch the director and follow his cues
In the face of the war, of the war machine.

We laugh in the face of death, of the death machine
Our stylists ready with product and comb
We tease out highlights and re-shoot some takes
In the face of death, of the death machine.

We sneer in the face of hate, of the hate machine
Our stylists ready with product and comb
We shout out to fans who've stayed staunch and true
In the face of hate, of the hate machine.

In the face of hate, in the face of death
In the face of the war, in the face of the wind
We take up our stance and seize our guitars
Our stylists ready with product and comb.


Tim says: It will not have escaped your notice that Peter Rodney "Biff" Byford is the magnificently-maned lead singer of Saxon, one of the bands that came to prominence in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM as one should properly call it (Nu-wobbem).

Here's Biff's barnet getting a good workout in an otherwise rather dubious hair-metal cover of Christopher Cross's yacht-rock hit "Ride Like The Wind" from 1988: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NleLo2wwNYw




21 November 2016

Talkative


The November issue of Flash Frontier has just come out, and as well as the selection of excellent small fictions on the theme of "Birds", there is as usual a packed Features section.

I play a part in the first two features: the first is my interview with Best Small Fictions series editor Tara L. Masih, and the second is Michelle Elvy's interview with me about my latest poetry collection, New Sea Land.

There's plenty more after those two, so please check out Flash Frontier's fiction and features!




15 November 2016

Nature Bats Last


The events of the last few days have been a salutary reminder that we are guests on this planet, and that Nature bats last. The massive earthquake in North Canterbury/Marlborough and its swarm of aftershocks - which, here in Wellington, we continue to feel - has caused equally massive damage.

But Nature's innings is well underway when it comes to climate change, as well. 2016 will be the hottest year on record - just as 2015 was, and 2014 before it. 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have happened this century.

When it comes to earthquakes, we can prepare personally, seek to improve resilience, and respond afterwards as best we can. But when it comes to climate change, we still have a chance - maybe a slim chance, but a chance - to change the game for the better, as long as we act this decade.

Tragically, the election of Donald J. Trump has put the possibility of meaningful action at further risk - and while Trump is rowing back on some of his wildest election promises, he is still dead keen on sabotaging the Paris climate agreement. If Trump succeeds, and his agenda dominates climate policy for the rest of the decade, we may well get to the point where it's too late to do anything about climate change other than respond to what Nature throws at us - and there will come a point when we are no longer capable of doing that.

So it's up to us. Are we going to sit by while Trump, his cronies, and his agenda puts the planet's future at even greater risk, or are we going to act - wherever we are, however we can - to preserve a liveable future?