31 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: Zoopermarket

Big cats patrol the aisles.
At the checkouts, baboons preen and groom
while parrots chatter through the speakers.

Sloth and sun-bear
peccary and panda
lie snoring on the shelves.

Wolves in the warehouse.
In the freezers, walrus and penguin
cherish the ice and cold.

The manager's a mongoose
and was that a rhino
pushing trolleys to the trolley park?

At the zoo, there's trouble.
Visitors want chimpanzees, not cereals
and who put tinned fruit in the tigers' cage?

Corn chips in place of cheetahs
lightbulbs for lizards
elephants replaced by Edam cheese.

Only the zebras remain.
Their stripes are barcodes
scanned by the winter sun.

Credit note: This poem was published in Poetry Pudding, an anthology of poetry for children edited by Jenny Argante.

Tim says: I have rarely tried to write poetry for children, other than the occasional reassuring ditty for my son when he was young (sample: "There's No Volcanoes Here"). This is the only published exception, and I'm still quite fond of it.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the hub poem in the middle of the page, and all the other poems in the sidebar on the right.

26 January 2012

I Only Read It For The Interviews

I run round about one interview (usually, but not always, an interview with an author) on my blog each month. My own interviews this year were augmented by Johanna Knox's fascinating interview with Mandy Hager.

Here are the interviews from my blog in 2011 - and you can check out interviews from previous years as well.

2011: Interviews with:

Owen Bullock

Mary Cresswell

Tracie McBride

Laura Solomon

Janis Freegard

Anna Caro

Barbara Strang

Michael J. Parry

Meliors Simms

Mandy Hager interviewed by Johanna Knox - Part 1 and Part 2

Johanna Knox

Penelope Cottier

If that's not enough interviews for you, you can also check out the blog tour interviews with me about Men Briefly Explained - and the tour's not quite over yet!

19 January 2012

Book Review: Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, by Kathleen Jones

Kathleen Jones is a noted biographer and poet whom I have previously interviewed for this blog, in particular about her excellent recent biography of Katherine Mansfield, and who is one of the Tuesday Poets. She was also kind enough to provide an endorsement for my recent collection Men Briefly Explained.

Reviewing books by people one knows and likes is both easier and harder than reviewing books by complete strangers. Easier, because this knowledge might give the reviewer a little more insight into the writer's work - not that I am claiming any special insight!; and harder, because it is always possible that, despite liking the writer, the reviewer might not like the book.

I'm delighted to report that I don't have this problem with Kathleen Jones' latest book, her first full poetry collection, Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21. I like this book a lot, and furthermore, I liked it more and more as it went on.

If I was asked to say what this collection was about in three words (one of which had to be a conjunction), I'd say 'landscape and character'. My favourite poems in the collection are those which bring the two together, and since almost all of them do this, I was a happy and engaged reader throughout.

Many of these landscapes are harsh. Kathleen Jones has spent much of her life in Cumbria, in the north of Britain, and many of these poems bear the harshness of that northern landscape, the sense that the flesh over the bones of the earth is thin. But the collection begins even further north, in the glacial north of Russia, where

From the lake's edge the land seems
to go on forever - beyond politics,
into the impossible distances
of history, where women still

wash their clothes in the stream
and sleep above the stove.

("Aiming for Archangel: Lake Onega")

Winter is even more to the fore in "Winter Light", which Helen Lowe recently featured as a Tuesday Poem on her blog, and intimate relationships are described in terms of snow and winter too:

Under the duvet's white drifts
we trespass unconsciously —

a sleeping thaw that threatens
waking separation.

("The Silence of Snow")

Many of these poems feature a woman choosing, or preparing to choose, wintry solitude over warm entanglement - or having solitude imposed on her by circumstance, as in the title poem.

All the same, I think my very favourite poems in the book are those which are not (ostensibly, at least) about the narrator of the poems, but about an external figure. I chose "'To the Gods the Shades'", about a 1st-century Roman occupier of Britain guarding the Empire's northern border, as my Tuesday Poem this week because I admire the way in which Kathleen Jones evokes the man, his times, and the country in which he serves, all in 24 economical lines, not a word wasted, nothing flashy (which would be inappropriate for this poem), everything achieved by the skilled deployment of language. The high point of this poem for me is

scouring the Tyne gap through this bleak
border town where everything closes at five —

lines that bridge the gap between historical and modern times with the complaint of a cosmopolitan traveller, a complaint such as ancient Roman or modern Briton might equally make.

Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 is full of such deft touches. Worth reading, worth re-reading.

17 January 2012

Tuesday Poem: 'To the Gods the Shades' by Kathleen Jones

Inscription on a 1st century Roman tombstone in Hexham.

The wolf and wild boar wintered here
where Flavinus' impetuous latin blood
felt the unkindness of snow

and the granite hardness of the Wall
whose builders he defended against
the brutal insurgence of Pict and Celt.

Days of cracked leather, blistered hands,
the horses' breath rising like bath-house steam,
a northern mist obscuring the sun's retina;

remembering the soft, olive-perfumed
flesh of southern lovers in the rough,
hessian coupling of Celtic women —

the wire-boned, woad-stained, spoils of war,
who worshipped alien Gods and stank
of semen and ambiguous politics.

Flavinus, Standard-Bearer to the Troop —
speared by the carved barbarian
trampled under his horse — killed

by the cold driven in on the east wind
scouring the Tyne gap through this bleak
border town where everything closes at five —

his final dread — to leave his bones
to winter north in the sour peat, covered
by the same grey stone he died for.

Credit note: "'To the Gods the Shades'" was first published in the Lancaster Lit Fest Anthology and is collected in Kathleen Jones' 2011 poetry collection Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, published by Templar Poetry. It is reproduced by permission of the author. Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 can be ordered from Templar Poetry.

Tim says: I will be reviewing Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 later this week. I'll say more then about why I like the collection so much, but let me say now that many of the poems I like best in this collection skilfully evoke both character and place, as this poem does so well. I thrilled to stories of the Roman conquest of Britain, like The Eagle of the Ninth, when I was young - these days, I have a rather different take on imperial adventures and the grandeur that was Rome, but this poem revives the shades of that harsh borderland and its harsh inhabitants.

Kathleen Jones
is one of the Tuesday Poets. You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the hub poem in the middle of the page, and all the other poems in the sidebar on the right.

09 January 2012

What I Listened To In 2011: Brought To You By the Letter W


I listen to a lot of music (though not when I'm writing, funnily enough), and I think a comprehensive list is beyond me, so here's a look at my two favourite bands of the year.

Note: I chose not to embed videos in this post because it slows down loading time so much - but there are copious links to YouTube videos below.


At the top of the corresponding list of my 2010 listening, I put Warpaint. I'd only just started listening to them then, and I have listened to a lot more of their music in 2011, including their first release, the 2009 EP Exquisite Corpse. Here is a clip of them playing one of the songs from that EP, Krimson, in Auckland at the start of 2011 - a show I wish I'd seen live.

One of the many things I like about Warpaint is their willingness to reinvent their songs in live performance: here are links to extended live performances of the two songs they use as the basis for improvisation, Elephants and Beetles. (One of the things these live performances showcase is what a wonderful rhythm section they have in drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg - check out Elephants in particular to see this in action.)

Wild Flag and its forerunners

In September, a new band called Wild Flag released its self-titled debut album. The band was new, but the members came from such prominent '90s bands as Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the lesser-known (to me anyway) Minders. While Warpaint, at least in their recorded incarnation, is music for thinking and dreaming, Wild Flag makes me want to get up and jump around the room. Sometimes, imperilling the cat and the furniture, I do.

Here are Wild Flag's entertaining videos for Romance and Electric Band, plus a live-in-the-studio version of my favourite song of theirs, Black Tiles, and an extended live workout of Racehorse.

My enjoyment of Wild Flag led me to check out Sleater-Kinney and Helium. 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, now form half of Wild Flag, while Mary Timony, the prime mover of Helium, is now co-frontwoman of Wild Flag with Carrie Brownstein. (The fourth member of Wild Flag is Rebecca Cole, whose keyboards keep the band sounding as harsh as Sleater-Kinney often do.)

I'm finding Sleater-Kinney to be an acquired taste that I haven't fully acquired yet, but I do like this live performance of the epic Zeppelinesque song from their final album The Woods, Let's Call It Love, which segues into Entertain.

But Helium are great! I now have their 1995 album The Dirt of Luck (I don't have any idea what that means, either), and here are a couple of my favourite tracks from it, Skeleton and Honeycomb.

What else?

Here are a few other songs and pieces of music, old and new, that have been particular favourites of mine this year.

Kylesa, Don't Look Back (album version - I can't find a live version with good enough sound) - and here is a live performance: Kylesa covering Pink Floyd's Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

Arcade Fire, Intervention

Motorhead, We Are The Roadcrew (studio version)

The Real Thing, You To Me Are Everything

Smokey Robinson, Cruisin'

Gustav Mahler, Symphony #5 In C Sharp Minor - 4. Adagietto (the "Death in Venice" theme)

Frederick Delius, Walk To The Paradise Garden

Dmitri Shostakovich, Festive Overture

03 January 2012

What I Read In 2011

In the epic tradition of What I Read In 2009 and What I Read In 2010 comes ... What I Read In 2011! "It's what I wanted Transformers 3 to be if I'd only had a bigger special effects budget" says cult indie film director Michael Bay.

I read 59 books in 2011. Here are links to a number I reviewed.

1. Wit of the Staircase by Saradha Koirala - debut NZ poetry collection; I really liked the wry humour and linguistic play on show here
2. A Foreign Country: New Zealand Speculative Fiction, edited by Anna Caro and Juliet Buchanan - NZ speculative short story anthology, including my story "The Last Good Place"
3. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis - British memoir and meditation on grief
4. Grendel by John Gardner - US novella: the Beowulf story imagined from the monster's point of view
5. Returning by Pat Whitaker - NZ science fiction novel - an intriguing mixture of SF and alternate history
6. Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse - British humour; a collection of Jeeves & Wooster short stories
7. Hemingway in Spain by David P. Reiter - Australian poetry collection centred on the titular author's exploits in Spain
8. Dwarf Stars 2010, edited by Joshua Gage - annual anthology of short speculative poetry published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association
9. The Baron In The Trees by Italo Calvino - Italian novel in translation; like all the Calvino I have read, very good indeed
10. Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky - another very good book - a nonfiction account of time spent with indigenous reindeer herders in Siberia from a British author of Russian descent
11. From Smoke to Mirrors : how New Zealand can replace fossil liquid fuels with locally-made renewable energy by 2040 by Kevin Cudby - nonfiction/transport/climate change - takes an optimistic view
12. Lives of the Poets by John Newton - well-written NZ poetry collection that failed to grab me initially, but got more interesting as it went along
13. The Topless Tower by Silvina Ocampo - Argentinean novella in translation, nominally YA
14."The Spectrum Collection" edited by John Prescott - sampler of horror fiction and poetry from Dark Continents Publishing - NZ, Australian and US authors with some good horror stories and poems
15. Rock and Roll Never Forgets by Deborah Grabien - US rock'n'roll crime novel
16. Punctured Experimental by Iain Britton - NZ poetry chapbook, experimental but accessible
17. In Pursuit... by Joanna FitzPatrick - US biographical novel about Katherine Mansfield
18. The Teachings of Don B. by Donald Barthelme - miscellany from the great US fabulist including short fiction and comic strips; not as strong as I'd hoped, overall
19. in vitro by Laura Solomon - NZ poetry collection with a dark edge
20. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - classic French novel in translation
21. Island by Penelope Todd - NZ novel with historical and romance elements - I was nervous I wouldn't like it given those elements, but I enjoyed it a lot
22. Cars at the End of an Era: Transport Issues in the New Zealand Greenhouse by John Robinson - NZ nonfiction/transport/climate change - takes a pessimistic view: a good counterbalance to #11 above
23. A Room With A View by E. M. Forster - classic British novel
24. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett - Discworld novel - pretty good, but there is little new under the sun or above the tortoise after so many Discworld novels
25. The Best Of Kim Stanley Robinson - selected short stories and novellas of this great US science fiction writer. All the stories very good, many excellent
26. Trace Fossils by Mary Cresswell - NZ poetry collection, the first 'serious' poetry collection from Mary Cresswell - as with Janis Freegard's poetry (see #36), I enjoy the combination of science and poetry
27. The Guild by Felicia Day (Omnibus edition of Issues 1-3) - US graphic novel by the multi-talented Ms Day. (Felicia Day and Joss Whedon have an interesting mentor/mentee professional relationship - he helped her develop as a writer and actor, she showed him the way to make web series work. When it comes to turning a TV or web series into a graphic novel, on the evidence of this vs #37, I would say that Felicia Day has a surer grasp on what works in the comics medium.)
28. The Corrosion Zone by Barbara Strang - NZ poetry collection in which I especially enjoyed the poems about Southland, where both the author and I grew up
29. He'll Be OK by Celia Lashlie - NZ parenting manual for parents of teenage boys - slightly uneasy mix of research and anecdote, but reassuring overall!
30. Such A Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry - novel of India, written by this Indian novelist who emigrated to Canada. I found the characters fascinating but the plot improbable
31. Lan Yuan : The Garden of Enlightenment, ed. James Beattie - history of formal Chinese gardens and guide to Lan Yuan, the Chinese garden in Dunedin, New Zealand. I was captivated by Lan Yuan when I visited it for the first time this year, and found this short essay collection placing in context very interesting as well
32. Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme - US short story collection - again, not quite as good as I expected. Barthelme has written some wonderful stories, but the hit-rate in this collection was lower than I'd hoped
33. Mr Allbones' Ferrets by Fiona Farrell - NZ novel, mainly set in the UK, which I reviewed for Landfall Review Online
34. One Was A Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming - US crime novel - she is one of my favourite crime novel, and this was a particularly good entry in the series
35. Immortal Love by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - Russian short stories in translation
36. Kingdom Animalia : The Escapades of Linnaeus by Janis Freegard - NZ poetry collection memorably organised around Linnaeus' classification system
37. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 8: Last Gleaming by Joss Whedon - collecting the final five issues (#s 36-40) of Buffy Season 8, the continuation of the TV series in graphic novel form. This season has been patchy to say the least, but the final issue returns Buffy to her, and the series', strengths
38. Genesis by Bernard Beckett - NZ YA science fiction novel - very interesting ideas, but the framing story didn't work for me
39. On The Overgrown Path by David Herter - US novella with speculative elements; the central character is Czech composer Leoš Janáček
40. True Spirit: The Aussie Girl Who Took On The World by Jessica Watson - record of her non-stop solo round the world yacht voyage - at 16, she was the youngest person to do this. An impulse buy at an airport bookstore that I really enjoyed!
41. Guarding the Flame by Majella Cullinane - fine debut collection by this Irish poet now living in NZ
42. Unless by Carol Shields - Canadian novel; I enjoyed it, but others who have read more of her work said this was not among her best
43. Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita - nonfiction account, and at times jeremiad, about the effects of pervasive media on perception, self-image, childrearing and politics
44. Burn by Nevada Barr - US crime novel - a long way from being this normally excellent author's best work, and probably the book I enjoyed least this year
45. The Coldest Place on Earth by Robert Thomson - narrative of one of the lesser-known Antarctic journeys, serviceably rather than excitingly told
46. The Day The Raids Came, edited by Valerie Morse - excellent collection of accounts by those caught up in the New Zealand police "terror" raids of October 2007 on Tuhoe and anarchist activists, a classic case of 'have new anti-terrorist powers, will use them'
47. Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, edited by Penelope Todd - ebook anthology of love stories by NZ and international authors, including my story "Said Sheree".
48. The Secret River by Kate Grenville - Australian historical novel of transportation, settlement, and conquest
49. The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin - slightly disappointing novel set in the Haninish universe by one of my favourite SF authors
50. The Carbon Challenge : New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme by Geoff Bertram and Simon Terry - NZ non-fiction; shows up how the Emissions Trading Scheme, supposedly set up to impose costs of greenhouse gas emitters, has ended up subsidising them instead
51. Portals by Robin Fry - NZ poetry collection - some lovely poems here, including this one.
52. Luuurve Is A Many Trousered Thing... by Louise Rennison - fiction/YA novel - a 'read something completely different' challenge for my book group - I enjoyed this more than I expected
53. The Cancellation of Clouds by P. S. Cottier - Australian poetry collection with a distinctively wry yet dark tone and very effective use of long stanzas and densely packed lines
54. Tongues of Ash by Keith Westwater - NZ poetry collection; a fine debut collection from my book-tour partner.
55. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente - US fantasy novel based on Russian folklore; you'll have to wait till my Belletrista review to see what I thought of it ;-)
56. Scott's Last Biscuit by Sarah Moss - nonfiction/polar exploration and literature - liked the way it didn't just focus on the obvious examples - disliked the heavy-handed explication of what writers many years distant from us "really" meant
57. Not Saying Goodbye At Gate 21 by Kathleen Jones - first poetry collection from the noted biographer. Some wonderful landscape and personal poetry here - the best of these poems are those that bring the two together.
58. Tales For Canterbury, edited by Anna Caro and Cassie Hart - a fine collection of short stories (and a poem) by NZ and international authors, raising funds for victims of the Canterbury earthquakes. Includes my original story "Sign of the Tui".
59. The Comforter by Helen Lehndorf - a lovely debut poetry collection: warm, inviting poems and another great production job from Helen Rickerby's Seraph Press.

What does that all add up to?

I read:

21 novels or novellas
15 poetry books - 14 collections and 1 anthology
12 nonfiction books
9 short story collections or anthologies
2 graphic novels


I was surprised to see that I'd read more novels than poetry collections, and that's probably because it feels like poetry was the highlight of my reading this year, with short fiction close behind. The only novel I gave 5 stars out of 5 to on LibraryThing was Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, though Kate Grenville's The Secret River came close. Madame Bovary and Island were good too, and I enjoyed the ingenious storyline of Pat Whitaker's Returning.

I finished the year with two excellent poetry collections, Kathleen Jones' Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 and Helen Lehndorf's The Comforter, and right from the first collection I read this year, Saradha Koirala's The Wit of the Staircase, I've found poems that have excited, moved and challenged me. One thing I'm keen to do next year is read more Australian poetry, to build on David Reiter's Hemingway in Spain and P. S. Cottier's The Cancellation of Clouds, both of which I enjoyed, and each of which is somewhat different from what I've read recently by any New Zealand poet. Vive la difference!

Short story anthologies have been another highlight of 2011, with the two anthologies from Wellington's own Random Static Press, A Foreign Country and Tales for Canterbury, and also the Slightly Peculiar Love Stories anthology from Dunedin's Rosa Mira Books, being particular favourites - and not just because I had a story in each of them :-). New Zealand continues to produce outstanding short story writers, and in the latter two anthologies, which mix stories from New Zealand and overseas writers, the stories by New Zealand writers stand up very well.

Nonfiction highlights included The Reindeer People, A Grief Observed, The Day The Raids Came and Lan Yuan: The Garden of Enlightenment. And when it came to graphic novels, I think Felicia Day has grasped the essence of translating one visual medium into another in a way that Joss Whedon, for all his brilliance in other fields, has yet to master.

Yay for books! I think I might read some more of them in 2012.