Monday, 26 October 2015

Tuesday Poem: Above Armageddon by Tim Jones

From the mezzanine, Armageddon Sci-Fi convention, Wellington, 2008

In my day
there was less money to be parted from.

Now this whole place
is a trading floor,

awash in cash, cleavage,
cosplay and testosterone.


Jesus, cross in hand,
blessed the sellers of Devil’s Dice.

Japanese Death in a long white wig,
totes his scythe past stands of PS3s.

John Rhys Davies’ booming voice
echoes from a distant room.


The reef fish of the market
swim before my eyes.

My son goes darting
among the channelled shoals.

Where will all this money
wash up, do you think, in the end?

© Tim Jones,
Men Briefly Explained, Interactive Press, 2011

Tim lives in New Zealand, writes both prose and poetry in the 'Speculative Poetry and Fiction' categories and has had a great deal of success with both. This poem is more personal. I love the description of a visit to a Sci-Fi convention with his young son. It's very understated - when Tim mentions 'reef fish' I immediately think of sharks, swarming around to part the young and enthusiastic from their money. And we all know where it will 'wash up in the end'.

Men Briefly Explained has been one of my favourite collections, so I was very happy to write some blurb for the cover when it was published in 2011.

"Tim Jones writes about how it feels to be a man, of male relationships - father, son, brother, friend, lover, husband - exploring territory that men traditionally don't talk about, saying what is often unsaid, confronting stereotypes, and genetic imperatives.  He writes with a blend of economy, humour and compassion that is rare in poetry, often finding the unexpected phrase or an unusual, but exact, image to surprise and illuminate.  This poetry is how New Women want their New Men to be - strong, sensitive and empathetic!"

More recently Tim has edited 'Stars Like Sand' a collection of Australian Speculative Poetry with PS Cottier, and has just published a novella called 'Landfall' with Paper Road Press, also available as an e-book from Amazon. 
Tim has an excellent Blog at Books in the Trees. 

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the main hub.  If you'd like to see what the others are posting today, please click on this link to visit the Tuesday Poem site.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Autumn in the Lake District

The view from the footbridge outside the Mill
It's that time of year again, approaching Hallowe'en - the colourful preamble to the dark, never-ending winter months of the far north. This year Autumn has been spectacular, with long sunny days, very little wind or rain to blast the leaves from the trees and they are gradually beginning to burn like torches beside the river.

These are the old copper beeches that line the lane that runs up from the river to the hamlet of Bongate - named because the bonded slaves that served the castle used to live here, probably in dreadful hovels. It's a little more genteel these days.

This year the swans have raised five cygnets, all as big as their parents now, though still with their grey colouring, and yesterday I saw them begin their journey down the river - the last I will see of them until the parents (hopefully) return next spring to raise another brood.
And I've been busy, picking the green windfalls out of the grass and making them into jelly with some blackberries sourced up the lane. There's nothing more satisfying than eating food you haven't had to pay for and that you know is free from any artificial preservatives or pesticides.

It's also been a busy week, workwise, with visits to York, Huddersfield, and across the Lake District to the west coast.  The fells are looking beautiful - the coarse grass and bracken beginning to turn that wonderful fox colour.  This is Mosedale, near to Caldbeck, where my father had a small fell farm. My native territory and it always makes my heart beat a little faster.

It's getting to the time of year to curl up with a good book. What am I reading?  I've just bought Dundee poet Don Paterson's '40 Sonnets' (shortlisted for the TS Eliot award), which I'm enjoying immensely. I don't like all of them - they're a mixed bag of more traditional and the very experimental.  But any poet who writes a poem about an unborn child hearing his mother's "loud heart like a landlord at the door", and who can produce quattrains like this, definitely gets my vote:

'What is the sound that fades up from the  hiss,
like a glass some random downdraught had set ringing,
now full of its only note, its lonely call,
drawing on its song to keep it singing?"

Monday, 19 October 2015

Tuesday Poem: Vana's Life by Helen Rickerby

as directed by Krzysztok Kieslowski
and Ray Harryhausen

Between each step
is a space of one hundred years
or five seconds

I breathe in
in one millennium and exhale
in the next

I am walking backwards along the sand
of Island Bay
so I can trace my own footprints and, behind
the island, I can see all the way back
across the wine-dark ocean
past the ships in full sail
carrying heroines, monsters
escaped husbands and adventuring wives
to the beginning of it all:
a small old woman
knitting the whole tale
on needles made of bone

© Helen Rickerby,
from Cinema, published by Makaro Press, Wellington NZ.

Cinema is a very interesting collection, looking at people and places through the lens of a film camera. In the poems there is the idea that ‘at the cinema, we do not think, we are thought’. Everything is manufactured, directed.  In this collection Helen says that she ‘writes about the personal using the lens of a camera and the world of cinema through unfiltered eyes’. When I asked her about this particular poem she said, 'After a humorous comment from my friend Chris (immortalised/stolen in 'Chris's life, as directed by Ken Russell'), I got interested in the idea of what it might be like if our lives were directed by film directors. The characters in [Cinema] are, to varying degrees, based on my friends, and I was aiming to explore the occupations of the different film-makers. Each one kind of opened out from there. 'Vana's life' was the last of these that I wrote. Vana lives between New Zealand and Greece, and so I tried to capture that, along with my interest in myth and feminist revisioning.'

In this poem I love the idea of walking, literally, backwards through time, my life directed by Kieslowski and Harryhausen.  Kieslowski was a Polish film director famous for the surreal Three Colors Trilogy (which I loved) and the Double Life of Veronique. Harryhausen was a special effects producer who invented 'Dynamation', a kind of stop model animation for film.

Helen Rickerby is a New Zealand poet, co-editor of Jaam and publisher of Seraph Press.  She was the recipient of a Creative New Zealand award in 2014. She blogs at Winged Ink  and her latest blog is about Alice Oswald.

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the main hub.  If you'd like to see what the others are posting, please click on this link to take you to the Tuesday Poem site. 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Hurray! A Non-Fiction Author Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The very human face of Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich, who has just beaten Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Jon Fosse to the Nobel prize for literature, is an unusual choice.  Not only is she a woman (there haven’t been very many), but she is not a poet or a novelist.  It cheered me up to learn that she was a non-fiction author.

Her speciality is what her French editor describes  as “oral history . . . about nostalgia for the Soviet Union. She went around Russia interviewing people after the fall of the Soviet Union, in an attempt to surmise what the collective post Soviet psyche is. As with all her books, it’s really harrowing – a story about loss of identity, about finding yourself in a country which you don’t recognise any more. It’s a micro-historical survey of Russia in the second half of the 20th century, and it goes up to the Putin years.”

Alexievich isn’t simply a recorder of social documentary.  She listens to people, takes down what they say and arranges their ‘polyphonic voices’ to tell a story.  It’s a technique she developed under the influence of the Belorusian writer Ales Adamovich, who developed a genre which he variously called the “collective novel”, “novel-oratorio”, or “people talking about themselves”.  Svetlana Alexievich has made this into an art form.

It has always made me angry that non-fiction has been excluded from many literary prizes and awards because it is regarded as ‘non-creative’.  Biography and autobiography are art forms just as novels and short stories and poems are. They take just as much skill to construct.  Somehow, as a writer, you are valued less if you write non-fiction. Hopefully this award may change some minds.

One of Alexievich’s most acclaimed books is called ‘Voices From Chernobyl’, in which Alexievich interviews hundreds of those affected by the nuclear disaster, from a woman holding her dying husband despite being told by nurses that “that’s not a person anymore, that’s a nuclear reactor” to the soldiers sent in to help, angry at being “flung ... there, like sand on the reactor”.   This is an extract which will give you an idea of her style.

'A policeman is walking alongside a woman who carries a basket of eggs. He walks with her to         make sure that she buries the eggs in the ground because they are radioactive. They buried milk, they buried meat, they buried bread; it was like an endless funeral procession for inanimate objects. Thousands of soldiers sliced off the top layer of the soil, which had been contaminated, and they buried it. They took ground and they buried it in the ground. And everyone who was involved turned into a philosopher because there was nothing in the human past that enabled us to deal with this situation.'

Part of what makes her prose so good is the type of question that Alexievich asks. “I don’t ask people about socialism, I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age, music, dances, hairstyles. The myriad sundry details of a vanished way of life. This is the only way to chase the catastrophe into the framework of the mundane and attempt to tell a story."

She approaches her work as a novelist does.

“It never ceases to amaze me how interesting ordinary, everyday life is. There are an endless number of human truths … History is only interested in facts; emotions are excluded from its realm of interest. It’s considered improper to admit them into history. I look at the world as a writer, not strictly an historian. I am fascinated by people.”

Sadly, Svetlana hasn’t been translated into English much.  One of her editors said that it was difficult to get publishers in the west to take a risk on this kind of book, however well written.  Now that she’s won the Nobel apparently that’s all going to change.  I permit myself a cynical moment and pour another glass of wine.

The Nobel will help Svetlana's political position too. Russia doesn’t look favourably on her work. Her first book on women in war ‘War’s Unwomanly Face’ was censored in Russia under Gorbachev and she is seen by some as a ‘Russia hater’.  She was born in Ukraine and lives in Belarus but sees herself part of Russian culture. Svetlana also sounds very ordinary - she was doing the ironing when she got the telephone call telling her she had won!

I’m looking forward to being able to read her work whole, rather than just extracts.

Previous female recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1909 - some of whom have now slipped from view.  If you’d like to know more about them click on this link. 

Alice Munro
Herta Muller
Nadine Gordimer
Wislawa Szymborska
Elfriede Jelinek
Toni Morrison
Doris Lessing
Pearl Buck
Nelly Sachs
Gabriela Mistral
Sigrid Undset
Grazia Deledda
Selma Lagerlof

With thanks to the Guardian, Washington Post, Slate and official Nobel site for information. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Katherine Mansfield's Birthday

 Today is Katherine Mansfield's birthday - 14th October, 1888.  She was one of the most stunning writers of the twentieth century - of short stories, letters and journals.  Some of the latter are her best writing.  This is an extract from one of her journals, written in October 1922, when she was facing death from tuberculosis.

'I want the power to live a full, adult, living breathing life in close contact with what I love - the earth and the wonders thereof, the sea, the sun.  All that we mean when we speak of the external world. . . I want, by understanding myself, to understand others.  I want to be all that I am capable of becoming so that I may be - (and here I have stopped and waited and waited and it's no good - there's only one phrase that will do) a child of the sun. . . I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music.  And out of this - the expression of this - I want to be writing. (Though I may write about cabmen.  That's no matter.) But warm, eager living life - to be rooted in life - to learn to desire, to know, to feel, to think, to act.  That is what I want.  And nothing less.  That is what I must aim for."

Katherine Mansfield died less than three months later at Fontainebleau near Paris.

Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller by Kathleen Jones
published by Penguin NZ and by Edinburgh University Press
E-book by The Book Mill
Available through all good book retailers and Amazon

Monday, 5 October 2015

Tuesday Poem: Kitty's Bar, Victoria BC

On Screen One the Ducks are challenging the Black Hawks
on ice, while Pacific Hold-em Poker is dealing a hand
on Screen Two, and  Cat Stevens is shadowing the moon
on the music track and Venus Williams is being thrashed
on Screen Three by a young tennis hopeful from Florida.
The girl behind the bar is telling a customer about
a relationship with an Ex who threatened her children
and the new boyfriend who’s afraid of commitment.

Outside, the night is closing down the harbour
as the last seaplane skitters to a pontoon.
I eat my fries in a bubble of silence.
Black Hawks five, Ducks two, the hand to beat
is a straight flush, Williams is forty love down
and the girl behind the bar is still waiting for it.

© Kathleen Jones

This is a - sort of - sonnet!  I like fiddling around with contemporary variations and I was in a culture whose poetry uses narrative repetitions instead of rhyme to provide the rhythm.  I wrote it in Victoria, British Columbia, eating alone in a bar with five screens broadcasting different programmes, muzak blasting out of the ceiling and some interesting conversations going on around me.  It was all surreal.

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to share a poem every Tuesday on their own blogs and take it in turns to edit the main website.  This week's editor is Australian poet P.S. Cottier, featuring a poem by her fellow country-person Janette Pieloor.  Take a look at the Tuesday Poem site and check out what the other Tuesday Poets are posting. 

Guest blogging on Eco-writing

My workload has been substantial recently and lots of things (some good some not) happening in the personal sphere as well, so this blog isn't getting the TLC it usually gets. But hopefully the fog will lift and there will be fair weather ahead!   Meanwhile, I'm blogging over at Authors Electric about the new genre of Eco-writing, with a few bookish suggestions.

Eco-writing:  Kathleen Jones looks at a new genre

Eco-writing is the new buzz-word, an exciting genre for the times we live in when the word 'endangered' seems to turn up in every media article.  But what is it exactly?

Field-work - photo Harriet Fraser
If you go on the internet and search for a definition it will probably tell you that it's what used to be called ‘nature writing’, ( as in Gilbert White),  except that it has broadened out and now embraces a huge field of ecological, environmental and biological material.  But it isn't just scientific observation, it's a vast body of literature, non-fiction, fiction and poetry, that deals with human engagement with the landscape, flora and fauna of the natural world. It is often very personal, narrating one human being’s relationship with it. Eco-literature is a very popular genre at the moment . . . "    Read More