Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Christina


the eldest sister
she raised
her brothers
showed her sister

how to cook
for others first
but now she’s far
from those crowded streets

instead she’s on
an unfamiliar island

her wedding ring
still shiny
her husband
holding her at night.


cartoon dogs
on flannel sheets
wag at the rain
challenge grass clippings

she vacuums
broken porcelain
from the new orange carpet

finds a discarded bib
in the corner

for the first cry
from the
small bedroom.


she measures
the rice
three cups
for five mouths

slices meat
from chicken bones
to stir-fry
with choy sum

lays chopsticks
on white plates

says not to worry
she's last
to sit down
at table.


he works at the hospital
until 10 pm
wants dinner hot
when he gets home

they have two girls
and one on the way
he asks her to learn
to drive

her words boil
like soup

she swallows
picks up
the swat
to kill flies instead.


From the new house
she can see the school
she's learning the names
of the friends' parents

her children
come home
with words
she’s never heard

she wonders whether
to ask them to explain

pays for music lessons
buys a cake to take
to the school stall
learns to make party jelly.


after thirty seven years
the last daughter
leaves the house

three empty beds
faded floral curtains
a wardrobe still full
of teenage dresses

a car arrives
small feet patter

she runs past
the new high chair
opens the door
to the sound of “Por-por”.

The latest in a series of sonnet sequences I am writing about people close to me, exploring cultural beliefs to do with organ systems.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories

This week I started a workshop series for migrant women in Albany - it's an idea started by Matt Blomeley at Auckland City Council, and I was lucky enough to be approached as convenor. Due to Matt's hard work in promotion the course has been enthusiastically received and we started with not only a fully subscribed course, but a waiting list! You can keep track of how the workshops are going here.

Tim Jones - a virtual book tour

Tim is a friend, fellow poet and one of the most enthusiastic people I know - when I started blogging about poetry many years ago he was one of the first people to welcome me, and it's my pleasure to catch up with him whenever I'm in Wellington. Tim has recently released his third collection of poetry, Men Briefly Explained. Following his 'physical' book tour, Tim has now done a 'virtual' book tour - this blog being his final stop. So without further ado:

Renee: This is the first time I've heard of a "virtual book tour". How is it going and is it succeeding in terms of sales and getting people to read your book?

Tim: Well, I know I sold at least one book yesterday due to a recent blog interview – but I don’t think the sales benefits have been huge. There have been considerable benefits, though, in terms of getting to know the interviewers and their work – and even (fingers crossed) to maybe getting to work on a joint project with one of them. (Got to keep the details under wraps for now, though.)

Renee: For many women writers, finding time to write - in between the demands of family, paying job and housework - is a hot topic. Yet it isn't so much discussed between men - or is it?

Tim: We still live in a sexist society where women are expected to carry more of the burden of child-rearing and housework, while men are expected to carry more of the burden of generating income – and the way our social arrangements are set up reflects this. Due to changes in employment patterns, we also live in a society where women are increasingly the ones generating the income, as well as having to do those ‘traditional’ tasks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time or mental space for writing.

Having said that, in my experience, finding the time to write is a perpetual struggle for most writers.

In my case, I’m trying to find a balance between family life, my part-time job, housework (if you saw our house, you would conclude that I don’t give this much attention, yet the vacuuming and washing seems endless), and the environmental campaigns I’m involved in.

Essentially, I try to carve out one day a week for actual writing, and at least another half-day to do writing-related tasks – submitting work, and so forth.

Most of the writers I know have this struggle to balance writing, time and money, and even those who are in financial position to write full-time still have the challenge of the workload required to keep doing that. I do discuss it with my male writer friends, but almost all the writers – and especially, the great majority of the poets – I know are female. I’ve mentioned before Janis Freegard’s research that shows plenty of male poets are publishing collections – see http://janisfreegard.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/poetry-gender-in-new-zealand-publishing-part-2/ - but I don’t know who or where all these male poets are.

Renee: My favourite poem in the collection is The Problem of Descendants. What spurred you to write this poem?

Tim: The collection begins with me – or a character like me – emigrating with his family to New Zealand at age 2, in the poem “Impertinent to Sailors”. While many of the poems in the book are about other men, or about men in general, the poems that are about that character show him ageing, so it makes sense that the final poem in the book is a post-mortem. Plus, at the end of a sequence of increasingly gloomy poems about ageing, I wanted to end on a little bit of a lighter note, as this poem does. The really scary line, at least for a writer, is “file formats are rendered obsolete”.

Renee: You seem a little worried about your own transience - poems like Inheritance, and prose poems like As You Know, Bob. Is this because you've hit 'middle age', or is it because of the wider things that are happening in the world?

Tim:The state of the world worries me a great deal, but there is more of that in my two previous collections (and possibly in my next one as well, gloom fans!) Men Briefly Explained is definitely my “middle aged” collection – I have now entered that golden era in which it’s plausible to start sentences with the words “In my day…”.

Actually, I used to worry a lot more about my own transience when I was a teenager — “Aargh, I’m going to die! To die before I’ve written my masterpiece!” Even though that is probably more true than ever, it bothers me less – but, as I’d started Men Briefly Explained with poems of childhood and youth, it seemed fitting to end it with poems of age.

Renee: Do you think poetry can change thinking and make a difference?

Tim: It can, but I think it would be going too far to claim that it often does, at least in this country, at least recently. For me, New Zealand examples would include the impact of James K. Baxter’s mix of poetry and political/spiritual activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the impact of feminist poets, especially in the 1970s.

In a more extreme environment such as the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, though, poetry had tremendous political impact – it’s no accident that Stalin’s regime killed, imprisoned and generally repressed so many poets.

Renee: How's the new short story collection going?

Tim: It’s taken a while, but at last I can say that it’s going well, and that I’m getting some stories drafted that (at least at the first-draft stage) I’m happy with.

Having been concentrating on poetry – both writing and editing – for the past couple of years, it has taken much mental shifting of gears to get back into short story mode. I think the turning point was actually a short-short I wrote for the first issue of Flash Frontier [http://flash-frontier.com/2012/01/26/january-2012-frontiers-2/], the new New Zealand magazine of flash fiction.

It’s as though there is a stile across the fence that divides poetry from prose. When you approach from the poetry side, the stile presents itself as flash fiction. When you approach from the prose side, the stile presents itself as the prose poem. I have decisively crossed the stile now – or is it more accurate to say that I have decisively jumped the shark?


For more on Men Briefly explained and how to get your hands on a copy, click here.