Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tim to dance

I’ve got the tunes on, prehistoric music, bass low enough to get your pulse flummoxed but not so loud as to make your brain feel like the last biscuit in the tin of your head. My dance partner should be here any moment….and here he is!

Hello, Rachel! Thanks for marking me on your dance card! If you hadn't said the music was prehistoric, I would have said it sounded a lot like Warpaint.

Hullo, huge welcome, and thank you for visiting snowlikethought, Tim Jones.

Let me get rid of your jacket – it is waterproof? It’ll still be there when you leave. Nibble? Biscuit? Drink?

Then what are we waiting for? Let’s dance. Mind the toy box, watch out for the rocker leg; not exactly a dance floor but all the world’s a stage, is it not?

As long as there's space for my elbows, I'm happy on the most crowded dance floor.

Now, Tim, I’m so thrilled you’re here to talk about your latest poetry collection, “Men Briefly Explained”.

In a recent radio interview you discussed some of the social pressures men are under to stand “alone” be “staunch”, and “not to show weakness”. ..  that media possibly adds to these pressures by portraying men stereotypically. Could you perhaps give some examples and say how the characterisation of men in “Men Briefly Explained” differs from caricatures of men in the media in your opinion?

The characterization that comes to mind is the "Southern Man" of Speights advertisement fame. I like those ads, but our Speights-loving friend is the New Zealand "Man Alone" stereotype taken to a point just this side of the ludicrous – terse, laconic, giving at most a grudging nod (and a Speights) of praise.

It's a powerful stereotype, because the long-withheld approval of a stern father-figure/mentor is something a lot of boys and men find themselves seeking.

I grew up in Southland, and the stereotype is not entirely without truth – some of those real-life Southern Men populate the margins of a poem like "Men at Sea". But I wasn't born in Southland, or even in New Zealand — I was born in Cleethorpes (that's near Grimsby in Lincolnshire, a fact it's just conceivable some readers won't know), and Cleethorpes Man is a much more emotionally labile beast.

Hopefully you’re warmed up now, Tim, shall we up the tempo?

You began your reading at The Thirsty Dog, in the Auckland leg of your recent tour, by introducing your collection as (paraphrasing) a book for anyone who wants to know about men, including women. You followed “women” with a description that the book is only a slim volume. This struck me as a deliberately provocative comment to make – especially considering your suggestion that more women than men buy your poetry (especially considering I was in the audience!) –  I was instantly aware that my interpretation of your poetry was going to be keener than if I hadn’t had the feminine rag waved at me. So, in light of that altered reception, I wanted to ask you if consider “Men Briefly Explained” a sort of Fight Club for poets?  That is, if it is in any way a defence of masculinity, and do you even think such a defence necessary?

I certainly wasn't using "slim" as an insult, unless it was an insult directed at men — i.e. that it takes only a slim book to explain us – but it seems that didn't come across as intended. So far, at least, women have shown a lot more interest in the book than men, but perhaps that reflects the realities of the poetry-reading audience as much as the contents of the book. In any case, if anyone was offended by my introduction, I apologise!

I don't think of the book as a defence of masculinity — unless to explain is, to some extent, to defend. I do think that the genders are often quite mysterious to each other.

I love the quote from Kathleen Jones on the back of the book: “This poetry is how New Women want their New Men to be – strong, sensitive and empathetic!” Should we add ‘brief’ to that list?

There are so many meanings "brief" could take in this situation, but if it's the meaning I think you intend, that takes us back towards the strong, silent type – the "Southern Man" I started with. There are times when I imagine it's reassuring to have the strong, silent type around, I expect. I hope I am the strong type, at least when that is appropriate, but I struggle with the silent part.

You’ve got some devilish moves, Tim. Right, let’s put something a bit slower on. You can be Björn to my Agnetha.

As an ABBA fan, that's an attractive proposition – but then I remember that my favourite ABBA song, "The Winner Takes It All", was written by Björn for Agnetha to sing, from Agnetha's point of view, about Agnetha and Björn's breakup. Which is very sad, and at the same time, a little creepy.

Of course, the song has now been redeemed by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon singing it at the end of the best and funniest movie about masculinity I've seen for ages, The Trip.

(Yes, I am a nerd – why do you ask?)

Your poems aren’t just about men, though, are they, Tim? The poetry winks to a start with one of the most startling conception poems I think I’ve ever read. 

Curved over islands, the world

dragged me south in a talkative year

slipping Southampton

as the band played a distant farewell.

It was better than steerage,

that assisted passage: ten pound poms

at sixpence the dozen, promenading

in sun frocks, gathering for quoits,

angling, in an understated way,

for a seat at the Captain’s table.

("Impertinent to Sailors", © Tim Jones, 2011) 

This poem has the rare property (though not rare for your poetry) of being funny, cheekily so, yet transcendental, and ultimately very moving. Could you tell me a little about “Impertinent to Sailors”?

Thank you! Like many of the poems in the first section of the book, "Impertinent to Sailors" is closely based on my own life. As I mentioned, I was born in the UK, and my parents decided to emigrate to New Zealand when I was two – the classic "ten pound Poms" on an assisted passage. I remember nothing of the trip, but I've filled in the details – several probably wrongly – from what I've been told about it. The abrupt and disappointing ending is certainly correct: Dad, having been lured aboard by the promise of a job waiting at the other end of the voyage, found when we disembarked in Christchurch that the job had been given to somebody else.

I find that two-line stanzas are good for poems expressing alienation or disconnection: there's something about the way that the lines in each stanza cling together, with a wide space before and a wide space behind.

This poem has found an unexpected second life. I posted it as a Tuesday Poem on my blog, and it was found online by an Australian composer looking for a text for a choral work he was composing called "Brighton to Bondi" – for which I was very happy to give permission. The work was premiered in Sydney in September, and seems to have to been a success – I hope to hear it one day.

Ah the band is growing faint, I fear, Tim. Too soon, too soon. A slow dance to end? No? Let’s go out with a big bang then!

“Queens Of Silk, Kings Of Velour” I imagine will be the sequin of a poem you will never shake off from this collection forward. It’s playful, flirty. When I first read it I scribbled notes. Marginalia: man is geek; to be man is to know and have the reflux reflex to regurgitate facts. Is this “what it means to be a man”?

That's good to hear, because I usually feel that my best poems are those that arrive more or less fully formed, whereas "Queens…" went through quite a few incarnations before reaching its present form.

Knowing obscure facts about seventies bands is only one of the many ways to be a man, but in my line of work (I work part-time in the IT industry to pay the bills that writing, sadly, does not yet pay) I meet quite a few men for whom the detailed knowledge of the arcane of one aspect of life is an important component of masculinity. There is a certain sense of security in knowing that both Elton John (under his birth name, Reginald Dwight) and Bryan Ferry auditioned to be the lead singer of King Crimson. It helps to make sense of a chaotic world – and yet the women are on the dance floor, wondering (or even worse, not caring in the slightest) about why all the men are sitting on the sofa.

Would you look at the clock; we’ve danced the time away. What a blast. Reading “Men Briefly Explained” is to dance through the ages of man, and man, what a dance! I’ve had a wonderful time, Tim, thank you for humouring me. Please, where can I find more copies of “Men Briefly Explained”?

Can there be More Than This? Well, yes – in an abrupt segue from melancholia to marketing – there can:

Men Briefly Explained is published by Interactive Press (IP) of Brisbane. You can find out more about Men Briefly Explained, and buy it direct from the publisher, on IP's mini-site for the book:

On my Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book, plus latest reader reactions and reviews:

Just before you go, (ah, see, your jacket’s still on the pavement, you won’t get wet feet crossing that puddle) I think I’ve mentioned online before your “Boat People” was the first poetry collection I read when I first arrived in New Zealand four years ago. It felt like I was meant to find that book in particular. It’s wonderful to have another collection from you, Tim, the prequel as it were, I’ll treasure just as much. Thank you very much.

It's lovely to hear that, Rachel! I didn't know that about "Boat People", and that makes your support for my work even more special. Thank you once again! I shall sail out of here with my feet not quite touching the floor…


Rachel Fox said...

"The Trip" was great - though it was a series here not a movie. So he has good taste at least!

Rachel Fenton said...

Tim has very good taste, Rachel - why, he's visiting my blog for a start ;)

I think you'd like his poetry, too.
Thanks for reading.

Dominic Rivron said...

Nearly went to Cleethorpes for a curry the other day. We'd just done a gig at Grimsby Central Hall. Decided to head off home instead.

I had a nose around hTim Jones' blog: thanks for drawing my attention to him.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Rachel and Rachel!

As far as I know, the TV-series version of "The Trip" hasn't been shown on TV here - I have heard that it puts more emphasis on the places they visit, whereas the film focuses on the men's relationship, but I don't know if that's correct.

My wife Kay and I went to see it recently (it was the second time for me), and I am still recovering from her comment that I am more like Steve Coogan than Rob Brydon.

I thought I was the contented family man, but it seems I am the tormented, brooding Byronic hero instead - at least, I imagine that's what she meant.

Rachel Fenton said...

You're welcome, Dominic. I'd love a bag of chips from Cleethorpes.
Thanks for reading.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Dominic. I'd never had scampi until I returned to Grimsby as an adult.

Kass said...

Tim is a bit Hugh Granty - Yum.

"Men Briefly Explained" - reminds me of every first date I've had on where age only served to make the chest-pounding louder.

"Years with a Husband" - great opening line: "Stone to her water,
his edges eroded slowly..." - truly made me question the kind of "rocks" I've choosen.

"Summer" - "...the stars suck heat" - how great is that line?!...and "veiled heat." You invite so much thought with just a few words.

"Tres Hermanos" - needs to be set to music - maybe it already has been.

"The Aliquot Brothers" - "...the hiss of their departure,
the closing door that splits
this world from its neighbour." - desribes a certain alienation we're all too familiar with.

to use a list as the construct for "Return to Nussbaum Riegel" (from Interlitq) - just brilliant.

"The Wrong Horse" - and backing it into "...the descending zero of the sun." - you've chosen your words and images in a compelling way.


Rachel Fenton said...

Brilliant, Kass! Thank you - what greater recommendation can there be?

Titus said...

Thank you for the introduction. Really enjoyed the interview, intrigued by the poetry and think I'll have to pursue a book or too. Plus I used to have a really good friend called Tim Jones, but he was born in Avonmouth.

Rachel Fenton said...

You're most welcome, JoAnne - I'm reliably informed the name's a common one - as is mine - but the poetry is a rarer beast. Thanks for reading.

Dominic Rivron said...

Cleethorpes? Chips? You could try

They say they deliver to the door. :)

Rachel Fenton said...

Hahaha - "hullo, Sid. Says here, you deliver to the door..."

12,000 miles - I think they'd be cold by the time I got them!

Tim Jones said...

Snuck back here and saw loads of extra comments - thanks, everyone!

Kass, it's lovely that you think I'm a bit Hugh Granty. Before tabloid journalists start hacking my phone, though, I should say that any such semblance has a lot more to do with the skill of Sonali Mukherji, who took my author photo, than with my real-life appearance!

Thanks for your kind words about the poems, too. I'd love "Tres Hermanos" to be set to music - Jed (the middle of the three titular brothers) could do a very nice job of it.

Titus, thank you! I don't believe I have ever been to Avonmouth.

Rachel and Dominic, I understand that Sid's uses quantum teleportation to deliver their chips, so they arrive fresh from the vat.

Rachel Fenton said...

Oh yes! I'm getting my order in quick smart - and with NZ being a day ahead I can order my chips yesterday and have them here tomorrow - or should that be the other way around?....maybe I should stick to reading poetry :)

Tim Jones said...

Just as long as you don't travel back in time and use the chips to assassinate a historical figure/step on a dinosaur, everything should be fine :-)

Rachel Fenton said...

Sounds like an episode of "Charmed" - or the sequel (set in Grimsby) of "The Time Traveller's Wife" :)

Lori said...

Seriously, lady, how do you manage to make all interviews such works of art? The writers seem to have as much fun with it as we have as readers. I think I should pick up this book as knowing some more about men is never lost on a feminist, right? It's good to see the sight from the other shore sometimes. Especially when it sounds like so much fun, as all other sides always seem to be.

Rachel Fenton said...

I think a lot of the "fun" is down to the generosity of the writer, Lori - and a lot to do with rapport. There are probably more writers who would like to have a bit of interview fun but so much of the image of the literary writer as serious intellectual prohibits humour - as if being humerous measn you can't also be intelligent - which is absolutely not true - quite the opposite!

Thanks for reading!