12 December 2011

Tuesday Poet: An interview with Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained

In place of a Tuesday Poem this week, I have a Tuesday Poet. Below is a short interview with Tim Jones, about his new poetry book, Men Briefly Explained. It's part of a blog tour Tim's been doing around the interwebs (you'll find more of his visitations here: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/12/magical-mystery-tour-is-coming-to-take.html)

And once you've read this, you'll want to check out all the Tuesday Poems, here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/.

Did you set out to write a poetry book about men?

I was going to answer "no" to this question, but a dive into the dusty depths of my hard drive suggests that the answer should actually be "yes"!

Even before my previous poetry collection All Blacks Kitchen Gardens was published by HeadworX in 2007, I had noticed that I had written quite a few new poems about men, and I thought of putting them together in a chapbook which I was going to call "Guy Thing" - I even wrote a title poem. I had in mind the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop Mini Series, which I really like.

The chapbook idea never turned into anything, but about three-quarters of the poems I had planned to include in it made their way into Men Briefly Explained. The rest of the MBE poems were mainly written in 2010, when I had scaled my ideas up from a chapbook to a new collection. By that stage, I was writing with the theme of the collection in mind. These newer poems are mainly in the second and third sections.

I still really like the idea of putting a chapbook together, though - I'd like to do that one day. Perhaps my poem about the final boss in the first Lara Croft game will finally see the light of day...

I'm a bit obsessed with poetry books as collections - as a complete whole, with a structure and shape. Did you put your collection in order, or did you publisher do it, or was it a combination of the two?

It was mainly me, with a few suggestions from Dr David Reiter of Interactive Press, the publisher, who is of course also a very widely published poet himself. The sections stayed pretty much as they were, but there was a little bit of re-ordering within them.

This is my second book published by Interactive Press. The first, Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which I co-edited with Mark Pirie, was a much trickier exercise to sequence - we shuffled the poems in that around quite a lot before arriving at the final order, and since the book won an award and has sold surprisingly well, it seems the effort was worthwhile.

If you were involved, how did you come to decide to arrange it in this way?

The poems in the prospective "Guy Thing" chapbook I mentioned earlier were mainly about me, and mainly about youth and young manhood, plus I had a number of poems looking at men, real or imagined, in the third person - and those men seemed, when I went back and thought about the poems, to be middle-aged.

A book about men that purported (at least in its title) to explain them, but stopped at the middle years of their lives - the stage I'd reached - didn't really seem adequate, so in 2010, I concentrated on writing poems for the third section of the book, where the protagonists of the poems range from middle-aged to posthumous. Deliberately setting out to write a group of poems on a pre-decided topic was quite a departure for me, but once I got into the swing of it, the remaining poems came quite quickly.

And did you also structure your previous poetry collections?

This is the first of my collection to have one overarching theme. In my previous collections, I've grouped the poems into sections that have had some kind of coherence - for instance, there is a section of my first collection, Boat People, that I think of as the "Russian section", poems either about Russia or strongly influenced by Russian poetry; and in both Boat People and All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, the final section of the book consists of speculative poetry.

What's next for Tim Jones? Are you working on your next poetry collection?

After a long hiatus, I've again started writing the occasional poem from time to time, but my main focus at the moment is on writing short stories. Quite apart from the fact that that's what I want to be doing, I am obliged to do this, because when I was awarded the NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010, it was on the basis of producing another collection of short stories, so I had better bestir myself!

With this collection, I again have a theme in mind from the start, rather than (as with my first two collections) coming up with the theme by finding a commonality within the stories I wanted to include. I have noticed that both publishers and reviewers of short story collections show a strong preference for linked or at least themed collections. Personally, I prefer variety, but since I've thought of this theme it has generated lots of story ideas. Whether I should write the stories based on these ideas, or whether I should simply provide readers with a title, an outline of the story idea, and a few blank pages for them to fill in themselves, is a decision yet to be taken.

How To Buy A Copy Of Men Briefly Explained

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: http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/MBE.htm

On Tim's Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/p/men-briefly-explained.html


Rachel Fenton said...

Really enjoyable interview, thanks, Helen and Tim.

I really liked the question about ordering the poems within a collection - something which always gets my mind ticking when I read a collection.

Also interesting to see how the book evolved from proposed chapbook (how apt - aside, when I first heard the word chapbook I thought it was a book for Etonian types).

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Rachel - and thanks Helen for the interview.

This is a real d'oh moment for me, though - until I read your comment, Rachel, that double meaning of chapbook had never occurred to me.

Oh dear. Now that poet (not a Tuesday Poet) who's a member of Mensa is never going to send me a membership application...

Helen Rickerby said...

Thanks Rachel. I'm a bit obsessed with the shape of poetry collections, and how to order them, and how different orders create different books. I'm always interested in how other people do it too.

Tim, I'm sure that won't automatically disqualify you from Mensa.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Helen. I should carefully have added that many Tuesday Poets may also be members of Mensa. However, I strongly suspect that Homer Simpson isn't.

Titus said...

Apologies, I'm so agog at the chapbook stuff I can't remember what I was going to comment.

It was along the lines of Rachel's anyway...

Thanks to you both, interesting read.

Rachel Fenton said...

Sorry, Titus - I'm always going off topic, but you know that already :)

Helen, one of the things getting in the way of me submitting a first collection is that very thing of ordering the poems. Yes, there's a way they flow and compliment one another, but then I move them around and they tall me something else - the poems have other narratives I hadn't been aware of when I was writing them....endless...bit like this comment...apologies...again...going now...

Tim Jones said...

Re chapbooks: I have just been reading about Oxford University's frightful Bullingdon Club, populated by frightfully rich young chaps like David Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne who subsequently rise to become frightfully important older chaps. Those are not the sort of chaps my chapbook was about.

Re ordering a collection: If it can be done without doing violence to the poems, I have found that ordering them so they at least imply some sort of narrative is a good approach.