Me, Tim, Mary, Paul
Photo by Rohan
Photo by Rohan
I had the pleasure of launching Tim Jones’ book New Sea Land last night at the totally wonderful Ekor Books (a totally unusual bookshop of intriguing books including Harry Potter in Russian, the musical score of Fidelio, and an anthology of contemporary Swiss poetry. I could not leave emptyhanded and bought a CD of Don Giovanni. I’ll be back). The launch was well attended and went well.
In other news I have a whole day of poetry tomorrow at various events. I’ also pleased that ‘Udon’ received a favourable review by Patricia Prime in the now online Takahe magazine.
Here’s the full (slightly rough) speech I gave last night at the launch.
New Sea Land
I am very honoured to be asked to launch Tim Jones' new book New Sea Land. I was very excited to read Tim's new book and I was also delighted to hear that he was being published by Makaro. The Makaro team put out beautifully designed books. And Claire Benyon's cover painting 'Balancing on Air is no easy task' just works so well with this collection.
I want to kick off by saying that Tim's a highly original poet--what he does in New Sea Land is really quite extraordinary and I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the uniqueness of his work.
To explain this uniqueness let me tell you how I first met Tim and why I respect and love his poetry so much. About 12 years ago I had recently returned to writing poetry and I found that my poetry was going in a very odd direction--I was writing what I could only call 'speculative' or fantastic poetry. It dealt with alternative universes, ludicrous voyages to the moon, Shakespearean sonnets describing futuristic landscapes. This wasn't the only type poetry I was writing but the only other poets I knew in NZ interested in such verse were Tim Jones and Mark Pirie who were putting together a superb anthology of NZ Science Fiction poetry called Voyagers. I remember my first meeting with Tim in cafe: after five minutes I could tell that this was a guy who shared the same mixed up sense of what counts as interesting poetry as I did. Why can't poetry be fantastic?
This is one reason why New Sea land is such a welcomed addition to our poetry. Tim's work resists any one genre of poetry or of literature. New Sea Land is not purely focussed on the technical aspects of poetry or questioning or bending poetic conventions. Here the traditional literary boundaries between horror fiction, science fiction, alternative histories, and lyrical poetry are broken as Tim's imagination is given complete free range. This is what I love about this book—it engages with SF, horror, history, cinema and also our own history. Tim always engages the reader—he takes you with him on these incredible poetic flights. I've always felt that poetry is easily aligned with the fantastic—Plath has never been given credit as a master of Gothic Horror.
Consider the High Fantasy of 'City of Air':
most noble leader of the African Greys,
Queen of the Parrots,
right head of the Aves,
of the newly winnowed earth.
My Queen, what you foresaw
has come to pass.
All those who bore live young
are dead. The insects
and our cousins share the feast.
Carrion, carrion for all!
This poetry is a sheer delight for me. There's a streak of crazy humour as we hear echoes of Games of Thrones (those long winded proclamations from the Targaryean Queen) coupled with the slight mania of "Carrion, carrion for all" . . . but there are also very subtle touches here "newly winnowed earth" starts me wondering. Winnow means "blow a current of air through (grain) in order to remove the chaff" but this word also reminds me of 'minnow' . . . entirely fitting for a book called 'New Sea land.' It's 'winnow' but I hear 'minnowed'-- I hear fish . . . it's when poetry allows me to wander somewhat errantly that I hear the poet's subtetly.
Compare this to the much more sinister opening flourishes of 'Kraken':
Millennia of sunlight passed the Kraken by.
He slept where he had fallen, each molecule
bound up in water ice, kept safe by permafrost
or the pressure of the deep. Kraken lay
unmoved beneath the waves, deep in his dreams
of fire and air, while the the ice sat heavy on the poles
and the clever, clever apes, fizzing with language,
trudged northwards out of Africa.
The writing here reminds me of the opening of a graphic novel in its remarkably compressed storytelling. A good poetry book should resonate . . . I mentioned Game of Thrones earlier . . . in 'deep in his dreams' (a wonderful half-line which recalls Anglo-Saxon alliteration) of 'fire and air' I hear a trace of 'of Fire and Ice' and this brings me back to George RR Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice with it's world facing the threat of massive climate disruption and undead blond zombie warriors . . . and 'fizzing' here is, in the poetic lexicon of New Sea Land', associated with both the sea and with 'post-human' futures. In the wonderful 'The Cockroach for it's beauty', which begins . . .
You have to admit they rose to the challenge.
How completely, with what devotion
to the scientific method, they took up the burden
God had laid upon them in Genesis;
dominion over the swimmers and the crawlers'
we hear, later in the poem, the line
"On sunny days the wavetops fizz with penguins"
You can see how economical and suggestive this is for the reader who has returned again to this book. The age of apes 'fizzing' with language has gone and now the great age of the dominion of sea fizzes with penguins (who along with the cockroaches) survive us.
Like H.G. Wells's Time Traveller we are taken on multiple journeys in the book. Yet, as with Wells, these flight are far from escapist or whimsical in nature. Tim is not afraid to take risks: he’s willing this book to tackle climate disruption in his poetry. This can be dangerous ground for a poet: protest poetry can sound bombastic, preachy, condescending, and entirely lacking in ambiguity or any sense of space for the reader. Most poets adopt an ironic, playful tone and write on more depoliticised, less heavy topics. Yes, these poems are about climate disruption and about denial and a future landscapes and geographies. These are protest poems—but now as we know them. These protest poems are inventive, playful, chilling, imaginative and also very human. Tim is finally out of the green closet and showing us his bright green plumage. At the end of New Sea Land we find that what we talk about when we talk about climate change is mortality. The poems ask us to consider the end of our assumption that we can continue in a ‘business as usual’ fashion. We have to question the assumption that the continuation of our species is inevitable. Tim weaves reflections of personal morality with the threat of more devastating ends to all our days. Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the poignant love poem 'Lets not die":
Let's not die. Let's hide
when the black sack comes
to close over our heads.
What matters in the end are people. To care about climate disruption, to care about water, land, and the challenges before us is to care about people. Or as Tim puts it at the end of New Sea Land:
If you are dismasted, take my life raft.
Take my rubber ring, my hand.
Tim, thanks for a wonderful book.