Feature Interview: Tim Jones talks with Best Small Fictions Series Editor Tara L Masih
Book Feature: Tim Jones’ New Sea Land
People In Our Pages: Gail Ingram and her winning graffiti poetry project
People In Our Pages: Leanne Radojkovich on her first story collection
November Issue: Birds
Interview: Tim Jones talks with Best Small Fictions Series Editor Tara L Masih
This month, Tim Jones talks with Tara L Masih about her editing and writing, as well as women and flash and what makes a compressed story compelling.
Tim Jones: Tara, I know you from your role as series editor of the annual Best Small Fictions series, but a visit to your website shows that you are a very busy author, essayist, editor and anthologist. How do you balance your time between all those activities?
TJ: Have you written small fictions from the beginning of your writing career, or is this an interest that you have developed over the course of your career as a writer?
TJ: Best Small Fictions has you as a series editor, but then each edition also has a guest editor and a number of consulting and roving editors. How do the various categories of editors work together?
TJ: Let’s say I’m a New Zealand writer who sometimes writes flash fiction … wait a minute, I am! If my aim in life is to get a story published in Best Small Fictions, what’s the best way of going about it?
TJ: More generally, you have written the award-winning The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Without asking you to give all the book’s secrets away, what are three key things a writer of flash/small fictions should focus on in their writing?
TJ: In your foreword to Best Small Fictions 2016, you note that more women were nominated for inclusion than men, and you say, “Perhaps flash is the one equalizer in the publishing industry.” Why do you think that this is the case with flash fiction?
TJ: Do you see an ethnic and cultural diversity in writers nominated – and if not, are there ways that diversity could be increased?
TJ: What is coming up in the next few months, both for yourself as a writer and anthologist, and for the Best Small Fictions series?
Thanks for your questions.
Story link: For a link to an audio story by Tara, please go here: http://taramasih.com/_assets/mp3/those-shorts-2015.mp3. ‘Those Shorts’ originally appeared in Counterexample Poetics, and is read in the above link by voice actor Elijah Lucian.
Thanks to Tim Jones and Tara L Masih for this conversation!
Book Feature: Tim Jones’ New Sea Land (Mākaro Press 2016)
Flash Frontier: The title of your new collection, New Sea Land, gives the reader a hint at both the wordplay and complexities to be encountered in the collection. Can you speak a little about that here at the top? About these three words separately and then together – what they mean for the collection, and for you?
FF: In the opening poem, we are reminded that maps are not only about the exact location of places and the mileage between. We start with a boy following a map, and the world unfolding not always as it seems. It feels like a very New Zealand poem, and yet there is a kind of universal message underneath. Can you talk more about that?
FF: The poems in this collection reveal humans and nature out of balance. ‘Dogger Bank’, ‘Sacrifices’, ‘Kraken or The Last Days of the Coastal Property Boom’, for example, plus many more. In that way, these are very much poems for our millennium, with immediate relevance. Topics that come under your critical eye include the wasted environment, economic blunders and the folly of politics. How do you think your poetry has evolved over time? Or is this how your own poetry has evolved over time? Thinking back to Men Briefly Explained, comparing your earlier poems to this volume; this feels heavier in the hand, more pointed in its message. Is this intentional or a reflection of the man behind the words?
But my first two collections were assembled by taking poems I’d written independently and then finding an order for them. In Men Briefly Explained, and even more so in New Sea Land, most of the poems were written purposely with this collection in mind, and so I knew from the start that I wanted to focus on the themes you’ve identified – climate change and sea level rise most of all – and wrote specific poems to explore them.
FF: There is an underpinning dissonance and violence in the lines of these poems. Rebelling voices, wailing sirens, the rising sea. And yet there is also a calm at times, like in the resolution of ‘Lyall Bay Farewell’: a sense that letting go is alright. How do you reconcile both of these things with our human existence? And how does writing, for you, bring all the necessary messages to the page?
FF: Can you address more specifically the following themes and poems that catch our attention…
The tension of not-knowing in ‘Landlines’
FF: The use of second person in ‘Crossing the lake above the dam’
FF: The use of sound – and the moment of optimism – in ‘What We Built’
FF: The use of repetition in ‘Not for me the sunlit uplands’ – and the focus on the details
FF: The image of the novelist, those arms outstretched, in the aftermath of destruction in ‘Memorial’ (and that killer last image)
FF: The sense of irony and humour in ‘10 Things Scientists Get Wrong About Atlantis (And One Thing They Don’t)’
FF: The urgency of movement in ‘Spitsbergen’
FF: Having looked more closely at a few of the individual poems, we wonder: what was the most challenging poem to write in this collection?
FF: And do you have a favourite?
FF: The collection opens with useless maps that prove essential and a rubber ring, a hand extended for rescue. Can you tell us more about the general narrative arc of this collection? Do you feel, when all is said and done, that this final note is one of urgent necessity, or optimism and hope?
FF: And finally, because we’re here at Flash Frontier discussing poetry and narrative: some of these poems read like small stories. In ‘Dominion’, for example, we see an entire day unfold, perhaps as a parallel to a lifetime. In ‘Landlines’, we feel the urgency of the moment. In ‘Afternoon, late summer’ we feel the sense of resolution and resignation of the central character. ‘If Noah had carpenter’ is a fun and imaginative story with a terrific final image winking at the reader, and the story of Captain Cook and Dracula is a marvellous re-thinking of those two on the high seas. Meanwhile, ‘What We Built’ feels as much like a compressed story as poetry. We know you move nimbly between prose and poetry, Tim, so we wonder: how do you know when something is a poem, and something else is a small piece of prose? How does a story flow from your pen, and arrange itself on the page?
People In Our Pages: Gail Ingram and her winning graffiti poetry project
Last month, Christchurch writer and Massey University Master of Creative Writing student Gail Ingram won New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry competition for her poem, ‘The Canvas’. The poem is part of a collection she is writing for her thesis called ‘The Graffiti Artist’ and can be found in the Poetry Society’s anthology published this month.
We know Gail from the pages of Flash Frontier, where her flash fictions have appeared frequently, and where she’s also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best Small Fictions anthology. We’ve grown accustomed to the quality of her work, and her beautifully crisp short fiction is also included in this month’s issue.
We’re excited that Gail joins us here to tell us a little more about her project.
Gail Ingram in her own words…
For the last eighteen months I’ve been working on a series of poems called ‘The Graffiti Artist’, which was part of my thesis project for my Masters degree in Creative Writing at Massey University. I was inspired by a graphic for a graffiti art exhibition held in Christchurch after the earthquakes. The picture was made up of panels, each its own colour, tone, style, yet each adding to the whole effect. I thought I could structure my poems this way, each poem separate but also informing the whole. This seemed particularly apt because my life itself seemed to be a juxtaposition of oppositions: myself as a mother and a poet pitted against the economic viability of these positions, my teenage children’s lives in their own tenuous positions pitted against the lives they might have, my home-city Christchurch before and after the quakes. I was interested too in how graffiti art, a juxtaposition of terms itself, had risen out of something broken but also played a part in our healing. How did this odd juxtaposition work at expressing something both disturbing and beautiful?
The technique I explored then was the juxtaposition of contrasting forces for poetic effect. Traditionally, a poem has brought contrasting images together to create a metaphor that represents an internal experience, whereas I looked at bringing contrasting discourses together. I read some great poems: Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Mountains’ (which brings together the discourses of narrative and poetry), and Laura Mullen’s genre-bending poem ‘Torch Song’ (which juxtaposes academic, technical, court and journalistic languages). Since I was interested in using narrative elements in my poems to link them as well as other discourses that might impact on character, I had to work out what a poem does as opposed to, say, what a narrative or a piece of technical writing does, then I could accommodate these other ‘languages’ into my poetry. One critic I read said that we perceive the experience of the poem from the inside, whereas with fiction or drama we watch the events and characters develop. In other words, poets organize the language to create a ‘virtual experience’, whereas fiction writers organize the characters and events to show us an experience. In my poems then, I wanted to know how to create this internal experience for the reader through the use of language rather than the development of plot and character.
I aimed to use this technique – juxtaposing contrasting discourses and/or narrative events – across single poems and across the whole collection. For example, across a poem, in ‘Mother reads the First Aid Manual’ I juxtapose prose elements – the column layout and found language from a first aid manual – with more traditional poetic language like ‘laughter-lines congealed’. The language of the first aid manual isn’t used in the ‘normal’ way – to instruct – but hopefully does something more poetical; it represents the mother’s state of mind, while also highlighting the limitations of any single discourse to express the complexity of a particular feelingful experience. Across the whole collection, I juxtaposed many separate narrative and discourse strands, which nevertheless keep returning to a particular moment, that of my graffiti artist/mother painting a wall illegally at night. The separate poems address different aspects of how and why she got to this point. The last poem ‘Dendrites’ brings together some of the narrative strands. I hope you enjoy!
Mother reads First Aid Manual while crouching on the floor beside the bookshelf
A teen is an injury. There may be a lot of blood. Her husband’s laughter-lines congealed mid-sentence one day. Wipe away. Peers that offend. Apply pressure. They’re trying. Protect yourself. Not just yourself. Elevate. Both children need attention at once. Why us? They place their hands in plastic bags. Wounds may be open. Family. Shouting may be severe. Assessment: No visible signs will be found. Bongs or knives. She searches. Insufficient Love supply can result in swagger and rap, a loss of reality. “The little shit.” Head between your legs and breathe. Search and search. Shock will build. Dirty washing piles. The day they discovered. Apply curfew pressure. Do not. An orthodontist appointment was a lie for bunking. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I don’t see. The voices of the family oscillate. Pull edges to meet. Ask someone to call an ambulance (see p.18). “The website will offer an answer.” Clammy and down. What? Signs are a pulsing hunger and red eyes. Maintain control. There’s a brown stain on the carpet.
(first published in 2016 NZPS Anthology, Penguin Days)
When the four-cornered skyline under the floating hammer of the Alps fell into piles of grey rubble and liquid, the folds and depressions from above looked to be forming intestinal clumps of grey matter.
In amongst the shifting build-ups, a son gurgled tunes of teen rebellion on water pipes; his brother dragged nails down precipitous scales of academic heights leaving blood-streaked trails, while their father grasped for papers and docs, tossed in the air like dust, and their mother picked up the silt of their wounds till it got too much, till
everything slid into fissures of grey, the university, billboards and shops. Then the people in a daze were seen branching outwards onto the streets, waving blind fingers, sending clumsy crackling connections, creating
new fuzzy pathways around the city.
(an earlier version of ‘Dentrites’ was published in Leaving the Red Zone: Poems from the Canterbury Earthquakes)
People In Our Pages: Leanne Radojkovich, on her first story collection
First fox is a collection of very short fictions about men, women and children trying to find a perch in precarious times. Characters include a spinster who becomes a mother at 79, a missing woman who returns to her daughter as sunlight on a patch of grass, a refugee who can’t get off the sofa in the new world and another who masters the new world with skills from the old.
Some stories in the collection are tinged with the dark dreamlike qualities of urban folk tales, while others are told in a more realist register firing on tactile language and metaphor.
The collection comes out from bijoux UK publisher The Emma Press in May 2017 – although it’s more of a short-short collection as all the stories are under 1000 words. I’ve loved Emma Press’s award-winning poetry pamphlets since I came across them about three years ago. Their content and covers were fresh and vibrant and it was a pleasure turning touch-lovely pages (I’m a geek for high-quality paper). I’d long dreamed of having such a beautifully designed and produced collection of my stories. After exclusively publishing poetry, The Emma Press included prose in their 2015 submissions call. I sent in a short story m/s called “Happiness”. That m/s didn’t get selected but it was shortlisted, and the title story went on to be highly commended in the Takahé Short Story Competition.
This year I sent in another m/s – “First fox”.
I was stunned to be included in The Emma Press schedule for 2017 along with so many wonderful writers based in England, Ireland and the Netherlands. And it feels pretty special that they’re launching their new prose list with “First fox” alongside “Postcard Stories” by Irish author Jan Carson.
My title story received the 2nd prize in the National Flash Fiction Day contest 2015. Others in the collection have been placed in North & South magazine’s Short, Short Story competition and Ireland’s Fish Flash Fiction Prize. Some of the stories have also appeared online and in print in USA, UK and NZ. Having these altogether in one place, along with more recent work, really is a dream come true.
Excerpt from The Back of Beyond
“Are you there?” she’d call for the girl, day and night. “Are you there?”
The girl brought her cups of tea and eggs on toast, and emptied the chamber pot. She had to bike to the store in-between taking orders. The garden went to seed. The girl began talking to the kettle.
This went on for a long time, or a short time, the girl couldn’t tell.
“Are you there?”
“Are you there?”
Excerpt from The Bookkeeper’s Tale
“He has big personality,” mother repinned her hair. “He is Great Dane. Husky. Need plenty exercise.”
“Are we dogs, too, Mama?”
“We are cats.”