Guest Post: Tim Jones interviews Keith Westwater about Tongues of Ash

Today’s guest post: Tim Jones (author of Men Briefly Explained) interviews Keith Westwater (author of Tongues of Ash). Thanks Keith and Tim!

Tongues of Ash cover1) The publisher of Tongues of Ash, Interactive Publications, has described the collection as ‘travel poetry’. Is that how you see the collection?

I must admit, when I first saw the term I was a little taken aback, as I had not considered the work in that light. My thinking was that the poems as a whole are representative of landscape writing, in the sense that they are to do with place, memories of place, the physical world, and the environment. They also touch on what is meant by ‘home’.

On reflection, I think the publisher has insightfully picked up on the journeys that are also woven into the fabric of the collection   – my personal journey through time and place and my travels within New Zealand and overseas.

2) What led you to choose the rather striking image for the cover of Tongues of Ash?

A lot of serendipity – I met the artist, Turi Park, some years ago shortly after I had written the found poems ‘Camera Obscura Revealed’. The poems are taken from words in two essays used to describe the paintings in an exhibition of Turi’s work. When I was looking for some cover art for Tongues of Ash I went immediately to the exhibition catalogue.

I settled on the painting ‘Dawn Poem for Taranaki’ (see my blog) because it resonated with me on many levels. The title Tongues of Ash is drawn from my poem ‘Navigation point on the Desert Road’, which refers to the colour orange twice and Dawn Poem for Taranaki is vibrant with orange.

‘Navigation point’ is set with a backdrop of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, which the painting depicts in the distance and I thought this was a good metaphor for the time that has elapsed since I lived near those mountains. Finally, and as I found out when seeking permission to use the painting, it is owned by Charles Dawson, who wrote one of the two Camera Obscura descriptive essays.

3) The poems in Tongues of Ash are grouped into five blocks that have their own coherence and unities. How did you settle on this sequencing and order?

The first and third sections generally relate to places I have lived in or travelled to. The second section is mainly to do with the physical world and the fourth is more about landscape, environmental issues, and personal identity. The last section focuses on overseas places and notions of home. (Although if readers see an entirely different logic to the groupings, that’s fine by me.)

Once I had settled on which of my poems belonged in the collection as a whole and I had identified the sub-themes present in the collection, the poems more or less self-selected into these groupings. The sequence of the groupings was based on the need to provide variety and maintain reader interest, as was the sequencing within each group.

4) Who do you see as the main readers/audiences of Tongues of Ash and are your suppositions panning out?

I thought at first that the readers would be other poets and people who know me – friends and relatives, people of about my own age. While this has largely turned out to be the case, I didn’t anticipate – and am rather tickled by –  the interest being shown in the work by my children’s generation.

5) What’s next for you as a writer/poet? More landscape poetry collections, or something else?

I am currently working on poems that are more to do with societal critique (child abuse, domestic violence) and natural violence (earthquakes). I have in mind a next collection that will pull together these poems and some others of a more satirical bent that I have written.

I also want to pick up again a fictionalized memoir that I started some time ago and put down when working on Tongues of Ash.

Ah, if there were only more hours…

Find out more about Tongues of Ash at