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

Guest Post: Keith Westwater interviews Tim Jones about Men Briefly Explained

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

Men Briefly Explained cover1) Is it possible to explain men, briefly or otherwise?

It would probably take a much longer book than mine to do that job full justice. I guess that Men Briefly Explained attempts to reveal the mysteries of the male from two angles: partly internally, through a report on what it’s been like so far to grow up male, and partly externally, through observing how other men behave. I have tried to look at how men’s biological role affects our behaviour too – although it’s important not to try to push such sociobiological explanations too far.

(That’s a frightfully serious explanation, so I should also add that the book is a great deal less serious than I’ve just made it sound!)

2) Is this really an explanation of men in general, or would it be more accurate to call it an explanation of one particular man, i.e. a Mr T. Jones?

I did observe at a couple of the recent readings on the Men Briefly Explained/Tongues of Ash Book Tour that the title of the book would be even more accurate if the “n” was removed from the first word in the title – in other word, if the book was called “Me Briefly Explained”! So, to the extent that I’m a middle-aged, middle class (well, struggling middle class anyway), straight Pakeha male of English descent, it does less well at explaining men who don’t have those characteristics. Still, even with these restrictions, there are still a lot of us around.

3) When we were on our joint book tour with David Reiter, I noticed as the tour went on that you seemed to settle on a core group of poems to read each night, plus one or two different ones for each venue. How did you decide which poems worked best?

Trial and error! If a poem got a good response from the audience the first time I read it, then I read it again – and if it didn’t, I didn’t.

Mind you, I had a reasonable idea before I started which poems would work best with an audience. Complicated poems don’t work well live; humour does. Complicated, funny poems are a line call!

I think the title poem, Men Briefly Explained itself, was the biggest hit live, which was a nice feeling.

4) What sort of people seem to respond best to Men Briefly Explained – and are they the people you were expecting?

Well, I hoped that both women and men would respond well to the book. It’s not that men have responded badly – or, if they are responding badly, they are doing so in private and not telling me about it – but there’s been a very positive response from women who have bought and read the book – I’ve quoted some of these responses on my blog.

I hope that means that I am providing some enlightenment as well as some entertainment!

5) What are your hopes for Men Briefly Explained?

To sell a decent number of copies – it’s never wise to hold out huge sales expectations for poetry, but when there have been such good reactions from the people who have read the book, that motivates me to try to get the word about it out to more people.

To engage the reader’s emotions and intellect, not to mention the reader’s sense of humour.

To write a set of poems that people will keep coming back to and finding new angles on.

Find out more about Men Briefly Explained (including where to buy) at

Tomorrow’s guest post: Tim Jones (author of Men Briefly Explained) interviews Keith Westwater (author of Tongues of Ash). Yes, they are busy men!


Highlights from the IP Tour of NZ in October, featuring Tim Jones and Keith Westwater.

Interactive Press (IP) recently published Men Briefly Explained by Tim Jones and Tongues of Ash by Keith Westwater (both are NZ poets). Here’s a great review of these two collections (and a couple of others) from the Otago Daily Times.


Book Review: Private Bestiary: Selected Unpublished Poems, 1944-1993 by Kendrick Smithyman, edited by Scott Hamilton

Private BestiaryPrivate Bestiary: Selected Unpublished Poems, 1944-1993 by Kendrick Smithyman, edited by Dr Scott Hamilton, Titus Books, ISBN 9781877441172, RRP $34.95, Available now.

Poetry, to me, is like music. You feel it in your soul. Even if you can’t play a note/write a sonnet to save yourself, you still know good music/poetry.

Kendrick Smithyman is probably a name heard of but not familiar to the general New Zealand reading public (outside of NZ Lit 101 students) but Private Bestiary is the perfect example of why this really shouldn’t be the case. It’s a collection of unpublished poetry from Smithyman (who was a prolific NZ writer during last century, writing poetry, criticism and literary history).

Editor Scott Hamilton* accompanies the selected poems with a short but insightful biographical overview of Smithyman’s life, times and career, as well as a note on every poem with context and background.

And it’s all fascinating! Insights into the drudgery of Smithyman’s WW2 service, his domestic life in the 60s and 70s, even just documenting a stay in a dreary small town motel – it almost seems he wrote about everything, and in a rare (but not rarefied) voice.

Hamilton makes a point about Smithyman’s poetry being considered “radical” during his lifetime, particularly by literary editors of the day who by and large seem to have been mostly rather conservative in their choice of poetry to publish.**

The irony now is that it’s Smithyman’s difference in voice that makes his poetry so enjoyable to read; you can hear a person’s voice – not just a poet’s. As Hamilton says:

The truth is that Smithyman was not some convoluted, self-absorbed word-geek, but a man with a great deal to say to his fellow New Zealanders… The best of the poems Smithyman left behind are carefully crafted, multi-faceted portraits of New Zealand’s past, present, and possible futures. They should be seen as part of the cultural inheritance of every Kiwi.

With Private Bestiary Hamilton and Titus Books have contributed a vital piece in ensuring that happens.

the sky looked at the ranges

and the ranges bent back at the sky

*Also known as Maps from the stonkingly awe-inspiring blog Reading the Maps.

**Which got me pondering how times have changed with regards to content publishing. Writers of Smithyman’s time who wanted to publically publish writing were so behoven to the opinions of others – unlike today where, let’s face it, this blog is a prime example of the interwebs ethic – have content, will publish. I’m not reliant on literary journals or similar publications to find an audience for my writing. We have an amazing choice; to publish and to read in different voices.

And I’m honest enough to know that my blathering about books is probably not “Landfall” material. So the editors of Landfall don’t have to be all “Unicorns is not an adjective” and I don’t have to be all “I am The Writer and I will bend the language to my will” and you don’t have to be all “We only get one choice in our reading about reading and it doesn’t have enough unicorns.” Interwebs win!

Book Review: Livin’ Ina Aucklan’ by Michael O’Leary

Livin' ina Auckland by Michael O'LearyLivin’ Ina Aucklan’ by Michael O’Leary, Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop,ISBN 9780987651075, RRP $18 (but it’s on sale for $5!), Available now.

This collection is summed up in the title poem: “Romance is not confined to the Orient Express/ and Mount Albert is as important as Montmatre/ if you live there.”

Livin’ ina Aucklan’ is a love letter to the city. The collection is divided geographically and places are named (The Eden Terrace Factory, Penrose Railway Station, Grafton Graveyard), giving them a recognition and a power which must’ve been revolutionary when the collection was first published.

Livin’ ina Aucklan’ is a second edition. The first was published on paper, back in what I like to call ‘the olden days.’ Back in 1988, we were still enjoying synthesisers and the cultural cringe, and ereaders were the stuff of science fiction. Despite its impressive vintage, Livin’ ina Aucklan’ still felt relevant, and much of the city is very recognisable. The North Shore’s Torbay is depicted as white and Remuera as rich. O’Leary spends much of the collection on buses and trains, getting from one side of the city to the other. But other parts of Auckland all but unrecognisable. The mention of factories threw me – it shows both how far Auckland has come and how limited my experience of it really is.

I was interested to see how the poems interacted with my ebook reader (I have a Kobo). Interestingly, I found you can change the text size, but not the font. I would’ve thought the amount of white space on the screen would make more of a difference to the way one interacts with the book then the choice of serif vs san serif font, but never mind.

Pule’s drawings were a disappointment on Kobo’s little screen: apart from the cover image, they were too small and faint to be really appreciated. That’s the biggest complaint about the collection though.

I enjoyed Livin’ ina Aucklan’ – although I’m not sure what kind of an impression it would make on Hamiltonions! I’d recommend it to all Aucklanders.

This review is crossposted at!