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All Blacks' kitchen gardens

by Tim Jones

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711,889,582 (3.5)10
All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens is Tim Jones' second collection of poetry from HeadworX, following Boat People in 2002. It includes his poem "The Translator", which was selected for inclusion in Best New Zealand Poems 2004, and poems which have been published in the Listener, North & South, New Zealand Books, JAAM, and a number of other venues, including US and Australian magazines. The poems in the book range all the way from Southland to Iraq, from a backyard telescope to Mars, from the Rapture to rugby league. Along the way, there's love, sex, children, and Motorhead. These poems are full of surprises.… (more)

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Tim Jones, as well as being a poet and web designer, is a writer of ‘speculative fiction’ – the plainclothes name for scifi/fantasy. And ‘speculative’ is a word that admirably suits the poems in All Black’s Kitchen Garden. If tone has a physical embodiment, this book is the bloke over there in the corner, one eyebrow raised, considering, imagining, and taking it all in for future reference. Everything from ‘What to Call Your Book’, through to the why’s, wherefores and what-to-do-next’s of colonising Mars (‘Red Stone’).
The pick of the book for me is the penultimate poem, ‘First Light’, which begins:
First light on the new sea. Cows
crop hillsides turned islands.
Small boats sound the fathoms
over the family farm.
It sets up a beautiful pattern of echoing sounds – first with turned, cows with sound, first light with hillsides and islands and small boats. The image is surprising, and immediate. We’re in a post-catastrophic setting, but the images (cows, hills, deep water) and sounds (short, low vowels, and lots of l’s and f’s) are soothing. The poem moves gently. The rescue teams and news crews are “coming”. Survivors “point and click”. There are no dead bodies, just “three china ducks/ riding the morning tide”. The only things that are drowned are “graveyards, / urupa” and the Te Apiti wind turbines;
blades still turning
[to] mine the new and liquid wind.
All three physical states of matter – solid (inferred from “mine”), liquid and gas – combined into one. A subtle and ingenious way of showing the chaos of this new world.

Less successful are poems such as ‘Fitness’, ‘In His Tower’, ‘Oprah Relents’ and ‘The Master at Work’, which never rise above the anecdotal. In ‘Oprah Relents’, the poem scuffs along without being interesting or musical, and ends with a line that reads like a tacked-on bit of one-upmanship:
Oprah relents
allowing us food and water.

Her guards look on
as we wash off the grime.

The symphony of severed heads
demands a new movement.

In fifteen minutes
we go live.
It beg that awful question – why was this poem necessary? What is there that makes it worth reading, let alone publishing? I don’t require every poem to change my life, but there should be something there for the reader. Jottings, exercises, or things that could have been scribbled by a bored teenager just don’t cut it.

Another frustration is poems that start well and/or end well, but slump in the middle. The opening poem, ‘Elfland’, is a case in point: evocative first (Outside, the world is growing darker/ counters clicking downwards to perdition) and last stanzas (out of the enchanted wood/ back to the world’s long darkness), let down by a flaccid middle (I’m story-writing helper for today:/ It’s not too hard).
And a number of poems (particularly in the final section) read as flash-fiction in disguise. Interesting and well written, but when they gain nothing from lines breaks and have little musical cohesion, why call them poems? An example, from ‘Red Stone’ (line breaks removed):
II Ares Vallis, 1997–
Robots make a landscape complete. They give a sense of scale. Without Pathfinder this would be no more than a rocky plain waiting for a meteor, or eternity.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot to admire in this uneven collection. A brace of dramatic monologues. The use of poem-as-extended-metaphor in ‘Picking Myself Up’ and ‘Succession’; the deft, understated irony of ‘Getting By’ and ‘What to call your book’ (or Txt Me a Title/ or Naming Rights Sponsor Required). Against the soapbox clumsiness of ‘The Wise Ape’ or ‘No Oil’ (with its wasted beginning, Bad news from the north/ and the queues growing longer) he gives us poems like ‘Going Back’ and ‘At Lake Sylvan’ (no enemies/ but sun, wind, fire, flood/ and time/ or time equipped with an axe).
When Tim Jones produces a book of poems consistently at the level of the best here, we will have a seriously good poet.

(This review first published in 'A Fine Line', April 2008) ( )
  joannasephine | Mar 30, 2008 |
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To Kay and Gareth
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Elfland:

Outside, the world is growing darker
counters clicking downwards to perdition. /

Inside, the children bring me
cup-cakes, pizza, new and better clothes /

all made from pure cheek
and six-year-old imagination.

(first three stanzas of poem)
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All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens is Tim Jones' second collection of poetry from HeadworX, following Boat People in 2002. It includes his poem "The Translator", which was selected for inclusion in Best New Zealand Poems 2004, and poems which have been published in the Listener, North & South, New Zealand Books, JAAM, and a number of other venues, including US and Australian magazines. The poems in the book range all the way from Southland to Iraq, from a backyard telescope to Mars, from the Rapture to rugby league. Along the way, there's love, sex, children, and Motorhead. These poems are full of surprises.

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