Tim Conley’s debut collection of poetry One False Move (Quattro Books, 2012) has been described as a book for the disenchanted, discombobulated and dissenting, for those who do not believe in wrong numbers, for those who render schematic diagrams on their ballots, for anyone stranded anywhere and for those who long to be stranded, for anyone who thinks that there are not just two sides to the question because the questions do not have sides, for those who laugh and are lonely and still laugh because they can’t help it. Poet Derek Beaulieu calls poetry: the not-so-civil war between phrase and phrase, word and word, fragment and fragment, and with One False Move, Conley trumps up and seizes the upper hand. You’ll never know what hit you.
Tim Conley is the author of two collections of short fiction entitled Whatever Happens (Insomniac Press, 2006) and Nothing Could Be Further (Emmerson Street Press, 2011). He was also co-editor of the poetry anthology Burning City (Action Books, 2012). His poetry has been published in the following literary journals: dANDelion, CV2, The Danforth Review, Jones Av, lichen, Literary Chaos, The Modern Review, Murderous Signs, Queen Street Quarterly, Snow Monkey, Synapse Magazine and Vallum. In the time that he isn’t writing he teaches English and Comparative Literature at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.
For more information, visit Tim Conley at his website.
The following poems are from: One False Move.
When you say war, I think of what
might fit best into your mouth. One
of those desktop items, the fortune-
telling globes or a pencil sharpener
shaped like an ancient pyramid but
for some reason orange. A portable
dictionary has its appeal but irony
(from the Greek) is the new denim
and besides, when you say resolve,
and the image is paused late at night,
I suspect you mean dreck or nub or
gross or whatever you find printed
on the floatation device beneath your
seat. Akhenaton stared at the sun but
you can choke on the pyramid, when
you say mercy I would say I beg your
pardon, which would fit like a fist
(from prehistoric West Germanic)
in a glove. No, no, hang on, when
I say glove, I probably mean mouth.
Your bicycle embarrasses me, there is
something hangdog in its expression
when immobile and when riding down
streets I feel its resentment, its bathos.
The cordless telephone’s another story
but nothing compared to the way those
wheels now spinado and whirl in dreams
where I am at parties flush with highly
attractive people with bared limbs who
I can tell crave unnamed intimacies but
for the bike beneath. Try as I might to
explain it’s not mine, I do not dismount.
Just what I mean, it does not come out
at all right. Let me call you right back
on another phone.
Sit in a train, forget the fact, and live as if you were at home; but
suddenly recollect where you are, feel the onward-rushing power of
the train; change into a traveller, take a cap out of your bag, meet
your fellow travellers with a more sovereign freedom, with more
insistence, let yourself be carried toward your destination by no
effort of your own, enjoy it like a child, become a darling of the
women, feel the perpetual attraction of the window, always have at
least one hand extended on the window sill. Same situation, more
precisely stated: Forget that you forgot, change in an instant into a
child travelling by itself on an express train around whom the
speeding, trembling car materializes in its every fascinating detail
as if out of a magician’s hand.
-Franz Kafka, diary entry for July 31, 1917 (trans. Martin Greenberg)
TTQ – You have previously published two books of short fiction. What was your motivation in writing a collection of poetry this time around, and which genre of writing do you find most enjoyable and more difficult to write?
Tim Conley – These are difficult questions. Poetry operates on a more primal level than fiction, sometimes even on a kind of sub-atomic level of language, thinking about what components and relations make up the ways we communicate (or don’t). Fiction is a more compromised affair, more necessarily of the world. So far as I can see, neither is any more urgent or courageous to write, and “enjoyable” and “difficult” are defined by the specific problem at hand. I realize how abstract all of this sounds, but then language is itself pretty abstract stuff.
One False Move was a matter of accretion, really: it’s a collection of poems written over several years, during which I was also writing fiction, essays, and translations. I like to move between forms and ideas.
TTQ – Tell me about your debut collection of poetry, One False Move. What message or theme were you hoping would manifest itself to your readership?
Tim Conley - I feel wholly unqualified to answer this question as posed. So I’ll say this instead: I think that this is a very bad moment in history. It is extremely disturbing to watch our culture become more and more accustomed to a state of war. When the invasion of Afghanistan began (to be followed not long afterwards by the invasion of Iraq), I despaired of the lack of imagination that gaped behind not just the decision to invade but the widespread if apathetic acceptance of that invasion, and of the subsequent one. The inherent lack of reason and compassion are obvious enough, at least for those of us who do not think of targeted bombings as the height of civilized activity, but the inability to imagine other possibilities seemed that much more horrible. I was really depressed by it and isolated in and perhaps by that feeling. Poetry becomes a way of reaching out, a way of talking about what you find yourself otherwise unable to talk about in the language that swine-dives into “collateral damage” and “pre-emptive strike.” And to that can be added other deficits of language – the words of and for love, friendship, maturation, loneliness. One False Move isn’t a “message,” in my view; it’s a map of strategies.
TTQ – What is your writing process like and do you write something new every day?
Tim Conley – There’s a Steven Wright joke about going to a convenience store that advertises itself to be “open 24 hours” and finding it closed, and thereafter tracking down the store’s owner. To the accusation “your sign says you’re supposed to be open 24 hours,” the owner querulously responds: “not in a row.” That kind of sums up my daily discipline of writing, I’m afraid – I try to write every day, but not in a row.
TTQ – There is wide variety of poetic form used throughout One False Move. What formula do you use in deciding what form you're going to write in? Do you decide prior to beginning a poem or do you prefer to shape the words within your poem to fit a particular form after it's been written?
Tim Conley – In fiction, which may be easier to discuss on this score, having the “story” isn’t enough. If it were, everyone would be a writer, since there are stories everywhere. It’s the telling that must match the story – this could be a matter of narrative perspective, of tone, of style, whatever. Sometimes I know when I have only the one, and until I have the other (if I ever do), I know it won’t work. Poetry is the same but with different terms of reference, and again I can’t generalize about the sequence of creative acts, if I can call them that. It’s like asking which happens first: does the air outside the balloon rush in when it’s popped, or does the air inside the balloon get out first? I just know when it “pops.” Sometimes I find myself repeating a word or a gaggle of words, enjoying the sound, and that may build up pressure on the balloon, but the balloon has its own resilience and can hold its own until the pressure gets so precise that things become interesting.
TTQ – What is your opinion on the current state of poetry in Canada? Do you think poetry is going through a kind of resurgence?
Tim Conley – A resurgence, and not an insurgency? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, there are plenty of books of poetry being published now in Canada, and the diversity of publishers, both new and veteran, is striking. In fact, things have come to the point now that it would be hard for a reader to keep up with all the poetry that’s being published, and this leads me to that “other hand” that’s been rhetorically behind my back. The state of the public discussion about and around poetry in the country is in pretty bad shape. The chances that a book of poetry will get reviewed in a national newspaper –or indeed in any newspaper– seem to be declining every week. (The Globe and Mail, for example, shakes its groggy head and seems to remember that poetry exists at all roughly every few months or so.) There are some bloggers out there fighting the good fight, some of them giving more space and consideration than others, but even they know that the audience spectrum is pretty narrow. And then there are the prizes and awards, not to mention the occasional flash of “what are those wacky poets up to now” gossip – all of it bread and circuses meant to stand in for meaningful conversations about what poems do and can do for us now.
There’s a lot to be appreciative of and optimistic about: the impressive array of talent out there and the dynamism and variety of publishers, but we have to make sure that we aren’t just tossing words into a chasm. We need more venues and opportunities for genuine, critical exchanges. We need them if poetry is going to be anything other than play money, just another insubstantial commodity in an irrelevant game of cultural capital.
TTQ – Who helped you with editing One False Move and how helpful was their input?
Tim Conley – Various friends read parts of the manuscript as it evolved, but the two people who had the most effect on the thing as a whole were Jay MillAr and Beatriz Hausner. Jay read a much earlier version and gave it the hard kicks it needed, and I had to take it away and weigh all of the useful remarks he made. That was some time ago and the collection changed a good deal after that. Beatriz was my editor at Quattro and more than anything else it was her ability to appreciate the balance of different forms you mentioned that I am thankful for. It is a good if rare thing to have an editor so literate (and this means wide experience of different literatures, and Beatriz has this) and so supportive.
TTQ – How do you deal with writer's block and do you offer these same tips to your students?
Tim Conley – My own feeling is that writer’s block comes from not feeling part of a meaningful conversation, a feeling that is hard to avoid in an atomizing, alienating culture in which we are encouraged to believe that our participation in the world is irrelevant and ineffectual. So I would recommend to someone who doesn’t know what to write that he or she do one of two things: either don’t write (do something else – bake a pie, build a house, cure a disease) or rejoin the conversation. In practical terms this latter option could mean reading the works of other writers, maybe writing down that line or passage that really excites you, aggravates you, puzzles you, and at some point you’re going to get so excited or aggravated or puzzled that you will find yourself writing down your own words, and there you are, back in the conversation.
I don’t mean to be flip about any of this, and I know full well how powerful a grip depression (so often behind this kind of block) can have. But this is the most practical course of action I know.
TTQ – Do you feel that reading your poetry in front of a live audience is an important and constructive tool to the writing process and is it something you enjoy doing?
Tim Conley – Sometimes I enjoy it, but it’s not the same thing as writing. If audiences enjoy hearing me do a reading, naturally I’m glad.
TTQ – What’s next for Tim Conley?
Tim Conley – What a frightening question. I sound like a serial hero facing a cliffhanger.
I’m working on something big and odd, but I’m afraid that’s all I’m at liberty to say about it for the moment.