It was lovely to be part of the launch of Greg Tome’s second poetry collection, Tilting at Time, on the 12th of October. This collection is published by Ginninderra Press and Greg values the relationship that he has with the publishers, Brenda and Stephen Matthews.
Greg asked me to MC the event. I’ve been discussing poetry and education with Greg for the past eight years and our conversations are always stimulating and leave me feeling like I’m doing things right, both in terms of my teaching and my writing.
Greg was a teacher for over 30 years. He is a humble person who heaps praise on everyone around him. This is surely part of what made him a great teacher, the way he has of empowering those around him by showing that he believes in their potential. I think this is also why there was such a great turn out to the event because Greg is such a generous person that he draws people to him.
Greg should not be so humble when talking about his poetry. He has won numerous competitions and commendations for his poetry and one of his poems, ‘Lone Tree Silhouette’, was published in an anthology (Wild 2018) which can be found in the National Poetry Library in London. He has another poem that will be published in an anthology by Ginninderra Press about Mountains coming out later this year.
Peter Lach Newinsky gave the launch speech and the attention that he paid to Greg’s work speaks to the quality of Greg’s writing. Peter talked about the significance of the title of the collection. The alliterative effect of the t in Tilting at Time not only has a musical quality to it but also adds to the meaning. We feel that we might all be ‘titling’ towards something. No poem within the collection is titled ‘Tilting at Time’ and it is unusual to not get the title of the collection from one of the poems. Time is a recurring theme in this collection of poetry. The second poem in the collection is titled ‘This is the time’. It begins:
when the shameless day covers her limbs
Then this is the time
to write poetry
And I’m so glad that Greg decided that this is the time to write poetry. He had written novels and short stories while he was teaching. After he retired he was drawn to poetry and that is where he, as he wrote in his bio “has had the most success and satisfaction” from his writing. Greg has also written short plays and has had fifteen of his plays performed at Crash Test Drama in Bundanoon and two plays performed in other parts of the country.
The third and fourth poems in the collection continue on with the theme of time, being titled ‘4 a.m. ruminations’ and ‘5.15 Summer Morning’. In the Q and A with Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Greg said that he often gets ideas for his poems when he wakes in the morning and that he has opening lines for poems littered all around the house, indeed in the poem ‘4 a.m. ruminations’ Greg writes:
I wrestle with the possibility of sleep
but it seems miles away
giving way to pop ups
of opening lines of various poems
most of which will wither
while in embryonic form
Peter mentioned that Greg has often told Anna, Peter, Tony Mills and myself (at our regular poetry workshops) that he feels he isn’t good at writing titles. Yet, as Peter highlighted, Greg has come up with great titles such as ‘Messotopia’. This title conveys so much meaning with the words ‘mess’ and ‘topia’ (utopia) contained within it, as well as the allusion to Mesopotamia. Greg has an interest in ancient history. Mesopotamia quite literally means between two rivers. Peter said that there are arguably three lines that are the most important in a poem, “the first, the last and the title”. ‘Messotopia’ begins:
The beauty of the young
is more intense as I sense
the gap between us widening
So in the first stanza, we have the diverging of ‘two rivers’ or of the young and aged. The poem continues:
The tap on the shoulder by some medical necessity
becomes more frequent
The universal ache for a saner world becomes stronger
The ruling yahoos flaunt their cruel hollowness
in idiot abandon
The gap between the young and aged increases as Greg describes what it is to be aged for the speaker and their dissatisfaction with the young who eat up the “pet food of popular culture”. The perceived ‘mess’ of the contemporary world is conveyed through the “idiot abandon” with which our leaders make decisions, as well as the “chaotic circus” of life. The poem ends:
So life’s chaotic circus trundles along blindly
on its haphazard way
the ringmaster having lost control
disappears from view
the many denizens left to cope
with whatever acts
now left in charge
calls upon them to perform
As Peter pointed out, it is interesting that this poem begins in the first person, “I sense”, moves to the collective, “Our brains shrink”, and ends in the third person, “the ringmaster” and “the denizens”. This shift in perspective reflects the increasing lack of control that the speaker has over the world they live in, as they “ache for a saner world”, and the lack of control they have over their own bodies, as the “medical necessit[ies] become [sic] more frequent”. This lack of control and satisfaction reflects the lack of place, or the lack of a sense of belonging to place, that the speaker feels – linking back to ‘topia’ in the title which literally means nowhere or no place.
Anna asked some fabulous questions of Greg during the Q and A that finished the official part of the launch. Greg told Anna that he struggles to write poetry on a particular / given theme or topic, preferring to wait for an opening line to come to him. He had a friend pass away recently, and he felt that the poem he wrote in memory of his friend was not very good. Greg spoke about the writing challenges that the local (Bowral, NSW) Fellowship of Australian Writers’ group set every month and how difficult he finds it to write something that isn’t trite in response to a given topic. I’m sure Greg is, as usual, being modest when discussing his difficulty to write about a predetermined theme. I was interested in this desire to wait for an opening line to come to him. This approach to writing differs from my current writing practice where I am writing a collection of poems all on a common theme and have a long list of situations and characters that I want to explore through my poetry. Although, I do accept that sometimes this approach produces writing that can be cliché and feel forced.
Greg also told Anna about his influences. He enjoys the poetry of Peter Bakowski. One of Bakowski’s poems, ‘A cup of water, Suzhou, October 1945’ begins:
The cup of water
a leaf leaving its mother (from Beneath Our Armour, 2009).
Greg similarly begins some of his poems with haiku-like images, for example his poem ‘Motoring into memory’ begins:
are carved rocks of granite
Greg told Anna that what he most likes about Peter Bakowski’s writing style is something to do with the pace of the poetry and the way Bakowski often uses line breaks to mark short pauses in the poem.
Anna asked Greg about his own interesting lineation style where the lines are often scattered across the page and there is no punctuation. Greg said that he lineates his poems in this way to make it easier for him to read them aloud. The line breaks mark out momentary pauses and he uses the line breaks as a substitution for punctuation, except question marks because he hasn’t worked out yet how to substitute the question mark. Greg uses capital letters to mark the beginning of sentences so that he can “save on the full stops”.
Another influence of Greg’s is Kenneth Slessor. Greg told Anna that he is in awe of Slessor’s poem ‘Five Bells’, which I’m sure many people share that feeling.
Peter talked about the unusual choice to order the poems in this collection in a way that they almost work together to convey a narrative. This choice may be unusual, but it is certainly working. Peter suggested that the collection be read in one or two settings so that you might get this overarching narrative. Greg takes us from the internal (of him talking/writing himself into being a poet – which captures his humble nature given that this is his second collection) to the external (of music, domestic life [including poems about doing the dishes, cleaning, and pillow cases], the natural world, and politics) back to the internal (of an aging man questioning God and contemplating mortality). To purchase your copy of Tilting at Time click here.
There is much more that I could write about, discussing Greg’s use of imagery to evoke the sensation of being in water, for example, and his use of humour, but I’m going to leave it there. I strongly encourage you to read Greg’s book to discover other elements of his writing for yourself.
Ron Pretty has been a mentor to Greg, helping to edit both this collection and his first collection of poetry, Watching from the Shadows. You can read an interview with Greg about working with Ron and about his experience of publishing with Ginninderra here.
You can read reviews of Greg’s first collection here and here.
You can purchase Greg’s first collection here and his new collection here.
The cover photo of Tilting at Time was taken by Greg Tome’s son, Matthew Tome.