The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

February 11, 2011


Poetry offers new directions for Jim Tilley


ELLEN S. BEST PHOTO

Jim Tilley has his first poetry collection, “In Confidence.”

 
By ELLEN S. BEST

So much for poet stereotypes. Physics, banking and insurance wouldn’t seem like great prep for a poet, but that’s exactly how it happened for Jim Tilley. With the same fervor that he previously pursued his doctorate in physics at Harvard and then his mathematical discoveries in the financial world, he immersed himself in poetry, sprinting to his first published collection, “In Confidence.” He is selling copies at festivals and events around the country, and Feb. 13 he will be at an event at Via Vanti! restaurant in Mount Kisco. The book is garnering accolades from well-known American poets and laureates.

“I liked poetry back in high school, but that was it until recently,” Mr. Tilley said. “I have continued to enjoy writing, which pretty much meant research papers about finance and investing.”

Mr. Tilley is considered to be one of the early rocket scientists of the asset and liability industry. When he retired 10 years ago, he made a calculated effort to become a poet by reading, connecting with online poetry communities and attending workshops. His library at home has hundreds of poetry books and he’s read them all, some multiple times.

“When you retire, I recommend that you have money to begin with and also do something that you love,” Mr. Tilley said. “I knew I wanted to write. Poetry gives me instant gratification, which is the kind of mind I have. A novel or a memoir would take me years to complete.”

Still, his poems aren’t always quick fixes. In a year’s time, he says he may write a handful that take about 40 minutes to write, but others may involve 30 or 40 drafts. “Some start with prose and others are born whole as poems,” he said. “I’m always trying to have a happy accident. After I write a poem, it may look good on paper, but when it’s read aloud, it has mouthfuls that need to be changed. I walk around and read it aloud to the walls and books.”

Either way, before he goes to the computer, every first draft is written by hand in a journal with a fat, leaded pencil. He feels like the big, broad strokes go along with the slow, physical pace of his left brain. He keeps all of his journals and opens them periodically for ideas in the same way he flips through the poetry books that fill his shelves.

If people are scared off by poetry, what’s his suggestion for the best way to test the waters?

“Get two books,” he suggested. “One is called ‘Poetry 180’ by Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003. It’s an anthology that won’t scare you away. And also get ‘Best Words, Best Order’ by Stephen Dobyns. And start writing. Find poetry boards on the Internet to read your work. That’s what I did for a few years as I began to submit to journals.”

His scientific method for poetry success worked like a magic equation. Both Mr. Collins and Mr. Dobyns wrote reviews of Mr. Tilley’s book. “What wins our confidence is his steady hand on the poem and his steady gaze at the world,” Mr. Collins said.

“Finely crafted poems in which readers will find bits and pieces of their own lives,” Mr. Dobyns commented.

Mr. Tilley will be joining Billy Collins for an event at the Poet’s House in New York City on March 12.

Poetry may be an enigma to some, but it is all around us, integral to popular culture via hip-hop lyrics and poetry slams that are well attended on college campuses. Mr. Tilley feels that these deliveries are effective because the rhymes anchor them.

“There is repetition of images and sounds that makes them better understood in those contexts,” he explained. “Usually there should be some mystery in a poem, but that can scare people away from poetry. If it’s too obscure, then the poem has failed. The reader should be left dangling a little with a surprise or with a turn.”

Where does Mr. Tilley get his ideas? Many of them incubate during his long daily walks of five to eight miles near Bedford Corners, where he moved from Chappaqua five years ago. No, he doesn’t keep a pad in his pocket to write down his thoughts.

“I walk home and go directly to my third-floor library and write it down,” he said. “If my wife [literary agent Deborah Schneider] asks me to do any chores, I just can’t do anything else right then. My dad was a physics professor and president of a university in Canada. He told me that any problems or ideas you have can be worked out while walking, so I’ve always done that, ever since college, when I’d take advantage of the walk up the hill between my dormitory and classroom building.”

“In Confidence,” published by Red Hen Press, is dedicated to his father. Jim Tilley’s poems have been published in various literary journals, including Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and Sycamore Review, and he has won the Wabash Prize and had four Pushcart nominations.

The book release party will be at Via Vanti! (at the Mount Kisco train station) on Sunday, Feb. 13, at 4 p.m. Mr. Tilley will read selections from “In Confidence,” and there will be complimentary hors d’oeuvres and wine and the chance to purchase the book and have it signed. For book excerpts and more information, go to jimtilley.net. 


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