THOM THE WORLD POET
POETRY ACTIVISM IN THE WAVY GRAVY
INTERVIEW BY KIRPAL GORDON
KIRPAL GORDON: In the last interview at Taking Giant Steps, Terri Carrion & Michael Rothenberg articulated a vision of poetry as activist-centric rather than career-centric. You’ve been a model for the kind of activism they celebrate for as long as I’ve been coming to Austin. You’re out every night of the week mcing or organizing readings, open mics & music-word collaborations, yes?
THOM THE WORLD POET: We know the alternatives––nothingness/ passive consumerism/product based ecologies/alienation from creative processing. Activist hippy punk ethos sez YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE 4 yr own expression. This has nothing to do with market mechanisms-more community formation awareness. EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST (if they so desire/and in their own manner and style/in their own time and mind.
KP: You’re powerfully representing the Wavy Gravy lineage of poesy!
TTWP: He began as a poet. Merged /morphed into public peaceful activism––HOG FARM, excellent art, "breakfast in bed for 400,000." He was sick of getting beaten up at peace demonstrations so he became and remains a clown. Nobody fears a clown. My role model = he gives via benefits to aid clear vision in third world countries. He has many musician friends who "get" him and support his work/play. His poetry has become actions and lifestyle. He came to Austin for the launch of his film and was at our Million Musicians March for peace. I will never forget his mantra––GIMME AN "F"––F! GIMME A U––U! (What do you expect next from a smiling dervish?)––GIMME A "N"=FUN!
KG: How did your art get started?
TTWP: Started improvising to music @ AQUARIAN FESTIVAL Nimbin 1973. Formed POOR TOM'S POETRY BAND which had strict rules: 1. Anyone who turned up was in the band. 2. Never repeat. Never repeat. 3. Ignore the first two rules. Folk reminded me that no one listens anymore. They suggested I publish my improvisations. So began STREET POETRY––thousands of poetry sheets daily on the street of Melbourne. This spread to Adelaide, Sydney, Armidale, Geelong––and WOMEN'S (street) POETRY began with Alicia Stammers. Folk reminded me that no one reads leaflets anymore––that I should publish my improvisations in books. 200 books later (www.worldpoetry.org)––and no one bought any. So I return to improvising with musicians every moment of my life.
KG: What were the circumstances of your arrival in Texas? How do you explain the explosion of poetry there & the Austin International Poetry Festival––how long has this been going on?
TTWP: I was touring America with an eco-feminist band MOTHER GONG in 1991. We supported BIG BROTHER &THE HOLDING COMPANY, BOB DYLAN etc. I met my beloved and moved to Babylon (Austin, Texas). Met poets at CHICAGO HOUSE. With 3 others, started AUSTIN INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL. This is its 20th year. Many new venues arose from featuring poets @ open mikes. The litany of ancestral venue names still enchants––ELECTRIC LOUNGE, FORRAYS, RUTA MAYA, CAFE MUNDI, etc. Most nights now have one or more open mikes for folk to just turn up and they are on. The price is still participation. Every night different. Some have survived several owners (like CAFE CAFFEINE Wednesdays)––now THRICE CAFE. The core of all is volunteer. People host when and where they will––features are picked for qualities of content and performance and a positive link to all poetry groups defines Austin 2012.
KG: You’ve managed to marry a spoken word line of depth & insight & knowledge of world lit with a progressive agenda at the local & world level. Are these two things one to you, lit & politics? I also like how willing you are to be improvisational when working with jazz musicians in Austin.
TTWP: Poetry is politics. Freedom of speech and assembly. Censorship is everywhere. We prefer uncensored all age readings but also cater for guided (age appropriate) content readings. We vote with our time, effort, focus, attention and concentration. Our allies do things their own way. We are all different. Diversity is. WORDJAZZ is a current Thursday night gathering of professional jazz players and poets @Kenny Dorham's Backyard (next to the VICTORY GRILL). This eclectic gathering of divergent skills makes for compelling listening to a minimal audience. EVERY NIGHT IS DIFFERENT.
KG: You seem to be constantly inventing, and every time I’ve seen you at a microphone or on a bandstand, you’re giving away poems, books & CDs.
TTWP: I am learning to improvise in every moment––in my own life, adaptation is all. I respect and respond to kindness and do not believe anyone or anything. Deeds are words to me I look for the living and work/play with consenting sentients. This can happen anywhere. I used to tour England and Australia until funding cuts. I flow where support and encouragement grow.
KG: What counsel would you give a young poet?
TTWP: To the young and the new––LOOK @WHAT OTHERS DO––then do it differently. Life is short and the dead are many. Look for life/Light and kindness. BE THAT!
[This interview was conducted on August 29, 2012, and was first published at Taking Giant Steps. See http://giantstepspress. blogspot.com/. Used by permission.]