Thomas R. Thomas has written poetry for over fifty years. He wrote when he was holding down full time work, raising a family and juggling all that was tilting in his path on a daily basis. He wrote about these very things in his poems. His life experience colors his writing and in his new book he shares a book of poems about the loss of his son Shaun. These poems found a way out of him and were written for only one. Like Kendall Johnson or Juanita Mantz‘ books on Bamboo Dart Press, this book touches upon sorrow and loss, not in an abstract way nor in a manner of confession, but as a match in the dark, a signpost for others that have gone through sorrow that they are not alone in the that sorrow, offering a hand as they themselves are bowing from the pain..
I had a brief conversation with Thomas below that captures his fearlessness and his selflessness. His book Missing Shaun is out today and in it you might see yourself, see those you love, maybe those you lost rendered in a manner that is subtle and tender without being maudlin or cliche.
You are an accomplished draftsman whose work has included the most droll of the everyday to work on Ren & Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. There is a savagery in that kind of animation that seems polar opposite to your exacting style in both draftsmanship and writing.
Drafting and poetry are not in opposition. Also, my work on the cartoons, and later video games, was more technical than creative. My approach to poetry is also technical as well as creative. Even in the poems I write that don’t follow a formal structure, I will look for a pattern, such as length of line, or how many lines in a stanza. At the same I always pay attention to the music in the flow as I write.
Part of what fascinates me about your writing is the divide between adhering to rules of writing, as in the haiku work that you do, and also breaking from that format if need be. I wonder if what I perceive of your unique voice is not unlike that of one that has learned a craft by endless trial, error and passion.
I always look at the chaos as I write, although what appears to be random, such as the patterns in a fractal, or the apparent chaos of a Jackson Pollock, there is always some form of order in the chaos. As far as the process of my writing, I have written for almost 50 years, and
most of that time was in experimentation. My goal was to learn the rules, and then to see how far I could veer off from the rules, and in most cases the rules were of my own design. I find that an artist is one who travels roads not commonly taken. It has been my observation that often in the arts the artist will repeat what others have done, or they find a niche and remain in that small area. I have always wanted to explore new fields after I have started to feel comfortable. It is my goal to feel inherently uncomfortable in my art, and to explore new regions, at least new to me.
You run the Arroyo Seco Press which has issued a plethora of incredible books and chapbooks. There is something to the lightness of your thumbprint to your imprint that is present in your writing as well. There is a natural beauty to them both, an honesty instead of a histrionic neediness to what you write and what you choose to issue.
Regarding the press, I find that I need to let the poets shine. I really try not to get in the way of their craft. Even in the presentation of the press itself it is about the poets, so if you look at the website you will notice that my name is not anywhere—that is so there is complete focus on them. I won’t even publish my own work, except for a few places on the Redshift publication where I have a few poems listed under a pseudonym. Even in my own poems I would rather focus on the poems rather than on me. Although, I have no problem revealing very personal details. I think that real experiences, and feelings will be more relatable. Although I do have a few poems that are pure fiction, and are of characters that I personally can’t relate to.
Missing Shaun takes two paths. One is the transcription of the texts of Shaun’s last few weeks and the other, the haiku’s and writing in verse after his death. Anyone in modern times can relate to the rushed hospital updates of a loved one in the hospital, but even more relatable is the poetry, your defining the empty space, the slivers and the mountains.
One reason I wrote the opening narrative was that I wanted to connect the poems that I had written to the week that preceded most of them. Listing the dates and times was because I wrote most of the poems on my phone or computer, and they would record when I wrote them. Also, the texts and phone calls had the dates and times. I think the chronology represents an immediacy that we can all relate to. It certainly places what happened in a time when most of us were experiencing great loss, or at least the fear of loss. Our loss of our son was not unique, but something that all of us experience to one degree, so although personal, what I have written is everyone’s story.
The reflection of the coffee table recently straightened by Shaun, the door to his room not being ajar, the morning comics you can’t share with him. These are the most heartbreaking details in all of the book.
I wrote the poems about the coffee table, open door, and the others like that as the thought about them came to me in part because I was feeling the emotions of missing him so intensely. Those are the things that we all experience as we miss our loved ones. That is where something so personal is still relatable to anyone who reads them, and will spark memories of lost loved ones. The last part of the book is me trying, maybe for the last time to talk to him. I have always enjoyed talking with both of my sons. Even when they were little we talked to them, and then with them in a way respecting their intelligence and their opinions, and they have given back in ways that still astound us. I can give his older brother Martin a call, or have a conversation in text just about any time I want, and I always learn from him. That is something I have lost now with Shaun.
There is some light in this book and I would be remiss in any conversation to not hit upon that. You purposely introduced a bit of that as you put the book together you mentioned. I think this book is important not just because is it by a writer at the top of his game, but a writer that is giving us everything in his arsenal.
As I was writing the poems I shared them with some poet friends. I had not shared our loss to very many people outside of our families. from the feedback from my poet friends I knew that I needed to share what I had written. I also needed to share Shaun with the world. We live our lives in a flicker of time, and in the billions of lives who have and who will live in the world, one life, yours, mine, and Shaun’s, still has a major impact on this world—this vast universe.