This month, we’re downright giddy to bring you five poems by Tom Holmes, the editor of Redactions and the author of seven collections of poetry. Tom’s work has a great stylistic range and I’m grateful that he agreed to humor me by answering a few questions.
Michael: Tom, thanks for letting us publish your fine work! I thought I’d start with a question about your poem, In-Between. One of the things I like about the poem (in addition to its flinty lyricism) is the fact that it starts in such a simple, straightforward manner, then gradually turns more abstract. Do you consciously seek to start your poems either with an accessible or a more abstract line, or does it just work out that way?
Tom: “Flinty lyricism”! I’ve never heard that before. I like it. I’m also imagining the first lyric poem being composed by a Paleolithic person striking together two pieces of flint into his or her mouth and trying to spark words into utterance. I wonder if that’s how language was invented. Much like that Paleolithic person, I tend to strike metaphorical flint together and see/hear what happens. When I first started writing seriously (or what I thought was seriously), I was deep into abstractions, as probably most young poets are. Then I read some essays by Ezra Pound, and he said to “Go fear in of abstractions.” Eventually, after reading Pound and others, I moved from abstractions to images. Eventually, I went so far, I was moving strictly into images. I kind of turned into a neo-Deep Imagist of sorts, I suppose. But only recently, around April or May of 2013, did I start going back to abstractions. I wanted to involve them deliberately. Because so much of our life is in abstractions, I want to bring them back into poetry, despite most poets having an aversion to them. But I think it’s necessary, especially with these new poems I’m working on that involve orange.
In this poem, “In-Between,” I’m moving inward. I’m moving into my emotions. I’m in this surreal-Fauvist-like world, and the outer world is trying to simulate the inner world, but of course it’s only partially successful. To be fully successful I must turn even more inward where words take on the distorted, amorphous state of dream images, which are often multiple things, thoughts, emotions, locations, etc. all at once. I’m overwhelmed, as is the last stanza, because I’m unable to grasp at the past or the future of missing a lover – a young, profound love.
As for the starting place, sometimes I start abstract and move to images and sometimes the other way around. I want the two to complement each other and help each say what they can’t say on their own. And in this poem I’m in between them, as well as in between the past and the future, the inner and outer, thought and emotion, and signifier and signified.
M: The Unrequited Gift is another poem that blends philosophy with visceral detail. Obviously orange is a recurring theme/metaphor in these poems. That strikes me as a great way to tap into something bigger while providing the reader with a thread to follow. Can you comment a bit on what prompted you to use orange as a recurring metaphor?
T: One of the most recurring comments I hear about my poetry is that people can’t find me in my poems. That is to say, you can’t find anything personal about me in my poems. I always thought that a good achievement, and I deliberately kept myself out of my poems. However, and as a possible result, my poems aren’t emotional, which is the second most common comment I hear about my poetry. That one always gets me. I think most of my poems are emotional. I keep thinking my images and vowel movements are supplying the emotions, but, apparently, they are not, or not enough. So I needed to rectify this. I needed to start writing poems about me and getting some emotion into them.
I started to try this with deliberate efforts in April or May of 2013, but, man, it’s challenging. Also, I think there’s still too much of the detached Modernist in me. Or maybe, I should just there’s still too much of T. S. Eliot’s influence in me. He’s so stand-offish with his emotions. He has Freudian pleasures, which means for him pleasure isn’t as we think of it, but pleasure is the avoidance of pain. And so, like, Eliot, I end up going indirectly at my emotions. Orange, whether the color or the fruit, in my recent poems is the stand-in for my emotions. It’s an accumulative objective correlative for how I feel. The meaning, significance, symbol of orange keeps building upon each occurrence in a new poem. Orange is the color from the hair of the woman mentioned above. Orange is her. Orange is my emotions. They intertwine often. Orange is love with a lost love. Rather, it’s the emotional residue of lost love – orange residue. I’m using orange to show my internal state. And this can’t be done in one poem or one style of poem or poems with just abstractions or just images. It has to be an accumulation of as many poems and styles as it takes.
It took me until July to figure out what orange is trying to do. Now, I’ve better focus. I hope I find something. I hope people find some emotions in these poems. I hope people can now see me in my poems.
M: Phenomenology of Orange has a wonderful blend of philosophical abstractions and visceral imagery. Can you comment on how each compliment the other?
T: In this poem, I was trying to be Carl Jung. I was attempting a Jungian approach to my emotional and psychological state. Jung uses a good mix of abstractions and images when he psychoanalyzes, so I tried to do the same here. It’s almost like the first part of the poem is theory, and then it moves into evidence, and then makes a conclusion of sorts. This is really the poem I want to talk about most, too. It’s an important progressive step in how I learned what these new poems were/are doing, but I don’t think I can explain anymore. Maybe the poem is just Jung lecturing to me. He’s telling me what orange is for me. Maybe the poem is dream analysis or objective correlative analysis. Something.
M: Short poems like Under the Sun tend to fascinate me as much because of what they don’t say as what they do. There’s a certain, stark mystery to them, a quality that leaves the reader guessing—in a good way. Not begging for spoilers here but would you mind commenting on what the inspiration was for this particular poem?
T: This past summer (summer 2013) I took a 10K/6-mile walk three, four, five times a week on the Long Leaf Trace, which is a 40+ mile paved trail for walkers and bikers in Mississippi. It used to be railway, but it was converted into a path. So it’s a long straight walk. In the summer, man, it gets damned hot in Hattiesburg, which is in the Pine Belt. That means there are a lot of pine trees. With pine trees come pine cones. And when it gets as hot it gets in Hattiesburg in the summer, and I’m walking and kick a pine cone, the pine cone turns to powder. I mean, that’s what really happened. My mind immediately connected to that. It thought there was something more relevant in that. So for the next three miles or so that remained in my walk, I thought about it, and wrote the poem in my head. By the time I got home, the poem was pretty much written.
This poem wants to move like a haiku. It wants to leap from one bundle of images into another. It wants the lightning zap of associative connections. I think this poem is trying to do that two times, instead of just the once, as a haiku does. So there’s the real life event and then a simile. I mean, what happens when you open a mummy coffin? It instantly disintegrates, unless you take proper procedures to do so otherwise. The smell can kill you, too, but that’s not in the poem. The poem wants to make the lightning leap association into memory. The memory of the woman, I’ve been mentioning, is everywhere, like the disintegrated mummy will be, like the dust of the pine cone will be. All the dust and residue will float through the atmosphere. It’s everywhere. I can’t grasp it as a whole. I can barely understand how a pine cone can so easily turn to dust, let alone understand the vague image memory I have of this woman. Her image is more like a silhouette filled with so much meaning and emotional content that I can’t quite decipher it nor understand why it still lingers to this day. How does a mummy stay intact for millennia? How does emotional residue remain? Why would they remain if they didn’t have something to say or have meaning? What’s their message to me? us? Why is it like a hieroglyph? Why is it so delicate?
M: I am particularly drawn to the ending of Another Evening of Skies. One sticking point for many poets is figuring out how to end a poem. Do you have a certain philosophy or mindset that helps you find your last lines?
T: W. B. Yeats once said something like: a poem should click shut like a well-made box. Isn’t that a great description? A well-made box lid will just fit perfectly over the top lip and have that satisfying feeling and sound of closure. If it’s not well-made, it won’t have that sound or be as snug. The closure will serve its purpose, but it won’t be as gratifying as the well-made box. So that’s what I aim for, as I’m sure most poets do. To get to that closure of a well-made box, if I ever get there, I go by way of listening. The poem ends when the music has arrived to its coda. All the harmonies, if there are any, have been fulfilled. The melody, if there is one, has arrived to its last note. There are no more notes to speak. Or maybe it’s just mouth feel. That’s a type of music, too. The poem’s got to feel good coming out of the mouth. Sometimes I can feel that in my forearms, as well. If I get this certain feeling in my forearms, I know the poem is done. This poem did that.
It’s also kind of disturbing, too. The last line of the poem is vaguely sexual, especially in earlier drafts. Just think of that. For this person to start writing a poem, there has to be a stimulant and then the vaguest hint of sex. This poem is much smarter than I am about it. This poem just knew when it wanted to end. If it went any further, well, it can’t. The man found the something he needed for a poem, and I left him alone to write it.
M: Any new projects in the works?
T: The new project, which will contain these poems, is currently called The Door Hinge: A Mimetic Failure. (“Door Hinge” is the only word to rhyme with “orange,” especially if you say it, “d’or’inge.”) The door hinge is also what the door to my emotional state swings upon. I hope the door is wide open in these poems, despite the distant effect of an accumulative objective correlative. And it’s a mimetic failure, because I can’t mimetically reproduce my emotional state. It always fails.
In the meanwhile, my manuscript The Cave recently won The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013 (with Judge Alan Britt) and will be released in fall 2014. I’m really excited about it. It took three years of pretending to be a Paleolithic artist to write that collection of poems.
M: What’s one bad movie or TV show you’ll admit to liking?
T: I love romantic comedies. Last Saturday I took the day off and just watched romantic comedies all day and night in bed. I love them. They get to me, or the good ones do. If it’s good, I’ll get a lump in my throat and hopefully my eyes will tear up, but not tear down my face – that would be too much. All of a sudden I feel like this whole interview is a confession.
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Photo By: Anna