I have been chosen as one of the twelve finalists for the Off The Shelf Festival Sheffield Short Story Competition. An event will be held tonight at Mugen Tea House, Scotland Street, Sheffield at 7pm, where the shortlisted stories will be read out and the winner announced.
A few times over the last couple of years I’ve seen a poem by Gwil James Thomas in some illustrious publication or other. Hey, I’ve thought to myself, I like this. I need to find out more about this guy.
I then proceed to search his name on Twitter, where no account turns up. This, as we all know, means he might aswell not exist at all. I then get distracted by something or other and carry on living my life, until I read another of his poems, and the whole sad process begins again.
Fortunately, for you and for me, Martin at Paper Ink Zine is about to put out a collection of Gwil James Thomas poems called Gwil VS Machine. I believe you’ll be able to place an order through the Paper and Ink site next week. I recommend that you do so.
I’ve seen your work around a few zines over the years, and every time I’ve gone to find out more about you, I’ve not been able to find much of an online presence outside of the places your work is included. Is being removed from social media etc something you feel particularly strongly about?
I wouldn’t say that social media is something that I feel strongly about necessarily. I’ve never had a Facebook, or a Twitter account – so i don’t really know them first hand. I can see that they have their uses, but part of me’s glad that I don’t have to deal with the shitty concerns that can come with them. I’ve been shown things on Facebook that are informative, but I’ve also seen it swamped with a lot of shameless self promotion. That said, I’m sure that at some point they’ll make it too inconvenient to not have one, then I’ll probably sigh and sign up. In the meantime I’d want to get a website out there – I think that’d work far better for me. Besides, it’s probably time that I caught up with 2009.
The word howl appears not only in the title of the opening poem, but also in W*R*I*T*E (“write like the drunken howls/from the evening streets”). I assumed this wasn’t thrown in just as a Ginsberg nod. Do you think your poetry tends to come from a painful place?
I’d be lying if I said that some of the poems didn’t come from a painful place. Though I don’t think I intentionally made them that way. I find that when writing poetry (and more so than any other form) that the poems end up going in a way they want to work. It’s not always in a way I imagined them to be, but sometimes I take a step back and say, fuck it maybe it works better that way. There’s also been a lot of change in my life over the course of time the poems in this collection were written too, which can all be used for material to work with. Life is tragic, beautiful, fleeting and strange – I think all the poems draw from that.
In the Mule’s Early Retirement, you talk about the impact of a string of shitty jobs on your life. Were you always writing during those times?
For most of it. I probably make the jobs sound worse than they actually were – but I remember working fifteen hour days six days a week as a chef in Brighton, it was hard to write after that and there were several other jobs over the years like that too. There was a hell of a lot of characters from all over the world in those jobs and subsequently a lot of varied material to be inspired from. There were certain occasions where I was too tired to write and I learnt that there are times to incubate ideas too – time away from writing is also beneficial. Even if you finish your job at one am and you wake up hungover – it’s makes the next day a little easier knowing you wrote something the night before.
Gwil vs. Machine ends on a tribute to Dan Fante. It’s funny, he had such an impact on a particular cross-section of people, that right from the off I knew it was Dan Fante you were writing about. What sort of impact did he have on you and your writing?
I discovered Dan Fante through his father John Fante. I read John Fante’s work at nineteen and was blown away by it. He was the first writer I discovered that made me want to write. I couldn’t believe how largely unheard of he was – even with Bukowski’s praise for the man. I found something haunting about his work and after reading his biography I spontaneously got a John Fante tattoo. So when I found out that his son was a writer, I knew that I had to read everything he had.
What I like about Dan, was that like his father, he treated his typewriter like a confession booth. They both drew a lot from their own lives. But Dan Fante really took this further. He gave an account that was unflinching, not always flattering, but very real. As a writer I find this can be therapeutic and if done well, can be powerful as a reader.
Overall though, I’ll never forget his desire to help another writer. I discovered his email address years ago and drunkenly emailed him, not expecting a response and was surprised when I did. I corresponded with him a bit over the years. In the last email I got from him, he told me of several projects he was working on, one of which was a sequel to Point Doom. I can’t help but wonder about them. But I’m grateful that he stayed sober enough to write what he did. The world’s lost a good writer and a good soul.
Finally, what was the last thing (book, album, place etc) that you totally fell in love with?
Probably, the album Huff my Sack by Lumpy and The Dumpers. I haven’t really been as involved with punk as I have been before, but this record was a good investment. Basically, this album is so shit, that it’s good. Exactly what a punk band should be.
I wrote a post for Hand Job Zine about how art is important and identifying yourself by your taste in art isn’t.
One of my poems, Child, has been included in Vol.4 Issue 1 of East Jasmine Review.
You can purchase the new issue at this link.
James Giddings is the only poet I know who wore his stinky trainers so long his foot got infected. He’s also the only poet I know.
James is so good at poetry that at my book launch, where he read some of his poems, multiple people came up to him afterwards to ask if they could buy a copy of his book.
This was remarkable for a couple of reasons:
1) James hadn’t even said he had copies of the book for sale
2) These were people I know for a fact have never read poetry in their lives
James is so good at poetry that I read his new book, Everything Is Scripted, twice in an evening. And I’m a busy guy! I’ve got a lot to do! I’ve still not even watched The Sopranos. That’s how good James Giddings is at poems. Better than The Sopranos (maybe – like I said, I’ve still not seen it).
James Giddings is so good at poetry he could probably write a poem about me writing a post about how good he is at poetry. He would probably call it ‘The Things My Handsome and Cool Friend Jared Said About Me.’
Do you remember the time I was in the toilet and the handle broke off so I was locked in, and rather than getting help, you just stood outside laughing? Do you feel the public will still buy your book if they find out what a monster you are?
I’m expecting that’s the only reason they’ll buy it.
There’s a run of what I suppose could be categorised as ‘dad’ poems in everything is scripted. Were those poems written close together or is that a theme you’ve found yourself going back to at different times?
A bit of both really. I think the theme was something that I noticed as I looked back on the work I’d written. Initially they weren’t something that I set out consciously to write, but once I noticed there were a couple of these ‘dad’ poems it became more of a conscious process. Mainly because it was a good way to generate poems from an authentic place of feeling. It’s certainly something I’m still looking at, but I think now the book is out it’s given me the chance to think about how I can add to those poems by approaching the subject in different ways.
Between the dad poems, the work poems, some of the more cynical relationship lines, you seem to often write about the way things can seem quite hollow if you look at them from different angles. Do you think you tend to write more when you’re feeling dis-satisfied with something?
I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. I think if I wrote all the time I was feeling dissatisfied I’d be a lot more prolific than I am, but there’s probably some truth in that. I think it’s easier to write about the things that make you unhappy. That’s not to say I’m an unhappy person, but moments of happiness have a bubble effect – they’re experienced very quickly and when you’re in that moment it’s the only thing you care about or want to be a part of. There’s rarely a part of me that thinks, that was nice, I should really immortalise that feeling right now by leaving that bubble and writing about it. Those feelings of dissatisfaction linger around a lot longer than happiness, and writing is a way to use some of that negative energy that weighs upon you in a positive way.
On the release of your first pamphlet, do you have any goals for yourself as a poet? Is there anything else specific you know you would like to achieve, or be involved with, or work on?
I think short term I’ll just be happy if I keep writing. I’ve thought about retiring a few times, but realised perhaps I’m too young for that. In the meantime any good poem produced will be a victory for me.
But on the flip-side, being a very shallow person who draws motivation from suckling at the teat of other people’s love and affirmation, I’d love to clean up any and all accolades out there until I have enough of them to melt down into a big fat chain that hangs a medallion reading Best Poet Alive, just in case anyone who saw me didn’t know. And I’d want that medallion to made out of one of the rims of the Range Rover I’m going to own because my poems have brought me as much money as they have love and understanding to the general public.
Or I don’t know, sell a few copies of the book or something.
Finally, what was the last thing (poem, book, song, place etc) that you totally fell in love with?
Do your eyes count? I think the last thing I truly fell in love with was my girlfriend, but Waves by Jared A Carnie is a close second (reader, don’t trust him one bit, he has me hostage! send help!) I’ve never read such a likeable protagonist in my life as Alex. I’m also listening to a lot of Anderson .Paak at the minute. The guy is groovy.
Sonya at A Lover of Books recently interviewed me for her site.
You can read the full interview at this link.