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.