Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Poetry Activism in the Wavy Gravy Lineage: An Interview with Thom the World Poet

KIRPAL GORDON: In the last Taking Giant Steps interview Terri Carrion and 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 and 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.

KIRPAL GORDON: You’re powerfully representing the Wavy Gravy lineage of poesy!

THOM THE WORLD POET: 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
(what do you expect next from a smiling dervish?-

KIRPAL GORDON: How did your art get started?

 photo by Paul Hoelen

THOM THE WORLD POET: 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 improvisation
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 ( no one bought any
So i return to improvising with musicians every moment of my life


KIRPAL GORDON: What were the circumstances of your arrival in Texas? How do you explain the explosion of poetry there and the Austin International Poetry Festival---how long has this been going on?  


THOM THE WORLD POET: I was touring America with an eco-feminist band MOTHER GONG in 1991
I met my beloved and moved to Babylon (Austin, Texas)
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


KIRPAL GORDON: You’ve managed to marry a spoken word line of depth and insight and knowledge of world lit with a progressive agenda at the local and world level. Are these two things one to you, lit and politics? I also like how willing you are to be improvisational when working with jazz musicians in Austin.

THOM THE WORLD POET: 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.


KIRPAL GORDON: 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 and CDs.


THOM THE WORLD POET: 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.


KIRPAL GORDON: What counsel would you give a young poet?

THOM THE WORLD POET: 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!


KIRPAL GORDON: How can readers of Giant Steps stay in closer contact with all of what you are doing?

THOM THE WORLD POET: I am contactable on FACEBOOK, email (, and (for paid shows)-by phone 512 4167435

The rest is your stories… do what your dreams allow-then more!

KIRPAL GORDON: Click these for scenes of Thom & his krewes reciting in Austin settings---

Ruta Maya - video @ thom woodruff / dana mcbride / william sickwitt

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Poets for Change: An Interview with Terri Carrion & Michael Rothenberg

KIRPAL GORDON: First off, let me say congratulations to the two of you. You are celebrating your second year of doing 100Thousand Poets for Change. You’ve organized, sponsored, promoted and created events all over the globe traveling widely and meeting all kinds of activists, writers and musicians. What kind of impact has this project had on your own creativity? I know you both work multi-genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, songs, collaborations with other writers, editing, translating and photography. What did I leave out? I’ve also seen you both on tour and know that you do many readings and collaborations with musicians. Did you both start out this way, open to all forms of writing, or did this evolve over time or in response to the nutty way the lit game is set up in the USA?


TERRI CARRION: My main interest was always telling stories and it didn’t really matter what form that took.  I had trouble trying to put my writing into categories from the start. I found it all too constraining and boring really. I guess I always felt that making art or expressing your reality creatively, whether through writing poetry or taking photographs or singing a song or doing a dance, was pretty much the same to me. I find it hard when artists separate themselves into these “disciplines” for the sake of specialization and career. I think it creates a stagnant and predictable arts culture if people aren’t mixing it up and learning from each other more often.  I remember a fellow MFA student who was working on a novel saying to me that he didn’t like poetry at all. I couldn’t believe that as a writer, he felt this way. It was really disappointing to me. And I thought, Wow, he shouldn’t even be a writer if this is how he feels!  As far as 100TPC, there is a lot more collaboration and interaction going on between the artists involved. Overall, I think they get it a lot more in other countries that musicians and poets and painters, etc. are supposed to work together. They understand that it’s natural to do this. It definitely makes me feel better to see it happen.  And hopefully, being able to interact with artists like this through 100TPC will help artists in this country want to expand their creative horizons. That is part of the idea, anyway, to create a more interconnected and diverse global arts community.


MIKE ROTHENBERG: From the beginning I understood multi-genre creativity was always in the program. My early inspirations, the Beat poets and the Romantic poets, were diverse, wrote poetry, plays, fiction, political tracts, essays, memoir, worked with musicians, they showed me that the field was entirely open and flexible. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t mix it up. And that also meant mixing styles within the same work. There was a day when you could go into the doctor’s office and tell him you had a sore throat and he would take care of you and not send you to a specialist. Maybe that’s a clumsy analogy.  And since 100TPC, my idea of “world poetry” is much more viable. It seems contemporary “world poetry” has been the venue of university professors who can meet with other university professors from other countries while the rest of us are completely in the dark about international and global tendencies. Not everyone can afford to go to an international poetry festival on their own dime. Finally, because of 100TPC, we have the opportunity as “unaffiliated” poets to meet with great poets from all around the world. I feel my perspective as a writer is more “global.”


KIRPAL GORDON: Hey, when I was in graduate school in the Seventies, forms of (post) modernism still ruled. I’m talking about the writer as the cloistered hero, working away in her private woodshed, producing work that had to pass muster with mentors-professors, agents, editors and publishers before it would see print on page or performance on stage. That’s a crazy way of doing things, and both of you seem to have produced an alternative model that accentuates the individual voice but without the scaffolding and hierarchy that has dominated and limited the American lit scene. Is this by design or by accident?


TERRI CARRION: I rejected pretty much all of it when I was in my MFA program. I rejected the notion of first book contests, and all that ponzi scheme nonsense. I refused to follow the rules of plot in fiction classes, so I ended up writing memoir, and then that got way too structured and predictable as well, so I ended up writing poetry, but in the end, I was writing prose poems, which were really stories, which were really memoirs, which were really well, whatever they were/are … so there you go. I was having a really hard time my last semester, and that is actually when I met Michael, who helped me a lot by exposing me to writers they would never teach in a typical MFA program. It helped me realize why I was uncomfortable with the way the MFA program was designed, that it wasn’t there to nurture creativity or give artists a place to come together, which is what I naively thought at first. It was there to produce aspiring best selling novelists and poet laureates and adjunct instructors. So, I just did what I had to do and moved on. That is really it.


MIKE ROTHENBERG: It is by design and accident. I have never been vigorously competitive though some might argue with that because I am “motivated” and goal oriented. I have never been comfortable battling for some kind of top of the heap position. I got into poetry because I didn’t want to be the richest lawyer or the star of the football team. I didn’t have the build or disposition for the latter. So when confronted with “agents, editors and publishers” I ran the other way. I took a few workshops and went to a few writer’s conferences and it made me want to quit writing rather than write more. But then I have this mode where I would rather do more work than be defeated by systems that frustrate me. So I work harder to make my work clear. If you can’t get permission to go through the door, you create your own door.


KIRPAL GORDON: You also both edit Big Bridge, a monster e-magazine that I have been following since 1997. At first it focused on the many “schools” or tribes that comprise the New American Poetics as put forth by Don Allen in his anthology of the same name in 1960 which was great because they have been so under-represented. More recent issues have focused on what I would call an international version of NAP and beyond. Is this the result of 100T Poets for Change, reading more in translation or just the globalization of the literary village?

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TERRI CARRION: Yes, of course, 100TPC really connected us with some wonderful writers and artists around the world that we never would have made contact with in any other way. It is important to offer all these “bridges” to help connect us and expand the scope of what a publication can do. Most publications are very inbred and redundant in my opinion.


MIKE ROTHENBERG: Globalization of the literary village. Big Bridge has always been a “big tent” and when it became clear that there were more people who wanted to play we just made a bigger tent. It is exciting and inspiring. I am learning a lot about poetry, literature, and art from Big Bridge. And more right now because of 100TPC. Without meaning to take a wild shot at the USA, I hope that 100TPC is helping move us all from a certain kind of provincialism and literary jingoism that seems to exist in these parts. And I want to say that the NAP moniker is a bit narrow too. The schools of poetry represented by that in no way represent the entire width and depth of global literary tendencies. NAP is a convenient framework but also a crutch. There were many great poets who were excluded from that landmark anthology. A great introduction that surpassed anything available through a Norton’s Anthology (to this day) but still not inclusive or representative enough to describe what we are hoping to achieve through Big Bridge.

KIRPAL GORDON: You both have a Miami connection. Is that how you met? You now live in northern California in the redwood forest? What’s that ride been like?

TERRI CARRION: Yes, we met in Miami.  I wanted to come back to the West coast, (I grew up in LA) so we made that plan. It is an amazing place to live, among the Redwoods, but it is a bit isolated and I do miss being able to walk down the street for a real Cuban sandwich or a late night slice of New York style pizza! I think that is what I miss the most about the “big” city, the cultural diversity on all levels, and how people do tend to mix it up more because they have no choice, they have to live together. I really took that for granted before I moved to Northern California.

MIKE ROTHENBERG: I was born in Miami Beach and came out to Pacifica, California, in 1975 where Nancy Davis (my ex) and brother together opened up Shelldance, a tropical orchid and bromeliad nursery.  Eventually, Nancy and Bruce and I went our separate ways, priorities change, though I am still marginally involved with Shelldance. In 2002 I left California to go back to Miami to take care of my mom when she was dying. I met Terri there. She was a transplant from Los Angeles living with her mom and working on her MFA at FIU when I met her.  So we hooked up there. After a couple of years living together in Miami we moved out to California and have been sequestered away in the redwoods since then. I like the forest. We both do. But after almost 7 years in the shadow of the immovable giants we are looking to make a run for it. I really need a shave. And a slice of pizza. So we are looking to move into a more urban setting. We need a little more city life to keep us from succumbing to cabin fever.

KIRPAL GORDON: Terri, you’re working with Occupied Press/Prensa Ocupada. What’s happening with that? You’re studying accordion? Mike, you’ve recently been editing poetry volumes for Penguin. Is that still happening? Are you working with Elya Finn and other singers?
To both of you: what’s your next literary project, when will it be out and how we find out more?

TERRI CARRION: I just recently joined the editorial collective of a new publication, OP/PO. The goal is to produce a completely bilingual, alternative to the mainstream, news source for the North Bay area. Sonoma County has become quite a desired retirement area for some of the powerful banksters (see banker-gangsters) and CEO’s that caused the 2008 financial crisis. We want to educate and inform both the Latino and white communities here which seem to live in different worlds completely about what is going on in their neighborhood. The idea is to bridge the cultural gap by presenting local stories from and for both communities, in both languages. I am mainly working as translator and I am also putting together the Culture section, which will include poetry, art, etc. The online edition should be out by the end of August. The print will have to wait until we get some funding, but we will definitely be doing a print edition that we can put in people’s hands. Not everyone is on the internet, believe it or not!

MIKE ROTHENBERG: I have been away from poetry book editing for a while. The last big project was the Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press) in 2007. I am hoping to work with Joanne Kyger on a new selected poems but we haven’t gotten final confirmation from the publisher yet. But I am always excited to work with Joanne. She is one of my most important mentors and a dear friend. She is always an inspiration. It’s been a long time since I have written a song but I do look forward to continue giving poetry readings with musicians. Reading with musicians is bliss.


KIRPAL GORDON: If a writer, musician or performer happened to be interested in 100T for Change, what should she do? If interested in Big Bridge, where would she go? If interested in both of your lists of titles and where to buy them, where would she shop?


TERRI CARRION & MIKE ROTHENBERG: If someone wants to organize an event for 100TPC all they have to do is write us at or go to the signup page at the 100tpc website Once we hear from participants we will create an event page for them at the site. Each event page is archived by Stanford University, so we encourage and assist organizers to post poems, event details, times, locations, event photos, videos, etc. to their event page so that together we can tell our collective story for Stanford archives. That’s it!

For Big Bridge, go to and help yourself to all that is there to read. It’s free. If you want to submit work please check the guidelines in the SUBMIT menu.

If you want to buy a book, just write to me. Some items are on Amazon. But you can write to me too at Michael Rothenberg, Box 870, Guerneville, CA 95446.