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

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