tom blake

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Tom Blake's poetry is an experience. Witty, nostalgic, acerbic and grabbing hold of society by its ears, his words will make you laugh until you feel you might pass out but also feel a little fuzzy and warm inside. Tom himself isn't much different; embracing the weirdness that society has to offer, he is genuinely hilarious, considerate and compassionate. His upcoming chapbook Bloop demonstrates this and much more.

Read on to learn a little more about this human enigma...

Can you describe your work in five words?
 

  • Hairy

  • Obscure

  • Modern

  • Cryptic

  • Yellow

Bloop is an excellent title. What’s the story?

 

Well, a few years ago an American organisation called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected a low-frequency underwater sound that originated somewhere in the South Pacific. Despite the best efforts of scientists, the sound’s provenance remained obscure, and like anything that remains obscure for long enough, it passed into the realm of myth and speculation. The sound was nicknamed ‘the bloop’. A theory emerged attributing the bloop to a massive, undiscovered sea creature. Other theories suggested it was caused by ice quakes or submarine volcanic eruptions.

Obscurity, mystery, cryptozoology, sound. These have all at some point been preoccupations of my writing. The hidden world that exists like a gently volatile albumen beneath the shell of the visible: that’s what my poetry wants to be about. Whether that world actually exists is another matter…

Also, I’m a baseball fan, and in baseball a bloop is a weakly-hit ball that gets lucky and beats the infield, allowing a batter to reach base or a baserunner to score. A thing that happens more by luck than judgement. Poems occur like this, sometimes.
 

Why poetry?

Because I can write a poem before breakfast. Because a poem can be breakfast. Because it satisfies my need for instant gratification. Because my brain tries to do a dozen things at once and poetry is the form best equipped to deal with that kind of scattiness. Because, like Eliot said, poetry can communicate before it is understood. Because, like Audre Lorde said, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. 

 
 

Your Instagram page is a delight. What attracts you to the kitsch and unusual parts of the world and our language?

Thank you! That obscure world that I was talking about? Kitsch is what happens when that world breaks through the shell, or rather when we try through artistic or other endeavours to crack the shell artificially, with varying degrees of success. My writing often deals with kitsch themes, but I don’t think my poems are necessarily kitsch objects in themselves. Are they? You’ve got me worried now! I think kitsch objects thrive on their own obviousness, and my poems thrive on something else, something opposite obviousness. Obscurity? I keep coming back to obscurity, but perhaps elusiveness would be a better word.

You also write short stories alongside poems. Tell us more about that!

I’ve had a couple of stories published. I hope to have enough for a collection soon. I have a background in prose: my MA was in Novel Writing, and I’ve got a couple of short and probably unpublishable novels sitting around. It’s something I’m sure I’ll go back to. I can never stick at one thing for very long. It’s a blessing and a curse. Mostly a curse.

Which artists influence your work, and why?

I get a lot from the New York school, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara in particular. Hope Mirrlees is a massive influence: her poem Paris was a true wellspring of modernism. I read David Berman more than any other poet, and he makes me weep with joy and envy. If we’re talking living poets, Sam Riviere is excellent, and Cai Draper’s new collection (published by the brilliant Broken Sleep) is a thing of wonder.

I also take a lot of inspiration from the visual arts: Hilma af Klint’s unique sense of colour and harmony, Gwen John’s exquisite lines, Cy Twombly’s passionately simple abstraction, Leonora Carrington’s bizarre logic. The haunted nostalgia in the architecture of Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings. The built environment in general makes its way into lots of my poems. I’ve probably spent too much time reading Gaston Bachelard. 

And music, tons and tons of music. I’ve written a full-length collection of poetry which is pretty much finished, and on the acknowledgments page is a list of all the musicians and bands that make an appearance in the poems. It’s a long list.  
 

Is there a particular piece you’re especially proud to have written?

There’s a poem in Bloop called Machine Mart which is about a weird shop in my hometown. It’s an old poem - I wrote it maybe twelve years ago - but I think it best encapsulates the strangeness of where I live, and the ambiguous relationship I have with my surroundings.

Also, I wrote a long poem (not in this collection) in memory of David Berman. He died by suicide in 2019 after a long battle with treatment-resistant depression. He was my favourite poet and my favourite songwriter. A few weeks before he died I wrote a review of his album and he sent me the sweetest message of thanks. His death was a horrible shock; it was like I had lost someone close to me. I was in a strange place at the time: the elation and tiredness that comes with having a three week old daughter, the possibility that my own depression would flare up again. Writing that poem was the first time in my adult life that I had used poetry as a means of catharsis, or as a coping mechanism. The first poem where I didn’t make anything up. 
 

 

Do you dabble in any other artistry or is creative writing your main love?

Writing is The One. Sometimes I make little collages out of the bits of discarded crap I find when I’m walking around Swindon. I don’t have many friends!

 

I love painting but I’m shit at it, and I can’t play a musical instrument. My son can play Happy Birthday on the guitar, and I’m convinced he’s an actual wizard. 

What can we expect from Bloop?

 

If it brings down the government I’ll be content.

What feelings do you hope to evoke with your words? Who are you writing for?

 

I’m writing for anyone who’s willing to take a chance on reading my work, to be honest. Poetry is not a mainstream artform, even the most accessible poetry, and anyone who goes deep enough into the niche to discover my poems deserves my eternal gratitude. 

As far as feelings go, puzzlement would be a valid response. Is surprise or delight too much to ask? Realistically, if someone reads one of my poems and says fuckin’ hell, then I’m happy. It doesn’t matter why they’ve said it. Any kind of reaction is better than none.
 

Bloop arrives later this year