April Artist of the Month: Thom the Poet

April Artist of the Month: Thom the Poet

By MsBoye 

Thom Woodruff aka Thom the Poet aka Spirit Thom is the “TEXAS BEAT POET LAUREATE 2020-2022.” When you’re with Thom he fills the room with winsome colors, spiritual wisdom, nimble expeditious language, and love.

A person smiles for the camera while giving a thumbs up. They are wearing a fedora and Hawaiian style button shirt.

I met Thom not long after I moved to Austin at an Austin Poetry Society Open Mic. Ever since then I’ve been in love with his poetry, the way his brain sees connections others miss, and his heart that bridges the gap between the mundane and the spiritual. Any conversation with Thom is a multileveled experience, and because anything I write about him would fail to do justice to the experience of talking with him, I’ll just share the transcript of our conversation in the hope perhaps his language can open your imagination to your own version of the journey Thom and I shared.

You can see Thom perform as the featured artist for Art Spark Texas’ Lion and Pirate Virtual Open Mic, Saturday, April 2nd at 7.00 PM CDT and visit with him on our Community Conversation Wednesday, April13th at 7:00 PM CDT. 


A Conversation with Thom 

When Thom joins the meeting, I have no sound. So, Thom starts without me…
Thom: It can be a long recording and started in the year 2220.
It’s a wonderful day for a daydream.

(I finally get my sound working)

Let’s string cliches together.
MsBoye: Hi Tom.
Thom: Very much so!
MsBoye: I figured as much.
Thom: (laughs) I wanted to ask you what this is for? 
MsBoye: This is for a little blog piece to introduce you to the Art Spark Community.
Thom: Okay.
MsBoye: We don’t have to talk about a lot except you.
Thom: Yeah, I’m ready.
MsBoye: Alrighty, let’s dive right in. Like me, you have an atypical accent for America.
Thom: This is true.
MsBoye: So, where were you born and where did you grow up?
Thom:               I AM A QUEENSLAND BOY
                                 Full of Queensland joy
                              Squeeze me! I am a man
               Watermelon man! I don’t need Daylight Savings!
                                   I go to Dole Queue
                         I do as Government tells me too
                         I free to be a GIANT strawberry
                                    Giant pineapple
                                    Giant skin cancer
                                I ‘m a Queenslander!
*Available for listening below

 MsBoye: And where’s that…for Americans who might be geographically impaired.
Thom: Well, the three main urban centers of population on the East Coast, we follow the patterns of indigenous development as well, and that’s Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. I’ve lived in all three, but I was born in Brisbane, which is the capital of Queensland. It was slow and sunny, it’s somnambulistic. So, I moved down to wonderful Melbourne, and people can read, rot and chew gum there.
Thom: It’s a cultural capital, which means they have McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried and the best of all possible worlds. Handed out poetry on the street, which is the way to do it. And people said, “Hey man, no one keeps your sheets of poetry. Put them into books.” So, I’ve done 200 books of poetry and they’re out there somewhere.
MsBoye: What were your parents like, the parents that produced such an awesome you? What was it like growing up in your house?
Thom: That’s a good question because my father was very intelligent, but he had to go to work very young to keep the family. I come from a railway family. So, my grandfather was a Station Master at Deegan. My father was a “Shunter”, but I never did the railways. I’m more an airplane-type generation. And, my mother had six kids and working all her life, very bright, very Catholic, very devoted to both family and her God, and she’s gone and he’s gone. So, it’s just me to live now.
MsBoye: If you, if your family are from Australia, I know that where you came from and how your family got there is a big thing in Australia. So, what do you know what your roots are?
Thom: The two main outlaws in Australia are Ned Kelly and Ben Hall, and I had a friend called Liz Hall and we got along really well. And we regarded we’d rather be in-laws than outlaws. But it’s not where you come from, like the Hulks on the Thames[i] it’s where you’re going to, and at the moment I’m here with you.
MsBoye: Blessed be!
Thom: Blessed be! 
MsBoye: So, was there poetry in your house growing up?
Thom: No! A working class, solid working-class family. Poetry, that doesn’t get you any income.
MsBoye: I grew up in the same kind of family and yeah, but poetry was always a me.
Thom: Yes. Same here.
MsBoye: When did you start writing? Do you remember?
Thom: You gotta’ understand, I started writing, quite young and that was very private. It only became public when I went to an Aquarian Festival, in 1975, they took over a little country town called Nimbin. Nimbin is near Mullumbimby and it’s a “Rainbow Region,” which is where a lot of visions happen and it’s in a rainforest area with a waterfall called Hunterville Falls and it’s an Aboriginal initiation site. So, I get up at the stage of the old Buttery [ii]and start chanting:
“This is your life. This is your life.
Don’t waste the time, don’t waste the time.
Get up and dance, get up and dance.”
Musicians come behind me, they start playing, people start dancing to the poetry. I realize this is the way I want to live my life.
MsBoye: Oh, I was going to ask you that, you have a very particular way of writing and a style of poetry that’s particular to you. I saw you listed as a Beat Poet, and I understand what they mean.
Thom: Yes, yes!
MsBoye: Your poetry is very in the moment. You do a lot of spontaneous poetry.
Thom: Yes. Yes.
MsBoye: So, it comes from that kind of spiritual place, it’s fed from there.
Thom: Absolutely. Yes, adduco is Latin for, to lead out from within and that’s, as your muse is guiding you and the dreams are giving you directions every night. And, if we listen deeply enough, we’ll be able to hear the silence.
MsBoye: Yeah. It’s very Rūmī-esque. Most people don’t realize that Rumi didn’t write down his poetry.
Thom: No, No!
MsBoye:  Everything was said in the moment.
Thom: Neither did Jesus, neither did Socrates, all the good ones that they killed off. And Shams, we don’t even know about Shams, but he taught Rumi, that’s all we know.
Thom: So, there are places that are of influence. I have a friend who goes to Rumi’s grave every year to pilgrimage because for 600 years, people memorized his poetry because it meant something to them. And only recently through Robert Bly were we able to get a translation of the original, powerful, passionate poetry. But that was Afghanistan and Afghanistan has been ruined by military cultures.
MsBoye: Yeah. And I, have you ever heard Rumi in the original Farsi[iii]?
Thom: Yeah. There’s a new book called Rumi Gold. And on the clip that the book is promoting, she starts out doing a Rumi poem and then she starts singing it in Farsi. And, my friend Fareed Muhammad, and he went with Robert Bly to listen to the rhythms and cadences of the actual language. So yes, it is. It is prayer in Farsi. There’s a singing quality to it, which is tonal, healing, harmonic.
MsBoye: Yeah. I actually went to a Rumi conference in California and, they did some performances in Farsi and it was amazing. You didn’t have to understand the words to get it.
Thom: Yeah. Yeah. True. Some Spanish poetry, maybe some French, Italian, you don’t need to know the language to, to get the emotional content of what’s happening.
MsBoye: Exactly. I’ve never asked you this, but you have a lot of references to Sufi stuff. You feel like a Sufi to me.
Thom: When I was at the university, I did Sufi dancing then and my friends are doing it now. I say, I did that and I danced and I understand the whirling of devotion and the meaning of motion. And, I hold it high in my heart, but we’re all, Sufis, we’re all dancing dervishes and all of us have different ways of expressing it.
So, I love the universality of Esperanto poetry and dance and magic and motion because I love working with musicians. Yeah, ‘cause you never know what they gotta’ do. And I like that.
MsBoye: And they seem okay that they don’t know what you’re going to do as well.
Thom: That’s very true. It’s by agreement. Cause tomorrow night I’ll be doing Word Jazz at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard. That’s been suspended for some time, but I used to love that very much because you have a whole jazz band and they’ve never met each other. And then you are improvising to whatever comes out.
MsBoye: Do you play any instruments apart from your voice?
Thom: No. No. I only have a voice and heart and I don’t play them very well; I talk too much all the time.
MsBoye: Don’t we all?
Thom: Yes!  
MsBoye: It comes down to attunement.
Thom: Yes!  
MsBoye: Being attuned is a skill in itself. Being able to read the room on multiple levels. Put your words in place that fit for who you’re talking to, for the audience you have in that moment.
Thom: Absolutely right. So, my favorite poet in England, you may know of him Adrian Mitchell. Did you know him? He said, “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.” [iv]And I think that’s a profound and deep truth. And Anella the Russian poet (Anna Akhmatova). You can, you can check her out she said, “My friends, we must restore words, their original meanings.”
MsBoye: Yes. And not have them be fixed in obscure usage.
Thom: Not fixed and not a cliche. Don’t say it was “very interesting.” What’s that mean?
MsBoye: Yeah. So, what popular phrases drive you crazy now that people use?
MsBoye: There’s too many, everyone’s talking in cliches and I’ve got old cliches, so I prefer “love and peace and joy” and “cooperation community” and “volunteerism,” “semi-autonomous activities instigated by spontaneous love.”
MsBoye: I have a friend who really has a thing about the misuse of the word, “Awesome.”
Thom: Oh, that’s a good word. Yes, because too it means to inspire.
MsBoye: Yeah. There’s that poem, “Mattina” by Giuseppe Ungaretti, which is said to be the shortest poem ever.
                    M’illumino                   d’immenso 
Thom: Right.
MsBoye: And that, that is the true meaning of awesome.
                  I’m illuminated 
                 by the immensity   
Thom: Yes. Yes.
MsBoye: Yeah. And what’s interesting about that is that was written in the trenches in World War 1, and he looked out over no-mans-land at the moment of the sunrise. But is he saying, “I’m in awe of the sunrise or is he saying I’m awed of the immensity of this destruction or I am awed by the immensity of something that could create such beauty and such ugliness? Which, you know is are completely different poems.
Thom: Yeah. You can take beautiful phrases that come down to us and then change them just a little bit, so they click into this moment now.
                 “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing                  and right doing there is a field.                  I’ll meet you there.” Rumi
Yeah. That still works. 600 years later.
MsBoye: I know. It’s fascinating.  A lot of people who see Rumi quotes on cards and get touched by Rumi’s poetry, have no idea that it was written 600 years ago or that it was from a totally different culture.
Thom: Yeah. He’s Rumi for the Western world, but Jalal al-Din Rumi for many other places.
MsBoye: That’s right.
When you’re teaching people to write poetry, to let that poet out, is that a shift that you have to get people to adjust to, “adduco”?
Thom: I do prompt writing workshops, every third Saturday at Lazy Days, Head Shop. We all put in prompts and that way we are democratically responding to the feelings in the moment. And, the essence of it all of course, is to empty oneself so that you’re not a barrier to what can come through you.
You’re adding the fish to the river rather than stealing from the stream. There’s a different mode of connection with people when you’re not playing “la-dee-da look at me, I’m Hollywood.” And you’re actually saying,
“Where can we find a new path to the waterfall? How’s the geography in Ukraine.”
“Why are the Russian poets being put in prison?”
Little questions that aren’t normally part of the conversation. So yes, it requires a totally different mode of adaptation. So, the difference between spontaneous and memorize poetry. You’ve got memorized.
MsBoye: Yeah. And also, when I first started writing, it was all very much just spontaneous. I didn’t do anything else to it. As I grew, I began to hone it, which I didn’t do in the beginning. And I have other friends that believe in when it’s out, it’s done.
Thom: Yeah.
MsBoye: I think you do both.
Thom: You’re absolutely right. I do another workshop with the people from the Austin Poetry Society and they are highly, (How shall I put it?) highly erudite in terms of felicity of language, syntax and line length, and structure and serving the purpose of the poem. Now it’s an education because I started out with spontaneity and the Beat Generation people. I’m the Texas Beat Poet Laureate right now, whatever that means. First thought, best thought was the mantra of the Beat people, but they edited their greatest hits. They went back and edited them. So, there’s different versions.
It’s Rodin making different versions of “The Burghers of Calais.” And that Oslo painter who did “Girl on a Bridge” and “The Scream”, and they’ve got nine versions of them. Didn’t have photocopy machines in those days.
Yeah, but for me every moment is a different poem. So, when people say we’re going back and we go do it again, it won’t be the same, it will be different. Because then they’ll be born in a different world.
MsBoye: I just read this great book “The Midnight Library,” and, basically a woman tries to commit suicide and she ends up in a library where each book in the library is a different version of a different life that was created by a different choice that she made. And she can go back and visit all those lives to choose which one she wishes to live in, which she thinks is the best one for her.
That’s a wonderful freeing concept.
MsBoye: That at any moment any choice can create a new life.
Thom: It’s actually true, but we refuse to acknowledge that we have freedom as we are, it’s not a popular thing to expose people to. And it’s dangerous. Poetry is dangerous, if ever people actually listen to what you’re saying. You will be in deep trouble because you’re not saying obey and die. You’re not saying work and suffer. You’re not saying sacrifice and be wounded. You’re saying be healed, be happy, be here and now, and that’s not popular. I get people who are very challenged by that idea. Yeah.
MsBoye: And it’s also one of those ideas that is simple, but not easy to do that.
Thom: Yeah.
MsBoye: We’ve been here about 20 minutes now, and I don’t want to use too much of your time. And we’ve got a lot for me to transcribe. You don’t know what I’ll make you say.
Thom: That’s right. Exactly.
(singing) I’m a deep fake. I’m a deep, fake too. I’m a deep fake, I’m a Dolly clone!”
MsBoye: Don’t mind me. I’m just a hologram.
The Sufi, Hazrat Inayat Khan was asked the question. “If you could teach the children of America, one thing, what would you want to teach them?” And he’s his answer was “To breathe, I would teach them how to breathe.”
Thom: That’s good.
MsBoye: One final question, if you could teach children or adults who think they’re not a poet about the poet inside anything, what would you like to say to them?
Thom: I actually wrote about this. I said, “I am starting a university and the university is a university of Oracles not articles, but Oracles. For the first year, you’ll just be still and listen, and wait, sound will come to you. In the second year, you are selective. You have to hear the ocean here, the trees here, the earth beneath them. For the third year, you’re going to put them together into a palette of alchemical composition that you have not experienced before. And for Post-graduate you have to explain to someone else why you’ve wasted three years.
MsBoye: Yes. Perfect.
MsBoye: Thank you, my dear.
Thom: You’re welcome.
MsBoye: I look forward to seeing you at Open Mic. Thank you for your time and who knows what we’ll find at the end of this when I read the transcript?
Thom: Right. From this Gemini to you, I wish you the very best Boye. And thank you, Boye.
MsBoye: Thank you.
Thom: Bye-bye.
MsBoye: Bye.

Thom joined us on our Community Conversation series to talk about his writing. View Thoms’ Community Conversation here: https://youtu.be/Md570MYWi_0 

[i] Hulks on the Thames – When Britain couldn’t deport criminals to America after the Revolutionary War, their jails began to get overcrowded. The government decided to convert decommissioned warships into floating prisons called “Prison Hulks”. Prisoners waiting for deportation to Australia were sent their first. If you like to know more, check out these links.
Skullduggery In the Smoke: London’s Dungeons- Prison Hulks
A voyage to nowhere: Onboard prison hulks at Woolwich – Naomi Clifford
List of British prison hulks – Wikipedia

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