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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In the Moment: Poetry with Thom

‘Zen means now,’ said my Tai Chi teacher this morning. ‘All you have is this moment, now.’

I don’t know if my old friend and colleague Thom would claim to be practising Zen, but he too says exactly that: ‘All you have is this moment, now.’  On Friday I heard him reiterate it in the workshop he gave to WordsFlow writers’ group, and again during his performance that evening at The Castle on the Hill (Uki, Australia).  On both occasions he was ably abetted by his pal Bob Mud, poet/musician/mud artist, whom he’s known even longer than he’s known me.

                             Thom in perfomance; some of Bod Mud's mud art displayed on floor.

I’ve known Thom since he was Tom the Street Poet in Melbourne, handing out flyers of poetry — his own and other people’s — on street corners. He was also Dial-a-Poet; people could phone his number and he’d create lines of poetry for them on the spot.  I always thought he had recorded several poetic messages — but no, I found out on Friday that he actually answered the phone personally, in poetry.

Years after we both left Melbourne, I came across him again as Thom the World Poet, living now in Austin, Texas and travelling the world to present and encourage poetry. (And yes, he's changed his name again — so as to remain unattached to identity, I gather.) After marrying an American woman and going to live in Texas, he started poetry evenings in a number of Austin coffee lounges, and was one of four poets who began the Austin International Poetry Festival. These initiatives have grown and grown.

During his performance last Friday evening, he wove in chunks of his life story — but actually it was full of other people’s stories, because that’s what Thom loves to find and share. It’s his way of encouraging us to find and share our own.

He grew up in Brisbane. As a young man in Nimbin at the first Aquarius Festival, he saw all these people sitting listening to the musicians and was suddenly moved to stand up and chant, over and over: ‘This is your life. Don’t waste your time. Get up and dance.’ To his astonishment, everyone did. He thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life’ — and that’s how he became an improv. poet, often working with bands.  On Friday it was Bob who backed him, with various instruments and his ‘soundscape’ recordings of wild birds in the bush.

One band that Thom worked with over the years was Gong. Daevid Allen of Gong came up to see him for a few minutes after the workshop on Friday afternoon, the only time they could manage to connect this trip. Andrea, also of Gong, came to the workshop and then to the performance that night.  (I got to know both of them through Thom on his earlier visits to this part of the world.)

Independently of Thom, I’ve become pally with a local muso who moved from England a few years ago to marry a friend of mine. Mic, known as Cosmic, turned out to be a Gong member too, who knows both Thom and Daevid well. He came to the gig at The Castle to reconnect, and to help with the sound system. Thom was visibly touched to have so many Gong reunions in one day.

                               Mic, Thom and me after the performance at The Castle

Poetry, he once said to me, is the last bastion of free speech, because in our society no-one fears it; the authorities pay no attention to it. It’s where the young in particular can communicate and express themselves freely. The Austin coffee lounges are full of young poets … and older ones. But it’s not violent expression that Thom encourages. On Friday he mentioned that he is not a revolutionary; he tries for evolution. He added that he ‘failed hippy’ — he’s allergic to lentils and he doesn’t smoke dope.

He told us stories of his friend Bob Mud (Bob’s professional name) running a commune in Melbourne for homeless people decades ago, and nowadays showing children how to make art with mud and become close to the earth. Then Bob spoke to us himself about the virtues of mud (you can wash with it, it keeps insects away, it’s free, it has no chemicals) and read us some of his own poems.

Irene, of The Castle, hosted the evening at short notice as a favour to me, after another venue that I was negotiating didn’t work out. I should have asked her first; it was a wonderful setting. And the evening was a revelation to her about what poetry could be. ‘He’s such a showman!’ she whispered to me in admiration, as Thom held the audience enthralled, and, ‘He’s teaching all the time.’

So he was — e.g. in the reminder to live now, to honour this moment, to pay attention and respond to everything in our lives. He doesn’t just promote his own poetry, he hopes to inspire poetry in everyone else too. 

He is very inspiring!

When Thom gives a performance, people in the audience get an urge to share their own poetry and music. As always, it happened at The Castle too, in an atmosphere of ease and welcome.

Poetry’s not going to save the world, is it? After that mellow evening, I could almost believe it might. I certainly experienced again its power to nourish individuals.

Thom, who is always making poems, wrote many new ones during this quick visit to Australia. (He was here for family reasons and took the opportunity for some poetry events as well.)  Here is one I particularly like, which he wrote as he was leaving the country a few days ago. You have to imagine it half-chanted, which is how he speaks his poems.

Taking Australia Home

packed a rainforest in my carryon
(no liquids allowed!-had to leave @home
boxes of meat pies containing australian fauna
(no worries mate!     organic materials A O K!
next-a wild river to swim in(disallowed @Customs
rock(ok),rainbow(yes)serpent(not allowed for export)
began to realise my country failed translation
at least in a moving plane medium
so i carry this dream of my country-
hidden in the crevices of my pocketed mind
and i sit with you around bush campfires exchanging yarns
we both laugh like larrikins
at the disappearance of traditions
first the original people,next the imports
soon even the refugees will be asking to takeaway art
to explain to families why they live on the dry lip of deserts
Shales of initiations remind us of dreaming trails
and if the real will not do-representation will have to
not Parliament as such(nor even Independence)-
just these memories of uniqueness
like screaming cockatoos or seed seeking galahs
like cyclones and willy-willies and old fella yarns
like a land that was here long before and after us
this Dream is yours now-how will you explain this to others?

Thom Moon Bird

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could've been there. How inspiring!

    ReplyDelete