Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: Tomasz W. Wiszniewski

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two
some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Tomasz W. Wiszniewski

is a Canadian poet and writer whose parents emigrated from Poland to Greece, eventually settling in Ontario. His debut chapbook “Death Is A White Balloon” was released in October. He is currently drafting his second collection of poems, which will be titled “Thirteen Silences.”

“Death Is A White Balloon” can be purchased at the following url: https://t.co/LDWyvXXbdC

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write “Death Is A White Balloon”?

I appreciate the directness of this question. Bywords, a local small press, they gave me the opportunity to write a chapbook over the course of a year and have it published—a generous component of the John Newlove Poetry Award, which is an annual prize commemorating the late John Newlove’s keen and stirring body of work. My receiving of this award set the parameters in which I could focus my time and energy on finishing a pamphlet-length collection. I’ve always been notoriously tardy. I’m good at starting then abandoning a piece of wordery—there’re about 100 or more disjointed poems on my hard drive collecting digital dust (I’ll call these e-mops, not even close to crystallized)—but this time I was blessed with creative freedom (and deadlines, which disciplined me), while simultaneously benefiting from the aid of a supportive, artist-first editorial team at every turn. It was like a peaceful disquiet, my journey with this book; I gathered my trauma, sat with it, allowed my breathing and intuition to chiefly influence diction. I realize that I was compelled to write this verse. I couldn’t not write it. Poetry and art, for me, are not guided by logic; the poem flourishes in the poet’s hand in sporadic bursts as it likes, and the poet must cultivate proactively as new strata make themselves known. Ever since discovering this poetic alchemy, this art form, it has been like an intangible lasso around my heart, nebulous and vital ally to my dreams. “Death Is A White Balloon” will always be special to me, because it’s sort of my first literary time capsule. I like to think of it as an amoeba, a unicellular organism incapable of natural death and yet capable, asexually, of reproduction; the poem reproduces in the sense that, whenever someone reads it, this person’s reading, this impression, is unique. There are numerous inspirations for this particular collection (the liminal space between life and death, the divine feminine, alienation, depression, the winter season, to name just a few), but, in a lot of ways, I’m not at all certain what moved me to write exactly what I ended up writing; I’ve found that I prefer to gain that insight from the reader, who is most invaluable. There’s an unspoken, intimate pact between reader and word. The reader, in the purest sense, possesses one’s words, and the meaning, if any, contained within, which is never stable.

2. Your freewheeling style reminds me of the Beat poets.

Thank you, that’s flattering! There’s so much inspiration to draw from Beat and Beat-associated writers. Aside from the obvious trio, we have the revolutionary work of Amiri Baraka, the zen Gary Snyder. Diane di Prima and Gregory Corso are two underappreciated voices. A small stanza from di Prima: “you are my bread / and the hairline / noise / of my bones / you are almost / the sea.” I admire the anti-intelligentsia, anti-establishment attitudes and street wisdom of these people; their championing of marginalized groups, of the nomads and the beachcombers and the junkies. I admire how the Beats were able to subvert literary conventions and drive into collective consciousness this new (and to the mainstream, totally abrasive) school of poetic examination and practice, a school which, really, is primal not new: a kind of meditative dissolution of baked-in thought patterns; ego death and absorption of spirit—spirit which underlies and connects all. Spiritual intuition is important for me to maintain. Lexical disfigurement. The awareness that superiority is an illusion, that I am superficially isolate but fundamentally sourced the same as a family of sycamores in a flash flood. I’ve learned lots from Ginsberg’s mysticism, his extemporaneous technique. In an essay on “Kaddish,” he wrote that it took him a year to find the patience to type up the poem so he could read it. He felt uncertain whether it was even a poem at that point. Training the mind, to Ginsberg, meant freeing the mind, eliminating all the superfluity and daily desensitization. He viewed compositional defeat as a victory for the poet, something from which new creative pockets might be discovered. “If we write with an eye to what the poem should be (has been), and do not get lost in it, we will never discover anything new about ourselves in the process of actually writing on the table, and we lose the chance to live in our works.” That always resonates with me.

3. What do you mean by “daily desensitivisation”?

We’re barraged relentlessly with propaganda: buy this, be like that, hurry, get up on the latest trend—it’s implicitly there; we grow desensitized to binary, capitalist paradigm. In the context of my poetry, it’s all about retaining sensitivity, receptiveness. It’s hard to do that when you’re so accustomed to something that you’ve gone numb to it, when you can’t distinguish the sham voice from the authentic. The final poem in my book contains a line that was very liberating for me to write, and so is to read back: “what of soul? If I have it I have it, if I don’t I don’t.” I’m accepting that I don’t hold the answers to everything, that there may not always be an answer to glean, maybe the question’s wrong. Say, hypothetically, someone accuses you of having no soul. Arrogance aside, this person assumes that soul is quantifiable, and that both of you share the same definition. That kind of discourse is inhibiting, but I think it can be better understood if we look at how certain beliefs are shaped by external forces. I prefer to live in an amorphous space, where there’s always room for possibility. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that anything is ever fully known

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Honestly, I can’t say I have one. I did try imposing a routine on myself once, to no avail. A peripatetic life really appeals to me, and I prefer to have limited control over my writing. Every day is different. Sometimes I’ll get to the feathery essence of a tangle of ideas within minutes, other times I’ll take little scraps and notes which I’ve written over an extended period of time and fashion a poem out of them. I need to challenge myself, because I’m my own worst enemy. “the silence of dreams ii” was inspired by a week-long stay at Prince Edward Island, by ocean coves and lighthouses, and was mostly written on the road.

5. Besides the Beats who would you say are your other influences?

As far as poetry, off top: John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, a lot of the New York School. Wanda Coleman, Alejandra Pizarnik, Pessoa, Tsvetaeva. Ernst Herbeck’s childlike peculiarity. Lots of Canadian poets—Leonard Cohen, Anne Carson and Margaret Atwood, obviously; Daryl Hine, who disarms the more you read him. Occasionally I’ll get into the more politically-charged; I was just reading Sean Bonney, so fearless, who sadly passed away recently. Patti Smith, Baudelaire. The Romantics—mainly Keats, Shelley, Blake, but I’ll put the anthologized aside if ever it starts to get cloying; I’m a romantic at heart, he’s just been shrivelled up and disillusioned a bit. “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar; I need to read more. Ocean Vuong’s beautifully vulnerable work. There’s nothing scarier than vulnerability. Rilke, Adrienne Rich, Ted Berrigan. I love the rhythms of Gwendolyn Brooks and Tomas Tranströmer. An obvious one, but T. S. Eliot. I’ve discovered some amazing new poetry via social media—Amanda Earl,rob mclennan, Arielle Tipa, Mela Blust, Andres Rojas; Ethan Parke Smith, whose manuscript I’ve been proofreading. Your own work—I love the recent poem “A Silhouette”; the second stanza contains some beautifully measured repetition. Oh god, I hope I’m not being garrulous. I love diversifying my reading

6. How important is telling a story to your poetry, rather than listing impressions?

Even if I’m feeling lost, I trust that there’s a story embedded deep in that lostness. I may never understand the story. It’s playing out before my eyes. It’s played out before. Barbara Guest wrote, “Losing the arrogance of dominion over the poem to an invisible hand, the poet campaigns for a passage over which the poet has control. Yet the unstableness of the poem is important.” Most of my poetry is composed along an irresolute passage; “Misnebalam” is a good example. I’ll sometimes consciously weave narrative, in which case I have more control over the poem’s direction, such as in “The Yellow River.” “Or “the silence of dreams i,” which documents my experiences years ago of coping with drug overdose and subsequent hospitalization. I believe Guest’s “invisible hand” is this sort of ineffable author of chance who bears the full story of our lives. We, conversely, have our memories; we have the tenuous parts. I feel that it’s important for me to tell my personal story, but only when it’s clawing to get out; when there’s potential for it to affect others in a meaningful way.

7. What is the appeal of alliteration?

You know, I was thinking about this the other day. I’ve always been a sucker for alliteration and other forms of wordplay. It’s totally sensuous. There’s a shape and timbre to every vowel and consonant. We’re narrowing the gap between these sounds when we alliterate; it’s like sponging up a spill in your brain that is full of verbal detritus. It’s pleasing to produce and feel such tangible harmony.

8. Your adventurous word play and use of form when molding your thoughts reminds me of Gerald Manley Hopkins

That’s one of the best compliments I’ve received. My sister introduced me to his writing, I think she’s got the collected works somewhere. While I’ve still only scratched the surface, reading him feels like stoking fire. It’s a bit of an ethereal experience. He wrote things like “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.” I’m tempered by his poetry in a way I can only hope to be tempered; renewed fluidity

9. Thinking of your word “Farawayed” what do you think the invention, or reinvention of words gives your poetry?

I’m always searching for ways to shatter the limitations inherent in language… it may be an impossible task, but I can’t help it. I have a tendency to become easily dissatisfied. Homogeneity bores me. Dull architecture leaves one moribund if one is surrounded by it long enough. When I write words like “farawayed” or “sludgeon,” I do so sparingly, but I always welcome the squiggly red line in my word processor. The risk of being incorrect has no power over me. I’d like to say all of this gives my work distinction, but I’d be lying; each one of us is distinct. Our writing is just a reflection of who we are, no matter how much we prune it or fluff it up.

10.Who of today’s poets do you most admire, and why?

A lot of what is termed “queer poetry” (I use quotations only because I consider these poets equal to those poets who get referred to simply as poets)—I very much admire these voices; the strings of words they throw; how they’re able to leave conservatism spinning on its head. Chen Chen wrote “i pledge / betrayal to the fantasy of ever reading anything / completely.” There are so many magical voices getting their word out right now. It’s like being presented with a table of one thousand different types of danishes. I was reading Margaret King today; one of her closing lines knocked me out. It’s honestly hard for me to choose who most moves me in 2019. It’s an awesome time for poetry.

11. Tell me about writing projects such as “Thirteen Silences” that you’re involved in at the moment.

Before I started typing this, I teared up a bit. I find it hard to express in words how much the lyric means to me, which is ironic. For what feels like the majority of my life I’ve been struggling with mental health issues and alienation. I just lost one of my best friends a little over a month ago. I’m listening to an Austrian composer right now named Fennesz, and there’s this wave-like electronic pulse sound warming my ears. My friend would have enjoyed this. This sound makes perfect sense, somehow. And yet, not much else makes sense. I wrote all the poems in “White Balloon” over the course of the past year or so. I didn’t submit any single draft to journals, not sure why. I just kept everything real close to myself and my editorial team and chipped chipped chipped until I felt satisfied (although, I’m never truly satisfied with my work, and already I’m nitpicking and wondering what I could have done differently). I feel a strong connection to nature; nature is the one luminary I look to for guidance. Coyotes are congregating around a campfire, somewhere; an exposed apple seed; parched leaves trapped in a frozen puddle; heavy rain peppering a tarp, so heavy you can feel the drops hitting your ears. I found a ladybug in my room about a month ago and had it scurry onto a piece of paper so that I could let it outdoors. I’ve been fascinated by death for a while now, and I want to be fascinated by something else, but for now death is my only mirror to life. And it’s fantastically elusive—foggy and perhaps misleading, kind of like the “god” in “dreams ii” who/which “is unclear,[…] is impassive, misidentified.” (What I consider to be salvific has nothing to do with deities or theological canon, rather with our own flawed humanity, with personal onuses, with surrendering to nature.) There’s someone irrigating crops right now; people are planning space missions; I’m simply amazed. I feel as though there’s an unexplained ergonomics to death—all organisms seem to collide and slide off in succinct, whittled-down consonance. It’s like, the movie only makes sense after it’s been watched in full. You have to buy into it. I fail to comprehend SO much more than I comprehend, and I’m OK with that. I don’t know if life is even meant for comprehension, maybe it is, maybe not—but it’s a hell of a story. A lot of poets over the centuries have written about the divine. I think the wording is wrong, and wording is important; the divine is writing them. Poetry possesses the poet, not the other way around.

“Thirteen Silences.” It’s currently at such a nascent stage that it’s hard for me to discuss it extensively. But I will say this: it’ll be a short collection dealing with grief; thirteen relatively short poems, none of them titled. Symbolically, it’s sort of like a funeral procession in verse. The primary challenge for me, I think, will be to avoid making these poems inordinately funereal or elegiac in tone. There is a lot of sorrow to work through here, but hopelessness is only by default; finding light and levity is imperative.

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