Ten Thousand Things, my first book with Burning Eye, was released around three years ago, give or take a few months. A lot has changed in my life since then. Well, really only one thing has changed: I had a little boy which changed everything. Now, what does that have to do with my poetry? For one thing, the time for writing has been greatly reduced. I’ve never really had a schedule for writing or any kind of regular practice other than just always having a notebook with me. The poems in Ten Thousand Things came about over the course of more than a decade, stretching back to university through my travels, and ending up here in England. Who Knows? is basically about four things, with some miscellaneous poems at the end with pretty much all the poems being written in the last three years.
Thing number one: A trip back home to Kentucky/Tennessee. I come from Kentucky, was brought up there but my folks live in Tennessee now, just over the border and outside of the border town of Guthrie where I grew up. Now, the one thing I knew growing in Guthrie was that I would be leaving one day. That being said, each trip back home now pulls at the heartstrings a little more. And this time, for the first time, I felt a little pull of wanting to be home. I believe we’re connected to land. Especially growing up in a modern agrarian society where the main road through town ran in front of my house and the fields behind my house stretched into the countryside. I’ve explored that feeling in the first several poems of Who Knows? There’s a lot more explicitly of me in these first few poems, thoughts of home, family, and lots of listening to country music. I reach back to the past a bit as well which most of my poems don’t tend to do. But that’s a thing with southern writing in general; as William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”
Thing number two: Benjamin Rayner Tennessee Toombs. It’s a big name to live up to, I suppose. Tennessee for Tennessee Willams, the playwright and Tennessee for the state of Tennessee which has a river of the same name running through it and Tennessee for possibly being the Cherokee word for river. Anyway, the next few poems in Who Knows? are all about that little boy. Some of these were already written when Ten Thousand Things came out and some written just as the first drafts for Who Knows? were being put together. They are pretty much in chronological order from the first two weeks up through our family trip to South Korea over Easter break 2016. Now, these poems probably have a more Buddhist/Taoist background to them than almost any of my other poems, especially as far as being a group of poems and especially the first few poems of this suite. I was reading Poems of the Masters, translated from the Chinese by Red Pine, in those early days of Ben’s life. Said book has been a mainstay of Chinese education for eight-hundred years. Night after night I’d read from this thick yet accessible volume of poems, soaking in the different allusions and shared metaphors of Chinese literature from back the Tang and Sung dynasties. I couldn’t help but have it seeping into my poems.
Thing number three: The last of the Benjamin poems lead in nicely to the Korean poems that comprise the next several poems in the collection. And this lead in was the main reason I did not divide this book into sections as I did Ten Thousand Things although these poems I do consider more tightly connected. I spent five and a half years in Korea, spread out over a decade or so. Upon deciding to go to Korea for a holiday, I immediately claimed a day all for myself and by myself to hike a bit Bukhansan, a national park only a short walk away from where I used to live in Korea with the aim of writing a gaggle of poems about a place I consider one of spiritual homes. If you know me, you know how I like to go on about Korea as much as my audience will listen; however, living there for half a decade did not give me many poems about Korea. Here you have just one day of that.
Thing number three: The Frome Valley. The aforementioned Bukhansan and my many rambles over its peaks instilled in me a necessity to have a physical place to recharge my spiritual side, to remind me that us humans are every bit part and parcel of the natural world and there ain’t nothing all our cities and machines can do to change that. For me the Frome Valley Walkway is a natural Taoist temple. Yin and Yang, rock and water, trees and vegetation that seem to flow downward towards the river. Most of these poems would have been made on my Sony dictaphone, created in the air as it were of the Frome Valley. Several of the Bukhansan poems would have been composed the same way.
Which brings me to a wordy wander about composing my poems. Some of the dictaphone poems—I’ve just been told by spell checker that ‘dictaphone’ is the name of a company started by Alexander Graham Bell himself. Who knew? And actually it was Wikipedia that told me that, my spell checker only correcting my ignorance—these dictaphone poems, some of them, are put down on the page just like they were said or with just the barest of meddling or rearranging. My verbal ramblings weren’t just the sketches for poems but often the poems themselves. And often my poems I write rather than speak are the same if not more so. What you see on the page a lot of times in these books is what you’d see if you looked in my notebooks. That comes from the Beats, jazz, Buddhism, Taoism—all those ideas of spontaneity and flow and Ginsberg writing “first thought, best thought, always.”
Thing number four: Actually a bunch of miscellaneous things, individual incidents, memories, poems I didn’t really mean to leave out of my first book. These range from one of the most spiritual moments of my life to one of the most visceral of my experiences travelling. I’ll let you decide which poems are the spiritual and which are the grosser in nature.
Well, it’s getting late on the day of my deadline for writing this. My boy’ll be climbing into our super king size bed in a few hours and my sleep will be disturbed for the nth night in a row. If you happen to read this soon and make your way to Amazon and you have Amazon prime, you may very well have a copy of Who Knows? in your hands before I do. If not, I look foward to seeing ye all out there somewhere. I’d rather you got a book out of my hands anyway. I’m at the Arts House in Stokes Croft nearly every Friday night running the Arts House Open Mic. Come see me, hear me, and even talk to me there. Or if you are in a faraway place from Bristol, England you can see me and hear me at www.jeremytoombs.com . To paraphrase the Hillbilly Shakespeare, if the good lord’s willin’ and the creeks don’t rise, we’ll see you out there sometime soon.