Let me introduce you to this weeks Poet of Instagram Tommy Johnson. He is a young poet whose words take you on a journey. I am amazed the different voices he portrays in his works, as well as how much world building and setting he creates in his poems. We learn so much about him in this interview, I hope you enjoy!
Thank you for doing this interview with me! I am so happy to have you on the blog to talk about your poetry. Your poetry is different to those I usually read, they are a bit longer but I like them because they tell a story. I like when words take me to another world and leave an impact on me in only a few short lines. Your's are like that.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m twenty two years old. I’m from New Jersey. I’m a coffee addict. I’m into writing of course, but my interest lies in other places as well. I love philosophy, from Socrates and Plato to Rousseau and Laozi. I think philosophy is sort of synonymous with spirituality and I’m pretty passionate about that too. I’ve studied Buddhism and a few other Eastern beliefs in college. I practice meditation and chakra exercises. I’ve also practiced qigong, it’s similar to tai chi. I enjoy art, Dalí, Basquiat and Dzubas just to name a few. I like film too David Lynch’s movies are such a trip for me. I still haven’t recovered from Inland Empire. I like Jodorowsky ‘s work and think Kubrick was a genius. Music is also a big part of my life, I was in a few bands when I was younger. I like the process of making a song and everything that goes into it. It’s like science experiment, except the conclusion is a sound that everyone involved likes and can be proud of. I like listening to music too, I listen to everything from hip hop to folk to classical to even experimental. Reading has been a constant in my life, books always captivated me. David Foster Wallace is an excellent writer, Alan Moore is another one.
When did you start creating poetry? Tell us a little about your journey.
When I was seven years old I had this teacher who in my mind was the worst person in existence and one day she must have done something to me I didn’t like. So, I went home, found a notebook and started writing a rhyming rant about how much I hated her. It was something like “I HATE YOU SO MUCH/I WISH YOU’D GET HIT BY A BUS” In all capital letters too, and I was like stabbing the pen into the notebook so hard that it left an impression on half the pages in it. But I guess when I really started writing poetry seriously I must have been around fourteen. I was into spiritual things and I wrote things about air, pain, freedom and unification. I thought I was some kind of new age prodigy. At the time I was listening to music from the 60’s The Beatles, The Doors and Jim Morrison’s lyrics were so profound to me they just painted pictures in my head. I started watching interviews and learning about him. He didn’t want to be the giant rock star he was, he wanted to be a poet. And that encouraged me to write more and dig deeper into myself to find what messages I wanted to convey.
What is your style and why?
I have many styles. I first started about with the basic ABAB rhyme scheme then I started using that and put it into a song structure because I was writing lyrics for bands I was in. Like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. But then the rhyme schemes got more technical. It became ABAC ABAC or AABB or even ABBA ACCA. And the song structures became much grander like, Intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, pre chorus, chorus, outro. Then I started getting into Dadaism and blindly stringing words together to make poems. Sometimes I would put on a movie I liked and turn the volume all the way down, then put on an album I liked and just observe the new story the combination of the music and the movie would make. I would write it down and at the end I’d have a poem or a few poems. Now a days I just let loose without any thought or preconceived notion and just go at it. It’s raw, its honest and unedited. Usually someone with a degree in writing looks down at that but people seem to like the final product and it’s one of my favorite ways of writing. Free association and spontaneity.
What inspires your poetry?
So many things, other poetry gets me going. Rimbaud inspired me to work on the imagery I used in my work. Whitman encouraged me to be real and forgo form and just be true to myself and the poem. The Beats had a major influence on my poetry. Ginsberg’s shameless writing gives me that boldness to write realistically. Kerouac’s writing inspires me to give my work that cool, stylized yet unorganized vibe to it. I love William Blake, Poe, Bukowski, Henry Miller, Voltaire, John Wilmot, Ovid and ancient Aztec poetry. Music inspires me to write. Tupac and his view of the world interests me. Kendrick Lamar too, Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino. Their rhyming techniques amaze me. Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen too, their lyrics are so impressive, they changed how I approach writing indefinitely. Jazz and Electronic music inspire to write too. I feel like they’re just two of the sounds of the soul. Bob Marely also, his music and philosophy just make me smile and feel good. The world needs more musicians that can do that. Movies too, I love good plots and characters you grow attached to. I like spoken word poets like Saul Williams a lot. Government inspires me to write too. Rousseau is a major influence on me, Abbie Hoffman and The Chicago 8 too. Malcom X and Dr. King, Harvey Milk, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal. I suppose the most inspire thing in terms of my writing is my life. The people in it, their stories and thoughts. That’s what it’s all about really, not me and my words but the people reading it and how it effects them or even how it doesn’t. I love life, it’s full of opportunities and possibilities. I love the duality of it, one side there’s love, laughter and good natured, good hearted people doing amazing things. There’s the miracle of birth and people helping others and creating things and helping the world progress. Then on the other side there’s evil and hatred, racism, murder, injustice and people hurting others with lies, harsh criticism and misinformation. There’s pain in the world and all of our lives but it isn’t permanent. There is joy and relief to and maybe the pain may seem more reoccurring than joy but those moments of strife make every second of relief that much more enjoyable. That and both sides of life inspire me to write how I write and what I write about.
What is the process you take to write your poetry?
I don’t have a set process really. Sometimes I’ll hear a word or phrase somewhere and jot it down to use later. Or I’ll be talking to a friend or a new acquaintance and we’ll have a conversation about some topic and I’ll leave them with a new perspective in my mind and use it to write. Sometimes I just get hit with inspiration and I’ll start writing. Within a few minutes I’ll have a new poem. Sometimes I’ll collect my thoughts and write them down and organize them into a poem. If I want to make a structured epic poem I’ll map it out or it’ll be right off the top of my head and I’ll just go. It depends on my mood, the timing and the poem itself.
I started posting my work on Instagram to reach a bigger audience. I saw it as the modern mode of expression. To get your stuff out there for anyone to see. Instagram is one of the biggest social media sites and I figured it would help get my name out there. I was posting on countless poetry sites and I made some buzz but I wanted more.
Why is sharing your poetry special to you?
I love connecting with people. I’ll their poems, they’ll read mine. Some people with comment and critique. Some people share, repost and reblog. It shows me what people think about the topics I write about. And having people tell you the dig your stuff is always a bonus. Even when people tell you they hate your stuff and you should stop writing can be used as fuel to your fire. I’ve been called talented, brilliant and I’ve had many people tell me to stop writing. But I’ve been called a hack, a communist, a terrorist. Some people think my poems are violent and brutal and perverted. I’ve been censored and even taken off some sites and groups. I’m not going to explain or defend what I do. I shouldn’t have to, the work speaks for itself. So, try to understand it or don’t. I mean, it’s a poem, it’s the internet. There are way worse things on the internet than someone from Jersey with an abstract poem.
What do you want people to take from your poetry?
THINK! Think outside the box, outside your comfort zone. Question everything even yourself. Go against the grain, on the edge and over. Push your limits to see how far you can go in every aspect of your life. Live to the fullest. Treasure every moment, everyone in your life and who they are and what they have to offer. I want my readers to seek knowledge and truth. I want them to research and learn, learn new things, learn about themselves and the world they live in. Lean their rights, I want them to be knowledgeable and speak truth wherever they go. I want people to read my stuff and say “wow, this can guy do this and so can I, I could even do it better than him and I’m gonna!” I want people to know it’s okay to be yourself, it’s essential to be yourself. Otherwise, who are you going to be? Stay true to who you are and stay humble. Keep an open mind, open ears and wear your heart on your sleeve.
What are the top three favourite poems you have written and why?
Rise- It’s my grandest poem, it touches on so many things and it was written when my life was going through some changes for the better
Surreal Reality- It was fun to write and I want to know If people think there’s a deeper meaning and if so I want to know what it is. I might not even know
Hogwash- I don’t know why but I’m feeling it right now. It was fun to write and I like reading it. I usually don’t like reading my own work but Hogwash is an exception. The words in it and the rhythm make me smile.
Would you ever publish your poems?
At first I wasn’t about that. I thought my work would be marred by being published and it would shift my focus on the quality of the content in the poems. But eventually I came around to the idea that being published would be a great thing and I started sending out manuscripts and trying to talk to publishers. I tried everything, magazines, online magazines, collectives and books of various writers. Getting published is a challenge.
What plans do you have for the future in terms of your poetry?
I actually got a publishing deal in June and I’m working on the manuscript as we speak. It’s with 451 Press a subdivision of Underwater Mountain Publishing. Shouts out to EJ, Nicole and the whole team! They care about young Instagram poets trying to get published for real. I’m excited to have my book on shelves and online. I’m just trying to progress in my life and this helps me achieve that. So I’m doing that, I’m also working on a novel but I can’t give too much about that away just yet. And I’m always writing new poems, my newest one is called “Dichotomy of Chaos” just Google search it and my name and check it out if you want. Thank you so much for the interview Shelly, thanks for the opportunity. And thanks to anyone reading this! Peace.
Thanks again for doing the interview, I feel like I know you know. I found that you taking an interest in Aztec poetry is pretty cool. That ancient civilization as well as the Mayan's is a hobby of mine, we should chat about it sometime! Congratulations on your publishing deal that is incredible! I hope to see great things in your future with your poetry. All the best!
If you want to follow Tommy and be inspired in your everyday life, his instagram is instagram.com/__tommyjohnson_/
More of Tommy's Poems
Above The Sky
The flame elevates the basket
And pulls us off the ground
As we catch a few winks in the clouds
Like paper lanterns being let go
We look at the green patches of land below
While the people look up and see us float away
We sing the tune
And top the moon
And we will soon be
Above the sky
Our watch has stopped
The sun has dropped
The stars cannot reach us
Above the sky
We are all
Above the sky
We've passed the beams of Venus
And danced on the rings of Saturn
Felt the gales of Neptune
In a humble, wondering manner
We drift by the heavens for a moment
Then head to eternity
Our rainbow parachute
Will take me and you
Some place bright and new
Above the sky
Unthinkable by human mind
Out of the box, outside the lines
Above the sky
Above the sky
Planes of reality
Relative of planes
Hard working father looks in the kitchen
And sees his son who he wants the best for
He wants his boy to become a man
To take everything life can give and even more
But the son has other things on his mind
Unintentionally slashes his father's dreams
To the father he's straying from the footprint path
But not everything is always as it seems
If it ain't broke how could you fix it?
Don't worry about all of your worries
One for all and all for one
Live fast die young, just have some patience
Mother loves her daughter so much
Tries to protect her from all that she can
The closer she pulls her the harder she'll push her
Both feel the other will never understand
But they know when they look deep in themselves the see each other
And after all the yelling and cursing they'll say "I love you" to one another
Somethings are easier said than done
And actions speak louder than words
When living with constant change
Get to know yourself, just take some time
We resort to name calling
When downloading and installing
Upload then uninstall
The preambles to the pitfalls
The hostile hospitality
The aromatic pheromones
But memories who've reprise their roles
And take pot shots and low blows
Overlook the unturned stones
Overgrown baby's scared
Student loans and ingrown hairs
They have an eye-witness
So they come for a search and seizure
Drastic times call for drastic measures
I mean it when I say you're really a treasure
Made of cubic zirconium and pewter
I can't confirm or deny
If it's all according to plan
And I'm inclined to decline
I just may just to your dismay
Or I plum forgot
Because I've lived my whole life with my head in a sling
I discourage the disparagement of releasing disclose information
But speak of the devil
I almost missed it
This is my own theme song so you all better get ready to sing
The piper's come to collect
Do you wish to go farther or further?
"I will take time to restore chaos and order"
Everything will be fine in the morning, so do yourself a favor and relax
Always wanting more
Be still my hungry heart
Explodes, sputters and sparks
Hear what it says
When you see the face
Listen to it speaking
My hear is young
It is never sure
It goes on instinct
Hopeful and naïve
Living beat by beat
Deep inside me
Someone has a hold of it
And that someone is mine
Bet we’ve never met
But we will
We’re all meant for someone
So they say
The first kiss
Now they marry
Boy and girl
Boy and boy
Girl and girl
Young hearts of the world
A Little Tab of Insight
Are you ready for the main course?
Prepare the condiments
Thin oven mitts
It's just a decoy
Here lies the kid who was left home alone while is parents visited The North Pole
Try to consolidate the front door
And here's a laxative called LSD to aide your constipated mind
Now go on with the insurrection
And fight Parliament for the sake of the proletariat
Who's names are always written in lower case lettering
The limousine drivers
The single mothers with bad habits who have to dance off skimpy clothing to buy formula for their babies because they're milk is tainted with junk
The weary recipients of justice obstructions
And catch 22's
Who have been singled out because they have monetary deficits
Grab some Q-tips and clean out your ears
Stop gritting and grinding your teeth
A new realization is in bloom
When did be aware turn into beware?
When did alertness become fear?
Forget and get over your
Remanding-accursed-sweet-tooth-fatigue-that you let in
Because it's all in your head along with the idea that hyphens make things look more important and scary
I contest all that bullshit
But What Does That All Really Mean?
You ever think about how shallow some people are?
So shallow that if you stepped in a puddle of them your feet would still be dry
The people who aim to do things, maybe even great things just to impress or gratify someone
To put someone down
To make up for some kind of weakness
To prove others wrong
Those who create this image of themselves that appeases others perception of them
Gizmos and gadgets
Things that don't mean anything more than a look see to anyone of real depth
You know depth?
To appreciate everything you're lucky enough to have or gain
To understand the little things and the bigger picture
To have been through hardships and learned from them
But then, there is something worse than being shallow
To be empty of anything
Just numb hopelessness
The ones who have been hurt and just couldn't get back up
And fill the void with either drugs, things of only monetary value or self-inflected lashings of pity, loathing and mistrust
They look at the ones with depth and see them as idiotic idealists with no direction or any idea what it means to be part of a normal society
They look at the shallow ones and see great figures of wealthy stature
Exciting lives being lead by beautiful elitists