Interview: The Transgressions of Ken Tomaro
Interview conducted by Nolcha Fox
In a world where words are often reduced to tweets and sound bites, Ken Tomaro is a breath of fresh air. With a style that is both modern and timeless, Tomaro has been captivating audiences with his powerful, evocative verse.
In this exclusive interview, Tomaro opens up about the inspirations behind his work, the struggles of publishing in the digital age, and what's next for one of the most exciting voices in contemporary poetry.
NF: In Home is Where the Headstones Are, you mention that Bukowski was your initial inspiration for writing poetry. What keeps you writing now?
KT: Everything! Initially, it was his simple style of writing that inspired me to pick it up myself. I found the more I wrote, the more everything around me was a potential poem. Now I can’t even walk down the street without seeing a bubble of words in my head.
NF: You mention in several of your books that you focus on themes of depression, death, love, childhood memories, and dreams. When I first started to read your work, I braced myself for a bumper-car ride in the dark. However, many of your poems are unexpectedly funny (and/or sarcastic). I’m curious if you interspersed humor throughout your works to surprise your readers, or if the poems simply fell into place as you compiled your books. What is the madness to your method?
KT: Honestly, my entire way of life is based on humor and sarcasm. Death and depression have been common occurrences throughout my existence. I think I picked up the sarcasm bug at an early age as a way to cope with these things, so it definitely comes out in my writing. With the shit-storm of this thing called life, you have to find something to laugh at.
NF: Your poetry is conversational, and focuses on everyday events. It randomly lacks punctuation, and capitalization left your poetry to have a drink at the bar. How did you develop this style?
KT: Oh, there are so many directions I can go with this answer. First, yes it has been referred to as conversational simply because I write how I talk. Secondly, the punctuation, well, I noticed in a lot of Bukowski’s writing, he didn’t capitalize words and I may have picked that up through osmosis. Regardless of how the academic types see things I don’t hold myself down to a lot of rules when it comes to writing poetry. I feel like if I don’t capitalize the first word of a sentence, you’ll still get the idea of what I’m saying. If the academics want to strike me down with a lightning bolt from God, so be it, it’s not going to keep me from writing. I also don’t use periods to end a sentence, rather, I take advantage of line breaks. What can I say? Poetry is its own animal, and the words aren’t the only thing having a drink at the bar.
NF: You self-published your books until Potholes and Perogies, which was published by Alien Buddha Press. What made you choose a publisher for this book? If you were to counsel a poet on the best way to publish, what would you say, and why?
KT: I took a chance on Potholes and Perogies. Honestly, Amazon is easy to upload a manuscript and create a book, but that’s about it. In order for your book to be seen, you have to know a lot of people… or know people who know people, but even then, that’s no guarantee your book will sell. Alien Buddha Press seemed to be a big presence on social media, so I thought they’d be better at marketing my book than I am. As far as counseling someone on the best way to publish, I’m still trying to figure that one out. All I can say is put something together, submit, put it out there and cross your fingers, as a lot of it is luck.
NF: I want to focus now on An Angry Year, which is often not angry. The first thing I noticed is that most of your poems don’t have titles. What made you decide to lose the titles? How did you decide to order your poems?
KT: There’s no deep meaning behind it, and I’ll spare you seeing my response in all caps, but I absolutely hate coming up with titles! Writing poetry seems to come pretty easy to me, but the titles become exhaustive and unenjoyable. As far as the order of my poems, again, I don’t put any great thought into it. When I write a poem, I do it as a text to myself on my phone because you never know when they’ll come. I don’t have the luxury of spending my days in a quiet coffee shop writing my life away. When I put them on paper, I just put them in the order they are on my phone. Someone told me the order does have a nice flow to it and I think that’s just a happy little accident.
NF: Many of the poems in An Angry Year express frustration, almost an existential crisis, with no possible solution (for example, Poem 2, about how we fall behind as the world keeps spinning). Please explain how frustration was a part of your life at the time you wrote the poetry in this book.
KT: When you live with depression, everything becomes a frustration. Even something as simple as a shoelace coming untied. There’s no escaping frustration, especially living in today’s world. Sometimes you have to accept that the world will keep spinning no matter what situation you find yourself in. I found writing poetry became a good therapy in dealing with day-to-day life, so it does at times calm some of the frustration.
NF: There are some references to a woman in some of your poems. Are you willing to share if you were in a relationship (or the end of a relationship), and how that colored your poetry?
KT: I was in a relationship when I wrote a couple of my books. At the time, my brain told me those poems were important enough to be written. The relationship ended, and I will say those ideas are no longer as important as they were at the time, but it still makes good poetry, so I left them alone.
NF: The city is the main character in some of your poems. How would you describe your relationship with the place you live?
KT: The city of Cleveland, which according to a particular song, rocks. Maybe yes, maybe no. I grew up in a suburb south of Cleveland and moved to Indiana when my mom died. I came back in 2007 and don’t have an answer for that. It’s where I live. I work in a building downtown, and it’s where I pay my taxes for the luxury of an overpriced apartment. It has its pros and cons like any other city, but we do have potholes and perogies!
NF: One of my favorite poems in An Angry Year is the one about your cat annoying you. I laugh every time I read it. If your cat isn’t your muse, who or what is?
KT: Going back to one of your earlier questions, everything, or maybe just me. I’m my own muse because I find myself very a-muse-ing.
NF: Please share a couple of your favorite poems from: An Angry Year.
KT: Oh boy, that’s tough. I don’t typically go back and read what I’ve written so give me a minute here… Ok, I’m back. These two stick out for some reason: This one for its simplicity, but still packs a gut punch. It’s a reference to my mother dying:
the snow was ankle deep in spots
and still falling
and the streets were a slushy gray
and she was gone
This one for its humor and absurdity, because it really happened:
the cigarette butt sailed from my hand
into the sidewalk gutter
and by a stroke of complete luck
hit a bird
it was just as taken by surprise as I was
it would be a day full of surprises
NF: What projects or books are you working on now?
KT: Writing, writing, writing, it never stops. I have a couple more books finished and maybe 7 or 8 chapbooks I’m trying to figure out what to do with, but it won’t involve Amazon! I also have a poetry/comic book hybrid that is mostly done but has some formatting issues. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll let the universe decide.
End of Interview