Bird Feeders

An Interview with Tohm Bakelas.

I was born and raised in Denville, New Jersey, which is where I currently reside. In the last 8 years I've moved five times and I've fucking hated it. I prefer remaining in one location. I lived in Denville for about 21 years. I learned the streets, formed amazing friendships that still endure, and it was sort of the hub for everything in my world. Every major highway that I needed to access ran through Denville. It was perfect in my eyes. And so when I returned a year ago, it was familiar, but so much had changed. And I hit the streets hard to learn them again, one drink at a time and one bar at a time. Denville was what I needed.

I’m a social worker in a state psychiatric hospital and my hours are usually 8am - 4pm. I work on an all male unit, with the most chronic and unrelenting, mentally ill patients in the hospital. Every day is different and that's what keeps me going. I find it easier to walk amongst madness than I do at the grocery store. And after work, at the end of the day, I usually unwind by filling the bird feeders outside my living room window.

From January of 2005 until August of 2013 (Four Fingers) and then October of 2015 until December of 2018 (Permanent Tension) I wrote lyrics in two separate bands. I'm not a very good singer, but I can fucking yell, and you know, for punk rock and hardcore, that's all that matters. And so when the bands died, I had all this pent up energy and words banging against the inside of my skull that were there without release, and I became explosive. It all changed when Chris Flynn, the drummer of both those bands, gave me ‘Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit’ by Charles Bukowski. Shortly after that I began writing poetry, and here I am.

Hank Stanton of the Raw Art Review/UnCollected Press has repeatedly told me there is a running theme in my writing: loneliness. I'd agree. On July12, 2020, I'll be 31 years old and I feel I've lived a few lifetimes already. In writing, I don't set out to forcefully write something. If it's ready to come out, it will.

I've been working in psychiatric hospitals since 2012, working with patients diagnosed with and not limited to the following: mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, developmental disorders, as well as murderers, arsonists, rapists, and child molesters. So perhaps what I've seen and heard has impacted my creativity in some way. I know for certain that after my first real heartbreak, something inside my head broke and I've really never seen the world the same since. After separating from my ex-wife and getting divorced, I began heavily drinking. Drinking always took me on an adventure, whether it was dark bars, dark alleyways, stranger's homes, and police cars, there was always something to see.

I'm influenced by the things I see or hear. Personal experience is easily the driving force in my writing. I'm inspired by the beauty in decay and loneliness, the mundane and the otherwise forgotten. I haven't had to look for these things, it's what I see and what finds me. And when I hit a writer's block, I try not to think about it. If anything, I'll look back at old poems and work on those. Sometimes that alone frees the constipation.

I recently destroyed 28 poems and salvaged some lines and stanzas that were good. That was enough to get the gears moving again.

I was going through some emails and I discovered I had one from a poet named Gwil James Thomas. He lives off the grid in Spain and he spoke highly of my work. He said he figured he'd write to me because he thought I might dig his work. And he was right because I was already familiar with him and his work. We've maintained correspondence since.

At the end of my days I would like for one person to say, “Hey man, I get it, I fucking understand. And I needed this because I felt all alone until I read this. So thanks.”

My name is Tohm Bakelas. I'm a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. My poems have appeared in numerous journals, zines, and online publications.

©Alchemy & Elegy 2020