BookLife Talks with Tom Pearson
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Still, the Sky'
Why did you choose Icarus and the Minotaur to center Still, the Sky around?
I had written a series of personal poems about my own coming-of-age and conflict with masculine forces. Then, during a fellowship with the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy, I began connecting the mythologies of Icarus and the Minotaur through the inventions/interventions of Daedalus while observing seagulls nest in the cliffsides just below my studio. The relationship to sky and sea and that distance and vantage point created a longing in me for people and places. It begged for some expansive and epic mythology to bind it all together. Suddenly, images of imprisonment and escape met ideas of love and loss, and the concepts in my writing fused with my research. The myths give the poetry recognizable themes, characters, and structure. It tethers the reader to something culturally familiar, which allows me, as a poet, the freedom to go into deeper, more abstract realms, trusting that the reader is anchored securely within the symbolic language of the world.
Do you think your theater work has influenced your writing?
Definitely. My work in theater and my writing have always been intertwined, but only in the past few years have I put the writing forward on its own. My first book, The Sandpiper’s Spell, follows a sort of ritual/ceremonial structure much like my immersive performances. Still, the Sky continues this, but with a theatricality also enhanced by the design elements of the artwork in the book. Contemporary poetry is frequently considered autobiographical, but I often employ character-driven narratives while considering the reader experience and structural as well. That’s the choreographer/director in me meeting the poet.
How was writing Still, the Sky different from your previous poetry collection, The Sandpiper’s Spell?
The Sandpiper’s Spell came together by sifting through years of previous work and structuring it through the stations of the eponymous central poem. I had a backlog of ideas and poems that I needed to organize and release in order for me to move into new creative territory. Publishing The Sandpiper’s Spell cast the spell I needed for this to occur. Still, the Sky, on the other hand, was born out of a theater residency, and the initial writing fostered several performance and visual artworks, which, in turn, have shaped and expanded the world of the book. The first draft coalesced for Ikaros, a site-specific performance commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse. I’ve also used the writing to model an art installation and a short virtual reality experience with a group of engineering students—and I’ve worked with other artists to iterate on the themes and scenarios through film and augmented reality, music and audio, and more. Each of these works stand alone, but taken as a whole, they form a constellation of a much larger body of work that I hope can continue to evolve—perhaps into television, film, or new media expressions, or even all together as a more complete immersive experience.
What do you hope readers take away from this collection?
I hope that the work will inspire reflection, that it might create sensory pathways for the reader, and that they might feel a synonymous connection with the way the work collects and archives memory.
What’s next for you?
I have a short film out in the world right now, and I am working on another series of interrelated writings, performance, and art. All of my current works and works-in-development are available to explore on my website, tompearsonnyc.com, and on most social platforms (@tompearsonnyc).