Contributor Interview: Robert Thomas

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Thomas, Robert

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

My poems are part of a series on jealousy. It may be counter-intuitive, but I believe that exploring jealousy (rather than transcending it) is a dynamic engine of spiritual growth. Better than yoga!

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

One of my favorite passages is these lines from “Sonnet with Clerk and Genghis Khan”: “Not mere love letters / but letters that would cut steel, show the blind / the Milky Way, a/k/a Winter Street, / Path of Cranes, the Road to Santiago.”

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Read outside your comfort zone. If you love Armantrout, read Milton. If you love Milton, read Szymborska. If you love Szymborska, read Chekhov. If you love Chekhov, read Basho. If you love Basho, read Armantrout.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

I saw Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. It was memorable, but from my perspective not as memorable as Otis Redding backed by Booker T & the MG’s. If you listen closely you may hear their influence in my poetry.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

I’m putting together a collection of sonnets. The working title is Sonnets with Carpenter and Dirty Snow. So far I’ve whittled 144 sonnets down to 96 for the collection, which is more like hacking with a machete than whittling.


Robert Thomas’s most recent book, Bridge, is a lyrical novella, published by BOA Editions, that won the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction. His first book, Door to Door, was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa and published by Fordham University, and his second collection, Dragging the Lake, was published by Carnegie Mellon. He has received an NEA poetry fellowship.

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