The Exquisite Tenderness of Trista Mateer’s When The Stars Wrote Back

The first time I met Trista she was late to her own reading, which is to say, we were both doing a reading at the same book shop, together at an Indigo in Toronto, and I began to read my poems extra slowly because even though I had never met this person, I believed that they deserved every good chance they could get to make it to their own reading, and she did make it, her and the friend who was driving her had gone to the wrong Indigo at the right time and, after discovering their mistake, had rushed across a foreign city and arrived only mildly disheveled and out of breath and reading poetry, even when you’re only mildly disheveled and out of breath, is a hard thing to do at the best of times – at the best of times you are not entirely sure that you’re actually any good at what you do and you’re concerned that perhaps you and everyone else at your reading has made a terrible mistake and maybe you should all just stop before this hot, embarrassing awkwardness goes on any longer. But Trista was great. Her words, in between breaths, were beautiful, and heartfelt and sincere and made people quiet in that wonderful way that people sometimes get at poetry readings.

And then she came and sat down next to me and my first words to her that weren’t over the internet were, “You’re late,” because I just wanted to make absolutely sure she knew. The point is, even under duress, and maybe especially under duress, Trista is a machine that takes the world and the relationships she has in it and spins it all into sentences that have tension and drama and forgiveness and anger and love, so much love, lost and found and every shade and tint in-between those two distant points. Examples of this litter her new work, When The Stars Wrote Back, a collection of nameless poems interspersed with handwriting and beautiful illustrations that capture the strangeness and unique tenderness of being human in a universe like this one, where we love and forget how to stop loving, as she writes,

Sometimes I like to think
you still fall asleep like I do,
reaching out for me
like I keep reaching out for you.

And

What if I love you forever?
What if it never goes away?
What if I forget my own name
and only remember yours?

Trista’s work, which you can see for yourself on her instagram account as well, wonders bravely, cinematically through a relationship she wants, and doesn’t want and forgets but can’t forget and it’s about her mother and her father and heroin and the power people from your past have over you and her body and it’s about not being young anymore or innocent or anything and that’s what poetry is supposed to do, it’s supposed to point at something we cannot point at, and talk about something we cannot talk about.

When The Stars Wrote Back is a beautiful book and I hope that, especially now, in this dark apocalyptic, endless fucking hellscape of a moment in the world we find ourselves in, that you treat yourself to it and if not, that you find something just as beautiful. But that, I imagine, would be a hard challenge indeed.

When The Stars Wrote Back is available wherever good books are sold and, amongst other places, Amazon, and I thoroughly recommend it.

How To Write Love Poems

Photo by Filipe Almeida on Unsplash

If you’d like to know how to write poetry about love, or have been planning to write a love poem for a while now, this is what I keep in mind when I’m writing.

Firstly, you start on your knees.

This is the important part. You start on your knees because you start from a place of vulnerability because that’s what love is, it is being vulnerable with someone, it’s saying,

“You mean so much to every single part of me that you could easily destroy me right now, and so I am putting myself at your mercy, I am telling you who I really am in a way that I cannot tell anyone else.”

How do you do this? You admit your flaws. Admit where you are weak. Admit where you are overwhelmed with emotion and explain,

This is what you do to me. You have destroyed who I was because you have made me who I am.”

Love changes us.

Talk about the change. Talk about what your life was like before now, and how they’ve changed every aspect of you.

Write to one person and one person only.

Talk about “You” and “Me” and “I” because when we talk to each other, that’s how we talk. You’re not addressing a crowd, you’re not writing a newsletter, you’re writing down why the fire of the universe has been ignited inside of you. That means you say, “You.” You are the only two people that matter in the eternal moment your poem exists in.

Create tension between the mundane and the metaphysical.

You can create tension in a poem by changing focus – talk about what happens when you touch their skin and what it feels like to touch the edge of forever. Talk about their smell and talk about how lucky you are to exist at the same time as them. This change from the intimate to the incredible creates tension and propels the poem forward. One of my most popular poems is one sentence long and it resonates, I believe, because of this tension between the casualness of the statement and vast metaphysical nature of someone’s soul.

And then my soul saw you and it kind of went, ‘Oh there you are, I’ve been looking for you.

-Iain S. Thomas

Tell the truth and stay.

It doesn’t have to be long, the shorter the better and the less room to make mistakes.

The thing we really want from our partner, is to be seen and to be understood.

When we write something to them that shows that we truly see them, it’s proof that we’ve actually sat down and reflected deeply on who they are, and who they are to us.

What is the truth of this person? What have they done? Do they make you want to be a better person? Tell them. Is it sometimes hard to love them in the chaos or having a family and work and all the other commitments that make up modern day life but you love them anyway? Tell them. Have you neglected them? Have you taken them for granted? Tell them. Tell them the things that they know are true, that will make them feel seen and truly understood in a way that no one else but you can.

Do they make you feel whole?

Tell them the things that only you can tell them.

The most powerful thing you can do for your partner, is to see them,

Most of the time, we fight not because we disagree but because we don’t feel understood.

This poem that you’re writing is chance to demonstrate that you do. Spend time on it and make it as beautiful as the person you’re in love with.

I’m currently running weekly online writing workshops on Sundays, you can click here to to find out more.

What We Should Do When This Is Over

Dear You, 

I’m writing to let you know that the second book in my short-book project is out. It’s called What We Should Do When This Is Over and it follows an old man and a young boy as they try to navigate a world in which no one goes outside anymore and normal seems very, very far away. 

I wrote this book, with illustrations by my good friend and artist Rikus Ferreira, to deal with my own anxiety about the pandemic and to talk about the mundane, everyday things that I miss. This morning, my 3 nearly-4 year old asked me if we could go to the beach and I had to try and explain, again, about the really bad cold that’s going around and that’s why we can’t go to the beach. Or to the playground. In two weeks, I’m going to have to try and explain why she’s not going to have the birthday party I know she wanted. And her birthday is the day after mine. Remember the world where someone would blow on a cake and we would all eat it? Everything feels so far away. 

Between days when I could accomplish nothing and nights when I can’t stop working, I made this. The friends I’ve shared it with so far have responded positively to it and I hope my readers enjoy it too. 

You can buy a copy and read more here.

I’ll be doing some live readings on instagram and Facebook soon, so keep an eye out for those.

Thank you for your time. I hope you’re well out there and I send you my absolute best, 

Iain S. Thomas

Why I’m Emailing You Today

I am mailing you today because the world is ending and I felt like sending an email was the only thing I could really control, the only thing I could really contribute in the end.

I am mailing you today because we are thrown apart and we are thrown closer and we are all in the same boat.

I am mailing you today because that is the only miracle here, at the end of the world, and that is that we’re all in this together.

I am mailing you today because I hurt so I know you hurt and by reaching out to you, I know someone is reaching back to me.

I am mailing you today because I am doing what I can.

(You can subscribe by clicking here.)

April 2020 – It Is Not National Poetry Month

It is nurse month. It is doctor month. It is delivery driver month. It is the neglected month.

But it is not National Poetry Month.

It is national alone month. It is frustration month. It is how am I going to pay the rent month. It is why can’t I get anything done month. It is what is normal month. It is just trying to get through the day let alone the month month. It is I need an answer month. It is trying not to let everything fall apart month. It is desperately seeking structure month.

Just show me the poem that makes a sick person well. Show me the poem that stops every restaurant I love from shutting down. Show me the poem that makes the world normal again. Show me that poem and then tell me how this is poetry month.

Because otherwise, it’s just trying to find the bright side month. Because this is this month that has been a year month. This is what’s going to happen to my kids month. This is a million body bags month.

Any other month in any other year can be National Poetry Month. But not this one.

This is tightness in the chest month.

This is trying not to cry month.

This is the lonely month.

And this is not National Poetry Month.

 

How To Talk To Your Children About The Pandemic

Grab a free .pdf here or if you can afford it, buy it for $3 as an ebook on Amazon here.

 

Where Did Everyone Go Jpeg Cover

I should be working on the book I’m supposed to be working on but instead, I’ve dropped everything to finish this over the last two days. My kids have been asking me questions about what’s going on, and where everyone is, and why they can’t see their friends.

So I made this book called “Where did everyone go?” as a way to talk to them about it. I’m giving it away for free as a pdf (the links are at the top) but if you have the money, you can also buy it as an ebook for $3 on Amazon  – if you grab a free copy, please leave a review on Amazon.

My best,

Iain

This is the decade of being brave.

In 2007, I started making art on the internet because I had an office job and I wanted a place where I could share some part of myself that wouldn’t be controlled or manipulated by other people.

I had no expectations of it beyond the fact that it would be somewhere that I could escape to each and every day for a few minutes at a time and create, without any interference. It would be a place I could talk to myself, outside of myself, and people I could no longer talk to.

It was naive, innocent and incredibly productive and I think part of that was the fact that, while I did have a long term goal of eventually collecting everything I did into a book (which became the first I Wrote This For You book), I focused on the simple easy steps in front of me.

I told myself,

“I can write one poem today. I can write one short story or just one sentence. They might not be the best, they might be terrible, but I will try and if I fail, I will try again tomorrow.”

It is January of 2020 and I am trying to look not just at the year ahead but at the decade ahead and where I want to be and what I want to do.

I am paying even more attention to the individual steps I will need to take to get there, to what I want to do with my time and the days I have.

I want to connect on a deep, meaningful level with my friends and family, with the people around me, and my readers.

I want to make beautiful things that matter and move people, and move myself in the process.

I want to lose myself in good work, in talking about the things that we all need to talk about.

I want to learn and I want to grow and I want become more me.

I wish you all the same, and success, and growth, and intimacy and less fear and more love.

P.S.

Something I’ve been using since last year is, Skillshare (I get a few dollars in return if you sign up for a free trial through that link). Whenever I run into a creative problem, there’s always something on Skillshare.com that’ll inspire me, or show me how to accomplish what I’m trying to accomplish. It’s great and if you want to try it out for a while and January hasn’t been kind to your wallet, you can use it for free for three months and see if there’s something in there that inspires you to do more with your days in 2020.

P.P.S. All my books, artwork, clothing and everything else are now available in one place, here and if you want to support me, this is a great place to do that. You can also help me spend more time writing by making a small donation every month on Patron.

How To Stop Running

Growing up, the idea of being an artist, of living a creative life, wasn’t something that seemed like a feasible way to make a living and so I’ve always worried that I’m doing the wrong thing, that I’ve made a mistake and at some point, it’s all going to come tumbling down. I know it doesn’t make sense and I know it isn’t real but what my mind believes at the very back of it, and knows at the very front of it, are two different things.

I’ve lived with a fear of scarcity, of not having enough or being equipped to find enough for my entire life, and it’s something I’ve always run from, no matter what I’ve accomplished or done. But I found a way to beat it this last Christmas. Instead of worry about not having enough, I gave something away.

Instead of getting myself any presents, I asked my wife to make a small donation on my part to givewell.org (this is not an affiliate link, they’re just a really good charity). And on Christmas day, instead of having something else that I needed to worry about scratching, or trying to figure out where to put it, I had nothing. And then something strange happened. That constant gnawing inside of me that I didn’t have enough, went away.

I think giving something away sent a message to that stubborn part of the back of my brain that refuses to listen, and it got through:

How can you not have enough, when you have enough to give some of it away? 

I didn’t make a Bill Gates level donation, just what I personally could. And of course, there are people who are really struggling out in the world, who live hand-to-mouth and worry about the roof over their head, so this message isn’t directed at them. It’s directed at the people who might be able to help them, who in the process will be helping themselves because if I’m honest, I don’t think I’m alone in this experience, this worry that chases me late at night.

The ghost of Not-Enough haunts this entire planet and to fight it requires us do the unthinkable: To spit in its face, and say, “I have more than enough. And I will share.”

I wish you more than you will ever need, and I wish you the wisdom to know what to do with it.

This Is True

Untitled_Artwork 39.jpgI have gone on twitter and made the mistake of scrolling down a little bit further than I should’ve because that’s that’s when the anger starts, and that’s what the machine does, it makes us angry. And who am I to question that anger? Anger is what changes the world isn’t it? But all I know is that I don’t want this feeling in my chest today.

I just want to make something beautiful and real and honest. This has always been about trying to be honest for me and the most beautiful things are the most honest. And I find if I scroll down anything too far, I get sucked into another world and I start to ask the wrong questions, “Am I writing the right things?” or “Is this what people want to hear?” Instead of the only question that matters –

“Is this true?”

Every good thing I’ve ever written has come from that place. The world is frustrating and I am struggling to remain a whole and good person in it. This is true. I am a parent and like all parents, I constantly questions whether I am doing the right thing. This is true. I am not always sure what I’m doing with my life but I worry that if I don’t project an aura of authority and confidence, the things I want to happen won’t happen. This is true.

If you are a creative person that would be my only advice for you today: Ask yourself: what is true, and what is everyone too afraid to talk about? Listen for the answer and then go and make something that matters. It will resonate and it will touch people. Thank you to everyone who reached out to me yesterday and made the day feel a little less lonely, I appreciate each and every one of you.

This is true.