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“The Sandpiper’s Spell” is a Book of poetry by Tom Pearson, a performance and media artist who has been lauded for his work as the co-founder and co-artistic director of Third Rail Projects, an ingenious theater company that has produced works such as “Then She Fell,” “The Grand Paradise,” and “Ghost Light.”

Inspired by psychology, deep dreams, archetypal studies, and his Native American heritage (Tsalagi/Eastern Band Cherokee), Tom has crafted a book of poetry entitled “The Sandpiper’s Spell” which is his debut publication.

“The Sandpiper’s Spell” is a collection of poems that play with a number of themes: memories, time, images, space, travel, dreams, ceremonies, and the practice of using the story as a remedy.

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These short-stanza verses are meditative vignettes which blend the creative and spiritual.

Tom celebrated the release of the book with a well-attended launch party at NYC’s Red Room (located above the famous KGB Bar) on April 11 and recently granted me this exclusive interview to discuss the inspirations behind his poems, his childhood, his experiences working with Third Rail Projects, and more.

Poems, book, and influences

Meagan Meehan (MM): You are regaled for your work in theater, and now you’ve crafted a book of poetry. How did you initially get involved in the arts, and why, now, a book?

Tom Pearson (TP): I’ve been writing, staging scenes, drawing, painting, sculpting, and choreographing for as long as I can remember. I was even a singer too, touring with a musical theater group at one point, years ago, so I guess I’ve always felt creative and have certainly had a flare for performance all my life.

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Mostly though, I’ve always made things, even in terms of fabrication, metalwork, welding, and woodworking. I’m quiet, but I’m not a very still person. I feel driven to create and embrace the mysteries of the inner and outer world through my works. Even meditation for me is usually a walking meditation. I do well in motion. But writing has always been a part of my creative process. Lately, though, I’ve felt that the writing also deserves to be the thing in and of itself––to come through in its own way on its own terms. I always try to let the idea lead the way and say what it wants to be in the end, so I find myself learning new things all the time while truly following the deep voice that drives it all. And now, I’m interested in seeing how the writing comes back to the performance work.

MM: Why did you decide to title your book “The Sandpiper’s Spell?”

TP: The book title comes from images within the main set of poems. I think of stories, images, and experiences as spells, cast over readers, audiences, ourselves.

This particular reference is to a ceremony of my own making that I crafted as a child, gathering talismans from nature which I’d assemble to physically manifest intentions and prayers for new ideas and life. It hearkens back to the pure, incredible self-power we possess before adolescence shifts our focus to other things. There’s nothing more powerful than a ten-year-old. The title for me reaches back to that child self, to remember what that personal power was, is, and can be now.

MM: In this book, “The Sandpiper’s Spell” is broken down into seven parts, presented amid other poems. Why did you approach the poem this way?

TP: The first five sections were originally one very long poem, and there were two other outlying poems that fit well with it. Together they felt like they created a ceremony of sorts, one of contemplating, remembering, revisiting, and reclaiming. And it ends just as it begins, quietly observing and walking on. As someone who creates immersive theater and ritualized experiences, this felt like it offered a structure to contain all the pieces of the others and to bridge the imagery and action throughout, the main road connecting the side roads of the story.

MM: A number of these poems are also derived from your memories, so what was your early life like and how, if at all, did your childhood influence your adult self?

TP: I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida which was founded by Spanish colonials in 1565. So, it is as old a town as it gets in the United States. Of course, it’s even much older than that because it was the home of the Timucua tribe before European contact. So, it has rich Native and Spanish and Minorcan cultures, as well as English and French. And it is uniquely positioned between several waterways, barrier islands, and beaches. So, much of the Spanish and beachside influence is what informed my childhood and early years, and that’s why those themes factor so prominently in many of the poems. But also, I am considering memories of things I have no answer for or a way to make right, so there’s an invocation of those memories in order to reconcile them and clear a way and to recapture the parts of childhood that held power for me.

MM: How long did it take to write all of these poems and how did you decide on fundamentals such as spacing, punctuation, and all those little elements that can so influence how a poem is read and absorbed?

TP: I took about six months to assemble the book, but some of the poems are much older, and I’ve been honing them for many years. I usually free write the images and then spend months going back and distilling the images down to the most minimal but potent language. There’s even a section two-thirds into the book where it gets incredibly condensed as the story starts to arrive in haiku-esque, minimal flashes of juxtaposed imagery. I work through a kind of distillation and alchemical process. I also consider the writing visually –– often forgoing punctuation or other grammar in order to paint them on the page in a way that encourages intended pacing and rhythm –– but also with open space for the reader to connect stanzas in their own unique ways and perspectives. I do that in my performance work too, putting the audience at the center and leaving as much room as possible for them to find themselves within the work.

MM: What was the process of finding a publisher like and were agents involved?

TP: Though many of the poems were individually published, previously, in a variety of journals, I decided to self-publish the final volume in order to control the timing, process, and distribution.

MM: Of all the poems and lines, do you have a favorite?

TP: I love “I dream of kumquats.” I don’t know why that stands out to me. It’s only three lines, but it conjures something so luxurious and indulgent to me in the middle of all the other visual and sonic imagery, something that evokes color and taste.

Publishing, authorship, theater, and projects

MM: What has the “published author” experience been like so far and might you consider writing a second book of poetry sometime?

TP: It feels good to have the work out in the world. Most of my other work is quite ephemeral. I’m still getting used to the idea that something like this is so perennial and that readers have complete independence in their relationship to how they experience it. It’s beautiful but so different from the live experiences I’m more used to creating and crafting for an audience –– with control over pacing, rhythm, and order. I have two more volumes in the works, with very different styles and tones. The second should come out later this year or maybe early 2019.

MM: You are a founder of the immersive theater group Third Rail Projects so, I’ve got to ask, what can the public expect to see from Third Rail next?

TP: This summer we will be premiering “Between Yourself and Me,” a film produced by Dance Films Association. It documents our creative process with two of our popular works (“Then She Fell” and “Roadside Attraction”) adapted for the screen. I’ll also be traveling with our international platform, the Global Performance Studio, next week in China and later in summer and early fall to Russia. “Then She Fell” continues to run. It’s now in its sixth year, with over 3,000 sold-out performances and continues to go strong. There are also some other surprises coming from Third Rail Projects in spring, summer, and fall.

MM: What are your goals for the future, and do you have any new projects and/or areas that you are focusing on?

TP: Well, now that I’ve been able to give some time and attention to my writing, I am excited to spend even more time digging in to get the backlog of ideas down on paper and more of the work out into the world. I am also deeply interested in working further with archetypes and mythology, dramaturgy, and depth practices––especially related to dream practices and the unconscious (individual, collective, colloquial)––and also helping others to find their creative voices and put their works into the world. We need that now more than ever. Much of my focus now is also on the Global Performance Studio offerings, how to help make deeper connections cross-culturally, speak artist-to-artist, and to forge a new model of diplomacy which focuses on cultural listening. The film is also another new area of inquiry for me, so I’m spending more creative time there connecting the moving images of film into my performance, writing, and installation work.

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“The Sandpiper’s Spell” is currently available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book (currently exclusive to Kindle) on Amazon. Quimby Books in NYC (on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) is also currently stocking the paperback edition, and more stores in the area will carry the book in late spring. There is a schedule of upcoming readings and events on Tom Pearson’s “Author’s Page” on Amazon.