Tommye Blount on The Social Distance Reading Series

Born and raised in Detroit, Tommye Blount now lives in Novi, Michigan. He is the author of Fantasia for the Man in Blue (Four Way Books, 2020) and What Are We Not For (Bull City Press, 2016).

Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review

In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.

Here is Tommye reading from FANTASIA FOR THE MAN IN BLUE available from Four Way Books.

GMR: How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?

I’ve come to understand there isn’t a way I start new poems; it varies. What is clearer to me now is that I write well under pressure. There is an email group called “The Grind” started by poet and Bull City Press founder Ross White. Participants are to compose writings every day for a month—that’s pressure in my book. Many of the poems from Fantasia for the Man in Blue were started in “The Grind.”

GMR: What was an early experience that taught you language has power?

When I was little, my mother used to get upset with me when I would say “lie.” She always told me to say “story” instead as in “I cannot tell a story.” For many years I was afraid of the word “lie.” It was a swear word to me. Unfortunately, she passed before I could ask her about it. That was when I understood, on a primal level, how fearsome— read powerful—language could be.

GMR: What poets or writers do you continually go back to?

Carl Phillips, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Vievee Francis, Susan Mitchell, “The Tomb of Sorrow” by Essex Hemphill, “White Girls” by Hilton Als, Toni Morrison (of course)—I could go on and there are more. So many writers—and artists from other disciplines like Camille A. Brown, Bill T. Jones, Pat Cleveland, Stephen Burrows, Cheryl Dunye, Charles Burnett, and more—are bountiful wells of creativity and thought for me.

GMR: What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?

In my tween and teen years, I was obsessed with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Super Mystery books. I can remember going to Target and having this Pavlovian response when I would see the latest book in the series on the shelf. Stephen King was also huge for me—especially It and Christine. With King, I think it was tied to my love of movies. I’d see the movie, read the books, then compare notes.

GMR: What are your thoughts/experiences on social distancing?

Isn’t crazy how fast that phrase has become a part of the lexicon: social distancing?! (Language is also viral.) Apparently, I do this in my life anyway—I travel, go to movies, live theater, concerts, museums, often, alone. But I do think it is getting us to think about community on a deeper level than we have had to before. One’s own well-being, this virus is getting us to see, depends on the well-being of everyone else.

GMR: Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website:

Here’s the publisher’s website: Four Way Books

“We have waited a long time for a full collection of the evocative provocations of Tommye Blount to be released. Poem by poem Blount’s first book has become one of the most anticipated books of poetry of his generation. Fantasia for the Man in Blue does not disappoint. It is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait, where the self is viewed from every vantage, inside out, then in again. Fearless in its observations. So fearless it makes us wince. So baring we can’t help but see ourselves in this mirror. In the repeated title piece Blount notes wryly before we begin gasping: ‘Let me / take over this body / soften what letters / will bend—I am a poet after all.’ And indeed he takes up the stakes as only a poet who has waited a long time to speak dares to. This first book is full of seasoned poems, as finely wrought as black iron railing, keen and complex and equally unsparing. Here are the brutal and tender moments we can’t bear, and as such, suppress. Blount clasps our chins in his hand and won’t let us turn away. In Fantasia for the Man in Blue, the imagination is the vehicle that insists upon our knowing what we would otherwise deny, and Blount’s imagination leads us through the illusory onto the front steps of someone who might claim to mistake our hesitant knock for forced entry as in ‘How Sweet This Great Land.’ There is no race card here, the American pathology of race is the game itself and Blount upturns the board. Blount expects us to run toward our ruinous and redemptive desires. We ‘could learn to kiss / a man with a mouth like [this].’”

—Vievee Francis


“With Fantasia for the Man in Blue, Tommye Blount captures the tension between what horrifies us as a nation and of what we crave to soothe the pain. An achievement of saying what needs to be heard at a time when there’s so much chatter among us, Blount manages to cut through the din by directing us to the beauty that remains. Dear Tommye, thankfully, ‘you are the disobedient one, / littering the spangled blue night / with your dark tear,’ which is a comfort. These poems, a cocktail not only of urban gothic but also of a sublime fantasia, will change how we listen to the world around us and teach us the uses of its enchantment.”

—A. Van Jordan

The Social Distance Reading Series

Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review

We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.

Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.

–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.