MISFiT | George Tomsett. Poetic expression, Edinburgh, and coffee in the sun.
"I’ve always thought that honesty is a precept for any writing."
For the first MISFiT of 2021, I had the pleasure of chatting to a wonderful friend, George Tomsett, about his poetry and what inspires him to write. We’ve been friends since we started university almost four years ago now, so getting inside his head to learn about his creative process was super weird in a refreshing and revealing way.
I feel so lucky to be surrounded by creative friends who inspire me every day but we don’t always get to hear how our friends experience this creativity, what urges them to engage in poetry, and what inspires them. I’ve learnt a valuable lesson in staying curious about my friends’ creativity.
Enjoy and see you next time,
D: Tell me about your journey into poetry - for example, when did you start realising poetry was the form you most connected with to express yourself?
G: I started writing poetry when I was seventeen. The first poem I ever wrote is actually woven into the poem Surreal But Nice, which is a quote from Notting Hill of all things. My first love said that about our relationship; I just ran with it and made a poem out of everything that I was feeling but couldn’t say because we were both under this shroud of discretion in quite a suffocating environment.
But before that, I was writing journals religiously. I have journals detailing my entire life starting from 2013. How extra is that? I realised pretty soon that poems can encapsulate the same thing that a 1000 word journal entry can. The same pain, same story, same colours, same breath. So poems have become a form of journaling now, if that makes sense. But I’m keen to move on from autobiographical stuff at this point. I have very little left to say about my own life now.
“‘keep your head above water’… In a world where climate change is ensuring more extreme weather events; more floods and what have you, it takes on a double meaning.”
I’m so glad you brought the journal-entry aspect up because I always feel like I’m reading your diary in a way when I read one of your poems, especially the ones in your new work.
The title of your new anthology, a wildly successful one I should add, is "Get In The Car, The World Is Ending". The blurb explains that the collection ruminates on modern anxieties - the poems are deeply personal but I wonder, how do you relate such personal experiences and anxieties to the wider and universal anxieties that you hint at, such as politics and social causes?
The cover image means a lot to me and explains the blurring of universal anxieties and personal experience. The actual imagery of having your head beneath the water. My family always used to tell me to ‘keep your head above water’. I think it was my mum’s favourite phrase to use when I was being bullied at school. In a world where climate change is ensuring more extreme weather events; more floods and what have you, it takes on a double meaning. April in Barcelona this year was the rainiest on record, and I remember looking down at my street with all of this water flowing so fast down the hill, and that’s when the cover image came to me. Because things are not going too well on Earth right now and I think we all have to try to stay sane and not drown in all of the fresh hell that jumps out at us from our phones.
For the speakers in the book, I wanted there to be an element of helplessness, as though all of the world’s pain is something that merely washes over you whilst you remain somewhat naturally more focused on the pain you can make the most sense of and feel most acutely; your own.
“Being fearless and being honest are pretty similar things!”
Showing people your poetry is always a vulnerable process. Were you ever afraid to publish the anthology; or was it a no-brainer, something you were aching to show the world?
It was a no-brainer. I remember talking about this with you! I think not having any ‘elder’ to answer to means I have free reign to be as honest as I like. My friends know about the things that I was quite scared to put out into the world, as in the events that informed certain themes in the book. But otherwise, I’ve always thought that honesty is a precept for any writing. Emotional honesty. Not necessarily about your own life, but you need an element of fearlessness when writing in order to actually get words onto the page, and then to share it with people. And being fearless and being honest are pretty similar things!
How long did it take to compile?
It took four months to compile, two years to write. Compiling was so difficult because I wanted there to be an element of growth and actual chronology, but I ended up writing poems towards the end of the process that were based on childhood or being a teenager, which of course then had to go in the earlier sections. The second poem in the book was actually the last one I ever wrote!
That’s so interesting, I didn’t know that. I can see how autobiographical writing can take on such a cyclical nature though; as you grow you tend to look back on your childhood more. I’m so impressed by your ability to keep it focused and produce such a clear chronology to the anthology in a way that doesn't feel manufactured.
“I wanted all of the pain and trauma to be kind of alchemised into art and released from inside me by being written, printed and published.”
Tell me about some of your favourite poems from the anthology. Mine, in case you're curious, are XXI (21), Thicker Than Blood, How To, and Suddenly See More. Also, your references to Edinburgh girls and Victor Hugo deli are pretty iconic and so comforting to me.
I’m really glad you like the references to Edinburgh girls and Victor Hugo cafe. Adds a bit of context, doesn’t it?
I think XXI is a lot of people’s favourites because it’s just so saturated with pain, which was intentional. I wrote it as the kind of grand finale of my autobiographical writing, a kind of last hurrah. I knew that the confessional poetry I’ve been writing for all these years was drawing to a close, I feel ready to try other modes, push myself into creating new stories.
I wanted all of the pain and trauma to be kind of alchemised into art and released from inside me by being written, printed and published. As though by putting those twenty-one images and stories into the book I could thereby, quite literally, ‘close the book’ on them. And I believe it worked, for the most part. The poem charts the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Not always in that order. And closing the book with, ‘Now I am twenty one, and I can legally drink in America’, just felt like the perfect way to end the whole thing, all of it - to kind of throw it away in this reassertion of youth, and looking at new shores and possibilities. Like, yeah all of this blinding stuff happened but what does it matter now? It’s over. Now I want to go and get drunk in a bar in Bushwick.
One of my favourites is Notes From the Freak Show. I spent ages on it. It’s actually one continuous sentence, but I tried pretty hard not to make that obvious. I’m also really proud of Vantage and Mobility. Especially Mobility.
What did the reception from your friends and other readers feel like? Was it overwhelming to have so many people read your work, comforting to hear their support and thoughts, or something else entirely?
It’s been pretty amazing. I’m so grateful to my friends for buying the book and one of the things I’m happiest about from the feedback is how the kind of ‘journey’ is clear, which is nice. Because it’s a pretty long book as far as anthologies go, so having that kind of trajectory towards acceptance was important for me in the compilation stage.
Also, shoutout to Zelda Solomon for saying, ‘You’ve written a worryingly immersive depiction of depression throughout this.’ What a win!
Haha, I’d have to agree with Zelda.
Finally, tell me about things you're reading, watching, listening to and doing that inspire your creativity.
I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 right now, so I’m still on my apocalypse shit! I’m also reading a lot of architecture forums as per usual. Skyscrapercity is where it’s at. Why do I do that? My friends laugh at me for it.
I’m listening to Taylor Swift still, and also The Paper Kites who I love love love.
And in terms of inspiring creativity, my preferred and sole activity in this life is getting a takeaway coffee from an independent coffee shop and having a moment alone in the sun, just to breathe, and think, ‘Thank God for this life. To be out of the blizzard.’ We move!
The Paper Kites
Get a takeaway coffee from one of these independent cafes in Edinburgh (the coffee here is amazing!)