Interview with Psychiatric Social Worker & Poet, Tohm Bakelas

When I was a child there were two things I wanted to pursue: writing poetry and helping others.  As a Poet my world was open to boundless expression – nothing was held back.  You are left to your own devices to simply: bleed, cry or sweat on the perfectly poised parchment, desiring the use of anything to make a mark – to scribe volumes worth of work.   Now, as a Social Service Worker, I had to be guarded and extremely professional – there was a ton of protocol.  What to document, what not to document – how to contend with stressful clients who are suffering on so many levels. It was probably one of the most difficult jobs I’d ever had.  My clients all had HIV/AIDS their stories were painful to listen to and I would come home many a time and simply cry.  So many, died!  It completely broke my heart.  It takes a special kind of person to explicitly care for others in a humane fashion.  Tohm Bakelas, is a practicing Psychiatric Social Worker who not only scribes thought-provoking Poetry but, is also passionate regarding his daily job.  As someone who had once worked in the field, it genuinely is a tough one when you are exposed to day-after-day-after-day of dealing with someone’s unbalanced mental state.  It simultaneously takes a lot of patience and mercy.  For more information on Tohm, check out and follow his Instagram @flexyourhead.

RMMW: Have you ever been creatively blocked?  If yes, how did you overcome it?

TB: Yes, for sure. I’m experiencing it now and I try not to think about it. I try not to acknowledge it because then it sticks with me. It’s sort of like a stray dog, ya know? Once you pet it, it won’t go away, it’s going to stick with you for a while because you gave it some attention.

RMMW: We all have an inner critic, how do you deal with yours?

TB: It depends. I’m fairly uneducated in the realm of writing. So sometimes when I write a poem and read it a few days later I think, ‘maybe I should edit this’ or ‘I should really consider revising that’ but then I talk myself out of it. I’ll honestly have a conversation with myself aloud, arguing over maintaining the integrity of the poem or editing the fucking lines. Anyone who has witnessed that unfortunate scene has said they think I should be committed.

RMMW: Do you have any artist rituals before starting new piece?

TB: Nah, I don’t believe in rituals. I have requirements though. I require confined space, like my car, or the corner seat at a noisy bar. I need chaos to be able to write. And I prefer the external chaos as a vehicle to break open the internal chaos like a geode.

RMMW: As a parent with two children how do you manage your work life balance?

TB: For the past 7 years I’ve been working adult inpatient psychiatric units. So, dealing with madness is just something I understand. Work is psychotic madness, my kids are fun madness, both are enjoyable. It’s easy for me to separate work and family life, but I do struggle with being able to turn off the clinical mode when I’m at a park or out to eat with my kids. A lot of people don’t like that I can observe at a stranger for 5 minutes and form a clinical impression on them. Apparently, it’s unsettling. But at the same time, don’t ask me to do it then haha.

RMMW: Being a Psychiatric Social Worker, I imagine at times can be VERY difficult what made you want to work in that specific field?

TB: The simplest answer is that I have no idea. I don’t think I had a choice. I’m not good with my hands, carpentry confuses me, plumbing and electricity too, I’m not good with rearranging rooms or measuring things. I’m just not good at it. But people fascinate me. They always have. Generally speaking, I do not like ‘normal’ people. I like psychotic people. There’s a genuineness that comes with them. They’re survivors of all sorts of hell. And I feel safe amongst them.

RMMW: How do you decompress each day after work?

TB: I fill the bird feeders outside my home.

RMMW: Tell us a little bit about your recently published book Orphan Road.  (Which is a brilliant read by the way!)

TB: Orphan Road is a collection of 50 previously unpublished poems that is being released by UnCollected Press. My good friend Hank runs the press and created the artwork on the front and back cover. Hank painted the cover after reading my chapbook Orphan Crows and titled the painting “Orphan Road.” So, to pay tribute to him I asked if I could use the painting as the cover of the book as well as the title. I’m pretty fucking proud of the book. I’m very thankful for him. You can order Orphan Road here:

RMMW: How many chap books have you released?

TB: I’ve released 6 chapbooks: Orphan Crows (Analog Submission Press, July 2018), Destroy My Wound (Budget Press, August 2018), In Living Rooms (Iron Lung Press, November 2018), A Bakelas Sampler (Self-published, December 2018), Decaying Sun Under Noontime Rain (Analog Submission Press, February 2019), Vacation Poems (Medusa Publishing Press, June 2019) and 2 micro-chapbooks: We All Arrive (Origami Poems Project, October 2018), Swallowed Smoke (Poems-For-All, March 2019).

RMMW: What themes do you enjoy exploring the most via your writing?

TB: Loneliness and the beauty in decay, the mundane, and the otherwise forgotten.

RMMW: The field of writing, more specifically poetry can be very competitive… as a writer that has been published numerous times from various publications, what do you feel is the greatest challenge for emerging poets?

TB: I think you have to look at poetry realistically. Having a fucking book in Barnes & Noble doesn’t mean shit. That’s all I have to say about that.

RMMW: Who are you favourite indie poets to read?

TB: To name some people I’m currently reading and actively seek the work of: Christopher Flakus, Martin Appleby, Gwil James Thomas, Karina Bush, John D. Robinson, Pete Donohue, Eric Keegan, Marc Brüseke Victoria Anderson, Henry Stanton, Kathy Pendrill, Elynn Alexander, Charles Joseph, James Norman, and India Brittany LaPlace. There’s so many more, but these are the writers I correspond with weekly.

RMMW: How many unpublished manuscripts do you have and what are you working on now?

TB: I’m sitting on top of 125 unpublished and uncollected poems. In addition to Orphan Road being released, I have two additional chapbooks coming out by the end of the year: Even the Spiders are Despondent (Death of Workers Whilst Building Skyscrapers) and No Place To Be (Holy & Intoxicated Press). After it all comes out, I’m going to do some readings and get these bastards out there.

RMMW: If you had a superpower what would it be?

TB: I wish I could fly. I could go wherever I want without having to deal with people. I’d fly myself to a place and when I was done — I’d fly home.

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