Posts Tagged ‘Broken Hallelujahs


Poems for an Empty Church Has Been Released

If you believe in God or don’t believe in god, if you have a religion or need a religion, if you’re empty or spiritually full, Poems for an Empty Church will speak to you and help you experience the Other.

Poems for an Empty Church front cover

Poems for an Empty Church (from Palettes & Quills) is now on sale at Amazon here. Soon it will be available at other book stores including Lift Bridge Book Shop in the heart of downtown Brockport, NY.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

Of course, no church is ever really empty unless people let ritual and myth lapse into repetition and dogma. Even then it isn’t empty, just empty of awe. That’s when origin stories are most necessary, and that’s what Tom Holmes provides in abundance: Moons create amazement, then stones create reflection, then people come along creating words, aggression, fire, flutes, art, physics, and probably our destruction, everything progressing ’til it returns full circle. Along the way, “statues pry themselves from sides of buildings / and exit the city / clutching their plaques.” Along the way, a lot of fine poems unfold, one containing a curse: “you have succeeded / in being only what you thought / you should be.” It’s a curse because we ought to be more. In a century in need of a giant do-over, Poems for an Empty Church reminds us of that. Even better, it makes a good lever or spark.

– Rob Carney, author of Story Problems, Weather Report, and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts

In Poems for an Empty Church, Tom Holmes writes of birth and death and the life we live in between those two events in beautifully sculpted lines carved into the white space that surrounds them. “I dare say I can hear / muddy angels singing /the lines of God,” he writes in “The Calculus of a Tod Marshall Book of Poems.” There are plenty of angels in Tom Holmes’ poems too, but one must be still enough to hear and appreciate the whisk of wings hovering over these powerful meditations.

– Sarah Freligh, author of Sort of Gone

I think of Charles Olsen when I read Tom Holmes’ poems: open, investigative, prophetic, often with mystical implications. These are the elements of our best modernist poems, and Holmes is a modernist – or a pre-modernist, or a post-pre-modernist. And there lies the real interesting part of his poems, they are hard to fit into anyone anywhere. He sits us in an empty church and says listen. He knows “it was the moons talked first.” He knows the dreams we dream even when “we wheeze / asleep in our boxes of shadows.” In these poems and parables is our collective of fire and nightfall, origins and endings, monochromatics, rivers, and stretch marks. Sappho makes a rare presence, but this is a book more stone-carved than page-written and she too is an ancient muse. As this author’s I is an absent eye, scanning the world of caves and shadows to find clouds who feed themselves, ghosts like alphabets, and men who whittle bones into flutes.

– Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line and Broken Hallelujahs

This book is dedicated to Rob Carney, William Heyen, and W. S. Merwin. Without them, this book could never have come into being. They have affected my poetry profoundly, which is evident in this book.

I began writing Poems for an Empty Church back in 1989 or 1990. I didn’t know that at the time, but the oldest poem in the book, “Three Voices of Creation,” was begun back then.  I then worked on it for 17 more years. Twenty-one or twenty-two years if you count some tiny edits I made before the book went to the printer.

The majority of the book, however, was written around 2005 and 2007 when Merwin’s sans-punctuation imagination and tonalities were in me along with Rob Carney’s mythic imagination and tonalities. This book is built from the mythic imagination, tonalities, long vowel sounds, and, to my surprise when I read it again for the first time in two years just before it went to publication, harmonic tonalities. But mostly, it’s in a simple language. A language of what I call The Language of Last Call. That is the language that people are using shortly before a bar closes. When you use a language that is most close and most honest to you. A language that is void of the pedantic and impressive. It’s a language of communication and images. And it’s clear.

Here’s the opening poem:

     Twelve Years with Heyen’s “The Poem is Smarter Than You”
        For William Heyen

     I know what this poem means
     I know everything about it
     I know why the oak is in the poem
     to evoke sturdiness longevity & tone
     The poem is smarter than you

     I know this poem in part
     is meaning to talk
     about the expensive oak desk
     & how it was made
     a symbol of civilization
     The poem is smarter than you

     I think the oak poem
     I will write will speak
     of a forest being clear cut
     The poem is smarter than you

     Dear Poem what do you need
     I can’t see from staring at you
     my imagination is not
     connecting to you or the oak
     The poem is separate from you

     Dear writer remove time
     from your poem then space
     then see where you stand
     see where the oak walks
     or has walked or if it will move
     The poem is separate from you

     There is nothing here
     but an old movie projector
     with an absent light bulb
     & now a star whose light
     has not yet arrived
     What are you hinting
     The poem is smarter than you

     Poem you’ve turned your back
     to me you’re walking without me
     you’ve stolen my pencil
     The poem is smarter than you

     Dear Poem I’m tired of this
     thinking I’ve lowered my hands
     I’ve stopped my attempt to write
     What do you want

     That surrender & your ego 
     clear cut from the page 
     & a mountain for me to stand on 
     & a sunrise for my shadow 
     which you will trace 
     listening to night’s echoes 
     I am smarter than you 
     Nature is smarter than me

This is like the opening door poem. The book really begins with the first section “Beginnings,” when the other poems become more grounded, more body- and soul-centric, and able to fill, live, and resonate within an empty church. //

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Material Matters

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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March 2023


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