thomas h. smith aka t. kilgore splake | one book

25 02 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 314 | February 25, 2010


thomas h. smith
t. kilgore splake

in march of 1979 i was camping in michigan’s upper peninsula “pictured rocks lakeshore” area and warming myself over the coals from last night’s fire. nursing a heavy-duty hangover and drinking the first coffee of the morning i wrote my first poem in a green-covered 4”x6” notebook. suddenly this burned out college professor with a failed marriage and captive to demon rum ethers had become a poet.

i have spent much time wondering over what a poet is, as well as seriously doubting if i qualified to be a poet. in order to hide my real self, i borrowed the kurt vonnegut character kilgore trout and developed the pseudonym t. kilgore splake.

with this new role as a poet, i quickly began using my creative imagination to write more poems describing the great variety of different human behaviors. no longer was i tommy smith following what my mother, father, and society demanded of my life, but a new man in the process of reinventing my “self.”

arriving in the poetic arts late in my years, i tried to make up for the time lost to other writers. i published several chapbook collections of my poetry with “angst productions” press. in 2009, i decided it was time to write my personal memoir. my the winter diary would define who i was and in my remaining few years describe what i was hoping to accomplish.

while reflecting on the life and times of tom smith, i felt like a visitor to the douglas gordon “24 hour psycho” show at the museum of modern art held in new york city in 2006. the hitchcock movie was slowed down to two frames per second, making a viewing nearly a day long event. thus, i found that reviewing my life in slow motion allowed me to take a harder look at the many things that happened to me.

any author writing a memoir has to decide what things to reveal as well as the personal history that will be left out. in the winter diary i did not talk about running away from home to join the navy during my senior year in high school at three rivers, michigan. i also chose not to tell of drunkenly opening beer bottles on the back bumper of my pickup truck while driving through canada to maine one spring. indeed, a “dui” in a foreign country with my summer thorazine prescription would have been quite a personal detail.

stephen elliott, author of the adderall diaries said a memoir must have perfect sentences, tension, honesty, and cannot intentionally lie. i believe that my the winter diary meets his literary requirements. however, to prevent a possible lawsuit or two, i did alter a couple of names and dates in the book.

after receiving several compliments to the winter diary, i think that walter mclaughlin, editor of wood thrush press in albans, vermont, summed up my writing best. walt said:

“i spent an entire afternoon with TWD, to my own surprise. not what i had planned to do. but, it caught me just the right time, when i needed something whacky, offbeat, yet very real.

you are a nut, no doubt about that! no need for you to look over your shoulder-normalcy lost sight of you long ago. and that is the best compliment any poet can receive from another.”

it seems a shame that when many poets pass away their voices and works are forgotten and quickly vanish. in the last couple of years i have lost three close writing friends: cait collins, editor of “the hold,” dave christy, editor of alpha beat soup, and the nationally known cab-driving poet dave church. i truly hope that someone is saving copies of their writings in literary archives so they won’t disappear.

my the winter diary covers the details of my life, and also has several splake poems in the commentary to emphasize my history of becoming a poet. following the 2009 publication of the winter diary, i discovered many additional thoughts about the life and times of tom smith, and published the winter diary notebook.

what might be called the splake-smith memoirs, volume iii, my manuscript “lost whispers” is currently getting a take-no-prisoners-parsing from a couple of close writing friends. in the late spring or early summer of 2010, i hope to publish “lost whispers” as an extension of my personal writing history.

the early morning poem i wrote while camping in the “pictured rocks lakeshore” area gave me a new life as well as provided me with a fresh creative vision. as i have grown intellectually, i find that now i exist outside the mainstream of modern society. i no longer feel any necessity to be treated as “one of them.”

with the discovery of my poetic epiphany and writing itch, i definitely agree with baron wormser who said: “this is it. this is who i am. this thrills me. whatever this poetry is, i want to live there.”

t. kilgore splake | painting by Henry Denander taken from the book The Poet Tree (Kamini Press) Please click the image if you are interested in buying this book.

splake biblio


  • 2010 lost whispers novel in progress
  • 2009 the winter diary gage printing
  • 2009 the winter diary notebook gage printing
  • 2009 backwater graybeard twilight thunder sandwich publishing


  • 2010 union printer mary-mark press
  • 2010 the poet tree kamini press
  • 2010 backwater bard lofdt musings moon press
  • 2010 splakeus and lillies moon press
  • 2009 beyond the cliffs miskwakbic press
  • 2009 deuce miswakbik press
  • 2009 the brautigan table miskwabik press
  • 2009 beyond the cliffs miskwabic press
  • 2007 samantha miskwabik press
  • 2007 connections: ann arbor-keweenaw miskwabik press
  • 2006 betsy miskwabik press
  • 2006 the dredge miskwabik press
  • 2006 shadows passing miskwabik press
  • 2006 dream song dream miskwabik press
  • 2006 cold mountain passages miskwabik press
  • 2006 bum wine miskwabik press
  • 2004 next stop paradise the hold
  • 2004 rainbow diary thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2004 evergreen thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2002 lac la belle morninga thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2002 tailings thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2002 slouching toward calvary thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2001 the murderous clown angst productions
  • 2001 rainbow rising angst productions
  • 2001 “cliffs” angst productions
  • 2001 cocaine asterius press
  • 2000 morning mourning angst productions
  • 2000 being becoming angst productions
  • 2000 light lightness angst productions
  • 2000 kerouac upper peninsula diary angst productions
  • 1999 trout dancing sonata hodge podge press
  • 1998 porcupine mountain papers angst productions
  • 1997 last train out angst productions
  • 1997 opening day breakfast musings green bean press
  • 1995 memories angst productions
  • 1995 odyssey to civilization and back angst productions
  • 1995 celebration of thea angst productions
  • 1995 twilight long white angst productions
  • 1993 boho beat theater angst productions
  • 1993 expatriate homeboy returns angst productions
  • 1993 sadness of backwater women angst productions
  • 1993 keweenaw love story angst productions
  • 1993 a loving enemy my muse angst productions
  • 1992 springtime for oona and brautigan angst productions
  • 1991 soft echoes behind the waterfall angst productions
  • 1990 a hole in reality angst productions
  • 1987 notes from the cave angst productions
  • 1985 ghost soundings angst productions
  • 1983 paris express angst productions
  • 1983 alaskan letters angst productions
  • 1983 beyond the fire angst productions
  • 1981 october softly angst productions
  • 1981 mute whispers angst productions
  • 1980 dark musings angst productions
  • 1980 dark musings angst productions
  • 1980 moon shadows angst productions
  • 1979 reststop angst productions
  • 1979 pictured rocks poetry angst productions

photographic chapbooks

  • 2002 available light thunder sandwich publishing
  • 2000 shadows visible angst productions
  • 1996 available light angst productions


  • 2001 full moon trailer engel productions
  • 2002 evergreen engel productions
  • 2003 splake # i angst productions
  • 2004 splake # ii angst productions
  • 2005 “cliffs” angst productions
  • 2006 a poet’s day angst productions
  • 2006 le metrops engel productions

soft-covered upper peninsula books

  • 1984 superior land lights angst productions
  • 1985 pictured rocks memories angst productions
  • 1988 keweenaw: copper country angst productions
  • 1989 soul whispers poetry angst productions

upper peninsula broadsides

  • 1990 superior peninsula themes and places
  • 1990 pictured rocks
  • 1990 keweenaw copper country
  • 1990 superior land lights
  • 1990 waterfalls of the upper peninsula

small press editor


t. kilgore splake | life, death, poet trees

3 06 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 284 | June 3, 2009


t. kilgore splake

norbert blei

Consider this a variation on that continuing theme I began some weeks ago: The Art & The Artists of Self Destruction—this being #4.

Those of us who know and love and read and keep up with all that goes on in the mind and spirit of our friend t.k. splake, exiled (happily) high above the rest of us Midwesterners, up there on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, recognize his voice upon the printed page immediately. Theme, style, movement, word choice, line breaks…we don’t need to see his adopted nom de plume on the page, he’s there. Up there on the cliffs. That’s ole t.k. talkin’ to us—the lonesome graybeard, wailing engagingly from his high terrain, calling us all to attention again: Stand still. Gather all the good inside of you. But don’t stand too still—you’ll be gone over the edge soon enough. May even decide to depart on your own terms.

Those are not white spaces between the lines of t.k.’s poems. They’re mostly gray. Time taking its toll in bad heartbeats. Then there’s that unsettling gun again…the American writer’s rosary–handle, barrel, trigger, bullets … handlebarreltriggerbullets…making far too many appearances in the bard’s tapping fingers as he mounts another last stand, another perspective, the odds against him, staring down his old foe “rat-bastard Time”…one more time.

So first, this, a new splake poem, “lia”…

Followed by “the rest of the story”. The tree of life…his tree of poetry.
Something I asked ol splaker to write about the tree for the sake of us all.



by t. kilgore splake

quiet black-haired girl
italia mama’s daughter
name meaning “industrious”
babette’s Saturday waitress
serving conglomerate cafe lattes
taking breakfast orders
school rubber-stamp print
tgif gym dance proof
graybeard poet aging dreams
bo-ho beat young romance
hard throbby flesh
blue viagra rush
geezer rock melodies
elvis “fats” domino chuck berry
camel’s twenty-five cents
pennies in cigarette machine pack
hitch-hiking rides
“on the road” miles
not flying here there
aging poet
creative brain-skull cavity
having to write
only few years left
before alzheimer loss
death’s shit smell
.357 trigger finger
lia’s boyfriend
growling tranny muffler
rusted rocker panels
foam dice real-view mirror
wearing “jock-logo” clothes
chasing fun games laughter
waiting next craze
twitter myspace youtube facebook
waky tobaccy euphoria
wrinkled zig-zag papers
girl too young
knowing real ghosts
believing in god
some afterlife beyond
never understanding
old man CLIFFS summit
imagining mysterious train far below
close enough to feel
eva marie saint
going “north by northwest”
mineral range steam engine
hauling copper ores
tamarack location
torch lake smelters
young metro miss
saying “goodbye”
soft gentle voice adding
“have a good weekend”

the poet tree


t. kilgore splake

the “poet tree” is located on the summit of the CLIFFS, about ten miles north of calumet, michigan, in the keweenaw peninsula. the CLIFFS are the location of the old CLIFFS copper mining activities that i wrote about in my the winter diary notebook memoirs.

my idea for the splake “poet tree” came from a photograph of a similar poet tree that existed in berkeley, california that i saw in an old copy of the poetry flash literary magazine.

quite often i hike in and climb the CLIFFS to the old cobblestone smokestack on the summit in order to reflect upon my ‘self,’ as well as renew my focus on rilke’s dictum “live the question.” on each of my trekkings to the CLIFFS top i carry along a new poem or three and the occasional art-drawing to attach to the “poet tree.” at present, the “poet tree” has a tibetan prayer flag, some henry denander art drawings, and short splake works as well as poems by other writers.

in the nine years of “poet tree” history twice it has been vandalized. i believe that the most likely suspects of the damage are michigan technological students with a six-pack of beer and very little regard for personal creativity. it is interesting that the one poem that survived a “poet tree” burning was my favorite richard brautigan writing: “we stopped at perfect days” from rommel drives on deep into egypt.

We stopped at perfect days
and got out of the car.
The wind glanced at her hair.
It was as simple as that.
I turned to say something—

the “poet tree” survives each of the passing michigan upper peninsula seasons. the autumn storms and winds weaken the paintings and poems. most of the work is lost to the winter “season of long white” blizzards. however, come the spring, like many old forest trees and graying poets, the “poet tree’s” artistry has vanished.

this year i climbed to the CLIFFS summit and gave the fresh beginning to the “poet tree” the last week in april after the keweenaw peninsula winter snows had melted. during my “first dawn” hiking, i enjoyed several new early morning colors – light cyan and soft salmon – original hues not like other colors on the artist’s palette.

after renewing the “poet tree’s” materials – art cards, poems, and a prayer flag – while trekking back down the CLIFFS path to retrieve my tranny, i enjoyed the spring love song of wild birds trilling their poor hearts dry.

these frequent splake visits to the “poet tree” and CLIFFS sanctuary take me away from the routines of human experience and civilization for a short moment in time. the surprise of many new wilderness colors and musical sounds gives me a quiet reminder that my time on earth is short and the words for a new poem are waiting.

RECENT WORKS by t. kilgore splake: THE WINTER NOTEBOOK (2009), THE WINTER DIARY (2009), Angst Productions, P.O. Box 508 Calumet, Michigan 49913. splakeatchartermidotnet

t. kilgore splake | early am existentials

3 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 19 | October 26, 2005

early am existentials by t. kilgore splake

one more morning awake, alive during the soul’s darkest hours, hangover tremors threatening, fiery raw nerve ends throbbing, slept in cloths stench, aftermath of “fuck it” drinking alone in early afternoon into late night shadows, old “poor-it” pondering early morning starter to maybe clean, clear the senses, on the way to writing a poem, scalding black coffee wasting kitchen sink silverfish population, ethers awakening a yeti, skulking somewhere in sewer labyrinth, hot caffeine fine vapors cooling chilly whispers, hem, brautigan, jack, abbey chorus declaring it “muzzle in the mouth morning,” purring, “come on over,” trying to decipher voice, message from sink’s drain, ominous “chugs and glugs,” weighing possible results of drano flush, wondering if time to reinvent new literary game plan, try again to define spirituality, or attack the old canon typer and make creative smoke,
maybe just lay back and hope for one more day.

from TAILINGS by t. k. splake, Thunder Sandwich Publishing