Competitor Profile: Thomas Murphy


“…we can still be moved by words and live performance, and that we can break away from our own lives, setting down our work, and our smartphones, and our monetary concerns, for just a few minutes to experience an ancient storytelling art form that is embedded in the human code.”


The God of Small Things



When I was smaller, my mother

let me play dress up—

Jasmine and the Pink Power Ranger—

I played

with Barbies, wore pink sweatshirts.

Mother thought I wanted

to be

a girl

but I just

wanted to be




The first time she called me

beautiful I snapped

off my hands and handed them over,

told her she could hold them

for as long as she wanted.  I cracked

open my chest and tried to clear the clouds away.



Since the day I had to sew my hands back

on I’ve been praying to the god of small

things hoping he will shrink this heart, this

hurt, or at the very least lessen the pain.

But maybe big is beautiful maybe

pain is pretty enough

to hold for a while.

I still play dress up.  I love

to pretend.  I still want

to be beautiful.




Name:  Thomas Murphy

Stage Name: N/A

Age:  23. 24 by show time.

Years Active in Slam: I’ve been creating and performing poetry for the last 10 years but have not been active in the slam community, I do mostly open mics and some shows around my former campus.

Teams You’ve Been a Member of: N/A

Place from which you are traveling to get to TGS:  Houston, TX

Top 5 influential poets: Buddy Wakefield, Andrea Gibson, Ilya Kaminsky, Nick Courtright, Sierra Demulder

Have you been to TGS before, & if so, what are you hoping is the same/different from your previous experience?  I have not.

If not, what are you most looking forward to at TGS this year?  I’m excited to see all of the amazing poets that are going to be performing as well as to gain a larger audience for my own work.

How would you describe your writing style?  Probably what you would get if a quasar had a baby with a comic book, and then that comic book invented gods for small children to pray to after nightmares.  A prayer mixed with a news article.

Do you consider yourself more of a writer or a performer? A nice mixture of both?  I have studied both creative writing and theatre since I was a much more miniature human being. I’m a theatrical designer now, as opposed to being an actor, but that background still shows through in my writing and performance.  I also teach classes, so there is a performance in that as well.  That doesn’t stop the stage fright, though.

Who are you looking forward to/nervous as hell to compete against?  I think probably Micheal Lee,  I’m familiar with Micheal’s poetry and have watched his stuff for years.

What is your goal for this competition?  I just want people to hear my stuff, and, as is the goal with live performance, to make the audience feel something.  That, and to make people excited about poetry.

What is going through your head before you get on stage?  Breathe, Thomas…and don’t fall.

How do you handle poems that occupy a really emotional place for you? As a person with a theater background, do you manage intense feeling by telling yourself that it’s a monologue? How do you keep composure during difficult poems?

Handle is an interesting way to put it.  I do sort of treat it as a monologue.  The first thing is to say it a bunch of times, so many times that the emotions I feel from that poem are more manageable.  Then, like in a rehearsal process for theatre,  I analyze to see how much emotion the poem needs at different points to be effective, and to help the audience feel something when they should.  With my performance it is less about handling the emotions I get from a piece and much more about harnessing that emotion for the benefit of the performance.   As a poet, I generally deal with the subject matter in which my emotions dwell on a regular basis.  I mean, they really live there, kicking them out is not an option, so I might as well make them a pot of coffee in the morning so they are easier to deal with when they get up.  


How do you decide which poems are page poems and which poems are stage poems? The poem you sent me seems like it could be both. Do you find that you prefer the way some poems work on page? Or is everything free game as far as you’re concerned?

I’ve always treated my writing as a two step process.  The first go I let the sage wright, he goes and goes and goes, without regard to form or organization, then, after that first spirt is finished, it’s the editor’s turn to cut all that first part into digestible slices, often creating a new poem with an entirely different meaning.  I feel that most of the time page poems are much more the editor and less the sage and performance pieces are more sage than they are editor.  There are times when a poem, such as “The God of Small Things”, that has a nice balance of the two.  My stage poems need to be more immediately visceral, requiring a much more emotional scope at once, sort of like a shot of whiskey, my page poems can be more easily digested over time and more slowly released, read multiple times without rush, they are a pot of coffee.

What is your priority when writing?

My priorities are different depending on what I’m writing about and when.  Sometimes it is to process a feeling that I have, sometimes to process a feeling or even that I believe many people to have, and therefore to help them process it as well, sometimes it is to just write something pretty, sometimes it is to write something crappy in order to get some crappy writing out of the way, much of the time, though, it’s just to write, because, for whatever reason, I feel like it is a necessity.

What do all of your influential poets have in common?

Though, those are only a few of the poets that have influenced me, it seems that they all have very distinct voices, and that they really know themselves and their writing.  I really admire that.  It’s really difficult to cultivate artwork that people listen or look at and know it’s yours.  They also all have written poems that have helped me at times in my life, either to process a feeling when I had difficulty myself, or to even feel something that was difficult.  For Buddy Wakefield it was Flockprinter and We Were Emergencies, among others, with Andrea Gibson it was Jellyfish and Prism, Ilya Kaminsky had Prayer and the final part of Musica Humana, the chapter in Dancing in Odessa, and Sierra Demulder has Today Means Amen and Unrequited Love Poem.  Nick Courtright is a bit different because he was a teach of mine at one point.  He helped me cultivate my voice and raise the confidence I needed to stick to writing, and to share that writing with people.  That being said, he also wrote a poem once about a cat that he saw hit by a car.  It still gets me when I think about it.  I keep these poets in my back pocket, just in case I need an extra push, not just in my writing, but in my life.  


How are you making the transition from non-competitive poetry to such a specific competition as TGS?

Wow, I guess I’m just trying to remain relaxed about it.  It is a bit nerve-racking to be competing against such a large number of talented poets.  I have to keep in mind what my goal, that I want to people to listen to poetry and feel something, to have that epiphany that seems more and more elusive in everyday life, that we can still be moved by words and live performance, and that we can break away from our own lives, setting down our work, and our smartphones, and our monetary concerns, for just a few minutes to experience an ancient storytelling art form that is embedded in the human code.  So that, and my own daily affirmations of awesomeness in the mirror.