In His New Book, Pomeranian, Montana Embraces The Mundane
Toothbrushes weep and dogs do tricks in Montana James Thomas' new American fantasies.
I met Montana two years ago when we were both pretty new to the poetry scene. We were always at the same readings, eager. The mutual admiration was at first sight and after multiple failed attempts to “get lunch”, we became best friends. He stood out to me. This tall pretty gay guy in otherwise dykey scenes, reading shit that was really different from everyone else. He’d read these grotesque, whimsical, fantastical poems and fables in a sort of cartoonish vocal fry.
Montana’s always defied the dry, self-serious affect you’ve come to accept (and, to be fair, sometimes like) from poetry readings - he entertains. As time flies, Montana’s become a respected staple overnight, hosting his monthly reading series Vile Beasts and bopping around at different readings, on different line-ups. He also writes Byline’s monthly column The Stink! His debut collection of poems, Pomeranian, is the amalgamation of all that. Pomeranian comes out October 25th through dirt child press, with a consummatory launch party at KGB’s Red Room at 7:30pm. It is available for preorder now.
Riley Mac: Pretend I’ve never read Pomeranian before. Tell me about it.
Montana James Thomas: Pomeranian was a very focused almost-formula I gave myself - a way of looking at the world. It’s a lot of fantasy that is built up of a lot of real, ordinary aspects of life. I was reading it to this boy and he was like “Oh my god. Sad, boring lives.” And I was like “I thought you’d think it was funny!”
RM: It is sad and also hilarious. When you say the poems are like a way of looking at the world, what do you mean by that?
MJT: It captures this way of understanding that a bunch of things happen at once and then you die. It’s a way of holding all the truths, or rather dissonant components, together without passing judgment, and seeing how long they can hold together before something breaks. Often in writing, what ends up breaking is logic. There’s a lot of frustration in the poems for that reason. If something crazy happens it’s like “all good” - almost unacknowledged. In the poem Cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, a boy and a girl are having a normal conversation and then when the boy suddenly gets hit by a bus, the poem carries on as if that didn’t happen. There’s something inherently frustrating about that… Somehow we all can go about it unphased but it leaves you with an aftertaste.
RM: What’s interesting, too, is that the subjects in the poems aren’t you. It’s about made-up characters and they’re all pretty dehumanized - and I think you do that on purpose.
MJT: As my first published collection of poems, I wanted my introduction to be like “I’m not talking about myself.” So I wanted to talk about these characters instead. You say they’re dehumanized… Something that became a subconscious pattern in this book, and in many things I make, is the dehumanization of humans and the humanization of objects and pets. And how the dehumanized human consumes versus how the humanized object yearns to consume. That push and pull is also in there.
RM: You see that a lot in the poem Peggy. Her toothbrush “weeps”, she has a “loving phone”, but you don’t care that much when…no spoilers…but Peggy’s not alive at the end of the poem.
MJT: I think Peggy’s death in that poem produces more of an unsettling feeling. The sadness comes more from her possessions. Peggy also never existed because she comes from that poem Peggy in the Twilight by James Tate. She’s sort of this figure that exists and doesn’t exist and is kind of…a drunk.
RM: What headspace were you in when you were writing Pomeranian?
MJT: Even though the language in this book is very frank and surface-level, there is a lot of emotion under there. I was also drinking at the time. Pomeranian was almost entirely written while I was still drinking.
RM: And you’re not drinking anymore.
MJT: No laughs. I mean, Pomeranian isn’t really about my drinking, but I do notice as I work on different projects that it’s different. Somehow, even though I was drinking, the poems feel incredibly clear. I hate to say it but I am in every single one of these poems. And that’s so the joke can always be on me. I feel more comfortable allowing people to laugh at these characters because I know they’re me. It’s freeing, that’s The Fool… not an idiot - just truly free.
RM: I noticed that only one of the poems in this book takes place in New York and only a few feel vaguely metropolitan. Everyone who knows you knows you’re from New York and that you’re obsessed with New York. Pomeranian has a pretty consistent Americana, folklore type of vibe. There’s even a poem called The Boy Scouts of America sell corn. What’s up with that?
MJT: That was definitely not intentional. But what was intentional was the fairy tale quality of this collection and I wanted to write distinctly American tales. It just so happens that when I think of America I think of factories, suburbs, I think of jobs, I think of…
RM: Mass shootings? [there is a mass shooting at a zoo in the poem Wildman Bill]
RM: I said to myself…is Pomeranian a little political?
MJT: Not intentionally, but when you try to write fairy tales about America…
RM: I love how American it is.
MJT: I’m not necessarily proud to be American, but I stand firmly in the fact that I am an American and I wouldn’t want to be anything else. The sexiness of being American is like a weird big-titted apple pie handshake you can’t find anywhere else. It’s this warmth, youthfulness, and total ignorance. After I wrote Pomeranian, I was like, “Oh my god, I just wrote about factories and rural shit,” even though I’m a city boy. It almost felt like I was describing America as someone who’s not from America fantasizing about America.
RM: I can see that.
MJT: And that’s just because I’m from New York laughs. My next project after Pomeranian is way more wrapped up in New York.
No, but I do hate how much creatives living in major coastal cities shit on America, barely knowing what it looks like. I’d rather have a less judgmental fantasy of what America could mean to me.
RM: What are they idealizing, Europe?
MJT: Yes! And that’s garbage. I don’t idealize Europe, Europe’s for vacationing. If I’m fantasizing about Europe, it’s when Europe was much younger because younger places are more fun to fantasize about. And I think America’s young and fun to fantasize about… Europe is fun to visit because it exists, it’s not a fantasy. America is fantasy.
RM: What books, movies, etc. inspired you while writing Pomeranian?
MJT: Willy Wonka’s always an inspiration for me. There’s so much happening to those kids and you can’t pin down its morality at all. Also, the poet Russell Edson is my hero… and then there’s James Tate who I mentioned earlier. Not to sound like a total gay, but Sofia Coppola. She describes what’s going on inside the park without entering the park. I was listening to a lot of Les Baxter while writing this - very 1950s, kitschy, silver screen orchestra. And always Lydia Davis.
RM: Why Pomeranian as the title? Not a single mention of a pomeranian in this book.
MJT: I’m not much of a pet person, but I like watching how people speak to their pets and the power dynamics in a Master/pet relationship. I think pomeranians look like these weird little things bred into funny shapes that then serve as decoration, friends, or subjects of wealthy people. Pomeranian also means someone from Pomerania which is a historical region that used to exist on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. It felt instinctual for me to situate this bratty little living, breathing accessory of wealth, human domination, and cuteness, with an almost far off, mythological-sounding land of Pomerania. It was originally gonna be called Thanks This is Good and then I thought “that’s no fun.”
RM: I’m glad it’s Pomeranian.