When the news word came in that playwright and talent agent Tom Poole died last night, I thought rather than just report the news, I’d let those who knew him share their own memories.
Well, the memories and tributes have been pouring in. First, this remembrance from Mo Perry:
Tom was dearer to me than I know how to explain. I didn’t know him long. We met in early 2010, but I quickly recognized him as a kindred spirit–someone capable of great joy and warmth who reveled in the absurdity of life. A crackerjack wit and fascinating mind with a shining heart. He became something of a mentor to me in so many areas–he gave me my first book on running when I was just starting to get interested in it, and he encouraged me along every step of my path toward running my first marathon (of which he’s run several). We were frequent daily Facebook correspondents, and I just dug up this message he sent me several months back. I had posted this survey in a note on FB, and responded to it and asked my friends to do the same. Tom sent his replies directly to me in a private message. Here they are:
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My experience of happiness is that it just comes to you. It is not so much the product of things you like happening to you as it is a feeling of yourself in the world. I have felt unbearably happy beside swimming pools, walking down snowy streets. listening to bands, cuddling with dogs, kissing, drinking cold water, not running anymore, reading. I think happiness is the natural state of humans free of oppression, which I have luckily almost always been.
2. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I don’t deplore anything in myself. I’m sorry about many things I see in the world, but don’t feel responsible for them, or responsible for fixing them.
3. What is your greatest extravagance?
My greatest extravagance is having done what I wanted, as I wanted, as much as possible, without regard to getting rich.
4. How wealthy are you?
I am immeasurably wealthy by my own understanding of wealth.
5. What is the quality you like most in a woman?
Love, and the bravery to follow it to the best of her understanding.
6. What is the quality you like most in a man?
Love, and the bravery to follow it to the best of his understanding.
7. Which words do you most overuse?
8. When and where were you happiest?
Many unmemorable moments when the world opened around me like a flower.
9. Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to learn and teach.
10. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My incredible desire to eat late at night.
11. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
12. Where would you like to live?
In the desert, in the forest, by the ocean, on a mountain, in a city, on a farm. But most of all, in the future.
13. What is your most treasured possession?
14. What are you reading?
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
15. Who are your heroes in real life?
Very many writers.
16. What is your favorite food?
Everything I’m not allergic to.
17. What is it you most dislike?
18. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
19. What is your greatest regret?
20. How would you like to die?
On some faraway beach.
It seems appropriate to me that these lovely responses be shared with people who loved him now. I think they offer great insight into his mind and heart and could be comforting to those grieving the loss of him.
I’d like to think that Tom is right now romping happily, as a dog, on some faraway beach.
From Dawn Frederick:
Tom was one of the kindest, funniest, and smartest people I know. He always provided a valuable perspective on things, and had the uncanny ability to make one laugh during toughest situations. Seeing him with his wonderful family (Geanette, Molly, & Nora) was always a treat, as his face would always light up when any of them walked in a room. I know all of us would agree that we’ve lost a very special person yesterday. Rest in peace Tom….
From Joseph Scrimshaw:
It seems odd to have other people come up with elegant, moving, funny
things to say about a man who was so elegant, moving and funny. I
imagine Tom might say his movement wasn’t elegant but that’s what made
it funny. In search of quotes of that ilk, I trolled through the
volumes of e-mails and facebook messages between myself and Tom. I
found an off-the-cuff quote I like very much. Tom was working on
building a website for a video project and wanted some feedback. The
site was of course hilarious, but work was still being done on the
technological bells and whistles. Tom had this to say about the
process, and at the risk of being hyperbolic, it seems like something
he might have said about life in general: “I got no idea how to do
this f***ing stuff, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.”
From Brian Beatty:
I’ve not known Tom as long as many in the local arts community, but in the little over a year that we were friends he inspired me and motivated me in invaluable ways.
Tom first caught up with me after some performance I did at the Bryant Lake Bowl. He wanted to buy me a beer and chat about a few things he thought I could be doing creatively. Had I ever considered trying voiceover work? What about recording a comedy album? Did I have a book of my little humorous poems or stories together? Tom was full of great ideas for me that I’d never bothered to imagine for myself.
It turned out we’d graduated from the same creative writing MFA program a bit over a decade apart and knew many of the same writer-types back in Ohio. We both had a thing for the writings of David Foster Wallace, too, and the idea of not pandering to audience expectations. Which Tom made sound so much easier than it’s been in my experience.
In the little over a year we were friends, Tom and I bounced many ideas off each other. Mostly by chat and email and mostly about what I could or should be doing with my writing and comedy. Tom certainly didn’t need my advice.
The last time I saw Tom was at the 331 Club about a month ago. He’d showed up to watch me open for a couple of musical acts to a disinterested audience of about 25 people. During my set, following a joke that had gone over so-so, Tom heckled me. But his oddly timed heckle pulled me out of my distracted performance head and back into the moment — and what I fired back at him got a much better laugh. After my half-hour set was over, Tom bought me a beer and reminded me that I still hadn’t recorded my comedy album.
I owe Tom so much more than just a couple of beers.
From Bethany Whitehead:
A number of years ago Tom and I met at Borders. Not as shoppers, but as co-workers. There we were, two underpaid book and music sellers with master’s degrees, and we quickly developed a rapport. I would look forward to working the same shift with Tom as he excitedly talked of the music he was currently loving, great books he was reading, and his current theater project. I do believe Tom was the first person who I met who called himself a playwright- an actual playwright! I loved that he was writing and developing theater and would eagerly ask of his progress and process. Despite our eventual departures from the bookstore, we kept in touch because of our shared interests, and as soon as I was hired this year as the Membership Manager at the Playwrights’ Center, Tom was naturally one of the first people I contacted. His charisma, passion, and enthusiasm for life was unrivaled and the creative community of the Twin Cities will feel his loss for a long time.
From Catherine Hansen:
Other than the enormous amount of warmth Tom radiated when I first met him and every time I saw him after that, I remember our conversation at the last Talent Poole holiday party where he explained to me the scientific difference between a geek and a nerd.
From Phyllis Wright:
His little dog, which according to Tom was a “TERRHUAHUA.” Tom wrote and directed pieces that were always challenging, wild and wonderful to be in.
From Michael Venske:
It was always a pleasure to see Tom. He wasn’t from Minnesota, he was from Arkansas. Silly as it may sound –the fact that he was from the south and one of the most charming people I’ve met — perpetuated this idea that Tom was a true southern gentleman and the only thing missing was a Mint Julep and perhaps a porch.
In the fall of 2009 Commedia Beauregard presented “Master Works: The Goya Plays” at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Tom had written a short play inspired by Francisco Goya’s “The Chinchillas” and recommended me to act in the show. If you search for an image of “The Chinchillas” you’ll see exactly what the 3-person cast looked like on stage that night.[Editor's note - see below]
The greatest memory I have of Tom, aside from our run-ins at the Talent Poole office, is performing in “The Chinchillas.” Acting while blindfolded on stage in a straightjacket being force-fed mashed potatoes was the most fun I’ve ever had in a show and I have Tom to thank for that. And if that sounds ridiculous, it was in the most innocent, playful, beautiful way… Just like Tom.
You can also read a lovely tribute to Tom Poole by friend and theater critic Tad Simons here.
FYI, I corresponded with Tom’s brother-in-law George Roberts, and asked if the family wanted to contribute anything. Understandably, they’re just trying to come to terms with the loss right now. But maybe someday they’ll be able to read this post, and have a sense of just how much Tom’s presence meant to so many people.