photo of western blue-bird house reflected in a window

About Tom Sharp

[Tom Sharp at the rim of Haleakala; photo by Terry M. Sharp]

Photo by Terry M. Sharp

“Tom Sharp, Ph.D., is a Native American of Aleut heritage, a member of Seldovia Village Tribe, and the author of numerous books. He holds twenty patents, and is retired from IBM.”

I’ve decided that a poet may write about anything that he or she likes, and it’s better if it’s not the same thing in book after book. Poems concerning love, nature, and keen introspection of deeply felt emotions are fine, but fail to cover the full spectrum of our lives or culture. Many of these books began as a list that I borrowed. Some were modeled on other poets’ work. Always, I tried to find something to learn about as well as an interesting way to present it.

The complete spiritual and intellectual biography of a poet is in the poet’s works. But after the list of books below is an overview of five stages of the career of Tom Sharp.

  • The book of science. I started writing this in 1997. Each week since 31 May 2011, I have added a new set of poetry and commentary reflecting on a milestone of the history of science.
  • The booklet of science is a subset of The book of science consisting of the last poem for each milestone (skipping the elements).
  • The Heritage of America, 2021. These poems are my reactions to The Heritage of America, edited by Henry Steele Commager and Allan Nevins, first published in 1939.
  • Beneficial bugs, 2021. Poems that describe genetically engineered arthropods.
  • Aliens, 2021. Poems about our perceptions of aliens.
  • How to be a genius, 2021. Poems about the nature of being human.
  • Temples, 2021. Poems about temples throughout our rich and diverse history.
  • Tame, 2021. Poems about human beings and other wild and tame animals.
  • The book of signs, 2021. Poems about natural and conventional signs.
  • Impossible objects, 2021. Poems about objects that we might wish existed.
  • Strange times, 2021. Poems reflecting on conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Toys, 2021. Poems about toys, play, and the imagination.
  • Reflections on Tarot, 2021. Poems about on images and symbols of the major arcana of the tarot deck.
  • Hunter, Hunted, 2021. Poems about animal behaviors.
  • The book of myths, 2020. Poems about the unverifiable ideas that inform various cultures.
  • Fruits & Vegetables, 2020. Poems about concepts of life and the fruits and vegetables that we eat.
  • Pets, Primates, Parasites, 2020. 61 poems about relationships between species.
  • Aleut words: Unangam tunun, 2020. Poems about Aleut words.
  • Boats, 2020. Seventy-four poems about boats.
  • Aleut Artifacts: Unangam aguqaadangin, 2020. Thirty-six poems about Aleut artifacts.
  • Weeds, 2020. Twenty-two poems about weeds.
  • Hobos, Hermits, Gypsies, 2020. Fifty-one poems spoken by hobos, hermits, gypsies, philosophers, jesters, circus people, pilgrims, outcasts, expatriates, refugees, and the emperor of Borderlandia.
  • Art and Its Uses, 2020. Twenty-nine poems about works of art of several cultures.
  • Arthropods, 2020. Forty poems about features of these fascinating creatures.
  • extinct animals, 2020. One hundred twenty poems about extinct animals. It is sobering to realize how much we have lost, the variety, the intricacy, and the beauty of life.
  • Comics, 2020. One hundred twenty poems about 29 classic comic strips—the Yellow Kid, the Katzenjammer Kids, Little Nemo, Mutt & Jeff, Toonerville Folks, Krazy Kat, and 22 more.
  • Cabinet of curiosities, 2020. Forty-two poems about curious objects: insects, sealife, fossils and stones, relics, native artifacts, books.
  • SciFi, 2020. Seventy-nine poems about effects of technology on culture.
  • Images, 2019, 2020. Twenty-four poems on various symbolic representations.
  • Foibles, Faults, and Fallacies, 2019. Nineteen poems about cognitive biases.
  • Things People Do, 2019. Seventy-one poems about screaming, laughing, yawning, blushing, crying, muttering, cheering, and smiling.
  • The book of beliefs, 2019. One hundred nine poems about strange and kooky beliefs: conspiracy theories, aliens, UFOs, crop circles, cryptids, the undead, folk creatures, witchcraft, geomancy, the paranormal, miracle cures, and other hoaxes.
  • Poems by Tom, 2017, 2020. Eleven poems about poetry—reading poetry and teaching poetry—with videos of me reading each poem with background music by Elizabeth Douthitt Sharp.
  • First Nations, 2016-2020. Ninety-two poems, spoken in first person, based on Native American cultures and histories, starting with my own tribal affiliation, Aleut, and including poems about the Salish Sea tribes and the fish wars, the Klamath River tribes and removing dams from the river, and California tribes.
  • Elements of science. On 4 March 2017, I added 111 milestones to The book of science to complete coverage of the 118 chemical elements.
  • Elements of elements of science is a subset of The elements of science consisting of the last poem for each element.
  • Lyrics, 2013-2017. Lyrics and music, mostly just for fun.
  • travels, 2013-2019. Poems, mainly haiku, written on our trips to Peru, London, France, and Cuba, accompanied by photographs from the trips.
  • immortals of taoist mythology, 2012. I wrote these eight poems in 1985. The illustrations are paper and fabric depictions of the eight immortals distributed by the Schering Corporation to promote Meticorten.
  • A Life’s Work, 2012. Three sets of poems on grief, love, ducks and other things.
  • Monday Poems, 2012. Fifteen poems written mainly on the bus to work on consecutive Mondays in 2009.
  • Hans and the Clock, 2011, 2018. A novel in sixteen chapters concerning lives, contraptions, and unidentified flying objects.
  • The I Ching, or Book of Changes, 2003. Fifty-four poems. I tossed coins and took my inspiration from the translation of the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, with the foreword by C. G. Jung.
  • The Great Ideas: Reflections on the History of Western Thought, 2003. One hundred two poems based on the The Great Ideas, A Lexicon of Western Thought, by Mortimer J. Adler.
  • The Acts of Matthew and Andrew in the City of Cannibals, 2000, a translation from Old English of “The Legend of St. Andrew.”
  • Spectacles: A Sampler of Poems and Prose, 1997, Taurean Horn Press, ISBN 0-931552-10-9. This book selects poems and prose written beginning in 1972 from seven books that I had previously published:

    Balancing of Grinding Wheels, 1997
    Synopsis of the Signal Systems, 1997
    Ezra’s Book, 1980
    Important Beater Instructions, 1985
    Hans Hans, 1988
    Personae, 1989
    One Hundred and One Famous Poems, 1995

  • The Complete Hans Hans, 1997. Adds to the earlier cycle the beginning of an aborted novel, Hans Visits the Soda Fountain, and more recent pieces collected as “Real Life’s Thoughts.”
  • One Hundred and One Famous Poems (Totally Rewritten), 1995. Actually, 111 poems and 4 essays. Online, each poem is linked to a page that contains the original poem that you can hear read by Clifford Schwartz.
  • Personae, 1989. I modelled this on the works of William Carlos Williams (Charles Tomlinson’s selections from Spring & All), Robert Creeley (the first part of Memory Gardens), Jack Spicer (A Red Wheelbarrow), and Larry Eigner (selections in Room 3).
  • Hans Hans, 1988. The early cycle of short prose pieces featuring Hans—“Hans Goes to the Zoo,” “Hans Finds a Friend,” “Hans Gets a Job,” and “Hans Falls in Love.” These pieces follow a form that David Bromige used in Tight Corners & What’s Around Them (Black Sparrow Press, 1974). Hans entered history after graduation day in June 1973 when David Bromige and I met in a coffee shop in Rohnert Park and invented a form to suit Faceless Fussduck, detective. The form was first a set up, followed by anything that was logically consistent but that broke expectations: “Faceless Fussduck slowly raised his cold revolver. The closet was dark.” This discovery led to humor and new poetics, to experiments with logic, character, and plot.
  • By Day & Night, 1985. I composed this series of 57 short poems from notes that I had taken on trains to Chicago, New York, Austin, and San Diego while enjoying a one-month Amtrack rail pass.
  • Important Beater Instructions, 1985. This book collects poems that I read with Bill Vartnaw in Sonoma County on 5 August 1985.
  • “Objectivists” 1927-1934: A critical history of the work and association of Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, Ezra Pound, and George Oppen, Stanford University, 1982, updated 2015. My PhD dissertation.
  • Ezra’s Book, after “Hilda’s Book” by Ezra Pound, 1980. With this book I began the practice of basing each poem on a piece by another writer, and of writing books, not individual poems.
  • Synopsis of the Signal Systems, 1979. This was also a cutout—based on the pamphlet published by the U.S. Marine Corp on Morse code and semphore. I considered this to be “Part Two of Absences and Presences” of Spectacles.
  • Balancing of Grinding Wheels, 1979. I took a pamphlet published by the Norton Company, cut out the text, leaving the illustrations, and pasted “some early love poems” where the text had been. Originally, I considered this small book to be part one of an unpublished book that I planned to title Spectacles.
  • The Problems, April 1972. A single poem originally published on twelve-sheet mimeograph by the Rhymers’ Club at Sonoma State College.
  • Not Lost, including poems and short stories that are not included in other books, particularly my early work going back to the age of 17.
  • MRadio, 2019, a Java program to play multiple simultaneous internet radio streams. This also plays single streams and it gives you over 1500 streams to choose from.

Five stages of the career of Tom Sharp

I have written poetry, and needed to write it, since high school. Some reasons for this behavior are psychological, which we don’t need to explore, but others are for social enrichment, becoming involved with other writers in readings and small publication efforts, and, like other disciplines, self-enriching.

The first stage of my poetic career was to share my poems with others. In high school, starting around 1968, I published poems in our student-run newsletter. In college, I published in student-run magazines and participated in poetry readings. The Rhymers’ Club at college published my first book, twelve mimeographed double-sided pages, The Problems.

After college, while I worked on my PhD, deprived of an active poetry scene, and later when I worked for IBM, I put together my own chapbooks and mailed them to friends. I published ten of these booklets between 1979 and 1997. These were small enough to fit into a 6 by 9 inch envelope for mailing. That was the second stage of my career.

My third stage began in 1997 when my good friend Bill Vartnaw offered to publish a book selecting work from these booklets. This was Spectacles: A Sampler of Poems and Prose, 1997, Taurean Horn Press, ISBN 0-931552-10-9.

I have not been gifted with a personality that is comfortable promoting anything, let alone my own work, even though I am comfortable sharing it, and I enjoy reading it to others, so the poems that I published were all asked for by friends who edited small magazines and small presses. This is also how my work was included in Five of Us, which my friend Mary McBride edited and published in an edition of 500 copies in 1981. She asked for my work.

The fourth stage of my career began in 2012 after my wife, Liz Douthitt Sharp, obtained this website domain, SharpGiving.com, and suggested that I use it to write a blog that features my work. I started with weekly postings of poems on a scientific milestone from The book of science. Subsequently, I decided to publish my other work on the website. SharpGiving.com has been nice because it allows color illustrations and recordings of readings, mainly by our friend Clifford Schwartz. Lately, I have also included a small book that features video recordings of me reading the poems and background music composed by Liz. That is Poems by Tom. Presently, this online archive includes my PhD dissertation, my novel (Hans and the Clock), a Java application that plays multiple online radio stations simultaneously (MRadio), a translation from Old English of an apocryphal legend (The Acts of Matthew and Andrew in the City of Cannibals), and over fifty collections of poetry.

This website also hosts an online version of Five of Us, poetry readings by Clifford, and the original One Hundred and One Famous Poems, edited by Roy Cook in 1920.

The website also hosts works in progress, which are generally inaccessible to others, but presently include two books of poetry, an archive for the small literary magazines Paper Pudding and Back Roads, and the complete Shakespearean sonnets, which I hope to have Clifford record.

My fifth stage, publishing books using Kindle Direct Publishing, was prompted by my friend Gil Helmick, who prefers reading poetry on paper instead of on a computer. My friend Preston Houser’s use of the KDP service for his Twenty Villanelles steered me in its direction. I coined a name for my press based on my website, SharpGiving Press, and have published eight books, have another undergoing prepress processing, and am considering adding my novel, more books of poetry, and more work by others.

Pros and cons of alternative book formats

I have printed and distributed my own chapbooks, published books on this website, and published books using an on-demand printing service, Kindle Direct Publishing. From my personal experience, I have found that each format has both pros and cons.

Privately printed chapbooks

Pros

  1. A printed book makes a completion. The satisfaction of having the whole, completed book combining poems, illustrations, and book design is much better than having manuscripts in a box.
  2. A book has permanence that other media lacks. Once a book is printed, it can be read many times, or it can sit on a shelf indefinitely, waiting to be read.
  3. It makes a good gift, being easy to give to family and friends. It’s more personal than a box of chocolates, and longer lasting.

Cons

  1. Typos in a printed book are awkward or impossible to correct. An errata slip can be inserted, fixes can be made in pen on the pages, but that’s not nearly as nice as online text that can be replaced at any time. When Bill printed Spectacles, I found in the last proof copy that we lost a whole page of stanzas from “Aunt Hazel.” Bill was very gracious, but I believe it cost him a lot of money to insert the missing page.
  2. Cost. Even printing small numbers of my own chapbooks left a lot of coin at the copy shop, and I did the binding myself. I sewed one book, and for others I bought a stapler that would staple the center of a folded 8.5x11 book.
  3. Quality. My photocopied books on typewriter paper were not perfect bound or as nice as a professional printer would print.
  4. Size limitation. I would never be able to staple The book of science. It’s too big. Long lines are impossible. I get a satisfaction when a poem fits on a page; I dislike widows. Online, a page can be as long as you like; you are merely required to scroll. Printed, continuity and a sense of the whole can be diminished by turning the page.
  5. Media limitations. I couldn’t afford color copies. I couldn’t include audio or video, or animated effects. Touching text doesn’t jump you to the related item, so tables of contents and indexes must be referenced by page number.
  6. I didn’t make enough copies, and who knows where the masters went. I have barely held on to my last copies of a couple of them.

Online books

Pros

  1. Linking. It’s easier to jump around, from table of contents or index to the poem, and from one poem to the previous or next. The book of science, has menus for navigation, and indexes to help readers find poems about a particular science or scientist, and to access poems on the elements ordered by atomic weight or by the date of discovery. For a computer, I have also added keyboard navigation to next and previous poems, based on the visible links.
  2. Searching. I have written a keyword search program for SharpGiving that provides links and some context.
  3. Size. There’s no constraint on page size (it scrolls) or book size (The book of science, when completed, will have over 640 pages with over 2050 poems). I can share any work, large or small, without worrying whether it will fit as an email attachment, just by sending the URL.
  4. Editing. Since my training at IBM, I am very comfortable editing HTML and CSS. This gives me considerable power and flexibility in determining the presentation of my work.
  5. Multimedia. I have include audio and video recordings, color graphics, and graphics that expand when touched or hovered over. These tricks are not possible in print and approach the flexibility of live performance. (I once gave a reading of Ezra’s Book with a tape recording of me playing the piano, while projecting illustrations for the poems by Katherine Kahrs on a screen behind me.)
  6. World-wide distribution. I have readers in Germany, France, India, Philippines, Britain, Italy, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, and New Jersey.
  7. Immediacy. I can fix a typo or add a poem or book at any time. This is so unlike printing a book myself and sending it in the mail. Once a printed book is out the door, it must be complete and correct.

Cons

  1. I worry about a lack of permanence. What happens to SharpGiving.com after we die? What happens when the annual fees for the domain and the web server are not paid?

On-demand publishing

Pros

  1. A book costs me nothing to be available on Amazon.
  2. I can order copies for the cost of printing, which is very low (certainly less that it would cost to print them at home and mail them to readers).
  3. Cover, paper, and perfect binding are nice.
  4. I can update a book at any time, and there’s no fee for this. (I have updated First Nations twice now, once to fix a typo, and again to increase letter spacing.)
  5. Some people prefer print, which they can take anywhere and read whenever they like.
  6. KDP is print-on-demand, so there’s little or no inventory except for the book files and specifications, and distribution is available in Britain, the European Union, Japan, and Canada, as well as in the United States.
  7. Permanence. Once a book is printed, it can be read or it can sit on a shelf indefinitely.
  8. There are several print-on-demand services available, such as Smashwords, BookBaby, LuLu, AuthorHouse, and Outskirts Press. I like Amazon because it is automatically available on Amazon.

Cons

  1. Printing is a little sketchy, showing broken or squashed letters on some pages.
  2. Form-based editing of details is awkward; for example, there’s no simple field for me to name SharpGiving Press, so it took me a while to figure out that I could name the press as a series that includes the books the press has published.
  3. When you put a book on KDP, Amazon encourages you to make a Kindle e-book version of it. This could be convenient and nice for prose, but for poetry, I have found that Kindle’s page format is too awkward for poetry and my links have failed to work. But I have not been motivated to work harder to make e-book versions available because my work is available online, where I have compete browser functionality and control.