Photos courtesy of Tohm Bakelas
By Steve Sears
31-year-old Denville resident, Tohm Bakelas, has always loved poetry, and writing in general.
Glamorous, though? Nah. Real life and deep down, tough experiences? Sure.
“The biggest influence I’d say for me was finding (poet) Charles Bukowski,” he says. “You know, he doesn’t rhyme. He just says it how it is and there’s just a real grit to it that I think is unmatched.”
It’s that same grit that he sees in the writers he publishes for Between Shadows Press, a small press publication started in January 2021. “They (the writers) are really just getting down and dirty and they’re writing what they think, what they feel, and it’s not always pretty. That’s what I like.”
Bakelas, who was born and raised in Denville, started his press with a good heart and as a means of reciprocating his received good fortune. “Just as a means to put out my friends’ work, as well as my own work. I’ve been writing poetry and have been published probably consistently since about 2018, so this is sort of my way to give back.”
From the age of 14 to 27, Bakelas was consistently in punk rock bands. “I sang for Four Fingers, who did a United States tour and multiple weekend tours out of state, as well as all over the Garden State. And then I most recently sang for Permanent Tension and we just played in state.” Being in both those bands influenced his poetry and what he does with his small press. “As it was with the bands, as it is now with poetry, it’s not about making money, it’s about getting something that I believe in out.”
Thus far, Between Shadows Press has published 46 chapbooks, 2 broadsides (a poem printed on a single sheet), and a journal. “These are people with regular jobs,” he says of the writers, “and nobody that I’m aware of that I’ve published to date is from the academia world. It’s all just local people: bartenders or people with families, social workers like myself, just people working jobs and that’s it. Nobody’s looking to make it big, they’re just wanting to get some words out there.” And for Bakelas, who has taken part in readings in Montclair and Somerville and publishes international as well as domestic writers, there is give and take. “I guess maybe finding the time to print everybody’s work while also focusing on my own creativity is sometimes a challenge,” he says.
You sense in his voice it’s a good dilemma.
Ultimately for Bakelas, it’s a love for the written word and actually the act of writing which gives him his drive. Currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Bakelas also realizes that, as life goes on, everyone gets older, responsibilities change, and people have families. “The bands eventually died,” says the Rutgers University grad in retrospect, “and it was just sort of like an easy transition. Going from writing lyrics to the poetry just made sense. You’ve got to write with your heart, mind and soul, and if somebody relates to it, I think in a way that’s a victory. Even with bands and I’d say the same with poetry, I don’t write for anybody but myself, and if somebody can find some sort of peace in it or relatability, then I, in a way, have won. I’ve accomplished something that I didn’t expect.”
For more information about Bakelas and his own writing, visit www.tohmbakelaspoetry.wordpress.com. The website for Between Shadows Press is www.betweenshadowspress.bigcartel.com.