An interview with poet Carolyn Clark, author of New Found Land, a poetry collection available for purchase on September 16th.
When did you start writing? What got you interested and kept you going?
I started writing poetry and stories at age nine or ten. My mother, Florence Clark, was (and still is, in her nineties) a poet and short story writer who raised all of us on books. She introduced me to poetry and writing from a very early age. My English teacher at Ithaca High School, Mrs. Betty Whicher, was also amazing.
Later, as an undergraduate at Cornell, I enrolled in creative writing and English courses. Professor A. R. Ammons was particularly inspiring. I also helped edit the Cornell literary magazines, Rainy Day and Ubu, with my classmate who also loved poetry. Decades later, I discovered that my mother had saved several of my ‘lost’ poems and journals. What a blessing to have received her nurturing encouragement
What draws you to writing poetry, compared to other writing forms?
I liked poetry partly because it was quick and quiet. Innocently, I thought that unlike other forms of writing, it wouldn’t require a lot of time. I always enjoyed reading poetry from different cultures, across languages and even millennia but I still felt something tugging inside me saying, “Write your own!” And so, however intermittently, I did.
How do you use your own personal experiences in writing poetry?
I find that trying to keep track of myself is a lifelong full time job. I have always been pretty good at making fun of myself, sometime to my own detriment. That being said, if it were not for poetry my whole life would probably have had to re-emerge only as a flash in a near-death experience.
Apart from personal experiences, what especially inspires your work?
Water, and rock. Wind. The environment I was raised in–Ithaca’s gorges–has always stayed with me. Ovid, the Roman poet, said “Gutta lapidem cavat”—the drop of water carves/wears away rock.
My lifelong love affair with nature is entwined with a passion for being outdoors. Horses, skiing, mountains. And children: I am committed to protecting the environment for their sake. As a child I had allergy-induced asthma. Breathing has always been a source of motivation and compassion, especially when it comes to personal training, which is my alternate “teaching” profession.
There are many references to Greek mythology in your work – Moon Blind Mare, Remember to Forget: Choosing Lethe, etc. How does mythology find its way into your pieces?
Mythology informs many of my pieces. But it isn’t the endgame nor is it cited to detract or distract the reader. It is meant to offer the poem a kind of alternate dimension, much like a setting in jewelry.
Although I am steeped in Classical mythology (for years I’ve been leading “mythology for writers” workshops at the Writer’s Center of Bethesda, MD), my growing inner landscape calls upon many cultures, especially those that speak to current environmental problems – water, energy, things sacred.
“Minutes to Myself” is the final poem of the book and explores themes of rest and contentment. Was its placement at the end intentional? How have you arranged the poems in your book?
It wasn’t the only way to end the book, but my editor with CLB recommended that it be a good ending point. I thought about it and agreed. Nothing like a little Robert Louis Stevenson lifeboat to help us out with a book launch. As far as the arrangement of the poems, it was intentionally theme oriented, not chronological. I looked for poems that reflected forms of resilience in the broadest sense. No whining was allowed. That eliminated a few of my weaker poems, thank goodness.
Who are some of your favorite poets writing today, and what do you especially like about them?
I love (re)reading short lyric “occasion” poems by my mother, Florence Clark. I am hoping to publish a mother-daughter manuscript with her sometime soon.
I enjoy reading the mythology-infused poems by one of my recent workshop participants, Ann Quinn, in her first chapbook, and I relish fresh translations of ancient lyric poetry: (Greek) Sappho and (Roman) Sulpicia. I still read poems by Homer, Virgil, Tibullus, Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost, Cavafy, Montale, A.R. Ammons, and Eunice DeChazeau (formerly of Ithaca, but one I’ve included in a D.C.- based writers’ project entitled A Splendid Wake.)