The Writing Life

Barguest

barghest

Listen: the growl is deafening. A cloud splits in two. What mythical wonder woke you?

Sleep executed by firing squad. (Oh, the marksman without a bullet cries and the woman on his finger languishes).

He who has blood on his temple will never raise the stone in his fist.

We keep the sins we commit. What is a secret if no one cares to know it?

Hunger, hunger from the day you were terribly born. (This is why she hates you). There is no milk for children made of glass.

That which is left behind is all for you. The curse is that you cannot touch it. Remember what came to you through death will go through you like water. Still, the dead keep giving.

Wind shoves its tongue down your throat. A brass bird revels in rain. Someone runs into traffic with an inverted umbrella, dances, and shakes loose coins from her belly.

Hunger, again, for dog meat, good enough to eat, so, why not eat it? Filaments of lightning sear your morning-eye then burn out.

Phones ring with too much treble. Every time it is her–I want you back. The house shakes. Sleep shatters: a plane crash.

It was wrong of me to take a swig of vodka at the funeral. I did  not want it, or its meaning.

I pity the most unusual things. And there was no charm in this creature: dwindling fur, black, broken teeth, ember-eyes and skin thin as a frog’s. Nauseating.

Why did it come here? Was it for souls? I thought to feed it raw bacon wrapped to a wooden stick, but it took what it came for.

The sun rises and we hunger. The sun sets and we hunger. It is only one hunger that matters.

Sky Burial

1998.286.163-O

Sky burial platform in Dra Yerpa Monastery
Sir Charles Bell
September 11th 1921
Lhasa Area > Dra Yerpa

SKY BURIAL

Leave me
on open land
until bonesong
goes unheard
and all putrefaction
resolves.

Let me cultivate
the growth
of all that is visible
and invisible—
be the giver
of alms to the birds.

My secret name,
as is yours,
is Carrion.

Dead
or living come,
come to commune.
Let us go with eyes open
into ineffable light.

 

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

 

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS*

That summer I was tobacco and burnt sage; a carnival ride that lurched midair—

The barefoot, bra-less girl who watched thistle seeds carried on the wind, listened to King Crimson on a mix-tape and sneaked her grandmother’s mulberry wine—

I tore you open: a lusted-for letter that announced my emancipation. I nearly choked on love—fervently sucking the pit for every last sweet string of flesh.

Now we watch CNN with thunder in our chests. It is how we feel all of the time—a marching band parade of all drums and tubas.

We have grown so old sugar cane fields are malls, Taco Bells, and neighborhoods obscuring magenta sunsets. Where are our horizons?

There is a collapsed mine in China on the TV. The newscaster spends 15 seconds on it.

And somehow a memory rises of a stranger: his taut arms cradle my hips; his deft fingers twirl an ice cube on my nipple—before you.

I begin to tell you about it but remember that twenty seven years ago
you asked me not to.

 CLM ©2014

*Based on the prompts: a wax seal, an apricot pit, distant thunder, a collapsed mine, strangers fornicating, a blissful magenta sunset, devils in the details, tobacco, burnt sage, spit, carnival rides, a thistle, wind, mulberry wine

We write.

I use the following as a handout for discussion in creative writing workshops I present.  It is great for youths and adults. It’s a compilation of motivational advice I have given and have received over the years. It’s a simple direct way to keep yourself on task when embarking on the path of The Writing Life. More can be said, and I encourage others to use and amend this list.

 

WE WRITE

Writers write.  Writers read.

Fall in love with a dictionary.
Vision—it takes courage to see.
Face the blank page or screen.

Don’t wait for inspiration.

Practice and play. Make mistakes.
Observe. Pay attention to life.
Experiment with language.
Write to express, but even more write to see and make others see.

See, hear, taste, touch, discover and know.

Bring the reader into the world of your poem with concrete images.
Dream journal –peer into other worlds, seek out unconscious connections.
Write your responses and impressions of poems you like.
Free write to music. Free write to static.

Write “in your head” then write it down.
Fight for freedom on the page.
Keep a journal.
Cultivate the desire to write.
Get out of bed to write if an idea strikes you.
Write what you need to write.
Say what you need to say.

Listen for your voice. Befriend it and trust it.
Uncover the processes of your psyche.
Aim for tension in the words.
Write from the depths of your experience—the writing itself will deepen experience.
Free write and then control the words with form.
Strive for a precision of language.
Nurture your discipline.

Do not punish yourself.

Give it time.

FIGHT FOR EVERY WORD.

 

 

© 2014 Clare L. Martin

Good Fortune

 

“Things I once thought unbelievable in my life have all taken place.”

~PJ Harvey, “Good Fortune”

 

Ten years ago, I set forth on the path of The Writing Life. It has taken me to places I never dreamed of. I think of PJ Harvey’s “Good Fortune” which is one of my favorites. It gets me fired up today to believe in the unstoppable force of Good.

Every occurrence that I have perceived as a failure has been transformed to a reason to celebrate. Because of the will and commitment I made to myself to persevere, because of positive actions and beliefs–I have persevered. I have overcome so much tragedy. My good fortune to have the people in my life that I do, and that I had, is something I am grateful for beyond words. Some people who lifted me up are gone, but they really are beside me, whispering encouragement. I will join them someday and bring my own force to the living, giving palpable inspiration through the spirit.

Many years ago I faced what I believed to be major setbacks and failures in my life. I lost a job due to illness that left me in shame and hurt for a long time. Prior to that, I had left graduate school because of my illness, which was also a deep hurt for me. But I realize now the full force of how those perceived losses were transformational; steeled my will to make something of myself, and turned my attention to the things in life that really matter, which are love for one’s self without compromise, care for our loved ones and movement forward on the high road, even if that means the road traverses a mountain.

Right now, I feel I am nearing a summit, but it won’t be the only summit. There are many mountains to climb, metaphorically, and I am up for the challenge.

Daily, I reclaim this life. I honor its restoration. I accept the calling to inspire and lift others up to meet their own paths of transformation. I am where I am because of where I was and because I chose to commit to a life that seeks truth and personal revelation through dedication to an art  that I was blessed to be gifted with some inclination towards.

I offer praise to the Universe, God, the Divine Whatever for this life, and peace and resolution to you.

And if you care to read an interview with me about Eating the Heart First and my approach to poetry, I would be much obliged. Today, Flash Fiction Chronicles has published an interview Susan Tepper conducted with me about a month ago. Enduring thanks to Susan Tepper (www.susantepper.com) for this interview with me in her series UNCOV/rd at Flash Fiction Chronicles, and to the editors there for extending National Poetry Month one day, to feature a poet instead of a flash fiction writer!

The direct link is: http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/clare-l-martin-uncovrd/

 

Words Across the World

One of my poems, “Litany” has been translated into Turkish and will appear in a small print journal in Turkey called Gard thanks to poet and translator, Şakir Özüdoğru. How cool is that?  Just to know that this poem has impact and has moved another to share it with readers in his native tongue is thrilling. Much thanks to Şakir and best to him in all his artistic endeavors!

The original poem can be read, in English, in the current issue of MadHat Annual in addition to four other poems by me here. 

“Hands like flushed doves”

Washing my hands this morning, I thought of  Noami Vincent, who was like a great aunt to me. She was my grandmother’s neighbor from the time that my grandparents (along with my mother and her siblings) moved from the country after a terrible flood that took everything they owned, to the house where they lived 50 years, where I live now.

Noami lived into her 90s, became my closest friend for many years until she passed in 2007, the same year as my father. She was a lively, seemingly impervious Cajun woman who had so many losses in her life.  She was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She lost seven children. She miscarried six times and the only child that she birthed, a girl, died in childbirth. This woman saved me so many times in our great friendship. She was family to us and is dearly missed.

I looked out of the bathroom window this morning and could see her house, empty still.  When she lived, her door was always open to me and to so many loved ones.  She was brave, funny, stubborn and deeply faithful. Here are a couple of facts about her:  she kept a bayonet in her closet to defend herself, if needed,  and she traveled alone to California from Louisiana without knowing how to drive during World War II. 

Noami’s story is complex. Both of her parents were deaf and mute and her mother went blind, too, after contracting diabetes. The poem below is collected in Eating the Heart First, and was written with inspiration from events in her life. She was very close to my mother, too, and I incorporated something of my mother’s narrative in it.

I will leave it at that.

I don’t want to use copyrighted images in this post, but please look at this painting, “Hands #1,” oil on canvas, 24″x24″, 2011, previously shown at Saatchi: Gallery Mess, London by Daniel Maidman that really struck me today.

 

MUTE

 

Hands like flushed doves

flutter to say: dry the dishes—

 

sweep the floor, but never be quiet.

When she went blind, too,

 

we spelled goodnight and I love you tenderly,

tracing each alphabet

 

on the scattered leaves of her palms.

I married and she touched

 

my hips, spreading her hands wide

to note I was getting fat. She patted

 

my growing belly

but never cradled my offspring.

 

When the infant died,

pantomime cries

 

fell like trees

in storms from her mouth.

 

 

“Mute” first appeared in Blue Fifth Reviewthe blue collection 1, anthology series, 2010 and is collected in Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012)

Copyright 2012, Clare L. Martin. All rights reserved.

Friendship

 

I wait for a friend in a sweet café.  I fidget with my phone, fluff my hair and close my eyes to the sun that flits in mirrored windows of passing cars. Then she arrives and we order tea. We talk for an hour before what is on my heart arises. We sit with a white rose between us and I cry.  My heart is so obvious. My old-woman heart, bare and tender flourishes then, in the café undone by sunlight, through compassionate friendship and a lovely tea.

The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want, desolate and afraid. Friendship comes into and out of life, but I relinquish myself to love. I will never let love go, even if I am discarded. I will keep holding fast. I will keep seeking the beautiful and exquisite selves of caring humans. There is nothing that would turn me away.

Only love banishes fear; fears this precious life also summons.

Into the Ground

clare rose

 

Let me explain: Love roots. Love thrives.

My father was a widower when he met my mother. He lost his first wife to cancer. Her name was Viola, and she was the mother of his first three children. He was devoted to her and loved her to his last.  He grieved Viola’s memory profoundly and mourned her in every way he knew how while struggling to survive. I know this because during my lifetime I saw him crying many, many times when her memory took hold. Let there be peace in the knowledge of this for all who knew and loved him.

I am certain he thought he could never be in love again when Viola died, but he did fall in love with my mother. He and my mother had a 40-something-year marriage until his death in 2007.  I know it was a struggle for many to understand how quickly he married again, but he needed love and companionship. He and my mother were a solid, loving pair who made each other laugh and cry brilliantly to the last, and always his memory will be cherished.

My father was fifty when I was born. I was his last child. He gave my mother a dozen red roses, an armful, after bounding hospital stairs to see me for the first time. He joyfully thanked her in the way he tended their life together for giving him more children, my brother and me: new miracles out of their love.

A rosebush blooms wildly outside the window near my writing nook. It came to mind yesterday in a conversation with my mother about life and death and the small and great things in between. Call me sentimental but seeing those blooms is lifesaving. Writing this is lifesaving. The “Clare” roses, as my family called them, that grew from the cuttings of a bouquet my father gave my mother on the day of my birth in 1968 were tended by my grandmother and grandfather for years, before my husband and I came to live here.

That rosebush is pushing fifty, as am I.   I cannot say I have tended it well. I am not a gardener at all.  Most of the time, life is “a juggle and struggle” and we are up in the air about things, but if this rose took hold, took root, grounded its greening self so grandly, I like to think that I am somehow like it, or can be. The focus on it over the past two days has revived me and I feel good.

***

And as this beautiful rosebush and I will both cease, I think of the mystery of our transmutation from what and where we were/are/will be. 

This life: gentle and harsh.
This life: care of beloveds, if we are lucky.
This life: a chance in the moment to grow.
This life: a perpetual gift that points to love beyond measure from the Source of All.  

 

I wish you peace and inspiration always.

Clare L. Martin

Blog Tour: Process Talk

 

 

 

What are you working on?

I am working on a second manuscript of poetry with hopes for a second book. When Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012) was done and out in the world, I was consumed with promotion of it and became less structured/focused in my writing time. Happily though, Acadiana Wordlab had just formed that same month and regular attendance counted for me getting writing done.  The weekly sessions got me refocused and recharged. I am indebted to Jonathan Penton (Google him) for his vision and work that made this great community/activity thrive. I am the coordinator now, as Jonathan has moved onto other projects. My involvment gives me great pleasure. I give and receive. I am amazed by the wonderful writers who are growing in the Acadiana community and around our state. I have many new poems that have come out of the AW drafting sessions that will hopefully make it into the manuscript.

I have a working title for the manuscript: Broken Jesus.  That title comes from a line in my poem, “Convergence,” which appeared in Louisiana Literature, but the image itself comes from a black and white photograph of a broken marble statue of Jesus on the cross at an abandoned church. Ralph J Schexnaydre, Jr. took that photo back in the 1980s.  The image appeared on the cover of the first literary magazine in which my work was published, my university’s journal, The Southwestern Review.

I still have that journal issue (it came out in 1989, 25 years ago) but sadly Ralph doesn’t have the image anymore. I would have asked him to allow me to use it. I do have in my house a crucifix that was my grandmother’s and grandfather’s that is broken. A limb is missing from Jesus, and perhaps I can have someone photograph it for me down the road as the manuscript shapes up.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

The work I am drawn to, the poetry that enlivens me is work that is finely crafted, visceral, meaningful, daring, brave, honest, sharp, and lyrical and I hope that my work is these things. I want to be a dauntless writer. I want to be writing new always: pushing myself, going deeper, going harder and reaching more deeply into you, the reader. I don’t know how else to answer this question because if I am not gripped by a poet’s language, attention to craft, willingness to rend hearts and punch guts, with an almost nameless kind of love for you at the same time, I usually put the book down.

Why do you write what you do?

I write to move other human beings with my words.

How does your writing process work?

I used to be strictly tied to typing rather than writing in longhand but since I have been a devotee of Acadiana Wordlab’s mostly pen-to-paper process, I am more attuned to my hands, albeit in a different way than typing letter by letter. This is something new and fun for me, to write out drafts in notebooks. It’s something I had truly not practiced except for note-taking since getting a typewriter, then a word processor, then a computer. The words are moving from my brain to my hands but my hands know more than my mouth does.

In my at-home practice, I usually start with a free-write. I don’t wait for inspiration but because I am a constant reader, I am inspired daily.  Also, those ephemeral voices (that may become lines of poetry) are a grace to which I am sharply attuned.  (It can cause problems to live so far up into your head but I manage to be grounded). A word or phrase may come to me while eating buttered grits or taking a bath, and I get up, write it down, and follow where it leads. I have rushed out of the bath naked (they’ve all seen me naked around here) and gotten on the computer to get words down.  My short term memory is weakening I think.  I also might need to get my bathrobe out of the closet.

Sometimes if I am driving and a line comes, I will pull over and voice-record it on my phone.   But the question of writing process beyond the mechanics of actually writing is that I firmly hold that I cannot call myself a writer if I am not writing. I don’t feel I deserve that name if I am not doing it in some way, and I count many ways: letter-writing, journaling, creative writing, and emails—they qualify too, if they are creatively inspired.

For many years my only writing was letter writing and it was necessary for me to have that one person as an audience.  The three friends I wrote to on a regular basis are now deceased but really I owe them deep thanks for enjoying my letters and writing back. Those correspondences saved me and my writing career, whatever that is or will be, because it kept me writing. Those friends kept me writing and encouraged my writing when my days were black pages.

 

 

*Thank you to Margaret Gibson Simon for tagging me in this fun and challenging effort to enlighten others about our ways and whys of writing. She can be read at Reflections on the Teche

 

I am tagging:

Mashael (I am air)

Helen Losse

Mona AlvaradoFrazier

Participate if you like and link back here!  I will link to you, if you are inclined to play along.

Be well, friends.

Clare