When COVID-19 spread in our communities and there was not adequate governmental response, so many became hopeless, so many lost their lives because of government failure. I am speaking of leadership at the national level. Many governors rallied against it and it is yet to be seen if we will ever be able to effectively deal with it. This failure is nothing less than negligent homicide in my opinion by the resident of the White House (that slaves built).
I do not think I have said enough about that but for now, I will shift to my personal experiences which are surprisingly extraordinary and blessed. I have not gotten ill. I have stayed sheltered. I wear a mask in public. I do not socialize except with remarkably close family and the few friends who I trust and believe have been taking all possible precautions.
When COVID-19 struck and it became apparent that this world had gone wilder than our worst nightmares, I could not turn to poetry to heal my anxiety and depression. Poetry, in its highest literary form, may or may not be therapeutic but the masters of it do use it as a tool for healing and processing grief, or love. They are intrinsically entwined.
I became wordless. I was in traumatic shock for weeks, as I believe many of us were. There’s a feeling of missing time in my mind of March and April that I cannot track down. My memory fell off a cliff into a great chasm of uncertainty. I was lethargic, not eating or sleeping well, staying in bed most days, only reaching out to my core family, and spending too much time doomscrolling. Poetry eluded me and felt like a great strain on me.
I decided to break up with it.
The only way I have ever been able to claw myself out of hell is to throw myself headlong into a creative activity. Making visual art, cooking, writing, and relevant to the pandemic, playing and composing music and songs. Music only comes to me when I am most vulnerable. Where poetry can be a shield, music exposes the soft flesh, the broken heart, the weary mind. Music works on our beings through vibrational resonance. It seeps into us and permeates us with magic that can carry us away into a more peaceful realm or rock us to our very core.
A musician friend sensed the danger of all of us lying around mourning and full of anxiety. He created a brief little experiment to get people moving and into the enjoyment of music. He broadcast his program at 4 p.m. daily and challenged us to move, shake a tail feather, or play along with his makeshift one-man band. At first, I could only lie in my bed and watch. It didn’t so much entertain me but nursed me and took care of me in my poorest state. By the second week, I had picked up my guitar again, to play along and when I did, I was immediately overcome by inspiration.
I have multiple diagnoses of mental illnesses. This time has been awfully hard for anyone and is especially hard for those of us who battle mental illness every day. So many new sufferers in this mass traumatic event that is continuing to this day—the day America counted 200,000 citizens dead from this novel coronavirus.
I have a strong support team and an incredible group of friends and core family who are in my corner. I’ve been at this a long time and I’ve cultivated a self-care routine and rituals that have saved my life on multiple occasions. When I picked up my guitar again, it felt so akin to my body. My rhythm returned. My musical sense returned. And joy returned.
I had to knock the rust off my body to get back into playing and of course, build up my calluses. I began practicing every day. I got smoother. I started humming and then singing melodies. Tunes came to me intuitively. Being a practiced poet, writing lyrics came fast and fit the tune perfectly.
And then it dawned on me: In this upside-down, crazy world, what harm would there be if I committed to being a Rock Star? I had to laugh at myself but just setting a goal that is just ridiculous enough to catch my interest was a brain-switcher for me. It gave me purpose and the playing and weaving songs together gave me true joy and pleasure.
Even though I’ve had a few years of experience playing guitar, I wanted to break through barriers that fear had put in place. I grew up around a lot of male musicians and hardly any women. This stunted my growth. The guys I wanted to hang around with to learn saw me as a groupie and not a serious person at all. Plus, I was a freak. Plus, I was kind of loose and easy. Made for a bad learning environment.
I taught myself for four years but never could unlock the instrument. I never ventured past open and barre chords. When I got married, I felt pressured by the mentality that a woman must put the needs of her man first, as much as I fought against that. I gave up guitar and every time I looked at my guitars, I felt tremendous guilt.
(I must add that my husband loved to hear me play but we were going through tumultuous times with a death before our wedding that took years of grieving to heal.)
Skip forward to August 2020. I had been playing solidly for a couple of months and felt I really needed to level up. So, I decided to hire a private guitar teacher. I never had a guitar teacher before. It seemed out of reach financially, but friends chipped in to this creative cause and we found the money to be able to do it. I’ve had a month of lessons and I am progressing.
I’m learning about the fretboard, some music theory, scales, power chords, mimicking songs, exploring, facing my hesitancy and nervousness, committing to a two-year trajectory of study to possibly put together enough songs to be able to perform in public. Even if I only do it once, I will be fulfilling a dream. What’s the upside of a national crisis of a pandemic and reckless, absent leadership if not to go for it—go for your positive, harmless, and constructive dreams?
You’ll see me here more often. I’ll be working on my YouTube Channel and syncing videos on Facebook. You might hear me singing vocal warmups, exploring the instrument (I like to show my process), and singing original songs and a few covers.
Two years from now, 2022, if I am given the grace of time, I’ll be ready to “come out” as a Rock Star. I’m a 51-year-old living a 13-year old’s fantasy. Dreaming big but putting into practice all that I know about discipline, hard work, having fun, and being the artist I know I can be (in multiple genres).
It’s no guilty pleasure. It’s an obligation not to give up and to pour myself into what the muses call me to do.
Thanks for reading.
Available on Amazon and through Nixes Mate Books.
I signed the contract with Nixes Mate Books for the publication of my third book of poetry “Crone.” I believe December 2018 is when we expect “Crone” to be released into your hands. I’m happy beyond words to be a Nixes Mate author, and I appreciate all that Michael McInnis, Anne Elezabeth Pluto, and Philip Borenstein do to bring the finest literary work to the world.
I began writing “Crone” at a women’s writing retreat at Chicot State Park, Louisiana last December, during a snowy week which is rare for Louisiana. One poem came and then another, and another. When Crone’s voice came to me, I knew there was a palpable, rich myth to explore. I gave myself a very short amount of time to work and the manuscript drove me. I had some searing personal pain happening at the time, and the writing fueled my fight for life. So, please stay tuned for more news about “Crone.”
Image: “Crone” by Clare L. Martin
In January of 2017, I facilitated “Writing Hope” with women being assisted to transition from homelessness by Acadiana Outreach, as six-week poetry writing workshop and reading of the women’s work at Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church.
My second full-length poetry collection, Seek the Holy Dark, was released at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (AWP) in Washington D.C. I read with other Yellow Flag Press poets, and poets affiliated with Gigantic Sequins Press and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at George Washington University Textile Museum. I belatedly celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday in D.C. with her!
March was the Lafayette book release of Seek the Holy Dark at Reve Coffee Roasters. Friends far and near came and it was wonderful. As part of the promotion of the book’s release, I was interviewed on KRVS by Judith Meriwether and an article appeared locally in The Independent.
In April, I read at the Maple Leaf Bar. Such a wonderful thing to connect more deeply with poet-friends in NOLA in 2017. Also, in April I was invited to read at the State Library by Poet Laureate Peter Cooley.
Later in the month, I organized a reading with Jack Bedell and Darrell Bourque (current and former Poet Laureates, respectively) at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum, to celebrate Yellow Flag Press’s Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series designees, as the three of us are.
Mid-April, I started a new job with Childress Communications as a content writer and ghostwriter! I also joined Connections Professional Networking and PRAL Acadiana to help my friend-boss, Dr. Cynthia Childress grow her firm.
In June, I was a featured poet at the Latter Library in New Orleans, thanks to poet Gina Ferrara. Always love my traveling Fairy Godmother, Bessie Senette, who is a love whirlwind in my life and shared so much of this exciting year with me.
October marked the occasion of the Louisiana Book Festival at which I was a featured author. As a panelist, I read with other women poets of Louisiana, selected by Current Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell.
November was the 10th Annual Festival of Words, which was heartily celebrated in Grand Coteau.
In December, I attended the Penchant Group’s first women’s’ writing retreat at the cabin in the woods (a wonderful spot at Chicot State Park, LA). It snowed!!
I edited and published three issues of MockingHeart Review, and interviewed several MHR poets (as many as I could muster).
I also organized, with musician and teacher, Esther Tyree, a Hurricane Harvey fundraiser at Artmosphere. Highlights continued with readings around Acadiana with dear poet friends.
Whew! Despite boughts of severe depression and financial trauma, I am so proud to say that I am sharing my gifts with the world.
Clare L. Martin’s second collection of poetry, Seek the Holy Dark, is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press. Her acclaimed debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published by Press 53. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Poets and Artists, and Louisiana Literature, among others. She founded and edits MockingHeart Review.
My info for the 2017 Louisiana Book Festival. I do hope you can enjoy this literary celebration with us! Seek the Holy Dark (Yellow Flag Press, 2017) is one of the featured books.
2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m.
State Library, Fifth Floor Capitol View Room
Louisiana Poets, Part II
3:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
SEEKING THE HOLY DARK by Diane Moore
A FIERCE HEART by Karen Corinne Herceg
Seek the Holy Dark is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry by Yellow Flag Press.
Seek the Holy Dark is now available. Trade paperback, 66 pages, only $10. To order click here.