2017: My Writing Life in Review
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.
The Heart’s Progress
“Embryonic Self*,” mixed media, by Clare L. Martin
A tree held in its branches
a womb that carried me.
My strong heart
beat brilliant red
through fluid translucence.
A thick cord
connected me to roots
of the tree
into the blood
of the earth.
Who knew I would experience
such sorrow, such joy
once born into the world?
*Dedicated to Bessie Senette.
Clare L. Martin ©2016
“You need to write another damn book!”
I am thrilled to announce that Yellow Flag Press will publish Seek the Holy Dark as the 2017 selection of The Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry. Great thanks to J. Bruce Fuller for this honor. Yellow Flag Press is a Louisiana-born publishing house that is growing its national presence. I have had a long relationship with it, and I can’t think of any other affiliation that would make me as happy.
A little backstory:
For a long period of time since my mother’s death in May of 2014, I felt aimless. I was writing, but I did not have a meaningful writing project in front of me to keep me focused on the bigger picture of my Writing Life. I had material for a new manuscript, tentatively titled “Broken Jesus,” that I began to assemble after Eating the Heart First was published. Over the course of a couple of years, I abandoned hope for it and just kept writing new.
Several months ago, while having coffee with The Bayou Mystic, Bessie Senette, I expressed my feelings of a lack of purpose beyond my personal responsibilities and our writing group’s objectives. She knew that I had relinquished my roles in many of the projects I had been involved with before my mother’s death. She also knew that was very hard for me, because of my giving and ambitious nature. The deep dissatisfaction I had been living with was causing depression beyond normal grief.
Bessie listened as I shared my feelings. After a silence, Bessie stood, pointed her finger between my eyes, and said, “You need to write another damn book!” As soon as she said it, I was taken aback. I went home with a charge of energy to do exactly what she said to do. I got to work with real determination.
In December 2015, in a casual conversation, I brought up the work I was doing to J. Bruce Fuller at a writing event we were attending in Arnaudville, LA. He offered to read the manuscript. When I sent it, I had a sense that if I had to face a “no” I would reluctantly consider other options. Honestly, from that moment in Arnaudville when the opportunity opened, I desired for Seek the Holy Dark to be a YFP book. I have always had great faith in J Bruce’s integrity and the good health of his press.
[Surprisingly, in less than three days of receiving the publishing news, the cover art was selected and rights acquired. That is another story that involves my dear Bessie!!]
I am thrilled, ready, excited, and focused to bring this new work to the world. I again express thanks to J Bruce Fuller and Yellow Flag Press for this amazing opportunity.
And great thanks to Bessie for seeing my need and calling forth my energy to fulfill it.
Tend well your garden
Reflecting on how important it is when you are living and working as an artist to be honorable in your dealings. Really, in any field. Be honorable in your dealings and treat people with respect. I am humbled to be able to do for others what has been done for me.
Business of any kind is about relationships. My parents were in business for over 30 years and they knew that to build anything lasting you had to be honorable and be forthright in your exchanges with the public and in private.
If we are to survive in any community, in effort to build that community, you cannot go behind other people’s backs and perpetrate takeovers and such. Especially in the arts, we have to be on the same side and create healthy relationships. If there are weeds in the garden, they must be uprooted.
“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.
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,
fell like trees
in storms from her mouth.
“Mute” first appeared in Blue Fifth Review, the 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.
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.
Clare talks about poetry & stuff and reads poems too…
Linda Boudreaux of The Extra Mile interviews me for her program which airs on AOC Community Media in the Acadiana Area. I talk about poetry, Eating the Heart First, my children and happenings in the literary arts community of Lafayette and surrounding areas.
Thanks, Linda! It was a pleasure.
My contribution to the Facing Feminism: Feminist I Know project.