How it came to be

After my first book, Eating the Heart First, came out in 2012, I got very involved with the writing community in Acadiana. We recruited writers to join various writing groups and literary life took off. I worked as a participant and a leader, too. For the past almost five years, I’ve developed quite a great amount of “new” writing through the group work.

My mother died in 2014 and it gutted me to the core. I have been blessed to have made friends with many deeply spiritual and wonderful women after my mom’s death. All of them poets. One of them, my bestie Bessie Senette, is a very special woman. I was at her home feeling very depressed. This was in late 2015. She said some important things to me that helped me feel better then she pointed a finger at me and said, “You need to write another damn book.” That day I began working toward a manuscript with much of the material I had produced over the years since the first book.

When I had something cohesive, polished, and strong, I mentioned the manuscript to J Bruce Fuller. I told him I felt the work was too edgy; had strong adult language and sexual tones for my first book’s publisher’s apparent tastes. He said, “Send it to me.”

J had it for several months. I decided that I would not send it out to any other publisher until I heard back from J, because I love the work he is doing with his team at Yellow Flag Press. On May 22, J Bruce let me know (in public, at a reading, while he was on stage at the microphone) that Yellow Flag Press was going to publish Seek the Holy Dark as the 2017 selection of The Louisiana Cajun and Creole Poets Series. It was so thrilling and a real surprise. J didn’t think I was going to be so surprised, but I was completely blown away!

I hope those of you who have pre-ordered the book know how deeply grateful I am. I love this book. It is an exclamation of the adult me. I used to say that Eating the Heart First was written for human beings. This new book was written for human beings but also for poets. I take risks with language and experiment with form. I go deep and focus hard on my subject–life–physical and metaphysical. I hope those of you who take the chance of buying it will be enthralled. That is my hope.

http://www.yellowflagpress.com/_p/prd15/4592458541/product/clare-l.-martin—seek-the-holy-dark

 

Recollection of My Father, Atchafalaya Basin, 1984

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(photo by Clare L. Martin)

Sunrise, Atchafalaya Basin—

 

Daddy’s ankles in water as the flat-bottomed aluminum boat slides off the trailer. I put my life jacket on. Daddy says, Hold onto the rope and walk to the wharf. I board the boat carefully, so I don’t fall in the water. Daddy never wears a lifejacket. He throws the outboard into reverse then shoots out to the channel that is peppered with cypress stumps, some hidden below the waterline. Daddy knows the clear path to where the fish are hiding. Any good spot under the willow trees.

Flowing costumes of green braids—the willow-dance of the breeze. Daddy opens a Schlitz beer can and gives me a red soda pop. He baits my hook because I don’t like touching the catalpa worms with their black goo. We cast close to the ribbons of branches, being careful not to set the hooks in the trees. We’re not fishing for squirrels, Daddy says.

Sun ascends to the shoulders of the willows. We eat bologna sandwiches and chips and sip our drinks. I am getting sunburned. We are waiting for the corks to bob, pop below, and disappear under the water for good.

Daddy talks to the fish. Take it, Big Red. That worm is good. A tug, a quick jag to the right to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, then I’m pulling hard. Reel, reel, reel. The sun perch breaks the surface, shimmering iridescent reds. He is fat. He twists mid-air drowning in oxygen and blood. Daddy pulls the hook from the throat of the fish that swallowed the bait and hook.  Then, as I expect, Daddy squeezes the middle of the fish and it expels urine directed at me. I squeal. Daddy knows I hate and love this. Our ritual joke.

Daddy tosses the sac-a-lait into the ice chest. I am proud to have caught the first fish of the day. I feel lucky like we might have enough to invite family over for a fish fry. Everybody brings their own beer. Sac-a-lait battered in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried. Sometimes the fins are so crispy we eat them. Mama always has a loaf of bread on the table in case anyone gets a needle-like bone caught in their throat.

Daddy fishes with two hooks: one low for the catfish and the other higher up the line. Daddy does catch a catfish: a slick, almost lavender one in the shadows of the willows. He uses pliers to remove the hook and holds the catfish carefully so he isn’t stung by the barbed whiskers. Good eatin’ Daddy says. He put up a good fight. I love the fight most of all.

This day I catch a Gaspergou. It is big and fights like a man. I sweat in the sun’s heat. This big fish fights so hard. I pull, pull, pull and reel fast. Daddy holds the net near the water’s surface. How big will it be? We are both excited. It’s big and Daddy says, They’re no good unless you cook it in a courtboullion. We both know Mama will have nothing to do with it. Daddy wants to throw it back in the water, but I start to cry. We fish until the sun is low on the horizon.

At the boat landing, we are dirty and tired. The boat is full of trash: beer cans, wrappers, and a few thin streaks of muddy blood.  Daddy tells a Creole boy, who helps us put the boat back on the trailer, that I caught a Gaspergou. The boy licks his lips and smiles. I smile too, shyly. Daddy opens the ice chest and holds up the Gaspergou. The sun’s just now set but the silhouette of the fish is delineated starkly. The last streak of light is fuchsia and orange. I get into the front seat of the station wagon. In the rear-view mirror, I see Daddy giving the teenager the Gaspergou and the very last Schlitz.

 

©2017 Clare L. Martin

Dream of Sudden Water

The poem below, “Dream of Sudden Water,” was originally published in Unlikely Stories. It is collected in Seek the Holy Dark, forthcoming in 2017 from Yellow Flag Press.

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 for pre-order. Trade paperback, 66 pages, only $10. Pre-orders will ship in early February. To order click here.

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Dream of Sudden Water

 

i
asleep in the woods
dreaming of a fleeting love
the grass sprouts through me

ii
the sky is copper
patinaed with hues of blue
the dream breaks open

iii
a red mare pulls through
apparitions of water
whisperings come

iv
understanding lies
in the soft flicker of sense
in the depth of sleep

v
six crows razed storm clouds
and bled us of all our strength
what madness is this?

vi
a harrowing thought
deep in my petrified bones—
wash me, savior

vii
we drop through this world
into dark awakening
we, the strong-hearted

 

© 2017, Clare L. Martin

 

2017 Mentorships

If you feel you need creative coaching, cursory consulting on a manuscript, want to work one on one on your writing craft, or all of the above, consider engaging my services. (I also provide poetry book-length manuscript consultations. Fees are negotiated individually and are not the same as the quoted fee below, which is for the Mentorship arrangement).

The writing mentorships are structured courses that provide energetic and substantive relative-to-now literary conversations between the mentor and mentees. Great emphasis will be placed on craft and form. The mentee should have expectations of fast-paced, rigorous writing and reflective, nurturing, and honest feedback from a skilled and admired contemporary poet and publisher.

Specific goals of the six-week course will be decided upon in conversation prior to agreements being made. It is encouraged that the mentee sets goals at the outset with guidance to produce visible, realistic results. Mentorships will be conducted through email, phone, and weekly consultations in person, if local to Acadiana, or via Skype link up to meet anyone across the miles.

The fee for the six-week course is $300 US currency, (non-refundable due to course limits, serious inquiries only), payable through PayPal. The spots are limited due to the very intimate work and close personal attention offered.

For more information, please email: clmpoetrymentor@gmail.com or call (337) 962-5886

“Writing Hope”

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Two years ago, I was the artist contracted to work on a grant-funded project called “Transformations” which taught creative writing skills to women transitioning from homelessness and/or were in recovery who lived at a shelter-residence run by a local non-profit. I have been contracted again to do the project this year.

I begin the “Writing Hope” sessions Tuesday and continue once-a-week for seven weeks.* In the eighth week, I will host the women at their own poetry reading at a community center. I absolutely love this work. *Taking a one-week delay for AWP.

The focus of the first session will be on seeing the good in one’s self, recognizing growth, and focusing on the positive in life. Rather than delving into aspects of craft, this is a vocational effort to uplift these women, to give them hope in the new situations they will face with greater independence.

This project for non-writers is not to be dismissed as easy work. Writing is a transformative, healing art. It is my job, over the course of these many weeks, to help the women see that they can produce something beautiful because they are beautiful, creative souls.

Please send us good energy and uplifting thoughts.

 

 

~Clare

On the Horizon

I have been using the word “calendaring” all week. Lots of exciting things on the horizon. “Writing Hope” with Acadiana Outreach clients. A new schedule of interesting interviews that will appear at MockingHeart Review. Association of Writers & Writing Programs in February where Yellow Flag Press will launch Seek the Holy Dark at an off-site reading with Gigantic Sequins and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s creative writers at George Washington University’s Art and Textile Museum. The Lafayette Book Release event/party at Rêve Coffee Roasters for Seek the Holy Dark (FREE WINE) in mid-March. Readings in Acadiana and beyond. NOLA poetry reading for the Poetry Buffet in June, and more. I’m also available to conduct community creativity/writing workshops and one-on-one mentorships.

“The Hanging Woman” excerpt from “Seek the Holy Dark”

The Hanging Woman

 

breathes desert into her throat
Golgotha-naked

rapacious sun
spear opens rib

the most egregious of transgressions
lust inside/out

lungs vigilant flag
serpentine intestine

nailed-out muscles
Heaven’s jaw shuts

borne upon the cross
we cannot willfully die

the women tear at their smocks
sun goes

to terminal moonrise
burnt to bone

new meanings of the body impaled;

all sensation thrust
from pleasured skin

blade to stone
stone to bone

bone to blood night
incarnated, excarnated.

 

 

© 2017 Clare L. Martin

Collected in Seek the Holy Dark by Clare L. Martin, forthcoming from Yellow Flag Press, 2017 Pre-orders are now available. $10.