2017: My Writing Life in Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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).

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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.

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Whew! Despite boughts of severe depression and financial trauma, I am so proud to say that I am sharing my gifts with the world.

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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

We’ve had a great trial to endure over the past eight weeks. I worried that there would be a cloud over Saturday night’s celebratory event for Seek the Holy Dark. There wasn’t. Everything went off without a hitch. We had a great crowd of friends who came to celebrate with us. Friends came from New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Houston, as well as Lafayette and Grand Coteau. I felt such enormous love and support. A young couple came who I didn’t know. They had heard the radio interview and didn’t want to miss the reading. That sent me swooning. They were so sweet.
*
I am so very fortunate to have the friends and family I do. While in many ways I have extraordinary strengths, I really am vulnerable to stress. I am blessed to have protectors. I am humbled by this. I have friends and family who see when I am fading out and give me the energy to help me come back to life. I am brought to tears with gratitude for Bessie Senette for being the woman she is and loving me so dearly. I was thrilled that my dear husband and beautiful daughter came to the book release event. My husband was injured last week and he was going to stay at home and rest. When I saw him come through the door I was ecstatic. At dinner afterward, Debra McDonald Bailey said she was ready for my third book. I need a minute to catch my breath!
*
All day Sunday, I felt hungover. It wasn’t because I drank. The anticipation of and the event itself took a lot out of me. Sunday morning, Bessie said she felt like she had been struck by lightning. That is how I felt, too. It was a great night, no doubt, but the buildup of excitement and then the culmination draws on your reserves. I slept off and on most of Sunday, thus I am awake at 1 am on Monday. I’m having coffee, too. I need some quiet hours to continue to recover and process all that is in my heart. Staying in the moment is the only way I can live with peace. Thank God!
*
I look forward to these wee hours in solitude. My heart is full and I am glad. Thank you to all who came to be with me in the special moment. I love you all.
A big THANK YOU to Rêve Coffee Roasters. We were so thrilled to be there Saturday.

“Marsh Song I”

marsh-song-1“Marsh Song I*” Mixed media, Clare L. Martin ©2016
Inspiration—

We drive westward along the Louisiana coast on a crumbling highway with my parents. The sky purples with becoming light. Our bellies are full of boudin and cracklins. Hot coffee is handed carefully from the front seat to my husband and I seated in the back.

We sing “J’ai Passe Devant Ta Porte” or “Bon Vieux Mari,” called by my mother and responded to by my father. Always my father embellishes his responses. My mother rolls down her window and points to the Roseate Spoonbills lifting from their roosts. My father stops singing and praises God.

A prayer is said for loved ones, wherever they are. More of the morning sky erupts over the marsh. I think of painters, how I wish to be one, how I have tried with my words. This day we are traveling to see Sandhill Cranes that have been spotted in Creole, a few miles from here. We always take the scenic route and happily travel from dawn to dusk.

How many times have we come to this slipping away land and been blessed by our forgetfulness of the world’s problems and our own? Countless. How much do I miss these two people who gave and saved my life? My longing cannot be measured.

To treasure the dead is our inheritance.

*I dedicate this artwork and these words to my beloved family, especially to my deceased loved ones, wherever they are.

 

Clare L. Martin

Embryonic Self

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“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

 

 

Watching the Wheels

 

I forgot who I was. I knew the age spot on my left cheek. I knew the sagging breasts and the overlapping belly. I knew my feet; my unusually small toes. I knew my eyes and what they had seen. I knew my lips, now shaded in regal purple. I knew my place in the bed next to the dog, and further away, my husband. I knew him; his wants and needs. I knew the losses: friendships, a friend forever, my father, son and now, almost seven months ago, my mother. I knew something of my values, but not as clearly: my own value. I had forgotten the tools of my fingers; except to inconsistently pleasure myself, wash my face, shave the stubble here and there, or grip a steering wheel. I knew my daughter; but already this knowing is an ocean away. I knew the reason I withdrew from an outside life that filled others more than myself. I knew the shame of saying one thing and doing another. But I had forgotten myself.

I know that in the past six months I put words on paper. I know that as soon as those words were written I forgot them. I forgot the thrill too, and felt only dislocation.  I forgot the feel of words in my mouth, as though my tongue had been numbed for surgery. I forgot the clicking taps on a keyboard except for inane mumblings; wretched gloats and ambiguous streams of babble. But back to dislocation: my writing setting has been unsettled. There are two sofas in this room. One does not belong here. Things are unplugged that should be plugged in. There are china cups wrapped in newspaper in boxes that haven’t been unpacked. One curtain hangs and another needs to be hung up. Where is my grounding? Files and files and no skeleton for them. Unopened mail. Books unread. I became dislocated in the aftermath of death. I do remember the tenderest parts of me and the kisses they received.

Before I progress, I need to familiarize myself with myself. Yesterday, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to drive on a road I’d never traveled and tell no one if I was going north, south, east or west. Instead I went to a bakery and bought my favorite dessert. My husband ate half and my daughter the other.  The yearning I have is to be left alone. JUST LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.  That has been my mantra, but I do want to engage. Those closest to me understand. I have enough time. I just need awareness of the ever-presence of the opportunity of solitude and the will to delineate myself into its holy grasp.

Drained. I have been drained. Lately, I have related an adage that came to me: “If your own kitchen is on fire and your neighbor’s house is burning, put out the fire in your kitchen and then bring water to your neighbor.”  This is how I must live my life, for now, until the fire is put out, until the long task list is accomplished. I do not feel guilt for saying no. I do not feel remorse for expressing wrath when only wrath, justified, would accomplish the necessary. I had forgotten wrath. Wrath can be useful. I accept my own blamelessness.

God help those who elicit my wrath. It is life-stopping in a metaphorical way; and profoundly affecting. Good, good, good. Now you know. Now you will pay attention and show me respect. Wrath: a wolf in defense and defiance for survival. It is necessary for the continuation of my living with no ill intent at all.

I talked to a friend today. It was nice. She offered refuge and calm water. I cannot do for others outside my closest family and my core friendships. Loss. We have lost so much and I am in transition. Part of what I forgot or tried to unburden myself from was writing; what it had come to mean for me.  But what it meant, or what it was starting to represent for me was obligation and burden. Yes, there is a burden to carry as a writer and almost always I carry that with joy, but the elements of operating in a society of writers was what I felt trapped by. I came to a conclusion to only write when I feel like it and to not submit my work to journals anymore unless I am solicited to do so. It is not because I feel I have reached a level of status that it is beneath me; it’s just that I am not hungry.  I do not have the time to write, submit, write, submit, etc. I think of the John Lennon song’s “Watching the Wheels” because it expresses how I feel about my career as a writer.

What is it about writing that brings me joy? I am no longer playing the game. I am vitally more interested in growing my family, as we have lost so many of our blood and kin. If I can solidify my core family, blood or not, I will find that inner resolve to write something worthy and authentic. I will write words with blood-worth, with the meaning and impact that has always been my fiercest intention.

“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.

Motherlife

I have happy news to share with you all.  I have known for a few weeks but I got permission to share publicly a bit of news that I was conceived on Valentine’s Day in 1968!  This explains a lot about me and my almost crippling (being facetious) romanticism. Really the fact that I was a Valentine’s Day baby makes me feel all kinds of wonderful, and I thank my mom for letting me share this with the world. She did ask me however to keep the details of the actual conception confidential.  Ha!

I visited with my mother for a little while today and she read a poem to me dedicated to a deceased loved one that meant something to her.  She pulled it out of a Ziploc bag that had neatly folded sheets of newspaper clippings. I asked her, “You keep obituaries in a Ziploc bag?” She said, “Yes?” I asked her to give me a moment and I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted the poem below down. Many of my friends know that my mother is always asking me why I haven’t written any poems about her. I have cryptically, but this one is in a new vein, and she approved it.

Mother

My mother keeps obituaries
in a Ziploc bag,
neatly-folded reminders of loss.
She always reads the obituaries
first thing in the morning,
before prayers, so that if she knows
anyone, anyone she can pray
for their souls
and the hearts of survivors.

Once at 6:00 am,
as my father handed her
the just-delivered paper,
she told me that the wife
of my favorite professor and mother
of my friend Victor, had died.
I knew Barbara, a poet herself,
had breast cancer
and was close to the end.

I dressed and peeled-out
of the driveway to Dr. V.’s house.
He was shocked to see me
and just shook his head and said,
“How? How did you know so quickly?”

My mother slips a thin
piece of newspaper
out of the plastic bag and says
it has been ten years
since my firstborn’s death.
This stops me, so I pet her dog, Demitasse.

How else could I end this poem?

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

 

 

Between Land and Sky

Blue sky peppered with blackbirds. Blue deepens to black in the west. I am on the Dixie Chopper cutting grass. My lines are straight. Grass exits the chute and makes a pile of clippings to the right of me. I will have to make another pass to disperse the clippings, to make the yard clean. This is Mrs. Champagne’s yard and she is very particular but her sight isn’t great, so if I make a mistake she might not see it.

Blue-storm wind; a swirl of cool air reaches me on this hundred degree day. I am wearing a large-brimmed straw hat tied below my chin, a bandanna around my face to keep the dust out of my mouth, and old, faded clothing. Especially faded is the top shirt with long sleeves worn for sun protection. The sun has eaten through in places. There are patches of thin fabric through which I can see my skin.

As much as I hate the work, and the way my husband barks orders at me there is something very Zen about riding the mower, cutting grass and being outdoors more than I am used to. My head clears, my eyes wander to the birds, the plumes of steam rising from the sugar cane mill–the storm gathering upon itself from the coast. When I get in the Zen zone, lines of poetry come to me.  This is the reason I do the work, and helping my husband is secondary.

As soon as I feel the exhilaration of a new idea for a poem something happens. A grinding sound and then water shoots straight up into the air, twenty-five feet high. Fuck. The worst thing in the world has happened. I ran over a water supply pipe. Panic sets in and I turn the mower from the disaster to find my husband. He is already running towards me, yelling “What the fuck did you do?” He runs past me and stops at the edge of the road with a wrench in his hand. I am confused but soon the fountain stops. He walks over to Mrs. Champagne and apologizes. He then gets on his hands and knees and with his hands as shovels he begins digging in the dirt around the pipe I had sheared with the mower blade. He works quickly and I can see the frustration in his hard-edged movements. I can hear the curses in his breath but they are not audible to Mrs. Champagne, who is somewhat hard of hearing.

He gets up from the muddy spot and walks to his work truck, shaking his head and muttering. Somehow he had a piece of pipe in the pile of who knows what in the truck bed, along with the tools he needed to cut off the supply pipe. He twists the cut pipe from its connector and threads the terminal piece. The whole process takes about fifteen minutes and we were back in business. This is the first big mistake I have made in the two years I have been cutting grass with him. I feel awful, and he is surly for the rest of the day. But watching him problem-solve in a very short amount of time—witnessing his knowledge, determination and ingenuity at work inspires. I have seen my husband perform a miracle.

I offer myself to him this night. And for the first time in a long time I seek his eyes as he moves above me. I seek him, his deepest self.

©2014 CLM

Ten Years

Adam 2002

March 15th, 2004 will mark ten years since my son Adam’s death.

As I compose this blog post so many thoughts are in my head. His conception, my struggle with motherhood at 15 years old, learning that he was disabled, coming to a place of acceptance of that fact and becoming the mother he needed and that I needed to be to him up to the time of his death.

I am thinking about my mother and I going to Wal-Mart to pick out his burial clothes.  Towards the end of his life, maybe the last two years, he only wore hospital gowns. We had to guess at his size when picking the blue dress shirt and slacks. The clothes were too large and the mortuary staff pinned the clothes to fit his frail and unusually small body.

I have said this before, that writing has saved my life. But even more so, the people in my life have saved my life. My parents did not abandon me. They supported me through my pregnancy and saw me through college. They cared for Adam when I could not and that in itself is a miraculous thing.

Adam had many caregivers from the time of his birth and the four months in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, through the years he lived at home with us and from the special human-angels on staff at Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. I know that each and every human that came in contact with Adam was guided by the Divine to see his special and loving nature. Adam taught us more than we could have ever taught him. His disability brought us to understanding, humility and tenderness. We are better for having known him. I am better for having been touched by his gracious life.

Ten years of dedication to the Writing Life. Ten years from March 15th, 2004, the day Adam died. My husband and I were on our way to the hospital to attend to him when I got the call from Dr. Buck that Adam’s heart gave out during a procedure to place a medi-port in him to give him antivirals that were maybe going to save his life.

But we knew he was dying. Adam suffered the last several months of his life with pneumonia and septicemia. The last time I saw him he was surrounded by ice because his fever was 108 degrees and rising. My God! How did he live for as long as he did in that horrible state?  A few days after he died, I wrote the poem “Ice to Water.”  That poem was the most difficult thing to conjure, and was written through tears, but it saved me.

My being is attuned to love. Even when I am fighting I love my way through the pain. I have had to fight all of my life for self-love, for personal justice, and for reclamation. Ten years of writing and seeking mastery of myself through the work. Ten years of working through grief, working in grief—astounding and excruciating grief. I have gone so far on the path but I am still here mourning.

I was just lying in bed talking to my husband. We were talking about his work and my work. I have made very little money in all these years, but the small amount I have made has been spent on my family. We struggle but my poetry money has made a difference when we needed a tank of gas, a pizza, or a few groceries. As I was talking, my sorrow arose and I cried. Something new is causing me grief, a new disillusionment as I continue on the path.

I have put out so much energy to write, to get published, and to grow a career in a field that does not reward in the ways we recognize as success in this world. That didn’t really bother me all along. My perspective was that this is a holy vocation and I was honoring my gifts but somewhere along the way I got conned. I began thinking of commerce and exchange—what was I getting in return? This led to a deep sadness and more tears.

In this moment, as I reflect on the passing of my son, as I write about just a few details of his incredible life, I am brought back to the reason I committed myself so deeply to this path. Honor. I wanted to honor Adam’s memory, honor my gifts, and honor the people in my life. That I was able to succeed in gaining an audience was gratifying but the whole and holy purpose was, is and always will be for me is the “creative love” in the act of writing itself. I say creative love because my creativity/love is what brought me this far and I will not lose sight of it again.

There are many projects that I bring my energy to and I will continue to do so, but if these projects become grueling or dissatisfying, I will give them up. It is not a difficult thing for me to do at all. I am not paid for any of it, except the money I might receive from selling a book here and there. I am not concerned with a “career” because what is that? I am concerned with the creative act and the product, not so much my stature anymore. I am concerned with leaving a legacy of love, and my energies will be focused from this point forward on projects and people who are aligned with this mission.

Peace.