David Livingstone Clink is the Artistic Director of the Rowers Pub Reading Series, and the webmaster of poetrymachine.com. David’s poetry has appeared recently in Existere: Journal of Arts and Literature, All Rights Reserved, Echolocation, The Literary Review of Canada, and in the anthologies I.V. Lounge Nights, The 2008 Rhysling Anthology, and Imagination in Action. His first book of poetry, Eating Fruit Out of Season was published by Tightrope Books in 2008.
Alex Boyd interviewed David Clink in spring, 2009.
I catch themes in your book about time and change, a sense that you’re looking at the larger picture, noting “the certainty of endings.” And there’s also a sense of struggle against this, when you note “I want to leave something permanent,” and “Every piece of marble holds an animal in stasis.” Although you don’t talk directly about poetry in your book, do you believe it’s the best shot you can take at immortality?
Immortality, through poetry, is an interesting question! I have missed a chance at immortality by other means — at some point technology will overtake death, that last immutability. Immortality will be for our children and /or our grandchildren. Imagine if this future technology existed in Shakespeare’s time! Imagine what he would have written in the last 400 years! And today’s generation would be able to go see him read in person, probably at sold out stadiums, a la J.K. Rowling!
There are certain poems that have sustained a form of immortality by continually being in print. These poems are talked about, they are covered in schools. Who can’t remember discussing innocence vs. experience in Blake? There are reasons why poems like, “My Last Duchess”, and, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” are classics. Generally, the poems that have become “immortal” are ones that are deserving of their circumstance. I think that if it weren’t for libraries, bookstores, and the poetry being taught in schools, a lot of poetry would be forgotten.
If my best shot at immortality is through the poems I have written, or will write, I would have to say that a poem titled “My Latest Poem,” found in my first book, Eating Fruit Out of Season would be the one I will be remembered for.
In a similar way, “The Loss of Detail,” is a particularly chilling poem. Would you like a hug?
Hugs are good. Money is better. Small denominations, no sequential serial numbers, and no dye packs, please!
Yes, I seem to return to themes, like time and change, and it is about time I changed that! There is nothing like a memory sprouting full-grown in your mind, brought there from the recall of a scent or sound. When this happens you are transported through time. You have become a time traveler.
“My Latest Poem” irreverently talks about stereotypes on poetry, and then invents original, hybrid lines like “Take me in your arms / And tell me you didn’t lose the receipt.” Finally, the poem ends on an unexpected note of unabashed tenderness. Was this a hard one to write? I imagine it required turning off the internal censor.
Mary Oliver said in her book, A Poetry Handbook, “Poems must, of course, be written in emotional freedom.” I think, for poetry, if one wants the reader to be emotionally engaged with the poem, it must be written with the freedom that turning off the internal censor provides.
“My Latest Poem,” the version in the book, took 5 years to write, so I guess it was difficult to get it into the shape it is today. It began by my writing down a bunch of ideas, phrases, lines, observations, and humorous asides, and taking these scraps (there were about 50 of them) and trying to put them all into one poem, and make the resulting poem make sense. It took a few months to have a first draft of the poem. I read it for the first time at a reading series called GrabbaPoem! in January of 2003. Sometime in the summer of 2007 I made a major reordering of the poem, and I think the poem flows better now. Note: I think you needed to add “spoiler alert” before the last question you asked!
“Flowers on a one-way street” is the first of the list poems you have throughout the book. What inspires these, and are they difficult to write?
What inspired these? Strangely enough, Library of Congress Subject Headings on microfiche! Back in the mid-1980s I shelved these. Each fiche had hundreds if not thousands of subject headings on them, but each fiche had the first subject heading that was on the fiche printed in larger letters at the top of the fiche, as a guide, that you can read without the aid of a fiche reader. I noticed that some of these subject headings were intriguing, and I thought at the time, some of these could be titles of poems, or, I could take a bunch of them and have them as the poem. Here are some examples of LC subject headings (some of these are made up):
Flushing, Michigan – – Social life and customs
Middle-finger gesture – – humor
Teenage Beatnik Behavior
Tree felling in literature
Human-animal relationships – – art
The other inspiration was the index of poem titles at the back of Raymond Carver’s book of collected poetry, All of Us. I noticed that large sections of it actually worked as a poem! I have been working since 2003 on a poem that will use all 350 first lines of Raymond Carver’s poetry, and hope to have this finished in 2010. Here is a sample of some of the titles from the index that look like they could form a poem:
|Waking before sunrise, in a house
not my own,
|Walking around on our first day,|
|Water perfectly calm. Perfectly
|we have been looking at cars lately,|
|We press our lips to the enameled
rim of the cups,
|We sipped tea. Politely musing,|
In 2006 Allan Briesmaster asked me to submit a poem for a flower anthology, and I remembered the LC Subject Headings fiche, and All of Us, and I thought, this was an opportunity to finally write a list poem of titles. I thought, why not?
The list poems are one of the more difficult forms for me, at least, the version of the form I employ. It takes several weeks of intense effort to write each poem. The flower one was my first attempt, and it came out in the anthology Garden Variety. Recently another one came out in December 2008 in the Literary Review of Canada, titled “Darkness Then a Blown Kiss.” And another one in the anthology I.V. Lounge Nights, which you edited (along with Myna Wallin), called “The Time of the Young Soldiers.” Of the four list poems, I think the one in the book, Eating Fruit Out of Season, called “Now it can be told” is the best one. Maurice Mierau, in his review of my book for the Winnipeg Free Press, describes two of the list poems: “He often invokes emotion through simple syntactical variations in poems such as Flowers on a One-Way Street and the moving Now It Can Be Told.” What I do to create these list poems, I begin with one word, for example, “Now”, or “Dark, or “Moon.” I search the York University library catalog for all titles that begin with the word. Sometimes there are as many as a few thousand titles. I go through these titles and select the best 100 or 200. I keep the list in order, and essentially edit it down further so it will fit on one page of a journal, or a poetry book, so lines aren’t longer than 4 inches, and the length of a poem is about 28 lines. I want the list to be in title order, so care is taken in selecting the final line, and if done right, a number of the lines in leading up to the end will be on theme, whatever theme results from the lines selected. When I workshop the poems, I provide alternate lines — I have the 28 line poem, pretty much the way I like it, and I pick the next best 10 lines, and in some cases, based on feedback, I may use a few of these, and drop some others. The repetition of the words adds to the momentum of the poem, the music of it. The variety of the titles runs the gamut, which speaks “volumes” of the breadth and depth of the York collection.
Who are your favourite Canadian poets, and do you think there’s any particular way to summarize Canadian poetry, as compared to other countries?
I will categorize my answer, and say, my favourite living established Canadian poets are, from the male side, A. F. Moritz and Patrick Lane. From the female side, Lorna Crozier and Molly Peacock. My favourite living up-and-coming Canadian poets are, from the male side, Nick Thran and Jacob Scheier, and from the female side, Souvankham Thammavongsa and Sandra Kasturi. For those who are no longer living, my favourites include Irving Layton, Al Purdy, Pauline Johnson, and Dorothy Livesay.
Canadian poetry compares favourably with its counterpart in the U.S. now that Tightrope Books is publishing an annual Best Canadian Poetry in English anthology, one can compare it to its American counterpart, fairly easily. I would have to say, that with a population ~9 times larger than Canada (estimated 308 million U.S. citizens by 2010, vs. 33 million Canadians in 2010), the U.S. has many more poets than Canada, a larger pool, so to speak. Even though our very best poets can write at a level similar to Philip Levine, the sheer numbers make this an uphill battle. I think we are closing the gap, if you will allow me to generalize. But why compare? Each country has its own distinct voices, and as long as these voices don’t promote hate, these voices should be celebrated.