Poet Clare L. Martin talks to IND Monthly about her craft and her new collection.

November 2012

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                                                                                     Clare L. Martin photo by Robin May

Youngsville resident Clare L. Martin’s debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published last month by Press 53 of Winston-Salem, N.C. as a Tom Lombardo Selection. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Avatar Review, Blue Fifth Review, Melusine, Poets and Artists and Louisiana Literature, among others. She has been nominated for numerous awards, and her poems have been included in the anthologies The Red Room: Writings from Press 1, Best of Farmhouse Magazine Vol. 1, Beyond Katrina and the 2011 Press 53 Spotlight. She is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of UL Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a teaching artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

Martin fielded some questions from IND Monthly about her fine new collection.

IND Monthly: Why did you choose “Eating the Heart First” as the title poem?  
Clare L. Martin: We are meaning seekers. For me, all language of a poem should work to embody meaning. I wrote the poem, “Eating the Heart First” several years ago and when I wrote it, my personal response to the metaphor was that it was the way I approach poetry, when reading or writing it — my aim is to go to the heart first. Many, many years ago I envisioned that if I ever did publish a book of poetry, which has been an enduring hope, that I would use that title.

IM: Explain your use of punctuation and the way you structure lines and stanzas.  
CLM: I try to use proper punctuation and follow the rules of grammar, but I have been known to play fast and loose with a comma. Form and structure are very important to me. I seek balance in the form, visually on the page, and break lines in ways that seem natural or interesting while maintaining balance. I am continually learning through form. Recently, I have been more experimental with line breaks/formatting, and that “play” is quite freeing and interesting to me.

IM: Describe your process. How does a poem come to be?
CLM: I write in journals and notebooks, but I compose on the computer. I start with a “free write,” sometimes beginning with a phrase or line that has come to me in a whisper. I write. I follow words where they lead, and do not hold back the flow. I shape the work until I have a solid draft. The pace of writing is usually quick but polishing the work takes time. I have learned somewhat to let the poem rest. Letting go is another thing. Here is a quote from Anais Nin I often return to when thinking about my own process: “If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”

IM: How long has Eating the Heart First been in the works, and how many poems did you choose from before distilling them to the collection that is published? And what role did Press 53 and its editors play in this process?
CLM: Eating the Heart First has been in the works for eight years plus a lifetime. Although I have always written, I did not commit to a dedicated practice until my son, Adam, died in 2004. When he died, I made a promise to myself to be the writer I was born to be.    
I began pulling poems together as a manuscript in 2007, after my father died. Eating the Heart First went through many incarnations. When I first offered it to Press 53, it was rejected. Tom Lombardo, the Press 53 poetry editor, encouraged me to work on it and resubmit. I went back to the work and trusted it. When I resubmitted the manuscript, I actually withdrew it a short time later because I felt it still wasn’t ready. Tom respected that and told me to do the work that needed to be done because he believed I could make it work. When I was absolutely sure, I sent it again and he accepted it. I found out it would be published by Press 53 three days before Christmas 2011, and signed the contract with Kevin Morgan Watson, my publisher, in January. The actual time that it took from the initial submission to publication has been around two years. The Press 53 team has been supportive and respectful at every turn. I am really lucky to be with them.  

   GARBAGE WOMAN

    By Clare L. Martin

    I am a gallows tree.

    Bottle glass  
    chicken bones
    jointed mannequins
    of milk jug plastic

    drowned oaks
    crab shells
    wind-struck birds
    seaweed, guts and eels
    hang.

    I am a body of water.

    The love letters you folded
    into paper boats,
    sail across my hips,
    burn to ash
    in faraway volcanoes.

    My palms weep
    with pearls.


IM: Many of these poems seem intensely personal yet simultaneously detached as your narrative perspective shifts from first- to second- to third person. Where is Clare Martin the person, as opposed to the poet, within these shifts? How personal is this poetry?
CLM: Ah, that is the poet’s magic, isn’t it? Some poems are very personal and some are imagined in a way that conveys truth and emotion without my having personally experienced the happenings of the poem. The poems are of me, and in that sense the person of Clare Martin is in each of these poems.

IM: Is there something poets can do to make their art form more accessible to a wider audience, or will poetry increasingly become a “niche” form?  
CLM: I believe humans need art and meaning for survival, which poetry offers in process and product. I try to write in language that is accessible and about experiences that are tied to the human heart and mind, to give a reader an imaginative, intimate experience that is relatable and real.  

IM: When did you know you wanted to be a poet?  
CLM: I have written since childhood. I took a creative writing class in high school and was as serious as a moody teenage girl can be. I met a girl in college who was kind of subversive and into poetry. I became enamored with her. She shared books with me. She turned me onto Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath, and others. I was fired up and took other creative writing classes. I was first published in The Southwestern Review, the USL literary journal, in 1989.

IM: The book is arranged in three parts. Explain the triptych within Eating the Heart First.
CLM: First I must say how the sequencing came to be. My friend and fellow poet, Kelly Clayton, read the manuscript after I told her the trouble I was having sequencing the book. I was ordering the poems as though they were being filed in a filing cabinet. Kelly invited me over one night to work on it, and we shared a little wine. She lit a candle that was set on a table next to photos of her ancestors. She spread the pages of poetry on her living room floor, and infused with an unusual energy, she began putting the pages in order that made sense to her intuitively. When she was finished, the candle went out. I respected that and I firmly believe the book is the way it is supposed to be. Amen.  
I divided the book in three sections at Tom’s suggestion to give the book a sense of form and to speak to the breadth of the poems. In the final editing process, we added two poems to the manuscript, slipping them in carefully and respectfully.


Hear Clare L. Martin read from Eating the Heart First and purchase a signed copy of the collection at these November events:

Nov. 2
clare_book

First Fridays Reading Series
Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana
The Porch
4710 Common St.
Lake Charles
7 p.m. (reading and book-signing)

Nov. 10
Book Fair
Festival of Words
232 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Grand Coteau
Day event (book-signing)

Nov. 10
Second Saturday Art Walk
Acadiana Center for the Arts
101 W. Vermilion St.
Lafayette
6- 8 p.m. (reading in the Art House and information table)

Nov. 11
Carpe Diem! Gelato-Espresso Bar
812 Jefferson St.
Lafayette
2 p.m. (reading and book-signing)

Nov. 15
17 Poets! Reading Series
The Goldmine Saloon
705 Dauphine St.
New Orleans
8 p.m. (reading)

Nov. 18
Sundays @ 4
Baton Rouge Gallery Center for Contemporary Art
1515 Dalrymple Drive
Baton Rouge
4 p.m. (reading)

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