Snapshot: Jackie Clark
It is an incredible pleasure for me to introduce this snapshot with Jackie Clark to you, dear readers. Jackie is a tireless editor here at Coldfront Magazine and an avid supporter of poetry. In the interview below we chat about how her debut book of poems came to be published by Brooklyn Arts Press, her work as an editor for Coldfront Magazine, Jersey pride, the ability to “dream bigger” and a lot more.
“All Occurrences Are Muted And Starred Until You Remember There Is An Outside Out There”
SK: Hi Jackie, congrats on your beautiful debut book Aphoria (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013)! How long did you spend writing it?
JC: Hi Steven. Thanks so much! I am still surprised every time I remember that Aphoria is a thing in the world. I am alternatively pleased and horrified by the fact that the book exists. Pleased because I have spent a long time wishing and hoping and horrified, because well, it’s scary to declare yourself! But declare yourself you must, I guess…I guess I wrote the poems in the book over the course of three years.
SK: Your book consists of three sections: “We Gather At Night”, “The City Salutes Itself”, and “I Live Here Now” and each of these sections are followed by serial poems. What attracts you to the serial poem? When you begin putting this manuscript together did you know that you wanted three sections of serial poems, as opposed to a book of single-titled poems?
JC: For me, so much of how I come to writing has to do with how I am feeling. I’m not sure if that sounds corny or not, or if that isn’t intellectual enough or something, but for me poems are places for me to channel my feelings. But feelings don’t always come. Sometimes I go long stretches of time without “feelings.” This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any emotional reactions to people in my life, feelings of love, or shitty days at work, it’s just that sometimes the bigger feelings that I often lose myself in when I write are just not available. Sometimes I don’t have a way in. But then sometimes I do, and when I do I am lost in a rush of feelings, a rush of thoughts or prayers or clarity. All of this to say that it is easier for me to capture that rush when I write serially. Because intuitively I know that what I am capturing is all connected, that even without intending it I am building something. I didn’t necessarily choose serial poems over a book of single-titled poems. I had a manuscript that I was shopping around for a long time that was just single-titled poems. But I think I just realized as some point that these serial poems were stronger and I wanted to put my best foot forward when I was sending out my manuscript. So I sort of ditched the single-titled manuscript that I had been shopping around (a lot of the poems in the manuscript had been published anyway) and tried to focus on putting together a new manuscript. “I Live Here Now” had already been published as a chapbook by Lame House Press but not much from the other sections had ever been published. So after considering all of this unpublished material it occurred to me that each of the three sections loosely related to each other so it just sort of made sense to me to try to put it all together.
SK: How did Aphoria wind up on Brooklyn Arts Press? Did you submit to an open reading, or a contest, or was the manuscript solicited?
JC: BAP has an open reading period once a year in June, where you can query them with a 10 page excerpt from your manuscript. I was familiar with the BAP editor Joe Pan’s work and liked the look and feel of the books so I figured I would send it along. After that I got an email back asking me to send the full manuscript along; they had liked what they read. Actually, if you want to know a secret, a few weeks after I was asked for my full manuscript I got an email from BAP saying that they were going to pass on Aphoria. I was sort of heart-broken. Aphoria had been a finalist and semi-finalist for a couple of different contests but deep down I sort of felt like it would be a better fit for me to be with a small press that didn’t necessarily have a lot of star-appeal or some big contest that had a lot of media buzz. I don’t know. I just sort of had a hunch that me and my poems and my integrity would be safe with BAP and I was really disappointed when it didn’t work out. But a few weeks after that I got an email from Joe asking if the manuscript was still available, one of his readers had emphatically urged him (and ultimately convinced him!) to publish my book. I still don’t know who the mystery reader was. I have an idea of who it was but it’s never been confirmed! In a way it was even more awesome than if they had just accepted the manuscript the first time around. The fact that my poems spoke so strongly to a total stranger is sort of the best feeling.
SK: I think I speak for all of Jackie Clark’s readers, THANK YOU MYSTERY PERSON and thank you Joe Pan for listening to your reader!
Jackie, in 2012 you were the recipient of the prestigious New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. With so much arts funding getting cut, can you speak a little bit about how this fellowship helped you and the importance of fellowships for writers?
JC: Yea, it’s sort of crazy in some ways to think that I got a bunch of money from the state of New Jersey because I submitted 10 poems for their consideration. I mean, they’re just poems, right? But at the same time, the converse of that perspective is that they aren’t just poems, that there is a value to their existence, that the people who write the poems should be valued, etc. I would have never even thought to apply for a fellowship like that if it wasn’t for other poet friends of mine who applied for and were granted NYFAs! I remember feeling so impressed that my best friends won these huge awards. So of course I felt like I should at least try to win an award too. I should at least try to keep up! I think that I am especially lucky because I wasn’t desperate for the money so I’ve been able to sort of string together this financial safety net for myself, something that I’ve never had before, and this safety net makes me feel like I at least have some control, some options about what I plan to do next or am somewhat prepared for some kind of unexpected emergency.
But aside from the monetary benefit, I think receiving the fellowship was really validating. It certainly got my dad’s attention, someone who hadn’t previously really paid much attention to my poetry life. I don’t want to say that I felt like I deserved the award, but I will say that it made me question less if I thought I was deserving. I guess it made me proud. Proud of my writing and proud of the years that I’ve spent actively pursuing writing. And I think this is why awards like this are important for all types of artists. Everyone could use some encouragement from time to time and achieving something big like this allows us to dream bigger. Gives us the ability to even sort of believe the dream, the dream of who we are, who we want to be, what we can do with our lives, etc. And that is without a doubt worth more than any amount of money.
SK: You work a 9-5, do a fantastic (and undoubtedly time-consuming) editorial job for Coldfront Magazine’s Poets off Poetry and Song of the Week, and your extremely supportive and engaged with the poetry community in NYC/BK and NJ. With so many demands, do you find the time to write every day? How would you summarize your writing schedule?
JC: Thank you for saying all that. To be honest, I usually feel like I’m not doing enough! I like to stay busy and feel like I am contributing to something bigger, and not just by writing poems. My 9-5 situation leaves me wanting in the worst kind of way so I use these other activities as supplement. Song of the Week is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary. It’s wild to me sometimes when I think about it that I’ve published a different song by over hundred different writers every Monday for the last two years. It feels like a lot when quantified in that way. But from the day-to-day perspective it’s part of my life, it’s who I am now and I would be very lonely without it.
But you asked about my writing schedule. I would say my writing schedule is erratic at best. I go through phases where I am very disciplined and I write every day. Other times I will go weeks without writing a poem. Lately what I’ve been trying to do, or work myself into a schedule of, is writing things that aren’t poems. I’ve written book reviews and tried my hand at writing about music and movies. I just started writing about yoga for a website based in New York. Basically I am trying to allow and encourage my writing to grow and find other places where it can make an impact. Not because I don’t want to write poems anymore, but because I want to build out from my core. I want to evolve.
SK: Since the unofficial and official release of the book, you’ve managed to do a few readings. Where have been so far? Any upcoming readings planned?
JC: It’s funny because a lot people asked me if I would be going on tour in support of Aphoria, but to be honest I really wasn’t that interested. I’m not really crazy about doing readings in the first place and knew that my social ability would crash and burn pretty quickly if I embarked on a proper tour. Instead I thought if I could do some readings around New York and then pick a couple of out of town dates that I really wanted to do than that would be the best approach for me. I got to have an amazing launch party for Aphoria in New York, which exceeded all of my expectations. I felt really lucky to have so many friends and family come and be a part of that night. I got to read for KGB and The Poetry Project and reading at those two places was really important to me. I got to go to Denver a few weeks ago and read with Amy Lawless and hang out with a bunch of awesome people. I’m going to Georgia in September to read at Emory College. I’m reading next week for Couplet in New York, so I get around okay, lol. I know there are other poets out there who have a better hype-hustle and sometimes I guilt myself for not being more that way, but I’m at this point in my life where I know what will make me feel good and what won’t so I just try to stay true to those feelings.
SK: What’s next or what are you currently working on?
JC: I’ve been working on this short manuscript called Sympathetic Nervous System. I just found out today that some poems from the manuscript with appear in the next smoking glue gun,* so that’s exiting. It feels good to have a new poetic emotion to inhabit. I’m hoping to put together another full-length manuscript in the near future as well. I have a bunch of unpublished poems that I’ve never really sat and focused on because I was really committed to finding a home for Aphoria. And now that Aphoria is safe and sound I have the mental space to think about finding a home for them.
“Could I be Jem instead?”
SK: Would you rather be in the cast of Friends, Gossip Girl, or Parks and Recreation?
JC: Parks and Rec!
SK: Who or what were you in your past life?
JC: I have no idea.
SK: Ideal vacation? Bike into the mountains and set up camp or luxury hotel with beach front access?
JC: Biking and the mountains for sure. Although I would hope there is a lake at the top of the mountain to swim in.
SK: Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo?
JC: Yo La Tengo, I’m from Jersey.
SK: Would you rather be Wonder Women, Supergirl, or She-ra?
JC: Could I be Jem instead? I just realized the Jem is on Netflix. It was my absolute favorite when I was little.
SK:OMG! You’d be a KILLER Jem! If you were in a band you would be the lead singer/rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, bass player, or the drummer?
JC: Even though I am too bashful to do it in real life, I would love, love, love to be the lead singer of a band, something like Lemuria or Allo Darlin’.
SK: Would you rather be a famous unicorn or salty old dragon?
JC: By salty do you mean bad attitude? If so then yes, the old dragon.
SK: Romantic lead in a comedy, crazy killer in a Tarantino-type flick, or that “one” in a sci-fi feature who inspires hope by swearing earth is out there and you’re going to lead them to it?
JC: Omg, my boyfriend and I are so close to finishing the last season of Battlestar Galactica, they just found earth…so sad for them!
SK: Astrological sign?
SK: Final question, since you’ve been known to hike and bike on paths winding through trees, deciduous or coniferous?
JC: Hm, good question, I like the changing color of leaves in the fall but I also think it’s pretty efficient for a tree to adjust the level of nutrients it requires so it doesn’t have to shed its needle.
* Read Jackie Clark’s poems at smoking glue gun here.
Jackie Clark is the author of Aphoria (Brooklyn Arts Press). She is the series editor of Poets off Poetry and Song of the Week for Coldfront Magazine and is the recipient of a 2012 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from The Rumpus, Delirious Hem, and Denver Quarterly. Jackie lives in Jersey City and can be found online at nohelpforthat.com.
Steven Karl is an editor for Coldfront Magazine. His first book, Dork Swagger, is forthcoming from Coconut Books in the fall of 2013. He lives in Miami, FL.