Editor’s Note: MockingHeart Review recently sat down with poet and MHR founding Editor Clare L. Martin to discuss her new manuscript; poetry’s role in our difficult present; and other timely topics. Valuable insights followed! Take a look at them below.
Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief
MockingHeart Review: Hi, Clare. So good to talk with you again! A lot’s been happening this year, and on top of it all, you have a new manuscript coming into the world: Black Horse, Night. Could you talk a bit about the genesis of this collection?
Clare L. Martin: Throughout my career as a poet, and for as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of horses and written about these dreams. As a teenager, I was lucky to own two horses, Nacona and Kody. Nacona was my first horse. She was a pasture horse all her life until my parents bought her for me. She was around six years old and was incredibly gentle. We were deeply connected, and I loved her. I had her for about two years, then she colicked and had to be put to sleep. I wasn’t informed or allowed to see her to say goodbye. Since her death, I have been grieving her in my dreams and writing about her. She is a powerful muse.
In all three of my books, readers will find “horse poems” and horse imagery. I’ve often dreamed of The White Horse which to me signifies spiritual ascension, growth, and the Imagination. These dreams are impactful on my creative work. I had so many horse poems, that I decided to collect them and delve into the spiritual significance (to me) of horses.
I’ve been in therapy for almost three years. My therapist raised horses and has worked in Equine Therapy. Through her encouragement, I have been going into focused meditation to write new horse poems. The manuscript is not just for horse lovers. I would say that the poems are for humans interested in connectivity with the spirit, imagination, dreams, and deep symbolism that I have discovered through my dreamed and lived experiences with horses.
MHR: Sacrifice, loss, and grief play a large role in these poems, as in “Red Mare,” which ends on a quatrain: “We tie her / to a stump and feed her / in pieces / to the hungriest child.” I’ve included the full poem here:
She is thin as a whisper. She is whipped
by skeletal men
who swing her from the moon:
back and forth,
back and forth.
Oh, how the horse amuses!
splinter the day.
She must not be forgotten
for her name is
We tie her
to a stump and feed her
to the hungriest child.
…How do the poems in this manuscript function in relation to our current world, where these themes also seem so prominent?
CLM: Sacrifice, loss and grief have been themes throughout my work as a poet. So many of these poems were written before the pandemic broke out. I’ve been quiet on the poetry front since the outbreak of 2020. It’s only very recently, here in the start of winter, that I’ve been able to return to words. I’ve directed my creativity, or more accurately, creativity has directed me during this horrific time, towards making music and cooking as outlets for what is inside of me.
Grief and loss, death, love, and beauty are my greatest themes. I am not alone in this. I hope to magnify these themes in Black Horse, Night. I don’t know what else to write about.
MHR: I’m always struck by your command of the line—its weighty power, and how different stanza formulations can elicit vastly varied ethos and pathos. “After Naomi Shihab Nye’s How Long Peace Takes” is a series of conditionals, often in single lines, like this one: “If the star burns out, neglecting her children[.]” Can you speak about your perspective on composing a poem?
CLM: If I am lucky to have an inspired line, I start with it and go forth on a blank page or document, making notes and “freewriting.” Freewriting is my most common technique to write new. I like writing by hand which affords a different process and perspective. The mind connects with the hand and there is a different energy. Keyboards are alright, too. I’m faster. I might miss something, though.
The shaping takes time. I prefer revision to writing new. There’s always a breakthrough when you make meaningful marks on a blank page. Breaking that placid place, like breaking through a perfect sheet of ice, is a relief to me and refining the work is where the skill and craft come in.
I was mimicking a technique of Nye’s with that poem, but I made it my own. I would suggest this to new writers and those who want to experiment. In fact, I consider all my work experiment and welcome the freedom of a blank page to “go there”—a nameless place in the self.
MHR: Among the many goings-on in your life, you’re an avid swimmer, and you have a keen love of the Arts and Arts-related advocacy. How does your life inform your work, and vice versa?
CLM: Swimming is my sacred time. Being able to meditate while swimming has saved my life too many times to count. I’m employed at an arts nonprofit, and I’m able to draw on years of volunteerism in arts programs and my teaching artist history to assist the organization. I’ve found that since I’ve been employed, much of my energy is directed toward the technical work of communications and programming. It’s harder to be the poet I am but not impossible.
My focus of late has been to revise the manuscript and if I’m lucky, write more poems for it. The poems are calling out to me. Hopefully, I will be able to sustain the work. I don’t have a timeline for the manuscript. It will be ready when it is ready.
MHR: Some poems in Black Horse, Night interweave hope and defeat, a classic but curious mix, and we see it in “Alpha and Omega,” which I’ll include here. Nacona, the poem’s character, is broken (metaphorically if not in the sense of horse-breaking) in a world that is breaking around her—and yet. Could you talk a bit about this piece?
ALPHA AND OMEGA
Nacona, a dull Quarter Horse,
is kept in a pasture
filled with junked tractors,
rusted cars, and snake-filled tires.
She is never ridden
until the last year of her life.
She is first and last.
The genesis of dream fire.
I beg you, understand—
I am akin to her.
I breathe her rust-colored hide,
her sweet-feed breath, mud-musk,
and the spray the groom
uses to gloss her coat and repel flies—
Even now, I sleep
on her outstretched
flank in summer grass.
CLM: This is a recollection of Nacona, my first horse. So many poems are obsessively about her. The poems draw from actual memory and from her visitations in my dreams. There are other horses that appear in my dreams and in the manuscript. Their nobility and grace are deep inspirations.
The impetus for so much in my life comes from the fact that I needed to see her, place a hand on her carcass after she was put to sleep by the veterinarian. From what I was told, she was pulled (she fought because of her pain) to a small stretch of chickenshit trees and injected. It took three or four days before a backhoe was brought to the property to be able to dig the hole for her body. I begged my mother to see her, and my mother wouldn’t let me go. I believe my mother was trying to protect me, but it instigated a lifelong grieving process and heartache that continues to this day.
MHR: When the world gets back to something approaching our pre-COVID “normalcy,” what’s the first thing you’ll do? How would you guess your writing and perspective might shift, if they do?
CLM: I hope that my poems are relevant in a contemporary COVID world. I am not sure if we will survive the pandemic. Sorry to be so disheartening. It’s just a reality right now and I feel like I don’t have the luxury to imagine a post-COVID world with me in it. I’m very frightened.
I hope that my poems are desired after all we’ve been through. I have no idea how my writing will change because of COVID. So much grief in these past several months. Why would someone be interested in poems that long for a dead horse?
MHR: In terms of your writing: what comes next?
CLM: In terms of writing, I’d like to spend as much time with this manuscript as possible and create new. I’d like to spend time honing each line and perfecting the work. I can’t let it go and I can’t move from it without giving myself over to it fully.
MHR: We first met in-person at the release reading of your collection Seek the Holy Dark (Yellow Flag, 2017), and our involvements with the writing community have played a role in our friendship since then. In this isolated and often digital world, what might be the best ways for folks to keep their connections strong?
CLM: Call people. Have conversations, Ask people questions. Be interested in their lives. Give friends your attention. Be hopeful. Be kind. Spend time with good children if you can.
MHR: And this is always the big point of discussion, seemingly—you’ve helped many folks find their creative footing. What advice would you share with writers, and readers of this interview, who are just starting out in their craft?
CLM: Of course, read. Look at the blank page as freedom, or as a sheet of ice that you break through with your pen. Seek out other creatives, in groups online or maybe one day, in person again. Meditate. Go out in nature. Take care of your inner self and body. Live to feel alive. Silence the internal editor. Free-write. Be kind to yourself. Cut assholes out of your life.
Clare L. Martin is a poet, artist, singer-songwriter, and seer-woman. Crone, her book-length poem, was released by Nixes Mate Books in 2018. Clare’s second collection, Seek the Holy Dark, was the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press. Her debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published by Press 53. Clare’s poetry has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Poets and Artists, and Louisiana Literature, among others. She lives and creates in Youngsville, Louisiana.