We hope you’re staying healthy and relaxed this week, as much as is possible in these unprecedented times. Just sending a note about some great new material coming to Beats, the MHR blog, on January 15th.
On that day, keep an eye out for an interview between MHR Associate Editor Denise Rogers and poet Patrice Melnick! Patrice will discuss her book City of Hey Baby, new from Finishing Line Press, and it’s a conversation you won’t want to miss!
With new and excellent work always in the offing, we’re proud to be a literary magazine you enjoy! Thanks, friends, for your excellent work in the world.
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!
Its antics splinter the day.
She must not be forgotten for her name is Calamity—
We tie her to a stump and feed her in pieces 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.
A new week is upon us! With submissions now open to artwork and poetry (send your work! Tell your friends! Shout it from the roo…well, you get the idea), we’re also looking forward to more great material on Beats, the MHR blog.
Keep an eye out tomorrow for an interview with Clare L. Martin, poet and MHR Founding Editor, in which we discuss a new manuscript, the present moment, and other concerns.
With new and excellent work always in the offing, we’re proud to be a literary magazine you enjoy! Thanks, friends, for your excellent work in the world.
It’s that time of year again–though it’s still Fall, here at MHR we’re beginning to anticipate the coming of Winter. Submissions are now open for the Winter 2021 issue of MockingHeart Review! You can submit from today until December 31st.
As you might have seen, our theme for this upcoming issue (MHR 6.1, for the numerically inclined) is Recovery. Give this theme some thought, and when you’re ready, send your poetry and/or artwork our way! We look forward to experiencing it.
And coming soon to the MHR Blog: An interview with poet and MHR Founding Editor Clare L. Martin. Clare and I will be discussing her new manuscript; poetry’s role in our difficult present; and other timely topics. You won’t want to miss it! Keep an eye out for more info.
We hope you’re staying healthy, happy, and inspired. Keep on creating, friends–and as always, thank you for the excellent work you do in the world.
Congratulations to these poets, and many thanks to ALL of our MHR contributors for your excellent work in the world–it’s a privilege to read and publish your creations. Here’s to another great MockingHeart Review year!
P.S. – More information about the Prize and Pushcart Press can be found here.
MockingHeart Friends! It’s been a while. I hope you’re well, and that you’ve been able to take some time for self-care in this latter part of our difficult year.
Just to pass you a note–our Winter 2021 issue will be open for submissions from December 1-31, 2020, with a planned February 1, 2021 publication date! Take a bit of time to reflect and create–we’d love to see your work this reading period!
Our Winter 2021 theme is Recovery.
As I write this, COVID-19 has taken some 258,000 lives in the United States alone. The hardships are many. But with recent news of multiple vaccines under development, recovery may finally be on the horizon. As the country strives to get the pandemic under control, consider that recovery means different things too–social, personal, or political healing, for instance. Winter is often conceptualized as a time of recovery. Think on these ideas, and when you’re ready, send your creations to MockingHeart Review!
And please pass the word along! If you know an artist or writer who’s been considering the brave act (for it is a brave act) of putting their work out into the world, we’d be thrilled to hear from them.
Finally: If you haven’t yet taken a peek at our splendid Fall 2020 issue, please do! Several excellent pieces await you therein. You’ll come away feeling inspired!
Thanks again! Keep up your excellent work in the world, and we’ll see you soon.
Editor’s Note: MockingHeart Review recently sat down with Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Ted Kooser to discuss his new collection Red Stilts (Copper Canyon, 2020), the process of writing, and the state of our tense, rapidly changing world. An excellent conversation to read on this crisp Halloween!
Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief
MockingHeart Review:Hi, Ted. Good to talk with you! When we last spoke, your new book Red Stilts was just coming into the world. I’ve enjoyed so many of the poems therein, and as in other collections, here you shed light on the potency of “small” moments, showing them to be larger than one might first think. Could you speak a bit about the genesis of this new collection?
Ted Kooser: I try to write every morning, and I have no greater plan. It’s enough work for me to have one poem to concentrate on, and concentrating on that poem excludes everything but itself. I write a few promising poems each month, and many not so good, and many, many bad ones, laughably bad. Given time I can see which stand out as stronger than the others. Those I submit to literary magazines, where some get accepted for publication. If by the end of a year’s writing I have eight or ten poems that have found publication, that’s a good year for me. And eight or ten years of that, and I’ll have what may be a book of poems. I never plan, but since my life and personality are reflected in my writing, the overall direction of my life is an organizing influence.
MHR: This new book emerges into a year stricken by vast social upheaval, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and other concerns. How has 2020 been for you so far?
TK: On New Year’s Eve this year, many if not most of us will be happy to put 2020 behind us forever, don’t you think? That’s probably enough said…. But I will say that I pray that I will live long enough that our country will be reunited under wise leadership.
MHR: Red Stilts chronicles memorable moments, only some of which are overtly happy—I think first of the poem “Mother and Child,” where the two characters engage with “one / of those red, blue, and yellow / plastic play sets”—and we see that in many instances, color is of vast importance. In “Raspberry Patch,” a “black-and-yellow spider” and “white and blue butterflies” tend to their busy lives, and “the old garage lifts a yellow cuff.” What role does color play in your writing, and in your life around that work?
TK: I have enjoyed drawing and painting since I was a little boy. I love looking at the world, and trying to catch things I see with a sketch, and I sketch both in words and in line and color. My notebooks are full of both kinds of those sketches. At times when I’m not either drawing or writing I feel awful, as if I’m throwing my life away.
MHR: Family is a very important thread through the poems in Stilts. “An Overnight Snow” resonates strongly, wherein you hear “a word or two, muffled, back and forth between / my father and our next-door neighbor, Elmo Mallo, / who was out shoveling [snow], too.” When writing about family (and people in general, if you like), what do you find yourself focused on most? And in your estimation, what people-centered moments lend themselves best to a poem?
TK: Readers seem to prefer poems in which there are people. I don’t think that’s a considered preference, but I feel it there. I write a lot of poems about inanimate things, and though I delight in writing them they’re never as warmly accepted. As to writing about people, over the past twenty-five years or so the poems I’ve been happiest with are those in which I stand aside, invisible, and observe one or two people who are oblivious to me looking on. The poem you mention is an example of the type; others are the one about the man at the bulletin board in the grocery store entryway. the one about the man coming out of the bakery, the woman standing in the rain talking to the two men in a truck, and so on. Take the most ordinary moment, say a man flicking an ash from a cigarette, and describe it carefully, and everything out and around it will drop away and it will seem bathed in a remarkable light. I try to focus on things to the exclusion of everything else. If you look at some part of the world through a cardboard toilet paper tube, what you see gains in interest and even importance.
MHR: Because the book is so full of compelling snapshots I shouldn’t be this definitive, but “The Dead Vole” contains the moment that hits me hardest, even now. Holding this creature, this “dab of thunderhead gray,” the narrator muses: “even such a miniscule being, I thought, / ought to weigh something in death, / a little more than itself.” Leaning into that metaphor, what do you suppose death signifies? And importantly, what does (or should) it signify in our current moment?
TK: I am the narrator, Tyler. I never speak in a voice other than my own. Years ago, I wrote some dramatic-monologue-type poems but I haven’t written one for years. But to your question: I don’t think I have a good answer for you. In poems like the one about the vole I am myself trying to work out what death means. I’ve been working on that all my life, it seems. A few years ago the honors group at our university asked me to give a “last lecture,” what I would say if I were abut to die. I told my wife I didn’t know what I was going to say and she said, “Ted, it ought to be easy. You’ve been giving your last lecture all your life!”
MHR: Nature is always close by in your work, and in Stilts, even poems that aren’t about the natural world still keep it in the periphery. I think of “Applause,” the closing poem, wherein a girl finishes a performance: “At the close of her piano recital . . . the clapping keeps leafing down.” As in this poem, we often invoke nature to describe our lives. Why do you think this is so? What are we humans trying to say?
TK: I don’t know that I’m making a statement. I don’t intend to be. But I’m happy to be small part of the grand natural order and I suppose that shows.
MHR: Surely a lot of folks would like the world to go back to the pre-COVID world, but we’ve all made adjustments under the assumption that it’ll be a while. To that point, you mentioned in a recent letter that your writing practice has shifted somewhat. Now that things in the world are so different, what are your plans? And what should your readers keep an eye out for next?
TK: Earlier I suggested that I didn’t plan beyond the poem right under my nose. I really don’t know what’s to come, and I have no plan other than to keep writing. I do have more time at home now, and I like that. It’s a blessing to me when there are no invitations to go somewhere and do something. I’ve written a handful of poems about the pandemic, but I don’t like them much. They have a topic, and having a topic is to have an agenda. Agendas are poisonous. If tomorrow morning I find myself writing about an acorn, that’s what will concern me.
MHR: Lots of writers have rituals around their work—William Stafford’s pre-sunrise couch writing with toast, the music so many of us put on when we compose a poem or an essay, and so on. Do you have a writing ritual of sorts?
TK: As I said earlier, my routine is to get up early, four or four-thirty, and to sit with my notebook and coffee, hoping that something good will happen. Often what I write is silly, or goofy, or cheesy, or stupid, but unless I’m sitting there ready I’ll miss the good one when it flies past. Kate DiCamillo, the wonderful writer of books for young people, was asked at a conference I attended why she wrote so early in the morning and she said that she wanted to get her writing done before the critical part of her brain woke up. I thought that was a fine way to explain it.
MHR: And before we adjourn, I should ask—what advice would you share with writers who are just starting out in their craft?
TK: Read, read, read! Reading is how writers learn to write. When I was still teaching I told my grad students that they ought to read a hundred poems for every one they try to write. I have never seen a poorly written poem that couldn’t have been made better had the author read more poetry.
Ted Kooser has served as Presidential Professor at the University of Nebraska, and as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to 2006. He won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, has received four Pushcart Prizes, and has authored many books, including fifteen poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. He edits the long-running and widely syndicated column American Life in Poetry.
I hope you’re healthy and relaxed this weekend, and that you’ve had a chance to read some of your favorite literary work! We’re a bit biased, but our favorite recent work includes the excellent Fall 2020 issue of MockingHeart Review. If you haven’t yet taken a look through its pages, you can do so here.
We have plenty of exciting material coming soon to Beats, the MHR blog. This Halloween, keep your eyes peeled for a special MHR interview with the inimitable Ted Kooser! In it we discuss the recent world and his most recent book, Red Stilts, out this year from Copper Canyon Press.
Kooser served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004 to 2006. He won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, has received four Pushcart Prizes, and has authored many books, including fifteen poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. He edits the long-running and widely syndicated column American Life in Poetry (from which he will retire in December of this year).
We look forward to sharing this excellent conversation with you! In the meantime, keep on reading and creating. Thanks again, friends, for your excellent work in the world.
Our new issue is now published, and you can take a look at it here! We hope that you enjoy these excellent works of art and words–and that, even in so tough a year as this one, you might feel inspired to create as well.
For those impacted by our world’s current crises, please know that our thoughts are still with you, and will be going forward too. Have a fulfilling weekend, friends. Thank you for all the excellent work you do in the world!