Interview with a Poet: Dave Malone

Associate Editor’s Note: I received a copy of Dave Malone’s book Tornado Drill (Kelsay Books, 2021) earlier this summer and enjoyed taking my time savoring it. As you will see in the interview, Dave and I have one surprising connection! It’s one of the reasons it has been so interesting to do these interviews—to make and find connections of many kinds. Dave is the author of three other books and he has had poems in a variety of publications in addition to MockingHeart ReviewMidwest ReviewPoydras ReviewRiver Heron, etc. I am sure you will enjoy learning more about him and his writing. I include one poem, “Heron” in the body of the interview, and two others, “Tornado Drill” and “Confetti” follow the interview. Please look for those.  

Denise M. Rogers, Associate Editor


MockingHeart Review: Tell me a little more about yourself, Dave. Some of the poems are set in Kansas; some are set in the Missouri Ozarks. Did your family move from one place to the other?

Dave Malone: Yes, when I was very young, my family left the Ozarks for Texas then Germany, and we moved to rural Kansas when I was six—then back to the Ozarks briefly when I was twelve before we eventually ended up in the Kansas City area. Now I make my home in West Plains, Missouri, in the Ozarks. 

MHR: I could relate to a lot of the Ozarks poems in that my own family comes from the foothills around Potosi (Old Mines and Richwoods). While the poems in the Growing Up section read like memories and history, the ones set in the Ozarks feel more haunted in a sense. Take the poem “Longtime Schoolteacher.” My grandmother went to a one-room school, and the teacher in this school could be the ghost of Mrs. Pelikan, who taught at that school and occasionally boarded with my grandmother’s family. Is there a particular person who inspired this poem?

DM: No way. Are your ancestors French? 

MHR: My ancestors on my mother’s side are French. My grandmother was a Pratt and her mother was a Mercille. French was my grandmother’s first language, and she’d speak it with her friends and her son, Donald. She was born in that French-speaking pocket of Missouri (around Old Mines, Richwoods, Cadet, and Potosi). 

DM: One of my branches, the Partenais (eventually Americanized to Partney), settled at Old Mines in the late 1790s. That’s an excellent observation, and one I had not made myself—I can certainly see that the poems in “Growing Up” are more memory-filled, while the Ozarks’ ones may cast a haunting feeling. Mrs. Pelikan is a great name; have you written about her? 

MHR: I have not, though I should. She was my grandmother’s teacher because she was the oldest graduate of the school. She was probably all of about 18 when she taught. She later married Joe Pelikan (Missouri has a lot of German folk right next to the French), and they moved to St. Louis. My parents found a house near theirs in Wellston (St. Louis County), and we actually went to the same church as they did. The Pelikans had no children, so every now and then Mrs. Pelikan would host a tea party for me and my three siblings. She’d tell us stories about our grandmother as a girl. That was fascinating! My mom said she was so grateful for those parties and that they sometimes saved her sanity (we were all under 6 years of age, and my mom stayed home with us).

DM: Regarding “Longtime Schoolteacher,” the setting was inspired by the Shady Grove area, a rural farming community a few miles outside of Cabool, Missouri. I lived in a berm home about a mile, from yes, a one-room schoolhouse. The school had been revamped as a community center, and I recall several memorable events like eating scrambled ostrich eggs, attending a pie supper, and laughing heartily at a stage play where my landlord forgot most of his, what had to be no more than, twelve lines. Yet, the teacher in the poem was an amalgamation of a couple of teachers I knew—some my own teachers, and some my colleagues when I taught school.

MHR: Your poem “Most Just Talk About the Weather” in the Quarantined section of the book reminded me of how people from the rural communities dealt with Covid-19 and the hospitalizations and deaths that came of it. It sounds like this was true of the community you were living in. Sounds like you were also compelled to ignore it. Can you talk about that and how it affected your writing?

DM: I think, like many other writers have talked about, when the pandemic arrived, it was difficult to write about anything at first. The thinking of course was: “Why bother? People are dying at an ungodly rate across the globe; how dare you be writing at a time like this?” But that feeling faded for most because writing and reading is a way of coping, of learning, of communicating feelings, of being better persons, of living better. Personally, how it affected my writing? I took a brief respite and then dove back in. 

MHR: The poem that follows “Most Talk About the Weather,” “Walking Benefit,” begins:

Sitting at the table with breakfast
I obsess about what I said
the night before and don’t taste 
the scrambled eggs with dill
and cracks of black pepper. 

I immediately thought of Covid-19 and the fear of illness and death that comes with it. I remember myself feeling that I wanted to be careful around loved ones about what I said to them in case they got Covid (and in fact, both my elderly parents contracted it in July 2020 but luckily did not get hospitalized). How did Covid affect how you spoke to others and especially, how you wrote about others. Did anything change there?

DM: I’ll go straight to the poem here. And thank you for asking about this poem. I don’t think it’s my finest, but it is one close to my heart. If I can be so bold, I’d focus the reader’s attention to what happened to the speaker’s sense of taste in this poem. What happens on a daily basis if we are not present in the moment? What might you miss if you are not here?

MHR: The Growing Up section is focused on the boys; the Town section seems populated mostly by poems about “women.” Was this intentional?

DM: Organizing poems for a volume can be quite fun because ultimately the volume itself becomes a poem with a beginning, middle, and end. Maybe I have more female friends than male! The poem placement was intentional, but I would not say the inclusion of so many female characters was intentional in this section. But I am so glad they are there, and it seems to me, often in the role of protagonist. Hopefully, if my poems were made into short films, they would pass the Bechdel Test. Thank you again for an astute observation. 

MHR: The poem “Confetti” reminds me of so many of the girls I went to school with who showed promise academically and technically but never had the money or encouragement for college. I appreciated the way this one woman “who banked her dimes / for Loretta Lynn albums when we were kids” and whose “knowledge trumps [the mechanic’s], an off-Jack in Pitch” was noticed by you. Do you often find yourself writing about those you knew when you were a kid?

DM: That character is a force to be reckoned with, right? In answer to your question: Oh, most definitely. I’m a nostalgic type of person, so there is fertile ground in my past to cultivate poems at a pretty steady rate. Plus, I’ve traveled a lot, lived a lot of places—and those experiences provide rich soil for new works. The woman in that poem is fictional. But some of the experience is true to life. I used to have a writing space on the town square in West Plains, and one day I heard the recycle truck rattle by, and I thought about all my shredded paper I sent to the recycle center, like drafts of poems and my ubiquitous to-do lists. So then I thought about the notion if someone bent down and looked at some of those scraps of mine, or scraps of paper from anybody from town. There is something intimate in those scraps of paper, and there is an intimate connection (or not) if the recycling person were to bend down and read or instead just sweep them away. And so that idea became a poem about different lives: a contemplative person working in an office and a blue-collar worker and survivor at a recycling plant.  

MHR: Some of the women in the poems, like the hairdresser in “Hairdresser” seem almost magical. I loved that quotation from Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop about her hairdresser–he compliments the hairdresser but seems to acknowledge a connection between Bishop and the hairdresser. (He says “There’s something haunting and nihilistic about your hairdresser.”) Does that extend to the magic of Bishop’s hair? Does he suppose the hairdresser “at times, / a spinning top…Others, the arrow an ancient archer shot last week” endows Bishop with power? Certainly hair salons, like barbershops, are powerful places. 

DM: Right? When I read that quote from Lowell, I thought: “Oh my god, he’s met my hairdresser.” Like some of my other poems, I would like the reader to consider the present moment. For the hairdresser, that is key. You have to pay close attention (how do they make small and/or deep talk while cutting hair? It’s a miracle to me). Zen is about spontaneous action. Don’t think too much; if you think too much, you are not present. So in this poem, when seen from the lens of Zen, the hairdresser is the arrow; she is action; she is present.  

MHR: The hairdresser’s youth does not belie her knowledge. That’s true, too, of the boys who recognize danger in your poem “Fruit.” The boys get a ride from “Two old men in a truck” and neither of the boys “likes their looks.” While they get out of the truck as quickly as they can, they are still far from home, and I’m sure the reader feels some dread about their trip back. Have they really “scrambled to freedom”? 

DM: You tell me! What prices do we pay for adventure as kids? I suppose, we should probably ask a child.  

MHR: I loved “Mutt” for its ending of fear. It reminded me of the losses I experienced of pets, from dogs to a box turtle, and how my siblings and I dealt with it. But in your poem, it’s not the death of the dog that brings fear, but the place where they chose to bury it. It’s sort of like “it seemed a good idea at the time” situation. But maybe it is the new acquaintanceship with death the speaker and children now feel. What do you think?

DM: Thank you for paying close attention to the ending and to the irony of the last line, “We aren’t afraid, really.” Hmmmm. Yes, I would agree that it is a new “acquaintanceship with death.” That is what the poem suggests, isn’t it? My follow-up questions would be, “Where are the parents?” “Why are they not included?” Again, a child is probably best to ask these questions. 

MHR: The tornado drill was familiar to me, growing up in St. Louis as I did. We had both tornado drills and, during the Cuba crises, there were the atomic bomb drills. So the book starts with a threat to mortality, and throughout the book, that fear pops up in the poems over and over. How did this experience and fear shape you as a person and as a poet?

DM: Whew. Where are the easy questions? I can’t imagine an atomic bomb drill, first of all. You are correct; that particular tornado drill did occur, and it was a monstrous storm that day, and it missed my little school, thank goodness. One of my favorite quotes is from Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” The rural life in Kansas and spending time in the Ozarks on the family farm made me keenly interested in nature, with its very up close and personal world of life and death. That has certainly shaped the wellspring that is my life and that serves as inspiration for my poetry. 

MHR: Even with the various kinds of fears that adults and children deal with exposed in the poems, there’s humor, too. Like “Fifi Gets Placed in Time Out” and the “Summer Afternoon in the Pod.” Life is such a mixed bag, and we do try to enjoy it even during quarantine, don’t we? I had such trouble writing anything (particularly poetry) during the quarantine that I took up these conversations as well as quilting. Was writing your only refuge for you during this time? 

DM: Good for you for quilting. It’s a wonderful endeavor, isn’t it? And calming? With the onset of the pandemic, I began a more diligent reading practice, which has stayed with me. Now, it’s how I start my day each day: morning coffee and reading. Currently, I am reading about love and the types of love (most argue 4, 8, or 12), so I’ve tackled Theodore Reik’s Of Love and Lust, after reading bell hooks and a couple of very fine W. Somerset Maugham novels.

MHR: I love the poem the book ends with: “Heron” It’s just right. Let me reproduce it here:

I startled the great blue heron
when my kayak scratched stones
in the river’s low summer water.
With little effort, like the way
one takes off shoes, the grand bird
flapped long arms, held steady,
until she found the shore opposite me
and slipped into the sycamores 
below the bluff. She stayed there
a long time, longer than my life. 

It reminds me of the Li Bai poem “Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain” (this version translated by Sam Hamill):

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Both touch on the eternal, nature. Can you talk about the role of nature in your poems?

DM: I love that Li Bai poem very much. And thank you for your kind words about “Heron.” Interesting, how in this moment, this proves a difficult question for me, to talk about the role of nature in my poems. It’s as if you were to ask a mirror: “How do you reflect light?” The answer might be: “I just do.” I suppose nature offers me, and many poets and writers, the opportunity for crisp and understandable metaphor? Why do you like the Li Bai poem? Is it in part because you appreciate nature? Birds, clouds, mountains surround us, and they are easily understood, and when spoken of in the manner of the Li Bai poem, suddenly we are receiving teaching—and it is a spiritual message. You find the Self when you lose the self. I would also say because I have an affinity for nature, that makes nature easy to write about, and the natural world finds its way into my poems even in those about town life.

Denise, thank you so much for these illuminating and intriguing questions. I have appreciated and enjoyed this opportunity to talk with you and MockingHeart Review’s readers.

Tornado Drill

Beneath the school desks, our legs angle
and lean like autumn crickets.

Dust motes float and sparkle
above the tongues of our sneakers.

To distract ourselves from the howling windows,
we till the flooring tiles with fingernails

scrubbed clean of bottled glue
and the remains of Mrs. Nelson’s

no-bake cookies. She booms “Quiet”
and invites the great silence.

We don’t wish to hear
what is a low hum at first—

Just an evening tractor laboring
several farms over—but then

The earth roars and the sky paints
the classroom cocoa.

Some of us scrape wings together and squeak.
Others weep. I scramble to the glass. 


The recycle truck rolls past my office at noon.
I know one of the gals who works at the plant—
a hilltop-thin brunette who banked her dimes
for Loretta Lynn albums when we were kids. 

From time to time, I see her at the post office
where she throttles bills under her thumbs.
or at the mechanic’s where her knowledge
trumps his, an off-Jack in Pitch.

She lost a husband to the twister last April.
Sometimes, I wonder about her
as she brooms the recycle room floor—
those scraps of paper, debts and to-do lists,
downed confetti of our town’s recent past
she sends away to the paper mill. 


Dave Malone is a poet and writer from the Missouri Ozarks. His newest poetry volume is Tornado Drill (Aldrich Press, 2022), and his poems have appeared in Plainsongs, Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies, andMidwest Review.

Coming on Friday to the MHR blog!

Happy Tuesday, MockingHeart friends!

We hope you’re having a fantastic week so far, and that you’ve considered submitting to the Fall 2022 issue, MHR 7.3 (submissions close at the end of August)! Additionally, thanks for reading our most recent issue, MHR 7.2! While we’re talking, I wanted to pass you a note about some exciting work coming your way on Beats, the MHR blog.

Keep a lookout, this Friday (8/19/2022), for Associate Editor Denise Rogers’ new interview with poet Dave Malone! Watch this space for a lively discussion of family history, the COVID-19 pandemic, poems from his new book Tornado Drill, and more. This is an interview you won’t want to miss.

Thanks again for helping to make MockingHeart Review a vibrant and enjoyable magazine. And thank you as well, friends, for your excellent work in the world.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Submissions are Open!

MockingHeart friends! Happy August.

Can you believe how fast the year is moving? Submissions are now open for MHR 7.3, the Fall 2022 issue of MockingHeart Review! You can submit from today until August 31st.

This issue’s theme is Heartbreak. There are many ways this concept can be interpreted, and just for kicks, here’s a useful article on the concept to get things started. When you’re ready, send your poetry and/or artwork our way! We look forward to experiencing it.

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.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Submissions Open in 1 Week!

Hi, MockingHeart friends! Just a note to our readers, contributors, and submitters-be: MockingHeart Review opens for submissions on August 1st, which is only a week away! Now’s the time to polish up that poem or art piece you’ve been working on–we’ll be happy to look at it! You can take a look at our submission guidelines here.

Thank you all for helping MHR succeed! We wouldn’t be the journal we are today without your excellent work and your enjoyment of others’ work as well. Looking forward to another great issue!


Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Our Spring/Summer 2022 Issue is HERE!

MockingHeart Friends! Welcome back to another shining issue of MHR.

Our new issue is now published, and you can take a look at it here! We hope that you enjoy the fabulous poems and excellent artwork in MockingHeart Review 7.2!

How are we already halfway through 2022? It boggles the mind, beggars belief, that time is moving so quickly–and yet here we are. As the year goes on, please keep up your creative efforts–writing, art-making, and enjoying the works of others, which is in itself a creative process.

Enjoy the rest of your week, friends! Thanks again for the excellent work you do in the world.


Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Last Hours to Submit!

Hi, MockingHeart Review Friends,

I hope you’re healthy and happy on this last day of April! Thank you for your excellent submissions to MockingHeart Review this reading period! So you know, today is also the last day to submit to the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of MHR.

Until 11:59 PM Central Time today, feel free to send us your work–we’ll be glad to view it! Remember too that this issue has no dedicated theme.

If you’ve already sent your artwork or poetry our way, thanks very much! We’re looking forward to experiencing your creations, and we’ll get back to you before long.

Be well, and as always, thank you for your excellent work in the world.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Submissions are Open!

MockingHeart friends! Happy April.

It’s that time of year again–Submissions are now open for MHR 7.2, the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of MockingHeart Review! You can submit from today until April 30th.

This issue has NO dedicated theme–so when you’re ready, send your poetry and/or artwork our way! We look forward to experiencing it.

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.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Tomorrow: MHR Submissions Open!

Hi, MockingHeart Friends! How have things gone for you this month? Hard to believe it’s almost April, which is National Poetry Month! It’s also the first day of our Spring/Summer submission period–and what better way to celebrate poetry than by submitting work to your favorite online magazine, MHR?

Again, our Spring/Summer 2022 issue will be open for submissions from April 1-30, with a June 1, 2022 publication date. Take a bit of time to reflect and create–we’d love to see your work this reading period.

Our Spring/Summer 2022 Issue will have NO theme. Submit whatever poetry and/or art suits you best–we’ll be excited to see it. And please pass the word along to the writers and artists in your life!

Finally: If you haven’t yet taken a peek at our splendid Winter 2022 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.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief

Interview with a Poet: Clemonce Heard

Associate Editor’s Note: I knew the first time I heard Clemonce Heard’s poems that I wanted to  interview him for Mockingheart Review—his poems are so moving and important. And this book,  Tragic City, is one that needs to be widely read. It was selected by Major Jackson for the 2020  Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize for Poetry and is focused on the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Clem’s experience in contemporary Tulsa and in contemporary America. The works and experiences are fused together in inventive ways that illuminate how much and how little America has changed since 1921. Readers will remember that Greenwood was a thriving African-American community that was known  as “Black Wall Street.” It was also the site of a horrific massacre in 1921. More about Greenwood and  that massacre can be found here: 

Clemonce has recently agreed to be the featured reader at The Festival of Words in November 2022,  so please sign up for the Festival of Words newsletter at to receive updates and  announcements. 

Denise M. Rogers, Associate Editor 


MockingHeart Review: Thank you for doing this interview, Clemonce. I’d like to start by giving readers a bit of your  background. I understand you are from New Orleans originally. How did you end up in Tulsa? 

Clemonce Heard: That’s right. I stayed in New Orleans until we evacuated to Natchitoches, Louisiana for Katrina. I stayed in Natchitoches my last year of high school and through college, then moved to Baton Rouge. In  2015 I moved from Baton Rouge to Stillwater, Oklahoma for grad school, then in 2018 to Tulsa on an  artist fellowship.  

MHR: How much of Greenwood and Tulsa’s history did you know before going there? 

CH: Very little. I caught up on the headlines a month before moving to Tulsa. Another artist fellow had a  reading while I was still at OSU, and I volunteered to introduce her. Before her reading we walked  around Stillwater and she filled me in on some of Tulsa’s history, mainly the Tulsa Race Massacre, and  warned me about some of the dysfunction of the fellowship. When I arrived a month later she met me  at the now defunct Jazz Hall of Fame where she introduced me to a good friend of hers who is one of  the elders and a native of Tulsa. We became good friends and he lent me Scott Ellsworth’s seminal text Death in a Promised Land. So a more extensive understanding of Tulsa’s history began once I moved to  the Tulsa Arts District.  

MHR: “Commentary” is such an arresting opening to the collection. In that poem, we see that even an  article of clothing a distressed T-shirt (which would be seen as stylish on a young white man) means  something entirely different on a young African American man. The poem invites the idea that even a  suit would make no difference, as it didn’t in Greenwood. How did you come to write this poem?  

CH: Thank you for your appreciation of this poem and this question, Denise. I’d say the suits made all the  difference. The fact that Blacks were doing better than whites who hadn’t swindled headrights from the  Osage people or just hadn’t figured some other way to fortune is the exact jealousy that razed 

Greenwood. There’s a part in Kiese Laymon’s memoir Heavy where a teenage Kiese and his mother get  pulled over and his mother tells Kiese to make sure he speaks proper English to police. This is after she  shows the officer her university ID and they drive off, and before Kiese tells his mother that her proper  English was probably what made the officer angrier, to which she says “you might actually be right, Kie.”  

On “Commentary,” the poem’s feeling came after reading of the police murders (not in this order) of  Philando Castile, Alton Sterling—who was shot and killed not even a mile from where a partner lived in  Baton Rouge—and Terence Crutcher—who was shot and killed in Tulsa an hour away from where I lived  in Stillwater. I felt like it was only a matter of time before I or someone close to me would be in that  number of at least 234 Black people murdered by police in 2016. The poem’s conceit and the initial draft  came from working as part of the academic training staff at Oklahoma State and seeing one of the  basketball players walk in wearing one of the T-shirts. I went home, studied fashion commentary videos  and wrote the first draft soon after. I don’t think I’ve thought about the distinct elements of feeling and  craft in “Commentary” since it was first written so I’m especially grateful for this question.  

MHR: I kept feeling the prose poems present a kind of “glue” holding all the pieces of the book  together. Is that how you intended them? Do they have a special relationship with the poems before  and after them? 

CH: I like the idea of “glue” for the “Refinery” poems. That sequence was my attempt at writing out how  I was affected by the massacre during my time in the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. Since that was the main  stake I had in Tulsa, it was me tracing how the massacre echoed to and through something as seemingly  benevolent and harmless as many art institutions appear from the outside. There’s something about  free that ain’t free, you know? As far as special relationships to poems before and after, maybe a similar  theme or a shared image, but much of the book flows the same way. I think in ordering the book as a  whole I wanted to create a feeling of arriving like in “Neighbors” and “Move-In Day @ the Refinery” and  of departure like in “On Your Final Night in T-town” and “A Noble Parting Gift: Rose Rock.” I think Robin  Coste Lewis so ingeniously does this by bookending her collection Voyage of the Sable Venus with  “Plantation” and “Felicite,” as does Natasha Tretheway in Native Guard with “Theories of Time and  Space” and “South.” 

MHR: The book strikes me as a kind of “concept album” with its Preface and cover and interior  photograph. I wondered if it started that way—were you working on a book as you wrote, or did  these poems naturally fit together as a book about Tulsa and Greenwood and your view of the  city(ies)? 

CH: Concept albums are some of my favorites albums; from Marvin Gayes’ What’s Going On or Lupe  Fiasco’s The Cool. I think for me one of the only downsides to concept albums is that I have to be in the  mood to inhabit that world, no matter how good the album is—but that’s another conversation. I tried  to write toward a concept album for my thesis, but eventually shelved it since the poems became less  urgent once I moved to Tulsa and learned of the massacre. In trying to make poems about concepts, I  find they usually want to be something else when they grew up. An idea can push off the dock but the  feeling paddles it upstream. I guess I was working on a “concept album” but in a very loose way, which is 

to say it took a certain amount of looking away or writing around to create work that both orbited the  history and my time and felt right to me. So in creating Tragic City I wrote probably ten times the poems  that went into the book and just kept the ones I continued to delight in. It was messy both in drafting  and ordering. I stayed up the night before my manuscript was due at my partner’s house. Her living  room floor was so full we had to walk on our tiptoes to make it across the room. I listened to Janelle  Monae’s ArchAndroid the entire time—another of my favorite concept albums.  

MHR: To risk a chicken and the egg question, do you remember which poems that make up the book  came first? If so, which one(s)? And how did they launch the book?  

CH: “Recommendation,” “Commentary,” “Neighbors,” “Incendiary,” “The Lightbulb Room,” I think in  that order. Those poems were written in grad school and would’ve gone into my first manuscript had I not learned of the massacre and lived on the edge of what was Greenwood. The Tulsa poems came  much later since I hadn’t found myself in the poems. Most of my initial poems about Tulsa didn’t make it  because they felt voyeuristic, opportunistic. I mean, they were. I was mining research for what made me  gasp or tilt my head to the side. I couldn’t ethically write about Tulsa and the massacre until I dealt with  my own character and lack of artistic integrity. I worked out a lot but I still have a ways to go. Tragic City brought me through and taught me so much in the process. I see the book’s flaws more clearly now, and  want to revise a few things—take some poems out, reorder—but overall I’m proud of the work.  

MHR: How did you arrive at the organization of the book? 

CH: I can talk sections in particular. In addition to my reflections on arrival and departure, my editor and  I disagreed on breaks. I wanted the lack of rests to reflect the 100 years of survivors and their  descendants not receiving justice in the form of reparations, transparency, you know, true  reconciliation. My editor said readers needed a break so we tried other images the artist of “A Broken  View of Tulsa, Oklahoma” Carley Schmidt made, but they didn’t work as well so we went back to my  original idea. I first thought if readers needed a break they could just put the book down, but now feel  that decision has hints of violence. What do you think? How did it feel for you to read through 60 poems  without a section break?  

MHR: The book makes clear that in many ways, you and the cit(ies) (Tulsa and New Orleans) are now  inseparable. I felt this especially in “Reflections on Reflections of El Lissitzky” and “Genius  Annotations Provided: ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me’” Do you feel as connected to Tulsa/Greenwood as you do to New Orleans? Do you see  yourself moving back to New Orleans? I ask this as a transplant to Lafayette, LA from St. Louis, MO—I  don’t know that I will ever be a Louisiana poet even after having lived almost 25 years here. I still feel  like a Missouri poet, an outsider, even when writing about Louisiana. Do you feel that way about the  places you have lived?  

CH: I think 25 years means you belong to the boot. Inseparable. Hmm. I think so but for different  reasons. 

For Greenwood, the inseparable is true because I’ve dedicated a book to what was, to what’s left, and  hopefully to what will thrive again someday. I am, however, a recovering cynic, plus some of the folks in  power have failed to do right by the last three known Greenwood survivors—Viola Ford Fletcher,  Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randall—their children and other descendants. I spent only  four years in Oklahoma, a little more than a year and a half in Tulsa and never felt like I belonged, or like  it was ever home even when that’s what I told my loved ones and others that’s where I was going.  

I also feel very distant from New Orleans since Katrina hit my senior year of high school and I only lived  there maybe 6 months after I graduated from college. So as far as time spent you’re more of a  Louisianian than me, Denise. I know parts of the city but nowhere near what my family knows or even  folks who moved down post-Katrina. I stay getting lost when I drive my nephew somewhere. Ha!  

MHR: In your note to me, you said you hope the book is transformative. I do, too, because God  knows we need some transformation in this country. But at the same time, the book makes clear  there are no safe spaces, such as in “Neighbors.” (Note: I reproduce that poem below along with  links to “Malt O’Meal” and “Genius Annotations…” for readers.) If Greenwood, a town built by Blacks for Blacks wasn’t safe, where could  someone who is African American be safe in this country? Is the reason you remain in Tulsa and the  U.S. (I mean, James Baldwin left for France) because you have some hope for this country?  

CH: Yes. Transformative. It’s my hope that the book will either land in the hands of someone who cares  enough and has enough clout, privilege, whatever to make some change in Greenwood, or someone  whose work is transformed and adds to the conversation. But like I said, I’m a recovering cynic so I go  back and forth between believing it and feeling silly. I heard a recent VS Podcast where Danez Smith and  Franny Choi spoke to Rachel McKibbens. In that podcast McKibbens said something like there are no  safe spaces, only brave ones. Even after the two “Safe Zone Trainings” I did at OSU, I think McKibbens is  right. There’s no such thing as full protection anywhere. The January 6th Insurrection proved that, right?  

MHR: Gosh, yes, what McKibbens says is certainly true.  

CH: Terrance Hayes ends one of his “American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassins” with the line  “It’s not the bad people who are brave I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.” It’s one of my favorite  endings in the book, a subversive call to courage.  

MHR: That’s a good thing for all of us to remember in these times, Clem.  

CH: I don’t think there’s anywhere in this nation for a Black person to be safe. Like James Baldwin and  Richard Wright, Hal Singer from Tulsa was also an expatriate who made his home in France. Though he  found a less strife-filled life than the Civil Rights Movement he moved in the middle of, I’m sure there  were times France didn’t feel like a safe space, you know? He was married to his manager, a white  woman after all, and though Baldwin spoke highly of France thanks to some of the country’s acceptance of Black folks and “free love” he also spoke about its racism. I often wonder how Hal Singer failed to  meet Baldwin or Wright, Miles Davis especially when he performed throughout Europe, but again,  another conversation.  

MHR: The book does a great job of being a “tragic city” in and of itself. It’s also a “magic city” in the  way it expresses tragedy so beautifully and tells the stories of so many people who should be remembered. Are you considering other ways of telling these stories, such as short stories and novels?  The poems are story-like, so maybe I am making an assumption that you would make a good short  story writer, too. 

CH: Thank you so much for your words, Denise. I’ll take the fiction assumption and see if it becomes a  reality. After I finished Tragic City I told myself “that’s it.” My own failed relationships, the oppressive  and suppressive Tulsa Artist Fellowship, and my work/life imbalance made my last three years highly unhealthy. I’m just now after over 30 years getting a hold of what mental health looks like in my life, but  of course that takes constant maintenance. That’s all to say, I would rather not return to those stories  that feel tragic, and if I do return to them, then with a healthier practice of writing and living. Since  publishing Tragic City, I’ve written a few poems about events I’ve taken part in throughout Oklahoma  and an essay that may or may not ever see the world, but aside from that I feel I’ve done what I could  for now. I won’t say never but will say: continuing to write about a place I’m no longer deeply invested  in feels like preying on a subject for the sake of material, and that’s not the move.  

MHR: One of my favorite poems in the book is “Genius Annotations Provided: ‘You Dropped a Bomb  on Me.’” Just the title threw me back to my high school years when we had a jukebox in the cafeteria  and that song was played frequently on it. I was impressed and excited about the way you combined  the topics of the Greenwood Massacre, racism, Tulsa architecture, romantic love, and loneliness into one poem. How did you pick or land on “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” as the song to use? (It’s so  retro.) How did you find out the connection of the GAP Band to Tulsa? I just have so many how’s  about this poem! 

CH: Thanks for digging in again, Denise. I probably would’ve attended more school if my cafeterias had  jukeboxes instead of juice boxes. The elder and Tulsa native I mentioned earlier told me a memory he  had of Charlie Wilson* at the neighborhood pool when they were in high school. It’s not my story to tell.  I’ll just say Charlie Wilson has been free for a long time. On one of our drives after I’d finished reading  Death in a Promised Land, the song played on the radio. Right then I thought the song that’s older than  me was both about a woman who turned Charlie or whoever out, and also about the massacre. In the  last year or so Charlie Wilson told an interviewer that the song had nothing to do with the massacre. He  said him and his brothers had heard stories of the tragedy growing up, but that the connection was not  intentional. So there goes another myth I wished would’ve stayed a myth. I do, however, think Charlie  Wilson, like anyone, doesn’t have as much control as he thinks. I vote we credit Charlie Wilson’s  subconscious.  

[A note from the book about this poem: Charlie Wilson was lead vocalist of the GAP Band. The GAP  Band was originally from Tulsa and fashioned their name after the three main streets of Tulsa’s  Greenwood District: Greenwood, Archer, and Pine.] 

MHR: Again, about “Genius Annotations Provided…”—I love the way it looks at language. I don’t think  I’ve ever seen a “break-up poem” (about breaking up with someone) with a “break-up/down poem”  (about the destruction of Greenwood.) Were these ever two poems that came together in your own  moment of genius or inspiration, or were they always one poem?

CH: It was always one poem. I was trying to transfer the braided narrative form I’d learned in creative  nonfiction. I’d written 11 stanzas before realizing the poem had potential to be a Pecha Kucha (20  stanzas that take 20 seconds each to read). I felt 20 5-line stanzas in connection with the centennial was  apropos. I wrote so many stanzas trying to figure out the 20, learned so much in the process, and  processed so much in this interview. Thanks for taking the time on Tragic City and these questions  Denise.  

MHR: Thank you so much for this interview, Clem. 

Readers will want to know that the book is published by Anhinga Press and is available at and Barnes & Noble Booksellers (  

Link to “Malt O’Meal, Since 1919” at AGNI:

Link to “Genius Annotations Provided: ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me’” at Missouri Review:


How long did it take to paint the flag 
on the ga/rage’s back wall is not what I asked 
myself or my sweetheart, backing out of 
the driveway, heading back to where we’d 

just turned, looking for a place to stay. 
We were greeted by a law/n of trucks & cars, 
Hot Wheels that had grown & grayed, 
& the Confederate mural for us to marvel.  

It couldn’t have been that diffi/cult seeing 
as the design is rather simple: A diademed ‘X’ 
of thirteen stars, an intersection of dreams 
& the red that surrounds it: the red text, 

the red trucks, the red necks, the red rust 
pointing to the odd of it all. A single man 
could’ve pulled it off. Could’ve brushed, 
or rather slathered pain/t from canister 

to wall, but two stories means family. 
So I picture a wife drafting the southern cross 
& kids filling in the s/tars. O’ say, can you see 
an open garage aerating the latex exhaust? 

Neighbors walking their children, pointing 
past the ropes, shovels, ladders, saws? 
Racism takes teamwork, takes the anointment 
of offsprings. I can almost see their gaw/king 

once the wall was finished. The man kissing 
his wife’s temple, both with one arm around 
each other & the other around t/heir kids. 
That day my sweetheart & I agreed the mounds 

of the Midwest were no place we’d want to
live. I guess the image could’ve existed in
the house before they got to town. A
backdrop whistling “welcome niggers”
they’d failed to taken d/own. 


Clemonce Heard was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the winner of the 2020 Anhinga Robert Dana Prize, selected by Major Jackson. His poetry collection, Tragic City, which investigates the events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is forthcoming from Anhinga Press in October 2021. Heard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming from ObsidianThe Missouri ReviewCimarron ReviewIron HorseWorld Literature TodayPoetryRattleRuminate, and elsewhere. He earned a BFA in graphic communications from Northwestern State University, and an MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. Heard was a recipient of a 2018-2019 Tulsa Artist Fellowship, the 2019-2020 Ronald Wallace Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and served as the 2021 Sala Diaz artist-in-residence in San Antonio, Texas. 

Coming Tomorrow to the MHR Blog!

Happy Valentine’s Day, MHR Friends!

We hope you’re doing well and staying healthy–and that you’ve been enjoying our new issue, MHR 7.1! Just sending a note about some exciting work coming your way tomorrow on Beats!

Keep a lookout for Associate Editor Denise Rogers’ new interview with poet and 2022 Festival of Words featured reader Clemonce Heard! Watch this space to witness the author discuss cities, concept albums, the GAP Band, and his stirring new collection Tragic City. This is an interview you won’t want to miss.

Thanks again for helping to make MockingHeart Review a vibrant and enjoyable magazine! And thank you for your excellent work in the world.

Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief