Friday 30 August 2019

Interview with Chloe N. Clark

Back in 2015 we published a lovely, dark, surreal, horror-kitsch-dystopia-escapist adventure short story titled “All Along the Mall” by Chloe N. Clark (which is well worth pausing here and going to read, by the way). Now Chloe’s second poetry collection is available from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, and she has come to speak to us about speculative fiction and poetry, beauty, dystopia and art.

Chloe N. Clark’s Your Strange Fortune is our good fortune. This debut volume of rare sympathy and imagination leaps easily from myths to monsters, ghosts to zombies, fairy tales to the Apocalypse that, for this poet and so many today, is “just/the fact of life.” Clark’s inventive, unforgettable voice ranges widely—from up-to-the-moment poems like “Googolplex,” in which curiosity becomes dark compulsion, to the far future when museums feature the relics of our own time: “the things we could not bear/to leave behind us:/ pieces of highways, signs/ …one single spike from Lady/ Liberty’s crown.” Clark understands that time speeds forward and that myth and popular culture are close kin that offer the songs of ghosts who once were us, “the ones who/ had such beautiful voices but only when/ they thought no one was listening.” Like the poet’s “clockwork nightingale” whose song is both dystopian and beautiful, Chloe Clark’s voice rises above the usual din to bring us a debut volume that is rich with unsettling questions but always unflinchingly alive. (Blurb by Ned Balbo, author of The Cylburn, Touch-Me-Nots and 3 Nights of the Perseids.)

Chloe N. Clark is a writer, editor, and teacher. She is the author of The Science of Unvanishing Objects and Your Strange Fortune. Her work has appeared in Booth, Glass, The Future Fire, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is a founding co-editor-in-chief of online journal Cotton Xenomorph. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes or her website

TFF: Your Strange Fortune is a diverse, wide-ranging collection of poems. Did you just bring together a selection of your best poems from other places, or was it conceived as a single, coherent piece of work from the start?

Chloe N. Clark: This question sort of has multiple answers. Almost everything I write has some connection to something else I’m writing, even if I don’t sit down with that intention (my brain works in large pictures and patterns, it’s why I’m so fond of interconnected novel-in-stories). So I found that I was writing a lot of poems centering on apocalypse and disaster (large scale and personal). As I realized this, I began to picture a plot arc for the poems and then began to put them into a single cohesive overall book. Something I’m very concerned with, always, when putting together poetry collections is “how is this telling a story?” I want the poems to stand alone, but when put together also serve a larger purpose. The best poetry collections, like story collections, novels, or albums, should be able to be read as one piece and have that work on some level (whether it’s an emotional arc of an actual plot driven one).

TFF: Both Wallace and Balbo’s blurbs note that your work combines themes of horror/dystopia/apocalypse along with beautiful or hopeful tones (which I think is true of “All Along the Mall” as well). Do you think we need to see the joy and the hope in the world to cope with and indeed fight back against the dystopia galloping towards us?

CNC: Absolutely. The world is a not-great place, for so many reasons, and I think the things that help us to cope with that and to fight back against the not-great things are hope and joy. If you’re hopeless about the future, you don’t really have the drive to make it better for yourself/for the next generation/etc. I write about a lot of darker subjects and so I think I try to be very purposeful about lacing those subjects with light. I need to be able to see a way out and I think it helps to show that in writing as well. It’s one of the reasons I teach, as well, I focus on injustice and rhetorics of violence in my classes, but I’m always careful to think about solution-based approaches to these problems—to show why we keep fighting. Being hopeful and finding joy are not at odds with being realistic about the world, if anything they keep you more able to understand what’s at stake.

“All Along the Mall” illustration © 2015 by L.E. Badillo

TFF: Poetry is almost by definition non-realist, in the sense that imagery and analogy are such ubiquitous techniques; does this make it an especially powerful medium for science fiction, or is “speculative poetry” a tautology?

CNC: I think this goes both ways honestly. In my mind, all writing is in some ways speculative (even non-fiction because it often is based out of the writer seeking answers and also having to incorporate their own view/analysis of those answers and questions). I think poetry is a great venue for sci-fi though because it allows the ideas room to be ideas, rather than needing maybe the plot or explanation behind them that a story might require. So it’s a great playground for those ideas and images without binding them to something larger.

At the same time, I think all my poetry is speculative, even the realistic pieces. I’ve never been able to view the world without seeing the strange inside it. There’s so much miraculous in the everyday of life, that it sometimes seems hard not to write things in a way that comes off as speculative.

TFF: What, to you, most essentially characterizes the difference between “literary” and “genre” fiction?

CNC: This is a question that always gets me fired up, because I think it’s in many ways a question that’s already been broken. Many of the best “literary” writers today are ones who fully incorporate genre techniques into their work (Colson Whitehead, Kelly Link, Victor LaValle) and many of the best “genre” writers are ones who write work that is also very literary—in that it focuses on character and writing as much as it focuses on plot momentum. Sometimes, the distinction that I think works best is: do you want to read it for the story or for the writing? If it’s both, it’s probably good literature. If it’s one or the other but not both, it probably falls into “genre” or “literary.”

TFF: Have you ever seen a statue or a piece of art that you wished was alive?

CNC: I think I wish this of a lot of art and statues, when I really like a painting, I often wish I could climb inside it and see it from another angle. Good art is an invitation—to wonder and wander in. But, if I had to pick a single piece, I would definitely go with the works of Dr Evermor, an outsider artist from Wisconsin. I grew up going to see these pieces and now I take my nephews there. They are strange and wonderful and filled with all the magic of what I think childhood dreams feel like—giant insects made of old musical instruments, a telescope to the stars, pieces of trash and discarded junk turned into something new and strange. I don’t think the giant insects would become menaces, if alive, they feel too kind and filled with delight to do so.

TFF: Would you like to visit another planet?

CNC: I want to answer this question in all-caps, so: YES. My obsession with space and the universe began as a small child, watching Aliens for the 400th time and listening to audio plays of Ray Bradbury stories. And it was a joy and fascination with space that grew even more when I began to actually understand what space and planets and the ways we get there actually meant. Nothing delights my brain as much as reading some fact about the difficulties of space exploration and the ways in which we seek planets away from our own. I love Earth and I’m not a person who thinks colonizing other planets is the way to save the world, but what I wouldn’t give to take a step on another planet—to see some new beauty of the universe in front of me. What a wonder that must be—I don’t think there’s enough poetry in the world I could write to come close to what that must be like.

Thank you for joining us, Chloe!

Check out Chloe N. Clark's new poetry collection Your Strange Fortune from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, also sold at all online booksellers (and some shops). Her previous poetry chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is still available from Finishing Line Press.

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