Monday, May 22, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Patricia Clark


I had retired the literary Would You Rather interview series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Joining us today is Patricia Clark. Patricia is the author of The Canopy (Terrapin Books, 2017), her fifth book of poetry, which won the 2018 PSV Book of the Year Award, and three chapbooks, including Deadlifts (New Michigan Press, 2018). She teaches in the Writing Department at Grand Valley State University in Michigan where she is also the university's poet in residence. She has won The Fourth River’s Folio Competition, Mississippi Review’s Poetry Prize, second prize in the Pablo Neruda/Hardiman Prize from Nimrod, and was the co-winner of Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Prize. She has completed residencies at The MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Colony, and The Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. She was also the poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan from 2005-2007, and for many years she coordinated Poetry Night, part of GVSU’s Fall Arts Celebration.

Why do you write?

I write to figure out myself, the world, things that happen, things I wonder about. If days go by without writing, I’m unhappy and clueless. I need writing as a regular practice. It’s the way I exist.

What made you start writing?

I was a bookworm as a child and it didn’t occur to me for a long time that I could be a writer. When it did occur to me, I thought that nothing could be more fantastic than giving readers the thrill of reading my words the way books/reading gave me that thrill. I still hold to that: want to give readers an “ah ha!” moment that helps them see the world in new ways.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing I like to go for long walks, to garden, and especially to read. Another thing I love to do is travel. I’m happiest when I have a couple of upcoming trips, especially international ones. The last thing I’d do is clean my house.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I’m a pretty good baker. Almond tarts, cinnamon rolls, layer cakes, etc.

What’s your kryptonite as a writer?

Kryptonite for me as a writer is sitting and thinking too much. For me, that sows self-doubt and negative thinking. It’s better for me to just launch in and begin writing. That’s my method.

What is your favorite book from childhood?  

I was a big fan of The Once & Future King by T.H. White, his retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a novel by Hilary Mantel called A Change of Climate, because she just died and I want to know her work better. I’m also reading Stephen Fry on Greek Myths and various books of poetry.

What is under your bed?

There’s only dust and some dog hair, I suspect. I try never to look under there!

Do you DNF books?  

Yes! The older I get, the more I realize how precious time is. If a book isn’t rocking me somehow, it has to go.

What are your bookish pet peeves?

Mostly when there is bad writing. What’s that? Writing that doesn’t ring true in details and character, poor plots and too many words to get to the point.



Patricia Clark's poems immerse the reader in the living world through the quality of her attention and appreciation. And she includes us humans with wit and wisdom. In Les Rochers de Belle-Ile, she writes: Both the sea and the rocks/ show age/ It's a tired scene of their/ coming together...No escaping how the sea/ throws you repeatedly on the rocks/ of all you're stupid about. There's hard-won intelligence here. We see it in people sharing a meal and being especially kind to each other after a suicide: lots of please and thanks/ as we handed food around/ basket of steaming bread/for buttering. Always, there is a deep understanding of our interconnections, as in this lovely and evocative final stanza of "Near the Tea House at Meijer Japanese Garden," now tracing a pale blue vein/ under the skin like a leaf's midrib. We would do well to take Patricia Clark's guidance: The charge: note what is here, what departs.

  ~Ellen Bass (blurb on back cover)


There is an unmistakable ardor for sentience in the gentle, exactingly poised voice of this book, its lyrically charged strophes demanding attention not only to its graceful syntax, but also to its halting apprehension of tiny bits of this world—the clap of a bamboo bell spilling its water on stone in a Japanese garden, the purple rib bone at the underside of a maple leaf, the human ashes that rush in a river to the sea. I am reminded of Chopin’s Nocturnes; each poem finely wrought as an exquisite music that is elegiac, valedictory, and yet absent of mourning. This is an astonishing, Heraclitean book.

— Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road --


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