Patricia Clark on teaching poetry and writing chapbooks

Staff intern Katelyn Tarasiewicz got a chance to interview poet Patricia Clark this summer, on the occasion of her new chapbook, Wreath for the Red Admiral, published by Spruce Alley Press.

You are a professor. Where do you teach and what is your favorite course to teach?

teach at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. We have a Writing
Department separate from the English Department. I teach creative
writing. I love teaching our Poetry Workshop –
we have both an intermediate class and an advanced one. The
intermediate one is an especially good one to teach – students have
been introduced to poetry, but just barely. I get to show them some of
the wonderful contemporary poets writing today & unleash
them to write some poems.

Often I give “prompts” for poems – it is a
little less terrifying to have an assignment rather than just being told
to “Write a poem.” Students can write list poems, do a “found” poem;
they write about a work of art, doing an “ekphrastic”
poem. There are many fun assignments, as well as just trying a poem
“imitating Tony Hoagland, or Mary Oliver.” We do workshops of student
poems, and they are learning a lot about how to read poems carefully and
give comments (constructive ones) to other students.
By the end of the course, students put together a portfolio of their
work. They can make astounding progress in the course, and it is often
thrilling to see their growth as writers.

poets have influenced you to become the strong poet you are today,   and are there any specific poets/poems that inspired you to write this
new chapbook?

have certainly been influenced by my own teachers – Nelson Bentley,
Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees, Stanley Plumly, and Cynthia Macdonald,
as well as
Edward Hirsch. All of these teachers value lyrical poems that have
surprising turns of language and encourage poems that try to plumb
emotional depths. I continue in that tradition, I’d say.

I’m not sure
there are particular models I have in mind for the chapbook
– maybe the work of Jane Hirshfield. She’s a California poet whose
work I greatly admire, and I studied with her, briefly, at a poetry
workshop in Napa Valley.

have written other poetry books; what got you started in writing
chapbooks?  And what is different about this chapbook compared to those
you have done in the past?

chapbook is a briefer collection of poems – and chapbooks have become
very popular today. I see it as an opportunity to put a small collection
together, combining poems in a different
way from a long, full collection.  The poems in Wreath for the Red
have not appeared together before – and I think of a collection
of poems as a kind of narrative, perhaps, with an emotional arc of some
kind. A reader is invited in at the beginning
of the collection, and then introduced to some issues or “problems,” if
you will, and then carried along on a journey of reading poems,
hopefully reaching a kind of resolution at some point, a satisfying
moment, perhaps, of insight or resolution. That’s what
I hope for with this small book.

only done one previous chapbook. That was a somewhat different grouping
because the editors specifically wanted Michigan or Midwest poems. I
put them together with that intention, more
than having an emotional arc. 

Your books seem to focus on nature.  Is there a reason for that?

there is nature in these poems – and that’s because the imagery of
nature intrigues me, inspires me, causes me to think and mull and muse
about things – and then I hope there are
deeper connections found. So I would resist, for example, someone
saying, “Oh, that’s a poem about bird nests in winter.” Yes, and no. It
does start with images of bird nests but I hope there is reflection,
pondering, and wondering that takes the reader on
a journey to some other realization – a way of seeing something new,
or in a new way.

Wreath for the Red Admiral is available through, Amazon, Barnes and  Noble, and can be ordered from fine booksellers everywhere.

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