Exclusive Interview: “Escaping The Body: Poems” Author Chloe N. Clark


Given its title, it would be easy to assume you know what the poems in Chloe N. Clark’s new collection Escaping The Body (paperback, Kindle) are all about. And you’d be right. Though as she explains in the following email interview, you’d also be wrong.

Chloe N. Clark Escaping The Body

To start, is there a theme to the poems in Escaping The Body, something that connects them?

One of the main themes that I was tackling this book was the idea of bodies (in an expansive sense: so human bodies but also cultural bodies, bodies of text, etc.) and how often we can feel confined by them.

In addition, I also wanted to explore escape. I have been a long-time fan (read: huge nerd) of stage magic and escape artistry. So a constant presence in these poems is Houdini. My favorite escape artist and I think, personally, this really fascinating person who constructed so much around dis/belief — the audience doesn’t believe he can escape from his tricks, but still roots for him.

Did you start out with these themes or did they emerge as you were putting Escaping The Body together?

I didn’t start with these themes, but they did emerge as I found I was writing more and more poems about these themes. So that process was fairly organic. I think I realized they were worth keeping because they felt important to me, and I think it’s also something many people can connect to. On some level, most of us have had some kind of “body” we’ve wanted to break free from — whether it’s because we’re in physical pain, or we feel stuck in a place, or whatever.

Makes sense, then, why you’d call this Escaping The Body

I really like title collections in a way that feels true to the overall nature of the pieces. Escaping The Body felt fitting because it connected to the themes of both body and escape, but also felt in some sense fantastical — the idea that we can literally escape from our physical forms.

Structurally speaking, it seems like the poems in Escaping The Body are free verse, or at least not rigidly structured or adhering to an established form like a sonnet or villanelle. What is about not having a rigid structure that you feel just works for your poems?

For me, form is very fluid. I like the freedom of being able to visualize a piece on the page in a way that doesn’t feel rigid or structured. I sometimes set structure for myself — like this poem can only be five lines or I want this poem to use internal rhyme to do x — but that’s the closest I really get to any sort of form.

I’ve studied poetry in-depth throughout my academic career, and I deeply admire writers who can work in form and still create surprise, but I’m definitely not one of those writers.

Escaping The Body is your fourth collection of poems after Under My Tongue, Your Strange Fortune, and The Science Of Unvanishing Objects. You also have a fifth out in April called Every Song A Vengeance, and a sixth out next year called My Prayer Is A Dagger. Are there any writers you see having a big influence on the poems in Escaping The Body, either individually or collectively?

For this one, I don’t think there are other poets who have influenced the work, but definitely some writers in general. I’m a lifelong studier of folklore, and this collection owes a lot of debt to oral storytelling and those tales that get passed down generation after generation.

On a more specific writer level, fiction writers and filmmakers were a big influence. Kelly Link, China Mieville, and Helen Oyeyemi are some of the authors whose ability to confound the limits of genre really guide my own writing quite a bit.

And what about filmmakers?

For this collection, visual works that deal with sci-fi and / or bodies were definitely something I kept returning to: Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Wes Craven’s Scream, Alien, Return To Oz, Annhilation, to name a few.

How about song lyrics or visual art or other non-literary influences?

Absolutely. I listen to music pretty constantly while writing, and film has always influenced me heavily.

For music, it’s never a direct influence, but I think I tend to write to the rhythm of what I’m listening to quite often. For this book, I was listening to a lot of: Flora Cash, Janelle Monae, St Germain, Sufjan Stevens, and Benjamin Booker.

Back when I tried to write poems, I would often workshop them by reading them at open mic nights. Do you do that as well?

This is a two-fold answer. The first part is that I absolutely hate focus being on me, so I tend to shy away from events where I read in front of people or am a focus in any way. That being said, I think reading work aloud is one of the most valuable editing tools. So I often read my work aloud and record it, and then go through recordings to see where I more naturally break lines or where something “feels off.”

Some of the poems in Escaping The Body previously appeared in such places as Gamut, Rust + Moth, and Glass. Are the versions in Escaping The Body the same as they were in those journals?

I am terrible in that I feel like revision is never truly done. I’ve spent literally a decade before revising one story. So, in some ways, publishing does feel like I can let go [laughs]. But, inevitably, when I’ve added pieces to a collection, I will go back and see if any additional revision would help make them sharper.

I wouldn’t say that any of the poems in this collection got drastic rewrites, though, but almost all of them had finetuning of some sort (usually word choice or line breaks).

Now, as I mentioned, you have another poetry collection coming out in a few weeks called Every Song A Vengeance. Does that one have a theme? What is it all about?

Every Song A Vengeance has a central theme of dealing with anger and grief and how those feelings can often exist together, even when we try to remove ourselves from one or the other. All of the poems are also centered around the Keanu Reeves’s film character of John Wick. The John Wick films were deeply compelling to me, and Reeves’ portrayal really made Wick feel like a cipher for anger and grief in a kind of human form. So I liked the idea of writing poems around Wick as this literal personification of those feelings.

Is it safe to assume that people who like the poems in Escaping The Body will like the ones in Every Song A Vengeance as well?

I think so — depending on their feelings about Houdini and Wick, I guess. I don’t think the collections are thematically similar, but I do think I carry constants through in all of my writing.

So, is there anything else you think someone interested in Escaping The Body should know before deciding to pick it up or not?

I think the themes and darkness of a lot of the poems might seem heavy, but I hope that I filled it with light, hope, and humor, as well.

Finally, if someone enjoys Escaping The Body, which of your other poetry collections would you suggest they check out next?

I think my collection Your Strange Fortune would be a good choice, as it is also speculative poetry (a book of little hopeful apocalypses). If they were someone who were drawn to the themes of space and intimacy rather than the poetry, though, then I might direct them to my short story collection, Collective Gravities.



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