Conversation between Chloe N. Clark about Her Chapbook “The Science of Unvanishing Objects”

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I adore your book. It gives me chills and goose bumps. It makes me feel like I’m in a state between lost and found. Also, it makes me feel like I’m a voyeur to other’s stories, like a non-participatory cultural anthropologist. My most beloved poem in your book is “Turtles and Hares.” Silly as it may seem, but it makes me think of Kate Bush’s “Houdini.” The key, the swallowing, the drowning in the deep end, the divinity of it all. What is your favorite poem in your book?

It’s awesome that you bring up Kate Bush, because probably she’s had some long term effects on me—some of my earliest media consumption memories are of Kate Bush music videos when I was a child.

It’s always hard to pick a favorite poem, though, because I think all of the poems have been my favorite as I was writing them and at different points afterwards, for a variety of reasons—“We Who Vanish” has a spot in my heart because it starts with Jean Robert-Houdin and it reminds me very specifically of this café I went to in undergrad, where an early draft of the poem was written; “Google Search History” is one of my favorites to perform at readings; and, honestly, tomorrow, I’d probably tell you other poems as my favorites.

There once was a woman
who found skulls buried
beneath sand, she was looking
for seashells and found molars,
incisors, sockets where hazel
eyes once were. She unearthed
them gently—she feared a skull
might disintegrate as easily as the once
lived in shell of a horseshoe crab.

A boy chose to swallow a key.
He felt it unlocking the bones
of his trachea. It tasted of
metal but also of divinity—
that sugary candy foam his mother
once stirred above the stove for
what seemed like hours.

There was a village where one
of every family lived. They gathered
the bones of their loves and buried
them three feet deep. The key
swallowed by one fell through
the bones of a ribcage and turned
eventually to rust and then to nothing
ever again to be found.

- Chloe N. Clark, Turtles and Hares

On a side note, how did you discover Kate Bush? What’s your most beloved album by her? Mine’s “The Dreaming,” although I adore everything by Kate and I’m impatiently patiently waiting for something new to be birthed, soon I hope.

So I actually mostly know Kate Bush through her music videos and early albums, because my parents listened to them and my mom had a VHS of music videos when I was a kid and there were some Kate Bush on there. So she exists in this formative place for me, that I also don’t necessarily engage with still. It’s weird. I think she’s sort of my form of nostalgia.

In several of your poems like “Missing Girl Found—” and “The Detective, Years After,” girls, women, ghosts, objects are lost yet there, but not quite. The word unvanishing comes to mind, a state of in-between of sorts. What does it mean to be unvanishing in your book? What does it mean to you?

For me “unvanishing” has a few meanings—I think the most direct and important to the book though is the idea of these things we lose that never leave us: people we love, a relationship that didn’t work out (maybe, especially, the ones we now idealize and that hold us back in some way), dreams we held onto long after they were possibilities, stories we were told as children and can’t remember the name of even though we can remember how it felt to have our mother read them to us.

I think we all keep these personal catalogues of our own unvanishing objects. One thing I always love about getting to really know someone else is discovering their unvanishing objects and the way that they talk about them.

Missing women often appear
to me in dreams, always asking

the same questions: why it was her
that I had found instead of them,
why she was the one brought home

alive, fighting
the twisting, a rush
that crept up through her body.

Years later, she would say to me:
Most days, I think I will start
screaming and never stop. 

The wind will sometimes wake me
from dreams, inciting the trees
outside to tap codes onto my windows,
Morse message pleas for me to stir,

and the women will be waiting
at the foot of the bed or standing
by the window or leaning over me
to whisper secrets in my ears—
locations of their bodies,

the depth of dirt that presses down on them,
the feel of decomposition
—and I never know
how to tell them I am sorry
I stopped looking.

The missing women ask me why I never
found them; I try to answer
but words come out

sounding only like the crush of dead leaves
under foot as I searched.

- Chloe N. Clark, The Detective, Years After

In your poem “The Apparitionist,” the protagonist references an ex’s ex who stopped dreaming. She “closed her eyes and nothing came.” I can’t imagine not dreaming even if it means having nightmares on occasions. Can you imagine not being able to dream?

It’s a really terrifying thought to me (I even have a horror story that expands off this idea). Dreams are such a vital part of my life, I’ve been a lucid dreamer for as long as I can remember dreaming and I also have specific dream spaces that I return to and I also often dream of people who are far away from me—and that’s such a comforting thing, because for that time they aren’t far away.

Is there a particular dream that’s most memorable to you? Do you ever have any recurring dreams? And since you’re a lucid dreamer, do you feel that you can sometimes control how your dreams unravel? It’s so cool when you’re able to do that, it’s like you’re not only watching what’s going on but you’re actually participating and changing outcomes.

I’m not sure I could select a single memorable dream, though I had one about MFA thesis defenses that ended in a beheading, so maybe that one. I don’t so much have recurring dreams as I have continuing dreams—I return to dream cities and dream stories often. 

Most of my dreams (that I remember) I am in somewhat control of, I’ve always been glad that I seem to have the ability to wake myself up from nightmares because of this.

I like how in “An Infinity of Chip Bros” you weave a story through overheard conversations, almost becoming an active participant. I love doing that too, if I’m driving on the bus. Do you often get inspired by conversations you hear on the bus or in a coffee shop or elsewhere?

I once jokingly described myself as a “thief of lives” because of being a writer. And by jokingly, I mean mostly seriously. I spend a good portion of my life listening to other people, I love how people tell their lives and weave their stories. I also love how we are when when we’re our unselves—those masks we put on in public spaces—and so the bus is kind of an ideal place for observing that.

A lot of my poems and stories have some overheard piece in them—Infinity is based on a real conversation, as is “Filed Under Hazy Creatures” and other poems have snippets of overheard conversations or observed actions.

What was the process of writing “The Science of Unvanishing Objects” like? What is your writing process like in general? Do you write on impulse? Do you do research? Do you make a bit of time to write every day? What do you need in order for you to be able to write without any interruptions or obstacles?

The process of writing Science was probably a lot of mixes of things—the oldest poem in the collection is from 7 years ago and the newest was from one month before I put it together and submitted it to Finishing Line Press. And each poem probably had a very different process to its conception.

My writing process in general is kind of a mess. I’m an intuitive writing, for the most part, and try to only write when I need to write. But I also need to write basically all the time. Writing is my exorcism, it’s how I shake my soul out for a little bit. So impulse definitely plays in.

But research does, too. I love weird facts and bits of trivia. So often I have those in my head waiting for their right poem or story to come along. And I also have two people who are very important to me, who are in more science-y/technical-y fields, who often will tell me things that then result in me doing a lot of research and that spurs later writing about whatever I researched. Plus I read widely and often things I read will lead me to some kind of research that might later turn into something. Sometimes writing the thing takes years, because it’s on the simmer burner, and sometimes I’ll literally close the thing I’m reading and go right to the computer with the research still fresh in my head.

I both don’t necessarily write every day and also do write every day. This isn’t just a weird riddle, but rather that while I don’t physically write every day on creative work—I do write every day in the sense that I’m writing comments on student papers, I’m answering e-mails, I’m messaging a friend, and all of those are engaging with language and ideas in some way. I also am thinking, at least on some level, about my creative writing every day—it’s always there in my head, turning over and over until it’s something fully formed that’s ready to be written down.

I’m fairly good about interruptions in writing (though it’s harder with fiction than poetry). So generally what I need is just a glass or water or a cup of coffee, a good place to sit, and maybe music (which is really important to my life and my thinking about writing). I also enjoy Skype writing sessions with a friend, because it’s lovely to know that they’re on that other side also thinking about their story and language and ideas—it’s a comforting feeling when it’s the right person. (Which, FYI, one of my rules of life is never get in a committed relationship—romantic or friendship—with someone you couldn’t stand to go on a long car trip with, but I also extend that now to someone you couldn’t write or read in the same room as).

Finally, I think the most important element to me is that I have to have the writing feeling going on. That’s my main obstacle. I can’t force myself to write (I’ll edit instead if I’m just not feeling it). There’s a certain something and when it’s there, I know it. Maybe writing for me is like falling in love—it’s a hard feeling to describe, but when you know it’s right you should give in to it.

That’s so awesome! If and when you’re in a writer’s block (I do hope it doesn’t happen very often), is there anything that helps you get out of it? Do you have any favorite prompts?

When I’m in a bit of a block, I either try writing in a different genre (so poetry instead of fiction) or I take a writing break and instead just try to consume stories to recharge my writing battery. One of the things that most inspires me is how other people tell their stories.

 

Chloe N. Clark's poems and fiction appear in Booth, Glass, Hobart, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out from Finishing Line Press and she can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes