Kalamazoo poet Jennifer Clark’s work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Rhysling Award. Now she’s released her first book of poetry, Necessary Clearings, published by Shabda Press of California. Clark will read from the collection at the Michigan News Agency, Wednesday August 13 at 6 p.m.
Many of the book’s poems explore grief or a loss of some kind. Clark explains to WMUK why she chose to get close to those experiences.
She acknowledges that sadness often comes with contemplating a loss. But she says those feelings don’t always have to be “scary,” and she finds value in reflecting on them.
"I think we put a negative spin on them when – they’re not necessarily that way. I think they can teach us things, we can get something out of it," she says.
The poems in Necessary Clearings cover losses “big and small.” Sometimes a relationship is at stake, sometimes an entire species. Clark says she thought about grouping the poems by topic, but ultimately decided against it.
"I thought, you know, life is messy. Things creep up on you, like you were saying, so why not kind of make it a little messy and a natural kind of flow to it that doesn’t seem too contrived or anything," she says.
Clark says for her, poetry is about capturing a moment. Some are weighty. Others are lighter, or even funny.
In “Signs of a Weakening Economy,” a grade schooler contemplates just how much money he can make turning teeth over to the tooth fairy. Elsewhere, a seventeenth century archaeologist discovers a giant dinosaur bone and classifies it as a giant…something else.
And in “What I Wanted to Say,” a daughter struggles with a sense of “out-of-control-ness” when her mother’s health is in crisis. Clark reads an excerpt:
"When you asked of other symptoms and I told you she was dizzy, I should have told you that our world is spinning, that my sister has driven across town and dragged into my parents’ perfectly clean home a vacuum cleaner, mop and host of cleaning supplies because she wants to do something. It is the only way she knows to be of some assistance, as she is the comet burning, streaking across the living room with her Swiffer, saying, I just love this Swiffer, especially with the long handle attachment, do you have one?"
In “Spring Thaw” the topic is romantic relationships, and the one in question has already been lost. A woman salvaging food from a failed freezer uncovers a piece of long-preserved wedding cake. She searches her memory for her ex-husband’s middle name.
"What had his been, Anthony? No it was Marshall. Maybe. If he’d wrapped their marriage in this much care it might not have grown stale in a matter of months. Hugging the softened cake to her belly she slides her back down the freezer, thinks it might be Jerold, Jim, or Justin? A “J” sound rings a bell."
Clark says one of her personal favorites is “Interim Problem Report 119V-0080.” NASA filed such a report about a bat that roosted on the Discovery shuttle and died during a launch. Clark imagines a youth determined to get a message through to humans: bats are in bad shape.
"Because it was your father who failed back in ’96/with the Endeavor and again in ‘98/with the Challenger, you volunteer,/ despite your mother’s pleas.
Your friends break your arm lest you /be tempted, as your father had been, /moments before launch, to fly away.
You take some comfort recalling the discussion that/ protests have been lodged this way, that the two-legged,/ hard-of-hearing creatures – the Hard Ones – /have used this plan themselves to bring attention
to wars, repressive regimes, atrocities unimagined."
A companion poem tells how this was received.
Clark says it’s exciting and a little scary to send a book into the world. And she’s well along on the manuscript for her next collection. She plans to include poems that draw on more than a decade of work with the group Communities in Schools, where she’s the director of communications. That means writing about the present, she says, a shift for her.
"I’ve worked in the past with folks who’ve been homeless, who have mental health issues, I’ve worked with sex offenders, that stuff is in here right, but I never wrote that stuff when I was in the midst of doing it," she says.
One of the poems for that collection is called "What We Don't Tell Our School Volunteers." She recorded a preview for WMUK.