Patricia Clark, a Watcher in a Place of Unknowing

Poetry Editor Kathleen Kirk interviews EIL poet Patricia Clark, with photographs by Tim Simmons:

Kathleen Kirk: Patricia, I was struck in your book She Walks Into the Water by your intense connection to the world around you. You call yourself a “watcher,” and you do closely observe and describe the natural world and the garden, but you seem to be of that world, as well, not so distant from it, still a civilized human animal in it. Can you tell us a little more about your connection to nature, woods, and garden, in connection with your writing life?

Patricia Clark: Sure. First, my parents took us camping when I was a kid — and I got hooked on being outdoors. Granted it was often raining, cold, misty in Western Washington but there were some magical times, too. Crossing the Cascades to eastern Washington State was a revelation: sunshine, warmth, dryness. Actually, in terms of gardening, I came to it rather late in life (my late 30s) but got totally obsessed with it. I began to find an easy and wonderful connection between writing and then working in the garden or yard. The intellectual, the desk, and then the physical, the shovel, the trowel, the dirt. In both cases, there’s an element of getting lost in the leaf and the plant — the green world completely — which I quite like. You’re right that I’m “of that world” too — as well as being a watcher. I find spiritual freedom outdoors, out of the house, if you will, as well as seeing in nature many metaphoric connections with self and mind.

KK: I’ve lived long enough now to see some editors and fellow poets easily dismiss certain poems as “nature poems” and “garden poems,” not always looking at them long enough or closely enough to see what’s really there—just as, perhaps, they might not see what’s really there in the world around them! But now that it’s cool to be concerned about the environment, and to return to organic or locally grown food, suddenly “nature poems” are all right again, and the term doesn’t even have to be put in quotation marks. What’s been your experience with this? Have you noticed a swing or a “trendiness” here? Have you ever been called or dismissed as a “nature poet” or a “garden poet”? I ask because I sometimes see it even in magazine guidelines—as in “we don’t want garden poems.”

Patricia Clark: Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? I think Gary Snyder said here when he visited our campus that it was “death” for a poet to be called a “nature poet.” You were just, then, dismissed. I have to admit that I truly hate the categorization. Do we call people “city poets” or “urban poets” if they describe city streets, buildings, etc.? My advice to readers (and editors!) would be to go beyond any category and read the poems carefully. There’s got to be more going on than “mere” description. The imagery is not the place to stop but the place to begin, and hopefully to be entranced into the poem. Then see where the poem (or piece of writing) takes you, as reader. With luck, it’ll be a journey of discovery and surprise.

KK: I’m using photographs of nature here, for this interview, but in your poetry feature at EIL, I used photographs of human beings in artful arrangements, some indoors and some outdoors, to emphasize the humans inside the landscapes and also because those particular poems have people inside buildings or sometimes a temporary “cage” of self, and because a poem can be an artful arrangement that, ultimately, seems natural. Care to comment on the juxtaposition of your poems and the photographs by Jovan Todorovic in that feature?

Patricia Clark: Oh, I quite like Jovan Todorovic’s work! I like your view of people in the poems being in “cages” or somehow trapped. I hadn’t seen that, actually. Again, though, maybe that’s why outdoors is my freedom. Face it, for women, for people, so much of the “house” is obligation: chores to do, work to tackle, food to purchase, prepare and cook. Todorovic’s work is interesting because he has striking images and captures tension, too, just in the juxtaposition of person with setting. I like his strong sense of color. Our work looks good together, in my view.

KK: What would you like EIL readers to know about you as a poet?

Patricia Clark: That’s a big question. I guess first of all that I start in a place of unknowing, hoping that readers will come with me along on a journey. I hope they’ll follow and wonder, look up words they don’t know, and enjoy the sounds and feel of the poems. The longer I write the more interested I am in the self taking more of a backseat and foregrounding details, imagery, etc. instead that clue the reader in to what’s going on. To me, poems are largely a way of thinking and feeling through art–using diction and sentences to work through something. I hope the poems end in a point of satisfaction for the reader, even if it is a point of tension of disequilibrium where we end up. I’m crazy about sentences, trying new things, inventing forms, trying old forms, and generally keeping myself interested along with any audience willing to come along!

Art by Tim Simmons

2 responses to “Patricia Clark, a Watcher in a Place of Unknowing”

  1. ah, wow- the shovel and the dirt (!)

    it’s one thing to stand and observe a forest, a stream, a deer in motion. it’s another to engage (the dirt and the shovel) (the dead twigs and the campfire) (the shovel and the worms). patricia, your words speak for me and to me. the spiritual freedom, and the connections with self and mind are readily felt when i read your poetry.

    kathleen, i really liked that you wrote about being “of” the natural world. and that observing is not limited to what the eyes see, but what the spirit senses and feels.

    i, too, grew up camping. i also grew up living in a remote country setting. the division between self and nature blurs. reading this interview and poetry has “made my day.”

    sherry o’keefe

  2. Kathleen Kirk says:

    Thanks for this comment, Sherry, and I am so glad you connected so strongly!

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