Literati welcomes poets Fleda Brown and Patricia Clark to share selections from both of their latest published collections, each focused on the natural world.
Fleda Brown, a former poet laureate of Delaware from 2001 to 2006, currently resides in Traverse City where she writes for the Record Eagle. Brown will read from her new book, “The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems,” as part of the Ted Kooser Contemporary Poetry Series.
“I like to hear my poems out loud,” Brown wrote in an email interview. “It helps me as a writer. But even more, the poem is nothing until it’s heard. It needs an ear and an eye.”
For Brown, nearly anything in the world could be her next inspiration for a poem.
“I am inspired by any odd thing. Nothing in particular, just the ordinaries of my life,” Brown wrote. “I am very visual and often a poem starts with an image — a tree, a cedar waxwing, a man crossing the street, etc.”
Brown stressed the importance of finding what one is most passionate about. In her own life, she was unsure of pursuing what she loved to do, and encourages taking a leap of faith.
“I had no idea that people could do this for a career,” Brown wrote. “I got a Ph.D. in American Literature and after I began teaching at the University of Delaware, I finally put together enough poems for a book. And behold! Someone wanted to publish it. So I was off and running. I no longer ‘had’ to be a scholar. I could keep doing what gave me the most pleasure.”
Brown describes her climb to success as many little things building up to what she has become today.
“Over the years I’ve had some great poet friends who’ve read my poems and commented, encouraged and discouraged me. I seem to do best with someone pointing out what’s working rather than pointing out what isn’t working,” Brown wrote. “I do well with praise. I’m the one who’s hardest on myself.”
In Traverse City, Brown has been staying busy with several different projects.
“I’ve been working my tail off. I put together an edited collection of my blog posts from when I had cancer and published it as a book, ‘My Wobbly Bicycle,’ with all the proceeds going to the Cowell Cancer Center here in Traverse City,” Brown wrote. “I’m writing an essay now and then, expecting to pull essays together for a collection when I have enough that I like.”
Patricia Clark, a former poet laureate of Grand Rapids from 2005 to 2007, is a professor of writing at Grand Valley State University.
Clark will be reading from her new book, “The Canopy,” which came out in January. She enjoys hearing how people respond to her work. She may even read a new poem that has not yet been published.
“There’s always a surprise in terms of what people respond to … that’s really fun,” Clark said. “And then people come up and say ‘I was really moved by this’ or ‘this meant a lot to me.’ ”
Clark describes her style of poetry as lyrical, and it often focuses on aspects of the natural environment.
“Poetry really is closest to music in terms of an art form even though it is words, so I tend to try to have a fairly musical kind of line,” Clark said. “And then in terms of imagery and stuff like that I have a lot of nature imagery in my poems.”
Basing her writing off observations, she is known to simply walk about and see what the eye can see without taking any notes. Finding things in the physical world inspires her to discover what it signifies.
“When I come home, my test is kind of, ‘Do I still remember something?’ And if I still remember something then it must mean something psychological,” Clark added. “So my goal as a writer is to put some words down on paper, some observations, and see it I can tease out what it means.”
Playing with language is a large part of her writing. When the words come together just right, Clark finds her job to be a real thrill.
“When the reader reads it they too have a little discovery moment and a moment of insight. Not a big moment, like ‘the world sucks,’ it's more like a little insight, like this is a beautiful moment,” Clark said. “Now that sounds kinda trite but hopefully in the poem it isn’t. It’s fresh.”
Clark teaches creative writing at Grand Valley State University, instructing on poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She leads students out of the academic writing they may be used to into a whole new artistic world.
“You can do a lot of wild and crazy things … you can experiment, you can break the rules. Students seem to really respond,” Clark said.
Some students have even changed majors as a result of the discoveries made in Clark’s class.
“(Teaching) always rejuvenates my own writing because I think, ‘wow this is what I should be doing. It can really help my own writing.”
Currently, Clark is working on a collection of obituaries from several different Patricia Clarks from all across the country. Aiming to laugh in the face of death, this piece will have a bit of humor to accompany it.