The Science of Unvanishing Objects
An Interview with Chloe N. Clark
by Naya Clark
Chloe N. Clark is a writer, co-editor-in chief at literary magazine Cotton Xenomorph, and a professor. Clark teaches college composition with a focus on rhetorical arguments. She lectures on Monster Theory, Genre, Speculative Writing, and Fan Studies. Fittingly, Clark writes mysteriously about mysteries. Clark's newest collection, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is propelled by the unknown, dealing with query, dreams, and memories, which prove unreliable, yet have the potential to remain solid and legitimate as if they are physical objects.
Whatever gives dreams the ability provide an otherworldly ambience, be it absurd, pleasant, or horrifying, proves distinct and recognizable by Clark. Clark’s writing mimics the weird, warm fuzziness of dreams, which she articulates through the limited characters of flash fiction, poetry, and prose. Clark isn’t solely charged by subconscious roamings, but the mystery that exists in real life —the odd, fortuitous nature of atrocities that occur in the news, especially crimes against women. Poems such as “Missing Girl Found” and “The Detective Years After” roam Clark's thoughts following the broadcast of the disappearance of two girls.
Even Clark’s visual writing style contains varying elements. Poems including “A Breath Expelled,” “What the Earth Returns to Our Mouths,” and “Infinity of Chip Bros,” utilize interesting line breaks differing in length, format, spacing and emphasis. Many of her poems such as “We Who Vanish” contain matter-of-fact toned beginnings, and feature thoughtful, honest lines. For example: “I too believe that our lives are not as interwoven as we are led to believe” found in “The Double Dark Theory of Our Universe.”
Ultimately, Clark’s latest collection is bounded by enigma, loss, bodies, girls, and demons that raise plenty of questions. I called Clark to get answers about a few of them.
Naya Clark is an Atlanta-based writer. When she's not writing about arts and culture, she's interviewing, attending local events, and jotting in her notebook, sometimes simultaneously.
Interviewer: Your writing has a theme of the legitimacy of memory and your internal thoughts after instances of violence against women. Is that intentional?
Chloe N. Clark: I see these connections as I’m writing them, and sometimes it starts subconsciously. I’ll notice that five of my poems have similar themes or mention something similar and then I’ll realize that I’m writing towards something. This one definitely came consciously, as well as the very first poem in that collection, “The Detective, Years After.” I wrote that because I’ve been thinking about the rhetoric of violence because that’s something I study in depth. Then I wrote that poem and just realized ‘well, this is telling it from the detective point of view,’ but I really think that it’s the women’s voices that are more important. I think that one in particular was very consciously started.
Interviewer: In addition to writing poetry, you also write flash fiction. How do you decide which stories are going to be prose poetry and which will be flash fiction?
CNC: It’s kind of after I write it. I very much throw myself into the writing. So usually I have an image or a first line in mind, and then I’ll sit there and just start writing, and as I’m writing it either becomes a poem or it becomes prose or flash fiction. Sometimes I’ll put restrictions on myself like ‘this is going to be a poem’ because I’m trying something out, or I wanted to try a double, or I wanted to try a sonnet. Or ‘this is going to be flash fiction because I want to work on scene building,’ but for the most part, I dive into it and it becomes what it becomes. In a few cases, for instance, I had a short story about basketball condensed into a poem, and now I’m rebuilding it into being a whole novel about basketball. Sometimes they shift, but that’s more rare.
Interviewer: I read in another interview that a lot of your writing come from dreams. What has been the most interesting dream that you feel like might turn into a piece of work?
CNC: I have one that I like a lot that I already started working on it into a flash fiction. I had a dream with a friend of mine. He was taking me to this bookstore in the dream. The bookstore was in the tops of trees. It was built literally on top of a forest, and the book sections, the way that the bookstore organized was by the feelings that you would get when you’re done reading the books. So for everyone that came into the bookstore it shifted. So it was a constantly influx bookstore.
Interviewer: That is so interesting!
CNC: It was a very good dream. I woke up very happy.
Interviewer: That sounds like the best idea of 2018. How do you write about your dreams? Dreams are something very feeling-based, and sometimes difficult to articulate. The thing about poetry is that it finds a way to articulate things that are typically dreamy elements of life. How do you break something as complex and absurd as dreams into work?
CNC: It is like a double-edged sword. I think there’s qualities of dreams that make them particularly true to writing, like the visual nature of them. That goes with writing really well, but as you said, the strangeness, or the fact that dreams don’t connect is a bigger problem. I’m lucky in that I’m a lucid dreamer, so a lot of times my dreams are already being somewhat controlled by me in some sense. So that already gives my narrative control in a way, but I also find that when I’m writing them I try to jot it down as soon as I wake up. When I’m writing them, what I try to do is find the narrative under the absurd. A lot of times dreams have something that happen without meaning. I’ll try to take that element and twist it so that it has more meaning, or it has more narrative. In only a few cases are my dreams directly written down into poem or story form. Usually they go through the molding process of making them more narratively or logistically making sense, even though it goes against dreams. I try to keep within dream logic to some sense, but not to a sense it becomes inconsistent narratively. I’d rather it be not be true to the dream, but true of the story, or the narrative.
Interviewer: What prompted you to write “Echo(de)”? What made you write about the subject of the physical symptoms that one may feel while watching the news?
CNC: Particularly in “Echo(de),” I very much watch the news, and paying attention to the horrors of the world, but particularly protests like in North Carolina that were just so horrific and showing the dangers of the world that I’m not necessarily directly interacting with, but I’m still feeling that emotional resonance of it.
Interviewer: I don’t know if you’ve heard, and it was pretty recent, a lot of your poems resonated with me about the Black girl who was found in the freezer of a hotel. The police local to the area didn’t care to solve the case. That moment, especially on social media was a very traumatic thing to read through and I would say experience, because I’m a Black woman of her age range. If something happens to me, it’ll just be like ‘oh well.’ A lot of your work reminded me of the violence against women and the mystery of what is known and unknown. There was footage of that night. Have you heard of this case?
CNC: I haven’t, but that’s something I’ve thought about during this collection because I’m constantly reading news stories about that, where some lives don’t matter to the point that they don’t get the consideration. Especially young women and young men and it’s horrifying. I was trying to explain this to someone. We were talking over the difference between violences. They were saying violence is this physical thing and I was trying to explain to them that violence is also a systemic thing.
Interviewer: Also very social.
CNC: We set up systems in place that create violence to the point that people can get away with these crimes is creating a system that creates more violence. These are horrific stories and there are far far far too many of them.
Interviewer: Thank you for incorporating that truth in your writing, even if it isn’t always explicit, it’s still important and needs to be written about. Besides news stories, what have you been reading lately?
CNC: Usually during a school semester, because usually what I read throughout the semester is my students’ work. I usually tend towards reading literary journals and online magazines. I’m still reading The Rumpus, a poetry and flash fiction publication (usually). Recently I just read the new issue of Glass Poetry. I love Glass Poetry. I was very happy with the newest issue of Third Point Press. Alvin Park has a story/poem about basketball in the newest issue of Third Point Press. Usually, I stick to flash and poetry during the school year.
Interviewer: How does editing Cotton Xenomorph affect your writing or perspective in reading?
CNC: Every time I talk to writers, I tell them that they should really read flash for a while. Reading flash teaches you what works and doesn’t work in a very shaft manner, because you read a piece and you have to ask ‘Oh, I don’t like this. Why don’t I like it?’ and you have to do it kind of fast because you’re reading 50 submissions in a day. You’re constantly like ‘this works, this doesn’t work, this is something that can be edited to work,’ and you’re just going through those processes. I think it’s really helpful for my writing because I can constantly be thinking over narrative elements or poetic choices and line breaks, how they’re being deployed, what works and what doesn’t work, on a really organic level, because I’m not necessarily being taught it. I'm not really thinking about it other than really fast decisions. Sometimes I think in writing that’s actually a better way to work because you’re going off of your gut instinct, which a lot of writing should be.
Interviewer: Being that you read a lot of work and write in a more concise manner, what's a way that you maximize the power of your words in both flash fiction and poetry?
CNC: I think the biggest thing I think about is in the first draft I don’t care about word count. I write chunky first drafts and then my second draft I take a lot out. That’s when I really start thinking about words. The number one thing I do is read each line out loud a few times so I’m really hearing the words, because I think the way things sound and the way things feel in your mouth is as important in flash fiction and poetry as where they appear on the page and their meaning . I suggest to my students that reading your work outloud is the best way to think about word choice because you’re really hearing it.
Interviewer: What are some of the times that you find time to do flash fiction in your busy schedule?
CNC: It’s a combination of the fact that I’ve gotten myself pretty good at being able to write anywhere. So if I get five minutes out of the day I might sit down and write. I like being at my desk. That’s where I’m most comfortable, but I can write in my office, on campus, or I can stop while I’m walking and write something down. And poetry leans into that, of repeating poems while I’m writing them in my head. So I’ll be writing and just keep repeating them until I have them memorized and can write them down. I also try to stay up a little later than I should and write at night. I try not to grade past 9 p.m. because I want my students to get full mental power from me. Whereas, writing a first draft I can do at five in the morning.
Interviewer: What are some things that trigger your writing?
CNC: A lot of times it’s something that I notice that either I haven’t noticed before or that’s just a really interesting overheard snippet of conversation. “Infinity of Chip Bros” was a conversation pretty much verbatim of a bus conversation I was stuck behind. I’ll notice something about a building that I haven’t noticed before because I’m just walking in a different direction, or it’s a different time of season, or there’s a different lighting going on or something. I’m visually triggered a lot in my writing.
Interviewer: Lastly, what have you learned or unlearned from this most recent collection of your work?
CNC: I think one of the big things I learned was that there is a chance to get published with work that may be a little stranger. There are alot of speculative elements to my poetry and I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be an outlet for that. There’s a market for speculative-ish work, or work that means something to me. A lot of times I think it's easy to get discouraged because you get rejected from a contest or something, and it’s like ‘well maybe the problem is with the poems or my style or genre I’m writing in. Just learning that there is an audience for the stories I want to tell and the stories are important for me to be thinking about was probably the most important thing to learn.