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A Conversation With G.O. Clark
An interview with Trent Walters
March 2003

G.O. Clark
G.O. Clark has appeared in magazines such as Asimov's, Talebones, Space & Time, Dreams & Nightmares. His poems have been anthologized in 2001: A Science Fiction Poetry Anthology, the Rhysling Award Anthology, and Star Trek -- The Poems. In 2001, he was the recipient of the Asimov's Readers' Award for best poem, and in the same year he came in 2nd in the Rhysling Award competition, short poem category, sponsored by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Also in the spring of 2001, he joined the staff of Dark Regions magazine as an assistant fiction editor. He resides in Davis, California.

G.O. Clark Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Box Full of Alien Skies

A Box Full of Alien Skies
Poking the Singularity

Your biography states the "poetry bug bit" in the 70s while in college with your first poem being published in 1979. What was the trigger for you in poetry: a poet? a poem? a professor?
I guess my interest in poetry come about for a couple of reasons. A college friend of mine, who was staying with my first wife and I until he could find his own place to live, was a budding poet. A very good poet, I might add. He encouraged me to try writing some, and gave me pointers on who to read, different forms, and so on. We even wrote a few poems together, though none worth saving. He went on to become an English professor, putting teaching ahead of writing. I heard recently he still writes, but doesn't publish. Those early efforts by me are also lost, which is for the best. The other influence was one of my English professors, Rob Swigart, who went on to become a novelist, writing some science fiction. I took a history of film class and a survey of contemporary American poetry class from him. He loved his subjects, and as for the later, turned me and others in his class onto to Williams, Stevens, Crane, Ginsberg and many other fine poets. The bug did bite, so to speak, and from there I searched out Eliot, Thomas, Neruda, Moore, and others. This was not a poetry writing class. I never took any of those in college, trying fiction writing classes instead, and getting nowhere. But my reading of poetry led to the writing of poetry, aided by the encouragement of these two men who made it all seem so natural. My second wife was very supportive as well.

Was "Neighbors" in Oct 1988 of The Magazine of Speculative Poetry your first speculative poem? How did you stumble on the SF poetry [SFP] sub-genre? What were your first impressions? What finally pulled you in?
"Neighbors" was my first published sci-fi poem. I'd written a few others around that time, but was still floundering in the mainstream. I'm not sure why I started writing sci-fi poetry. I'd read a lot of science fiction in the 60s and early 70s, so perhaps some of the ideas and subject matter from those stories crept into my poetry. My mainstream poetry of the day was about everyday things, observations about people and nature. The usual. Very straight-forward. Patently non-confessional. Some of the first sci-fi poetry I came across, other than that in the issue of Magazine of Speculative Poetry mentioned, was by Bruce Boston. At the time, I was organizing a poetry reading series here in Davis, at the local art center, and I asked Karen Joy Fowler to read, and she, in turn, suggested that Bruce share the bill with her. This was 1986, I believe. She read one of her short stories, and Bruce his poetry. I was intrigued with Bruce's poetry, and searched out more of it after the reading, including his All the Clocks Are Melting collection. Something clicked in my mind while reading this book, and I saw what was possible with some of my own writing. As in the field of science fiction proper, so in that of poetry. There was no limit to what you could imagine and put on paper, and I've never lacked for imagination. It took a few years to change over to mainly writing sci-fi poetry, but it seems I've found my niche and have never regretted the effort. Finally, in 1992 I had a couple of poems accepted at StarLine magazine -- the bimonthly journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association -- and went on to join that organization. Within StarLine's pages I discovered many new poets of caliber like Robert Frazier, Mary Turzillo, David Lunde, John Grey, Ann K. Schwader, Keith Allen Daniels, James Dorr, Charlee Jacob, Steve Sneyd, Bobbie Sinha Morey and many more. It's been a fun ride ever since.

You didn't really establish a wide presence in SFP until the early 90s, publishing two slender chapbooks of your non-speculative work. Were you still playing with the other magazines or were you still learning the ropes? What did you do to become better acquainted with SFP?
The two non sci-fi chapbooks came out on the heels of a divorce from my second wife. There were a lot of changes going on in my life at the time, none that were very positive. I suppose the logical poetry to write at the time would have been confessional, but I tried some and they stunk. I guess I was too close to the subject. I needed a change, and the already germinating seeds of sci-fi poetry was just the thing. Along with StarLine and other magazines, I stumbled upon two seminal sci-fi poetry anthologies in the university library where I worked. Robert Frazier's Burning With A Vision and Lee Ballentine's Poly. Both were eye openers, with work by some of those already mentioned, and that of more familiar names in the science fiction community like Tom Disch, Ray Bradbury, Joe Haldeman, Michael Bishop, Steve Resnic Tem, Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Le Guin and Jane Yolen. Add to those mentioned a number of mainstream poets with their takes on science and related things, and what more could one want. But I'm greedy, and did want more, which the yearly Rhysling Anthology -- the volume of poems nominated each year by members of the Science Fiction Poetry Association which determines short and long poem winners of the Rhysling Award -- nicely provided. We learn from our peers, and not being one to break with tradition, so did I.

SFP is seen by some as a bastard child of two genres, occasionally vilified by both parents. What contributing role do you see SFP playing in the context of poetry and SF and what would you contend that vilifiers are missing?
I'm not sure "vilified" is the right word. Ignored might be more accurate, at least when it comes to academic critics out there. As for "bastard child", let's not forget science fiction held that distinction for many years, before finding its way onto the best selling lists and into the contents of critical reviews. As in fiction, there's good poetry and bad. It doesn't matter what your subject matter may be, it's how well it's written in the end. Sci-fi poetry can add to the field the same way fiction in general has. A poem can put forth some of the same sense of wonder and extrapolation on ideas as a story. It will be more condensed, single words having the weight of longer explanations, and will be lacking in characterization, but the serious author's voice will still ring true and the reader should go away enlightened. Those that vilify sci-fi poetry, probably haven't read enough of it, haven't sampled the field. This is understandable what with so much of it only appearing in small press magazines with minuscule circulations. Some pro markets do print poetry however. Asimov's does on a regular basis, with Analog and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction occasionally slipping one in, and many genre webzines include sci-fi poetry to varying degrees. Of course, there are those who "just don't get poetry". Well, I just "don't get" some things either. To quote a favorite author, "so it goes."

You wrote in regard to the review: "about 'sound'[, m]y other creative outlet is playing guitar by ear, and I think my inner and outer ears are fairly acute," which I found curious. It shows a practiced gut reaction instinct sometimes lost in more refined poetry. But what do you mean by inner and outer ears? What do these do for your poetry and do you sometimes wish poems in or out of the genre had these attributes?
The outer ear refers to how things actually sound, whether spoken word or music. How the poem sounds out loud in front of an audience or alone with a mirror. I don't know how many times I've heard people say, "I never understood that poem until hearing read out loud". The way a poet reads his work often clarifies its meaning, and the relationship between the musician(s) and audience creates an understanding, or vibe. It's always a two way thing. The inner ear I guess would be more accurately labeled the inner voice, the dialogue that translates into words, sentences, stanzas and poem, or with music, the notes. My most interesting work seems to come from my inner voice. It's not just an intellectual process. It goes deeper. There's room for all kinds of poetry be it intellectualized, instinctual, transcribed from a trance, or lifted from the notebooks of your therapist. I wish only for open minds between all concerned. Read what speaks to you, and accept the fact not everyone will agree with your taste.

And yet you said Bruce Boston called you a visual poet. This does not mean that you are devoid of the other senses, but what does this mean and why, in light of your fascination with the guitar? Was this an entry fee for your brand of speculative poetry?
In reference to my first chapbook, Letting the Eye to Wonder, Bruce commented that my poems were very visual and asked if I also painted or was into photography. I wasn't really into either, other then doodling in the margins on occasion and snapping an arty photo once in awhile. I am very observant though. I definitely do not go through life with blinders on. One of my friends says I'm acutely aware of my surroundings all the time. He thinks I'm paranoid. I beg to differ. From my detailed observations sometimes there comes a poem, which with a little luck, ends up sounding nice as well. I'm not sure what you mean by "entry fee", but whatever is going on with my sense of sound and vision seems to be working, at least for those who buy my work, editor and fan alike. Most artists are multi-talented, the successful ones finding which medium they are strongest in, and build a career. For me, the energy I once put into music now goes into writing. It could have gone either way in my mind, but it finally tilted towards writing. I've played guitar since high school while my interest in poetry began in college. I guess the stronger of the two inspirations won out in the end.

Do you also take your visual aspect to include the way a poem looks on the page? What do you hope to achieve when you lay out the poem? Nearly all in your collection are symmetric. But not "Virtual Artist" or "Cryogenic Dreams" -- setting up what initially appears as symmetry to break it off -- why not?
I'm aware of the how the poem looks on the page to some extent, but usually it's just being conscious of the length of the line, unconsciously trying to conform to the normal page size of your typical small press digest. This is an old habit which I need to cure. The truest way would be to type out the line the way it comes out of my mouth, each line as long as need be to make its point, (I believe Robert Duncan did this in later poems) or the length of the breath involved to make my statement. Luckily, I'm short winded so it might actually work. In "Virtual Artist" and "Cryogenic Dreams" I wrap up with a dangling, single line stanza simply because I had nothing else to say. I could have fluffed it up with a bunch of adjectives or something, completing the symmetry, but why overkill. These one line endings are like signposts announcing reality ahead once again.

You say that that Ray Bradbury, Charles Bukowski, and William Carlos Williams have all taught you something (not surprising though guessing all three is). What? When you read poetry, what makes you sit up and say, "I want to do that!"?
Bukowski showed me how to keep it simple, Williams something about form (though I never felt comfortable with the 'variable foot', nor could I get away from standard punctuation), and Bradbury the use of poetic metaphor. I've learned from others as well. Good writers can learn from each other, even after they've found their own voices. I guess what makes me emulate the other poets I read is their style. But only if style is combined with content. I like Bruce Boston's poetry because it's so beautifully written, but also because it relates to things speculative that also interest me. I also like Billy Collins, whose work isn't really sci-fi oriented, but is truly mysterious and familiar at the same time, with a quirky kind of humor thrown in for good measure. I wish I could write as well as they do, even just once in awhile.

Do you have another collection forthcoming? Can we expect more of the same or a divergence into new-found territories (at least new to you)? Do you have a working title?
I've put together another chapbook sized collection, with the working title The Other Side of the Lens, which will be published by Dark Regions Press later this year. It includes 29 poems, with some more of the same; my poetic tinkering with time and space, the 'alien' question, sci-fi culture, and a few new oddities. The word "lens" in the title reflects levels of meaning within the collection as a whole. My poems seem to be getting longer, but I've pretty much stuck to the same forms. Lately, though not included in this work, I've been writing more horror related poems, even using the cinquain form for a series of them. Perhaps this new subject area just reflects the times we are now living in, the darkness that is building with each news cast.

Literary divination always sits next to Impossible on the Stupid-Interview-Question Express since it requires a good deal of patient observing and testing hypotheses, but what and where do you see the future of SFP? Has the face of SFP changed since you've been observing it? If so, what would you attribute to the cause?
I've only been "observing" the sci-fi poetry field for about a dozen years. It's been around longer than that, with a kind of unofficial milestone being laid in 1978 by Suzette Haden Elgin when she founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Before that, sci-fi poetry was often times fan written, published in the pages of fanzines, and not taken very seriously. The "face" of sci-fi poetry hasn't changed all that much in my estimation. It seems to have always had room for all kinds of styles of poetry, and cross-genre inclusion -- fantasy and horror poetry along side of science fiction related poetry. Some of the more recent poets that stand out in my estimation, such as Timons Esaias, Mario Milosevic, Laurel Winter, and David Kopeska Merkel, are adding nicely to the field. I've also noticed how some sci-fi poets have grown over the years, perfecting their craft and producing poems that could just as easily grace the pages of respected literary magazines. Of course there's nothing wrong with being published in genre publications, but it would be nice to get the word out beyond our strange little niche. We live in a science fictional world, so it's only logical that poets would reflect upon it in their work. One change I do see is the marketplace for sci-fi poetry. Webzines will replace paper ones to a larger degree, especially the small press ones, to get the overhead down to zilch. This may be an advantage to the poets because it frees up more funds to actually pay for the poems. I still prefer the paper copies though. I'm not crazy about literary correspondence via email either, but that's another story. One other thing that seems encouraging is the growing number of science fiction conventions that include poetry panels. It's a good sign. Sci-fi poetry, and science fiction, will always be around as long as the future stays one step ahead of the present.

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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