Name Clay Sparkman
Where are you from
A little about yourself `ie your education Family life etc.
I was born and raised in Portland. I received a BS in Economics and Computer Science from The University of Oregon and an MBA from Portland State University. After working at a corporate job for a number of years (at the age of 30), I cashed in my stock options, sold most of my things, and travelled the world for about a year and a half. (This was one of the great highlights of my life.) Upon return to Portland, I decided that I could not have a job that didn’t allow me to travel extensively, and so I went to work for the family business. I travelled on average about 3 months per year until about 2005, when my son was born. I continue to run the family business (let’s just say, it’s finance/investment). I am also married to a Chilean woman (Chile is my second home), and thrive on raising a brilliant, talented, kind, and good looking 10-year old boy. I have been writing poetry since the 80s, on and off, but have decided this past year to devote myself to bettering myself as a poet, and I write pretty much every day. (It’s nice to just write—not depending on poetry for money or fame.)
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I nearly died of heart failure this year. That was exciting. I am 56, very fit, and have never had any major medical events. Needless to say, the whole matter was quite a surprise. I won’t go into the mostly humorous (as I see it now) detail here. Let is suffice for me to say that I’m doing fine now, and I feel a bit like a different person—in a good way. That may be why I am working so hard at developing my craft as a poet.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
With any kind of seriousness? It would have been in the early 90s. I dawned a beret, began smoking a pipe, and hung out with a like-minded poet friend. I think we liked the idea of being poets more than the actual work.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess I’m not there yet. I’m not really sure what it means. I write, and therefore I am. But am I a writer? I don’t think I’d describe myself as such, but I am certainly transitioning to a new place—and once there, I may feel that the title applies.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I wanted to be able to say that I had written a book—mostly. Of course, I had worked hard at some stuff that nobody had really seen, and I wanted to get it out there. Unfortunately, writing a book is not generally enough in and of itself. I fear that I failed at getting it out there. But I still love the little book.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes. I like to write poems that exhibit a sort of dry-humored poignancy. (But I like to fiddle about with other styles as well.)
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Well, this book was co-authored, and we both wrote down titles on scraps of paper for days on end. We must have considered 500 possibilities. Ultimately, we hit upon, A Place Between Two Voices, and we knew it was right. (The book was about sharing the process of poetic creation with another—my co-author, Tracy Groom. We didn’t write each poem as a twosome, but we worked at writing individual poems while smoking our pipes, wearing our berets, and consuming copious amounts of espresso, together.) Kim Stafford (the son of William Stafford, and a very significant poet himself) was kind enough to blurb our book. He wrote: “Conversations all through the city are invisible, inaudible, and gone—except for this one, this chain of curious, persistent poems back and forth between two friends and fellow zones of insight. Read and savor these poems, and then try some version of this in your life, if only a dialogue with the part of yourself that wants to know and to remember by writing down the days. This is the life.”
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
If I had a novel credited to my name, I would want my readers to grasp the idea that they should read more poetry.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
With regard to my poetry, I attempt to be somewhat out-there on one level, and quite realistic on another. In other words: It is my ultimate wish that you will read some wildly ludicrous story and go away feeling that something deeply personal (and real) inside of you has been verified (in some way).
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Both. Poems give the author the opportunity to do a little bit of everything (since they are short, and so many may be written). One of my great influences is William Stafford. He said, “I give you the end of a golden string/ Only wind it into a ball/ It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate Built in Jerusalem’s wall.” So I am always on the lookout for the golden string. Sometimes I find it in details of the external world, and other times I find it within.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I would have to say that my two favorite poets and mentors are William Stafford (who I have just introduced you to) and Billy Collins. There books have been very influential in showing how poetry can be written. I learned reverence from Stafford; I learned how to dignify humor from Collins; and I learned tenderness from both.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I tend to always be reading about ten books at any given time. Right now, I’m reading a most amazing anthology called, Kindle. It contains over a million books and only weighs ten ounces (if you can believe that). A few books that I’m currently reading: Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike, by Grant Peterson, Lost Horizon: A Novel, by James Hilton, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems, by Billy Collins, Twenty Poems that Could save America, by Tony Hoagland, and The Best American Poetry 2015.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
That’s a tough one. He isn’t new, exactly (depending on what that means), but I was recently introduced to the poetry of Sherman Alexie. What a delight? I plan to read all of his works.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m writing daily, maybe 5-6 poems per week, and I have recently decided to put some effort into getting my poetry published as individual works in some of my favorite journals and publications. Poets like to write, but we don’t like so much to work at getting published. (“Here’s another one. Drop it off at The Admin Department, on your way out, if you wouldn’t mind.”)
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’m going to go with Facebook. It allowed me to get my poetry out there without necessarily being published (it’s just not as much fun writing poems in a vacuum), and to hobnob with like-minded folks with regard to matters of writing, poetry, thinking, and such.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes. I would make the poetry better. I feel that I have moved up a notch or two in terms of abilities/sensibilities since last being published.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No, I really don’t. Now you’ve got me thinking.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure. Here is a poem that I wrote pertaining to my experience in the ICU this year:
The first few days in the ICU
The nurses wouldn’t let me leave
my bed. That forced me, naturally,
to adjust with regard to my
mechanisms of bodily waste
disposal. You rid yourself of any
notions of modesty real fast.
On the fourth day, the nurse came
and said, “Today you’re going to
get out of bed and sit in this chair.”
That didn’t seem too ambitious,
but I had pretty much surrendered
to the process at this point.
And so I got out of bed and I sat in
that chair. And I sat there. And then
I sat there some more. I mostly
watched TV, but of course, the
occasional patient wobbling by in a
hospital gown, clinging to an IV
stand, would most assuredly draw
my attention. I felt certain that I
was at their level, and that I was
ready to wobble similarly. But I held
to my chair as instructed–upright,
and forthright in my intention.
At last–maybe an hour had
passed–the nurse came to
relieve me of my sitting duty.
She was quite impressed, or so
she said, by how well I had sat.
“You did great,” she said, “really
great! Now let’s get you back into
bed.” I felt proud at first. I had sat
well. And then I felt grateful to be
returning to the safety and
comfort of my bed–a place where
not so much was expected of me,
a place where I could dream of
a time when I too would wobble
through the hospital corridors
with nothing more than a
hospital gown and an IV stand,
and reaching for the stars.
Copyright © 2016 S. Clay Sparkman. All Rights Reserved
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Generally, no. I work hard to make my poetry accessible to my readers. I try to meet you at least half way. It is at the core of my beliefs that most people don’t like poetry because they have to work too hard. Generally, it shouldn’t be this way. A good poem is like a good joke. If you have to explain it, the impact is lost. You should read it ten times because you want to, not because you have to. HOWEVER, I do get carried away sometimes, and–maybe mostly just for me—I write things that require some special knowledge and effort to fully understand and appreciate. Why do I do this? I think I do it when I can, because I can. Why did Joyce write, Finnegans Wake, the most unreadable book in the English language? It takes days to read the first page, and most people give up there, beaten down and exhausted by the effort. But Joyce was hell-ben on writing it. Why? It is a mystery.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’m going to go with Billy Collins. His poems are fun, funny, poignant, and thrilling. I am going with him because few other poets can write poetry of this nature so well.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not at all. Though there are plenty of “golden strings” out there, and maybe a research trip is on the docket.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Catherine Dalziel of Dalziel Design. She is a brilliant designer. Her company does work for corporations such as Wieden+Kennedy.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Being the Admin Department.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Every poem I write seems to teach me something. Don’t get me started.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
This sounds a bit boring, but: I would say, decide what you are seeking through writing, and then proceed accordingly.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
As a poet, I’ll let my work speak for me.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, but I believe that Green Eggs and Ham was one of my early undertakings. If that book doesn’t turn you into a life-long reader, then you must be a pretty jaded young tyke.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Almost everything makes me laugh. I seem to have a gift for finding the humor. Crying is another story. I rarely cry when I really should—when something is terribly cry-worthy. Yet, I tend to cry easily during corny movies and such. I’m pretty sure that it is a case of misattribution.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Well, there is a very long line for the Dalai Lama, so I would go with Leonard Cohen. The man amazes me. He is one of the most gifted musician poets that I have ever seen/heard, and he strikes me (in concert, print/video interviews, etc.) as being an exceptional human being. Most people don’t know this, but he is an ordained Buddhist monk.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
He tried. (I really hate to elaborate. I would hope that those two words speak volumes, all of their own accord.)
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Oh yeah. I love my road bike so much that I sold my car a few years ago. As your readers will have gathered by now, I love to travel, and it is not a small world, so I will never be able to travel enough. (I like Steven Wright’s comment: “It is a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” I play basketball with my son, and spend time hiking and camping with my family.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I mostly watch sports now. But I used to watch a few shows. My favorite dramatic series of all time was Deadwood (off the air) and my favorite comedy of all time was the original English version of The Office (off the air). As a native Portlander, I can’t help but love Portlandia. Some people don’t like being made fun of, but I think it is pretty well spot on.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
There is so much great food out there. (I suspect that global warming and obesity are somehow related.) Let’s just say that, as countries go, Indian Food is my favorite. My favorite color is always changing. I think it is currently in the process of morphing from fire-engine-red to taxi-cab-yellow. Music: Again there is just a feast of good music happening right now. The internet has allowed musicians to bypass THE BIG MACHINE, and there is a grass-roots renaissance at work. Of course, I mentioned Leonard Cohen. I wouldn’t call myself a Dead Head, but I have always loved the work of The Grateful Dead. I try to keep moving forward with regard to my musical tastes. I am kind of stuck on Angus and Julia Stone presently. They are an incredibly gifted brother and sister team out of Australia. Other musicians that come to mind: Ray LaMontagne, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Wilco, The Civil Wars, Cold War Kids, Pink Martini, Richmond Fontaine, Hey Marseilles, and Youssou N’Dour. There are just too many.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Well since I’m not a career writer, we can say that I would have done what I do: I arrange financing for various real estate projects (commercial, development, investment, and such) and all of my funding comes not from banks, but from private individuals and organizations. When that comes up at a cocktail party, people tend to shuffle away pretty fast. (This is completely understandable, but this realm of the industry really is more interesting than you would possibly imagine.) If I hadn’t done that, I would have been a Professional Traveller (somehow).
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I was going to put up a website of my work, but I was discouraged from doing so, as most of my poetry is not published, and I would be endangering the possibilities of future publication of those works. (What a relief. It was going to be a lot of work for The Admin Department.)