Monday, March 06, 2017


 with Susan Tepper

Clare L. Martin’s second collection of poetry, Seek the Holy Dark, is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press. Her acclaimed debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published by Press 53. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Melusine, Poets and Artists, and Louisiana Literature, among others. She founded and edits MockingHeart Review.

SUSAN TEPPER: ‘Seek the Holy Dark’ is an enticing title for a book of poems. What do these words mean to you?

CLARE L. MARTIN: The title of the book comes from the poem of the same title. I must go to it to explain what it means to me. In the poem, “Seek the Holy Dark,” there are supernatural beings—whether they are angels or demons, or something entirely different, I do not know. These beings exist alongside humans. The beings speak in the poem. Their speech in the poem is prophetic. The title “Seek the Holy Dark” is an imperative plea to acknowledge the darker aspects of existence in the spiritual journey. We uncover and discover through darkness to light. I suppose I am urging the reader to go with me into these dark places to find illumination and enlightenment for themselves. I also have tried to tap into that prophetic voice for many of the poems. Sometimes prophecy can be very mundane. My hope is that the language that I use rises to a level so that what is ineffable can be intimated. This ties into the declaration to “seek the holy dark” that enfolds the entirety of the poems.

ST: Though this is not a typical collection of love poems, your poems are inclusively about love in all its myriad forms.

CLM: In my belief system, God is love. So, spiritually, I want to aspire to my “godself” and be love. I believe Love energy permeates the universe, and is both the Infinite and the infinitesimal. Many of these poems are in pursuit of godliness and/ or are love poems to humanity. Even though I write about God, this book is not religious in any way. I think this will be obvious to any reader. Some might call these poems heretical or sacrilegious but I would protest those characterizations. I take readers to the very edge with me, and we come back from the poetic experiences wiser and stronger. I hope that doesn’t sound boastful. I mean it sincerely.

In the poems that are more typical “love poems,” I express with abandon myriad passions. The erotic or love poems are dangerous for me. They may not seem as daring as some poets have been able to express, but for me they are risking a great deal. If I cannot risk it in life, I will risk it on the page.
I also feel that the poems that are the most sensual express a womanliness that I have grown into. It has something to do with my mother’s death. Many of these poems were written after her death. I was both in mourning for her and in a sense freed as well when writing these poems. She was proud of me and loved me and I loved her, but I do not believe she would have approved of this book. I wrote it anyway. I had to. I do not mean that in a callous way. The unwritten words would have consumed me. This book is an exclamation of my personal womanhood and adulthood.

ST: Your poems deal with the displaced and disenfranchised people of the world and how they are inter-connected to the luckier people. Yet I would not categorize you as a protest poet. At least not in the traditional sense. In your poem BODY you write:
I am a million bodies / laid upon each other / a million bodies in a mass grave / …”

CLM: This poem came to me through viewing the shore at Dingle, Ireland as photographed by Myriam Jégat. I saw the stones as bodies and the imagery came from there. There is a fury in this poem that outpaces the language. I hope the reader senses this. My protest is against hatred, egoism, injustice, and malignancies of human character. I put my life on the line in each poem. I hope that comes through for the reader.

SFT: One of my many favorites in this collection you have titled “Woman in Prayer.” It seems to be a poem of repentance, though I’m not quite certain of that. What can you tell us about this poem that begins:
I am penitent; / poured on rail of the pew / somber Mary alit, / red-glassed candles / no smoke, but a hint / of myrrh…/”

CLM: This poem is a personal excoriation because of my own (at-the-time) perceived spiritual failings. I was raised Roman Catholic and left the Church at thirteen, before my Confirmation. I am a believer in God, but all my life I have been told I am doing it wrong because I don’t attend Mass and follow the Catholic Church’s teachings. I do, however, enter Catholic church buildings often for prayer and mystical solitude.

This poem is nearly the exact truth of an event. It occurred at St Anne’s Catholic Church in the city I live in. The poem was written shortly after I left St. Anne’s building. I suppose the overwrought contrition I felt expanded to many things in my life that I perceived as wrongdoings. I will likely never be free of “feeling guilty,” because of my upbringing. But, I am on a path of reclamation of my own sense of wholeness and inner peace. The book itself is a declaration of that purpose.
Thank you, Susan, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking questions and for caring enough about Seek the Holy Dark to ask them.

 Susan Tepper, an award-winning writer, has been at it for twenty years. Six books of her fiction and poetry have been published, with a seventh book, a novella, forthcoming in the fall of 2017. FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, is sporadically ongoing these past nine years.