Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides) recently interviewed poet Terri Kirby Erickson, in which she said, “If I can make it funny, I can stand it.” My head nodded in agreement, as I thought of the most consistently comical poet in our humble midst: today’s Web Wednesday guest, RJ Clarken. RJ is another poet whose work Walt and I have had the good fortune to enjoy on a regular basis at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides since 2009.
The title of your website is Lightverse – Just for Fun. Fun lightverse is what absolutely DEFINES you as a poet. Is your sense of humor cultivated, or natural? Does it play a large role in your family life?
Wow! This is really cool! Thanks, Marie – and Walt! You guys are such talents and such nice folks! I’m really lucky to have ‘met’ you at Poetic Asides!
Okay…Now let’s see…yeah – I think my sense of humor is something that comes naturally. Growing up in my house, humor was IT. We were always joking around and goofing off on one another. (It’s probably the main way we deal with the bumpy things in life.)
But more than that, we all just love a good laugh. My husband is a funny guy – and he says he married me because I laugh at his jokes. I met him at a hiking event – and he really did make me laugh all day that day. My kids are really funny too. You can imagine dinner at our house.
And after all, life’s too short to spend too much of it looking at the downside. You need to find the humor.
Your comic mind shines brilliantly in your book, “Mugging for the Camera” (VBW Publishing). I have it. I love it. It gives me the giggles.
Here is a piece to wet the appetite:
A Toast to Toast
A whiff of sourdough perfume
aroused me from my reverie.
I bee-lined for the dining room
which seems to happen every
time I long to thus consume
what ovens brown so cleverly.
Here’s to my crusty buttered toast …
It’s all I need to live. Almost.
Having a book under your belt (hooboy … I shouldn’t give you and Walt that much fodder), perhaps you could share with us a bit about the process. How did you go about choosing which poems to include, and organizing them for your book?
Most of the poems in Mugging for the Camera were already published elsewhere, in other journals and such, so very little in the way of editing needed to be done. I had the concept for the book in mind already, and so choosing poems was kind of easy.
Originally, I thought I would submit the book to a few places to see if there was interest. Interestingly, there was some interest, but unfortunately, as one publisher put it, it was funny, but she didn’t know how to market the book.
Apparently, when most publishers say they are looking for humor, they really mean some sort of irony that is really subtle. My stuff is more like bull in a china shop, although one well-known poet (after hearing some of my work at a reading) did tell me I was far more literary than I gave myself credit for.
So…I thought about it for a bit, and decided to self-publish it. I had the graphics and photography background, and this way, I maintained all the controls, which was kinda fun.
How did you choose your publishing company? If you don’t mind answering this question, have you been happy with the sale of your book? What do you do to boost sales?
I chose the publishing company I ended up using by doing my due diligence. I did a lot of research online (consumer reports, talking to people who used different companies, looking at books, etc.) and weighed the pros and cons of establishing myself as the publisher and using Lightning Source and other printer options. I thought about Create Space and Lulu too – since some of my writer friends had gone that route, but in the end, I decided this was the best option for me. As it turned out, I was pleased with my dealings with Virtualbookworm.
As for the sales, I’ve done reasonably well for a poetry book. I do readings at local venues and talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, my blog, etc. I’ve also done school and library visits where we do workshops about writing humorous poetry.
It isn’t often one sees a humorous sonnet, yet you managed to pull it off brilliantly in the following:
Sonnet CI – Lurking is the New Normal
O truant Muse what shall be thy amends
For thy neglect of truth just ain’t normal!
Both truth and beauty on my love depends;
But I need your help to write poems formal.
Make answer Muse: can we not then return…
‘Truth needs no colour, and beauty’s not fixed;
Else, who could write Ode to a Grecian Urn;
But best is best, if never intermixed?
Because…what is normal and what is not?
Anymore, I can’t say with certainty.
Sounds to me like a ‘word’ Gordian knot,
which leaves me frustrated, I guarantee.
So, c’mon, Muse; let’s both get back to work:
In the background, kindly cease to just lurk.
I have to say that it is hard for me to believe your muse would ever “just lurk.” Do you occasionally deal with writer’s block? How do you lasso your muse?
Funny you should say that, but my muse is a real show-off, so writers’ block has never really been the problem. It’s editing and scaling back that is!
I think I just heard Walt mumble something about kidnapping your muse. Not if I beat him to it. *sinister laugh* Moving on …
In addition to your wit, I appreciate your curiously cosmic vocabulary, and ability to rhyme uncommon words. Is this part of your M.O.? Or do you just naturally/unintentionally gravitate that direction?
I love words and wordplay. I do try to find unusual words so that I can force the rhyme. Haha! Really though, when I was a kid, my youngest sister and I were a bit competitive in the word department. We would do this thing called ‘Word of the Week.’ How that worked is that we would each find a word that we didn’t know. We’d look it up and then use it every chance we got for a solid week. By the time the week was out, the word was fully ingrained as a part of our lexicon.
You are also an expert in the use of poetic form. Not surprisingly, you have caught the eye of Robert Lee Brewer, where you have made his Poetic Asides “Top 10” list in each of the following forms: Rondeau, Monotetra, and Lune. Do you have a favorite? Is there a sestina form you shun?
No form should ever be shunned. The trick is to learn the rules. Then, if you know the rules – you can break ‘em!
There is more to RJ Clarken than light verse. You are also a photographer, graphic artist, and writer of middle grade and young adult fiction.
Let’s *ahem* “focus” on photography a moment. Please tell us how interested you are, and how serious. Do you ever pair your photos with your poetry?
I’m a very visual person. I love taking photographs. And yes, I do pair work. My blog has some stuff on it, but often, I find usable images elsewhere and borrow them with credit. I love having a camera in my hand. It’s kind of an extension of myself.
Do you have formal graphic arts training/education?
Actually, I do. I have a graduate certificate from NYU in web graphic arts. Plus lots of coursework in writing, graphics, photography and other stuff that has interested me along the way.
Mugging for the Camera was a project made completely by me. I did the page layout, the graphics, photography, etc. VBW just did the printing for me. It was a labor of love.
Do you get more enjoyment from penning poetry, or writing middle grade/Y.A. stories?
You know, it’s funny (not the haha kind, but still…) I like to write both genres. Most of my poetry is of the quirky, humorous kind, but I have written more serious pieces too on occasion. On the other hand, my mg/ya stories may have some humor in them, but the point there is to try and tell an interesting story (if I can.) I like to incorporate historical elements in them and sometimes fantasy/sci fi elements too.
For the prose, I am a research fanatic. I’ll start digging about some aspect of my story (in the pursuit of accuracy and NO anachronisms!) and it often leads me into areas where I never would have expected to find myself. It’s fascinating. And I often get to meet some very interesting people along the way. It’s astonishing how nice people are and how helpful too. You just ask them questions – and before you know it, you’ve learned some amazing things. And made new friends, in the process. But doing both kinds of writing (and the occasional non-fiction piece) give me the balance I really need.
I also credit my writing group. They’re a brilliant group of women who tell it to me straight and keep me from being too wordy.
In fact, that’s why I write in poetic form – or rather, how I started. It was an exercise to keep myself concise. After all, if you’re writing a 5/7/5 haiku/senryu, you only have 17 syllables to say exactly what you need to say.
Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? Please tell us what you remember about the experience. Did you immediately know writing would take a prominent seat in your life?
I cannot remember the first poem I ever wrote, but I do remember some of my early writings, way back in 1st grade.
Here’s an example:
Once, my teacher asked me about what my father did for a living. He was an accountant at the time, which I heard had something to do with bookkeeping. I’m not sure why. I didn’t know what a bookkeeper was, however, but it didn’t stop me from creating my illustrated story.
I drew a picture of a man standing on top of a pile of money and wrote: My dad makes books – he writes numbers.
My teacher had to call my mom to make sure my dad wasn’t really a bookie.
Somehow, those kinds of things have followed me throughout my life!
Anyway, thanks for the kind words and for highlighting me at Poetic Bloomings! You guys rock!
Thank YOU, RJ. If it is true that laughter is the best medicine, you are immeasurably good for our health!