In the middle of September, I had the pleasure of chatting with Clint Margrave. He indulged my musings, after reading his book, The Early Death of Men, by answering questions about writing, fathers, religion, and of course, poetry in general. Below you will find the conversation that took place, and be impressed by Margrave’s intelligence and insightfulness.
Denise R. Weuve: I love the two parts you divided your book The Early Death of Men, into Bodies and Minds but I was wondering if in each section they were put together chronologically.
Clint Margrave: That’s interesting. They’re not. But some of the earlier poems are in the first section. What made you think that?
DRW: Kind of the linear story that can be set by reading each section through, and as you read on there is a maturity that seems to grab hold of the later poems of bodies and a reverse cycle in minds.
Clint Margrave: Well, that’s true in a sense. Though the poems themselves are not chronological, there is a sense of narrative to the whole book. And that is both intentional and somewhat unconscious. I also write a lot of fiction, so maybe that emerged instinctually as I was putting the book together.
DRW: I think the narrative nature of the majority of your poems is what pulls the reader in, as in “The Bisous Ban”, the themes that run through your poems, such as the father son relationship, and your father’s death. To have that kind of relationship built with your reader you had to write very candidly so may I ask how difficult or not was it to write about your father.
Clint Margrave: My father passed almost six years ago. A number of the poems that ended up in The Early Death of Men came from another manuscript, a memoir in verse, of sorts, called Negligence that dealt entirely with my father’s death. And someday, I hope to publish as it originally was intended.
At first, it was just a way of grieving. I spend about three months just writing in a journal and eventually sculpted everything into about sixty poems. Much of it was investigative as my father and I weren’t very close and I was trying to come to terms with the enormous grief I felt by his loss and the sort of disconnect we had in our relationship.
Hence, Negligence. In some ways, the negligence of our relationship.
DRW: The poems are quite powerful, I can only imagine what Negligence will be like.
Clint Margrave: Thank you for your kind words about their power. It wasn’t intentional! Or rather, I didn’t feel I had much control over what came out.
DRW: I think that is a characteristic of great writing, having little control of what comes out, but complete control of the dreaded revising/editing process. I would hate to think of the poet that controls every word that leaks out of his pen.
Clint Margrave: Strangely, editing and revision is what I enjoy the most! I hate drafting in some sense and having to live with not getting it quite right.
DRW: Hats off to you, Clint. I’m good to through the first three drafts, then I get mad at myself for not catching edits earlier.
Clint Margrave: Well, I’m not saying it’s fun. If I am at a place in a poem where I feel like there is a good ending and I can work something up to it, then I enjoy the process. But believe me, I’ll work for 8 hours, bug-eyed, on a poem, until I literally don’t know what I’m reading anymore.
I don’t always know how to take a break. And I can’t stop until it’s right. Sometimes my wife will have to pull me away. I got diagnosed with OCD a few years ago and things made a lot more sense!
DRW: I’m going to bring us back to the father-son relationships which sends me to a biblical place and your poems are wrought with biblical influence from “Forsaken” to “Thirty-three”. So I was wondering were you raised with a strong Christian influence or does it come from elsewhere?
Clint Margrave: No, I wasn’t really. My mom had some latent Christianity and my father was into Carl Sagan. I took after my father in that sense. At the same time, though I find many aspects of religion deplorable, I’ve always been obsessed with existence even if I was an atheist by 11. Which also coincided by spending the 6th grade at a Christian school – coincidentally or not coincidentally actually.
But I think what really interests me is the psychology behind belief.
I never understood how people could believe some things. At the same time, I love narrative and stories and myths and hell, Don Quixote is one of my favorite books, so in some sense I can see how one can attempt to make up his own mythology. Or be drawn to mythology rather.
DRW: That being said, I sort of see The Bible and all religions as a mythology (of sorts) to draw from. When you write are you aware of the gravitas of adding the biblical or is it simply there because of your interest.
Clint Margrave: [You] read my mind! Can you elaborate on what you mean specifically by gravitas? [Do] you mean the gravitas of its importance to people?
DRW: As in the weight religion carries with it.
Clint Margrave: I am absolutely aware of the gravitas of using and sometimes even mocking the bible. I don’t think religion is something that safe from criticism. In fact, I think the opposite. So in that sense, I don’t back away from a good fight. That being said, I don’t mock the bible for its beautiful stories and poems, but rather as an attack on a literal view some have of it.
DRW: Your poem “Marc Chagall:The Juggler, 1943”, which is an Ekpharis poem but it is strewn with condemnation and then simply dismisses religion I think shows what you are talking about.
Clint Margrave: At that same time I may mock religion, I think that poem could be a reminder not to take anything too seriously when it comes to ideology. Although, I spend the rest of the book taking things seriously! That was a fun one.
DRW: As I was reading your book, I sort of felt that the poem we just talked about, “The Role of Art”, “Darth Vader.., “Bar’d” kind of had a different feel to them then the others, like a bit more risk taking. Did you feel like you were flexing your poetic muscle or was it your everyday wit?
Clint Margrave: For me, those poems are all written during different eras, even a few years apart so it’s hard to make the same connection. However, I think I can see what you mean, as the book is interspersed with a lot of other narrative and heavy stuff, they do differ from that. And I definitely agree there. I think I might have been having more fun when I wrote those ones.
DRW: They are fun but really statements on society. So they serve their higher purpose, as it were?
Clint Margrave: Sure. Even when I’m having fun, I can’t seem to shake making some kind of commentary.
DRW: Obviously as a writer you always evolve (well good writers do). Where do you see your writing heading now.
Clint Margrave: I do see my writing evolving, though I’m sure where exactly yet. What I do know, is I have grown bored of some of the traditional ways I’ve written my poems. For instance, as much as I love narrative in poetry, I’ve grown really dulled by it. Some of my newer work, in some ways, moves away from straight up narrative. At the same time, I’d say my writing evolves as a consequence of how my thinking does. Usually, the stuff that turns into my poems is the stuff I’m thinking about, of course. I can say in a more practical sense, though I’ve ditched the narrative more or less in poetry, I’ve gone back to writing fiction this past summer and spent the whole summer drafting a novel in which I am about 3/4th done. After intensely focusing on poetry for years, and particularly these last five years, I needed to shift gears and give myself a break. Where I’m heading from there, who knows…
DRW: I want to end this with the rapid fire five questions.
1. What writer do you constantly go back to as a reader?
Clint Margrave: Melville, Hemingway, Celine, Bukowski, Houellebecq, Christopher Hitchens, Fernando Pessoa
DRW: 2. Where is your favorite place to write?
Clint Margrave: I generally write in my office. My wife and I have a two bedroom place. And there’s no place better when it’s early morning and the world is still asleep. But I’ll write anywhere really. I take notes all day, often, but most of the work is done there.
DRW: 3. What is the hardest part of being writer?
Clint Margrave: Writing. Having to create something out of nothing
DRW: 4. What was the best concert you have ever been to?
Clint Margrave: Haha! Echo and the Bunnymen, Universal Ampitheater 1988? Or maybe Jane’s Addiction at John Anson Ford theater in 1989? These are some early ones…of course. But I’m a big music fan so there’s a lot to decipher through!
DRW: 5. And finally, what advice would you like to leave fellow writers and readers of this article?
Clint Margrave: Read, read, read, everything you can. Not just contemporary works, but work from all eras. Not just poetry or fiction, but science, philosophy, history, etc. Also, forget publishing, try to extinguish ego altogether (an impossibility I know). And eventually, forget advice. Just sit down and write.
DRW: Giving up ego? Tall order, yet sound advice in all aspects of life.
Thank you so much for your time.