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10 Questions for Clare Welsh

In the heat, on the hardwood floor, I lay
            naked with an electric fan blowing hair in my mouth
                          and my wolfdog drooling on my thigh.
from "Love, or Grieving a Beast,” Volume 60, Issue 4 (Winter 2019)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first piece I wrote was in eighth grade. It was about the death of a friend’s white horse—an enormous animal, part Arabian,  part Percheron draft horse. I wrote about the burial. Maybe it was jarring for a child to see a bright orange bulldozer carrying such a gossamer animal to a grave of dirt and mud like the burial of a unicorn. But the truth is, farm life—and all of life—is full of unromantic facts like that.  The story was published in my hometown newspaper. I had a bit of an ego after that.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I would say Flannery O’Conner, Lucille Clifton, Tanya Taraq, Richard Siken, Margaret Atwood, Philip Levine, Walt Whitman, and Jericho Brown, to start. Mark Z. Danielewski’s books, particularly The Fifty Year Sword and House of Leaves demonstrate a level of dedicated obsession that inspires me. I love poetry books that give me an immersive world, recurring images, themes, or characters to follow.  But I also enjoy blues poetry strung together by fresh and sincere verse, a voice singing in the dark, like Yusef Komunyakaa’s work.

What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve been a bartender, waitress, a retail worker, a model, and a photographer.

What inspired you to write this piece?
This piece is my life. I wrote the poem as a way of holding a coming-of-age experience that felt immense and overwhelming.  What else could I do?  I poured that experience into the shape of a poem. I have a lot of poems featuring the wolfdog image. These animals are beautiful, but they’re also tragic characters: A wild, domestic chimera. The book manuscript I’m sending out now titled WOLFDOG is about my coming-of-age, my hometown, and a whole lot more.  As a woman who often feels trapped by social expectations of gender, I feel a kinship to wolfdogs, and I decided to write into that space.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and the woods around it.  My characters are rarely city people. If they are city people, they’re city people lost in the woods.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
There are songwriters and bands that inspire me—Bruce Springsteen, Courtney Love, Emmy Lou Harris, Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Chelsea Wolfe—as well as some lyrical post-punk bands like Swans, Bambara, Daughters, and Protomartyr. But, when I’m writing, I can’t listen to music with words. I have to listen to instrumentals.  I listen to orchestral versions of The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy soundtracks, which are so nostalgic and predictable I hardly notice them.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Because I’ve always had a day job, I write when I can. There’s no time to be precious about it. I write on buses, on lunch breaks, in the bathtub, before bed. I write on my phone, my journal, my laptop. Whatever’s available.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I have a group of two other writing friends, Ben Aleshire and Madeline Lavoie, who I sometimes send poem drafts to when I’m feeling emotional.  It’s good to have friends who are writers who are completely non-judgmental, who will sit with you through the early stages of your work. Sometimes I show lovers but, phew, you never know how that will go over.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I also work as a photographer and am also currently working on book of photographs. I would say my photographs come from the same world as my poetry.  If I had all the time in the world, though, I’d like to be a better singer. I write songs now and then, but I would love the time to flush out the demos into ballads.

What are you reading right now?
A few things! I’m reading Bruja by Wendy Ortitz, A Light in August by Faulkner, and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

CLARE WELSH is a writer and photographer based in Pittsburgh. A graduate of the University of New Orleans Writing Workshop, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Puerto Del Sol, The New Delta Review, Midwest Review, Peauxdunque Review, and elsewhere in print and online. Her chapbook Chimeras, is available through Finishing Line Press.

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