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10 Questions for Acie Clark

We knew what we would lose before we had it, 
but I know why I stayed.
When I close my eyes, I can still see
our kitchen skin and half a lemon left there,
turning in on itself like the fists
our mothers made in every cardinal direction,
and how late it was in the afternoon.
You were rinsing out the soup pot.
The sun had already lost track of its day
but all these kids were still out there,
hurtling past on past year's bikes.
A season simply became another season,
a year another year, back then. 
—from "Epithalament," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote. 
My first poem was essentially poetic karaoke with “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. I had stolen my brother's iPod Shuffle for a trip to visit my grandmother in Flint and he had it on there. I was so taken by the idea that this song could make me feel things that I had no personal-narrative context to feel (I must have been about eleven at the time?) and so, I guess how people take apart TVs to understand how they work, I did the same thing with that song. I wanted to know if it was the lyrics or the music or some combination of them that had such an effect on me. It super didn’t work. Turns out, the song really is the sum of its parts. But! To this day, I know I’m onto something good when I feel that current of curiosity, when the process feels like the whole point, when I surprise myself with what happens.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I owe everything to the poet Tiffany Melanson, who saved and started my life. My greatest treasures are the books I have by Jean Valentine, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Garth Greenwell. These books have been some of my dearest friends and teachers for years now. I have poems taped around my apartment, on mirrors and things, that remind me of necessary lessons: “i am not done yet” (clifton) and “these are the long weeks” (Kelly) and “if we can make, from tenderness, a revolution–––” (Phillips). This last year has been shaped by Yiyun Li, Brandon Taylor, and Rebecca Gayle Howell’s work, which has been an incredible gift, and has marked a clear before/after in my life as a writer. I’ve been in community with many writers who have changed me, and I am always learning from them and looking toward their work, especially Bessie Flores Zaldívar, james mckenna, Kate DeLay, and Sandy Longhorn. I am endlessly grateful to Martín Espada, Samuel Ace, Andrea Lawlor, and Kwoya Fagin Maples, both for the work they’ve given the world and for their mentorship.

What other professions have you worked in?
I currently teach playwriting and poetry at the University of Central Arkansas. I’ve been so lucky here; our students are remarkable. Teaching feels like an integral part of what being a writer means to me, though it does feel like a different hat. Farming feels similar. I’ve worked on farms or in gardens most of my life, and I come from farming people. Most of the time I spent in grad school, I worked with Snows Bend Farm in Tuscaloosa, AL. I’d work on campus one day and on the farm the next. I wrote a lot of poems during slow winter Saturdays working our market table. I’ve also done landscaping and I’ve worked in housekeeping. I’m not any good at social media, but I used to write copy for an online farmers market—it is surprisingly difficult to write a practical description of what butter is.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a rodeo star. I did barrel race in the child rodeo scene of Jacksonville, Florida, but it was a very short career.

What inspired you to write this piece?
The form comes from Brenda Shaughnessy’s “Ephithalament,” a poem in her first book, Interior with Sudden Joy, which combines the wedding song with the lament. I have always been drawn to hybrid work that resists the hyphen, that insists on a new vocabulary, that creates new possibilities through its invention. This piece also borrows a trick from dramaturgy: the play within a play. In this poem, there’s a story being told and there’s the memory of being told a story. We often talk about the past to explain who we are, who we have been, who we could be to each other. Poetry, like theater, offers us a stage where the past can come back, and can happen again. I think this is a gift and a burden of the lyric, and I needed to write a poem that could move through these uneasy layers of narration to talk through this particular grief.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Karen Dalton always has something to say to me, something I need to hear.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I like to light a candle and I always write first drafts by hand.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’m in absolute awe of weavers. And the bassoon.

What are you working on currently?
I have spent the last six months trying to write a sonnet every day, but now I’m in the process of trying to re-learn how to write a poem that is not a sonnet and planting our spring garden at the Faulkner County Public library.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng, and I have already started it over.


ACIE CLARK is a trans writer from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. They’re currently teaching as a visiting assistant professor in poetry at the University of Central Arkansas. They recently received their MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama, where they worked as the online editor for Black Warrior Review. Their work can be found or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, Nat. Brut, American Short Fiction, Foglifter, and the Opal Age Tribune.

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