Today, I have the honor of interviewing a poet and long-time friend, Clifford Brooks. Clifford was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, and his book The Draw of Broken Eyes and Whirling Metaphysics, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Clifford, tell us about your book.
To begin, the book is actually a two-in-one volume with an epic at its conclusion.
Whirling Metaphysics includes everything from childhood memories in Oglethorpe County, to internal theological debates and rowdy, Byron-esque nights attending Shorter College in Rome, Georgia. These poems jump from teenage angst in Athens, to the first unsure strides into manhood around Pickens County. I devote a portion of Whirling Metaphysics to my passion for jazz, punk, classical, and all the gorgeous musical genres in-between. Music is the driving force behind my desire to write poetry at all.
To close out Whirling Metaphysics, you’ll find my homage to Dante and all the misery I witnessed working for the Department of Juvenile Justice, then later, for The Department of Family and Children’s Services, the epic The Gateman’s Hymn of Ignoracium. To cope I channeled the grief into this epic that lays out a fourth afterlife previously unknown to man worse than The Inferno. I originally never planned to publish it. (I do want to add here that in my decade with social services I witnessed far more positive change than negative. However, the bad was – real bad.)
The Draw of Broken Eyes is in essence a love letter as I dealt with a broken heart and the usual “what’s-it-all-mean” conundrum of a mid-life crisis. This book mentions a few adventures from younger days, but it primarily focuses on two tumultuous years in Athens, Georgia (2010-2012). Both books bump up against battles with bipolar disorder and chemical dependency issues that cropped up by trying to self-medicate.
When dealing with the most sensitive topics I remove all unnecessary sentimentality and the pitfalls of nauseating melodrama. I believe that those are cheap tools of writing, and ultimately damage a poem’s integrity. In both books I worked to show “the whole me”, which at times isn’t pleasant to be around. These poems were also composed in a stark, straight-forward manner that does not glorify my behavior, nor ask forgiveness.
I like that your book is about a real journey, that it covers the blissful days of childhood, the angst of teenage years and the internal conflicts that arise as we enter into the “real-world” and see other’s who have suffered more than ourselves. I believe many people have a similar life’s experience though most writers are afraid to really open up and expose their raw innards through their creativity. I tip my hat to you for your bravery, Cliff. And your award nominations indicate that many others do as well! Tell us how it is you became an author. What was your journey?
I started writing short fiction in the fifth or sixth grade. After my mother persuaded me to enter, I got honorable mention in a contest held in middle school that showed me I might have a knack for the writing life. Until then I didn’t feel as if I was “good” at anything in the academic world, and so drifted between activities without much interest. I loved learning, but I always played the Huck Finn staring out classroom windows, daydreaming. Creative writing helped me get connected to public school, and other people, as I realized early-on realistic character development depended on meeting/learning/memorizing various types of individuals. I have always been, and still am, an avid people-watcher. Yet, the book illuminates my inability to truly sync with what’s around me as I do tell stories many times as an observer and not a participant. This restlessness has been a primary catalyst behind my writing, and still is as I build bridges into the mainstream.
Through high school/college I continued to create prose and built a name for myself through magazines and contests as an adept fiction/humorous non-fiction writer. I dabbled in poetry, but nothing that I thought was serious beyond the affections of a current love interest.
After college I did freelance writing for magazines and submitted articles to The Pickens County Progress while I pulled a day job with social services. During this time I felt the pull of poetry as I also tooled on a novel I still haven’t finished. A literary agent early in 2003 or 2004 looked at all my creative writing and decided that a book of poetry should be my introduction to the literary world.
For the next two years Whirling Metaphysics was composed and edited. In this time I worked with Allen Ginsberg’s editor, Larry Fagin, who gave me my initial, hard lessons in artistic honesty, deletion of any superfluous words, and creation of sharp, useful imagery. I took those lessons into the editing of The Draw of Broken Eyes
I left social work to pursue writing full time. To live a life at the mercy of the Muse I continued freelancing, web content writing, landscaping, and various odd jobs too numerous to mention here.
John Gosslee Press put both books under contract and decided to publish them together since the story they told appeared to demand it. There was a fear from the publisher that if someone bought one book and not the other, that person would feel they were missing a piece of the puzzle. I ultimately agreed.
In August of 2012 the book was released and has since been nominated for the Pulitzer, Georgia Author of the Year, and three Pushcarts. The fact that I was nominated goes far beyond anything I expected. I am still touring for the book and doing radio/magazine interviews. As long as you stay true to your work, and do good writing with good people, great things happen. It’s simply a matter of what you’re willing to sacrifice upfront in order to come out clean at the back end. (That’s another story altogether.)
I’d have to agree that writing takes a lot of sacrifice. The amount of time and energy that goes into completing a book is akin to getting a Masters Degree, and yet there is no promise of reward for the effort. I always say that you must write solely for the love of writing. So what’s in the future? Are you working on anything right now?
Right now I am over halfway through my second book, Athena Departs. This book picks up where the last two left off. What has yet to be written has yet to be lived. New poems are developing now as I move back to North Georgia and work with some amazing people turning my first book into songs. My love of music seems to have come full circle. In this collection of musicians are amazing people like Josh Hathcock, Shawn Jacoby, Braden Baxley, and Joe Milford who are bringing the written word into a symphonic collection that honestly humbles me to join. There will be readings with these brilliant folks playing live as 2013 closes and 2014 begins. It’s a groovy feeling to be 38-years-old and just now getting into so much fun.
Another small project I am working on, born from this music venture, is a group of poets, prose writers, photographers, musicians, philosophers, and visual artists from the South pooling their resources to inspire/cross-pollinate what this part of the country has to offer. There is no missing the fact that I am a Southern writer, and I feel that there’s a gap in what the world is seeing today in not only creative writing, but other forms of expression below the Mason-Dixon. My partner in crime here is college professor, published poet, and best friend Stan Galloway. This deal is just in its infancy, so in a few months I’ll let you know how that’s going.
Sounds very exciting. When these musical versions of your poems are available online, please let me know so I can tell my readers about them. Where we can find your book, website, and FB page?
The homepage for my publisher, John Gosslee Books, and its affiliated print literary journal, The Fjords Review, is: http://www.fjordsreview.com/press/index.html
My personal website is: www.cliffbrooks.com
In the mad rush of multi-media, I have three Facebook pages:
One for my general thoughts on life, music I’m currently digging, friends I’m jabbing at the moment: https://www.facebook.com/charles.c.brooks.777
One strictly for information about my book, new reviews, and touring/reading dates: https://www.facebook.com/CharlesCliffordBrooks3?ref=hl
One where I promote those in the art world I admire, and welcome anyone to submit for possible posting: https://www.facebook.com/charlescliffordbrooksIII?ref=hl
My Twitter account: @CliffBrooks3
You can find my book for sale:
Author photo credit: Aisha Cleapor
Clifford, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. I’m always pleased to meet poets who must write from such an emotional place—I think many writers can take a lesson from you as I have. I can’t wait to read you next book!