Gatherer’s Blog – Winter 2023-2024

“Gatherer’s Blog” is an invited feature that provides emergent as well as seasoned writers with opportunities to reflect upon aspects of their own writing processes.

Conveying the Words

Clark A. Pomerleau

Content Warning: Murder, racism, oppression

Like many writers, the preparation for publishing my first full-length poetry collection included inviting my friends and others who follow me on social media to consider purchasing my book during my press’s presale period. This subjected my people to yet more targeted advertising on social media, and I was the pusher: “Because you ‘liked’ Clark A. Pomerleau, you may like this book.” To assuage my guilt, I determined to gift my friends with free peeks at some of the poems in Every Day, They Became Part of Him without violating the spirit of my publishing contract with Finishing Line Press. So, I videotaped myself. Each of the ten weeks of presales, my peeps got three videos I made of me reading a different poem from the book. Then during the next eight weeks until the projected publication date, I appeared virtually to read one more poem weekly.

This plan addressed part of my own neurodivergence through a highly controlled product that centered my voice, but immediately created a problem for disability access. While I want people to read my poems for themselves, I dislike listening to someone read my poems to me because I am sensitive to how I think they should sound. Getting my cadence out there calmed my mind with the illusion that I could direct how poems would sound. Although I knew I should not reproduce the text that the editors were busily typesetting for publication, the lack of captions excluded people who could not hear the audio. Sometimes I included a written excerpt from the poem, but I did not find a full work-around.

The choice of poems and what I did visually to accompany the spoken word reflect a later stage of the writing process: ordering the poems for a book. Like my book, the poems I read for videos made a chronological story from my youth through the present. Often my poetry contains themes of: (1) identity broadly (including neurodivergence, depression, and anxiety); (2) queer identity and experience specifically; (3) memories of family and friends; (4) my adoration of nature; (5) spirituality that falls somewhere between panentheism and awe at the cosmos; and—especially for Every Day, They Became Part of Him—(6) reactions to my mother’s gut-wrenching decline from dementia. Even though a poem might combine themes, it was easy to give listening viewers a weekly variety.

To create a list of which poems I would read each week, I first assigned a color to each theme. As a kid and adult, I have color-coded myself to fit holidays, school colors, and then topics I taught. For my recordings I wore a shirt or a sweater and cap the color of the theme of the poem I read: white spirituality (an absence of color fits my lack of traditional beliefs), red identity (my favorite color as lifeblood spilled onto the page), pink-and-blue for trans and queer poems, green nature, blue family and friends (with a wistful tint after moving to help with eldercare), and black dementia (because it saturated my life). That way I could record all the poems in a theme, change, and do the next theme. Perhaps viewers would start to associate the color with the theme…or just consider me eccentric.

I tried to ensure that each week had two or three different themes and that there were uplifting poems about nature, the cosmos or spirituality, happy family memories, and queer joy. Scattered through the weeks were emotionally harder themes that usually centered on loved ones, bias against queer and trans people, or dementia. Of forty poems I videoed, I only included five about my reactions to my mother’s dementia. My family keeps expression of emotions so subdued that we cannot always quickly put into words what we are feeling. Poetry has been an avenue for that expression, and the videos added another dimension when I allowed my voice to crack or my appearance to convey griefs that ranged from the national to the home.

For example, before my mother’s aphasia became severe, I integrated into “To Reason with My Crooked Cap” her upset over the public murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin and three other policemen.

To Reason with My Crooked Cap

listen to the poem, read by the author

Mornings, sleep full of cat
I stumble up
to reason with my crooked cap

Son, a ray behind a cloud
walks with Dad
through an even-tempered day

Fight to spark from boredom
a puzzle, a wonder
a way beyond naps and chocolate

Mom on repeat
They killed that Black man
It’s awful. How could they do that?
Are they in jail?
There are people in jail who shouldn’t be
They used to not let Black people vote
They said they weren’t smart enough
You can’t say that about a whole group of people!

Your compassion and
ethics still sharp
you cry out against injustice
and make sure we share equal amounts of dessert

The poem’s imagery contrasts a mundane day with brutality. Waking alone with my cat and feeling “off,” getting to my parents’ house, walking with Dad, and trying to enhance Mom’s quality of life seem trivial compared to the news broadcasts that gripped her. If viewers connect the “I” of the poem with the middle-aged white guy they see, most could assume that the poem’s “Mom” was an even older white woman. Such a woman would have lived through the Civil Rights movements since the 1950s and still remembered despite dementia how much conditions had and have not changed. Visually, me sitting in my black sweater and cap in front of a fireplace with a placid landscape painting behind me contrasted starkly with the last seventeen minutes of Mr. Floyd’s life.

Those who read my chapbook or full-length book themselves will find more focus on word choice, rhythm, and lyric narrative than directives for how to read them. The lack of punctuation and contrast of short lines with enjambment invite readers to convey the words as they wish. My poems’ broad lessons in compassion or specific examples of queer experience, anxiety, joy, and loss do not require you to read them one exacting way. Despite having revealed my discomfort with hearing my poems read to me, I am always fascinated and thrilled when people share what they get out of a poem. The poems are wide open for interpretation. The videos have aired, the book is out, and I am trying to let go, so they have a life of their own with you.

Read the review of Clark A. Pomerleau’s book, Every Day, They Became Part of Him, in this issue of Wordgathering.

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About the Author

Clark A. Pomerleau (he/him) is a writer and teacher from Washington State. His full-length poetry book is Every Day, They Became Part of Him (Finishing Line Press, 2023). Finishing Line Press published his chapbook, Better Living through Cats, in 2021. Other poetry and prose appear in Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature; Peculiar: A Queer Literary Journal; Beyond Queer Words; About Place Journal; Lupercalia; Poached Hare; Coffin Bell Journal; and the poetry anthology, Welcome to the Resistance (2021). Pomerleau’s scholarly essays and book (Califia Women, 2013) historicize feminist diversity education, feminist views on sexuality, and trans-inclusive praxis.