Sunday, December 15, 2013

Author Interview: Charles Clifford Brooks III (Part II)

     Let's start with the titles. "The Draw of Broken Eyes" is one that evokes all sorts of unusual imagery. I am aware that the title is a variation on lines in "Ascension, First Floor Up," that says: "A giant toddler with tattoos/and broken eyes/It's the draw./Broken: She dances for your/broken eyes."  Talk about this poem, and how the title relates. Is the title/those lines referring to the "allure" of people who've seen so much pain that their eyes appear to reflect the anguish they've witnessed? Or are there as-yet-unfathomed dimensions to these lines/the title? The poem seems to be about a fantasy trip of some sort...literal and figurative trip, that is, given the surrealistic imagery in parts. Discuss this and please unabashedly correct any misunderstandings!

The creation of the title, “The Draw of Broken Eyes”, occurred during the same time as the second stanza in “Three Nights at the Plantation”.  “Three Nights at the Plantation” is a poem where each stanza represents an evening I spent in my family’s plantation house from the age of 8 to 32.  In the second stanza, I guess I was about 27, where two buddies and I were up late at the big house, boozing, getting into things that make a man think too hard, and we agreed on the truth that none of us understood women.  I made some dramatic statement like, “I don’t know why women bother with me when my soul must smell like a 

Less than a breath later, one of my buddies, slumped to the side of his leather chair like a tiny gunslinger with a bottle of Maker’s Mark, grumbled, “It’s because of your eyes.  
Women are drawn to your broken eyes”.

At the time I had no idea what he meant, but he was sure of it, and I knew he was right.  My friend who said it didn’t offer any other explanation, but instead drank more from the bottle and looked for his cigarettes.  The third of our group nodded in agreement and never looked up from his acoustic guitar.
About 10 years later, I was iced in at my dad’s house in Watkinsville, GA (near Athens) where I decided to write a woman a love letter in the form of a book of poetry.  I churned it out in three days, but lacked a title.  “The Draw of Broken Eyes” careened out of that furious creation, for at that time I felt emotionally/mentally broken, incomplete, and jagged around the edges.
“Ascension, First Floor Up” is one of my “dream-state poems” I created, as desperately mad as it sounds now, where I invented a place in my solitude where she was home with me.  Poems like this one are always opened in some sleepy state with a journey I’d like to take with her.  Somewhere within the piece also, I openly wonder what I did wrong to keep it in dreams – in this case it was due to the fact I wasn’t man enough to take care of two people - a toddler with tattoos and broken eyes - too broken, apparently, to see what I was supposed to do to fix all this mess.  I imagined in a safe place, far away, she danced to mend my broken eyes.  It was the draw.  For a cosmic reason beyond my comprehension we could share this binding love, but what I believed at the time, we couldn’t have it, and a home, at the same time.  That’s when the curious conversation from “Three Nights at the Plantation” flashed back to me and immediately became the title.

No part of “Ascension, First Floor Up” actually happened.  It was one of the love letters to her.

     "Whirling Metaphysics" - this title immediately drew me in because whirling is so evocative of dizzying states and metaphysics is subject that interests me ever since I studied Buddhism. The two words together is a startling yet oddly logical juxtaposition. Discuss the title and how it relates to the second collection of poems in your book. 

The “whirling” I found in my study of the Sufi faith regarding whirling dervishes.  I felt, and still feel, so much of that constant movement in my need to stay busy, engaged – anything but find myself bored.  “Metaphysics” is my favorite branch of philosophy, and the reason I write poetry.  My undying objective in life is to define the central thread of mankind’s Being.  Music inspired me to make words sing through verse, but the point was/is to try and reach beyond the ethereal film between us and “the Real” which I knew took a marriage of reason and faith.  (Here I give a nod to Boethius.)  This was/is the same combination I knew/know would be essential to getting a firm hold on my mood swings. 
“Whirling Metaphysics” is a book that seems divided into various poetic forms, rhyme schemes, and time periods – all the way to the epic “The Gateman’s Hymn of Ignoracium”.  The epic is my morbid Ode to Joy.  This book spans my life from childhood to the period in which “The Draw of Broken Eyes” picks up.  “Whirling Metaphysics” has no central theme.  It is as close to a photo album as I have in my possession.   Being bipolar, the constant movement of “whirling” with the deeply contemplative stillness of “metaphysics” is also to show the dual side of my nature. 

      The Beats - namely Ferlinghetti, but also Ginsberg and more obscure ones like Gregory Courso and Diane DiPrimia - seem to be an influence on your poetry. You do sort of bash the Beats a little in "Couch," but the influences still resonate. I am also aware of your Bukowski fetish, and can hear the ringing of his words/style throughout your book, the way you kind of alternate between clear, straightforward, plainspoken language and dense, opaque imagery. Bukowski is one that I have grappled with due to his misogyny, but he does have some truly lyrical lines and I see those in your poetry too. Talk about those influences, and the others you have mentioned.

I did not read a great deal of poetry before my agent decided that verse was the way I should be introduced to the literary world.  Once that was my vehicle into letters, I didn’t read any poets at all.  I was afraid that trying to “learn poetry” at that point would lead to me inadvertently using language too similar to an artist before my time.
Like you mentioned in “Our Couch”, I have to eat some crow because of that lack of poetic knowledge.  I have learned to enjoy a few of The Beats.  I can stomach about half of Kerouac, and less than that of Ginsberg, yet, when I found Ferlinghetti after I wrote the book, I did indeed stumble upon a kindred spirit.  Other poets with whom I find solace with include Rumi, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Rilke, Sandburg, Stevens, cummings, Bukowski (truly in his poem “Poetry Readings”), Simic, Aagard, and Bottoms. 

      I am also reminded of Zen/Japanese poetry in some of your works - the clarity, brevity, and mysticism. Poems like "Nightless Dreams," "Brevity," and even a poem like "Coffee House Layouts" with its direct language and stark imagery, some of it bound up in nature. Discuss this as a possible influence. Also discuss the themes of nature in your poems, as nature imagery/symbolism is prominent throughout. Discuss how growing up so close to nature has influenced you in your poetry. 

Growing up close to nature I found an inherent feeling of Zen.  Still today, out among trees, wind, and sun I am most myself.  I think that children today would be much more at ease in their own skin if they spent more time outside.  I don’t think there’s any truth to ADD and ADHD being “rampant” today than any other period.  When you remove youth from the natural elements, there’s bound to be some internal rebellion.

From the love of nature came the rise of the mysticism you see that was further fortified by the Southern Gothic-style stories I heard from my nanny, Virginia (the central character in “I Saw the Klan Today) that were akin to the Uncle Remus tales we know today.  The South has its own superstitions, myths, and magic not found anywhere else on earth.  I am proud of that heritage and, of course, it would make it into my writing.  I never sat down and decided to do that as some sort of propaganda, I simply write what I know. 

Natural themes in my poetry always go back to the state of stillness I am trying to find in the world.  The Transcendentalists are close family to me in literature.  Chinese poets like Li Po and Wang Wei took my soul by storm in college.  By and large, other than Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, Li Po and Wang Wei were the only poets I clung to for years.  From their influence I began to write much shorter poetry to force myself into the practice of making every word count.  I worked with the editor Larry Fagin for a while who really pushed this point home.  I credit much of my succinct use of language to Fagin’s careful tutelage.  (Here again is a link to Ginsberg that I find weird but not weird even today.  There are no accidents in the universe – enter a bit of Einstein.) 
Discuss the poems you mentioned.

From "The Draw of Broken Eyes":

1    August in a Bad Place

This poem is about the Girl of Broken Eyes.  It is actually a true story of us not being together, hard decisions we made in the early years before being together was even possible.  In this piece, for the first time in my life, I made the adult decision in romance to know we were too fresh to occupy the same space.  She left to do mission work in Africa where I had no idea if she would return, also aware that contact would be sporadic at best.  
Yet, deep down, I knew the decision was right.

2   Judas Noose Tavern

This poem is about being an alcoholic.  I developed this addiction around the age of 22 when my depression deepened due to a perfect storm of external and internal factors.  I reached to liquor as a form of medication and it, as it often does in these cases, ate me alive from the inside out.  It humbled me.  I grew a great deal from it.  I took a year off of college to sober up, returned to Shorter College, and then submitted this poem for publication in the school’s literary magazine “The Chimes”.  It was the poem that, among some other works of short fiction and non-fiction, got me into the National Creative Society as a Lifetime Member my senior year.

3    Prayer

This is a poem about my personal view of religious/spiritual faith.  We are all connected.  We are all swaying in the wind, in need of a firm foundation, while still able to find joy (without suffocating guilt) in life/other individuals.  Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” is my favorite song of all time and fit this poem’s theme perfectly.  It is one of the rare times I mention a song specifically so that the reader hears that tune when they read my words.  Again, from the American South’s feel that God and Old Man Scratch walk around with us more than we know, I make a mention that angels mill around the back roads and city streets as well, wondering why we don’t notice them, willing to throw dice with us to better understand our condition.

      Hallow Ground

This poem is about my father’s father, Charles Clifford Brooks Sr.  He in many ways, like my father, are, and always will be, larger than life to me.  My cousins, little brother, and I all call him “Big Dad”, not just as a nickname, but for a very good reason.  Big Dad embodies hard work, real social values, faith in God, and love of family.  His marriage to our grandmother, now passed on, who we called Ga Ga, is still the archetype of all that’s good in love.  I use the big house as a backdrop, the home where Big Dad grew up, in this case the house a living entity that looked upon me from its winding staircase, Charles Clifford Brooks III, and only able to smell the greatness of Big Dad on my clothes.  I do not think that I could ever stand tall enough to walk in his shoes or even stand in his shadow – only smell of his clothes.  Not by any doing of his, Big Dad is immensely supportive, but simply my admiration of him. 

5    Our Couch

This is a poem that illustrates another "dream state" where I invented that second reality where the Girl of Broken Eyes came home.  It’s an imagined perfect weekend we’d share.  She liked The Beats a great deal.  I was being playful with her in the opening stanza.  In my mind there was always a running dialogue when I felt so disconnected from everyone else.

From “Whirling Metaphysics”:

1    Six Chapters of Swerve

This is a three-and-a-half day play-by-play recording of rapid mood cycling in the life of a bi-polar.  I admire the musician Kid Cudi for his ability to talk about deeper subject matter that you immediately pick up on if you know the “special language” concerning mania/depression, but if you don’t, you don’t feel lost.  That’s what I wanted to do with “Six Chapters of Swerve”.  I add concrete imagery, but again the dream state I adore so much.  As a melody, I put a bit of Patsy Cline at the start to lighten the load.  This is not because she had any issues with depression; I just like to drive after sunset to “Walkin’ after Midnight”.

2    The Fifth Movement

This poem is an ode to all artists and a true telling of the sacrifice and reward of choosing a path that devours many who attempt it, persuade others to a more tame existence before oblivion, and rewards a few who can stick it out (without self-destruction) at the finish line.  I obviously hope to be one counted in the last-mentioned crew.  I worked hard to avoid melodrama or a sense that I was/am attempting to make the life of an artist sound any more rewarding or fulfilling than that of a doctor, landscaper, nurse, bread maker, or car salesman.

Photo credits: Aisha Cleapor and Ezra Letra

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