November 01, 2014
Interview with Seth Clabough
About Seth Clabough
Seth Clabough is a professor, editor with the James Dickey Review, and published scholar, poet, and fiction writer. His writing appears in places like New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, London's Litro Magazine, Citron Review, Aesthetica: the Arts & Culture Magazine, Magma Poetry Quarterly, The Chaffey Review, Sixers Review, Oak Bend Review, Routledge Taylor & Francis' Women's Studies, and elsewhere. His debut novel has been picked up for representation by Inkwell Literary Management in New York.
1. What inspired your poem, “Sorry to Interrupt”?
SC: I was driving and on my cell phone with the radio turned down low when I thought I heard the lady on NPR say something like and girls rush off to polish the shoes of evening." Naturally, I immediately hung up on whoever I was talking to and turned the volume way up only to find that it was a report about a panda in China who'd assaulted a zoo keeper with a gold-plated xylophone they'd been training him to use to communicate musically (that wasn't it, but you get the idea—it was a story totally unrelated to the line which I'd obviously misheard). I found the image made me feel something and I wanted to create a little world around the line in a poem that would provide a logical context for such an image and suit the feeling it'd coaxed up in me. This event with mishearing the radio has led to another published poem, too. I'm not suggesting aspiring poets drive around with their radio at a whisper, but, hey, it's worked for me a few of times.
2. What is the biggest occupational hazard in writing?
SC: Well, you'll loose money doing it, but everyone knows that. No, I think Haruki Murakami, that famous Japanese novelist guy that maybe a lot of Americans haven't heard of, said something like fiction writing is just daydreaming with purpose. I don't know what it's like for other writers—and I know Jonathan Franzen thinks it's complete bullshit—but often when I'm writing I only see what I'm imagining and don't see anything that's actually around me anymore or even realize, for stretches of time, that I'm typing at all. More people would probably be familiar with this experience when they're reading a book they're into and don't remember turning the pages because they're so engaged. It's become exactly like that for me to write—at first with only novel writing, but now it happens with short stories and poems. Forgetting what's around you and who's around you for large stretches of time can be wonderful, but it can make you an inadvertently rude person to hang out with and it can be hazardous, too, especially when you get to that point as a writer/poet when you're composing and daydreaming as you're driving places.
Perhaps writers and poets that suffer from Murakami's purposeful daydreaming ought to have special permits or a sticker that says, CAUTION DAYDREAMING WRITER ON BOARD—ERRATIC DRIVING LIKELY. I keep thinking, despite his fine writing and elegant swimming strokes, how awful a driver Murakami must be—a dangerous bastard to share the narrow roads of Tokyo with.
3. What was the greatest thing you learned in school?
SC: Self-motivation. When you're a professor everyone seems to think you must have always been super smart. Not me. I was pretty much a dumb jock in high school who daydreamed and doodled his way through classes. When I wasn't ballin' on courts and fields I was studying the growth rate of skunk cabbage in the moist bottomlands of Appomattox County or watching He-Man and eating a whole bag of Doritos. I think I may have had a .6 GPA after the fall semester of my freshman year in college. I enjoyed having fun, if you know what I mean, and often didn't quite, like, you know, going to my classes and whatnot. I was threatened to be punted out for academic reasons and that was the best thing that could've happened. College put me in a position where it was "rise or fall" and I went for it head on and just tried to dominate the courses the rest of the way the best that I could. That sort of challenge can be hard for fun-loving daydreamers, but college taught me I could do it and after that the graduate schools were easily managed.
4. Do you have any recommendations for the perfect pen?
SC: YES. PILOT Precise V7. (You're welcome.)
5. What is your favorite word?
SC: It changes all the time. Right now, it's probably "OH!" because this is my favorite thing EVER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6KTNhruTPA. If not "OH!," then it's a nonsense word that appears in a book I'm writing (but may never finish) for teens that takes place in space. There's a massive, green, furry animal in the book that the kids discover on a wandering planet. He has a small brain, sharp teeth, and big, surprised-looking eyes, and he passes gas when he's nervous. He's nervous A LOT. The onomatopoeic word for the sound of his gas is—HERNT—which to me sounds like a cross between air escaping a green balloon and the sound of that little horn you see on a clown's car at the circus. Too much? Probably.
6. Sum up your poem in 8 words.
SC: Well-meaning people often just make things worse.
7. What are you currently working on?
SC: I'm the restless type and often have more things going on than I have any chance of ever finishing. For example, I've got three books that I'm working on (two are literary fiction and the other is the young reader's book I mention above). I've got three poems that I've just sent out for publication and three more that are works in progress that I'm actively tinkering with. I've also written conference papers I may be presenting—one is a paper on masculinity and mythogenesis at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association Conference 2014: The Ebb and Flow: Navigating the Changing Landscapes of Feminism and the other is a paper on quantum theory for the Conference of ELINAS on Physics and Literature at the Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Nuremberg, Germany. Until a work is published, you're still working on it in some fashion. Completed scholarly articles that are under consideration for publication include Upbeat Fiction & The Problem of Psychological Realism, Mythogenesis and the Masculine Ideal: Flawed Men in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House,Authenticity and the Unknown: the Role of Truth and Memory in the Practice of Writing Fiction,Franzeniacs, “Downer” Fiction, and Authentic Realism: Creating fiction that doesn’t fixate on misery, violence, ugliness, and despair. Articles currently in progress but not out to journals include Logical Progression: An Argument for the Use of Foreign Films & Graphic Novels in Composition Courses, The Fully Supported Writer: Structuring a Formal Tie between Writing Centers and FYW Courses, The Benefits of ePortfolio Use in Freshman Composition & Rhetoric Courses, Without a Net: Academic Communities, Unrehearsed Intellectual Journeys, & Only Teaching What You’ve Never Taught Before, Hidden Dissent in Ashgar Farhadi's _A Separation_ (Iranian Film, 2012), Assumptions & The Rug Beneath Us: Why Percival Everett Wants Us to ”Feel Like Shit.” Is this way too much information? Sure, but you did ask.