Tag Archives: Christine Klocek-Lim

Intermittent Visitors: Christine Klocek-Lim

  Christine Klocek-Lim spends most of her time daydreaming—which isn’t much different from what she did as a girl in northeast Pennsylvania, as a college student in Pittsburgh, as a twenty-something technical writer in New York City, and as a young mother in suburban New Jersey. For the past decade or so she’s been dream-surfing in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. She’s published a pile of romance novels, a few poetry chapbooks, and a bunch of short stories.


1. What is your writing process?

If you’d asked me that question ten years ago, I would’ve said that I collect words. I wrote only poetry at that time so my focus was on imagery and metaphor. When I had enough words, I formed them into a poem.

Five years ago I would’ve said I think of a theme (astronomy, clouds, angels) and go from there. Three years ago I’d have told you that I write an outline, then work on a book chapter by chapter.

Now that I’m focusing so much on novel-writing, I begin with my characters. I give them names and a history and something that affected them greatly in their past. When I’ve figured out who they are, I put them into a situation of conflict. The characters decide where to go from there.


2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Just keep writing. I don’t recall hearing this at some point in time and having some sort of realization. Rather, it’s the advice that everyone says over and over again. The more you write, the better you get at it. It takes a long time to grow comfortable with your voice. If you want to improve your skill, the only way to do it is through practice.


3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Disintegrate?

Disintegrate began with a scene that appeared full-blown inside my head: a girl lost by a river, at night. I knew that I wanted to write about what it felt like to be right on the cusp of adulthood, and since I love paranormal stories, I gave Felicity the ability to manipulate matter in a certain way. Of course, she has no idea why she can do this or how important it would be for her in the future. All she knows is that she’s lost, she’s cold and tired, and suddenly, she hears music. She finds her way to a bar where a young man is singing. Jax isn’t what she expects. He’s nice. He likes her. They immediately sense a connection, but nothing happens easily when you’re seventeen, does it?


4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Yes. Lately, I’ve found that I don’t have much time to read anymore, and that’s been really strange. To suddenly go from reading two or three or more books a week to maybe two in a month has been extremely frustrating. On the other hand, the stories in my head have been clamoring louder and louder the older I get. I want to write them down. I want those characters to be heard.


5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

This is one of those trick questions, right? It’s both! Of course it is both. I didn’t start writing novels until I hit age forty, so I had a long time to learn about life. Even so, as I began to fool around with characters and conflict and narrative, I learned that to write from a character’s point of view required me to learn how to see things from outside my usual frame of reference. I needed to become the characters in order to write their voices and decisions into a novel. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child, and while it is a demanding and exacting art, I found that I didn’t bother with other people’s perspectives as much when writing poems. I love what I’ve learned by tackling another form of writing.


This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

it requires practice, a lot of it

Following is an interview Christine Klocek-Lim for Couplets. She has four chapbooks: Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press), Cloud Studies (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications), and The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, OCHO, Diode, Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory and elsewhere. Her work received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (most recently for “Coventina“) and Best of the Net (for “Star streams of the Splinter galaxy“) anthologies and was a finalist for 3 Quarks Daily’s Prize in Arts & Literature. She is also the editor of Autumn Sky Poetry.


Joanne Merriam: I understand your new chapbook, Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press), was written during NaPoWriMo last year. Can you tell us a little about how your writing process worked in such a compressed time period, versus how you would usually work?

Christine Klocek-Lim: When I began writing poetry, as most teens do, I only wrote when inspiration struck. Sometimes that meant I’d go days, months, and even years without writing a poem. That didn’t work out particularly well, as you can imagine. Sometime around 1999 I began writing more regularly, working on a poem at least once a week. Sometimes I’d work on the same poem for days or months. This was great for a while, but I still wasn’t writing enough. I’d read what I wrote and think: “This is drivel. I hate it.” A few years ago I discovered NaPoWriMo (begun by Maureen Thorson) and decided to give it a try. I posted a poem-a-day on my blog and at Poets.org (where I Admin the discussion forums). At first I found it overwhelming. I wrote a lot of truly bad poems, but I kept going. The more I wrote, the more my creativity seemed to blossom. I think pressure and daily practice exercises the mind. Instead of exhausting myself, I got better and better at dipping my psyche into the zone, the flow, whatever you want to call it when an artist finds that perfect balance between thought and dreaming.

These days I don’t write poetry any other time of the year except in April. This year I’m planning on writing the poems that will be part of a new book, the sequel to The Quantum Archives. That collection of poems (written during NaPoWriMo 2009) was a semi-finalist in the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook competition which I later expanded into a sci-fi novel. I’d originally planned on writing a poetic memoir this year, but I changed my mind late one night last week. I couldn’t sleep and my brain kept turning over ideas about the daughter of my main character from The Quantum Archives. I couldn’t get her out of my head. I wrote an outline in the middle of the night on my iPhone. I have to tell her story.

Poems that I’ve written during various NaPoWriMo’s have grown into several collections: my Dark Matter full-length poetry manuscript (poems from this won the Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in Poetry 2009), The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press), Cloud Studies: a sonnet sequence (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), and of course, Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press). I adore NaPoWriMo!


Joanne Merriam: Are your poetry and your dancing connected in any way?

Christine Klocek-Lim: Nope. My husband and I started dancing in 2008. We thought it would be fun, which it was but it was also physically exhausting. It was difficult. Demanding. We were hooked. Now we dance at least three times a week, sometimes more. Ballroom dance has reinforced what I know about art: it requires practice, a lot of it. I’ll never be a professional dancer. I might never be particularly good at it, simply because dancing three or four hours a week just isn’t enough time to master it. Writing is the same way. I write at least three to four hours five or so days out of every week, on average, and sometimes more. I’m willing to put that time in and hopefully someday I will write something brilliant.


Joanne Merriam: Do you think writing poetry helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a poet more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Christine Klocek-Lim: I honestly never thought about poetry as therapy. I write because I love to play with words. I write because I’m interested in expressing an emotion that draws a reader inside the world I’ve created. I don’t think I’ve learned anything about myself or the world through the act of writing a poem. However, what I have learned in my life over the years has taught me a lot about people, work, suffering, joy, etc. I struggle to communicate those things in my work. For me, advancing as a poet definitely means learning to communicate the things I already know.


Joanne Merriam: What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Christine Klocek-Lim: I went to Carnegie Mellon as an undergraduate in their writing program which meant I attended a lot of workshops. I was exposed to poetry readings. I’ve also read a ton of books over the years about writing. I loved Ted Kooser’s book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, because he was the first person who explained what it means to communicate to a reader. The idea that you can’t be too radical or the reader will be pushed out of the poem’s world was illuminating. However, the most recent piece of advice I’ve heard that I find useful is what Ira Glass had to say on storytelling. He explained that when you first begin creating, your taste is great but your work is not. No one who is just starting out in an art can create something brilliant, unless it’s by accident. The only way to bring your work up to the level of your taste is to just keep going. Eventually you’ll get there. Just keep going is my mantra. Along with “I’m not dead yet” (i.e., I still have time to keep writing, to try again and again). Rejections letters and terrible reviews suck but I just keep going. My writing will get better. I can picture myself at age ninety still saying, I’m not dead yet!


Check out more poetry-related interviews, reviews and guest posts at Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour.

Conspiracy of Leaves

For day one of Back to the Future, I interviewed Wendy Babiak, the author of Conspiracy of Leaves (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s). Her poetry has also appeared in a wide variety of periodicals, including:

Readers can see some of the birth of your forthcoming Wonder Woman sonnets at Poets & Writers Speakeasy. Tell us about that project.

It actually started over a year ago, during April (National Poetry Month), on Facebook. I was writing a poem a day and posting them as notes. Being spring, I was also doing too much gardening, etc., and I had posted a status update that listed some of what I was up to. Robyn Nelson, a longtime online friend carried over to FB from a women’s forum elsewhere, called me Wonder Woman, chiding me in the nicest possible way for taking on too much. (I have Fibromyalgia, so when I push myself too hard I sometimes end up incapacitated for a day or two.) Which sparked the first poem. Then, over the next couple of weeks, for a number of status updates, Robyn would respond with another Wonder Woman comment, and I’d respond to that with another poem. Eventually they began to take on their own life, and now there’s a full narrative arc. I’ve got a few more sonnets to write to complete the sequence (I expect I’ll have around twenty all told), and then I’m going to write a long narrative poem mixing sections of blank verse and Rime Royale, charting her progress in her search for self and meaning after leaving the Justice League: “Wandering, Wonder Woman Wonders What Makes Home.” Having lost her powers for letting herself be tied with her own lasso of truth, she’s going to be traveling by bike.

I’m enjoying the juxtaposition of pop culture material with traditional form. They are, in effect, me laughing at myself for the earnestness of Conspiracy of Leaves, with which, as I’ve said, I’m hoping to save humanity from itself and its destructive tendencies. A project that is, as we all know, pretty laughable. But being the kind of writer I am, I can’t help but infuse them with social commentary, in this case, commentary with a feminist perspective.

Five of the sonnets are being published starting August 31 at No Tell Motel. And very soon I’m being filmed reading them for a documentary in the making, The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman. (You can see the trailer here.)

Favourite poem?

Robinson Jeffers’s “Flight of Swans.” Thanks for asking, because you made me get up and read it again. Before I discovered that poem, it was either Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli” or Bishop’s “The Fish.” I have a strange relationship with Jeffers. I had never heard of him until someone online said I sounded like him. Then I went digging him up, and found a kindred spirit. With whom I quarrel endlessly, while simultaneously commiserating.

What are you reading right now?

I’m re-reading Amy King’s Slaves to Do These Things in preparation for writing a review. I’m also reading Marge Piercy’s The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing, Philip Whalen’s The Collected Poems, H.D.’s Helen in Egypt (out loud to my husband) and two books of non-fiction. The first: Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. I’m an agnostic (I believe that certainty about the unknowable is a large part of humanity’s problem), but she makes a point cogently that the symbol of God functions, and therefore it’s necessary to speak about God in a way that serves all of humanity. The second: Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, which should be required reading for anyone who votes.

Conspiracy of Leaves doesn’t shy away from political topics (I’m thinking especially of poems like, “Sort(ing) of Sonnet” and “Lessons From European History and TV Applied To Current Events While Washing the Dishes”). What sort of response has your political poetry gotten?

Directly, none at all. In other words, no one has sent me any notes about it or anything. But there was a blogger online for a while who said he wanted to rape and kill me. Happily, his blog has been taken down (my husband Googles my name once in a while, and yesterday he was glad to be able to report that the blog of said person no longer appears). I’m opting to hope that means he’s been put away in an asylum or prison somewhere, but it’s probably just Google finally getting around to noticing that it was hate speech.

In terms of the not-very-poetical business side of things, how did your book come about and is there anything you learned from the publishing process that you’d like to share with other poets?

Well, I’d sent it out to a couple of contests with no success, and to a big-name poetry press, also with no success. All the while editing it with a focus on a sort of thematic narrative arc, culling twenty years worth of poetry. I decided that the focus of my first book should be ending war, even though the environment is my larger concern. I figured that if we don’t stop fighting wars we’ll NEVER be able to fix our relationship with the natural world. War is really bad for ecosystems. Nobody has to file an environmental impact statement before dropping a bomb or torching an oil well.

So when it was in its final state, I decided to see if I couldn’t find a press that shared the kind of concerns I have, realizing that political poetry was going to be a hard sell in the mainstream market. I found Plain View Press by searching for “social justice poetry press” or some such thing, and their front page contained this verbiage: Despite evidence that relentless violence has taken root worldwide, there is hope and there are artists to show the human face of it. That sold me on the press. So I contacted their editor, Susan Bright (who, it turns out, started Plain View decades ago as a feminist press, and then realized later that feminism is part of a larger issue, social justice, and therefore widened her scope), sent her a sample, which she liked, then the whole thing at her request; she approved. Plain View is a co-op, so I had to pay my own production and printing costs, but she keeps them low. I did the math and realized that if I went the contest route I’d probably end up spending at least as much as I did on contest fees, and with no guarantee that I’d ever find a judge who approved of my content. And I had a lot of control in terms of cover art, etc., which I wouldn’t have with a contest. (The cover comes from a painting of an old college friend of mine, Esther Fuldauer.) I also contacted my old mentor, Peter Meinke, and asked him if he knew about Plain View, and what his thoughts were. He said that they were a high-minded group with a good rep and that considering my tendencies (to not put a lot of effort into getting published), he thought it was an excellent fit.

To poets hoping to get published I’d say consider all options; don’t listen to people who will try to convince you there’s only one route. And have patience. And write what you want/need to write, not what you think will get published.

How has your poetry changed since you started writing?

I’ve begun to focus more on rhythm. We studied prosody in school, but very superficially, and while I think I write with a lot of natural rhythm, it’s been really something to hone that consciously. I’ve been a political poet for a very long time, but I’d say that’s probably gotten to be a stronger tendency, as my awareness of the world has increased, and as the world has continued to increase its pace on its path to turning the planet into a smoking cinder.

What does the future hold?

My tongue-in-cheek answer is that your guess is as good as mine. While I tend toward the vatic in my poems, I don’t actually imagine that I can prophesy with any accuracy. I certainly hope we get our collective head out of our butt in time to retain at least some semblance of the planet on which we evolved.

But I know you really mean regarding my writing. My next collection is going to focus more directly on our relationship with the natural world. I’ve got probably 75% of the poems already. I’m not sure which I’ll finish first, that or the Wonder Woman sequence. I’m also working on a longpoem, the beginning of which is up at my blog What I Meant to Say, titled “God Speaks Again, Because Even Though She Loves Us and All, She’s Pretty Fucking Pissed: I Mean, DANG,” the beginning of which I wrote in a sort of trance state, and to which I’m going to be adding post-scripts until I feel like the end is near (of my life, that is). Which I’m hoping will be at least a few decades off. And fiction. I actually wrote my senior thesis as a group of short stories (five of my own and two translations of an early feminist Spanish writer, Emilia Pardo Bazán). I’ve never really tried to get any of them published, but I think I’ll start, because I’ve got two novels in progress. While poetry is definitely my true calling, fiction has a certain appeal, not least of which is the fact that more people read it. (There’s also the spaciousness that prose affords after the voluntary strictures of poetry.) I’m also working on a book of essays entitled Pragtopia: Meditations on a New Geo-Political Paradigm. Because boy do we ever need one.

See the rest of the week:
27 July: Jeannine hosts Christine
28 July: Wendy hosts Mary
29 July: Mary hosts Jeannine
30 July: Christine hosts me