Poet-in-residence promoting literary arts at GV

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson
Patrica Clark

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson Patrica Clark

Elijah Brumback

Patricia Clark, Grand Valley State University’s poet-in-residence, originally from Washington state, loves seafood, dogs and has a serious addiction to buying books. The proof lies in her office where the shelves hold nothing but volumes of titles, with various other books scattered about the rest of the sparcely decorated room on the third floor of Lake Ontario Hall. It’s not always about reading she said, but just something about having them makes her feel good.

Clark’s love of books has an obvious relation to her other passion, writing, and more specifically poetry. As a poet, Clark has rubbed shoulders with some of contemporary poetry’s touted wordsmiths, as well as garnering her own success having been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry and Slate along with a number of other poetry reviews and journals.

Grand Valley Lanthorn: What brought you to Grand Valley?

Patricia Clark: A job. In English or writing there is a national job list that comes out, and people look and apply. I applied around the country and got an interview with Grand Valley. I hadn’t heard of Grand Valley, though I knew Michigan and I knew it was a state I was interested in living in, so I came and interviewed and that’s the end of the story. And now we have a writing department separated from English, which is quite appealing.

LANTHORN: What does it mean to be a poet-in-residence?

CLARK: Well its a funny story, but you know we have President Haas now, but we had President Lubbers and he had said to me at one point at an art event. ‘You know I do a lot for the arts, but I haven’t done much for the literary arts. Why don’t you come and talk to me and make a proposal.’ So I thought, what’s he talking about and I didn’t know what kind of proposal to make. I think I proposed a kind of summer writing project I would work on and he didn’t want to hear my idea. He just said, ‘What would you think about being the poet-in-residence’ and I said well that sounds really nice. I think he thought that the role would be to encourage poetry on campus, invite poets in, so we do that annual poetry night in the Fall and just raise the profile for poetry a bit on campus, and I’ve tried to do that over the years.

LANTHORN: What other details are there?

CLARK: Sometimes they’ve asked me to write a poem, I even once wrote a poem for tree they cut down over by Mackinac when they were remodeling. So they’ve called me up in the past and asked me to write a poem about ‘this,’ or it used to be I wrote a poem for convocation every Fall, one that would celebrate education and learning. I also wrote a poem for the opening of the DeVos campus.

LANTHORN: What do you think of the writing atmosphere at Grand Valley?

CLARK: I think it’s a very good atmosphere, I think it’s very supportive. I have colleagues who are writers and poets, people share each other’s work, they encourage other people, share books and ideas and I don’t think its that way at other universities. I think we’re fortunate, but I find it supportive and helpful.

LANTHORN: Did you always know, maybe when you were an undergrad, that you wanted to be a writer and poet?

CLARK: I was a little confused as an undergrad, I majored in economics actually, but I was interested in writing I just didn’t really know it. I guess it was kind of the typical undergraduate confusion maybe, because once I graduated I went back and started taking a few creative writing classes, when I hadn’t taken any before. They really didn’t have many then, but I read a lot and have always been a bookworm, reading and buying books. So in a way it doesn’t hurt to be sort of meandering to what you want to do. Everything I learned helped along the way.

LANTHORN: Do you think your education in writing has helped shape your writing today?

CLARK: Yes, and the other cool thing that happens is you meet a whole new group of people. I’d go to Montana (The University of Montana where Clark received her M.F.A.) and I don’t know anybody but the other students, You practically learn as much from the students and their work that they’re turning in to class as you do from the reading and the professors. So its a pretty fantastic process and its the same with when I went and got my Ph.D.. I went to Houston and I had never been down there and you thinkg ‘Boy, is this going to work out?’ but you know people are interested in the same thing, with words and writing. It was fantastic.

LANTHORN: What has your experience working with student at Grand Valley been like?

CLARK: Well, the students are very creative and over the years I’d say the students have gotten better and better. The students are, I wouldn’t say more well read, but they’re exposed to so much more, maybe through the internet, maybe through research and bringing in other things in poetry, because you can’t just write about your broken heart over and over again, so you look out at the world and your bring in other things you know. I currently have some advanced students who are awfully good in poetry.

Clark will participate in the Visiting Writers Series at Kalamazoo Community College today. She will lead a discussion with students at 10 a.m. before reading from her poetry at 2:15 p.m.

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