Rappahannock Review Poetry Editor: The voice in “Origin Story” is defiant and rich, and we found the final lines especially impactful. Can you tell us how you developed the speaker and voice in the poem?

Andrew K. Clark: After my first book of poetry, Jesus in the Trailer (Main Street Rag Press, 2019), went to press, I was eager to move on creatively. I found myself wanting to write poems that look physically different on the page, and I wanted to write in a voice I had never used before. I began working on a number of persona poems I am tentatively calling “The Appalachian Clown” series. Picture a character like the Joker from the comic books, only one raised in a trailer park in Appalachia by religious zealots. As an adult, he struggles with addiction and isolation before finding his true purpose. I am also toying with ideas around the “Clown Scare” phenomenon in some of the poems (in 2016, there were a number of sightings of supposedly menacing clowns in places as far apart as Wisconsin and South Carolina).

RR: “Origin Story” addresses an important issue within our society regarding gender roles and their restrictions on creativity and self-expression in young children. Can you speak a little on how you approached the subject, and how it affected the way you wrote the poem?

AKC: I do think imposing rigidity on the natural creativity and self-expression of children is harmful. It’s natural for children to try on different personalities and roles. I’ve seen it with my own children: think of a daughter wanting to try on Dad’s work boots, or a son wanting to try on Mom’s high heels. This is normal and healthy. What is unhealthy is to condemn a child for such play or even direct gender expression. I think we live in a time where people have more of an appreciation that gender identities are not necessarily binary, and a greater understanding of children and adults who do not fit into a conforming cisgender category. I view this as quite positive.

My “Appalachian Clown” is in part a product of the unnatural suppression of his true self in terms of gender but also in terms of other elements of his personality. He’s not allowed to wear mom’s heels in “Origin Story” but a later poem reveals that he has someone make him a pair of heels in the shape of a crucifix.

RR: We love the unique form with its shifting margins, which creates some drama and tension in terms of scene and voice. How do you approach form in your poetry, generally?

AKC: After Jesus in the Trailer went to press, along with wanting to tackle subjects I’d never addressed before, I wanted my poems to look different on the page. One of my favorite poets, Airea Matthews, has a collection where the poems break out of the conventional left-margin ‘look’ of a typical modern poem. I consider her an influence for the poems I am writing now.

RR: Can you tell us about how you landed on the final image of a clown? 

AKC: I was intrigued by the clown scare / sighting craze in 2016, and also thinking through personalities for a series of persona poems. I like the idea of someone who is deliberately masking their true identity.

RR: We’re interested in your forthcoming novel,  The Day Thief. Can you tell us more about it?

AKC: The Day Thief is a novel of magical realism with a touch of the southern gothic. It tells the story of Leo, a fourteen year old boy whose family is struggling in 1920s Appalachia. When Leo discovers he can control a magical beast, he decides to use it to right the wrongs he’s seen done to his family. Revenge is sweet, but Leo soon realizes he cannot control what he’s unleashed. It takes Jo, his best friend with a reputation for putting bullies in their place, to bring Leo back from the brink. 

I am currently shopping the novel for a publisher.

Andrew K. Clark’s work appears in Issue 7.1:

“Origin Story”