Let me start off by saying I’m a big fan of your work.

Thank you. I usually hate everything I write.

Seriously, though, not only as a fan, but as one of your earliest critics, sometimes I have to ask: where do you come up with this crap?

Just unlucky, I guess.

I mean, what’s your writing process like?  Are you the kind of guy who just swoops in and completes a poem in a half an hour like Billy Collins says he does?

First of all, I never believe anyone who says this. In fact, I think it can be a discouraging thing for a big writer to say when there are young people out there struggling to write and already feeling like they can’t get it down, without quite realizing how hard it actually is. Of course, it’s a good writer’s nature to make things look easier, as Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’s true, I wake up every morning about 5a.m.and write a couple pages in a notebook for about twenty minutes before I have to attend to all those other responsibilities in life, teaching, my wife, paying bills, brushing my teeth, taking out the trash. But much of the stuff I write during this time is uninspired crap and it often takes a lot of excruciating work to get it right, which is not to say those magic moments haven’t happened, but they’re rare indeed — at least, if you write everyday like I do. I just read a great quote by Philip Roth that says, “Amateurs wait for inspiration; the rest of us get to work.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne? Philip Roth? Aren’t they fiction writers? But you’re a poet.

I’m not sure what you mean by that.

Some people are writers and they don’t read anything at all. What do you think about that?

I think it’s a tragedy. I find it the strangest phenomenon so many people think they have a book in them or would even want to when they don’t even read or even like books. What is this, but complete narcissism? I don’t remember who it was, but somebody commented or wrote how in no other craft do people go around thinking they can do something without knowing a thing about it. You don’t see guys walking around thinking they can be engineers or biologists without taking any interest in the subject first.

What specific writers have influenced you?

As to who influenced me specifically, I don’t know, or can’t tell, but here is a list of writers I love, which probably includes more novelists than “poets” technically. Then again, that term “poet” can be so limiting – especially, when I think of someone like Herman Melville who wrote, perhaps, the greatest novel in English, Moby Dick, which, to me, reads like a 600-page poem. Anyway, some of my favorites include, but are not limited to: Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Carson McCullers, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michel Houellebecq, James Baldwin, Fernando Pessoa, and Charles Baudelaire.

Your poem is about Darth Vader.  How the hell did you get that from these influences? I mean seriously…I don’t remember seeing George Lucas on that list.

Yes, and you never would. But, what can I say? I’m a child of the seventies. It was also one of my first attempts to write specifically about pop culture in a humorous way after a friend of mine told me how depressing my stuff was.  I thought I’d challenge myself to write something funny and light which brought me to, well, the Lord of darkness himself, so I guess it didn’t really work out that well. But who can deny the effect Star Wars had on kids who grew up in the late seventies? I had an older professor tell me once that he walked out on the film…which makes sense. If I were an adult at the time, I probably would’ve done the same thing. It’s really not very good.

Where can we find some of your other poems?

There are two brand new anthologies that have just been released. One is called At the Gate: Arrivals and Departures, put out by Kings Estate Press, and the other is a great collection of Long Beach writers called Beside the City of Angels: An Anthology of Long Beach Poetry from World Parade Books. There are also numerous magazines that have recent or forthcoming poems such as The New York Quarterly, Re)verb, Chiron Review, 3AM. I’m also – and this is very exciting – going to be the featured poet this year in the classic, internationally-recognized Long Beach magazine, Pearl, which I feel truly honored to be part of.

Tell me about Long Beach.

Long Beach is just this hub of great writing and has been for the last 30 years –- especially on the poetry circuit, having been associated with esteemed writers such as Gerald Locklin, Fred Voss, and Charles Harper Webb. Currently, there’s been a renaissance as well – a whole new generation of writers is emerging and the community is really thriving. There are even plans in the works for a Long Beach poetry festival at the end of this year.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a ton of poems.  Have just complete two poetry manuscripts, one called Negligence, and another called The Early Death of Men, as well as having put the finishing touches on a novella called The Strangled Heart. None of which have publishers yet.

Sounds like you’re pretty serious. Why do you think writers take themselves so seriously?

Someone has to…

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CLINT MARGRAVE is the author of Salute the Wreckage (2016) and The Early Death of Men (2012), both published by NYQ Books. His stories and poems have also appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, Cimarron Review, Word Riot, 3AM, Bartleby Snopes, decomP, Ambit (UK), as well as in the recent LA Fiction Anthology: Southland Stories by Southland Writers by Red Hen Press. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

4 responses to “Clint Margrave: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. milo martin says:

    welcome to The Nervous Breakdown…
    very edifying, your interview…
    i almost attended Long Beach for my MFA but got into USC (at the same time as Zack Locklin) before i could follow through on CSULB…i would’ve had to wait until the next year to be admitted…
    i have heard very good things about your program and respect Gerald very much…he was a large reason i was considering your school…
    in regards to your Phillip Roth quote, i suppose i am an ‘amateur’ but i also believe fiction writing deserves more disciplined work than the “intoxication of God” process of the poet, which i embrace whenever i am so honored…when it hits me, i can write a poem from start to finish in less than 30 minutes…but what is not included is the sometimes months-long editing process…
    anyway, great to have you here and that you are properly spreading the word…
    Milo Martin

  2. Clint Margrave says:

    Thanks, Milo!

    It is a good program over at CSULB. Though Gerry recently defected to your program from what I understand? Or he did for a while anyway, after retirement. Both Locklins are great guys and I feel lucky to have the privilege to see them quite regularly.

    As far as the quote goes – yes, certainly it could be more conducive to fiction writing; however, I take a more “atheistic” approach to writing poetry – it’s now or never. There isn’t time to wait around for inspiration. But I do agree about the difference between drafting and crafting. In the interview, I was thinking of the editing process as well – which is part of the reason it bothers me when someone like Collins says that. He leaves out the most ruthless part and leaves a beginner feeling hopeless if they can’t produce excellence in thirty minutes.

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