Monday, April 3, 2017

Blog of the Week ~ An Update with Susie Clevenger

This week, my friends, we are zooming across to Houston, Texas, to visit one of our earliest members at Poets United, Susie Clevenger, who writes at Confessions of a Laundry Goddess. You likely have come across Susie's writings at our sister site, Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads. Susie's pen is on fire these days, and I thought you might enjoy reading some of my favourites of her recent work.

Sherry: Susie, as one of Poets United’s very first members, it has been a while since we spoke with you. What’s new in your life? How is your family doing?
Susie: Well my husband and I have done a lot of traveling the last few months with our music friend, Mike Zito, on his Make Blues Not War tour. We are definitely not musicians, but we know how to sell Mike’s merchandise. Traveling with Mike has found us catching up with old friends and making lots of new ones. Also because the theme of the tour is finding common ground, choosing to not have our differences divide us, it has really moved me to focus on what I say on social media as well as personal conversations.

Sherry: Yes, public forums are rather fraught these days! Our nerves are all on edge.
Charlie's jewelry making
Susie: My family is doing pretty good. Charlie has had a few health issues, but he is doing better. His hobby of making jewelry is flourishing.

Dawn and Carrie

My girls have been busy with their careers. Carrie, my youngest, is the Artists Relations Director for the Art Colony Association in Houston, and she and the staff have been busy organizing The Bayou City Art Festival that was held the end of March. Dawn works for the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) in their estuary program. Her work on the Back The Bay campaign is quite impressive. She pours her heart and soul into working with the community on water quality and wildlife education.

Sherry: What accomplished and beautiful daughters you have! Both doing wonderful work in the world. I know from facebook you have been very busy, too, giving readings and attending some cool events. Fill us in!


Susie: Goodness, last year was really busy. I attended the Lucidity Ozark Poetry retreat in April. There were guest speakers, poetry critiques, poetry readings, contests. It was held in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.


Later on in April I of 2016, I attended Authorfest in Dennison, Texas. I was blessed to be in the company of a dozen authors who sold, signed, and read excerpts from their books.

Indie Vengeance Day

In September I went to Indie Vengeance Day in Frisco, Texas. The event was held in Half Priced Books. Amber Norrgard created the event five years ago to give attention and exposure to writers who independently publish their work. There were poets, authors of historical fiction, paranormal, science fiction, and fiction novelists who attended.
Sherry: They sound like glorious events for a poet. Susie, I always admire the depth of your work, but recently you have posted some poems that really knocked me out. Let’s take a peek:

In this place of old crows
I wear my peacock smile
while I pluck their tongues
from my feathers.

In the downbeat of my own drum
I play my last give a damn note.
Opinions nest on dead limbs.
My wings fly where there’s no winter.

©Susie Clevenger 2016

Sherry: The imagery in this poem is fantastic, Susie. What were your thoughts while writing it?
Susie: Whenever you step out to do something that is upstream in the water where you live, people have opinions and judgments on it. With this piece I reflected on my own experiences with those who tried to hinder me. Growing thicker skin wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t live my life by another’s choice for me.

Sherry: Yes, that is an impossibility. This next poem, “Sweet Tooth Season,” definitely appealed to my love of sweets, and the poignancy of those old memories that mean so much.

In the sweet tooth season my family’s iron skillet
transformed into a raisin black moon
dusted with sugared apple stars.

A song of grandmothers’ sang through my mother’s spoon
in cinnamon dust notes and yellow butter sun
until the melody of ancestors would reach the final note, “enough.”

Apple scented thoughts of ladder climbs
to reach heavy fruited limbs, wicker baskets, harvest,
promised growling tummies honest labor brought rewards.

On the crescendo of giggle questions mother
extinguished the sun beneath our iron skillet moon,
and dropped apple blessings into bowls even heaven wished to taste.

 ©Susie Clevenger 2016

Sherry: I love the raisin black moon and sugar apple stars. And “A song of grandmothers ran through my mother’s spoon” is such a glorious and poignant line, Susie. A poem of remembering.

Susie: My mother was an excellent cook. She grew up extremely poor and learned from her mother how to make the best from the little you’re provided. Mama rarely used a recipe. She followed the path of the women before her and had that incredible knowing of what to add and in what proportion when she cooked.

Sherry: She reminds me of my grandmother, whose skillet never grew cool when family visited. She, too, knew how to make much out of little, having raised five kids during the Depression. In the family vein, let’s check out “The Song of Father’s Shoes”. I think I love best these poems of childhood memories.

A poor boy’s song
sings from my father’s shoes
in strains of hunger and rock soil.

The lyrics of a church hymn
play across scuffed leather
where a young boy stood tall
to reach Jesus in harmony
with his mother’s voice.

Tightly tied shoe laces try
to fill the gap between moving on
and the pain of a motherless child
watching six feet of dirt separate
him from the warmth of gentle arms.

My father’s shoes are an empty nest
where secrets roost and tears never dry.
I talk to the ghosts, who linger there,
but silence eats each bread crumb I drop
until unanswered questions erase footprints
that will never lead me home.

©Susie Clevenger 2016

Sherry: I can see the boy, in the man you knew, a legacy of pain. I sense a story large enough for a book in this one, Susie.
Susie: This poem is about my father. His mother died from kidney disease when he was twelve years old. The story is in the vein of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. She was in a hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The disease was killing her and her doctors asked my grandfather if he would donate her body to science. He refused and in anger took her out of the hospital; placed her in the car with my father and his siblings and headed back to Arkansas. My father told me it was agony watching her die each mile they drove. When they finally reached Arkansas, his mother gave her last breath the next day. I truly believe the effect of the tragic event turned my father into an introvert who tried to protect himself from expressing pain by keeping a tight grip on silence.
Sherry: How traumatic for a twelve year old. He would want to protect himself, after that. How sad, Susie. I saved this next poem for last, as its wonderful  title is also the title of your new book, which we will want to talk about. Let’s read.

Yesterday’s cart of sorrows
disappears with the last evening star
as sunrise welcomes me into its halo
of psalms radiating a new day into my spirit.

Nesting where the butterflies pray
hope anoints my broken hallelujah
with the truth love still grows where thorns gather.

Peace sings in a bird wing choir
and I add my voice to the chorus,
“Today is too swift with its hours
for my lips to only offer pain.”

©Susie Clevenger 2016

Sherry: Truly gorgeous, Susie. “Peace sings in a bird wing choir”. Sigh. Tell us about this poem.
Susie: Nature has always been my place of confession, of comfort, of joy. The last time I visited the home where I grew up I was so consumed with grief I couldn’t release it until I walked those three acres of my church. From that moment on I left a building of pews and walls to worship where I feel a divine presence the most, nature.

In this poem I refer to the spirit guide of morning. Standing in open air at sunrise I am where growth is a living visual, birds teach me to sing of welcome, forgiveness, a clean slate. Butterflies show me transformation is possible. I think of their wings as hands hovering over prayer, the peace of trust. My time of communion gently speaks to the places within me where I need change.
Sherry: Susie, your explanation is as beautifully poetic as the poem itself. I love your "spirit guide of morning," and what the birds and butterflies can teach us. Did the poem itself spark the idea of a new book, or , when you wrote it, did the title immediately offer itself as perfect for a book in progress? Tell us about it. We’re all ears!
Susie: I knew I wanted to write another book. I was struggling with theme, direction. Frankly my coping skills were/are being tested with our American politics. When Brendan challenged us in the pond at Real Toads to write about still points, I knew I needed to be still and let my spirit speak. As soon as I wrote the phrase, where butterflies pray, I knew I had found the name of my book. My own words urged me to seek inner reflection, to go to my tabernacle of the wild for compassion, to reaffirm my desire for truth.
I am in the process of writing the book. I don’t have a cover for it yet, but I have a vision for it. I’ve discussed it with the young lady I want to be on the cover and a photographer who will take the photo. I have provided an image of what inspired it.

Sherry: Such a beautiful image. Your book title makes me impatient to read the book. We look forward to it with anticipation. Let us know when it comes out.
Your two earlier books were wonderful, too. Kids, I encourage you to check them out, if you haven’t already. Both are available at Amazon. Click on the image for the link.

Susie, how do your public readings impact you as a poet?
Susie: As I mentioned before, there were readings at Lucidity and Authorfest. At each one I participated in the readings. The poetry retreat was designed around taking a realistic look at your work and getting feedback on how to improve it. The readings provided us an audience to step into the opportunity of real time spoken word.
I have always felt a poet should read their own work out loud, even if it is alone in their room. It gives you an opportunity to verbally express the tone you want the piece to carry. In fact as I write a poem, I recite it. It is the reality of word and voice uniting.
At Authorfest there were authors of so many different genres. Each of us was allotted a few minutes to read from our work. I really found it a unique opportunity to participate in an event where so many different genres were gathered to collectively support and listen to the power of the written word.

Sherry: It sounds wonderful! And very affirming as a poet, to read amongst so many other accomplished writers in various genres.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the good folks at Poets United?

Susie: I am grateful for the acceptance and encouragement of such a talented community. Each one of us is a lone wolf at a keyboard, but having a place where we can meet, share, grow, and encourage is truly a gift.

Sherry: It is indeed. I have enjoyed reading your work since 2010, when Poets United was just beginning. What a journey it has been, my friend. Thank you for this update. We are looking forward to the lifting off of those butterfly wings and the launch of your next book.

Wasn't this fun, my friends? It's a great idea to share our work at spoken word or writing groups and workshops, if you have access to such events. They are both supportive and affirming venues in which to grow as writers. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. "and dropped apple blessings into bowls even heaven wished to taste."
    Thank you Sherry for this up close interview with Susie

    much love...

    1. Thank you Gillena. I feel humbled and honored to be part of such a talented community.

  2. Lovely to shine a little sunshine your way, Susie. It has been a joy watching your poetic journey, and the birth of your books.

    1. Thank you so much Sherry. You are such a blessing to me.

    2. And thank you so much for doing the interview. It means a lot to me.

    3. It is my pleasure. Thank you for saying Yes. I know you are Busy!

  3. That was a great to start to my day! I've long been an admirer of Susie's, and have 'Insomnia's Ink'. (I would get 'Dirt Road Dreams' too if it were in Kindle, but simply cannot add more physical books to my overflowing shelves.) Looking forward to the new volume.

    My maternal grandparents had apple orchards, and my Nana was a wonderful cook, so Sweet Tooth Season particularly speaks to me, but I love all these others too.

    Many thanks to you both.

    1. Rosemary, I need to get Dirt Road Dreams on Kindle. Once I get finished with my current book. I will get that done. Thanks so much for your encouragement.

  4. Your shelves are like mine were before I had to downsize substantially. But I do have both of Susie's wonderful books, in pride of place with all my poetry books.

    1. Thank you Sherry. I didn't think I would have one book, now I am working on my third.

  5. Such a delight to read this today! I have been a big fan of Susie and her wonderful writing. I am inspired by her depth and beautiful style of writing! I can't get over how busy you have been Susie! That is amazing. Thank you Sherry for another wonderful and insightful interview. :-)

    1. Thank you so much Carrie. I just got back from a book event. I have been blessed to have so many opportunities not only with my writing, but with my music friend also.

  6. Great feature, Sherry & Susie! So nice to see your work again, Susie!

    1. Thank you Mary. I should stop in here more often. I know there are so many fabulous poets here.

  7. Another fascinating update, Sherry. You live a full and interesting life, Susie ... and I enjoyed your poems. I too, am a great believer in poetry being read aloud. Indeed, I have often found myself rejigging a poem after doing so. Cadence, emphasis, pause: so many aspects of a piece become clearer when spoken.

    1. Thank you Wendy. I am such a fan of spoken word. I need to get back to Soundcloud and do some more readings.

  8. Such an interesting conversation ladies! 'In this place of old crows
    I wear my peacock smile' We do need this smile in our lives sometimes. Enjoyed the poems shared here. Thank you Susie and Sherry.

    1. Thank you Sumana. It is those sandpaper people who cause us to grow.

  9. You br
    ing out the soul in otherwise ordinary things--notes, skillets, shoes and wings. If your travels take you to the Philadelphia area, call me!!! I'd love to hang out for a magic minute.

    1. Thank you Susan. I will certainly plan a visit if I make it to Philadelphia! It would be great to spend time with you!

  10. This is wonderful! Susie writes with an earthy imagery that I love. Susie, please let us know when the book is out!

    1. Thank you Mama Zen. I hope to have the book out by early summer.

  11. Wow. Susie, I'm so impressed with all you do. I love your poetry. It is rich in images and powerful feelings. The title of your book is wonderful.
    Thanks Sherry. This was such an interesting and enjoyable interview.

    1. Thank you Myrna. Sometimes I think my titles have more weight than the poem. :)

  12. I love your titles! Smiles. But your poems are weighty for sure. Your pen is on fire!


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