A Man Apart…
Charles Clifford Brooks III, a native of Athens, Georgia, grew up running wild among trees and open air all over his home state. He began to write as an escape and his passion for letters grew over time into short stories and humorous non-fiction he became known for in smaller literary circles. His first book, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics became a means of introduction to a much wider audience. Before turning teaching and creative writing into a means of financial survival, Clifford worked as a bookseller, juvenile probation officer, and social worker.
The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics has been nominated for 2 Pushcarts, a Pulitzer in Poetry, and Georgia Author of the Year. He is also the founder of the Southern Collective Experience. A unique collective of creative individuals, whose cardinal virtue is to promote the arts, in all its forms, proving that integrity, high standards, and classical understanding of the past, present, and future of expression do exist. Make sure you catch our Live Radio Program with Charles Clifford Brooks III with the is an article.
What was the defining moment that you decided poetry would be a profession for you?
I would be lying if I said anything other than The day a publisher approached me about putting my first book on the map. At first, even then, I was skeptical of my talents as a poet to be called a “poet”. Yet, God quickly made it clear with the success of The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics that I better get my game face on. I was a slave of doubt and fear, yet determined, throughout the three years it took to sculpt my voice, nuance, an overwhelming need to tell the truth.
The writing challenges? How did you overcome?
I had no idea how to write poetry in the beginning. Zero. I locked myself away in a straight-up hermit-like state, not seeing much of anyone, touched by no one, slightly going insane, and finding my way back by the end of the book. Editing the rascal was the most agonizing. To “relive” that moment captured in verse, poetry I write more akin to songwriting than “poetry”, you have to scratch scabs you thought were thoroughly healed, but not. You dig back into the past, realize the present, and pray that the future holds some relief from a lifetime of hard experience. I decided early if I was going to do the damn thing, I was going to do it with a sinner’s begging honesty. Purge. Catharsis. I needed a relief from heartbreak I nurtured alone. However, I was not alone. God was with me, holding me together, keeping me on the tracks, and He kept whispering, “It’s gonna work out, son. I promise. Just trust me. It’s gonna work out.”
I overcame all my horrors and realized my hopes through Christ and His greatest angel of my life – my momma. My daddy was there to keep me off the cusp of suicide. I won’t pull punches at this point. The book was therapy I sorely needed. I had to write it or die in the deafening hollow alternative of cowardly resignation. I am humbled to this day with the recent release of Athena Departs and Exiles of Eden.
What do you believe is unique about your poetry?
I find the chase and then cut to it. In the process, I embed a melody and take the reader on a journey. Some walks are longer and some just a few steps, but as a true Southerner, I adore a good story. I am a stalwart fan of Frost, Sandburg, Williams, Dante Milton, Shakespeare, Millay, Browning, Pinsky, and Henley. People don’t want to wonder about oblique references to arcane, cryptic messages. Yes, the reader should work a little to get comfortable along the way, but not beat their head against the wall to get in the car. I believe that accessibility wins the day all day, every day. I strive to sing between the shadowy, universal ether and concrete, common man reality. That’s life, isn’t it?
4. Has your idea of what poetry is change since you began writing poetry?
I have honed my style, shined my poetic shoes, pressed my cuffs of consonance, and brushed my shoulders clean of any devilish doubt. In Athena Departs you see a distinct man from the fragile, wounded child of my first book. I love them both, and Exiles of Eden shows that I’m still fragile, and I feel we all are, on certain subjects. Being able to flesh out your humanity without wandering too far into melodrama is a key to a wider audience. I’ve always said that at the end of the day, folks don’t want to be bored or brooded to death. Like a good blues song, it says, “Brothers and sister, it’s won’t always be roses, but it will be alright.”
What book (s)/author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
Actually, composers like Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Chopin have had a bigger impact on me that authors or poets. Pat Conroy is a big one in my life. Faulkner, Rick Bragg, William Walsh, Robert Pinsky, Robert Frost, Dante, and Millay are a few within the written word to guide my light when it was waning. “On Writing” by Stephen King is the only “how-to” guide I find the least bit worth the read.
What is the role of the South in your work? How do you, or don’t you, understand your writing in relation to where you come from?
Oh, Lord in heaven: It’s the South. I am the South without apology or thumbing anyone in the eye. My daddy told me once, “You don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation.” Of course, that isn’t talking about doing blatant wrong against another or steal or lie. It’s just what it is. I write what I know. That is the cardinal virtue of writing. If you veer off that path the words are brittle and blow away without notice. I don’t get up on a soapbox or claim superiority over anyone or any place. I am here, I love these people, and I carry their stories within me. Georgia is my home. I have, and will, travel far from it, but this state is the place my heart beats easiest in.
What do you think poetry’s role is in today’s society?
It’s the battle call, the baby’s cry, and the lover’s bittersweet or better ending. Poetry gives hope and inspires folks to find a reason to “be”. Poetry isn’t dead. A majority of people who have been “called poets” have tried hard to beat the shit out of it, being shrewd, selfish, cryptic, oppressed by the academic side of life that Ezra Pound founded. I am against all that garbage. Again, when accessible and honest, poetry can make the lives of men and women more meaningful. Period. Natural fact.
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Why the Southern Collective Experience? What do you see is in the future of the SCE?
I wanted a family of like-minded, kind, brilliant, upwardly mobile DOERS who want to prove art has objective rules, professional foundations, ethical standards, and a human heart. The SCE has a magazine, The Blue Mountain Review, a show on NPR, Dante’s Old South, and bi-monthly tutorials/open-mics called Prose and Cons. It’s grown into a corporation I never thought possible. My momma calls is a carnival, and as that carnival picks up speed she warns me not to shame her or suffer my face cut. (FYI: My folks are awesome. They are why I’m not a cliché or casualty. It took my second book to even begin to speak on how inseparable they are from my success.)
The future of the SCE is limitless within the confines of humility and the humanity that binds its members. I am not perfect. I do not have all, or even half, of the answers. However, among our members, who are from all over the country, not just below the Mason-Dixon, I believe we possess the know-how to leave a legacy upon the face of literature, music, and visual art. We want to capture that, and the art of many others, in our various projects.
What do you do to keep your body, mind, and spirit aligned?
I have recently begun a better life balance with these things. I pay more attention to what I eat – or rather, remember to eat. I am getting outside more and away from the computer. My work with the Reinhardt University MFA program is balanced with yard work and running out my stress. I have cut out booze, toxic medication, and recreational drugs before they create a monster out of a man made for letters. I pray. More and more I pray and put all of this in God’s hands where I was strangling it in my own. I surround myself with great friends who will be the first to bust my head open if I get too big for my britches. I don’t want “Yes Men and Women”. I need, “Shut the hell up, Clifford Kind of Folks.”
The importance of good marketing (Websites, Groups, Social Media etc…) for writers and poets?
It’s second only to the work itself. Marketing gets the words or music or art into the public eye. If you don’t brand and trademark yourself, someone else will. Who do you think will do the better job? Artists need to learn how the business world works, and if they have anyone in their inner circle who thinks their craft can’t sustain their livelihood, get that hater out of your house. It’s hard work. However, that hard work isn’t the product of the perfect Facebook post or Tweet. The work comes first, and then take that honest face and put it, with tact and finesse, into the limelight. Ask questions. Find those who prove they know how to do it right, and don’t be afraid to (politely) ask for guidance. The worst they can say is, “No”. If they say, no, take it with a grain of salt and keep seeking a mentor or like minds.
Hear the broadcast with Host C. Stene Duckworth and featured guest Charles Clifford Books III
You can find Charles Clifford Brooks at Kudzu Press