Cobourg Poetry Workshop
feature poet

Mark Clement


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The Moth

He fluttered frantically as if chained
by an invisible thread to the glow
of my backyard evening light.

I fluttered with him, caught
in my body, chained to my internal
light, bound by skin and flesh.

We are the same, the moth and I,
always driven
toward the burning light.


Mark Clement is retired and lives in the quiet town of Cobourg Ontario. Mark went to highschool in Cornwall Ontario and in 1958 had his first poem published in the St. Lawrence highschool yearbook. Following highschool, Mark attended what is now called a 'community college' and he became a technocrat in the field of electronics. Work and family life overtook poetry and Mark didn't begin writing again until the mid '70s. Since that time, he has become increasingly active in the world of poetry and after retirement poetry changed from an avocation to an almost full-time job. Today, Mark has non-paying jobs as webmaster and doing the layout of chapbooks and anthologies for The Ontario Poetry Society. In between, he manages to write a poem or two and participate in the local Cobourg Poetry Workshop.
On Line with Mark Clement

Poetry has been a part of your life for a long time. When and how did it all begin?
I started writing poetry while still in high school and was lucky enough to get one published in the 1958 high school yearbook. Why did I start writing…? Don't know and still don't really know to this day. When I look back I see moments in my life or an observation reflected in a poem. One could say that poetry is a form of personal diary.

One recurring theme in your poetry is the outdoors, a strong connection with nature.

Yes and that persists to this day. Again, why is that? I have never lived in the country. As a youngster I do recall wandering in a nearby forest on my own and probably daydreaming about adventure in the wilderness. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that humanity is deeply bound by the natural world. It seems that many have lost that connection having only experienced the mechanics of a large urban environment.

You designed the Cobourg Poetry Workshop's website and you also design the posters and announcement cards for the Workshop's 3rd Thursday Readings and, quietly dropped in all of these, are Haiku. Not simply Haiku, but linked with photographs providing an extra link with nature.
Yes, Haiku is a favourite expression as its fundamental form calls for a seasonal reference and it is short. (17 syllables) The brevity of haiku intrigues me as it requires the capture of a small moment or observation and isolates it from the larger picture. Much of this detail is lost in our busy lives.

How would you describe your work?
This is a difficult question as I don't think much about the style I use unless of course I'm writing a fixed form poem like a sonnet, sestina or haiku. Most of my poetry is 'free verse' which of course is not 'free' as it requires thought about line breaks, beats per line and word choices. On subject matter it is fairly broad ranging from personal introspection, observation of the daily scene to social comment. At a very basic level I would like to quote how I see poetry by quoting from Aristotle's book Poetic.

"Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated."

In a substantial way, this is how I see my poetry and in fact poetry generally. It is a reproduction of my experience and the hope is that a reader, even if never having had that experience, will be able, through the poem, to have that experience despite the fact that it is an imitation.

What process do you go through, from the original idea to completed poem?
This varies from a workshop exercise to a contemplative moment to an observation or a phrase that enters my mind and won't go away until it is expanded into a poem. Once I get started, I generally complete the poem in one sitting with ideas flowing quickly from the initial impetus. Having written a complete poem does not mean it is finished. I will set the poem aside and a few days later read it over and make edits. In fact, I edit poems that are years old even if they have been published so one could say that, for me, a poem is never finished.

On top of all this, you design chapbooks and perfect bound books for The Ontario Poetry Society and, closer to home, the Cobourg Poetry Workshop.
Could you expand on this?

I Started designing chapbooks for myself as it was the easiest way to get my poetry published in a traditional book form. After I joined The Ontario Poetry Society I got involved doing chapbooks for them and honed my layout and book design skills. Since I'm a bit of a techie and computer buff, it wasn't too hard to assemble the tools to create books. After joining the Cobourg Poetry Workshop I realized that this group needed to be published and so today I am working on their fourth annual anthology.

For many, poetry is Wordsworth, Keats; for others, Layton, Cohen - there is performance poetry, prose poetry, Slam poetry. How would you define poetry in 2010?
This is an impossible question but here goes. I don't think the purpose of poetry has really changed over time. What has changed is the use of modern language, new forms of expression and perhaps more importantly the participation in and availability of poetry from around the world via the internet. The broad perspective on poetry afforded by the internet clearly shows that styles are generated from environment and to judge any style as good or bad from any one perspective is to miss the basic purpose of poetry. There is no doubt that within any given style of poetry there are good and bad examples. The important point is that poetry is alive and that anyone can participate as a writer or reader. This can only enhance the human experience.

Who are your favourite poets?
I don't really have any favourite poets. I just like poetry.

This website will be a year old in, what?, January 2011? It clearly has your imprint, right from the Home page. How do you feel about it at this stage?
Actually, this is the second generation website for the CPW. The first website was put up in 2008 under my personal domain name and by late 2009 we got our own domain name "poetrycobourg.ca" and this is what visitors see today. With more than 1600 visits so far, I think the new website is achieving its purpose and that is to let poetry enthusiasts see what we are up to. With the addition of "Poet of the Month" (your suggestion Grahame) it gives visitors a glimpse of the people involved in poetry in Cobourg. In this era of the internet, it is essential for groups such as the CPW to have a public face and thus participate in the larger world of poetry.

I was going to ask, What are you reading these days. I suspect you don't have much time for that.
You're right about that, I don't have much time for reading books but I do read a lot of poetry. Mostly it is on the internet and the poems of those I do books for. I am currently in the process of judging a contest with over 150 poems, now that's a lot of close reading. And of course I always enjoy reading, and listening to, poems presented by CPW members at our monthly gathering.

Your thoughts on the Cobourg Poetry Workshop and its impact on the local (and beyond) poetry scene?
The CPW is a unique group that exists without any formal organizational structure and its members consistently step up to the plate to help individuals accomplish their poetic goals. The outstanding example of this is James Pickersgill who organizes the monthly public readings, gathering poets from around the province, and beyond, to come to Cobourg and enhance our communal experience of poetry. These readings have a loyal local audience and provide a stage for members to present their poetry to the public. The monthly public reading series is a well known event amongst poets around the province and there is keen competition to get scheduled for a reading in Cobourg.

The CPW, in my opinion, exemplifies how interest groups should function. It encourages participation by being non-judgemental about the style or craft of poetry, respects every member and provides a learning environment where an individual's poetry can grow and flourish simply by the act of participation.


Anything you'd like to add?
I think I've said enough.

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