Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review (forthcoming) among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Clammer is also the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, was released from Hopewell Publishing in March 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Summer 2015. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.
Geosi Gyasi: Could we begin by talking about your debut essay collection, “BodyHome”. Why did you decide to write essays at this point in your life?
Chelsey Clammer: BodyHome is a collection of essays I wrote when I first started writing back in 2011. The essays within it all respond to the thought that the concept of home can be found in our bodies. They’re all personal essays and range from upbeat and witty, to meditative and, at times, dark. I don’t feel like I necessarily decided to write essays. I liked writing, and that was the form that felt most exciting for me.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us if there is any difference between essay and non-fiction?
Chelsey Clammer: For me, nonfiction is just a broad name of one genre and essays are more specific as they are self-contained. Essays can be academic or personal, where nonfiction can be anything that’s, well, not fiction. I usually write lyric essays, which are essays that play with form, structure and language in ways that the more conventional linear personal essays do not..
Geosi Gyasi: How difficult is it to write an essay as compared to fiction or poetry?
Chelsey Clammer: On average, I write about one poem and one short story per year. And all two of the poems I have published were originally micro essays that I turned into poems. In comparison, I have over 100 published essays. My brain has a hard time writing fiction, though all the short stories I have written have been published. So I must be doing something right! Either way, I feel like my mind is able to be more creative when I’m thinking about past events and experiences—like because I already know what the story is, I can then concentrate on form and sound.
Geosi Gyasi: Have been writing for a long time?
Chelsey Clammer: I started writing in 2011, though I have been keeping a journal since I was nine. I’m thirty-two now.
Geosi Gyasi: You are currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. Why did you decide to pursue an MFA?
Chelsey Clammer: I actually never wanted an MFA, as I think a writer doesn’t need the degree to write. So I never pursued one. A few years ago, though, I realized that I wanted more feedback on my writing in order to continue to improve it, and did some research to see if any of the authors I most greatly admired taught any low-residency programs (I wanted low-residency, because I didn’t want to have to move again for graduate school). Lia Purpura is one of my favorite authors, and so when I discovered that she was on the RWW faculty, I looked into the program and decided to apply. I feel blessed, because last year (my first year in the program) I was able to work directly with Lia. Hello dreams coming true.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you actually do as an editor?
Chelsey Clammer: For my freelance clients, I do anything from general feedback to line edits. I have a hard time not doing line edits, though, because I love editing even more than I love writing. I read for sound and pace and rhythm and language and structure and organization and flow and purpose and form. When I edit, I EDIT. I dive into the piece, see what’s working in it, what’s not, and use that knowledge to drive every little edit I make.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you edit your own works?
Chelsey Clammer: Yes. Like I said, I love editing. To me it’s like a science or maybe a puzzle. Writing empties my brain, and editing makes sense of all of it. I get so into editing that I’ve spent a half hour a few different times editing one sentence.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about your association with “The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review”?
Chelsey Clammer: In 2012, I had a piece accepted by the journal. Upon acceptance, Rae Bryant (the Editor-in-Chief) invited me to be a columnist for the journal. A few months later, she asked me to be the assistant nonfiction editor. A few months after that I became the Nonfiction editor. And few months after that I became the Managing editor. Now, I am also a workshop instructor for the journal. Rae has given me such great guidance in my writing and editing life. I’ve worked with her for almost three years now. Funny story—we’ve never met. She lives in Maryland and I’m in Colorado.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind giving us an insight into your forthcoming collection of essays, “There Is Nothing Else to See Here”?
Chelsey Clammer: The concept of this book is to look at some traumatic events I have experienced and, in a way, zoom in on a certain aspect or detail of each one in order to look deeper into the experience. For instance, when my mother found my father dead on the bedroom floor, she tried to give him CPR, which didn’t work. Instead of describing the situation from a more narrative point of view, I concentrate on what her hands were doing during this experience in order to look at the different ways in which we di and grieve. The essays in this collection are more meditative and lyrical than the ones in BodyHome.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Attempt” as published in the winter issue of the “One Throne Magazine”?
Chelsey Clammer: The events in the poem actually happened (see—I’m a nonfiction-er!). I was terribly grieving the young woman’s death, trying to make sense as to why it all happened. I don’t think any sense will ever be made with how she fell off the ledge as she turned around to climb back over it, because there is no sense to it. However, I think in these types of horrid situations, it can be healing to see the events in a more logistical sort of way. I needed to explain exactly what happened in order to then be able to see it differently, to see how I actually felt about the situation. The poem is brimming with grief, as well as a type of beauty that can be found in the vulnerability that grief creates.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you so much particular about “style” when you write?
Chelsey Clammer: Currently, my writing is really experimental. I just finished writing the essays for my next collection, Circadian, all of which have some sort of an unconventional structure or way in which to tell a story. Each essay also takes some sort of science, medical, grammar, or mathematical “facts” and integrates them with personal stories. I’m loving this style right now, as I get to research a bunch of topics and then use them as a way to guide the personal story I want to tell.
Geosi Gyasi: How long does it often take you to write a single poem?
Chelsey Clammer: I have written a total of two poems in my life (one of which is “Attempt”) As mentioned earlier, each poem was originally a micro essay. Essays for me are really easy to write, so that actual writing of the piece took just about ten minutes or so. Then, I changed their structure into a more poem-like form and editing each one for a few days before submitting them. So, I guess a few days would be the answer, if even.
Geosi Gyasi: Which genre of literature do you feel more closely attached to?
Chelsey Clammer: Lyric essays. Absolutely. I love being able to write and read in more challenging and weird ways.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?
Chelsey Clammer: For essays, YES. First lines and last lines are my favorite things to write. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I just get this awesome feeling when I come to a line that I know will be the last one. It’s like the world feels complete and that the essay will have a lot of power in it.
Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?
Chelsey Clammer: Fiction! My brain just doesn’t think in that way!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you admire as a writer?
Chelsey Clammer: So many! A few: Marya Hornbacher, Lia Purpura, Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, Ander Monson, and Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Jorie Graham, Kevin Young, and Jenny Boully to name a few.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your piece, “Dear You”?
Chelsey Clammer: I love offensive rap music. I have my BA and MA in Feminist Studies, so I know that’s kind of weird. But you know what? Lil’ Wayne might have misogynistic and degrading lyrics, but he is a damn good writer. So I’m hooked on Lil’ Wayne now (I’ve even recorded myself rapping him—check out my website for that!) I wrote a fake lesbian manifesto using only Lil’ Wayne lyrics, and then the thought just came to me that it would be funny to take one of his songs that’s filled with a lot of better-than-thou attitude and use the lyrics to write a love letter. After I did that, I realized it would be funny to edit it and use Bette Midler lyrics. I’m not quite sure how I think of these things.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?
Chelsey Clammer: I can never remember when to use affect or effect.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you get any rewards out of writing?
Chelsey Clammer: Sanity. Spirituality. I’m an alcoholic and once I quit drinking, I started to write more and found that writing is my spiritual practice. It’s how we relate to one another in this world—through sharing our stories. If I didn’t have writing, I wouldn’t feel connected to this world or anyone else. It’s what keeps me alive and here.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your relationship with “The Nervous Breakdown”?
Chelsey Clammer: I am now the Essays Editor with The Nervous Breakdown. They published a few of my pieces in the past—one in which I use offensive rap lyrics to explain ecofeminism, and a book review for Dinah Lenney’s The Object Parade. I emailed them to see if they needed any help reading submissions or editing, because I love being involved with literary journals—you get to see all of the new stuff that’s being produced and start to learn who a lot of writers are. I was brought on as the Associate Essays Editor, and in this past week transitioned into the head Essays editor.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more essay books as compared to poetry?
Chelsey Clammer: I actually don’t seem myself writing a collection of poetry. Well, sort of. I’ve taken a few of my segmented lyric essays and have turned them into a few different chapbooks, because they kind of read like prose poems. For now, though, I’m sticking with essay collections but am always keeping poetry in my mind.