Charles Clifford Brooks III
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
Welcome to a new beginning, a ‘blank canvas’ and a new series of interviews and events I am looking forward to sharing with you.
Listening to the rain and wind battering on the skylight above my head it is heartwarming to look forward to the blossoms of spring and a reawakening of nature from her slumber.I am sitting here in my chair reflecting on the power of words. Positive words can both comfort and inspire us to blossom, with confidence, in all the arts and in life.
I am excited to begin a new journey in 2015 and to meet in these interviews, writers, artists, and musicians who are not afraid to blossom, whose art burns deeply into their soul and for whom it is painful to hold back from fulfilling this yearning.
One writer I have been delighted to meet on facebook is Clifford Brooks III. A writer who is passionate, honest and innovative in his writing. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Georgia Author of the Year for his first book of poetry, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. Clifford has an wonderful use of language in his poetry that paints words with music and a book I personally recommend.
Links to Clifford’s website and other sites are listed at the end of this article.
Welcome Clifford and I am looking forward to hearing about your life and your work.
Clifford Brooks is a teacher, freelance writer, and poet living in North Georgia. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Georgia Author of the Year for his first book of verse, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. Clifford’s next book of poetry, Athena Departs, is currently in the last stages of editing. Another epic poem, The Salvation of Blue Crawford, nears completion with the help of a few friends.His newest accomplishment, with the help of many brilliant artists, is the creation of The Southern Collective Experience (https://www.facebook.com/TheSouthernCollectiveExperience), who will soon have a website of their own. The expression he creates alongside his brothers among The Last Ancients (https://www.facebook.com/TheLastAncients?ref=hl) is a whole other downtown midnight.
1) Tell us about yourself Clifford.
I am a son of two wonderful parents. As a child, I detested school, but loved being outdoors. I’m still very much a Huck Finn kind of cat. I’ve been blessed to call Georgia my home as life came with kissing gifts of lovers/friends/family and brass knuckles of hard wisdom. My education is a Bachelors of Science in History/Political Science from Shorter College located in Rome, Georgia. While in college, I began taking poetry seriously, but prose was still my primary focus as a man of letters. After graduating in 1999, I went on to a career with the Georgia Juvenile Justice System and the Department of Family and Children’s Services for ten years before leaving to devote myself to writing, music and teaching.
I had no Plan B when I bounced out of my work with the government. That wasn’t a well-thought-out decision for much of my family, but I knew in my bones the poetry I wrote would sneak into bookstores. The attention I’m getting from the legitimate world of book publishing has gone far beyond anything I expected. I think that many artists don’t make it because they don’t recognize creative art as work. It’s a business. The financial science of art is something I can jive with all day long. I come from a long line of successful business folk, so getting over the “you gotta be broke and miserable to write well” wasn’t a problem. I’ve never shown up to sweat for no dough in return (except for my mom and dad). I don’t plan to skate off this planet as some broke, drunk, sad cliché.
I quasi-enjoy being around people, but I get tired fast. Being alone for long periods of time doesn’t bother me, but I’ve learned in recent years that too much solitude doesn’t wear well on me. I am horrible about taking care of myself. If not kept in check by a friend or lover, I withdraw too far inward. This trait has been essential in my achievements with creative writing, but the hermit gene doesn’t translate as well in regards to the real world. Both worlds are “real,” but the one that involves other people might not be so taken aback by my appearance if I remembered to eat, shave, and shower.
Maxfield Parrish’s Cerulean blue is my favorite color. All my suits are black or brown, but I am mainly found wearing rock-and-roll t-shirts and jeans I should’ve thrown out from heavy wear five years ago. My curly-hair and addiction to books is shared by my brilliant momma. I inherited my passion for Motown from my gregarious father. I have a little brother named Justin Brooks who’s married to a lovely lady named Lee. They have a son named Charles Thomas Brooks who is magic to watch walk around, and a newborn named Justin Davis Brooks Jr.
I was married once. It didn’t work out. I am horrible with relationships. I’m moody, selfish, loud, intense, and constantly racing against growing bored. I talk like a machine gun, but I blame that on coming from generations of car dealers. I initially went to college in the field of theology. I love God. We don’t always agree, but it always works out.
I feel an innate connection to the blues, jazz, and classical music. These genres factor in with my next book like a soundtrack. I’m about 85% of the way through my second volume of poetry, Athena Departs. I have two collaborations scheduled with close friends for late 2015 /early 2016 (both poetry). After these mad dashes in song, I’m slipping back into prose.
2) Why/when did you start writing?
I started writing in the fifth grade, I think. It was a personal venture where I created worlds in which I was in control – everything made sense. It never occurred to me that I should show other people these fictional creations. It was fun. It still is. I always stared out the windows in school and got called “space cadet” on more than one occasion. The trick, over a great deal of time, was to figure out how to funnel the dream state associated with creative writing to bend to a business-like mentality. I learned to do that in school. Education is the only fortune that can’t be taken away.
Family coaxed me into taking my stories to the public. My mom found a handful of my short stories one day and recognized the embers of something greater. Creative writing bolted me into public education. Before this epiphany, I made passing grades to make my parents happy. Once I discovered that I had a knack for writing, I became more invested in my education to hone that skill. As I became more involved with this process, music grew to be intrinsically linked to my writing as a source of inspiration –classical music taking the lead.
For a majority of my writing life, I’ve stayed in fiction and non-fiction. Somewhere in the years between 2001-2003, a literary agent became passionate about my poetry being the best vehicle into legitimate publishing. This surreal journey began when I sent his agency my novel synopsis, several short stories, articles, and then a handful of poems to show the breadth of my scribbling talent. The agent enjoyed the prose, but my poetry —for reasons I still don’t completely grasp — took his attention completely. As I continued this path, there were hard lessons learned and trials to be overcome, but I realize now that the Universe was priming me to appreciate the gifts coming my way. When you work for something, you don’t piss it away.
I write because it creates an inner peace where I am able to focus my thoughts, churn up the ill-will killing me, the guilt of a thousand wrong turns, lovers I didn’t treat fairly, and then a plethora of gorgeous experiences that are the silver lining to an artist’s existence.
This is especially true with poetry. Poetry and music are my most effective therapists and attentive confessors. It’s a beat-down phrase that writers use, yet I didn’t initially write any of my poetry for wide readership, if for publication at all. I kept to a strict practice of writing only what I knew, and being honest without slipping into melodrama.I told my life story and perspective through poetry as it is, and only for what it is, nothing more. I don’t preach, promise answers to life’s great questions, or choose a soapbox to pontificate bullshit. I think readers in general, no matter the genre, appreciate those traits.
3) As creative people we are inspired by our personal experiences in life and the world around us. I would love to hear what inspires your writing. Music, nature,literature, travel, etc ?
Dodging boredom, depression, and mediocrity inspires me. Beautiful faces and sounds inspire me. I notice the small things in everyday situations. I am an avid people-watcher, and, due to some glitch in my perception, I tend to pick up on subtle nuances many others seem to miss entirely. Music, nature, literature, family, love, loss, death, and mania/depression all play a part in what and why I create poetry. Music is the soul of my creative efforts. I listen to it every waking moment. If I am writing, I am listening to music. I realized early that I couldn’t beg out of a guitar the sounds necessary to pass on my feelings to an audience. Poetry allows me the next, best thing. Poetry and music are Janus faces to a single god of harmony.
I am moved to write about things that escape explanation. Spirituality, ethics, morality, adoration, demons, memories of long-dead relatives, classic cars, acrid smoke, and gospel music all play a part in the frantic motion I bind within what I compose. It’s a painful process to become comfortable with telling the public the whole truth of sins,insecurities, and bad sex, but if you’re not going to tell the whole truth, don’t do it.
4) What motivates you to keep writing?
I love doing it.
Writing is the single thing in this world I’m capable of producing with any great skill. I am not good with people. I’ve heard from more than one person that I “live too much in my head.” I agree with them. The downside to a rich imagination is that often it is far more attractive to occupy than real life. It is a struggle not to hide in the ephemera of my own invention.
Much of my writing in the first two books, printed in one volume (The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics), is me trying to figure out my place in mankind’s shuffle. In the poems that capture my thoughts on a certain social situation, I’m never judging anyone; instead, I’m trying to figure out the significance of what I’m seeing. Many poems are pulled from the moleskins I carry with me. I don’t have a set time every day to put down my thoughts on paper. Creation, for me, comes in spurts — which is whenever the hell it feels like snatching my attention. Of course, I believe there is a specific brand of professionalism demanded in the arts. I do sit down to carefully edit my work once I’ve amassed enough for an obsessive-compulsive sit down. Yet, I can’t tell you where the fire originates or why it’s difficult to contain. There is something divine in art that cannot be understood, and I like it that way.
5) Other writers you admire?
Rilke, ee cummings, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Goethe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Poe, Tennessee Williams, David Bottoms, James Dickey, Rumi, Coleman Barks, John Aagard, Pat Conroy, Christopher Moore, Rick Bragg, Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Coleridge, Robert Pinsky, Daniel Nathan Terry, Li Po, Wang Wei, William Wright, James Duncan, Chad Prevost, and Charles Simic
6) What are some of the highlights of your poetic journey, particularly your recent work with The Last Ancients and The Southern Collective Experience?
Being published is the biggest highlight thus far in my career. When I find my book in Barnes & Noble, or see someone reading it in a coffee shop, there are feelings of shock and a subtle undertone of unease. I put every bad, beautiful, brutally honest thing I’ve ever done in those two books. Now, any stranger can read them with very little metaphorical subterfuge. Yet, I am unburdened by much of the soul-debt the book plucked out at its completion. There’s a freedom in full disclosure as long as you don’t choke the reader with it.
I was also floored by the nominations for Georgia Author of the Year and the Pulitzer for Poetry. At the time the nominations were announced, a friend saw the news before I did, so she called to tell me. I didn’t believe her. It was posted on the web page my publisher, John Gosslee Books, provided me. I was ecstatic and realized that I needed to pay more attention to details – including the small ones on the internet about a Pulitzer nod. I discovered that, when you pour yourself into the right things for good reasons, miracles occur.
This idea of miracles also manifested itself in two groups of artists I’m knee-deep in at present. The Southern Collective Experience and The Last Ancients are two direct gifts from Elysium that have provided me the rock-solid crowd of brilliant, generous,genuine, and humble folks who provide an oasis from the egotistical mainstream representing art today. The back-stabbing I’ve seen; the selfish motives that isolates one poet, writer, musician, or painter from the others; the childish gossip – it’s in every vocation, but it’s rife in the art world. It doesn’t depress me as I see it as an opportunity to fill that void with quality work. Not only that, but it’s shared through literary families that strive to promote each other and strike down the cliché that all creators are whiney, hormonal, brooding, unpopular teenagers. We are not sellouts because we succeed. We succeed because we are not sellouts.
Two poems from Athena Departs:
To a Childhood Infatuation
Insane lady, lazy Penelope,
you have been the best,
You’re a legend
in interstate stalking.
I can’t buy you
no home in Paris,
no free ride in the bedroom I occupy.
There are already
plenty of secrets.
This poem is an epitaph
to a childhood infatuation
you refuse to lose.
The Lasting Melody Made of God
(dedicated to Fahim Ali)
When our species decided
to discover an adoring,
a song was slung across
we once suspected
was only dead space.
What we discovered
was another orchestra
willing to share with us
earth’s universal tongue.
Its uncommon notation
and tempestuous tempo
became our bloodless kinship.
That serenade cemented
that there is more
beyond our mindscape
laughing at us
through dense fog.
When Genesis split
its gentle night
with the mother of mornings,
naturally listened for folks
who carve chords
that quell chaos,
not cause it.
The facts are not farfetched:
Prayers progressed into psalms
that grew from a fertile,
Those notes, hammered
home through hymns,
resonate as the rhapsody
of God’s first words:
We are all kept safe
in the Old Man’s hands.
Our darkest deeds
are blown free,
like dandelion seeds in a gale.
if my concept of soul
lacks enough evidence
to earn your certainty,
rely on reason,
sunflowers, white dwarves,
and spider webs.
The only theology
worth knowing is:
None of this
Excerpt from Chapter 2 in The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford:
For four weeks of Tuesdays,
he was trapped by timid spinsters.
Without much booze,
or emotional ado,
Blue went into the hard truth:
He had to create his lewd lady.
Since Miss Dixie was deep in the farthest state,
this North Georgia necromancer knew
he could cash in enough Old World wizardry
to cause the cosmos to cough up
another eager girl giddy to listen.
It wouldn’t be free.
Old Scratch has the recipe.
It’s more of the same trade
that got the Old Goat in so deep,
and a cowboy so far behind.
Made by good manners
his sweet momma taught,
Blue has long been decent enough
to shake the devil’s hand.
Yet, the cowboy didn’t
believe in a bargain this time
for a brief release
in his back bedroom
at the Big House.
There is one angel there:
Where great-aunt ached when she walked,
there is a path he can follow
now to a quiet writing window.
Even the hollow have a hobby.
Daylight is muted by the caring
leaves of ancient trees.
Blue has climbed them, cherished them,
and they, now,
cherish him in return.
Blue would bend the elements
in a copper basin.
Water and gasoline boil
above a consuming, cerulean heat.
Tapping, stirring out toe-by-toe his siring,
the forbidden forming of Miss Dixie’s
knock-off, slender replacement
is sex sold for sorcery.
Blue became a Faustian blunder.
He stole Hell’s heart
and singed it into his breast
with the blessing
of a Haitian godmother.
That talisman allows him to slither out
of the moral middle ground,
and get busy building a beautiful untruth.
More than a few friends,
will fail to sustain their strong bonds
Blue is in love with lightning,
and considers the casualties created
by this liking,
but quickly casts them off.
His online presence includes:
Personal Website: http://www.cliffbrooks.com
Artistic snippets of his work (as created by Holly Holt, a member of The Collective) can
be found on Pinterest here: Athena Departs:
and Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford: https://www.pinterest.com/poetnpractice/the-
To buy The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics:
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-draw-of-broken-eyes-and-
Amazon (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Draw-Broken-Eyes-Whirling-
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/Draw-Broken-Eyes-Whirling-Metaphysics-
The photo of Clifford in a scarf is by: Sandra Smith of Freedom Photography
The photo of Clifford standing up is from Matthew Polsfuss
The original artwork is by Holly Holt and the lines are from the excerpt of The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford that shall show in this piece.
Many thanks Clifford for this wonderful interview. I feel honored to have met you and to have had this opportunity to share your life and work .