War, Love, Travel and “Corned Beef Hash by Candlelight”: An Interview with Victor Clevenger

Victor ClevengerQ. You have had several books come out in the last few years, when did you start writing? 

I started writing very horrible poems in my teenage years, which would have been the early to mid-1990’s.  Since those days, the desire to continue writing has thankfully stuck with me, and luckily all the notebooks and poetry from my youth have not.  It wasn’t until 2011 that I decided to venture into trying to get work published.


Q. “Downtime in Iraq” was published online at TPQ, can you discuss how your military service influenced your perspective/your art? 

When I joined, I was twenty-three years old with three children and a wife. We were all six-months removed from a house fire that destroyed everything we owned, and at that time the National Guard seemed like a solid way to bring in a little extra money.  Looking back on that time, from the moment I left Missouri for basic training and throughout the next two years that I served, I think that I can easily compare it to an individual folding every single feeling that they have ever felt in their lifetime into tiny pieces like paper, and stuffing them all into the end of a confetti cannon.  Now, to shoot every single feeling at once out of a cannon, straight into the sky above, and try to catch the tiny pieces as the wind blows them around can seem extremely overwhelming. It was. There was so much sound, so much bustle, the constant changing faces, smells…and that was just the things around me. I had a family and responsibilities on the other side of the world who had so much going on during that time too.  I found it the easiest to just start grabbing for the falling confetti. Just grab something, anything. Unfold it and read the feeling descriptor, process it, feel the feeling once again, write about it and move on. It’s the same with poetry and art these days. There are always “pieces of confetti” falling from the sky. 


Q.  I notice that many military writers tend to form a relationship through their experiences that seem to make them connect as writers and I think that speaks volumes to the idea of brotherhood, can you discuss this? 

I think when things are regimented and there are standard procedures, experiences can be very similar, even when the experiences are separated by a year, or even in some cases, by decades.  There are many memories that I have from the short time I spent in the military. I remember the first day I stepped one foot off the bus at basic training just like it was yesterday; I remember the intensity of Drill Sergeant being in my face that same day.  I remember being in Iraq and walking across the landing zone with Sybil when a car bomb exploded. The blast dropped us to our knees, as we wrapped our arms around each other trying to assess the safeness of that spontaneous situation. When I read reflections written by another veteran, I gravitate because there are pieces of me that understand and can relate completely with what they are expressing. 


Q.  You write a good deal of love poems, a difficult task because many love poems end up being tacky or too personal, but there is a more universal feel to your love poems. Can you discuss the balance between creating a love poem that is universal while simultaneously being narrative? 

Disregarding what my heart and head tell me, is usually the only reason I have love poems to begin with, but I’ve always approached writing these poems by first saying to myself, “Does it really even need to be written?”  Most of the time the answer is no, but I write it anyway just to get the thought out of my mind. When I do, I try to find a balance by crafting in a way that the reader can see something other than me in it. I feel that there must be a common object in order to achieve this; It can be anything from a rusty nail, to a voodoo doll, to some delicious sweet chili sauced chicken wings.        


Q.  “Meth Rock in His Pocket” is a powerful poem that touches upon the personal. In it you share a secret, one you haven’t said aloud. Can you discuss that idea? 

Sure.  I’ve heard it said that a poem is a piece of art framed on a page, so I do believe that for some, capturing words as their art can induce a bit of courage to divulge things that they might not otherwise.  Art is an outlet. I’ve never shied away from putting myself “out there” inside a poem, however, in the poem “Meth Rock in His Pocket” I venture into the absence of my son’s mother, her addictions, and his young curiosity about her leaving.  I truly believe that one day when he is older, and runs across this poem, that he will already have an understanding of why I’ve done what I’ve done.     


Q. You travel a good deal for readings, can you talk about being on the road, the good, the bad, the ugly?  

I love being on the road, and since 2016 I’ve been very fortunate to do what I love.  If you see me out on the highways, you will most likely see our dear friend John Dorsey in the passenger seat.  John and I travel great together. We enjoy a lot of the same things, like old diners and the possibility of finding a new cheap motel to experience.  There really are some great treasures out there. I really enjoy what the traveling gives to us once we reach our destination. It gives us the opportunity to meet people, to have that conversation face to face with an individual that you may have only had through social networking prior.  The bad, yeah, there has been a couple times when a trip got bad. One time my car threw the coolant fan through the radiator and blew it up during afternoon rush hour on I-55 about fifteen miles outside of Chicago, Illinois. It was July and we sat stranded for hours. The other time when things got rough was just recently on our trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, when we drove through a tornado in Amarillo, Texas. The ugly, well, as much as I’d love to try and convince the world that it is, two guys with red beards sitting in a car for up to sixteen hours a day eating sour gummy worms and fried chicken isn’t beautiful to everyone. 


Clevenger Book CoverQ.  What projects are you currently working on? 

We just wrapped up the release of the new book Corned Beef Hash by Candlelight on Luchador Press.  The book launch was held in Belle, Missouri, and it was fantastic. My next collection titled Smoke & Knuckles will contain two selected pieces from my first twelve books, and two new poems.  It’s all put together and I’m excited about it. I will also be traveling to Long Beach, California, and Toledo, Ohio, for reading in the coming months.  


When not traveling on highways across America, Victor Clevenger spends his days in a Madhouse and his nights writing poetry. He lives with his second ex-wife, and together they raise six children in a small town northeast of Kansas City, MO. Selected pieces of his work have appeared in print magazines and journals around the world, as well as at a variety of places online. His work has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, as well as the Pushcart
Prize. Victor is the author of several collections of poetry including Sandpaper Lovin’ (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2017), A Finger in the Hornets’ Nest (Red Flag Poetry, 2018), and Corned Beef Hash By Candlelight (Luchador Press, 2019). He can be reached at facebook.com/thepoetvictorclevenger