Conyer Clayton is a queer writer, musician, and freelance editor who was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She now happily calls Ottawa home. She has a BA and an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Louisville. Her most recent collection is But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves (A Feed Dog Book by Anvil Press, 2022), a collection of surrealist prose poetry. Her first book, We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (Guernica Editions, 2020), won the Ottawa Book Award and was a ReLit finalist. She has many chapbooks, including 3 collaborative ones; most recently holy disorder of being (Gap Riot Press, 2022) by VII, a poetry collective of which she is a member. Conyer is also a competitive gymnastics coach—she has been teaching children how to move, set goals, and handle their emotions for nearly 20 years.
Her poetics vary greatly in style (lyric, prose poetry, visual poetry, and hybrid works) but are often around concerns over grief and loss, the body, illness, disability, and addiction. She is also concerned with eco-poetics and the climate crisis. Her work on abortion was read at city council by then-poet-laureate of Fredericton, Jenna Lyn Albert, and garnered national attention to the role of the poet laurete when some council members claimed the poem was "too political." Our identities and experiences are always worthy of being written about and shared, and doing so is a form of activism that can help create meaningful change.
Conyer's influences include H.D., Lynn Hejiniian, Mary Ruefle, Italo Calvino, Carmen Maria Machado, Sanna Wani, Kaveh Akbar, and Sarah Venart. But beyond words—lifting weights, bugs, toads, dancing, music, cows, squirrels, garlic, gardening, her family—all these things inspire her.
I mostly read prose in high school, but I find the line between prose and poetry is a thin (and maybe non-existent) one, hence my love for the prose poem, and many of my favorite poets were in fact prose writers: Italo Calvino, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges. However, I did read H.D. and John Berryman's The Dream Songs extensively. My favorite was Dream Song 14, which begins, "Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so," and ends with "somehow a dog / has taken itself & its tail considerably away / into mountains or sea or sky, leaving / behind: me, wag." This poem, along with all the magical realism I was reading, helped me feel I could be honest in my writing without worrying about literal truth and logical meaning. This is a lesson I still work from today.
My first published poem was in 1st grade in my school's literary magazine. It was a minimalist poem about my mittens that I am rather sure I plagiarized. From there though, I must have caught the poetry bug, and began writing my own (not plagiarized) work through middle school, which I mostly kept private. I began thinking of myself as a poet in high school when I took my first creative writing course in 12th grade, and was appointed the editor of my high school's literary magazine. My teacher's trust in me in that role gave me a lot of confidence in my creative intuition.
To enjoy writing. Frankly, I feel it is as simple as that. That is not to say it will not sometimes be difficult. Certain subjects can be immensely difficult to spend time with. Editing can be tedious and long and challenging. However, if a writer is not finding joy somewhere within the act of writing, or in the final product, what is the point? What our work does from there goes beyond us. Sometimes poetry can create awareness and conversations that create change within the world. Sometimes a poem can help someone else through their grief, through a traumatic experience. Sometimes a poem simply makes another person smile. All of these are great things. But since what our poems do once they leave us is not really up to us, so we must concern ourselves first and foremost with what writing does for us — so if you don't enjoy it, why do it?
I would choose "The ABG (The Able-Bodied Gaze)" by Therese Estacion. Firstly because I am drawn to disability poetics, but also because this poem makes such creative and interesting use of visual space, formatting, and the page, that it would be a fun challenge to see how one could go about doing it justice using only the voice!