In his debut collection, titled “Jesus in the Trailer,” Andrew Clark’s poetry reads like connected but fragmented short stories. Clark, who lives in Candler, sees this work as a sort of roadmap of hurt, turmoil and hope in the American Southeast.
“There’s some darker moments in the book. Addiction is a topic that comes up, violence comes up. I try to talk about race relations in the South,” Clark said. “I try to talk about the beauty of what we have as southerners but also try not to mask the ugliness in our history.”
Clark reads from “Jesus in the Trailer” 4 p.m. Jan. 12 at Malaprop’s in Asheville.
Clark earns his living in financial planning and business consulting, and he spent 13 years as a professor of finance at South University in Savannah, Ga. But the arts have always been part of his life. Clark makes a distinction between playing the fiddle and the violin—and he did both—but he saw himself as a writer from the time a childhood friend gave him a book of Langston Huges’ poetry. Clark studied English literature at Georgia Southern.
“I was writing about the mountains when I didn’t live in the mountains. I started a number of different novels and short stories about things I didn’t know about, topics I didn’t have any familiarity, and that’s one of the reasons they did not work,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll always write about this area, but at this point they’re almost a character in the work, the mountains are.”
Clark grew up in a home he said regarded Southern Baptist as a religion too liberal. Bn the title poem to his new collection, Clark said he’s skewering what’s known as the prosperity gospel.
“For me, putting Jesus in the trailer park, is a way to push back against that,” he said. “When I write about the people that came from the faith traditions I came from, I want to do that from a love and appreciation. There’s certainly some disagreement and tension, but I don’t want to disrespect the people.
Clark also doesn’t want his family to read too much into his poetry, insisting his work ranges from whole fiction to abstracted versions of his own experience. In the end, he said, he wants readers to fill in the blanks with their own interpretations.
“You always have some things you don’t want to write about as a writer. Those are things you should write about,” said Clark, who is shopping a novel to publishers and working on a follow-up.
“I didn’t really want to write about religion. But something happened whenever I allowed myself to go there and be vulnerable and honest,” he said. “I mean, there are poems about divorce in this book, but there are things in this book that can make great art, if you just allow yourself to be honest and feel that pain.”