July 18, 2019

The Write Space – Clemens Carl Schoenebeck

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The Write Space is a monthly Q&A series from Creative Collective covering a local writer and a North Shore space(s) s/he associates with writing.  Questions? Contact: ellorelizabeth@gmail.com.

Give us your best writerly bio.

Photo by Yoon S. Byun

Clemens Carl Schoenebeck has had poems published in The Aurorean, Midwest Poetry Review, Caribbean Writer, Ibbetson Street Press, Small Brushes/Adept Press and other publications. Four of his poems had been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. He and his daughter Kristen were named featured poets of Aurorean‘s December issue in 2000.

His short stories have won various prizes in Writer’s World, Marblehead Festival of Arts. In 2012, he won the poetry and fiction categories. His winning poem was selected for The Marcia Doehner Award and his short story was awarded the first Georgette Beck Award.

His memoir, Dancing with Fireflies, is a story of his family living through the darkness and light of his mother’s schizophrenia, and how poetry brought hope and healing.

His recent collection of poetry, Where the Time Went; Poems at Eighty, was published by Encircle Publications. It was nominated for The Massachusetts Book Award for Poetry, and Foreword INDIES Book of the Year.

Schoenebeck lives on the North Shore of Boston with his wife, Bonnie. His daughter’s family lives nearby.

Tell us about a North Shore Write Space.

It starts in my head. (There is usually abundant space available here.) An idea or image or line of words might pop into my brain when I’m swimming laps at the JCC. Sometimes while pulling weeds in my flower garden I will be inspired to revisit an unfinished poem or story, with the purpose of culling out distracting words or sentences which might lead the reader off the intended trail. I might be in traffic when the blare of an impatient driver’s horn resonates in perfect pitch with the bass entrance to the fourth movement of Brahm’s Requiem; the lovely flow of notes and uplifting grace of How lovely is thy dwelling place. Something hums in my head, and I’m ready to work with the unfinished poem waiting for my attention.

Next, I sit in my easy chair in my den. I pick up my favorite pen which releases its ink in bold black I over-write in prose, unless I already have a line of poetry in mind; something that “says what I mean.” But that’s an early gift. I try to release all the ideas and images from my imagination onto the page. Three or ten drafts until I have everything on the paper that could possibly find its way into the final poem. I purposefully stuff all the drafts into an envelope. The name of the poem is lightly written in pencil, because its too early for a final label. My envelope becomes a crockpot for a few days or weeks, slowly cooking away what is not needed. More drafts now, as I begin to learn what my poem wants to say. More important, I discover what is not needed and I revise the poem, as many times as needed. As if it’s on a Weight-Watcher’s diet, and when the remaining words shine of their own light, I’m ready for the next step.

Finally, computer time. It’s a desk-top, in what used to be my daughter’s bedroom. We moved the washer and dryer from the basement to the wall behind me. Often they are working harder than me. My desk is at a window facing my neighbor’s back yard. I can hear Scout’s cadenced barking, and I am reminded to think about the flow of words on the page. Next door, Fin might squeal a few rounds of laughter, playing with his dad. The little boy’s merriment reminds me that not all poems have to be heavy and profound. Once the poems are on the computer, revision and corrections are easy to do. Changes in line breaks or stanza arrangement are easier. But for me, the major writing and the early revising has been done before it is placed in my computer, where I can shape it into its final form. 

That is, until something has to be changed.

When I’m in North Shore, not writing, I’m …

I have been retired from my profession of dentistry for almost 19 years. So why do I feel that I’m too busy to be retired? I’ve filled my time with activities other than writing. When my muse goes on vacation, I fill my time with music, exercise, flowers, and time shared with my family.

For the past 8 or 9 years, I have been singing with the Festival Chorus of Old North Church. We sing the best of classical music: Brahms, Handel, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and others. Festival Chorus performs a wonderful Christmas concert in early December. Also, on Palm Sunday, we usually sing a beautiful requiem and other music relevant to the Easter holidays. I also sing in my own church choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn, which is located in Swampscott. 

I exercise diligently at the JCC in Marblehead. This is no longer a luxury. Now at age 82, I have concluded that I am participating in essential, daily maintenance of my body. I am also an avid skier, fortunate enough to have enjoyed the snow of Colorado on an annual schedule. My wife, Bonnie, and I had a ski house at Tenney Mountain in New Hampshire for many years. 

Most important of all. My daughter’s family lives five minutes away. My wife and I have been gifted with two magnificent granddaughters, both now college graduates. Having this family nearby has added so much for my wife, Bonnie and me.

In the unlikely event that I get bored, my little 4-year old neighbor Fin, has learned to play pranks on me. I will never let a trick go unanswered.

What are you working on now?

I am not working on anything currently. I’ve been busy with a few readings from the poetry book, with the possibility of some future readings—which I love to do. I am hoping to “get back in gear” by summer’s end. 

And finally . . .

For this month’s profile Clemens shared with us the story of how he became a poet:
How poetry found me

It did not stalk or pursue me, nor was I hiding from it. Poetry came to me when I was most vulnerable. Moments after her birth, I saw my first grandchild cradled in my daughter’s arms. Swaddled in a white wrap, pink cap on her head, Alexa was staring into her mother’s eyes with such intensity that nothing would come between them. 

These words came to me, mysterious, resonant and clear: They have been here forever.

Bonnie and I drove home on that chill December night. Christmas lights glowed bright and white around the perimeter of Salem Common. The stars shimmered with such clarity that I felt I could reach up and pick them right out of the dark night. I could easily read the obediently arranged constellations. For that moment, the North Star was mine.

I did the only thing I could do. I went home and picked up my pen.

I wrote a letter of welcome for my granddaughter, a Christmas present for her mother. Throbbing with good will and newly inspired love, my words blurred the page with emotion. But I’d penned enough meaningful imagery and truth that my wife and daughter said to me, “Pay attention.”

I paid attention. I read Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance. I attended lectures and signed up for Jeanette Maes’ workshops. I was captivated by Bill Moyers’ popular TV series, The Language of Life. I learned that poetry did not have to be garbed in academic robes and recited from a lofty ivory tower. It could be a shared conversation made meaningful by
carefully arranged words, moving forward by the momentum of its own rhythm. My friend Dennis Must, an award-winning writer, mentored me in my early writing. He encouraged me to share my words. 

My earliest poems were submitted to The Aurorean. The publisher has always been supportive of new writers. I will never forget the thrill of seeing my own work between the covers of a respected poetry journal. Cynthia Vincent’s encouragement lit up the path to my own creativity. 

Now I do the only thing I can do. I keep my pen full and look for the next poem.

Find Clemens Carl Schoenebeck’s books on Amazon

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