Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 3 — Tiana Clark

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about? Who would you love to collaborate with?

I’ve been reading Terrance Hayes’ newest poetry collection, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. I’m huge fan of Hayes, plus I’ve been obsessed with sonnets lately, or, rather, what Carl Phillips recently coined “the psychology of a sonnet,” which I jotted down during from one of his workshops. This idea of examining the behavior behind the fourteen lines and three movements (opening problem/conflict, turn/volta, resolution). John Donne famously said, “We build in sonnets pretty rooms,” but what if I want to destroy that room? What If I am actively working against that idea of beauty with compression? If there were poetry teams, then I’m definitely team Edna St. Vincent Millay with her stunner “I will put Chaos into fourteen lines.”

Emerging writer: Hiwot Adilow!!!! She recently won the 6th Brunel International African Poetry Prize. I had the pleasure of having Adilow in one of my classes during my fellowship at UW Madison. Her work is symphony and smothered in duende. You can find more of Adilow’s work in The BreakBeats Poets Vol 2.0: Black Girl Magic (Haymarket Books, 2018) and her chapbook, In The House of My Father (Two Sylvias Press, 2018).

In the House of My Father by Hiwot Adilow
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

Yes, Jenny Molberg. Her poem, “Epistle From Hospital For Text Messaging” utterly unzipped me, and I’ve been haunted by her last couplet for months and months. Talk about some damn terminal closure!

“Something I don’t understand about myself
makes people want to hurt me.”


What do you think is the most significant impact social media has had on the poetry world recently?

For the most part, the biggest impact I value about social media is the democratic access to literature and other writers. I love waking up and checking Rachel Mennies’ twitter feed for her “morning writing benedictions” or seeing what Kaveh Akbar, Chelsea Dingman, and Claire Schwartz have retweeted. Everyday, it seems, these little poetry anthologies blossom and spread. I love when Hanif Abdurraqib has a layover, because he has the best IG stories answering questions from a panoply of topics. Recently, Derrick Austin, had a great twitter thread comparing all the X-men characters to archetypes you would find in an MFA program, which was phenomenally funny and true!  It’s moments like these that foster a type of connection through laughter and well-loved lines over a massive digital water cooler, especially when the writing is so often in isolation and frustration. I can’t tell you how often I have been stressed, depressed, or upset, and then I read a tweet from Danez Smith that makes me cackle or Phillip B. Williams asks some brilliant question that rearranges my life or Julian Randall sends me an FB message which reads: “what do you need?” or Cortney Lamar Charleston is signal boosting and cheering on a new poem I just published. Of course, social media can be overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and vile, but I keep holding onto these moments and beautiful people/threads/feeds when the tide turns negative, and then sometimes I just turn off my phone.

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matters? What brings you joy? 

Listening to my body when I need a break and reminding myself it’s okay to take a break and that breaks are nourishing and reminding myself that I am not a poetry machine but a human that needs rest and sometimes shitty TV. Oh, and bath bombs!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

From my therapist, Brenda, “Everything you want is not upstream.”

Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them? 

Tiana Clark Tiana Clark Tiana Clark


A photo of author, a woman of color with long hair and dark lipstick, in black blouse, standing outside.TIANA CLARK is the author of I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the 2017 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016), selected by Afaa Michael Weaver for the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Clark is the winner of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, as well as the 2017 Furious Flowerís Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize and 2015 Rattle Poetry Prize. She was the 2017-2018 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Best New Poets 2015, Lenny Letter and elsewhere. Clark is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. She teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. You can find her online at tianaclark.com.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 3. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for this anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.