Poet Clint Bowman on writing about WNC

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: "Much of WNC is like a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook — you have this beautiful view in front of you but trash around your feet," says poet Clint Bowman. "Everything isn’t as perfect as it seems once you begin to focus and zoom in on the picture." Photo courtesy of Bowman

Clint Bowman, co-founder of Dark City Poets Society in Black Mountain, credits poetry as his entry point to the written word. “I’ve never been a strong reader,” he says. “So, I latched onto poetry in high school when it was the only part of English class I could fully enjoy.”

Around that time, he was introduced to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s works “Afternoon on a Hill” and “Buck in the Snow.” At that point, he says, “I realized I wanted to create art in this same way — by writing poetry.”

In January 2020, Bowman and fellow writer Melisa Pressely launched Dark City Poets Society at the Black Mountain Library. Along with offering critique meetings on the first Tuesday of each month, the group also hosts a poetry reading series on the third Tuesday of each month at BAD Craft, 6-7 p.m.

“Growing up, my writing seemed to live by the Wordsworth quote that ‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,’” Bowman says. “I misinterpreted this as good poetry is just random good luck. Sometimes it is, but more often it takes practice to collect all those spontaneous thoughts and give them meaning. Practice for me has been reading a lot of poetry, usually out loud, and writing a little bit every day and accepting that not everything I write will be good.”

In this month’s poetry feature, we speak with Bowman about the way his work as a recreation coordinator for the town of Black Mountain informs his writing, the importance of creating a literary community and the topics that are explored by fellow local poets. Along with the conversation is Bowman’s poem, “A Real Mountain Man.”

A Real Mountain Man

He knows all
the illegal bear hunters
this side of the divide—
he watched their hounds
run a momma through
the neighborhood
while her cubs hid
in a poplar tree.

Shotgun pellets bounced
off the asphalt into
kitchen windows,
where kids took shelter
beneath the bodies
of their parents.

He used to track
ginseng hunters
up steep ravines
without a gun
just to show them
someone was watching.

Every character he knows
haunts the stories
of his conscious.
From his couch,
he zones out
between commercials
on descriptions
of their faces.

This time, fifty years ago,
he was digging fire lines
in the high Sierras.

Now he’s calling me
from his retirement home
to keep alive
the stories
full of characters
he wishes were dead.

Xpress: What inspired this piece?

Bowman: This poem was inspired by an older friend of mine who has been mentoring me in the outdoors — mostly with trail building and maintenance. Often, when we are on the trail, he’ll share his crazy stories about working out West and his run-ins with local poachers. Bits and pieces from his stories make up the majority of the poem. The image of bears running from gunshots through a neighborhood really sparked the inspiration for the poem.

Is this typical of how your poems come about? Or is this an outlier? 

This poem came about in similar ways as my other poems. The biggest difference with this one is that the stories were inspired by someone else’s encounters. Most of my other poems piece together parts of my own environment. The pieces that stand out the most are often what inspire me to write. Those pieces could consist of places that trigger a memory, the everyday destructive habits of humans or simply a conversation with a friend. Once the poem begins with a singular image or idea, the challenge then begins to answer the question, “So what?” As in, why is this subject important enough to write about?

Could you speak more to the specific ways Western North Carolina inspires and finds its way into your work?

Absolutely, much of WNC is like a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook — you have this beautiful view in front of you but trash around your feet. Everything isn’t as perfect as it seems once you begin to focus and zoom in on the picture. In a way, both positive and negative elements of our region provide plenty of inspiration for a writer. The biggest downside to that benefit is that the subject matter turns grim pretty quick. I’ve never written more about homelessness until I moved to WNC. I’ve also never written more about nature. The complexity of everything in our region constantly inspires me and finds a way into my poetry.

Through my work as a recreation coordinator, I feel lucky to spend a lot of my time outdoors. It’s much easier to write on a subject, both good and bad, when it’s directly in your face. More of the natural elements from our region may find their way into a poem of mine after a long day hike. The less flattering elements may make their way into a poem after spending all day in the river picking up trash.

Do you find similar topics explored by members of Dark City Poetry Society? 

The types of poets we’re seeing are local writers that come from a wide variety of backgrounds. These poets range in age from early teens to over 70. Some are just starting out while others have MFAs or are currently in English programs. Most poets are from either Asheville or Black Mountain, but we do have some very dedicated and talented poets who join us from Hendersonville, Barnardsville and other surrounding communities.

Many of the topics that come up seem to center around WNC and how that individual poet fits — or doesn’t fit — into the culture of our area. Topics touch on nature, religion, identifying as LGBTQ+, complex relationships, pregnancy, hippie communes — you name it. Anything remotely related to WNC has most likely been included at some point.

And how important are gatherings like these within the poetry community? 

I think events like our critiques and poetry nights, along with other local reading events, allow writers the opportunity to feel heard and connect with one another. Often, poetry readings make up a small portion of open mics. To have events solely dedicated to poetry gives the art form and artists the platform they deserve.

Since most writing does take place in isolation, getting together with others can allow a writer to get out of their head a bit and take in different perspectives. Hearing and reading a variety of styles can certainly help the creative process as well. Being part of a group like the Dark City Poets Society can provide the support and inspiration needed for a writer to stay productive and challenge themselves to improve their writing.

Speaking of other poets, is there a new collection from a local writer you’re particularly excited to read? 

I’m really looking forward to Mildred Barya’s collection The Animals of My Earth School. I mean, how can you not be interested in a book with an amazing title like that? I had the honor of getting to know Mildred through a Q&A/reading event that was offered through the Black Mountain Library back in 2021, and I’ve been reading her work ever since.

I’m also looking forward to the publication of the Dark City Poets Society’s first anthology that will hopefully come out within the next year or so. I’ve met so many talented writers through the Dark City Poets Society, and I can’t wait to see all their work together in one place.

Lastly — who are the four poets on your personal Mount Rushmore? 

I love this question, despite how difficult it is. My poetic Mount Rushmore would include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Sharon Olds and Walt Whitman.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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