Jonathan Clark

Historian of One's Own Past

MFA student Jonathan Clark explores his experience of adoption through poetry.

Jonathan Clark stares pensively into cameraJonathan Clark’s poetry is motivated by an obsession—what he calls a “need to know.” Jonathan uncovers documents from his own history as an adoptee and incorporates them into a work of poetic self-exploration. A second-year MFA student, Jonathan hails from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

How has living in Baton Rouge affected your creative work?

Baton Rouge has grown on me. I’m convinced time slows here. I’ve become drawn to the estrangement Louisiana makes me feel from myself; here, rather than forcing the work I want to make, I’ve been practicing letting the work come to me, organically. This has required that I submit to being more still. And I listen, a lot. 

One of the subjects of your work is adoption. What draws you to that, and what’s challenging about it?

The experience of adoption is my story, and no one else can tell it the way I can. A scholar named James Kastely writes something that’s stuck with me: “pay attention to the resistances in your own writing—those are the places that are offering you the possibility of being original.” The subject of adoption is a place that offers me that possibility of being original. What’s challenging is knowing there’s something at stake with this work for me. That’s exciting but also scary.

You describe yourself as a “private poet.” What does that mean to you?

I learned the term “private poet” from the poet Richard Hugo. He refers to “triggering subjects” as a base from which private poets create, first by recognizing and then by writing through an obsession. As a private poet, my obsession is knowing there’s more to know about my experience with adoption, and trying to find the language to be a historian of my own past. I work a lot with personal ephemera (documents, photos, journals, etc.), and the language I connect to this ephemera establishes its own relationship with the reader, which is a different relationship than to me as the poet. 

How has LSU’s MFA program helped you grow as a writer?

The overall intensiveness of the program has challenged me to grow. And being around other writers from such a wide range of backgrounds, being exposed to their minds, their conversation, being in the space itself, is a privilege. As a writer of color, I’ve always embraced the MFA experience as a gift. And the program has supported my sense of purpose in writing from my convictions. 

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

Anne Carson’s Nox
Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony
Emily Jungmin Yoon’s A Cruelty Special to Our Species