Mini-interview: Conyer Clayton

Conyer Clayton  (she/her) is a writer, musician, and editor living on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe land. Her debut collection, We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (Guernica Editions, 2020), won an Ottawa Book Award and was a Relit Award finalist. She’s released 2 albums and many chapbooks; recently, Holy Disorder of Being (forthcoming with Gap Riot Press, 2022) by VII, of which she is a member. On twitter and Instagram she’s at @conyerclayton

About the writer: ICYMI, she recently did an interview on prose poetry where she says, “I find prose poems enable my questions, more than any other poetic form.” I have impressed with her sharp vision for a long time. Yogs ago, I produced a flutterbook chapbook of hers with phafours press. The next chapbook of the collaborative group VII, Holy Disorder of Being from GapRiot is out now.

Book: But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves (A Feed Dog Book, Anvil Press, June 2022). (#4 on the Amazon list of Hot New CanLit poetry as I write.)

The book isn’t listed on Anvil’s website/available for purchase there yet, but it is available for pre-order via bookstores, indigo, amazon, etc. I have been using 49th shelf’s website as a go-to, as it contains links to many places you can purchase.

Book description: But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves, Conyer Clayton’s follow-up to her award-winning debut, We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite, is a collection of prose poems that employs surrealism, humour, and body horror to cope with CPTSD, assault, loss, fear, and the memories of it all. The narrator weaves her way through largely aquatic landscapes-water parks, ponds, beast-filled lakes, vast oceans. She walks through time, reverting to childhood and back within a few lines, has the sureness of knowledge that exists only in dreamscapes, and foreshadows the inevitable with a calm derived from accepting the absurd. These poems, hallucinatory and unexpected, are threaded by repetition: Here is another car accident. Here is another man to flee from. Here is questioned memory. Here is the site of grief, revisited, and sometimes, within it, tentatively, hope. In these poems, Clayton explores how we question the validity of our own memories, especially those related to abuse and assault, and the way we forget-or obsess over potentially forgetting-memories of those who’ve died. These poems validate dreams, by proxy, and all internal experience as authentic and valid experience that carries wisdomeven when we don’t know it.


 This poem was part of the few that co-won the 2019 Robin Blaser Poetry Prize and was published in The Capilano Review in 2020, and in Release Any Words Stuck Inside of You II (Applebeard Books, 2021).

Love Interest 

I am the protagonist here, so of course I look unlike myself. At school, they hand us a diagram with a blank space underneath to describe it. I see warfare—nondescript innocents, cut limbs, red puddles—and far away, one lone body fleeing on foot. She’s almost to the woods. No! screams Teacher. She slams her hands on my desk. The dead are the righteous. God smiles at those who lie down meekly and accept such beautiful pain. This one, though, jabbing at the lonely girl, so close to the treeline, is disgraced and lost to God. She cannot escape God’s justice. Write of how she will be found. Later, I’m caught with my earrings, yellow feathers that brush my shoulders, and Teacher sends me to the cliffs. Hundreds of people toss items into the waves below. Family photos and sentimental knickknacks and wedding rings and themselves. The edges are slanted, and the rock is loose from the constant weary footfall. Some fly with their treasures willingly. They are conspicuously quiet. Others crawl weeping to the edge, but as they back away, a rock crumbles, or an armed guard kicks them, or they forget how to fight for life, and these are the ones who fall screaming. As I near the edge, I am crying too. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to lose my last colourful object. A guard walks up behind me, whispers, Pretend to throw them. Hand them to me. I will find you later. He must be the Mismatched Love Interest. I catch a glimpse of his face as I press the feathers into his hand. He leaves, and I mime losing everything. My hand is empty either way.

PP: How was making this collection different from your previous?
CC: This collection’s inception and creation was different both in its time frame and in my drafting process. For my first book, I simply wrote poems as they came over a very long time frame (8 years) and later collected them into a manuscript. This book, however, was drafted in just a couple of years from start to finish, and relied on the constraint of being based (very loosely, with a lot of wiggling and changing during the editing process) around my (or other people’s) dreams.

PP: Best moments in writing:
CC: I think probably the best moments are the ones I remember least — I would often wake up in the middle of the night and voice memo my dreams to myself, and when I listened back in the morning, I didn’t remember it at all. It was quite surreal to hear myself writing poems while asleep.