G.O. Clark attributes the inspiration for “Miles to Go Before We Rest” [in our May/June issue, on sale now] to trans-Neptunian object Arrokoth and the memory of a prehistoric fertility goddess statue. Read on to learn more about the poem’s evolution, G.O.’s history with Analog, and his other writing projects in the works.
Collage by G.O. Clark
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this poem?
GC: Behold Ultima Thule,
ancient, eyeless, nose-less
and with no mouth to speak of
way out there in the Belt.
The poem is based on pictures of Ultima Thule, the nickname the New Horizons team gave to 2014 MU69, (now relabeled Arrokoth), out there in the Kuiper Belt after the probe’s closest flyby in 2019. Seeing the photos for the first time, an image came to mind of a prehistoric fertility goddess statue I’d seen somewhere, the statue headless and worn down by the elements over time. It was a stretch, but there it is. Tying this in with the idea of new birth, and discovery through space exploration, the poem pretty much came together. I used “Ultima Thule” in the original version of the poem, as that was the trans-Neptunian object’s moniker at the time. Then it was pointed out to me by Analog’s poetry editor that its name changed to “Arrokoth,” which is the Powhatan word for “sky.” So “Arrokoth” was substituted for the original. The meaning remained the same, the Powhatan term for sky just enhancing the poem’s meaning.
AE: How did the title for this poem come to you?
GC: The title of the poem was lifted from the final two lines of Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”: “and miles to go before I sleep.” Also, the first line of the final stanza, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” reminded me of the mysterious nature of space, the word “woods” replaced by “space.” Once again a stretch, I’m sure, but I do that sometimes.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
GC: I’ve read/enjoyed issues of Analog over the years, and wish I’d had access to Astounding back when I was young in the ’50s; the local drugstore in the small MA town where I lived carried no SF or other pulp magazines. As a poet, I’ve been lucky enough to have poems in five issues of Analog, this one included.
I wasn’t a library user when young, for various reasons, but have been one ever since, with shelves and shelves of inspiration within easy reach. The inspiration to try my hand at writing probably started there. Of course, I own a few thousand books as well. Really, who knows. One day I was a reader, the next a writer as well.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
GC: Current scientific news provides the creative spark for some of my writing, i.e., “Miles To Go Before We Rest.” Politics not so much, other than a reference here or there. Extrapolating about the future from current news items, good or bad, plays a role in some of my poems depending on my mood and the situation at the time. The Covid-19 virus is constantly in the news now, and the opportunity to turn that into some story or poem is likely sending other writers to their keyboards, but not me. Right now we need facts, not fiction. Generally speaking, whatever grabs my creative imagination is what ends up on paper, with exceptions.
AE: Do you tend toward formal verse or free verse? Or do you try to mix it up?
GC: I write mostly free verse. It’s my comfort zone. A haiku or two materialize on occasion, and a stray rhyme from time to time.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
GC: Writing mostly poetry, I don’t worry about writers’ block. If I was a novelist or fiction writer in general selling primarily to pro markets, I probably would, knowing my livelihood depended upon regular acceptances and sales.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
GC: I’m trying to put together enough stories for a collection similar to my last one, Twists & Turns, 2016, from Alban Lake Publishing. A mix of SF, horror, fantasy, etc. Hopefully by next year. And also, perhaps a “best of” or collected works poetry collection ranging over the last thirty or so years. There’s been some interest, but nothing solid so far.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
GC: “I would love to see the development of FTL drive and the expansion of humankind beyond our solar system. It’s in our nature to explore and push the boundaries, which in space seem limitless. Also, the survival of the human race may eventually depend upon leaving Earth behind, due to our own short-sightedness.” This is a quote from my July 19, 2018 questions/answers blog for this magazine. It’s been a couple of years, but my statement is still the same, other than a bit more fuzzy in my mind, and the news of the world more depressing.
AE: What are you reading right now?
GC: Pirates of the Universe by Terry Bisson, Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson, Money Shot by Rae Armantrout. Goodreads has a list of books I’ve read over the past few years and longer, and ones I’m presently plowing through.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
GC: Coffee, fingers on keyboard, begin. If you don’t keep doing so until the day you die, then try something else. Coffee of course is just a suggestion. Pick you own stimulant.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
GC: I’ve been surrounded by books for years while working in libraries at the non-professional level. Public library, bookmobile, and university libraries. Ray Bradbury said in a documentary, and I paraphrase, that he got his education in the L.A. public library. I wasn’t a library user when young, for various reasons, but have been one ever since, with shelves and shelves of inspiration within easy reach. The inspiration to try my hand at writing probably started there. Of course, I own a few thousand books as well. Really, who knows. One day I was a reader, the next a writer as well.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
GC: I post news of my books on Facebook under Gary O. Clark, on my webpage, http://goclarkpoet.weebly.com, and my author page at Alban Lake Publishing, https://www.irbstore.co/author-page-go-clark. You can email me at email@example.com—short of fishy spam(s).