A Chat with Eric A. Cline

Eric Cline is a poet, 2016 Best of the Net nominee and the founding editor-in-chief of Calamus Journal. His debut chapbook, his strange boy eve, was published by Yellow Chair Press in September 2016. He writes the weekly column “Gay-Man” for Five 2 One Magazine, and he tweets @ericclinepoet.


Crab Fat Magazine: Why do you write?
Eric Cline: I write to prove that I exist. When I read great poetry by other people, I feel as if I am connecting with them, in some way, across time and physical space. I am cognizant of the fact that I am receiving thoughts and messages from another person, another consciousness. As such, I aim to accomplish the same thing with my own writing. By reading my work, other people can briefly experience some aspect of myself. My artistic drive can basically be summarized by quoting Stephen Crane: “A man said to the universe: / ‘Sir, I exist!’” Of course, whether or not I succeed is up to other people. As Crane’s poem ends: “‘However,’ replied the universe, / ‘The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.’”


CFM: You write mostly in lowercase. Is there a reason for that?
EC: I primarily use lowercase in my writing as a means of reinforcing the intended moods and themes in my writing. Much of my writing centers around either the difficult emotional realities of being gay, as well as my experiences dealing with my mother’s illness and resultant death. As a result, much of my work confronts periods where I have felt small, and like I lacked control over events in my life. Lowercase letters, by nature of mostly being smaller than uppercase letters, are a physical representation of that sense of smallness in myself/the narrator. My primary use of lowercase also allows me to gain added emphasis/power from the use of uppercase that I would not be able to achieve if I formatted my writing in a standard manner. By shifting my usage of uppercase from standard to seldom and purposeful, I am able to use uppercase as a means of reinforcing major turning points within my poems, such as at the end of the poem “YEARS.”


CFM: Crab Fat published your poem, “Years.” Tell us about it.
EC: “Years” is a hyper-condensed autobiography in verse. I aimed to construct a narrative of my experience as a whole through small 1-to-3 line snapshots from each of my years alive. I set up the most major turning points of my life (my mother’s death and my coming out of the closet) by preceding them with the events leading up to them: my mother’s diagnosis/the beginning of her symptoms, and my first realizations regarding my attraction to other men. Due to the pervasive effect that homophobia has had on my mental well-being throughout my life, I tried to incorporate multiple examples of anti-gay statements and bullying across time. With that said, I also aimed to incorporate references to gay rights liberation as a means of demonstrating my own personal coming to terms with my sexual orientation. The last age in the poem, 21, referenced both the Mattachine Society and ACT UP. The usage of uppercase in the final line was also meant to physically represent me standing up, and no longer being made to feel subhuman.


CFM: You majored in psychology and minored in creative writing. Have your studies in psychology affected or influenced your writing?

EC: Yes. My studies in psychology greatly refined my thought processes as a whole and gave me greater insights into mental processes and behavior. As a result, my ability to analyze the world around me has improved, as has my ability to effectively convey my thoughts. This analytical mindset helps me when I am writing poems as it reinforces my need to consider every little detail of a poem. No stone of thought about syntax, diction, or physical formatting should go unturned when crafting a piece of writing. My psychology background also influences my choice of references from time to time. As utterly ridiculous as Sigmund Freud’s theories were, for example, I enjoy toying around with the concepts of the id, ego, superego, and defense mechanisms in my poetry.


CFM: And lastly, what’s a piece that’s greatly influenced you?
EC: “[It’s no use / Mother dear…]” by Sappho. Sappho is probably my favorite poet of all time, and that piece is a great example of the various aspects of her work that I love. It consists of only ten short lines, yet still, manages to pack an emotional wallop. The word choice is very simple and every day, and enjambment runs throughout. Sappho’s work (among others) influenced me to increase the amount of enjambment in my own work, and I now use it heavily in almost every piece I write. As a teenager first writing poetry, most of my lines ended harshly with repetitive punctuation marks that hindered the flow of my work. Now I’m more able to control my poetic flow and change it to maximize the effect. Aside from all the technical aspects of “[It’s no use /  Mother dear…]”, or rather, because of them, the poem beautifully conveys the narrator’s sorrow. This masterful crafting of emotion is something I constantly strive to achieve in my own work.

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