Interview: Conyer Clayton, author of We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite

A month ago I read and reviewed We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite, a fantastic poetry collection by Conyer Clayton.
After that I interviewed the fabulous Conyer Clayton! Through this interview I tried to bring the author’s creative processes closer to the reader. Here’s what I found out!


Conyer Clayton is an Ottawa-based artist and gymnastics coach, originally from Louisville, Kentucky. She has 7 chapbooks (one forthcoming with Collusion Books, Fall 2020, in collaboration with Manahil Bandukwala), and 2 albums. She is the winner of Arc’s 2017 Diana Brebner Prize and The Capilano Review’s 2019 Robin Blaser Poetry Contest, and writes reviews for Canthius. Her debut full-length collection of poetry is We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (Guernica Editions, 2020). Stay updated on her endeavors at conyerclayton.com.


B&P: On your website, you describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist and editor. Could you explain what that entails?

CC: I write in several genres: poetry, creative non-fiction, and short prose. I am also a musician (I play marimba and vibraphone, as well as sing), and do contemporary dance.
As for my editing services, I mostly edit poetry and short prose, but am open to editing novels as well.

B&P: Describe yourself in three words!

CC: Goofy, sensitive, strong

B&P: When did you start exploring your creativity?

CC: I’ve been writing since I was a kid and played piano at a young age as well. I also did competitive gymnastics (and am a gymnastics coach still) and find sport to be a great way to express creativity, especially as it relates to dance. I think sport is often overlooked as a creative field, as our culture often sets up a very false sport-versus-art binary that I feel should be actively deconstructed.

B&P: Do you have a favourite creative outlet? Do you exclusively write poetry or do you write prose as well?

CC: As I mentioned above, I also write prose. I actually wrote more prose than poetry when I first started writing “seriously” in high school, and then transitioned to mainly poetry for nearly a decade. Now I’m writing a good balance of poetry, prose poetry, flash fiction, and some hybrid work. I would love to write a collection of short stories at some point.

B&P: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

CC: Energizes, absolutely. If there is something that needs to come out that I am resisting for whatever reason, whether it is time or fear or trust in myself, that resistance is the exhausting part. The writing itself pretty much always feels amazing.

B&P: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

CC: I think ordering a first draft of a manuscript is the part I find the least intuitive and most difficult. Once the first draft is together, and I’ve gotten some other eyes I trust on it, I can usually see what I am aiming for more clearly.

B&P: Do you believe a good artist has to have a muse? Did you have one while writing We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite?

CC: I’ve never really related to the idea of a muse, because…isn’t everything a muse? Isn’t just being alive the muse? I can’t say any one thing specifically inspires me. Living inspires me. My own self inspires me. People inspire me. The world inspires me. Somehow, I find calling any of those things “a muse” reductive to their power and breadth.

B&P: What would you describe as your biggest source of inspiration?

CC: Despite everything I just said above (ha!), the thing that probably runs the most consistently through my work is cycles. They are the only constant. I’m inspired by trees and birds and bugs and dirt and water. I hesitate to say “nature” because everything is nature. We are nature. But the non-human-based natural world always pull me back.

B&P: Having published your first poetry collection, how would you describe your journey with writing and publishing it?

CC: Jumpy. It occurred in spurts. Many of the poems were written in my early 20’s, over a matter of 3-4 years. Then there was a 3 year period where I turned away from writing in a serious way. In early 2017, I decided to renew my commitment to my writing and set the goal to have a book published. I compiled those old poems into what was an early version of this book. That manuscript was accepted by Guernica Editions in spring 2018, and from there, my editor and I worked together to make it feel fresh to me. We added new poems from 2016 and 2017. Then there was another big lull in activity (for this book at least) until it came out this year. So, yes, jumpy!

B&P: How long did it take you to write We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite?

CC: It was an on and off process that spanned 10 years, from first drafts to publication.

B&P: Who are your favourite writers and why?

CC: Right now, my favorite writers are my friends who I am collaborating with on a few different projects. They are my current favs because I get to have an intimate view into their processes and be in constant awe of what they create in real-time!
I am a member of a collective called VII, which consists of myself, Ellen Chang-Richardson, Helen Robertson, Chris Johnson, Manahil Bandukwala, Margo LaPierre, and nina jane drystek. Ellen is a master of detail, Helen of precision, Chris of humor, Manahil of softness, Margo of juxtaposition, and nina of sound. I learn a lot from them on a near daily basis.
I also have a collaborative chapbook coming out with Collusion Books in Fall 2020, written with Manahil Bandukwala. Manahil is a dear friend and one of my favorite writers. Her writing somehow has both tenderness and sensuality that I have cannot compare to anyone else. Her voice is so uniquely hers.
I also just started writing a poem, literally 20 minutes ago, with the illustrious Natalie Hanna. Natalie’s compassionate strength shines so brightly through her work. It’s a marvel.

B&P: Do you have any future projects planned out? If yes, could you, maybe, give us a sneak-peak?

CC: I am currently sitting on two (pretty complete, I think) full-length manuscripts, one of which is kind of an extension of We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (in that it expands on many of the same themes and is based in my personal experiences) and the other is a collection of prose poems which cope with fear and memory through surrealism and humor. I’m also working on another hybrid prose project, which I won’t reveal too much about, but is about reincarnation, sort of!


I’d like to thank Conyer Clayton for this wonderful collaboration! And I hope you have enjoyed this little insight into her life!

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