Courtney Clute is Alien Buddha’s Featured Artist for December 2022


ABP– Hi Courtney. Thank you for taking this interview.
This past summer, Alien Buddha Press was fortunate to publish your flash fiction chap “The Fermi Paradox”. What can you tell us about the process of writing/compiling this book?



CC– Thank you for the opportunity to be a Featured Artist!
“The Fermi Paradox” was a couple years in the making, but its inception goes further than that. I received my MFA in creative writing at the University of South Florida, where I studied flash fiction and wrote a collection of flash fiction for my thesis. It was during this time that I really fell in love with the form and devoted my studies to the craft, consuming many collections of flash, and writing as much short fiction as I could. I knew once I graduated, I wanted to create a chapbook from my thesis collection. However, upon graduating, I continued to write flash, take online workshops, and start writing groups. I found my footing in the flash world, and the subject matter and topics I wrote about shifted from my time as an MFA student. By the time I was ready to put together my chapbook, only a few pieces ended up making it from my thesis collection. So, the chapbook did not start how I had initially intended but looking back on it, it’s amazing to see how it organically developed.



ABP- Can you share one of the pieces from the book with us here, and tell us a little about it?


CC- Here is the first piece in the chapbook: “Carbonara.” This is one of my favorite pieces from the book. I had a lot of fun writing it, despite the plot/subject matter being a bit of a bummer. I enjoyed incorporating humor with the themes of loss and family. I came up with the idea of the piece because one of the ways my boyfriend stayed busy at home during 2020 was making carbonara pretty much every day. I was fascinated by how simple carbonara is to make, but how easy it is to screw up, especially if you don’t the use the authentic or “right” ingredients. Thus, “Carbonara” was born!
Carbonara



I’m driving to the Italian deli at 8:49 p.m. on a Friday night to get the right type of pecorino Romano because when I started shredding Parmesan cheese, and not Romano, over my mountain of spaghetti, I felt my grandfather’s stern gaze from heaven.


Dinner had been delayed. I’d gotten home from work, put on an episode of The Sopranos, and fallen asleep on the couch. I dreamt my dead grandfather stood next to me, hunched over his walker, which was covered in yellow smiley face stickers. His teeth were out, so his gummy smile gave me the chills when he said, “Get up, you lazy piece of shit.”


When I awoke, I realized it wasn’t a dream, but rather a memory I had of when my grandfather was alive—just three months ago—when he lived with me because no one else wanted him after the hip replacement he never fully recovered from.


“I live in a second-floor apartment,” my mom had said.
“We haven’t spoken in twenty years,” my aunt spat over the phone before hanging up.
So, it was me and Grandpappy—a name I called him in my head; in real life, he made me call him Richard—stuffed in my one-bedroom condo.


I moved into the living room, and he moved into my room, where he complained about the Grand Theft Auto and Evil Dead posters hanging on my walls, saying he felt like the devil watched him as he slept. When he wasn’t sleeping, he shuffled into the kitchen in a tea-stained nightshirt and instructed me to make him carbonara, barking the correct way to do it.


He’d make me drive thirty-nine minutes to the Italian deli and buy guanciale and fresh pecorino Romano or else I might as well not make carbonara, saying, “What kind of Italian are you, anyway?” “How could your mother fail you?” and “You probably think carbonara is supposed to have chicken in it, you little shit.”
After about forty-five times of cooking carbonara, he finally was pleased with how I made it, but then out of nowhere he stopped eating two weeks before his death like he was tired of living. His chest shrunk in on itself, revealing sharp lines of bone popping through his skin. He refused the apple sauce I gave him with his medicine churned up, and before I knew it, I was calling 911, because one morning he stopped breathing.
So now I’m at the Italian deli, but it’s closed until the next morning. I go home to an empty condo, dumping the cold spaghetti in the trash, whispering to myself, “You little shit.”



ABP- What is the art/lit scene like in St. Petersburg like these days? Have you been to any interesting events?

CC- The Tampa Bay writing literary scene is quite robust. We have wonderful writing programs at universities like USF and the University of Tampa that host readings and offer ways to connect with fellow writers, and Florida is home to a fair number of authors.
Also, I am a co-coordinator of the Tampa literary event, Read Herring. It is a monthly reading series that hosts three writers every third Wednesday. We also play interactive audience games and have prizes. It’s a great way of engaging the community—writers and non-writers alike—and I’m very proud to be involved with this series.



ABP- Do you have anything creative planned for 2023?

CC- Yes! I will continue to write flash fiction and perhaps start putting together another chapbook. I’ve recently started to experiment with micro in Sarah Freligh’s Less is More workshop, so I would love to continue to write micros. Finally, one of my longtime goals has been to do some sort of writing residency or retreat—even if it’s just a long weekend—so I would love to make this happen in 2023!



ABP- Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book ever written?

CC- I’m actually not sure I have an all-time favorite author. I read so much, including books and individual pieces from literary magazines, that my new “favorite” author is constantly changing. However, I do have an all-time favorite book, and that is The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. I read it as a child and have read it multiple times as an adult. In fact, it’s the only book I’ve read more than twice. I even got a tattoo of Louis—the swan from the story—about a year ago because I love that character and book so much. I’ve always been drawn to stories about the “odd one out,” and these themes resonate in my writing as well.



ABP- Thank you again for taking the time to share with us here today. If there is anything else you would like to mention, feel free to do so.

CC- Thanks, Red! I’m honored to be here and to be a part of the ABP family. One of my favorite aspects of writing is the community, so if you’re on Twitter, I would love to connect (@courtney_clute)!


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SPOTLIGHT: Dune Shadows by Jenica Lodde


I Sent My Ghost to the Party
Body stayed home and read three pages of a book and
sixteen Facebook memes
then went to bed early.
Ghost Me brought two bottles of wine,
scattered joy like a new queen tossing coins to the crowd.

She didn’t smile a half-baked smile
or speak in a crosshair-thin voice,
didn’t run out of words and
spend forty-five minutes watching Dr. Pimple Popper
while everyone else played games.

Ghost me was as cool as a housecat
eyeing fish shadows in a garden pond.
She entered the conversation on hawk-strong wings,
saw threads of thought like shimmering tinsel
picked them up and wove her own pattern back in.

She was everywhere at once like a hummingbird,
moving fast and in color.
Body wasn’t jealous and didn’t miss her.
Sometimes talk is a storm.
The blankets were sweet;
they erased all of the clatter.




Love-High
I’m going to hide in the trees
I’ll be down when the world dies
Life is a game and god keeps handing me the dice
The pine needles never looked so green or so damned happy
Rub me dry in my black tights
The flip side of the leaves match the blue sky
We get closer and closer with each sip
This is the way heaven gives me light:
Drop by drop at a time
I’m just so far from the truth
I’m a flower blossoming ahead of the storm
Don’t I deserve this sweetness?
Don’t I deserve these bees,
Even when the small clover lies empty?
Eat out of my hands and be happy just once:
You don’t know when you’ll trip on the strings.
See the way the wind bows down in the trees?
I could touch your hair and make you think you were dying
I’ll give you that piece of me
And all I want back is the moment filling up my lungs
Like a Van Gogh painting full of blue waves and depth and lust for life

I want to be a wild woman tearing words from the sky
And I want you
tying lines across my path,
mixing bread crumbs with the stones,
keeping me looking down
so I don’t fly up off of the earth.




Lunaria II
No matter how I catch the air or where I land I can’t feel the weight of my self
I’m going to drift across the leaves and keep on drifting
If I could feel real and know the truth I’d be ok
But life just throws me bones and not meat
That’s the problem with being high and above all the grass
You’re looking for things you can see
And I’m searching for vapors with certain flavors
I want them bad enough I’d leave earth for them
I’d turn away from the touch of human flesh for them
Don’t crush the mood
Don’t take the shimmering strings down from the trees
Where are the eyes that don’t see through me?
Where is the clear patch of peace?
Where is the soft touch of earth?
Where are the angels pressing me on?
I’ve never known anything but the hard leaning back on my own spine
I’ve never had one truth that didn’t get lost in the mix
But the point of living,
Yes, I’m sure I know this one thing:
The point of living isn’t to keep staying alive,
It’s to be filled up with light
And rest in flames on the hand of
a blood orange sky.


SPOTLIGHT: Shouting at Crows by Sadie Maskery

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BKHRWWLN

Bad Coffee

A billion futures layered, made a molten blade
of black damascus steel swirling, bitter edged
with blessed poison to be drunk to the dregs.
I feel it stain my smile, my throat, my soul.
Hell, it burns … drink it scalding, feel that pain
to know you are alive; and pretend it tastes
as good as its fragrance promised, unholy scent
that made you open crusted eyes
and slur, ‘Here’s to another day.’ 



Disguise

You cover me with your love
unconditional, you cover, cover me
from demons, a cloak, a comfort.
It scares me how you make me safe.
Your faith that I have worth
creates a version of me almost real –
the simplicity, the acceptance,
the delicate shroud of intimacy …
oh your smile veils me in joy,
the world blinks away; I fit.
We play in rumpled rainbows.
Our shouts of delight defy shame.
But sometimes at night I lie awake
and listen to you breathe, curl
into your warmth; each embrace
a wire tugging, the fear of knowing
the soul of me is an abomination
camouflaged by your desire.
Without you I would be laid bare,
scorned for my monstrousness.



My Lovely Goth

Raven eyes
mystical as fuck.
Ambrosia turns to ashes
on his tongue …
The affair was
bitched from the outset
but oh damnation
it was fun.



I Am Not a Witch

A witch would weave strange signs
with fingers twisting like a vine,
capture with one word time’s essence
and distil it in a spell
to make this kiss eternal
in your passioned heart and mine.
The Devil himself in the vaults of hell
would pause to praise the potency
of that magic, its fiery intensity.
A witch would snare your soul then set it free
in faith that love would lure you willingly.
But I am no witch, and you feel no desire.
Just a kiss, one glimpse of paradise.
The magic’s all awry, my heart a liar,
and all you have to say is “That was nice.”


SPOTLIGHT: ‘Sway Condor’ by Allen Seward

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BKMHNDYP

I will hide in the cemetery and wait to be pulled out

follow me to the grave
coax out the rose-trail
with
pattering steps.
do as you will,
see as you have seen.
I will remain
in the dirt waves
and the dark
a formidable place.
for there is nothing ahead
and there is nothing behind.
I have years yet to carry
on my back
but I will still come here
I will sit and wait
I will see what
lies ahead of me and
I will cherish all who have
gone before me.
this poem is about life
just as much as it
is
about death.  




the diving ravens

the house is bare

the cats
have been fed

strips of carpet make a
walkway
over the subfloor

the window unit burps
cold air in the dining room

I will draw diving ravens
across this house
and bury them under the floor
or suffocate them with
fresh paint.  





if you aren’t rich you should always look useful

someone has made nothing—no sun or sum,
no comet tails or renditions of ‘Hallelujah,’
and it all amounts to the same thing anyway—
so the hair falls out, centipedes grow bolder and
skit through the light, the spiders remain watchful.
doom pretends beauty, it chews its fingernails
and clucks its tongue, messes about day and night
for appointed times, checks its ledger,
moves on in an instant. someone has
pretended god, made a mockery out of the
whole thing, taken the precious fools for all
they’re worth. the eye rolls back and
someone loses a toe, a funny thing,
and doom says ‘no more’ for now, moves
on. a storm rolls in but it’s only a storm.
for strength, I prayed to you…for strength,
I licked at your teeth…for strength, I let
you run fingers through my hair, and
breathe into my ear, and bite my lip and tongue.
someone recounts the fall of man to me,
the root of property tax, and I
line my pockets and coat with dried flowers,
dead and lovely, as I wait for some new
jaundiced doom to climb my ankles up to
my back. no sun or sum,
no pinhole light, no last wish dying or
otherwise…for strength, I picked up
small stones by the river where
broken bottles lined the shore, the water
was green, and nothing had yet
rusted immobile and sad. 





terrible! how terrible for the great city!

the doctor is out

Jesus built the atom bomb
and flowers
have cut down the trees
in reach of the sun

death is a wet carpet,
music a festering beauty…we gorgeous monstrosities

the dishes spill out
of the sink
and cigarettes pile
atop a dirty plate,
the muse screams atop
twisted ankles, the ceiling drips,
even the sky has shown
its
wrinkles.

this upon that

the doctor is out

I am the god
of this
dishwater universe

and all its bleeding grapes
and slain giants,
smooth pebbles, rosed glass,
and the crying of the dust.


SPOTLIGHT: Vicar in a Tutu by Louise M. Hart


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BL9ZL285

(AN EXCERPT)

JUNE 1990

It was my first visit there.

i’ve finished my A’ level exams, i fucked them up i fucked them up. i sit there and write answers which are not nearly long and detailed enough because my head is full of unlived adventures and i haven’t lived enough. i haven’t shed my emotional virginity or experienced the rough with the smooth. though my mind is lined with wrinkles my skin is untouched. i am a question mark without explanation a comma with no pause. my day is night my happy is sad. I hide my personality behind a locked door. intelligence is the key if you want to unlock me. nevertheless i fucked them up because i couldn’t find me and now i’m heading to the glastonbury festival and pretending to be young and free not young and dried up. excitement tickles me with playful fingers. finally at the age of 21 i am adulting. digbeth is where we catch the coach anna lucy and me. 2 sisters and me make 2 and a half not 3 when one’s only relative is misery. though today excitement tickles me we wait impatiently for the coach and they tell me that helen is to meet us there. i wonder how we will find her but serendipity has reserved a spot for us in the grassy air. we board the coach we board the coach. it smells of hash and is lined with coke and rust. I sit behind a neck so delicate and long that it could only belong to a pen swan or an implement with which to write a love song. a love song to she who sits before me whose face i wouldn’t recognise if it smiled at me and whose neck yields an imaginary kiss. (recently i wrote a short story about a woman who falls in love with a neck, like my protagonist it was rejected). the coach is near Glastonbury. tickle inside me but within a blink of an eye it skids and falls on its side on the road to Glastonbury. i am thrown across the aisle everyone climbs out of the emergency exit at the back of the coach. we are lined up in the road festival goers in search of a festival who don’t know where to go or if another coach will appear. we follow the crowd. i want to piss and fear that the festival ground may be miles from here but we follow behind and i cross the legs of my mind. fortunately the festival ground is near. inside i relieve my bladder and my fear no longer grinds me down. we head for the spot to meet helen sister 3. sister 3 arrives at 7.30 in the morning. she has visited the spot many times in the night hoping to find her sisters of kind, kindred folk. i hug her as tightly as a teddy bear then we make our way to our camping location. the noisiest most vibrant space to the left of the main stage. i spend 3 days and nights awake. this is glastonbury what else would one expect. 3 days sodden in alcohol and mud. 3 days with only a slice of pizza in my belly. 3 days searching for sinead o’connor who is due to perform at some stage. men and women of all shapes and sizes hair long and short and probably even a few reprises i approach them all and say “are you sinead?” sincerity leaking through my face like night is day and day is night. most laugh and turn away. one of the many benefits of drinking a bottle of mixed cider and gin is that it makes everybody look bald slim attractive and feminine. i don’t find sinead but i watch her perform open mouthed awe stricken. a baby dyke before i find my baby dyke’s uniform. i am a hippy in these innocent days and pretty or so i choose to believe all the girls say and like sinead i smell of the earth and am worn/warmed by the weather. like morrissey in his autobiography cultural allusions protect my subjectivity. morrissey does not perform at glastonbury 1990 but i step on the happy Mondays and let them twist my melons for free. or for the £45 i paid for my ticket.

the next time i visit digbeth coach station i am with my mother and the rescue dog she has just bought for me from birmingham dog’s home. I call him billy and love him unconditionally. subsequently my man and i see bands nearby Pop will Eat Itself at the 02 academy and local heroes the courtesy group in digbeth pubs but it is that first adventure there that resonates most shrilly with me.

***

Living in London in the early 1990’s was comparable to visiting a sweet shop, offering myriads of florid and tasty temptations, whilst slowly poisoning me with its sugary and acidic delights. I dipped my fingers into jars until my skin yellowed. Somehow, though, I failed to see the yellow and imagined that I retained my virginal pink-white fleshy shell.

Compared to the symbolic journey I had taken to reach that point in my existence; the 100 miles I had travelled from Coventry, where I grew up, to London seemed miniscule. I was a classic underachiever who had left school after a year in the sixth form, underqualified and depressed. Like an archetypal Smiths fan, I spent my days in the haven of my bedroom, listening to my hero, Morrissey on shiny chunks of vinyl and venturing alone to the cinema to make imaginary love to the beautiful actors of the day.

Friendless and lonely, I had almost given up on life before it began. But, when I left school and attended a much more grown up F.E. college, I began to engage with reality. For the first time my vulgar shyness shook and on rare occasions a criminal intent to speak almost overcame my dissociated mouth.

I studied 5 O’ levels, mostly in subjects not available at my school and proved to be a proficient, though somewhat withdrawn, student. The stand-out class was psychology. To this day I can recall with perfect clarity the figure of the lecturer who tutored us. I shall call him, Richard Hawkins.

Richard was a tiny framed, delicate flower of a man and, someone whose shoulders were no broader than his waist. His heavenly backside was so skinny that he could sit with both it, his legs and his minute feet perched on the seat of the classroom chairs and would invariably pose in true Schiele model style, like a contorted somatic lettuce.

He possessed a huge fair moustache, wore round Lennon type glasses and clothes that looked like your geeky cousin’s student rag week outfit circa 1978. He talked with a slight lisp, and I was drawn to his flawed aesthetics in the same way as a painting by the master who might have depicted him.

He attracted one of the other students in my class in a totally different way. Her teenage crush was evident to all. She was an embryonic lesbian who loved him from the bottom of her Beautiful South pencil case. She could have squashed him with one plump finger of her lustful hand. I secretly delighted in observing her bat her unmade-up eyelashes at him. I do not think I ever spoke to him on a one-to-one basis, but always wanted to.