Kissing the World Goodbye
Clark’s latest book, Kissing the World Goodbye, is a memoir infused with recipes that invites the reader to crouch down and notice the small things in life we too easily overlook. Everything in this world, no matter how small, is worthy of consideration for Clark, from isopods barreling through Tasmanian soil to the origins of childhood nicknames. Big things matter, too, like siblionic love, a term she coins in an attempt to describe the indescribable connections between siblings. Within this funny, poignant, and often tasty memoir, Clark weaves in serious issues such as the perpetual closeness of various forms of loss, and family members, particularly her sister’s, easily moving on in the face of matters that weigh Clark down. And much weighs her down: naming fish, Ernest Borgnine’s eyebrows, cell phones, instapots, and more.
Bottom line: this lyrical journey reminds us life is messy, funny, fragile, and fleeting. For even as we kiss the world hello, we kiss it goodbye.
“Jennifer Clark’s memoir takes us right to the heart of the American family dramedy: the table, where the Zucchini Helper waits alongside Chicken Cordon Bleu—en casserole, of course, because this is Michigan. Clark braids family tales with recipes that you will want to try, if you grew up in the vast imaginary land sometimes called the Midwest. With an ironic edge and mordant wit that never compromises a deep and open heart, Clark invites us into a family that is nothing like yours and also a lot like yours, especially if you’ve ever felt like its only sane member, or the alien in the tribe, or the clan’s designated chronicler. Clark offers up her beloveds in all their exasperating, brilliant, incomparable uniqueness. When you close Kissing the World Goodbye, you will already be missing her scientist father, in his gentle, wise intimacy with tiny invertebrate creatures; her mother, who always has something up her sleeve and who vanquishes incompetent bankers; her brother, epidemiologist and inspirational chef; and above all her sister, the exasperating and relentlessly loving Holly, queen of Costco and maker of killer strawberry-jalapeño margaritas. Jennifer Clark, who has worked mostly in poetry, here mines the secret of memoir: that in the ragged particulars of our lives lies the vast human story, full of yearning, grief, loyalty, intimacy, laughter, and appetite.”
~Gail Griffin, author of Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces, a 2021 Michigan Notable Book
What did Jennifer Clark edit out of this book? What childhood experience from her Westnedge Hill neighborhood taught her that language had power? Find out here in an interview with Unsolicited Press. And you can listen in on the conversation Jennifer had with Zinta Aistars on WMUK about food, memory, and family here.
A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven
A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven is not so much concerned with moving earth towards heaven, as it is with yanking heaven to earth. Even amidst our haste, failures, distractions, and worries, it’s all within reach. The poems invite us to see the mystery in the every day, and revel in the wonders of such things as moths, dandelions, dogs, and beer.
These poems serve as a gateway to the inner journey. They remind us we are one holy family cut from the same cloth, spiritual explorers of this beautiful, broken world. This collection urges us to pay attention and get to work, “while we still have time to build.”
What is Jennifer’s favorite punctuation mark in A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven? What scares her most about the writing process? Find out here in her interview with Unsolicited Press. And here’s what P.J. Grath, owner of Dog Ears Books, says about the book, in her delightful blog, Books in Northport.
“A warning to the reader: you will need an oven mitt to hold this heart-searing book. Replete with vision, wit, and imagistic precision, the poems in this collection enact glacially inside the reader. They gouge out new landscapes and redefine the emotional interior. Jennifer Clark feeds us our spiritual oats in the form of a toddler, a dying friend, a bat attaching itself to the space shuttle during lift off. She makes everything she touches holy. She dips her paint brush into fire and vision creating such potent undertows, we drown and grieve with her. But wait, she seems to whisper to us in other poems, it’s time to get up and dance. She inspires us to bang pots and the lids of pans together like a child and revel in the living. Now open this book and read, become—through the power of her poems—exquisitely human again.”
~John Rybicki, author of When All the World Is Old
“In Jennifer Clark’s Necessary Clearings a small girl watching smoke rings “attempts to marry the moment” by sliding one onto her finger, a young mother holding her son admits “even this moment is ending.” Everything in this collection bears witness to the disappearing world, and to Clark’s desire to stay the moment with words. Graylings, gardening neighbors, even freezers die — “Fix her, fix her, fix her,” prays the daughter of an ailing mother. Yet death and decaying bones share a world with blueberries and goldfinches and astral nurseries where stars are being born, even if their light will take 22 million years to reach us. Necessary Clearings takes place in the tensions between these truths. These are the poems we need while we wait it out.”
~Susan Blackwell Ramsey, author of A Mind Like This, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry
Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman
The story is part of our American landscape: Johnny Appleseed going from field to field, town to town, planting his seeds, redeeming the misnomered forbidden fruit. Historians have recorded the life of Johnny A, real name John Chapman. But Jennifer Clark has searched the archives of the soul of this enigmatic sower of the fruit that brings tart sweetness to the mutability of autumn. In lyric poems created with that most extraordinarily difficult of approaches, the plainsong, Clark resurrects the man, his world, his benevolent eccentricity. She gives us something much more mysterious than the legend: she gives us the real. As we accompany the John Chapman we consider what it means to give without ever knowing the result. And we thank Jennifer Clark for doing the same.
~Jack Ridl, author of Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, winner of the ForeWord Reviews’ 2013 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award
Clark’s research is thorough, and the poems are beautiful and evocative. It’s like two books in one: a book of poetry that encompasses America’s past through the vehicle of Johnny Appleseed. As he moves through the country sowing his seeds, the American landscape, too, evolves, warts and all. The lives of pioneers and settlers, the displacement of Native Americans, slavery, the Pony Express right up to the internet. It’s such an accomplishment. And the end notes are as entertaining as the poetry. lf history had been taught like this, I would have come to it much earlier.
~Elizabeth Kerlikowske, author of Chain of Lakes, the chapbook Last Hula (winner of the 2013 Standing Rock Chapbook Competition), and Art Speaks, a collaboration with artist Mary Hatch
Here’s an interview at The 3288 Review where Jennifer talks with John Winkelman about the process of researching John Chapman and writing the book.
Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman can be purchased at: Michigan News Agency, Kazoo Books, This is a bookstore/Bookbug, Crane’s Pie Pantry, Restaurant, & Winery, and Fort Wayne History Center. Also available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
What Do You See In Room 21 C?
In What Do You See In Room 21 C?, young children are encouraged to imagine possibilities and work hard to be the best student they can be. When Mr. Washington gives his students an Operation College assignment, they must each figure out their own unique way to complete the task. This heartwarming story is filled with relatable and diverse characters. Laced with humor, this read-aloud picture book encourages creativity and a college-going culture.
As you grow, your dreams may change. The important thing is to learn all you can and keep imagining the possibilities!
“Jennifer Clark has created a terrific school story about a creative class of second graders. I love their imagination! Leslie Helakoski’s illustrations extend the story so beautifully, showing their warm and nurturing classroom. This book is an amazing resource for families and teachers.”
– Sue Warner, retired librarian and former head of youth services for Kalamazoo Public Library
The book includes 13 activity pages at the end of the story to provide an opportunity for young readers to do hands-on activities and feel like they, too, are part of Room 21 C.
While this book was created to inspire second grade students in Kalamazoo Public Schools, young students everywhere will enjoy this heartwarming story. What Do You See In Room 21 C? encourages a college-going culture and is a valuable addition to both home and elementary school classrooms.
What Do You See In Room 21 C? can be purchased at Kazoo Books or by going through their online distribution here. Also available through Amazon. You can also check out the book at the Kalamazoo Public Library.
Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors
Through poetry, essays, and interviews, 36 contributors explore the theme of immigration and help us reflect on what it means to be a neighbor. How do we show or not show hospitality to our neighbors? What does it mean to be a foreigner, a traveler in the world today? In a time when fear and confusion are erupting throughout the nation, the symphony of voices contained in this book provide balm, strength, and inspiration to help us be the welcoming neighbors we are meant to be.
Here’s Jennifer and her co-editor, Miriam Downey, talking about the project with Zinta Aistars on Between the Lines. Did you know the anthology is part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s Bookclub in a Bag? Here’s eight more things you may not know about the anthology project.
Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors can be purchased at these Kalamazoo locations: Bookbug, Michigan News Agency, Kazoo Books, and Tudor House Tea & Spice. All anthology proceeds go to the local immigration clinic, Justice For Our Neighbors of Kalamazoo.